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Sharks Defeat the Caps Once Again

Posted on 09 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Ovechkin Bails Out the Caps in Overtime

Posted on 03 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

On a night when they blew a three goal third period lead, the Washington Capitals really needed their captain and best player to step up and win the game.

Alexander Ovechkin did just that with a rocket of a top shelf shot on the power play with 1:39 left in overtime to give the Capitals a victory and much relief.

The Gr8 notched two goals and an assist in this one while his career long center, Nicklas Backstrom, had a goal and two helpers. They were the best players on the ice for Washington along with T.J. Oshie, who played on a line with Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky.

The Caps took awhile to get their legs going in this one, but once they did late in period one, they dominated throughout the second period and led 3-0 after 40 minutes. After only four first frame shots on goal, Washington was all over the Jets firing 18 pucks at Michael Hutchinson (28 saves) in the middle stanza. Winnipeg was pretty fortunate to only be down by that much, at that point.

In the third period, the Capitals received an early power play after Justin Williams failed to convert on a breakaway (Evgeny Kuznetsov was hooked on the play trying to make it a two on none rush) and then the horror show began. Washington lazily carried the puck out of their own end and tried a low percentage backhanded pass across the center of the ice that the Jets picked off. They would skate in and Braden Holtby (24 saves) tried to come out and play the puck, but it bounced off of him and then he and John Carlson collided giving Winnipeg a gift shorthanded tally. It was an ugly, train wreck of a goal and that is being positive about the play.

That marker gave the Jets life and they started skating while the Caps delved into a reach fest. Winnipeg continually kept coming at the Caps and just over three minutes after they made it 3-1, they pulled within a goal.

Dustin Byfuglien picked off a bad Dmitry Orlov clear in the neutral zone and went flying into the offensive zone. Orlov, who is not the best skater, tried to match D-Buff’s speed and mistakenly went with him around the back of the net, but a good step behind #33 and with his stick in terrible position. Simply put, he was in no man’s land and it showed his continual lack of defensive zone awareness and ability. What he should have done was hit the brakes at the side of the net, let Byfuglien go alone behind the cage, and yelled “switch” to his defensive partner, Carlson. However, because he got himself out of position, Carlson and the forwards felt forced to turn towards the puck carrier and vacate the slot. That’s a no-no, but given Orlov’s inability to play his end correctly, it threw everything out of whack. Adam Lowry found himself standing all alone in the slot and he put the biscuit in the basket.

Winnipeg then found another gear while the Caps looked in shock and the Jets tied it up with over eight minutes remaining after another shot from the slot where the Capitals defense was lost. Carlson and Nate Schmidt were the victims and that was three straight tallies where #74 was on the ice. Carlson is struggling a bit, and I put a lot of that on being paired with the wrong type of player. John likes to join the rush, but to do that he needs a strong defensive partner. It might be time for Coach Barry Trotz to switch up the defensive pairs and put him back with Karl Alzner or Brooks Oprik because Orlov’s erratic play is hurting both of their games.

Another problem area is the power play. At five on four they are not clicking and the first four resulted in zero goals for and a shortie allowed. That’s unacceptable. The units are too stationary and the point shots with traffic are not coming near often enough.

Luckily for the Capitals, the overtime power play was a four on three and they had more ice to work with, which allowed for Ovechkin to do what he does best, score goals from his office.

The win pushes the Caps overall record to 7-2-1, which is 15 points and on pace for 123 for the season, but it’s early. This team is really strong up front and when they move their feet and use their size, we see their awesomeness, as we did in period two. However, when they stop skating the problems mount, especially with the issues on the back end. Their top three of Matt Niskanen, Karl Alzner, and Carlson are typically really good, but as mentioned earlier, #74 needs a steady partner in his own zone so he can play more to his strengths. That’s not happening here in the early going.

Sure the Capitals were tired after traveling all over the place since Friday night and playing four games in six nights, but they have to be better at locking down a lead. That’s two games in a row where they allowed a non playoff squad like the Jets to come back and tie a game when down multiple pucks in the final frame.

Washington is winning, but it’s all about the process, and the type of glaring mistakes we’ve seen in their own end, at times, won’t cut it in the post season.

Notes: The Caps were excellent on the penalty kill, going for two for two. Oshie and Jay Beagle are excelling in those roles and the Holtbeast made some strong saves while shorthanded, as well…the Caps outshot attempted Winnipeg, 65-53 and won the faceoff battle, 35-25…Ovi had eight shots on goal…Kuznetsov was 10-5 on draws, which is a good sign…Orpik led the Caps with five hits…Eller made a great hit to set up the Oshie goal that made it 2-0 and Ovechkin’s hit helped set up his first goal, that made it 3-0. Washington needs to keep using its size to create turnovers in the offensive zone…next up for the Capitals are the Florida Panthers at the Verizon Center on Saturday night at 7 pm.

 

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Holtby Delivers for the Caps in Winnipeg

Posted on 02 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Playing their third game in four nights in Western Canada, the weary Washington Capitals relied heavily on some timely scoring plays and their goaltender, Braden Holtby, to defeat the Winnipeg Jets, 3-2. It was the Caps third straight victory to finish their four game road trip after an opening loss in Edmonton last Wednesday. The win improves their overall record to 6-2-1 (13 points).

The Caps likely lose this game if not for the Holtbeast, who stopped 43 shots. Washington scored the game’s first two goals. Karl Alzner notched his 2nd marker of the season with a sweet shot from the top of the slot after Brett Connolly made a great hit in the corner to force a Winnipeg turnover. After #10’s super forecheck, Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) alertly grabbed the biscuit and swung it to Marcus “Red Hot” Johansson (1 goal, 1 assist), who then found Alzner all alone. King Karl put it precisely in the right top corner to give the Caps a 1-0 lead with 19:16 gone in period one.

Washington would double their lead in the middle frame, again as a result of a forced turnover. Johansson stripped the Jets of the puck in the neutral zone and fed Kuznetsov, who streaked down the left wing boards. Tom Wilson smartly made a bee line for the left side of the net and all of the Jets defenders went towards him thinking that Kuzy was going to try one of his patented no look, behind the back passes. To quote the great Ron White, “They were wrong!” and Kuzy carried around the cage and fed an all alone Jojo in the slot. #90 buried it at 8:15 of the middle stanza for his 6th goal of the season and his team leading 11th point.

From there the game went back and forth with the Jets firing a lot of pucks from the outside. Holtby did have to make a huge save on one sequence after Dmitry Orlov was beaten (again) on defense and then T.J. Oshie somehow played second goalie to keep the disc from crossing the red line. After that the Caps did a good job of holding the Jets to perimeter shots through 40 minutes.

But in the final stanza, the Capitals legs grew fatigued and they started reaching instead of moving their feet to play defense. The Caps were still up 2-0 with 10 minutes to go and per Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) the team was 71-1-6 under Coach Barry Trotz when leading at that point in the game.

