Tag Archive | "Holtby"

The Caps start slow, but finish strong in a 3-2 victory over Pittsburgh

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Caps Rally to Beat Pens Via Heavy Hockey

Posted on 02 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

It is not how you start, it is how you finish.

On Tuesday night at the Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals came out sluggish and dug a 2-0 hole just 23:45 into this contest. The Caps were not skating at all and were not physically or mentally engaged in the game. As a result their gap control was terrible and the speedy Penguins took advantage of the space they were allowed on the ice.

But everything changed on the shift after the Peter Hornqvist tally, as Coach Barry Trotz shuffled the deck and put Mike Richards out with Tom Wilson and Jason Chimera to try and generate some much needed energy. Boy did it pay off as those guys were all over Pittsburgh and with #43 creating havoc in front, Richards notched his second goal of the season with a shot that Pens goalie Matthew Murray (34 saves) never saw just 39 seconds after it was 2-0. Afterwards, Richards said the goal belonged to Wilson, because he thought Willy tipped it, but regardless of that, the Caps were back in the game and they came to life with a vengeance.

For the final 35+ minutes this was mostly heavy hockey by the Caps. They were slow out of the gates due to no practice on Monday and it looked even worse with the Pens having played on Monday in a 6-0 rout of Arizona. In typical fashion, the Capitals started tilting the ice with their physical play and later in the period Justin Williams came down the left wing, kept his feet moving, and wrapped a puck around the right wing side of the Pens cage. Evgeny Kuznetsov had alertly positioned himself in front of the net and he whacked the biscuit home to tie the game up, with 3:57 left in period two, and totally ignited the Verizon Center crowd.

From there the Caps continued to pressure Pittsburgh. As expected, with the Pens having played the night before and Washington possessing a deeper and more physical team, the Capitals carried the play in the last 20 minutes and would win the game on the power play.

Evgeni Malkin high sticked T.J. Oshie in the neutral zone and that set up the #1 ranked unit in the league for a man advantage with 7:15 remaining. Pittsburgh, according to Matt Niskanen, became focused on shadowing Alex Ovechkin, and that allowed Nicklas Backstrom to feed #2 for three straight blasts from the point with traffic in front. As they say, the third time is a charm, and Niskanen’s rocket found the back of the cage. Following the game, the unselfish defensemen stated that Oshie had tipped the puck and deserved the goal.

So that’s two goals for Washington in which the official goal scorer said it wasn’t his goal. That’s a team that plays for each other and one that only cares about one thing, winning. This club has great team chemistry.

Winning is what they did as they held Sidney Crosby (1 assist) to no shots on goal and improved to 46-12-4 (96 points). With 20 games remaining they have yet to lose back to back tilts in regulation and the rest of the league remains in their dust.

As for Oshie, well he is one tough son of a gun. He took a knee on knee hit from Crosby and had to leave for a couple of shifts, he was trucked in the neutral zone by Ovechkin, and he also got clipped up high by Malkin to set up the winning power play sequence. You’d think a guy that was banged up that physically in this contest would spend the rest of the night staying on the perimeter, right? No, not Oshie, he was right there in front, doing what is necessary, to score or at least help score the game winning goal. Simply put, Oshie eats rocks for breakfast.

Wilson was outstanding in this contest and he was a big reason the game changed. #43 was flying around and scaring Penguins players while staying in control. He was simply unmanageable by the Pittsburgh defense for the final 35+ minutes.

All three Capitals goals were scored in front via hard work plays to get the puck to the prime scoring area while other teammates worked hard to battle in front to make the job for Murray, who played very well, extremely difficult.

When the Penguins did get a chance late, and Carl Hagelin had a golden opportunity with 33 seconds left, Braden Holtby (28 saves) came up with a big and sassy glove save to deny one of Washington’s biggest rivals. The Holtbeast now has 40 wins this season and is closing in on Martin Brodeur’s NHL record of 48 victories in a regular season.

Bottom line, though, this Caps team, that is still missing John Carlson, is deep and can wear their opponents down and agonizingly take hockey games from you.

They are a force to be reckoned with when they are focused.

The Penguins learned that, once again, on Tuesday night.

Notes: Mike Weber made his Caps debut and logged 12:24 on defense, paired mostly with Nate Schmidt. He blocked a team leading five shots…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time, at 24:26…Washington won the face off battle, 30-25. Backstrom was 11-9…the Caps had 32 hits to just 19 for the Pens…Washington outshot the Pens 37-30. Shot attempts were 64-58 for the Penguins. Washington dug a big first period hole in shot attempts with their poor play…the Caps will face Brooks Laich and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center at 7 pm. Philipp Grubauer will be in net. Daniel Winnik, who was acquired in the Laich trade, arrived in town on Tuesday and should be in the lineup on the fourth line against the Leafs.

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Chicago and the zebras combined on Sunday afternoon to defeat the Capitals, 3-2.

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Caps Get Slimmed in Chicago, 3-2

Posted on 28 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

“Well, um, icing happen when the puck come down, bang you know, before the other guys you know. Nobody there, you know. My arm go comme ça then the game stop then start up.” – Goaltender Dennis Lemieux of the Charlestown Chiefs.

On Sunday afternoon in the Windy City, the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks played a thrilling hockey game with the club that has won three Stanley Cups in the last six years coming out on top, 3-2, despite a late Caps rally.

This was a fantastic display of the sport, by the players, with the Capitals dominating a breathtaking first period. Washington poured 17 shots on net in the opening frame as well as several others that missed the cage, including Evgeny Kuznetsov’s shot in tight that hit the post. Chicago only had six shots on goal, but thanks to a Justin Williams turnover and Patrick Kane being a “sneaky bugger” the game was tied after 20 minutes. The Caps goal came on a power play with Marcus Johansson baseballing the rebound home at the doorstep after a strong shot from Williams in the slot. That tally was the first time the Capitals scored first in the last eight games and it was easily their best first frame since the All Star Break. Unfortunately, the solid play did not translate to a road lead and that ended up costing Washington as the game progressed.

The Blackhawks took over period two, out shootoing the Caps, 14-4, aided by some curious penalty calls on the Caps and at least one each of missed icing and offsides infractions. Brooks Orpik was called for hooking on a clean hit shortly after an obvious offsides on the Hawks. The Caps killed that one off, but then a missed icing call on Chicago led to an incorrect tripping call on Taylor Chorney. That was two power plays for the bad guys on no real infractions. Jonathan Toews scored on that second man advantage situation to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead heading into the final period.

