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Ovechkin and Backstrom Lead the Caps Over the Wild

Posted on 14 March 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin scored a huge power play goal and helped set up Washington’s first tally while Nicklas Backstrom added three assists as the Caps defeated the Minnesota Wild, 4-2, at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night. The victory breaks the Caps four game losing streak and puts them back in sole possession of first place in the NHL at 45-17-7 (97 points).

Well that was more like it!

The Caps top guys were their top guys on this night, unlike the 0-3 California trip we would all like to forget.

The Capitals were skating hard and competing. They constantly won the loose puck battles and they did a great job of going to the net. This looked like the team that lit the scoreboard up like a pinball machine from December 31st to February 11th.

This affair didn’t start real well for the Caps, though. The Wild had several early scoring chances as Washington was trying to get back on east coast time, but Braden Holtby (30 saves) was outstanding in the net to keep this one scoreless. The Capitals then started getting their legs going to play with pace and they gradually took over the contest. Late in the first period, Ovechkin made a great tape to tape breakout pass to spring Backstrom in the neutral zone and #19 carried it into the Wild end. T.J. Oshie made a nice nudge of the puck back to #19 in the right wing corner and Nicky then took the puck around the net and tried to hit a flying and charging Gr8 in the slot. The pass nicked Ovi, but Nate Schmidt was properly placed in the middle of the ice and he gathered in the loose biscuit and fired it at Devan Dubnyk (36 saves). The puck, which looked to be going wide, hit Eric Staal and went in. That goal came with just 11.7 seconds left in the frame.

In the middle stanza, Washington really played well, but Dubnyk kept his club in it for the first 14+ minutes. However, an obvious Mikael Granlund high stick on John Carlson (two assists) negated a Wild power play and put the game at four on four for 48 seconds. There was no sale for either team in that scenario, but then the Capitals had their 72 second man advantage. Ovechkin had a great look late in the power play and missed the net, but right as Granlund was coming out of the box, the Gr8 took another nice feed from Carlson and put “a muffin” by Dubnyk to give Washington a 2-0 cushion.

The Caps weren’t done in that period, however. Ryan Suter, who whined all night, took a very clear slash on Ovechkin at 16:46. Washington’s power play then scored on the rush with Backstrom carrying the puck across the blue line and then feeding a streaking Evgeny Kuznetsov in the slot. #92 beat Dubnyk with a sweet shot upstairs.

To quote the great Will Ferrell, “Come on, we’re all going streaking!”

That made it 3-0 and all was feeling right in the world with Ovi finally scoring a goal and the Capitals dominating play.

Things then got amped up at the end of period two when Ryan White first took a run at Tom Wilson and then a nasty one on Brooks Orpik behind the Caps net. There was no penalty called on White, but Wilson, remembering that it was the dirty White who concussed #44 in last spring’s game three in Philadelphia, dropped the gloves and beat the stuffing out of him. Wilson earned 17 minutes in penalties, including the instigator minor and an automatic 10 minute misconduct, but the Capitals looked possessed on that penalty kill and then at even strength at the end of period two and nearly made it 4-0.

It’s too bad they didn’t because just 37 seconds into period three a weird bounce on the boards allowed the Wild to score. Washington then took a parade of penalties that started with a Brett Connolly interference. I wasn’t a fan of that call, but then Backstrom had to hook Eric “Cap Killer” Staal when he had a clear lane to the net and that gave the Wild a five on three. The Capitals would survive that event, but right as #10 was coming back on the ice, Staal put the biscuit in the basket to make it 3-2 with 15:23 remaining. Uh oh!

Things got even hairier when Justin Williams, who had eight shots on goal in this game, was whistled for hooking. It was another call I didn’t like because it sure looked like the Wild player was hit by sniper fire. It was total embellishment and Minnesota did a lot of that on this night. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Coach Bruce Boudreau had brought in Greg Louganis as a diving consultant at some point this season. All evening long a Capital would touch a Wild player and too often they’d fall to the ice. Either they are unbelievably soft or they think the zebras are so clueless that they’ll call anything. A combination of both is likely true, if you ask me.

Anyways, Washington was relentless with their pressure on that penalty kill and the Wild didn’t even get a shot on the Holtbeast. Once the Caps were done with the parade to the box (Minnesota had seven power plays), they took over the remaining 13 minutes and really never gave the Wild a chance to tie it.

In fact, the intense forechecking and pressure Washington was exhibiting led to an insurance tally with 5:41 to go. Minnesota cleared their zone and tried to change, but Dmitry Orlov alertly caught them and fired a quick pass up to Jay Beagle just outside the offensive blue line. Beagle skated in down the left wing with Daniel Winnik flanked to his right on a two on one and when the Wild defender chose to cut the pass off, #83 wristed one top shelf to end any potential drama.

This was a much needed win for the Capitals and the way it went down was also big. The Caps were playing with fire and intensity, something we didn’t see on the left coast. Ovechkin, who showed signs of breaking out of his winter hibernation in California with 15 shot attempts in LA and then eight more in Anaheim, had a goal, an assist, and four hits in 18:11 of work. Backstrom was flat out dominant at center and on the backend, the defense, which was missing Kevin Shattenkirk due to a two game suspension, was very active in the play, which helped get the offense back on track. This was Carlson’s best game in a long time and Karl Alzner had a really good outing, too. Matt Niskanen and Orlov were excellent, as well. In fact, 11 of the 40 shots on goal came from Carlson, Niskanen, and Orlov. Add in Schmidt’s goal and it was a big night for the blue line.

Simply put, the Capitals were competing and they moved up and down the ice in a well structured five man unit. I loved the team’s intensity and also Wilson sticking up for Orpik, those type of things send a strong message to anyone trying to play dirty and it was clear this team is together.

This win was a very big response to a bad and unfocused road trip.

Washington certainly looked focused and dialed in on Tuesday. All is right in Caps land, once again.

Notes: Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:38 and Carlson was right behind him at 24:05…the shot attempts favored the Capitals, 67-54…Zach Parise was held without a shot on goal in 18:17 of ice time. He’s one of the best players, if not the best, for Minnesota…the Caps third line didn’t have a shot on net, but they only played together for just over six minutes due to all of the penalties…the Caps host the Nashville Predators on Thursday at 7 pm and Shattenkirk will return to the lineup…TJ Luxmore and Jon McIsaac were your clueless and very inconsistent zebras on Tuesday night (some would also call them incompetent, and they wouldn’t be wrong).

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Holtbeast Philly

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The Holtbeast Leads the Caps Over the Flyers

Posted on 04 March 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Nicklas Backstrom scored on the power play 3:25 in overtime to give the Washington Capitals a 2-1 victory over the despised Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night at the Verizon Center. The win was the Caps 15th straight at home and even more satisfying is that it puts the Broad Street Bullies even closer to the golf course once the regular season ends on April 9th.