Things were looking good; especially after Oshie hustled to draw a trip and take the Jets off of a power play. Shortly thereafter though, Nate Schmidt got outmuscled in a four on four situation and Alzner went down to block a pass putting himself out of position for a Jets rebound and the subsequent goal at the 13:04 mark.

No problem still, right? Well, not so fast. Washington was fading and when Brooks Orpik missed a hit on the right wing boards and John Carlson made a bad decision to try and hit Joel Armia, the puck was passed easily to Adam Lowry all alone in front of Holtby. He then deked the pride of Saskatchewan to the ice and deposited the biscuit in the basket to tie the game up with 2:25 left.

At that point, overtime seemed imminent, but Washington forced an offensive zone draw and Coach Trotz had Jay Beagle take the faceoff. Beags won the draw back to Carlson and then fought his way towards the net. Carlson’s point shot found #83 in front and he backhanded it past Connor Hellebucyk for the win with just 30 ticks remaining.

It was a huge goal and the first of the season for the Regal Beagle.

This was not one of the Capitals better performances, but that’s to be expected given the travel and schedule. They needed a top game from their all world goalie and they received it. In addition, there are several guys who are in the groove offensively, such as Oshie, Johansson, Beagle, and Kuznetsov and the Caps rode them to victory.

The line of Johansson, Kuznetsov, and Wilson has been really strong as has been the Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, and Oshie unit. Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and Justin Williams continue to try and find chemistry, but given how well the other three lines, to include Beagle, Connolly, and Zach Sanford are playing, Coach Trotz likely needs to let those stars work their way through it.

On defense, the Alzner and Matt Niskanen pair has been excellent. Carlson and Orlov have not been a duo you can wager your cash on so far this season and I put most of that on #9. He’s still deficient too often in his own zone. Orpik and Schmidt form a decent third pair since #88 is good at rushing the puck and #44 is sound defensively, but both made mistakes on the Jets goals in this one. Simply put, one has to think that GM Brian MacLellan is looking at potential defensemen to bring in in the event that things don’t improve on the back end.

Let’s be honest, this team has a strong group of 13 forwards with the additions of Eller, Connolly, and Sanford, but the defense, which let them down when suspensions and injuries hit last spring is still a big question mark.

On Tuesday night in Winnipeg, however, the Caps were fortunate to have one of the game’s best goalies deliver them the two points.

Long live the Holtbeast!

Notes: Shot attempts were 61-48 for Winnipeg and shots on goal were 45-27…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:50…Ovechkin had 12 shot attempts, but only three made it on net…the Caps did dominate from the dot and that was key in the victory, going 37-28. Beagle and Backstrom were both 10-5…Connolly led the Capitals in hits with four and he was one of the best Washington players in this one…the Caps and Winnipeg will play again in their final meeting of the season on Thursday night at the Verizon Center.

 

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Johansson and Oshie Lead Caps Over Vancouver, 5-2

Posted on 30 October 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Playing the right way is so important in hockey.

On Wednesday night in Edmonton, the Capitals tried to play the “easy game” against the high flying Oilers and they were run out of the new Rogers Place, 4-1. Several players were passengers in that contest and failed to exert the energy needed to defeat a team that is on a roll. Simply put, they were soft.

After two plus days of having that black cloud of a loss hang over their heads, the Caps came out on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday (and into Sunday on the east coast) and played their brand of hockey. They were getting pucks deep, using their size to win the one on one battles, and using all five players on the ice to put pucks and bodies at the Vancouver Canucks net. The result was a 5-2 win that was closer than it should have been due to some luck (or specifically bad luck for Washington).

Marcus Johansson (two goals, one assist) and TJ Oshie (goal and an assist) were the stars for the Capitals with Tom Wilson (goal) having his best game in a long time. Philipp Grubauer (23 saves) got the call in net and he was solid making several key stops when the Capitals had some breakdowns that led to odd man rushes. With the game 3-2 in the third period, Grubauer thwarted a couple of chances on a Canucks power play, and more importantly, he didn’t yield any big rebounds when the outcome was still in doubt over those final 20 minutes. He is now 2-0 on the season.

Washington has been off to a slow start in the special teams department and they had allowed a power play goal in five of the six games they’d played this season. On Saturday, the Canucks went 0 for 3 with the man advantage and they didn’t have many good looks until their third period opportunity. On the flip side, the Caps scored on their first power play when Vancouver overplayed John Carlson and Alex Ovechkin, which allowed Nicklas Backstrom, Oshie and Johansson to dominate down low and score when Jojo put home the rebound of T.J.’s shot that caught iron and fell prone in the crease.

Special teams aside, the first 40 minutes, and especially the middle frame, saw complete domination by the Caps. The Caps were getting the puck in the offensive zone cleanly and carrying it down towards the goal line. When the Canucks collapsed, the Capitals forwards were finding the points for shots while they crashed the net. It was simple, but very effective hockey.

After two periods, shot attempts were 45-31 and shots on goal were 26-19 in favor of Washington and Comcast had the scoring chances as 16-9. Somehow, though, a 2-1 first period lead was only 3-2 after two stanzas. Jacob Markstrom (30 saves) played fairly well in net for the Canucks and he also received a break when a Capitals goal was waved off in the second period due to goaltender contact in the crease by Backstrom.

But the Caps were not going to be denied by the bad breaks or numerous unfinished scoring chances. They kept playing the same way all evening, for the most part, and they grinded out a win. In the end the Capitals outshot Vancouver, 35-25, and the shot attempts were 62-44 for the Caps. Sure the Canucks played on Friday night and they’ve been struggling, but Washington totally outworked them and deserved the win.

The victory didn’t come easy and each goal was the result of proper structure and hard work. It was the type of victory they needed and Coach Barry Trotz will be very pleased with it.

To quote that old Smith Barney commercial, the Capitals captured these two points the old fashioned way, “They Earned It.”

Notes: The Caps are now 4-2-1 on the season and they’ll travel to Calgary overnight to take on the Flames on Sunday night at 9:30. Braden Holtby will be between the pipes…the Caps won the face off battle, 37-32. Justin Williams was 6-0. Ovechkin, who had four shots on goal, was only credited with three hits but he was physical all over the rink all night…Coach Trotz did his best Reg Dunlop imitation and shuffled his lines for this game to try and get more offense and it worked. Ovi and Nicky played with Williams, Oshie was on a line with Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky, and Evgeny Kuznetsov (one assist) had a great game centering Jojo and Wilson…Dmitry Orlov rebounded from a poor outing in Alberta to log 19:17 of ice time. He was much more defensively sound in this contest…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 23:27…Daniel Winnik was scratched, but he’ll likely be in the lineup against the Flames. I’d expect Zach Sanford or Brett Connolly, who were both minus one and played under eight minutes, to be in the press box…the Caps were one for two with the man advantage…Oshie’s tally at 17:33 made it 4-2 and then Karl Alzner banked one in from long distance in four on four action with Markstrom pulled to end the scoring.