Washington would carry large portions of the final 20 minutes, outshooting the Hawks, 9-3, but when linesmen Matt MacPherson and Brandon Gawryletz missed an obvious icing call on Chicago, Nate Schmidt and the rest of the Capitals eased up awaiting the impending whistle. It did not come. As a result, Richard Panik seized the puck and hit a charging Dennis Rasmussen in the slot, who was all alone and beat Braden Holtby (20 saves) to make it 3-1. You are taught at a young age in all sports to play to the whistle, so shame on Washington for stopping and not finishing the play. That’s a good lesson to learn, but seriously, what is with the inconsistent officiating in this league? The linesmen should know what icing is, it is even simpler than Dennis Lemieux explained it in Slapshot! To steal from another great movie, Fletch, “Perhaps [the refs] need a refresher course!”

The Capitals players and bench were incensed and afterwards Coach Barry Trotz, Alex Ovechkin, Jay Beagle, and the Holtbeast were not happy with the bad or missed calls. In fact, Trotz told Caps beat reporter Mike Vogel that two of the missed icing calls directly or indirectly lead to Chicago tallies. It was no doubt a bad night for all four zebras, but the league will likely do nothing about it.

After receiving a late five on three man advantage the Caps pulled Holtby to make it a six on three. Washington promptly lost an offensive zone faceoff, but Nicklas Backstrom made a great play knocking down a Hawks clearing attempt and from there #19 got the puck to Kuznetsov, who banked it in from below the goal line on Corey Crawford (28 saves). The Capitals stormed the castle again after that, but T.J. Oshie couldn’t connect on a great chance in front. #77 was in the right positions most of the game, however, his hands weren’t there on Sunday.

So the loss drops the Caps to 45-12-4 (94 points). They still lead Chicago in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy by 11 points and they have three games in hand, so Washington still has the inside track for that piece of hardware. More importantly, getting home ice for the entire playoffs would be a key to winning the silver hardware they really desire. If they do happen to meet the Hawks in the Finals or the Rangers in the second round or anyone else in a game seven, that would be played at the Verizon Center.

Speaking of the Rangers, the Blueshirts were “gifted” Carolina forward Eric Staal for half price in salary in return for two second round picks and a prospect. This deal for the Rangers was outstanding and it was only plausible because Marc Staal plays for the Rags. The Canes, who were in the hunt for a playoff spot, should feel shame for aiding the crew from New York. Sure they get some marginal assets, but seriously, that was worse than the bad Iran nuclear deal.

But back to Caps-Hawks, both goalies made big stops in this one and you can’t fault the Holtbeast on any of the goals. Washington needs to hit the net more consistently, that was their downfall on Sunday, along with the guys in stripes, who missed a good game.

Notes: the Caps outshot the Hawks, 30-23 and outshot attempted them, 53-48…the Caps were two for five on the power play while Chicago went 1 for 4… the Caps were creamed on draws, 31-20. They had no answer for Toews, who went 18-4…the trade deadline is on Monday at 3 pm and if the Caps do anything, it might be to add a faceoff specialist, but, in my opinion, they don’t need to make any moves…John Carlson did not play in this contest. He underwent a minor procedure on his knee on Saturday and was placed on long term injured reserve, so he’ll miss at least the next 10 games. Coach Trotz stated on Sunday morning that they expect him back in three weeks…the Caps had 47 hits to just 27 for Chicago. In the first period the Caps really came out playing the body hard and that ended their bad first period streak…this was only the second time all season that the Capitals lost in regulation after scoring first.

WNST Event Note: Please come out to Buffalo Wild Wings on Monday evening in Belair to meet Coach Barry Trotz. Nestor Aparacio and I will be interviewing the great bench boss. In addition, there will be swabbing done by There Goes My Hero for the Bone Marrow Registry. This is a simple process and it is very helpful in the fight against leukemia.

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The Caps have another strong third period to win their 45th game of the season.

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Ovechkin and Holtby Lead the Caps to Victory Over the Wild

Posted on 27 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

When it comes to third periods, the Washington Capitals own them.

Facing a Minnesota Wild team that was desperate for points, had played the night before in Philadelphia, and had forged a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes, the Caps put the hammer down in the final frame getting Alexander Ovechkin’s 40th goal of the season on the power play, Dmitry Orlov’s game winner via a Harlem Globetrotters type move, and a huge victory clinching save from Braden Holtby with 33 seconds left en route to their 3-2 triumph at the Verizon Center.

Washington once again found themselves in penalty trouble in the first frame, taking three infractions, although the first one on Brooks Oprik was a total joke. The Wild capitalized on the third of those three man advantage situations to forge a 1-0 lead on Mikko Koivu’s shot that went five hole on Holtby. It was the 14th time in the last 17 games that the Capitals allowed the first tally. Their first frame was not very good once the parade to the box began and they were outshot on goal, 12-3, and 22-8 overall in shot attempts. It was an ugly period and Koivu’s tally, with 52 ticks left in the opening frame angered #70.

“Just over anticipating. I think they use a lot of tip plays and different things like that. Karl [Alzner] was in the lane and somehow the puck snuck through there. I need to be tighter there. Those are the plays I’ve been working on lately to solve, you don’t see the puck, but you still make the save. I didn’t do that,” said the Holtbeast afterwards on that first goal.

Coach Barry Trotz was not happy with his team’s play in the opening 20 minutes and he noted following the contest that he told the team they had to fix the problems themselves. It wasn’t about X’s and O’s, it was about playing the right way. In period one, Washington was very sloppy with their passes, they were losing the loose puck battles, and were making poor decisions.

They started the second period with a vengeance and Oprik scored his second goal in four games, and his sixth point in six tilts since returning from a 40 game absence due to injury, just 54 seconds into the middle frame. But another costly mistake on defense allowed Nino Niederreiter to get a breakaway on Holtby and he beat him top shelf at 5:05 of the second to regain the Wild’s one goal lead. After a few more rough minutes, the Capitals started to get their legs going and at the end of the period the shot attempts were 24-23 for Minnesota for those 20 minutes. Trotz told the media after the game that in the second period “we started fixing our battles.”

In the third period, the Caps really amped it up against a club that looked exhausted playing on back to back nights and their third game in four nights. They were also missing their top forward in Zach Parise, who was out due to injury. Ovechkin scored blocker side on Darcy Kuemper (24 saves) with the man advantage after Matt Niskanen gave him an absolutely perfect pass, which was hard to do on this evening. Carrie Underwood held a concert at the Verizon Center on Thursday and the ice was downright horrible. As one member of the media said to me, “It’s no surprise the ice is bad, because Carrie sure can melt some ice.” Isn’t that the truth and the surface was equally bad for both teams? Pucks were bouncing everywhere and skaters were falling down without even being touched.