So hockey fans have that going for them….which is nice.

What a screen by T.J. Oshie on the game winner! Pay the Man!

The “Osh Babe” returned after missing four games due to an upper body injury suffered from the black and orange dirt bags in Filthy 10 days ago. #77 was pretty good and was robbed just before #19’s game winner on a tremendous save by Steve Mason (22 saves), who was fabulous in this contest.

However, the Capitals goaltender, Braden Holtby, goes to 11.

The Holtbeast had a superior outing stopping 30 pucks and made several HUUUUGGGEEE saves, to quote some guy who now lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Simply put, he’s the best goalie on the planet these days and if #70 continues to perform like that, then you’d have to think Washington is going to be a very difficult out in April, May, and hopefully June. He’s now 19-0-2 in his last 21 decisions. That’s mind boggling!

This game had some ebbs and flows to it and in the first part of period two, it looked like the Capitals were going to take over. They outshot the Flyers, 9-1, but Mason was very good and Washington missed some golden chances by not hitting the cage. But I’ll give the Flyers credit, they hung in there and thanks to two power plays a period, they stayed with Washington and forced a scoreless first 40 minutes. The last part of period two was mostly Philly.

In the final frame, an Alex Ovechkin offensive zone turnover led to a Flyers odd man rush that Sean Couturier finished with a sweet deflection by Holtby with just 1:19 gone. The Caps first line has had too many loose moments lately and I really didn’t like Ovi’s game, for the most part, despite his four hits and assist on the game winning tally.

But that’s when the Capitals most improved player in 2016-17 , Dmitry Orlov, stepped up to tie the game just 81 seconds later. #9 gathered in a puck in the neutral zone and chipped it to himself near the red line. That allowed the Russian defenseman, who is making a big difference on the back end, to fly into the offensive zone and just rocket one past Mason into the top corner. The Flyers goalie was likely screened a bit by his own blueliner, but, wow, what a shot by Orlov!

After Orlov tied the game, the Flyers had their two man advantage opportunities which came on questionable calls. The Caps also received a power play on an iffy call. The power plays were six to four for the bad guys, but I thought the really bad guys were the ones in stripes. They just really didn’t have a handle on this tilt and looked to be thinking about their post game plans. It was lazy officiating allowing the players to get away with embellishment and if they don’t clean that up, then hockey becomes one step closer to the worst sport on Earth to watch, soccer.

In overtime, the Capitals didn’t have the puck for the first two minutes, but after Michael Del Zotto was caught deep, Kevin Shattenkirk took the biscuit the other way on a rush and “Del Zaster,” as some New York Ranger fans used to call him when he played for the Blueshirts, was nailed for holding. That set the stage for Mason’s big save on Oshie before the whistle, and then Backstrom’s winner, that was assisted by Shattenkirk, who earned his first point as a Cap. Nice job, Kevin.

Overall, this was an inconsistent outing by the Capitals and their third line only played 10 shifts together, resulting in just 6:04 of ice time for Brett Connolly. That is just too low and I blame that predominantly on the fact that 19:05 of this affair was played on special teams. That works in the Flyers favor because they have a great power play, although they went 0 for 6 on Saturday night. Washington is best when the game is five on five and they can roll all four lines and wear down their opponents. They could not do that against the Flyers because of all of the penalties. Blame the zebras or blame the Caps for those, but Coach Barry Trotz is at his best when he can play all four units and work to get the line matchups he desires.

One guy who did have a big game and continues to get under the Flyers skin is Tom Wilson. Willy had five shot attempts and NINE hits in 12:59 of ice time. He also had a huge shot block that likely saved a goal. #43 loves to play the Flyers and it shows. He was Comcast’s player of the game.

With the Blue Jackets and Rangers both losing in regulation on Saturday, Washington’s Metropolitan Division lead is now nine points over Pittsburgh and Columbus (both teams have a game in hand). The Rags trail by 11 points and the Caps have a game in hand on Alain Vigneault’s club.

Everyone knows that next to finally winning a Stanley Cup, I enjoy nothing more than beating the Flyers. Let’s face it, they’ve been setting hockey back to the Dark Ages since the Capitals entered the league in 1974-75. They play chippy hockey and they are sore losers when they are getting beat. I don’t like them, at all. I’ll give them credit though on Saturday night. They played hard and they did everything they could to try and get a desperately needed two points.

But they only got one, so they should probably start thinking about contacting their local Titleist representative to get a jump on their off-season.

Notes: Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:53…Shot attempts were 58-52 for Philadelphia…the Caps were 31-25 on draws and Backstrom was 11-4…Justin Williams defended a Flyers cheap shot on Shattenkirk just 1:55 into this contest and got into it with Nick Cousins. It should have been coincidental penalties, but the zebras started their bad trend early by giving #14 a double minor to just a single minor for Cousins…the Caps next game is Monday night at the Verizon Center against the Dallas Stars at 7 pm. After that Washington is going back to Cali. They’ll play San Jose, Los Angeles, and Anaheim starting on Thursday night, March 9th.

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Vrana hooked

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Caps Set Franchise Record for Consecutive Home Wins in 1-0 Triumph Over New Jersey

Posted on 02 March 2017 by Ed Frankovic

In a game reminiscent of 1995 NHL hockey, the Washington Capitals received a power play goal from Jakub Vrana 7:21 into the third period and Braden Holtby made 15 saves as the Caps defeated the New Jersey Devils, 1-0 at the Verizon Center on Thursday night. The victory was a franchise record 14th win in a row at home for Washington.

The Devils are a rebuilding team that doesn’t have a whole lot of talent to work with, so under Coach John Hynes they play a very structured game. They constantly keep players back and clog the neutral zone making zone entries very difficult. What results is some pretty boring hockey.

Boring was the case on Thursday night as New Jersey tried to play a style that gave them pretty much their only chance of winning.  It still really didn’t come close to working. The Devils were outshot by the superior Capitals by 7-4, 7-5, and 10-6 in each period and there weren’t many quality scoring chances for either club, especially New Jersey. When the Devils did get an opportunity, the Holtbeast was there to shut the door for the Caps.

Shot attempts were 59-50 for Washington in this one and the ultimate difference was that the Caps found a way to get to the front of the Devils cage in the third period to first draw a penalty and then bury the biscuit for the game winner. Jay Beagle drew a tripping infraction on Damon Severson directly in front of Devils goalie Cory Schneider (23 saves) with the Caps buzzing the tower in the final frame. After the Caps played predominantly on the perimeter for most of this one, #83 did some dirty work and parked himself in the prime scoring opportunity and when he went to gather in the rebound of a shot, the Devil hauled him down.