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Ovechkin and Oshie Help Caps Blank the Avs, 3-0

Posted on 18 October 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin made no mistake about who the best player on the ice was on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center. The Gr8 scored the game winning power play goal in the first period off of a nice Dmitry Orlov feed and assisted on T.J. Oshie’s second tally of the night late in the third period to close out a 3-0 Caps victory over the Colorado Avalanche.

The Caps improved to 2-0-1 on this young season and they’ve taken over first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Ovi was everywhere in this one with nine shot attempts, five of which were on net, three takeaways, two hits, and a whole new rash of penalty minutes (three minors). His goal and assist were his first points of the season and his line with Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov had 15 of the 40 shots on goal the Capitals would throw at Semyon Varlamov in this tilt. If not for Varly, it would’ve been more of a blowout.

Oshie (two goals) led the Caps with six shots on net and he was downright dominant on the boards and in front of the net. His first goal was a power play marker in the slot that came off of a sweet feed from Nicklas Backstrom. Washington’s power play looked really strong against Colorado going two for five and improving it on the season from John Blutarsky’s grade point average (0.0) to 15.3% (2 for 13) overall. Special teams were strong in this one for the Caps since they also blanked the Avalanche on all three of their shorthanded situations.

The Caps have now played 185 minutes of hockey and have allowed exactly one even strength goal and just three overall. With Braden Holtby, who was honored in the pregame for his 2015-16 Vezina Trophy winning season with his adorable family present, sitting this one out to prepare for Florida on Thursday and the Rangers on Saturday, Philipp Grubauer received the call between the pipes and he posted his first NHL shutout. Grubauer didn’t have to make too many big saves, but he made them when they counted and stopped all 18 biscuits he faced. Yes, you read that correctly, the Avalanche only had 18 shots on goal.

Part of that was the fact that Colorado did the Capitals a huge favor by knocking off the Penguins on Monday night in overtime and then coming in tired for this game. The other factor was Washington’s dominant skating and effort. The Caps were simply all over the Avs from the opening puck drop, outshooting them 20-5 in period one, and never really gave Colorado a chance to win the game.

The closest opportunity they had to get in the game was late in period two when Nathan MacKinnon had a wide open cage, but missed the net when the puck rolled on him. Had the 2012 #1 NHL pick scored there, it would’ve been a 2-1 affair, but he misfired and the Capitals once again gave up minimal chances in the final frame to provide Grubauer with likely the easiest shutout he’ll ever have.

Going up and down the lineup, it was hard to find a Washington player that did not perform well. Orlov had a highlight reel hit on Avs superstar Matt Duchene and played a strong two way game. His shot is a real asset to the offense. Brett Connolly received his first sweater of the season and had some quality scoring chances. Overall, #10 had four shots on goal and four hits in 11:47 of ice time. He fit nicely on the line with Justin Williams and Lars Eller. Tom Wilson, playing with Daniel Winnik and Jay Beagle, had a quality game and he got under the skin of future NHL Hall of Famer, Jarome Iginla, and coerced #12 to take an instigator penalty in the middle stanza. That infraction was costly for the Avs since Oshie notched Washington’s second tally of the night on the ensuing power play.

On defense, John Carlson and Matt Niskanen each played over 22 minutes while Orlov and Karl Alzner were right around 19 minutes. Brooks Orpik, who was +1 and very solid on the back end, logged 16:29 while Nate Schmidt saw just under 13 minutes of action. Coach Barry Trotz and assistant coach Todd Rierden have been able to rotate their defensemen fairly well in the three games this season, which should help keep everyone fresh and healthy.

Simply put, this was a complete effort and strong performance from the Caps. In the three games they’ve played, they have looked very good and have started quickly in all of them. Faster starts and a killer instinct were things this team wanted to work on this campaign and so far, so good. Their only blemish was losing in the skills competition in Pittsburgh, and those things are coin flips.

On Tuesday night, the special teams were back clicking and Washington was doing a nice job of putting pucks on the net with traffic. Those types of things add up to lots of victories.

Most importantly on this evening, the Captain came to play and he was downright dominant. The Gr8 showed that when he’s focused, he’s the best goal scorer this game has ever seen.

Notes: Shot attempts were 61-36 for the Caps, that’s pure domination…Marcus Johansson had two power play assists…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 31-27, Backstrom went 13-4 and Beagle was 6-3…no Capital played less than 10 minutes and none played over 24 minutes, that’s balance…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 23:42…the Avs were 2-0 coming into this game…Washington is in Florida on Thursday at 7:30 pm and home against the Rags at 7 pm on Saturday night.

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Caps Suffocate Islanders in Home Opener, 2-1

Posted on 16 October 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Daniel Winnik scored twice and Braden Holtby stopped 21 of 22 shots as the Washington Capitals won their home opener over the New York Islanders, 2-1, on Saturday night at a sold out Verizon Center.

The Caps used their superior depth to suffocate New York in the final frame. Coach Jack Capuano’s crew only had five third period shots on net and one of those came from center ice. The line of Jay Beagle, Tom Wilson, and Winnik totally throttled the Islanders top unit, which is led by superstar John Tavares. #91 was held to only two shots on goal in 18:38 and he was minus one for the game. Beagle and company excelled in the head to head matchup and produced far more scoring chances for the Caps.

“We had a lot of good chances and we felt really good and all of our legs were kind of going,” started Wilson, who also nearly scored a goal late in the third period on a two on one with Beagle.

“I was licking my chops, thought I had a wide open net and whoever it was, the back checker made an amazing play just to get his stick in between my stick and the net, so I don’t know what else I can do, maybe dive head first and bury it in the net?” joked Wilson afterwards.

Coach Barry Trotz noted that line, which played sparingly in the opening game in Pittsburgh, came to him on Friday and wanted more ice time. The trio earned it quickly notching the contest’s first tally at 11:58 of period one. Overall, the line logged over 10 minutes of even strength.

“The first game was a little bit of a tough one playing only five to seven minutes. Tonight we just wanted to do whatever we could every shift to earn our ice time. If the coach isn’t comfortable playing us, that’s our fault,” commented Wilson on the increased ice time.

Tavares, who will be seeing Beagle in his upcoming nightmares, will be pleased to know that the Islanders don’t play the Caps again until December 1st.

The Caps carried the play for much of the contest. The shot attempts were 58-51, but like they did in Pittsburgh on Thursday, they passed up some good shooting opportunities. Coach Trotz stated afterwards that he would like more shots from his club.

Another piece of evidence showing the Caps domination of play was the special team situation statistics. Washington had five power plays to just two for New York. The problem was the Islanders scored on their first chance while the Caps were blanked. For the season the Caps are now 0 for 8 with the man advantage and they’ve allowed a power play goal in both games.

On offense, they’ve struggled to get set up as both the Penguins and Islanders have been very aggressive on the penalty kill. The pass to Alex Ovechkin is being defended, for the most part, so it’s imperative that the Caps get some point shots with traffic from the middle of the blue line. They did that a few times on Saturday, with Dmitry Orlov being the most notable, and it resulted in some juicy rebound chances that weren’t able to be finished.