But Washington fought through that and to their credit, they started owning the loose pucks as their coach preaches to them to do. The Caps had their fore-check going and were relentless in the last 20 minutes of this one. Orlov’s goal came after Andre Burakovsky made a nice cross ice pass to #9 and then he put the biscuit through his legs like he was Curly O’Neal and fired a backhander on the cage that Kuemper allowed to squeeze though his pads with 5:04 remaining.

The Caps then really buckled down and when they needed a big stop, the Holtbeast delivered. It was Braden’s strongest game (30 saves) in recent memory and he did it with his former bench boss, Adam Oates, the man who wanted him to play deeper in his net, in the house (Oates apparently is a paid consultant to Parise and Ryan Suter of the Wild).

The victory was Holtby’s 39th of the season and he is 31-2-3 in his last 38 games. Holtby did have to make several big stops early in this one and he also was run into by Niederreiter in the first frame. All around the league I’ve continued to see players making contact with goaltenders and the infractions are rarely being called. It’s becoming super dangerous to be a goalie these days. Kings Coach Darryl Sutter, just last week, commented on how Jonathan Quick continues to get run when he plays, as well. Following Friday’s win, I asked Holtby about this phenomenon.

“It’s one of those things where you solve the problem, but you create another one by putting the reviews in. There’s no reason for refs to call goalie interference anymore because they know it’s just going to go to review if it’s a goal. You knew that was going to happen and that’s no fault at all of the referees because if they make a mistake with the ability to have a review, then that’s not a good thing either. So we just have to play through it and hope it doesn’t cause any damage,” stated the Holtbeast on the recent trend of goalies getting run over.

My take, the referees need to enforce the rulebook and do a better job of protecting the net minders before some goalie gets seriously hurt.

After this third period domination, and the Caps lead the NHL with 80 third frame goals to just 48 allowed, they move to 45-11-4, good for 94 points. That is just sick and unbelievable and it ties them with the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for most wins in a team’s first 60 games in NHL history.

Speaking of sick and unbelievable, how about that Gr8 guy, who now has scored 40 or more goals in eight NHL seasons? Ovechkin became the seventh player in NHL history to record 40 or more goals in eight of his first 11 seasons, joining Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, Marcel Dionne, Brett Hull, and “Lucky” Luc Robitaille. He’s the 10th player in NHL history to post at least eight 40 goal campaigns. Those stats are all courtesy of the Capitals excellent public relations staff.

So now it is on to Chicago to face the Blackhawks on Sunday afternoon at 12:30. GM Stan Bowman is intent on trying to win his fourth Stanley Cup in seven years. On Thursday he traded for forward Andrew Ladd from Winnipeg and then on Friday he added forwards Tomas Fleischmann and Mike Wiese from Montreal and defensemen Christian Ehroff from the Kings (who was in the minors after being waived). Those are some good moves, but it remains to be seen how Coach Joel Quenneville will integrate his new troops. After Friday’s win, Coach Trotz joked that the Caps weren’t even going to pre scout the Hawks for Sunday’s game because they have like eight new guys. Too funny!

Speaking of jokes that are also somewhat serious, Coach Trotz was clearly not thrilled with another bad start and he stated afterwards, with a sly smile, that “we’ll go on a walkabout on Saturday to see if we can find our game.” Clearly the coach who holds everyone accountable is a Crocodile Dundee fan.

Here’s to hoping that on Sunday in Chitown the Caps come out as sharp as Dundee’s knife, for once.

Notes: Orpik had another fantastic game logging 24:44 and going +2. He had eight hits and five blocked shots. #44 is really playing well and his lengthy injury absence has to help Washington for the stretch run because the 35 year old is dealing with much less wear and tear…on the bad news front, John Carlson did not play due to a lower body injury and Coach Trotz confirmed that it is the knee that forced #74 to miss 12 games after Christmas. It remains to be seen if he will need the knee “to be fixed,” but the Caps huge standings point lead and the depth they have on defense, which will increase when Mike Weber joins the team (his wife had a baby on Thursday), allows the club to be extra careful and work to get Carlson right for the post season…Ovechkin had an assist on the Orpik tally and Nicklas Backstrom had two helpers in the game, as well…Sunday in the Windy City starts a stretch where the Capitals will play six games in nine days.

WNST EVENT NOTE: Please come out to Buffalo Wild Wings on Monday night (February 29th) in Belair, Maryland as Nestor Aparacio and I will be interviewing Coach Trotz. There will also be trained personnel in attendance who will be swabbing people for the Bone Marrow Registry in an attempt to continue to fight Leukemia. It’s an easy process, so please come on out, eat some wings, listen to the coach talk hockey, and support a great cause!

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Mike Richards finally sees his hard work pay off in another Caps victory.

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Richards Scores Winner As Caps Defeat Arizona, 3-2

Posted on 22 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals scored twice in 26 seconds to seize a 3-1 third period lead, including Mike Richards first goal as a Cap, and then held on to win, 3-2, over a fast and structured Arizona Coyotes club.

Richards tally came after Tom Wilson alertly charged the cage following his hard shot that handcuffed goalie Louis Domingue (31 saves). The biscuit was laying to the immediate right of the Coyotes goalie and as he tried to cover it, his defensemen shoved his stick under Domingue’s glove just as Wilson was storming the crease. The puck popped into the slot and #10 pounced on it and buried it for the eventual game winning goal.

Alex Ovechkin had given the Capitals the lead for the first time in this contest moments earlier after an Evgeny Kuznetsov feed (1 goal, 1 assist). The Gr8 stickhandled the biscuit in the left wing circle and then waited for an opening to laser it through a maze of Arizona defenders off of Domingue and into the net. The Gr8’s goal was his 39th of the season and he now has 55 points on the season. He continues to find different ways to score key goals and it once again came in a tight contest where the outcome was still in doubt.

The Coyotes, who are coached by former Capital Dave Tippett, would not go away and they cut the margin to one with 10:17 remaining on a shot off of a faceoff where Braden Holtby was screened (25 saves). The Holtbeast would then be forced to make a sprawling glove save shortly thereafter to preserve the lead. After that though, the Caps shut things down and really gave Arizona no good chances until the final horn.

Richards and his linemates, Jason Chimera and Wilson, were the stars of this night with their play. The former Flyer and King took advantage of the opportunity presented to him with Marcus Johansson under the weather, centering the third unit. Chimera was flat out on Mach Two all night flying from the very first shift where he might have scored on a breakaway if not for the biscuit bouncing all over the Wizards ice (and that was a common theme in this one). The third line generated numerous scoring chances and all three did a great job on the penalty kill, as well.