Washington’s power play, which went 1 for 5 in this affair, worked the puck around well, but they didn’t light the lamp until Vrana gathered in a loose puck from Evgeny Kuznetsov in front of Schneider after Brett Connolly was battling for it in the slot with a Jersey defender. #13 wasted no time in putting it past Schneider to give the Caps the only goal they would ultimately need with just under 13 minutes remaining.

After the Capitals had another power play, but failed to build on the advantage, Connolly was whistled for slashing with 13:27 remaining after his stick was held in the corner. #10 then gave Kelly Sutherland the business on a call that he didn’t like, he felt the slash was the result of pulling his stick away from another Jersey clutch, grab, and hold specialist. Sutherland didn’t like the lip and tacked on an additional two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct, so with 6:33 remaining the Capitals would have to kill off a four minute power play. The first penalty I could see Connolly being upset about, but arguing long and hard was the wrong move, Brett should’ve held his temper, taken the two minutes there and felt shame, and then told the zebra why he thought it was a bad call at a stoppage in play when cooler heads would’ve prevailed. That’s a good lesson to learn before the post season.

The good news for the home squad was that Daniel Winnik and company killed off the two minors while only allowing one shot on net. For the night, the Caps PK unit went a stellar four for four.

New Jersey then pulled their keeper, but Miles Wood took a foolish cross checking penalty on Brooks Oprik and the Caps ran out the clock to give the Holtbeast his 8th shutout of the season.

This victory was not an aesthetically pleasing one, but it was another two points to push the Capitals record to 43-13-7 (93 points) with 19 games remaining. They lead the Metro Division by seven points over Columbus, who has a game in hand. Third place still belongs to the Penguins with 84 points, but the Rangers are also at 84 points after a 2-1 victory over Boston on Thursday. Pittsburgh still has 20 games remaining while the Rags just have 18. In the Presidents’ Trophy race, the Caps are five points up on Minnesota, who lost 1-0 to Columbus on Thursday, but the Wild have a game in hand.

Heading into last season’s playoffs, the Penguins had the best record in the NHL after January 1st. That title belongs to the Caps right now and since December 5th, they are a staggering 30-6-4!

Guess what? This team can only get better as Kevin Shattenkirk feels more comfortable in the Caps system and T.J. Oshie returns to the lineup (as well as Andre Burakovsky in a couple of weeks). Washington won Thursday’s tilt, but they didn’t exactly go totally through the Devils, like their bench boss, Coach Barry Trotz, wanted until the final frame. However, the Caps play in their own zone was fairly stellar and New Jersey never came close to going through the Capitals.

A win is a win and the Caps thankfully are done playing the Devils this season as those type of games are hard to stay awake for, at times.

They will take the “W” and move on to face the despised Flyers at the phone booth on Saturday night.

Notes: Shattenkirk and John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 21:24, but Matt Niskanen logged 21:07. That is some serious balance right there…the Capitals lost the face off battle, 28-26, but Beagle was 9-5…Alex Ovechkin logged 20:33 and had eight shot attempts and four hits…Oprik returned to the lineup and played 17:15 and had a team leading five hits.

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Connolly GWG Rags

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Caps Get Coach Trotz Career Win #700 at Madison Square Garden

Posted on 28 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals came into Tuesday night’s contest at Madison Square Garden 0-2 against the Rangers on the season. 20 minutes into this affair, which was also the Caps debut of Monday’s big defensive acquisition, Kevin Shattenkirk, it looked like it was going to be 0-3.

Washington had a defensive coverage breakdown at 5:09 of period one that allowed Brady Skjei to tally on a layup on Braden Holtby (29 saves) and take a 1-0 lead. The Rangers would have 11 of the first 16 shots on goal early on and that doesn’t include the three posts they hit that could’ve really put the Capitals behind the eight ball had any of them gone in. New York also benefitted from their home cooking zebra, Dan O’Halloran, who gave them two power plays in the opening frame to zero for the Caps, but more on him later.

The Holtbeast (29 saves) was strong, once again in net, and in period two the game changed rather quickly. Marc Staal decided to stupidly cross check Alex Ovechkin giving the Capitals an early power play. Washington didn’t score, but Shattenkirk manned the point on the first unit and fed Ovi perfectly for a one timer that King Henrik (34 saves) stopped. The Caps would gain momentum and intensity off of that man advantage. They finally started moving their feet and taking the game to the Blueshirts, but Lundqvist was holding steady in net.

A heavy, but borderline hit by Adam Clendening on Daniel Winnik then changed the outcome of the game. #26 didn’t like it, he thought it wasn’t clean, and a few seconds later they both dropped the mitts behind the New York net and Winnik jack hammered Clendening for a TKO victory. The rough stuff further amped up the Capitals intensity and just 21 seconds later, Marcus Johansson tied the game up.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, who is so important to this club and struggled in period one, made a nice pass to Dmitry Orlov that allowed #9 to exit the defensive zone with speed and fly through the neutral zone. Orlov then carried the puck into the offensive zone and had a nice give and go with Jojo just inside the offensive blue line. Orlov then smartly carried the puck deep and banked it off of Lundqvist’s pads. Johansson alertly went to the net and buried the rebound to tie this one up.

The Rangers then thought they had regained the lead at 11:53 of period two after a puck bounced about 15 feet in the air in the slot and then fell down in the crease where a New York player banged it home before Holtby knew where it was. Once again, the Caps video coaches, led by Brett Leonhardt, caught an offside infraction on the zone entry and Coach Barry Trotz successfully challenged the goal.

That took some more wind from the Rangers sails and the Capitals took over from there dominating the play and pouring tons of shots on the Swedish net minder. Washington’s relentless pressure, the Caps were not only skating, but they were hitting New York and playing with snarl, paid off when Niskanen carried the puck into the offensive zone on a nice rush to set up the game winning goal. The puck actually rolled off of #2’s stick, but Brett Connolly was parked in the slot and he gathered in the biscuit and quickly whipped it in the basket, beating a stunned Lundqvist for his career high 13th goal of the season. Connolly, Lars Eller, and Jakub Vrana had some really strong shifts as the third line.

The Caps took that 2-1 lead to the locker room and then put the hammer down early in period three. Kuznetsov (2 assists) used his speed to back the Rangers defense up, then he fed Jojo in the slot, and #90 deflected it top shelf past Lundqvist to make it 3-1 just 1:15 into period three. That really caught the home town boys by surprise and the Capitals did a good job of keeping the Rangers on the perimeter the rest of the way.

O’Halloran, who at times should just don a Rangers sweater because he has a history of poor officiating against Washington dating back to at least game two of the 2015 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals at the Garden, then gave New York two gift power plays to try and get back in this affair. However, the Caps penalty killing unit wanted none of that and the Holtbeast slammed the door shut. After O’Halloran and his zebra partner, Brad Meier, let a Matt Zuccarello blatant goalie interference on Holtby go uncalled, they finally had to give Washington a second power play when Ryan McDonagh mugged Tom Wilson.