On the penalty kill, Holtby noted that the Islanders employed a different tactic. In the past, their strategy was to set up one timers from the flank, but in this contest they focused on just throwing pucks at the cage with traffic in front. It was their best weapon on Saturday.

Overall though, the Caps have played two good hockey games and have three of a possible four points. The gimmick loss in Pittsburgh easily could have been a victory. They’ve also done this with the Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, and Ovechkin line nowhere near their best, so the team’s depth has been very evident.

“The special thing about this group is we can win a game in a variety of ways. We have four lines that can play, a good D, and a great goalie. So if it’s going to be a shootout we can do that, we can pump goals into their net, if it’s going to be a low scoring tight affair, we can suffocate them like we did tonight,” finished Wilson.

Notes: Beagle had an assist, was +2, and went 11-4 in faceoffs…Ovechkin had 10 shot attempts in 19:07 of ice time, but only three made it on goal; six were blocked…the Caps have allowed only one even strength goal in 125 minutes of hockey…the Islanders won the face off battle, 29-27…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time (22:06) and shots on goal (six)…next up for Washington are the Colorado Avalanche at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night.

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Are You Ready To Take A Chance Again With the Caps?

Posted on 11 October 2016 by Ed Frankovic

It’s been five months since the overtime goal that ended the Washington Capitals season in Pittsburgh. The Penguins would go on to win their fourth Stanley Cup and each time they have done so they have knocked off the Caps en route to hoisting Lord Stanley.

That was not supposed to happen last spring. No, everything shaped up to be the Capitals year from training camp to a Presidents’ Trophy and right up until a three-zip games lead on the Flyers in round one. Washington then had to work extra hard to send Philadelphia to the golf course in six games. Game one against Pittsburgh in round two saw Washington’s T.J. Oshie exploit Olli Maatta for a hat trick and the Caps were up 1-0. Things were still looking good, but then, to quote John Cougar Mellencamp, “The walls came crumbling down.”

An ill advised hit on Maatta led to a three game suspension for Brooks Orpik in game two (and knocked the Pens weak link on D out of the lineup) and an injury to Karl Alzner further weakened the Capitals blue line, allowing Pittsburgh to use their superior speed to take over a close series and crush, once again, any dreams of Washington winning the Cup.

It was a painful finish and the summer was long. Many Caps fans needed that duration to move past that devastating loss. Some may never get over that defeat, it was that stinging. Even Caps General Manager Brian MacLellan remarked to me during the Sweden-Team Europe preliminary game at the Verizon Center in September that he will never get over it. I get it, I’ve been watching this team find ways to not get it done for over 40 years, it is hard to take, at times.

But now it’s time for another Capitals hockey season.

The grieving is over, it’s done and finished. It’s time to look ahead once again, but by learning from the past.

So for Caps fans, the start of every hockey season since 1974 has to feel invariably like the lyrics from this old classic song from the legendary Barry Manilow:

And I’m ready to take a chance again
Ready to put my love on the line with you
Been livin’ with nothing to show for it
You get what you get when you go for it
And I’m ready to take a chance again with you


Yes, it’s time to take the chance again on this hockey club.

As for learning from defeat, General Manager Brian MacLellan once again did his job this summer and improved the Capitals roster by making it faster. He traded for center Lars Eller at the draft and added forward Brett Connolly as a low cost free agent. Gone are Mike Richards, Jason Chimera, and Michael Latta.

With the addition of Eller, Washington is as deep as it has ever been at center with Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Eller, and Jay Beagle, in that order. When you look at the wings the Capitals have, especially in the top six, with Alex Ovechkin, Oshie, Andrei Burakovsky, and Justin Williams, this club can be explosive. MacLellan brought in Eller to improve the “top 9” and the current plan is to have Eller center Marcus Johansson and likely Tom Wilson. “Willy” is in a pivotal season and it’s time for him to take a big step forward offensively. He’s shown flashes of potential, but he has to be consistent and he must find a way to put more pucks in the net.

In training camp, 21 year old Zach Sanford from Boston College had a marvelous few weeks and earned himself a spot on the opening night roster sending the likes of Stan Galiev and others, such as Chandler Stephenson, Travis Boyd, Christian Thomas, and Jakub Vrana to Hershey for more game time and development.

In goal, the Capitals are rock solid with reigning Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby between the pipes, backed up by Philipp Grubauer. Holtby admitted over the summer that he did suffer an injury in the opening round series against the Flyers, which explains some of the slight drop off in his play in that Penguins series.

As for the Capitals blue line, it is the same as last spring, but the club is counting on more from Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt to improve the overall back end, especially from Orlov, who aspires to top four minutes. The question is can he be consistent and learn to avoid the big mistakes he’s prone to make that lead to opposing goals? Orpik is now 36, and even though he’s in great shape and eager to get over his nightmare 2015-16 campaign, the league is faster at a time when he’s battling losing more foot speed. Bottom line, the blue line depth is Washington’s biggest question mark. Everyone knows what Alzner, top 12 NHL defensemen John Carlson, and the super solid Matt Niskanen can do, so it’s all about the growth of Orlov and Schmidt plus the ability of Orpik to stay relevant in an up tempo league.

Are the Capitals better than last year? On paper, I’d say yes with the addition of Eller and the experience gained by Kuznetsov, Burakovsky, Orlov, and Schmidt. Those four players had great to solid regular seasons, but then sputtered in the post season. Hopefully they’ve learned what it takes to follow up a strong regular season with an even better playoff performance, because ultimately that’s where you’re measured in the NHL.

As for the team itself, to include the coaches, well they need to be better prepared for games. The slow starts that plagued this team so often in the past, need to be eliminated. Too often this hockey club allows the other squad to dictate the game before they decide to start playing. You rarely see the elite Championship teams do that in pro sports (see Patriots, New England). Washington must learn from what the Penguins did to them last spring and play the same way, regardless of the score. They need to find the “killer instinct” — they have the skill. That’s why their “will over skill” training camp tee shirts are very appropriate. The Capitals MUST ditch their laissez-faire approach to games and learn to come out firing and take the will of their opponents.

Letting clubs hang around, like the Caps did with the Flyers last spring, leads to more injuries and subpar play. That must be a thing of the past.

It’s a mindset and Washington, who has as much; if not more, talent than any team in the NHL, needs to improve the mental part of their game.

Last season the Capitals earned 120 standings points. I’ve stated they are a better team heading into 2016-17, but will they surpass that point total again? Not likely, but I do believe they will once again win the Metropolitan Division.

As for the rest of the Metro, here’s a look at each team in order of predicted finish:

2nd: Pittsburgh – they are the defending champs and to win the Cup you still have to go through the Penguins. They have the same team from last year minus defensemen Ben Lovejoy so they should be right there in the spring. The recent concussion that Sidney Crosby incurred at practice last Friday will likely keep him out of action for at least a game, but that is a smart decision by those in Pittsburgh. Sid skated on Tuesday, but given that the Pens will make the post season and it’s only October why rush a guy back who has a history of concussions?