The Caps took far too many of the lazy infraction variety on Monday night, including three in the first frame. Overall the Coyotes had six power plays and a total of 10:30 of man advantage time. That is way too much and the coaching staff cannot be happy with the undisciplined play in this one. There is no blaming the referees for the penalties they took as the film will not lie.

Fortunately, Washington’s PK was outstanding as Arizona only had three shots on goal in all of the power play time. Let me say that again, Arizona only had three shots on goal in 10:30 of man advantage time, WOW! The Caps had two shots on goal during those shorthanded situations, including a sweet dangle and backhand near goal by Richards late in the middle frame. Richards was simply outstanding in this game and earned the number one star of the night.

The Caps recently struggling power play did get the team even on its first attempt in the second period when Kuznetsov shot from the right wing circle while most thought he would dish the biscuit off to Ovechkin or elsewhere. It was a heads up play by the young Russian who now has 62 points on the campaign. Washington had three other man advantage situations and had some good looks, but could not connect. Overall, the Capitals had 11 shots on goal in four opportunities, so the goals will come if they keep piling up the shots like that.

Holtby was strong in net and he made a great save on a Coyotes two on one rush right before the Ovechkin and Richards tallies. You need your goalie to come up big in tight contests and the Holtbeast delivered, once again. He has now won 38 games this season and is 30-2-3 in his last 36 starts with a 2.22 goals against average and a .926 save percentage.

This victory improves Washington to 44-10-4 for 92 points on the season. Simply put, this club just finds ways to win and they are fun to watch.

Enjoy the ride, there are seven more weeks until the playoffs begin, so sit back and take in what has so far been one of the most amazing seasons in NHL history.

Notes: Arizona scored the first goal, when the Capitals made a bad line change that gave the Yotes a three on two rush, but the Caps found a way to win again after allowing the opening tally. Washington is a NHL leading 16-9-4 when allowing the first goal…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:25, but John Carlson played 23:17…Richards logged a season high 15:58 (15 games) and he had five shots on net. Most of them were quality scoring chances…the Caps had a tough night from the dot, going 33-41 on draws…Michael Latta tied for the team lead in hits with four (Carlson) in just 4:41 of ice time. The fourth line was shorted all evening because the Capitals took WAY TOO MANY PENALTIES. That needs to be cleaned up!..next up for the Caps are the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday at the Verizon Center at 7 pm.

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Brooks Orpik is no wood man, and he proves it by scoring the game winning goal for the Caps.

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Orpik Leads the Caps Over the Devils

Posted on 20 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

“He’s not like a wood man.” – Evgeny Kuznetsov, on Brooks Orpik, from his article in The Players’ Tribune

No, Brooks Orpik is not a wood man. #44, just three contests back into the lineup after missing 40 games, helped set up the game tying goal and then scored the game winner through traffic on Cory Schneider (28 saves) to give the Washington Capitals a come from behind, 4-3, victory over a hard working Devils squad.

Orpik, who’s been paired with Russian defensemen Dmitry Orlov since he’s returned, took another awesome Kuznetsov feed and alertly fired it on net. With Alex Ovechkin and a host of Devils in front, Schneider never saw it and it hit him in the shoulder and into the top corner of the cage with 3:58 remaining.

From there the Capitals gave the Devils nothing. In fact, after the Devils took the lead with 8:56 left they had only four shot attempts (two on net) the rest of the way.

Washington was very streaky in this contest. In the first period they played the wrong way with careless cross ice turnovers that led to several New Jersey quality chances. Coach Barry Trotz was not happy with that first frame and stated afterwards that the Capitals gave up eight or nine scoring chances, which was more than the Islanders had in the whole game on Thursday in Brooklyn.

Braden Holtby (21 saves) was strong early, stopping two Devils breakaways as well as the first six shots of the game, which all came from New Jersey. But #70 struggled a bit after that giving up questionable tallies on goals two and three. On both of the first Devils goals the Caps skaters looked like orange road cones and didn’t help their goaltender out. On the third one, it was from long range, but it might have deflected partially off of a Capitals stick. Still, Braden would tell you he must have those, especially in the last 10 minutes.

For the second straight contest the Capitals destroyed the opponent in terms of shots and possession in the middle frame. The Caps out shot the Devils 12-4 and scored the only goal, a Kuznetsov tally, after some great work by Michael Latta and Brooks Laich. Washington was physical and they were getting the pucks down below the goal line on New Jersey and that’s the heavy hockey style that Coach Trotz wants because the Caps are so good at that type of play. In fact, when they play that way, they are unbeatable.

With the score 2-2 heading into the third period, you’d think the Caps would continue that roll, and for the most part they did as New Jersey had only six shots on goal. When Holtby let in the softie, though, his teammates responded, to quote the great Nuke Laloosh, by “announcing their presence with authority” the remainder of the game. The heavy hockey style was amped up and Washington just manhandled a tired Devils club, who had lost to the Islanders at home the night before, over the last 8:56.

Orpik and Orlov were the stars on the backend as they continually made plays at the blueline and on the wall to keep pucks in the offensive zone. They were simply outstanding and earned their +4 individual totals on Saturday night.

Other Capitals were stellar, as well, including Ovechkin (38th goal and an assist), T.J. Oshie (17th goal), Kuznetsov (17th goal and 43rd assist), and Mike Richards. Yes, that’s fourth liner and 0 points in 14 games, Mike Richards. But there is more to the game than points and #10’s last two games have been his best. He’s winning key draws while controlling the play with his great stick and hockey sense. He’s also been very close to getting a point with his effort and strong positioning. This guy was a great pickup and he will keep getting better and the points will come, eventually. The organization has to be really happy with what they’ve seen from him so far, especially his “team first” mentality.

Orpik, or “Batya” as Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky call him, is another “team first” guy. He means so much to this club on the ice with his physical play, and he rocked several Devils players in this one, and off the ice with his leadership. Guys like Orpik, Richards, and Justin Williams are super leaders and respected voices in the room. They’ve won six Stanley Cups between them for a reason.

This victory gives the Capitals another three game winning streak and they are 43-10-4 overall (90 points). I don’t even look at the standings or reference them anymore because Washington is so far ahead of the league. They will win the Metropolitan Division, the Eastern Conference, and the Presidents’ Trophy. But who cares, right?