Nicklas Backstrom then tallied on the man advantage on a shot that deflected off of a Rangers defensemen and past King Henrik to make it 4-1 with 2:03 remaining. MSG was mostly empty, at that point, except for some Caps fans who made it up to support their first place squad.

This was a huge victory for the Caps in many ways. First, they had struggled with the super fast Rangers in their first two meetings and the opening period certainly looked like more of the same, but Washington got aggressive and played with an edge. Second, the Rangers poked the bear and the Caps woke up and really handed it to them in the second and third period. In that middle frame, the Capitals out shot attempted New York, 31-16 and for the game it was 65-54. Washington played fast and heavy and the Rangers really had little push back.

Several Capitals played well, despite the absence of T.J. Oshie and Brooks Oprik, who are both day to day. Winnik’s fight, overall tenacity, and super smart hockey in 14:04 was very noticeable. Niskanen, who just returned from missing two games over the weekend, had two assists and was +3 in 18:19 of ice time. #2’s partner, Orlov, was +2 and had an assist while logging 17:14.

Wilson was also outstanding in a high ice time total of 19:34. #43 wrecked Derek Stepan hard early with a clean hit and he was sensational on the Caps PK, which went 4 for 4. Willy did a nice job of jumping up to the first line right wing spot in Oshie’s absence. He was physical and fast for the large majority of the contest and he got under New York’s skin without taking any infractions himself. Well played, Tom.

As for Shattenkirk, well he was pretty darn impressive for a guy who missed the morning skate the night after being traded. #22 had four shots on net and he can really skate and play physical, too. This looks to be just a sensational addition to an already very good hockey team.

I could go on and on about several other players, but I also thought both John Carlson (24:35) and Karl Alzner (23:41) were very strong against the Rangers top guys, which allowed the rest of the Washington lineup, particularly the second line, to win the game. Johansson (2 goals and one assist) was clearly the player of the night for the Caps and he now has a career high 21 tallies this season. He’s been super since Sweden mistakenly left him off of their World Cup of Hockey roster last September. Big mistake guys, big mistake (although the Capitals are benefiting from his fresher legs).

The win, which was Coach Trotz’ 700th NHL victory, puts the Capitals at 42-13-7 (91 points) with 20 games remaining (10 at home and 10 on the road). This has been a grueling stretch coming out of the bye week with five of the six tilts on the road and two back to back occurrences. The Caps went 2-2-1 in the away games in Detroit, Filthy, Smashville and Madison Square Garden (twice) while winning their only home tilt, 2-1, against Edmonton last Friday night.

Now it’s time for some home cooking and the Caps will take on New Jersey on Thursday before they get the despised Flyers in town on Saturday night. They’ll then face the Dallas Stars on Monday at the Verizon Center before heading out to California for three games late next week.

Home ice has been good to the Capitals this season and they’ll have a chance over the final quarter of the season to lock up home ice advantage for the post season.

Notes: Forwards Vrana (9:27) and Riley Barber (7:55) were called up from Hershey with Oshie and Andre Burakovsky out and Zach Sanford moved to St. Louis in the Shattenkirk blockbuster…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 37-33. Backstrom went 16-9…McDonagah led the Rangers in ice time with 23:54…Shattenkirk was paired with Nate Schmidt on Tuesday night.

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Depleted Caps Out Skate the Super Fast Oilers in a 2-1 Victory

Posted on 24 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

In a fun game to watch, the Washington Capitals increased their franchise record tying home winning streak to 13 games with a 2-1 victory over the super fast and talented Edmonton Oilers on Friday night.

The Caps were missing some big names due to the fact that the sore loser Neanderthal Flyers banged up Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, and T.J. “Pay the Man” Oshie in Filthy on Wednesday night. Washington was already without Andre Burakovsky, who fractured his hand before the bye week.

Riley Barber and Aaron Ness were called up from Hershey and suited up. Both Taylor Chorney and Nate Schmidt were in the lineup and boy did Caps Coach Barry Trotz get a SUPER outing from his six defensemen. The speedy Oilers, led by all world center Connor McDavid, are scoring machines, but Washington kept them predominantly to the perimeter in this game and the only goal they allowed was a turnover by Evgeny Kuznetsov and Justin Williams in the first minute of period two. Leon “Sniper” Draisaitl pounced on that miscue and beat Braden Holtby (30 saves) from the prime scoring area. There was nothing really the Holtbeast could do there, that one was on his forwards.

Speaking of Kuzy and Stick, those guys had that blunder and one other that led to an Oilers partial breakaway, but they were pretty much flying all night. Kuznetsov was matched up most of the evening against the 1st pick in the 2015 NHL draft and to be honest, #92 had bragging rights on this night. When it comes to skating, McDavid is almost unbeatable, but watching Kuznetsov stride in this one was an absolute joy. He had his wheels going so well he looked like he could have starred for the USSR Red Army teams of the 1970’s.

As for Williams, well he scored the game winner on a great no look pass from Jay Beagle just 5:48 into period three. Beagle’s line, the 4th unit of “Flip Phone” Beags, Tom Wilson, and Daniel Winnik was outstanding, once again, and sure seem to be making a strong case to be the best fourth line in the NHL right now. Wilson scored the opening salvo in this affair after a great pass from Dmitry Orlov at 12:22 of the 1st frame. #9’s ability to carry the puck in onside with his feet, Pele style, after a pass from Chorney, set the play up. Wilson, who is steadily improving in the offensive end, took the disc and fired it towards the net. Cam Talbot (23 saves) had no chance to stop the shot, which was just inside the far post, because Winnik was running traffic in front of the cage at the perfect time.

That 4th line not only played a big role in the two goals, but they continually seized momentum for Washington with strong shifts, especially with their forechecking and strong wall play. Simply put, they wore the Oilers big guns out and made them go 200 feet. By game’s end, big lug Milan Lucic was exhausted and resorted to barking at Wilson from the bench. Clearly #43 had gotten into #27’s grill big time.

On the back end, John Carlson was just outstanding logging 27:19 of ice time. Orlov played just five seconds short of his season high (24:24) and he was downright dominant. His overall game has just improved so much this season and that is a big reason why the Capitals are leading the league. Chorney was great in 18:37 of ice time and Karl Alzner was his usual steady self with an assist in 21:24.

The other thing the Capitals coaching staff will really like, besides the strong effort, was the fact that the Caps didn’t take a single penalty in this contest. That was a direct result of keeping their feet moving the whole game (effort) and keeping their sticks down. Washington was outshot attempted in this one (61-54), but in terms of having the puck, my eyes tell me the Capitals had the biscuit more often than their counterparts, but they did struggle to get shots from in close, and naturally they had several sequences where they over passed when a shot was the right play. Kuznetsov and Lars Eller were both guilty of not firing from the prime scoring zone in this one.