3rd: Rangers – Henrik Lundqvist will be 35 in March. He showed some signs of his old self in the World Cup of Hockey, but overall he’s slowing down and his consistency will be in question. New York is still paying for going for the Cup the last several years so they are in salary cup trouble. They lost Keith Yandle and Dan Boyle on the blue line and are left with some slow footed dudes back there (see Girardi, Dan). Up front, they traded Derek Brassard to Ottawa for Mika Zibanejad, primarily to save cap space, and added past Capital killers Nathan Gerbe and Micahel Grabner. They also signed NCAA free agent Jimmy Vesey.

4th: Flyers – Philadelphia brings back basically the same lineup they had against the Capitals in the first round last April so I expect them to continue to improve unless injuries hit one or more of their key players (Claude Giroux, Jakab Voracek, Sean Couturier, and Shayne Gostisbehere).

5th: Islanders – New York lost Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, and Matt Martin at forward. Those are some big losses. Their blue line is fairly strong and they added Dennis Seidenberg to it. In net they have Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss. Halak was superb in the World Cup of Hockey. He’s known to have hot streaks, but can be injury prone and inconsistent.

6th: Devils – New Jersey traded defensemen Adam Larsson to Edmonton for former NHL #1 draft pick, Taylor Hall, so New Jersey should have more offense. Cory Schneider is great in net, but this team has a questionable blue line and some young players cutting their teeth in the NHL at forward.

7th: Hurricanes – Justin Faulk and 19 year old Noah Hanifan are a nice start on defense and up front Jeff Skinner, Teuvo Teravainen, and Elias Lindholm are three talented players aged 24 and younger, but this club lacks the depth to earn a playoff spot. They’ll play hard every night though, so teams that take them lightly will be in trouble.

8th: Blue Jackets – If the World Cup of Hockey proved anything for USA Hockey, it’s that the game has passed Coach John Tortorella by. Why John Davidson and company hired this dinosaur to be their bench boss last October after firing Todd Richards is beyond me? They have two superb young defensemen in Seth Jones and Ryan Murray and up front they boast the talented Brandon Saad. After that, their forwards are a mix match of styles with too many slow plodders filtered in. They do have Sergei Bobrovsky in net, but can he stay healthy?

The NHL regular season slate opens on Wednesday with four games, but the Caps will begin their season in Pittsburgh on Thursday at 8 pm. I don’t expect Crosby to play, which is disappointing. On Saturday at 7 pm, Washington has its home opener against the Islanders.

Drop the puck!!!!

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World Cup of Hockey: Ranking the Goaltenders

Posted on 08 September 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Day one of the pretournament games for the World Cup of Hockey didn’t disappoint at all. In the first afternoon tilt, Finalnd’s Olli Maatta beat Sweden’s Jonas Enroth on a two on one rush in overtime to lead the Fins to a 3-2 victory over their archrivals. In the second matinee, Alex Ovechkin’s Russian squad took 3-1 and 4-2 leads and then hung on behind goalie Sergei Bobrovsky’s 29 saves to defeat the Czech Republic, 4-3. In the main event on Thursday night, Team North America, comprised of Canadian and American players all age 23 and under, smoked a slow looking Team Europe, which consists of all European players not from Russia, Sweden, Finland, or the Czech Republic, 4-0. North America was extremely fun to watch with their high speed game.

As for the Capitals who suited up and played on Thursday, the Gr8 and Evgeny Kuznetsov were both held pointless in 15:17 and 15:57 of ice time, respectively. Ovechkin did have three hits. Russia’s Dmitry Orlov had an assist and led his team in ice time, with 20:12. Nicklas Backstrom was also held without a point in 16:58 of ice time and he went 8-7 on face-offs.

Friday night has one game, and it is a big one: USA vs. Canada from Columbus, Ohio at 7 pm on ESPNU.

On Wednesday night, I provided my World Cup of Hockey blue line rankings. Now we take a look at the goalies from each squad. Keep in mind that this is a SHORT tournament and having a hot goalie is very important to win, so I give more weight to those teams who I believe have net minders who are prone to hot streaks. Depth is important too, because if one goalie is off of his game, it’s paramount that you have a quality backup.

So without further adieu, here’s my rankings of each team’s goaltending from worst to first:

Eighth – Team Czech Republic – Peter Mrazek (DET), Michal Neuvirth (PHI), and Ondrej Pavelec (WPG). Each of these goalies has the ability to steal a game or two, but there’s no long term success history for any of them at the NHL level, and especially in this big time type of a tournament.

Seventh – Team Europe – Jaroslav Halak (NYI), Tomas Greiss (NYI), and Philipp Grubauer (WAS). Halak looked pretty rusty in the game against North America. He battled injuries last spring and if he doesn’t recover quickly, Greiss or Neuvy will see the cage. Halak has gotten hot in the past, but that was many moons ago.

Sixth – Team Sweden – Henrik Lundqvist (NYR), Jacob Markstrom (VAN), and Jhonas Enroth (TOR). Markstrom and Enroth are not very good and King Henrik is now 34 years old. Sure Lundqvist has shown the ability to get in the zone and steal several games in a row, but we haven’t seen that since the spring of 2015 when he helped the Rangers rally from a 3-1 series deficit against the Caps. This is Sweden’s biggest weakness.

Fifth – Team North America – Matt Murray (PIT), John Gibson (ANA), and Connor Hellebuyck (WPG). Murray plays so big with his solid positioning and he looked to have not missed a beat in his debut against Team Europe on Thursday night. He’s won a Stanley Cup, which none of the Sweden, Europe, or Czech Republic goalies can claim. Gibson played very well in the World Championships a few years back, so he’ll be the backup.

Fourth – Team Russia – Semyon Varlamov (COL), Sergei Bobrovsky (CMB), and Andrei Vasilevskiy (TB). This is a really strong trio and all have big game experience. Each of them has the ability to get hot. I’m guessing “Bob” will be the starter. He battled injuries last season and Varlamov has a history of groin issues, as well.

Third – Team Finland – Pekka Rinne (NAS), Tuukka Rask (BOS), and Mikko Koskinen (KHL). It’ll be Rinne first and if he falters, Tuukka will take over. Both are goalies that can get extremely hot and dominate for several games, so that makes them dangerous. The good news for Rask is there are no games at the Verizon Center in actual tournament play, he’s never won in the phone booth.

Second – Team USA – Jonathan Quick (LA), Ben Bishop (TB), and Corey Schneider (NJ). All three are very good goalies and can get super hot. Quick is the likely starter given his two Stanley Cup rings and experience in the Sochi Olympics, where he helped the USA to only fall 1-0 in a semi-final game against Canada, one in which they had no business being that close in.

First – Team Canada – Carey Price (MTL), Braden Holtby (WAS), and Corey Crawford (CHI). This is a no brainer. They have the last two Vezina Trophy winners, including the 2014-15 MVP in Price and a two time Stanley Cup Champion in Crawford. Yes, Price is returning from injury, so there’s questions surrounding him, but if he can’t play then either the Holtbeast or Crawford have plenty of talent and experience to do the job. Canada is flat out loaded at every position.