Every Capitals fan has heard this from other fan bases all season, and, at times, even from within the fan base, “The Caps have 0 Stanley Cups.”

Yes, we all get it. If Taylor Swift was a Caps fan (and who knows, she could be?), she’d probably respond with “Why you gotta be so mean?”

But, in reality, there is nothing anyone can do to shut them up right now. You can say this team is different, and I believe it is because of the quality acquisitions GM Brian MacLellan has made along with the outstanding coaching staff, led by Trotz. However, until they run the gauntlet in April, May, and June and deliver that silver beauty of a trophy, all you can do is just enjoy the show and focus on the process they are going through.

It’s all about building their game up to deliver when the good weather arrives. This team finally has the players to do it and the blue print is there from the best coaching staff this organization has ever had. Now they just need to stay healthy and be focused.

Notes: Hat tip to referees Kelly Sutherland and Wes McCauley on their job of officiating this one. It’s among the best zebra performances I’ve seen all season…the Caps were 0 for 3 on the power play while the Devils went 0 for 1…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 21:33, but Oprik had 21:02…Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner were -3 in this one. It was not one of their better nights, but those two, like Holtby, have carried this club on many other occasions, so they get a pass…Kuznetsov was +3…Nate Schmidt was the low blueliner in terms of ice time, but he still played 15:02. Great balance of ice time on the backend again by Coach Trotz and assistant coach Todd Rierden…the Devils won the face off battle, 29-24…Tom Wilson, who was also very good in this game, had eight hits while Orpik had five…Ovechkin had six shots on net, almost all from in close, which is a good thing. Schneider robbed him a couple of times…next up are the pesky Arizona Coyotes on Monday night at 7 pm at the Verizon Center.

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Caps win in OT, 3-2. The Islanders still cannot beat the Capitals.

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Ovechkin Scores Twice in Caps OT Win Over New York

Posted on 18 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Justin Williams blasted a shot from the blue line after a sweet feed from John Carlson and with Nicklas Backstrom in front, the biscuit found the back of the net to give the Washington Capitals a 3-2 overtime victory over the Islanders in Brooklyn on Thursday night.

The goal was credited to the man nicknamed “Stick,” but it very likely hit #19’s stick on the way in based on the replay angles I saw.

Either way you cut it, it was a Caps win and despite the fact that it was only by a goal in overtime, make no mistake about it, this was a dominant Washington performance.

The Capitals out shot the Islanders 35-22 and out shot attempted New York, 60-49. They also drew five power plays to just two for New York. But Isles goalie Thomas Greiss along with some crooked Caps shooting were the reasons this one went to overtime.

After an even first period in which John Tavares scored short side on Braden Holtby (20 saves), Coach Barry Trotz’ crew completely manhandled New York in the middle frame outscoring them, 2-0, and out shooting them, 14-4. Alex Ovechkin scored goal number 36 of the season on an empty cage when Evgeny Kuznetsov made another of his patented sweet passes from behind the net. It was a thing of beauty. On his next shift the Gr8 took a stellar drop pass from Backstrom and lasered it by Greiss, using #19 as a partial screen. That goal, Ovechkin’s NHL leading 37th, came just 87 seconds after his first marker.

From there the Caps totally carried the play and had numerous chances to score. Karl Alzner missed what would’ve been the third goal on a sweet feed from Matt Niskanen late in period two. In period three, New York struggled mightily to get out of their own end because the Caps were relentless with their forecheck. Somehow Greiss kept his club in it when they had no business hanging around and then a costly late turnover and a lucky bounce allowed Frans Neilsen to tie things up with 1:44 remaining.

It looked like New York might steal one on a goal that in the past would’ve deflated the Capitals, but not this Caps squad. Washington totally dominated the overtime. It took a non-call on an Islanders tripping infraction on Kuznetsov, that gave them a two on one rush, for New York to get their only overtime shot on goal. Ovechkin hit the iron in the overtime before Carlson, Williams, and Backstrom delivered the game winner.

There was a lot to like in this one. All four lines were going and just prior to puck drop the coaching staff juggled the top two units putting Ovechkin with Kuznetsov and Williams while having Backstrom center T.J. Oshie and Andre Burakovsky. Every line had their chances in this game and I thought Mike Richards played his best game of his short Caps career. All 12 forwards were going and Tom Wilson did his usual stellar job of living inside the heads of the Islander players. All night long New York seemed to want to get after #43 instead of playing hockey.

Washington’s only power play marker came after knucklehead Cal Clutterbuck took one of the stupidest penalties I’ve seen by leaping into Dmitry Orlov. #15 is just not a good player and he cost his team badly there as Ovechkin scored what probably should’ve been the game winner with him in the box feeling shame.

Defensively the Caps were mostly solid. The speedy Islanders live to generate chances off of the rush and they had a few of them, Tavares’ goal came on the rush, but it’s a shot Holtby would tell you he wants back. Nate Schmidt would likely tell you he can’t allow #91 to have that much room, either.

But overall, this was just a superb effort and if not for some bad luck, they win in regulation. You will have games like that, especially in the playoffs, but the really good teams find ways to overcome it.

In the past, Capitals teams didn’t almost always find ways to win when they endured several bad bounces, but this club is different, as evidenced by their 42-10-4 record (88 points). Per Matt Williams of the Capitals public relations staff, those 88 points in 56 games are the most points of any NHL team since the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers (hey Flyers fans, you have something to cheer about, LOL!).

Washington is now 3-0 against New York this season and they’ve dominated both contests at the Barclays Center. The Islanders had won four in a row at home and Greiss has been super hot. He was again on Thursday night, so credit him for getting the Isles a point, because with Jaroslav Halak in goal, this one is at least 5-2 for the Capitals.

The Capitals wanted this game and they were not to be denied despite some bad breaks.

In the end, though, the Islanders still cannot beat the Caps!

Notes: Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 26:37. Orlov was the low blue liner in terms of TOI at 13:25, but keep in mind the Capitals had 7:11 of power play time and #9 only received 30 seconds in those situations…Washington dominated from the dot, 36-27. Richards was 8-4…Ovechkin had 16 shot attempts, including 10 shots on goal. Williams and Jason Chimera had four shots on goal, each…Brooks Orpik played 16:45 and looked good with his strong physical play. He was credited with two hits and three blocked shots…Wilson led the Caps in hits with six…Washington was 1 for 5 on the power play, including not scoring on a lengthy five on three (57 seconds) in period two. The Islanders were 0 for 2 with the man advantage…next up for the Capitals are the New Jersey Devils at the Verizon Center on Saturday night at 7 pm.