But overall, this was a gutsy effort by a depleted team against an up and coming hot Edmonton squad. The Caps played a high tempo game against one of the fastest teams in the league and their depth was the difference. That’s very encouraging.

The victory improves Washington to 41-12-7 (89 points) and they are +73 in terms of goal differential. More impressive, though, is the way this team is rebuilding their game after the bye week. This was the fourth game since beach time (well, skiing for Orlov) and you could see the positive result of the rest in the way the Capitals players were really moving their legs and skating. When they do that and get pucks and bodies to the cage, they are hard to beat.

Yes, they missed the “Osh Babe” and Burakovsky up front, but the depth of the team showed and that has to make both Coach Trotz and General Manager Brian MacLellan feel really good heading into Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline. I don’t expect anything major to happen from the Caps or around the league given how close the standings are and how many teams still think they can make the postseason (but let’s just hope the Flyers are golfing thanks to the Caps win on Wednesday. No one outside of that city wants to see those goons in the playoffs).

Notes: McDavid had an assist, but he was -1 in 21:42 of ice time…Brett Connolly moved up to the top line in #77’s absence and played well. He had one sequence where he made a great defensive play, then broke the puck out up the ice with speed to get a one on one with Talbot. Unfortunately he missed the net…Washington won the face off battle, 28-16. Flip Phone was 10-2…Barber played a team low 9:56 and Ness only received 10:37 of ice time, but both did not look out of place…Alex Ovechkin had nine shot attempts (3 SOG) in 18:31. He looked good in this one and something tells me a goal scoring streak is coming for him soon…Wilson had three shots on goal and five hits. He was a force all night…the injuries to Niskanen, Oprik, and Oshie are all believed to be minor, but they will not play on Saturday in Smashville. The Caps take on the Predators at 5:00, but I’m not sure why they are playing so early in the Music City?

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Oshie Green

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Oshie and Carlson Lead the Caps Over Detroit, 6-3

Posted on 09 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

T.J. Oshie scored two goals and added a big assist on John Carlson’s game winning tally to lead the Washington Capitals to a 6-3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings at the Verizon Center on Thursday night. The win was the Caps 11th straight at home and fifth overall. During this home winning streak they’ve outscored their opponents by a whopping 56-15 margin!

Oshie was +4 and it was his steal behind the Detroit net after Washington’s fourth line had a monster forechecking shift that allowed #77 to take the puck and feed Carlson for the winning blast just 4:15 into the final frame. T.J. is just so much fun to watch on the ice.

Pay the Man!

Seriously, could that trade with St. Louis have worked out any better for the Caps?

The correct answer is “Heck No!”

“Osh Babe,” as Alexander Ovechkin calls him, brings it every night and wins board battle after board battle. He has a great shot and he is such a good two-way forward. There is no other player in the entire Capitals organization that can do what he does and if somehow this franchise wins its first championship this spring, there’s no doubt he’ll pay a big role in that.

But let’s get back to Thursday’s victory over the Wings.

The Capitals came out of the gate like Secretariat at the Belmont in 1973 forging a 9-1 shots on goal advantage. However, they only had a 1-0 lead thanks to the strong play of Wings goalie Peter Mrazek (25 saves). When Nate Schmidt and Anthony Mantha went off with matching minors 11:25 into the game, things suddenly changed. Four on four has not been a strength of the Capitals and the Wings took advantage of some poor defense by Dmitry Orlov and especially Ovechkin to knot the game at one. Nicklas Backstrom then took a boarding penalty and Andreas Anthanasiou notched his second tally of the night in less than three minutes to give Detroit the lead. Both tallies were top shelf on Braden Holtby.

But red hot Brett Connolly, after going hard into the boards and getting up gingerly, put home the rebound of a point shot by Karl Alzner from a bad angle for his 12th goal of the season to tie things up with 90 ticks left in period one. #10 was definitely in some pain after the collision, but he played the rest of the game and had his wheels rolling just fine. Connolly continues to play excellent hockey.

Unfortunately, the Capitals lost Andre Burakovsky to an apparent hand injury in the first period.  #65 went down to block a shot and took one in the right appendage and did not return. Let’s hope this injury is not serious because the third line of Lars Eller, Connolly, and Burakovsky has been downright dominant.

Oshie scored his first of the game off of a great stretch pass off of the boards by Carlson just 1:16 into period two to make it 3-2. #74, who had 10 shot attempts on the night (5 on goal), was super in this contest with two points and a +4 rating.

Washington would not be able to solve Mrazek again in period two so they had a one puck lead heading to the final 20 minutes despite a 25-12 shots on goal advantage and a 42-25 shot attempt edge.

The third frame started very sleepily for Washington and another defensive zone breakdown allowed Henrik Zetterberg to go in all alone on Braden Holtby (14 saves). The Holtbeast, who had an uneven night, held his ground and forced #40 to his backhand, but the Swede managed to lift one up over Holts’ glove, which got caught against the post, and into the cage just 1:25 into period three. Braden was not happy about that one, but Oshie and Carlson would play big roles in the next two goals, and then Backstrom (1 goal, 2 assists) would hit the empty net to close out the scoring.

Marcus Johansson had another superb effort and his goal after a great fore check by Justin Williams and cross crease pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov gave the Caps their 1-0 lead 5:57 into the game. Jojo also made a nice pass to Backstrom, who then fed Oshie on the fifth goal, which was a power play marker that pretty much ended this contest with 5:42 remaining. Marcus now has 18 goals on the season.

Overall, this was a dominating offensive show by the Caps, but they were too loose in their own zone, at times, and they need to work on four on four play before the playoffs. If they aren’t better there, teams will try to take coincidental minors and put Washington in that situation. Remember, it was a four on four instance that allowed Pittsburgh to rally from a 3-0 deficit back in January in a 8-7 overtime loss for the Caps in Steel Town.

The Capitals are now 38-11-6 (82 points) after scoring five or more goals at home for the 10th straight time. They lead the Blue Jackets by 9 points and the Penguins will likely win in Colorado on Thursday night to move into second place, eight points behind Washington. Both of those teams have two games in hand. Coming up in the rear view mirror of Columbus, though, are the New York Rangers, who are now at 71 points. So things are going to be interesting down the stretch in the Metropolitan Division standings.

For the Caps though, it’s all about cleaning up their game and being healthy for the post season. The Burakovsky hand injury is a concern, right now. Fortunately, the Capitals only have Saturday’s game against Anaheim before they get their bye week and can rest up.

They’ve played a lot of hockey since Christmas and following that tilt with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, it’s a well needed five day shut down away from the rink.