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ARLINGTON, VA - AUGUST 26:  John Carlson poses after being named a candidate for the 2014 USA Hockey Olympic Team at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex on August 26, 2013 in Arlington, Virginia.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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World Cup of Hockey: Ranking the Bluelines of the 8 Squads

Posted on 07 September 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Hockey is back!

The NHL managed World Cup of Hockey officially begins on Saturday, September 17 and will run for two weeks. It will include eight teams — Team Canada, Team Czech Republic, Team Europe, Team Finland, Team North America, Team Russia, Team Sweden and Team USA — and feature more than 170 of the best players in the NHL. All tournament games will be played at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

As expected, the 2015-16 Presidents’ Trophy winning Washington Capitals have numerous players participating, including Alex Ovechkin (Russia Captain), Nicklas Backstrom (Sweden), Braden Holtby (Canada), John Carlson (USA), Evgeny Kuznetsov (Russia), T.J. Oshie (USA), Matt Niskanen (USA), Dmitry Orlov (Russia), and Philipp Grubauer (Europe).

Pre-tournament games, which will all be televised on ESPN’s network, will be played in the following cities: Columbus, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.; Montreal, Ottawa and Quebec City; Prague; Gothenburg; Helsinki; and St. Petersburg. The first three pre-tourney games are on Thursday, September 8th starting with Team Russia vs. Team Czech Republic in St. Petersburg at 12:30 pm on ESPN3, so you can tune in and watch the Gr8 already. Team USA plays its first pre-tourney game against Canada this Friday, September 9th in Columbus at 7 pm on ESPNU.

The Verizon Center will host two games next week, both at 7 pm. On Tuesday, Team USA will face Team Finland and on Wednesday, Team Sweden will take on Team Europe. Tickets are available.

The tournament will be grouped into two divisions of four teams, as follows:

Group A: USA, Canada, Czech Republic, and Europe

Group B: Sweden, Russia, Finland, and North America.

The top two teams in each group will advance and then play a single elimination semi-final round before the World Cup is decided in a best of three series. This should be an exciting way to break into the NHL season!

Over the next week, I’ll provide you with my analysis of the teams and I’ll start with my rankings by squad in terms of their defensive corps, starting from the worst to the best.

Eighth – Team Czech Republic:  Zbenyk Michalek (AZ), Radko Gudas (PHI), Michal Kempny (CHI), Jakub Nackladal (Free Agent), Michal Jordan (Free Agent), Andrej Sustr (TB), and Roman Polak (TOR). Woah, not much there on the blueline, so it’s easy to see why this is the weakest group of seven in the tournament. If only this was basketball and they had “THE” Michael Jordan.

Seventh – Team Finland:  Jyrki Jokipakka (CGY), Olli Maatta (PIT), Esa Lindell (DAL), Sami Lepisto (Free Agent), Ville Pokka (CHI), Sami Vatanen (ANA), and Rasmus Ristolainen (BUF). Vatanen has the potential to be a star in the league, but after that, I don’t see anything here that will scare the likes of Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin over the next several weeks.

Sixth – Team Russia: Dmitry Kulikov (FLA), Dmitry Orlov (WAS), Nikita Zaitsev (TOR), Alexey Marchenko (DET), Alexei Emelin (MON), Andrei Markov (MON), and Nikita Nesterov (TB). There are some good young players here on this defensive roster, but outside of Markov and Emelin, there isn’t a ton of big game experience. This will definitely be the weakest part of Team Russia and if they don’t advance to the semi-finals, this position will likely be the main reason why they won’t win on the world stage, once again.

Fifth – Team Europe: Andrej Sekera (EDM), Luca Sbisa (VAN), Mark Streit (PHI), Christian Ehrhoff (Free Agent), Zdeno Chara (BOS), Dennis Seidenberg (Free Agent), and Roman Josi (NAS). This crew has several players that are long in the tooth, but that brings experience. Josi is the best player of the group and his stock in the NHL is rising quickly.

Fourth – Team North America: Seth Jones (CMB), Colton Parakyo (STL), Aaron Ekblad (FLA), Jacob Trouba (WPG), Ryan Murray (CMB), Morgan Reilly (TOR), and Shayne Gostisbehere (PHI). Lots of upcoming talent here, but they are certainly inexperienced. That’s to be expected for a team that is comprised of players aged 23 and under. Ekblad is a stud on the back end and “Ghost” carried the Flyers to the playoffs last spring. Jones is a future star, too.

Third – Team Sweden: Niklas Hjalmmarsson (CHI), Anton Stralman (TB), Mattias Ekholm (NAS), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (ARI), Hampus Lindholm (ANA), Erik Karlsson (OTT), and Victor Hedman (TB). Outstanding crew of defensemen here led by Hedman and Karlsson and it was hard to put them third, but the other two teams are just slightly better as a whole. Karlsson has the Norris Trophy notoriety, but if you ask me, Hedman might be as good as any defensemen in the NHL outside of Drew Doughty. The guy is just awesome on the back end and plays a lot of minutes.

Second – Team USA: Matt Niskanen (WAS), John Carlson (WAS), Jack Johnson (CMB), Ryan Suter (MIN), Ryan McDonagh (NYR), Dennis Byfuglien (WPG), and Erik Johnson (COL). There isn’t a “Wow!” factor with this crew, but each one of these blue liners is very good and experienced. Carlson is a top dozen defensemen in the NHL, in my book, but he doesn’t get a lot of publicity. He continues to get better and better and will be on the top pairing with either Suter or McDonagh.

First – Team Canada: Jay Bouwmeester (STL), Shea Weber (MON), Jake Muzzin (LA), Drew Doughty (LA), Alex Pietrangelo (STL), Marc-Edouard Vlassic (SJ), and Brent Burns (SJ). TONS of ability and experience here led by the best defensemen in the NHL in Doughty. This blue line is ultra deep and keep in mind they left Kris Letang of Pittsburgh and P.K. Subban of Nashville off of the squad. I probably would have had both of them on the team, but GM Doug Armstrong and Coach Mike Babcock are calling the shots for this tournament. Bottom line, Canada is loaded on defense (and at other positions too!) and they easily could put another group of seven together that wouldn’t be too far behind Sweden and the USA.

On Thursday night, I’ll rank the goaltenders for each team.

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Luck Not the Sole Reason for the Caps’ 2nd Round Exit

Posted on 13 May 2016 by Ed Frankovic

There have been 41 Washington Capitals seasons and zero Stanley Cup Championships.

Those are the facts, there is no denying them.

2015-16 was supposed to be different. It sure felt that way, from the general manager to the coaches to the players to the fans and even some in the media. Heck, I was front and center putting myself out there saying this team and this season would be different.

In many ways, it was, and we’ll touch on that later.