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The Caps play a terrible 2nd period that ultimately dooms them in Dallas.

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Caps Third Period Rally Falls Short Against Dallas

Posted on 13 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals played, by far, their worst period of the season in the second frame on Saturday night in Dallas, giving up 17 shots on net and four goals to fall behind 4-0 after 40 minutes.

The Caps went totally against what makes them successful in that middle frame. They tried soft, cross ice passes instead of getting pucks deep. As a result, they could not take advantage of their size and skill down low which provided the super fast Stars with several odd man rushes that they capitalized on.

Braden Holtby did all he could to keep Dallas at bay, but he could not be faulted on all four of the goals against since two were on three on one breaks, one came from in front by one of the best scorers in the NHL in Jamie Benn when he was not covered properly, and the fourth tally was on a two man advantage power play where one of the Capitals penalty killers also lost his stick.

It was as ugly a period as the Caps have played all season long. It all started with a bad decision by the Caps inside their offensive blue line. Instead of dumping a puck down low and creating a two on one advantage situation, the Washington forward chose to go cross ice and Dallas was off to the races. That sequence started what seemed like wave after wave of Capitals turnovers leading to Stars chances.

Shortly after it was 2-0, the Caps Andre Burakovsky had a seemingly open cage to cut the lead to one and the shot was somehow stopped. Moments later the Stars were gifted another three on one when a Caps defenseman tried to carry the puck into the offensive zone and was pick pocketed. That made it 3-0, and then when Washington took two bad offensive zone penalties, the Stars cashed in late to make it 4-0.

Holtby, who deserved much better than the garbage play in front of him to that point, was relieved for the final frame to get Philipp Grubauer some work.

The reaction on twitter from several skeptics within and outside the Caps fan base was somewhat predictable during the second intermission. People were spouting off about how the Caps losing to Dallas, for the second time this season, showed they couldn’t beat the best teams in the NHL and that they weren’t for real.

Are you kidding me?

We can check the ledger with the court reporter, but if I’m not mistaken the team that has won three of the last six Stanley Cups, the Chicago Blackhawks, were defeated by the Caps in their only meeting back in October. But narratives rarely focus on the facts on twitter, especially from the haters and non-believers, so my message after 40 minutes to those who were bailing on the team after one bad period was: “Good riddance and don’t come back.” Washington, win or lose in Dallas, was still going to be the best team in the NHL.

“Best team in the NHL” is what showed up in the third period as the Capitals stormed back like Miracle Max had given them all magic healing pills. Alex Ovechkin started it with a laser from the Ovi spot on the power play to record his league leading 35th tally and get the ball rolling for Washington.

Justin Williams then atoned for his poor play on the first goal and made it 4-2 from in tight with just over 12 minutes to go. Then, after Ovechkin was flat out robbed by Kari Lehtonen (20 saves), Andre Burakovsky buried a sweet feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) to cut the deficit to just one puck with 6:06 left.

For the final six minutes the Caps had numerous chances and it took fortunate stops from “LUCK-onen” on Burakovsky, John Carlson, and Williams to maintain the Stars lead. Finally, with Grubauer pulled for the extra attacker, it took the right goal post on a Tom Wilson shot in the slot and then the linesman getting in the way after a face off win to take Ovechkin off of the puck with 30 seconds left for Dallas to escape with a 4-3 win.

The loss, just Washington’s 10th of the season in regulation, drops them to 40-10-4 (84 points). They still lead the NHL in points and are the best team in the NHL. The Stars have 15 regulation losses and no other club is closer in that department.

Losing was tough for the Caps and the critics will likely be out, especially those who despise Ovechkin and this franchise, but I don’t really care. Washington proved to all watching, and hopefully most importantly to themselves, that when they play their brand of hockey, which is getting pucks in deep on the opponent via proper zone entries, solid puck support, and strong, hard passes, that they are unbeatable.

That’s right; I said the Caps are unbeatable when they play the right way. In the second period, they played the wrong way. They tried the “easy game” where you don’t pay the price physically and mentally that’s necessary to win hockey games. You can’t play that way and beat anyone, let alone one of the top clubs in the Western Conference.

So on Saturday night, the Caps hopefully learned a good lesson or were simply reminded (after all, they’ve won 40 times this season in 54 games) about what is needed to be successful. Sure they received zero points, but when Coach Barry Trotz and his assistants show the team the tape of this one and point out the good and the bad, it will be clear as day as to how they need to play if they want to win the trophy I know they badly want in June.

In February, you can try the “easy game,” it probably won’t work, but when you have a big standings lead and are two months from the playoffs, it doesn’t hurt you in the near term. But playing the way they did in the 3rd period was a great reminder to Ovechkin and company that there is one recipe for success in the NHL and that is for a team to play to their strengths. For the final 20 minutes, it was “heavy hockey” city for Washington and that allowed their skill to take over the game. That’s the way Coach Trotz wants it drawn up and executed. When they do that, they win.

Yes, losing stinks, but on Saturday, the way this one went down might just be a really good thing, long term, for the best team in the NHL.

Notes: the loss halted the Capitals five game winning streak…Washington won the face off battle, 31-27. Mike Richards was 6-0 from the dot…the Caps were only credited with 15 hits, four by Ovechkin. Most of the physical play from Washington came in the final 20 minutes…Dallas was 1 for 4 on the power play while the Caps were 1 for 3…the Caps took their fourth “too many men on the ice” penalty in the last four games. That trend needs to stop, immediately…next up for the Capitals are the Pacific Division leading Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center. The Kings will be without forward Marian Gaborik (knee) and goalie Jonathan Quick’s status is up in the air, too. #32 was injured in a win over Boston earlier in the week. There is a very good chance that Brooks Orpik will be back in the lineup  for the Caps which likely means that Taylor Chorney will be scratched. Chorney was -2 in this contest and he and Dmitry Orlov were the defensive pair on the ice on both three on one rush goals by Dallas.

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Alex Ovechkin takes over the NHL's Goal Scoring Lead with his hat trick.

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Alex Ovechkin’s Hat Trick Carries the Caps Over the Wild

Posted on 11 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin scored three times, Nicklas Backstrom added three assists, and Braden Holtby made 33 saves as the Washington Capitals overcame a chippy Minnesota Wild team and some questionable officiating to earn a 4-3 victory at the Xcel Energy Center.

The Gr8 was dynamite in this contest scoring three times in the middle frame and generating 15 shot attempts, including 10 shots on goal in 19:47 of action. All three tallies were the result of Ovechkin going to the net, and the second marker came on the power play, which was important given the recent slump from that unit (0 for 19 before the Ovi Empty Net PPG in Nashville). Washington’s power play looked like its old self on that second goal.