Notes: Ovechkin played a season low 13:54 and only had two shot attempts (none on net). He didn’t look engaged in this contest, but he was good on Tuesday and the Caps will need him on Saturday…final shot attempts were 55-34 for the Caps (shots on goal were 31-17)…the Wings have the fewest regulation or overtime wins in the NHL (16)…Carlson led the Caps in TOI with 22:22…Alzner was +3 in 21:25…faceoffs were tied at 31 apiece. Jay Beagle went 12-8.

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Caps Canes Ovi Jojo

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Ovechkin Leads the Caps Over Carolina, 5-0

Posted on 07 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Carolina Hurricanes came into Tuesday night’s game against the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center riding a three game winning streak. The Canes, who are fast and have historically given the Caps some trouble, fired the first six shots on net in the first five plus minutes of this contest.

That would be the high water mark of the night for them.

A sleepy Capitals start was erased at the 5:54 mark when Caps Captain Alexander Ovechkin put a big hit on defensemen Brett Pesce in the offensive zone. Basically, the Gr8 was letting his teammates know that the beginning of this tilt was not what he had in mind and it was time to get going.

The troops followed their Captain’s lead and ramped up their intensity. Shortly thereafter, Dmitry Orlov made a nice move in the offensive zone and drew a tripping infraction on Ron Hainsey. 85 seconds into the power play, Ovechkin once again set the tone for his club by scoring off the glove of Canes goalie Eddie Lack (23 saves) on a shot that was likely headed wide. The shot was so hard that the Carolina goalie swatted at it and changed the disc’s direction right into the twine. It was Ovi’s 26th goal on the season.

Just over three minutes later, red hot Brett Connolly made a super move in the slot to buy some time and a shooting lane to the cage and he roofed one short side on Lack to make it 2-0. It was #10’s 11th tally of the season, just one off of his career high.

Washington would build off of those two goals and generate several more chances in the late stages of period one and into the middle frame, but Lack started heating up. The Caps had numerous quality looks in period two, but they couldn’t get that key third goal. Carolina didn’t have a lot of opportunities, although they did generate a one on one chance for Sebastian Aho, but Braden Holtby (23 saves) shut the door.

Heading into the third period, the outcome was still slightly in doubt, but two Washington goals in 27 seconds changed that quickly. Connolly made a great steal in the neutral zone and on a three on two zone entry, the super smart hockey player picked the right direction with his pass. That was on the stick of Lars Eller, who was coming with speed down the left wing side of the ice. #20 wound up and fired a laser that beat Lack short side, top shelf, once again. It was the second goal of the night for the third line, which has absolutely been on fire since Christmas.

The second unit was not to be outdone, though, and some strong wall work by Justin Williams jarred the puck free on the right wing boards in the offensive zone. Marcus Johansson then fed Evgeny Kuznetsov cruising in the high slot and #92 put the biscuit in the basket to make it 4-0 just 6:37 into period three. It was Kuzy’s 12th goal of the season and it was revenge for a dirty Brock McGinn slash near the end of period one that initially injured Kuznetsov. Paybacks are hell, Brock.

The Caps would then score five or more goals at home for the ninth straight game when Jojo deposited the rebound of an Ovechkin power play shot into the open cage with 5:48 remaining. Ovi absolutely got every bit of the puck on that blast, which was off of a nice feed from Matt Niskanen, and Lack simply could not contain it, allowing the perfectly positioned Johansson to notch his 17th goal of the season. Good things happen when you go to the net.

This was a solid win for the Capitals against a team that is fighting for their playoff lives, but the Caps, once they got going, were simply too much for Carolina to handle. Coach Barry Trotz just rolls out line after solid line and it wears their opponents down. In the last nine games at the Verizon Center the Capitals have now outscored their opponents by a staggering 48-11!

The Holtbeast earned his 7th shutout of the season. He didn’t have a ton of work, but he was solid and didn’t give up a goal in the first five minutes when the Caps were still finding their legs. Between Holtby and Grubauer, the Caps are getting superb net minding night in and night out.

The win improves the Caps to 37-11-6 (80 points) and they lead the second place Blue Jackets by seven points and the third place Penguins by eight points, although both of those clubs have two games in hand. It’s not time to start quoting the Ron Howard B-movie classic “Eat My Dust” just yet, but a Metropolitan Division title is certainly there for the taking for the Capitals. Washington now has a +66 goal differential this season and they continue to crush their opponents in the first period (58-23).

As I stated on WNST on Tuesday morning and wrote on twitter (@EdFrankovic) before puck drop, motivation for the Caps in this game was something I was concerned about. They did start slow, but once Ovechkin laid a licking on Pesce, the team woke up and ultimately cruised to victory. It wasn’t a clean game for the Capitals, but they got the job done and didn’t really give Carolina many chances to crawl back into the contest.

This hockey team is really good, and believe it or not, they can actually get better.

Notes: Shot attempts were 57-51 for the Caps…Washington was buried at the dot, 35-20. Eller was 8-6…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:10…Ovechkin had two points (50 for the season now) in just 17:18…Brooks Orpik and Nate Schmidt were each +3…the Caps were 2 for 3 on the power play while the Canes went 0 for 3…next up for the Capitals are the Red Wings at the Verizon Center at 7 pm on Thursday night.

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Beags habs

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Holtby Holds the Fort In Caps 3-2 Win Over Montreal

Posted on 04 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Heading into Saturday afternoon’s game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre, the Washington Capitals were 31-1-5 in franchise history when Jay Beagle scores a goal and 8-0 this season (thanks Adam Miller).

Just 3:06 into the matinee, #83 sniped one by Carey Price after a sweet feed from Daniel Winnik following a strong play by Tom Wilson in the neutral zone to keep the play onside.

So you know how this one turns out, right? It would be a Caps victory in Quebec.

However, it wasn’t easy.

After Beagle’s tally there was a lengthy delay (about 11 minutes) due to a hole in the bottom of the boards behind Braden Holtby (20 saves). Montreal took advantage of that Super Bowl 47 like stoppage to right their ship and tie the game up at one less than three minutes after play resumed. Nate Schmidt tried an ill advised centering pass on the right wing boards in his own zone and that allowed Alexander Radulov to snipe one to get the Habs back in the game. Schmidt needed to either eat the puck along the boards there until he could get help or reverse the play by putting the disc along the boards behind his own cage.

The Caps would then settle down and they began carrying the play again with lots of offensive zone pressure. Washington’s third line of Lars Eller, Brett Connolly, and Andre Burakovsky was especially good. When the Caps turned the puck over or Montreal took a hold of it, Washington ferociously back checked and reclaimed the biscuit. They did an excellent job in the first two frames of going up and down the ice in five man units and that prevented the very fast Habs squad from turning this game into a track meet.