But in the end, as Justin Williams, John Carlson, and many other Capitals players proclaimed on breakdown day on May 12, 2016, the season was a “failure” following a devastating overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in game six that allowed the Pens to win a very closely contested series, four games to two.

Pittsburgh scored 16 goals and Washington tallied 15 times in the series. Each Penguins victory, two of which came in overtime, was achieved by a single goal. Both teams had stretches where they dominated the play, but ultimately it was the Penguins who prevailed.

Did the Capitals deserve a better fate from the Hockey Gods?

Maybe, I mean how often do you see a goal scored off of the back of a player? That happened in game three for Pittsburgh, a game in which the Caps carried the large majority of the play, but managed to lose. Numerous times in this series the Capitals had themselves in position to bury a puck at a key moment, and somehow it bounced over their players stick. Surely luck was not on their side, and as Matt Niskanen noted on breakdown day, you talk to guys around the league who have won championships and they’ll tell you need luck along the way to win.

There is truth to that, around these parts there is no denying that the two Super Bowls the Baltimore Ravens won included some luck. Al Del Greco hit the upright on a field goal right before halftime and then a blocked Del Greco field goal, in the fourth quarter, landed right in the hands of Anthony Mitchell and he then returned it for the game winning touchdown in 2000 against the Titans. Joe Flacco’s Hail Mary pass to Jacoby Jones in 2012 went over the head of a Broncos safety that mistimed his play on the ball for the tying touchdown to set up overtime and an eventual huge Ravens upset. All of those plays included luck, but the Ravens were also good enough to put themselves in position to get the breaks.

You certainly need some luck to win and the Capitals received some of that in series one when Jason Chimera’s innocent dump in deflection traveled 100 feet and through the wickets of Steve Mason into the cage in game two. The Caps took advantage and raced to a three to nothing series lead and eventually prevailed, four games to two over the Flyers.

In series two, Washington didn’t get the bounces and lost by a goal, but it wasn’t bad luck that did them in.

We’ll get that to what ultimately doomed them in a minute, but first, let’s put some perspective on where this team has come from over the last two years.

After a disastrous 2013-14 season, the Capitals were an absolute train wreck and a Stanley Cup seemed to be mostly an unobtainable goal in the near term. Following the conclusion of that season, I was full of piss and vinegar and rightfully called for the ultra-conservative and often panic stricken general manager to be let go, along with the divisive bench boss who seemed to insist on being the smartest guy in the room. I was furious that the blue line continually was not properly addressed by George McPhee for over 10 plus seasons. Fortunately, owner Ted Leonsis and team President Dick Patrick saw the same thing, when many in the national media were once again calling for the core of the team, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, to be shipped out instead.

Enter Coach Barry Trotz and promoted General Manager Brian MacLellan to commence a massive turnaround. They immediately went to work on two things the club desperately needed, a blue line fix and an identity as a team.

“Last year when I came here, that was the first thing we did, was fix the defense. We got two outstanding players in Brooks [Orpik] and Matt [Niskanen] and we started the process of building a culture and it started by fixing holes, by going out and getting the best people that we felt could do that and getting people who have won, then the next phase of that was to develop our own people,” said Caps coach Barry Trotz to Nestor Aparacio and I on February 29th, 2016 at a WNST radio event at Buffalo Wild Wings in Belair to continue the fight against leukemia and support the bone marrow registry.

Those moves laid the foundation for a very successful 2014-15 campaign that saw Washington return to the playoffs, defeat the New York Islanders in round one, and then lose in painful fashion, in overtime, in game seven against the New York Rangers. The Capitals only allowed 13 goals in seven games, but could only muster 12 goals themselves and lost twice in overtime in the final three contests.

It was an awful defeat, they lost a three games to one series lead, but everyone knew that the main problem was the Capitals didn’t have enough talent up front to score consistently. The loss was rough, but things were rapidly moving in the right direction after utter chaos just a year earlier. My end of the season blog focused on the need to improve the top six forwards and sure enough, MacLellan pulled it off dealing Troy Brouwer for T.J. Oshie and signing Justin Williams to a two year free agent deal. Unfortunately, adding those guys and the need to pay goalie Braden Holtby what he was rightfully worth, put the team up against the salary cap. With it not possible to move Brooks Laich’s boat anchor of a contract in the summer, the team was forced to part ways with grinding forward Joel Ward and defensemen Mike Green, both key players on the squad that fell just short against the Rags. They were tough personnel losses to a team that had become super close.

But Oshie and Williams fit in perfectly and the Ward and Green losses faded to the back of everyone’s mind as the Capitals stormed out of the gate and blew the league away in the regular season pretty much clinching the Presidents’ Trophy by Valentine’s Day. Holtby was legendary in the cage and he tied the NHL single season victory total for a goalie with 48 (tied with hall of famer, Martin Brodeur). It was so much fun and the team seemed to get tighter as a unit as the season moved on. This was surely setting up to be the year for a Cup parade, but quietly the Pittsburgh Penguins were addressing some serious issues they had themselves.

They fired their coach, Mike Johnston, and replaced him with former Rangers assistant Mike Sullivan. But more importantly, general manager Jimmy Rutherford made some great moves to transform his roster. In the summer, he traded high draft picks to Toronto to acquire scoring winger Phil Kessel and he dumped the slow and plodding Brandon Sutter for speedy Nick Bonino. After the season began, he also swapped David Perron for super-fast Cap killer Carl Hagelin. Suddenly he had a line that could skate like the wind, but he still had issues on the back end. Rob Scuderi was old and slower than molasses, but Rutherford somehow convinced Stan Bowman, who is considered an excellent GM, to deal mobile defensemen Trevor Daley for the past his prime Scuderi. It was a fleecing or highway robbery of a deal, whatever you want to call it. From there the Penguins were the best team in the league from January on and Washington knew they’d have their hands full with them, at some point. The Caps had become somewhat complacent given their huge standings lead while Pittsburgh pressed madly to move up the standings after wallowing out of playoff position for much of the first 40 games.

While the Penguins were making all of these moves, MacLellan not only added Oshie and Williams, but he brought in Mike Richards as a depth center. That move was excellent and if not for some of Richards outstanding penalty killing skills, the Flyers might have won game six, as well as game two. Richards ability to read back door passes and get his stick in lanes on defense and while shorthanded was very much needed. The Caps suddenly were not only super on the power play, but also on the penalty kill.

With the Richards move, the Caps only real question marks appeared to be on defense. The loss of Green was a blow, no doubt, you don’t replace a player of that caliber easily, and the Caps plan, partly due to limited salary cap room, was to go with rookies Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt on the back end as a third pairing. When Orpik was injured in early November with a cracked femur, suddenly those guys were forced to play more minutes than originally planned. They played well, too, perhaps clouding the judgement of the Capitals brass as the trade deadline approached. MacLellan did add Mike Weber as a depth defensemen and he somehow masterfully moved Laich out for an upgrade in forward Daniel Winnik. The move also freed up money on the current salary cap, but more importantly for 2016-17 when dollars would be needed to retain Marcus Johansson, who was having a career year, and others like Tom Wilson. Some wanted the Capitals to use that extra dough to acquire another defensemen given Oprik’s health issues and the lack of experience on the back end. Dan Hamhuis, among other experienced defensemen, were still out there reportedly to be had, but Washington passed.