Backstrom is just a wizard on the ice. His play to keep the puck in on the third Gr8 marker was incredible (the Wild unsuccessfully challenged it too), and then he finished it off with some great wall work. The line of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie was excellent and between the three of them, they had 16 of the Capitals 33 shots on goal.

Holtby gave up two late goals after it was 3-1 and then 4-2, the first of which came on a power play that the Wild received when Justin Williams was called for cross checking right after Andre Burakovsky was flattened with a dirty hit from behind. Mike Leggo and Frederick “Ship him back to Quebec” L’Ecuyer failed to whistle the infraction against the Wild. They called a curious contest on Thursday, but once again Washington was too good for the opponents and the bad zebras. Both referees also missed a dirty butt end by Mikael Granlund to the face of Evgeny Kuznetsov after the second Minnesota goal on the neutral zone draw. #92 left the game and did not return, so his status for Saturday’s game in Dallas is up in the air.

The last Wild tally came with four seconds left after Jason Chimera had made it 4-2 with an empty net marker with just 52 ticks remaining. That tally, Chimmer’s 15th of the season, was set up by great work from John Carlson in the corner and then Tom Wilson, who worked the puck out of the zone to spring the speedy #25.

Carlson had his best game since returning from injury getting an assist and going +2 in 23:46 of ice time. He looked like his old self in this one and helped get the power play to finally score with a keeper in place. His hard shot went off of the back wall right to Ovechkin on the 2nd goal. He had his legs back and was really physical and strong on the puck in the corners.

Ovechkin now has 34 goals and leads Chicago’s Patrick Kane by one in the Rocket Richard race. Holtby is now 27-1-3 in his last 32 starts and has 35 wins on the season.

Wins are the important thing there, as both co-MVP’s and the others on this club only care about the “W’s.” Ovechkin has enough individual trophies, and at this point, he only wants that big silver one they give out in June. But make no mistake about it, this club still relies on him to lead the way when it comes to turning on red lights.

Overall, the Caps played a very solid road game and when things looked to go off of the rails with some Minnesota dirty play and shaky zebra influence, Washington maintained their composure to hold off a desperate Wild team. Holtby made some big saves and Backstrom cleared a puck from the door step late in regulation en route to another Capitals victory.

The Caps record is now an out of this world 40-9-4 (84 points) and they close out their three game road trip in Big D on Saturday night. Per CSN’s Chuck Gormley, the Caps are 0-6-1 against the Stars since 2008, OUCH! Washington has a chance to finally knock off a very fast Dallas squad, but they’ll need a really strong and disciplined game (stay out of the box!) plus good gap control to combat the likes of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn on their home turf.

Notes: Mike Richards, who was nicked up in the Nashville game, suited up and logged 11:03 on his 31st birthday…the Caps were destroyed on draws, 46-22, but Backstrom was 12-9…Zach Parise had three assists for the Wild…Minnesota out shot the Caps 36-33 and it was 72-56 overall in shot attempts…both teams were 1 for 5 on the power play…Karl Alzner was +2 in 22:07 of ice time. He had a strong game.

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Marcus Johansson returns after missing 4 games to spark the Caps in a big win in Nashville.

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Johansson Return Plus Holtby Key a Caps Win in Smashville

Posted on 09 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Marcus Johansson returned after missing four games and boy did he deliver on Tuesday night in Nashville. Jojo was absolutely brilliant scoring the game winning goal, adding two helpers, and going +3 on the evening in a Capitals 5-3 victory over the Predators.

Washington once again had a slow start and Braden Holtby (23 saves) was the key early as the Preds fired 14 first period shots on goal. The Holtbeast was outstanding keeping his club afloat while they tried to find their legs. Thanks to a Jason Chimera tally, his 14th of the year, on a great feed from Tom Wilson after Willy forced a Predators neutral zone turnover, the Capitals led 1-0 after the first frame despite only getting six shots on Pekka Rinne (18 saves).

The Caps took three penalties in the opening frame and then after taking a 2-0 lead on Wilson’s fifth goal of the season after a sweet feed from Johansson on an odd man rush, Washington made some bad mental mistakes. Coach Barry Trotz’ crew took two consecutive too many dudes on the ice penalties, overlapping by four seconds. Some excellent penalty killing almost got the Caps out of those brain cramps, but Filip Forsberg (two goals) scored late on the last power play on a wicked top shelf snipe over Holtby’s glove that may have nicked John Carlson’s stick.

Through 40 minutes the Caps would lead, but they had yet to really play their best hockey.

In the third frame, Washington amped up their intensity and started winning more of the board battles and using their size to negate the Predators speed. Dmitry Orlov marvelously outworked a couple of Nashville skaters on the wall in the offensive zone and that allowed Evgeny Kuznetsov to find Justin Williams in front of the cage and he batted the biscuit home to give the Capitals a 3-1 lead.

Three minutes later the Capitals third line struck again as Jojo buried one into a vacant cage as Rinne furiously flopped back and forth in his net to stop Karl Alzner and then Williams (1 goal, 1 assist) before #90 made it 4-1 with 11:57 remaining.

Game over, right?

Well, not so fast. The Predators, who only had five shots on goal in the third period, would get two markers just two minutes and eleven seconds apart to cut it to 4-3 with eight minutes to go. Both goals were on weird deflections in front of the Holtbeast.

But Trotz’ crew settled down and started playing smarter hockey by getting pucks in deep and forechecking with their heavy style. Nashville didn’t get many good looks and the Capitals had several shots at making it a two goal cushion again. With just under three minutes to go, the line of Wilson, Jojo, and Chimera then put on a cycling clinic and really took the Predators last bit of energy away. This forced Coach Peter Laviolette to keep his goalie in longer than he wanted and then Alex Ovechkin drew a penalty with the keeper pulled to put Washington on the power play.

After a Nashville clear, they pulled Rinne again, but the Caps worked the puck around and the Gr8 deposited it into the vacant cage for his 31st goal of the season to close this one out. That ended a long Capitals power play drought at 19.

Over those last eight minutes, the Predators had only four shot attempts, and two came after the Ovechkin empty net tally. None of the four shots made it on goal, either. Now that is the way to protect a one goal lead!

Andre Burakovsky, on his 21st birthday, extended his point scoring streak to eight consecutive games with his 14th assist of the season on the Williams goal that was totally set up by Orlov. #9 had a really strong third period when the Caps seized this contest.