The two way effort paid off midway through the middle frame. Eller sprung Connolly up the ice on a three on two with Burakovsky and Schmidt. #88 then atoned for his previous mistake by making a very smart play as he crossed the blue line with speed – he kept driving to the net. By doing that he took the Habs defensemen with him and that opened up a passing lane for #10, who laid a sweet cross ice feed to #65 and he snapped it short side, top shelf by Price for a 2-1 lead.

Washington would continue pressing the play in period two and they had several good looks. Alex Ovechkin hit the post and was also denied in tight by #31. Justin Williams had a great shot from the slot, but he didn’t elevate the puck and Price got his pad on it. After 40 minutes, shots on goal were 24-12 for the Caps and 41-26 in terms of shot attempts. In short, they were playing a super road game to that point.

In the third period, they did a good job of keeping Montreal to the outside early in the frame and when Radulov took a hooking penalty on the Gr8, the Caps cashed in on the power play. With the Habs overplaying the pass to Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom alertly chose to fire a shot from the middle of the ice up high and with Price leaning right, the puck eluded him to give Washington a 3-1 lead with 14:44 to go.

Things then got interesting. Montreal really put the pressure on and at 7:49 of period three Max Pacioretty cut the lead to one when they totally outworked the Caps fourth line for a goal. The game would go back and forth with teams trading some chances and when the Caps received a power play with 5:46 to go, they looked to close this one out. However, the Caps made a big offensive zone turnover and Torrey Mitchell received a shorthanded breakaway. As he was about to shoot, the puck bounced on him a bit, so he didn’t get all of the rubber, but the Holtbeast was already in good position and he made a huge stop. Braden would make a few more quality saves down the stretch and the Capitals did a decent job of not allowing the Habs to penetrate the paint until the final horn sounded.

When it was all said and done, the Capitals would head out of the hallowed hockey city with a 3-2 victory to improve to 35-11-6 (76 points) on the season.

This was a game that I was not worried about for Washington from a motivational standpoint. Every NHL player LOVES to play in Montreal. It is a great city and has a lot of hockey history. Simply put, if you can’t get up to play there, you don’t have a pulse.

As I routinely write, when the Caps are motivated, they are hard to beat because of their skill, depth, and goaltending. Montreal gets paid to play, too, and they are fighting for their division title, so the Habs really brought it, especially late. Both Price and Holtby put on net minding clinics and it is easy to see why they are the best two goalies in the NHL.

This was a fun hockey game to watch and Washington benefitted from winning the special teams battle going 1 for 4 with the man advantage and stopping all three Habs power plays.

Both teams could’ve won this affair, although I thought the Caps were the better team for the majority of the tilt, until they earned the two goal lead. They then hung on to win and as the stats dictate, when Beagle scores a goal, it’s pretty much points in the bank for Washington.

Woof!

Notes: The Caps won the shot attempt battle, 51-49. Ovechkin and Beagle each had five shots on net. This was by far #83’s best outing since he went down with a virus just before the all star break. “Flip Phone” Beags seemed to finally have his legs back…John Carlson took his first penalty of the season, but he played solidly and led the Caps in ice time with 24:16…Holtby is now 11-0-0 in his last 13 starts…the Caps won the face off battle, 28-25. All Star Backstrom was 15-4 and Beagle was 9-6…Burakovsky and Beagle now both have 11 goals on the season. #65 and that whole line has been a huge difference maker for Coach Barry Trotz’ club….the Caps will face the Los Angeles Kings at noon on Super Bowl Sunday at the Verizon Center on NBC. LA defeated the Flyers on Saturday, 1-0, in overtime….the Kings are coming in hot, they’ve won five in a row as they make their way to DC. Expect to see Philipp Grubauer between the pipes for the Caps.

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Backstrom & Kuznetsov Lead the Caps Over Boston, 5-3

Posted on 01 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Boston Bruins seem to bring out the best in Nicklas Backstrom.

Washington’s number one center had a beast of an evening against the B’s at the Verizon Center notching a goal and two helpers as the Caps pulled away for a 5-3 victory.

It was #19’s great saucer pass up the middle of the ice that set up T.J. Oshie for a breakaway goal just 3:06 into this contest and then later in the opening frame he buried the rebound of a Matt Niskanen point shot.

The Capitals looked like they were going to be in command of this one early, but then the Bruins, who rallied from a 3-0 hole in DC earlier in the season before losing in OT on a Backstrom goal, came back with two power play goals by pesky Brad Marchand to tie things up just 2:49 into period two. Boston started to take over the game for a good portion of that stanza, much like the Islanders did to the Caps on Tuesday in Brooklyn after a power play goal. Somehow, though, Coach Barry Trotz’ crew found another gear.

Marcus Johansson, who did stellar work winning many board battles in this one, drew a late second period penalty. That set the stage for Alex Ovechkin to score a huge goal with 15 seconds remaining in period two. The Gr8 took a pass from Niskanen and with Jojo screening in front, he snapped it by Tuukka “0 for the Verizon Center” Rask for his 25th marker of the season.

The Caps, who only had nine shots on net in the first 35 minutes, would take command of the last part of the period and earned a 36-31 shot attempt advantage.

Just 3:29 into period three, Washington regained their two goal lead on a pretty passing play set up by a great rush by Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuzy skated in the zone with speed on the right side of the ice and fed a hard charging Dmitry Orlov in the high slot. #9 then made a great pass to Brett Connolly, who went to his back hand and put the biscuit in the basket. It was #10’s ninth goal of the season and he continues to play extremely well on the third line with Andre Burakovsky and Lars Eller.

From there, Boston would make a big push, but they couldn’t dent the Holtbeast (30 saves) until after Kuznetsov made it 5-2 with 4:07 left after a great feed from Tom Wilson. Wilson, after some strong board work by Johansson and Niskanen, stole the puck on the fore check and fed #92 cruising in the slot and he made no mistake about it.

Boston would finally get an even strength goal with 1:31 to go, but the game was over.

What was big about this contest was the Capitals received great performances from their top two centers, Backstrom (3 points) and Kuznetsov (2 points). They outplayed the Bruins strong pivot duo of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci and that’s the main reason why the Caps were able to win a game against a team fighting for playoff position.

The biggest negative in this tilt was the Capitals penalty killing unit, which is struggling. They’ve allowed too many PPG’s lately and they seem to have lost some of their aggressiveness. I’m not sure if the downturn has coincided with the flu bug going through the team or the lack of practice, but it’s an area they need to get back on track? It takes a lot of energy and structure to be consistently successful on the PK and Washington hasn’t had a lot of either while shorthanded in the last eight to 10 games.

Overall, though, Coach Trotz has to be happy with the play of his top three lines. With Justin Williams missing the game due to a lower body injury, Jay Beagle jumped up on the second line. That weakened the fourth line and forced the other three units to play more, but Backstrom owns the Bruins, much like Braden Holtby does, too. The Holtbeat is now 10-0-0 in his last 12 starts, overall. #70 was solid in net again after being the MVP, at least in my book, in Sunday’s NHL All Star Game.