But this night belonged to the third line, particularly Johansson, who has really made the Capitals extra dangerous with a unit that can skate, hit, check, and score. This allows Mike Richards to lead a fourth line that is effective as well, and should get even stronger once Jay Beagle returns. Overall, the Caps have lots of players they can shift around up front and be effective. That’s a nice luxury to have.

The win improves the Capitals record to 39-9-4 (82 points) and per Matt Williams of the Caps PR staff, Washington is the first team in NHL history to achieve 39 wins through 52 regular season games. Wow!

I’ve been saying since the summer this is the best Caps team ever, but we all know when they really have to prove it.

Notes: The Predators were 1 for 6 on the power play while Washington was 1 for 3…5v5 shot attempts favored the Caps, 41-36. It was 17-13, for the good guys in the final 20 minutes…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in time on ice with 26:11 and he was +2…the Capitals blocked 18 shots and won the faceoff battle, 35-29. Richards was 7-2 from the dot…next up for the Caps are the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night. That will be the second game on a three tilt road trip before it ends Saturday in Dallas against the Stars.

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Matt Niskanen and Braden Holtby lead the Capitals to a 3-2 win over the despised Flyers.

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Matt Niskanen Goes All Bobby Orr in the Caps Win Over the Flyers

Posted on 07 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Matt Niskanen scored the game winner on an end to end, Bobby Orr-like rush in the third period and Braden Holtby was his usual self in net making 33 saves as the Capitals downed the despised Philadelphia Flyers, 3-2, on Super Bowl Sunday.

Aaahhhh, the sweet feeling of a victory over the Flyers is always so nice. The air is cleaner, the drinks are colder and go down smoother, and the food tastes so much better afterwards.

But this was not a pretty triumph for Washington. For 30+ minutes they were sloppy with their passes and looked a step slow as the Flyers won the majority of the loose puck battles.

Things appeared troubling for Washington when the Flyers, already on a power play, received a 53 second two man advantage with 8:40 remaining in the middle frame and the Caps down, 1-0. Washington made another mental blunder, as they had done most of the game in earning the too many dudes call. The Caps, however, would kill it off with Holtby, Brooks Laich, Karl Alzner, and Niskanen doing some remarkable PK work.

Shortly thereafter the Capitals seemed to wake up from their pre Super Bowl kickoff slumber and Alexander Ovechkin did what the team had not really done all game, he went to the front of the net. As a result, after a face off loss and Flyers turnover, the Gr8 deflected home a smart Alzner shot for his 30th goal of the season. That seemed to wake up everyone in red, including the crowd, and moments later Dmitry Orlov scored after a fabulous deke and top shelf snipe to make it 2-1, as this one headed to the 3rd period.

The Capitals would kill off the fifth Filthy power play of the game early in the third period, but two easy failed clearing opportunities at the end of it led to a defensive zone faceoff that the Flyers promptly won and scored on. Holtby didn’t see the shot (Nick Schultz), like the first Philly bomb that made it 1-0 (Michael Del Zotto).

But from there the Caps seemed to get stronger and Niskanen, seeing a large gap up the middle of the ice skated his way in on Steve Mason (27 saves) with the Flyers forwards and defensemen acting like Moses had ordered a parting of the Red Sea. Nisky went in, put a slick move on Mason, and buried the biscuit.

Everyone was surprised with the goal, including Niskanen.

“I don’t have any moves, it was an accident,” said the humble Caps d-men to the media afterwards (h/t to NHL.COM’s Katie Brown)

“I think the whole building was surprised, it’s a highlight, 100 percent,” added the Caps captain, the Gr8, on the game winner (h/t to Zac Boyer of the Washington Times).

That goal, just 5:24 into the final frame would hold up as Washington played a better period than they had in the first 40 minutes. The Flyers final chance to tie the game came with 7.4 seconds remaining on an offensive zone faceoff, but unlike on the second Philly goal, T.J. Oshie won the draw to the corner to kill the clock. The Capitals then celebrated while Jakub Voracek took his losing frustrations out on the Flyers bench door.

Philadelphia, who are desperate for standings points, would leave Verizon Center with the equivalent of John Blutarksy’s grade point average, while the Caps improved to 38-9-4, which is good for a staggering 80 points. Wow!

It was also Holtby’s 33rd victory of the season and he really earned it. He was outstanding in net making big stop after big stop until his club finally came out of hibernation. He had a huge save on a 3 on 1 Flyers rush when it was 1-0 and his save on Mark Streit was solid positioning and a bit of luck as #32 failed to get good lumber on the shot.

Not getting good wood on shots was a common theme as the puck was bouncing everywhere on the Wizards ice, but it’s the same for both teams, so no excuses either way.

Back to Niskanen, though, the decision by the Penguins to let him go after they overpaid Kris Letang has been a blessing for the Capitals. He led the team in ice time once again, with 24:51, and he’s routinely matched up against the opponents’ top line, with Alzner. Recently, I asked an impartial NHL scout who he would take if he had the choice on Niskanen at $5.75M or Letang at $7.25M through 2020. Without hesitation, he stated Niskanen. I could not agree more. #2 is so solid in both ends and is such a team guy. He was a big reason the Capitals were able to keep winning hockey games while John Carlson was out for 12 contests.

Additionally, he’s a hero in these parts for helping the Capitals defeat the Flyers. Philadelphia is Washington’s biggest rival going back to 1974 when the Caps entered the NHL. Game after game truckloads of drunk Flyers fans would invade the Capital Centre in the Broad Street Bullies and beyond years and go home happy after defeating the Caps. There were almost always fights in the stands, too.

Nowadays, the Flyers aren’t that good, but make no mistake about it, this is still a huge rivalry and many Filthadelphians were in attendance at the Verizon Center on Sunday.

Today, though, Caps fans can smile “broadly” as Ron Hextall’s team heads back up I-95 with a big donut hole of standings points.

Notes: Shot attempts were 68-57 for the Flyers, but the Caps won the even strength battle, 50-42, per hockeystats.ca…Philly was 0 for 5 on the power play while the Capitals were 0 for 2. Washington is in a 0 for 17 funk and it looked bad again on Sunday…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 35-32…Burakovsky didn’t score a goal, but he and Evgeny Kuznetsov assisted on the Orlov marker…Wayne Simmonds, who received a match penalty for a sucker punch on Ryan McDonagh of the Rangers on Saturday, was allowed to play by the league and he was -2…Niskanen led the Caps with seven shots on goal. Ovechkin had five…the Caps only had 19 hits to the Flyers 21. Washington didn’t get their brand of heavy hockey going until the second half of this game.

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