Special teams weren’t the best for Washington on Wednesday night, as they allowed two goals on three shorthanded situations, but Ovechkin’s power play goal with just 15 seconds to go in period two was so important, as NBC’s Keith Jones pointed out in the intermission.

As for Rask, well he’s still never won at the Verizon Center and is now 1-9-5 in his career against the Caps (h/t @ThePeerless).

With the victory, the Capitals improve to 34-11-6 (74 points). Despite losing three times to the Islanders in regulation, they still lead the NHL standings. The Blue Jackets are four points back, but have two games in hand, though, as do the Penguins, who are seven points back. Columbus and Pittsburgh play each other on Friday night in Steel town.

Notes: Washington won the face off battle against a Bruins team that is good on draws, 30-26. Chandler Stephenson, who played with Stick out of the lineup, was 5-2…John Carlson played his second straight game after missing several games due to injury and led the team in ice time with 22:40. He was +2 and very solid on the back end…final shot attempts were 63-47 for Boston, but that was mostly score effects as the Caps had a 36-31 advantage after two frames…Kuznetsov was named the NHL’s first star of the month for the great January he produced (20 points in 15 games)…next up for the Caps are the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre at 1 pm on Saturday.

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Ovi Devils

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Caps Offense Reignites in 5-2 Win Over New Jersey

Posted on 26 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin scored on a great steal and power move just 6:14 into the game and Braden Holtby made 27 saves as the Washington Capitals defeated the New Jersey Devils, 5-2, at “The Rock” on Thursday night.

The goal by the Gr8 was a tone setter for the Capitals, who were playing their 17th contest in the last 31 days. It was an important tally because on Tuesday in Ottawa, the Caps had no legs and with both John Carlson (lower body injury) and T.J. Oshie (family matter) out of the Devils tilt, they needed an early spark to get them through this contest and off to a weekend away from the rink for the All Star break.

Evgeny Kuznetsov (two goals), Dmitry Orlov (two assists), Andre Burakovsky (goal and an assist), and Brooks Orpik (+3 in 20:22) all had monster outings as the Caps were able to find enough juice in the tank to survive a Devils team that thrives on using neutral zone speed to generate opportunities.

For most of this game, the Capitals did a nice job of throttling that speed, especially in the first 15 minutes of period two when they increased their 2-0 first frame advantage to a 4-1 lead and chased Keith Kinkaid on 17 shots. In came Cory Schneider (18 saves) and despite a few early quality chances for the Caps, #35 stabilized things for New Jersey and when they scored a late second period power play goal and then hit the pipe on the next shift, this one was far from over.

During the first 10 minutes of the third period, the Devils stormed up and down the ice on Coach Barry Trotz’ squad, but the Capitals did a good job of keeping New Jersey on the perimeter and any shots that made their way through were gobbled up by the Holtbeast.

At that point, it looked like the Caps were gassed and already on their break, but then Washington turned up their intensity and for the next four plus minutes they hemmed New Jersey in their own zone and stifled any comeback. The Capitals would make the final six minutes look pretty easy and when the Devils pulled Schneider, Kuznetsov stole the puck in the neutral zone and skated in uncontested for the empty net clincher.

#92 was very much on in this one. His hit in the left wing corner set up a turnover that allowed Burakovsky to make it 2-0 and then on the next Washington power play, in the second period, he received a super feed from Orlov and raced in all alone on Kinkaid and beat him with a backhand through the five hole as he was being hooked.

Orlov was sensational in the second period in earning his two assists and he could’ve had more. He was excellent at stopping any New Jersey rushes and was getting his stick in the lanes so that the Devils could not enter the Washington zone cleanly. Offensively, he is finding ways to get his shot through to the net. It was his great snapper that Kinkaid played off of his pads with Lars Eller screening him. As a result, #20 was able to swat home the Caps third goal from the paint, which came five minutes after the Devils had closed to just a goal.

For New Jersey, Taylor Hall was flying most of this contest. He had seven shot attempts (four on goal) in 22:22 of ice time, but he’ll be most remembered in this one for getting blown up by Orpik on a clean hit 6:52 into the final frame. #44 logged 20:22 and was a force on the back end.

Once again, the Capitals offense produced four or more goals and they all came from going to the cage. Net presence has been a big staple of Washington’s attack since the Christmas break and during these 17 games, they’ve gone 13-2-2. They lost the first one to the Islanders after the lay off and then they had the 40+ shot effort versus New Jersey that was primarily perimeter based and resulted in a shootout defeat. Since that game, it’s been all pucks and bodies to the net, except for Tuesday’s Ottawa tilt where Washington had a Jackson Browne type of effort, Running on Empty.

With no Oshie and Carlson and weekend plans away from hockey for everyone except for the Gr8 and the Holtbeast, this looked like a trap game. Ovechkin, however, set the tone and the rest of the crew followed his lead to grab another two points and improve to 33-10-6 (72 points). This 13-1-1 run since December 31st has given the Caps a four point lead over Columbus (CBus has a game in hand), a seven point cushion on the Penguins (PIT has a game in hand), and a nine point edge on the Rangers as many of the Capitals head to a beach or golf course down south.

Simply put, the Caps have seized the top spot in the NHL in January with an incredible run of hockey. They showed that when they are motivated, they are a really tough team to play against. Washington has four lines that can score and their back end, with Carlson, is very solid. Without #74 things got a bit shaky, but they were able to bury enough biscuits to overcome some periodic defensive trouble.

With the trade deadline just over a month away (February 28th), GM Brian MacLellan has a lot of guys playing near their peak making them very valuable commodities. This will be a tough trade deadline, though, with the NHL expansion draft looming in June, so this could be a year where most teams stand pat. If that’s the case, the Capitals have to feel really good about their team, with the only real need likely being a top four D in case one of Carlson, Matt Niskanen, or Karl Alzner goes down with a serious injury.

Overall, this team looks better positioned for the postseason than last year, but there are still 33 games and two and a half months to go. Washington has played a lot of hockey over the last month and have to be exhausted. It’s time for a well deserved break.

Notes: Shot attempts were 54-48 for Washington, including 36-29 in shots on goal. The Caps blocked just five shots but the Devils only blocked seven…Washington won the faceoff battle, 31-28. Eller was 7-5…Kuznetsov had eight shots on net in 16:57 of ice time…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:55. No New Jersey skater was within two minutes of #2’s game leading total…Tom Wilson was questionably kicked out of the game for third man in after Oprik blew up Hall and Kyle Palmieri jumped #44…next up for the Caps are the Islanders in Brooklyn on Tuesday, January 31st…enjoy All Star weekend everyone, I know I will since there will be no weekend blogs, but on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness, so you got that going for you…

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