After the trade deadline, at the WNST event with Coach Trotz on February 29th, I specifically asked him about the decision to go with the two players who had zero playoff experience on the back end.

“We talk about that, the blessing this year with Brooks being out for a long period of time, Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt were in the lineup for 50 some games. We already know what they can do and it’s been really beneficial for us. I think by adding Mike Weber we’re eight deep at the NHL level,” explained Trotz on the rationale of where the organization stood on their blue line.

It seemed like a viable plan at the time and Weber certainly seemed like the type of guy who could fill in for an Orpik or even a Karl Alzner if there was an injury. But Oprik came back healthy down the stretch and despite the fact that Carlson missed 12 games with a cracked ankle/foot in March, the Caps only played Weber in 10 of the 21 contests that occurred before the post season began. Basically, the Capitals decided to ride Orlov, Schmidt and Taylor Chorney instead of Weber. #6 was a seven year veteran with more playoff experience (seven games) than the other three combined, but he spent most of the time in the press box becoming rusty. As anyone in hockey will tell you, performing in the regular season is one thing, but doing that in the playoffs is another story, so the Capitals were really taking a risk on the Orlov-Schmidt-Chorney trio.

When Orpik was concussed and injured his neck in game three against the Flyers, I remarked to MacLellan after that tilt that “this was the reason you went out and got Weber.” The GM seemed to nod his head in agreement, yet somehow it wasn’t until a series clinching victory in game six that Weber finally got a sweater for the Caps? The coaching staff went with Chorney over a more physical Weber against a chippy and dirty team like the Flyers. Weber, to that point, had never received the repetitions he really needed to play at a top four level that would be required when Orpik went down.

That leads me to where this season broke down. Yes, the Penguins were the faster team, but you can deter speed by keeping it to the outside and wearing it out with proper execution. The Bonino line, with seven goals, was the difference in the series and while they were fast, several of those goals came from right in front of the net following turnovers. Oprik’s terrible hit on Olli Maatta that took #3 out of three games and #44 too, as a result of a suspension, turned the entire series around, as well.  The Caps were flat the rest of game two and lost home ice. In game three, Schmidt made a costly turnover and then was manhandled in front by the small Hagelin for the eventual game winning goal. He would not play in two of the final three games. Orlov was benched for a game and the Caps only won once with Chorney in the lineup (game five of the Pens series). Weber did get a jersey for game four and played decently, but the game winning goal went off of his stick to Patrick Hornqvist and he was banished to the press box once again.

When Alzner’s groin, that he initially injured in the Flyers series, finally popped in game six, the Caps had little left on the back end other than Carlson and a tiring Niskanen, who played all 82 games and every playoff game with King Karl, to that point. After #27’s injury, Orpik took another awful penalty, a careless double minor for high sticking on Hornqvist with the puck 50 feet away in period two, and the Caps great penalty killing unit was suddenly forced to play both Chorney and Orlov in succession. Two goals in 29 seconds was the result and that put the Caps in a deep hole, 3-0. It was a terrible penalty that Orpik could not afford to take, once again, and it was especially bad knowing that Alzner was done for the game. In short, as much as I like Orpik and what he can bring to the Capitals, he had a nightmare 2015-16 season with his injuries and bad penalties. Simply put, the Penguins were faster, but they also were able to get to the front of the Capitals net, and most of those occasions came when members of the bottom half of the Washington defense were on the ice.

Now the encouraging part of the story is that this is where this Capitals teamed proved to be different.  Instead of folding tent like the 2009 Caps did in game seven against Pittsburgh when they went down 3-0, they fought back and forced overtime in game six showing tremendous fortitude and resolve. They probably should have won too, but failed to capitalize on a late power play that they received. At that juncture they seemed a little too comfortable at that moment at just being tied up, something that occurred too frequently during this season and in the Flyers series, as well.

On to overtime we went and the Capitals, who rode the top six forwards and Carlson and Niskanen on the back end heavily, were out of gas. Niskanen was forced to play with guys he wasn’t used to being paired with and miscommunication happened on the game winning tally, which was another goal that once again came from the doorstep on a rebound.

In a nutshell, the Capitals lost on their lack of defensive depth, something they thought they had, but really didn’t.  They put too much stock in the abilities of Orlov and Schmidt based on their regular season success and they failed to take advantage and develop or possibly misevaluated what Weber could bring to the lineup. It was a waste of a third round draft pick the way it all played out. The Penguins found their way through the Washington back end too easily and Holtby couldn’t prevent all of those second chance tallies.

In addition, their season long tendency to sit back and not take control of games cost them dearly. They didn’t attack in game two and show that killer instinct to seize a critical contest and the series. That lack of killer instinct also allowed a Kris Letang-less Penguins team to steal game four. The Pens gained confidence to win in those first 30 minutes when the Capitals needed to step on their throats and not allow them to believe they could prevail without their best defensemen. It was a major opportunity lost.

Finally, the Capitals loss of Ward took away a player who routinely went to the front of the net in the postseason to get ugly goals. Washington didn’t have much of that against the Penguins outside of a couple of Williams tallies (but one was with the goalie pulled). The Caps need their bottom six forwards to chip in with more greasy goals.

So where does that lead us heading in to 2016-17?

Obviously the team is extremely disappointed that they let a major chance to win a championship slip by once again. The lack of true defensive depth, killer instinct, and inability to add in some rebound goals was what ultimately cost them the series against what should become in June, the 2015-16 Stanley Cup winning Penguins.

Some will call for panic and to try to blow things up, like the San Jose Sharks nearly did following a loss to the Kings in 2014 after owning a 3-0 series lead. Two springs later, the Sharks are in the hunt for the Cup and credit for that goes to hanging on to their core, the addition of Ward up front, and bringing in Paul Martin on defense.

Washington needs to find a Paul Martin type on the back end because running out the same seven guys again, particularly the four after Carlson, Niskanen, and Alzner, carries significant risk.

Johansson will be the top offseason priority to sign to a long term deal. He’s a key piece to this team and had a remarkable regular and post season. He was one of the guys going to the net against the Flyers and scoring tough goals. He also brings a major element of speed.

Wilson is next on the priority list as a restricted free agent. #43 made significant contributions this year on the penalty kill and defensively. In some games, such as game five against the Penguins, he was a difference maker by drawing penalties and keeping the opponent out of the offensive zone. Still, he needs to develop his offensive skills so that he could possibly fill that Ward type of role in front of the net. His improvement is a must and the coaches need to aid that by playing him more. If they prefer not to do that or think he can’t do that, then a move is needed.

Orlov is a restricted free agent, as well, and he and Schmidt are similar players, along with Chorney. The Caps management team needs to determine if that is indeed the way to go to win a Stanley Cup on the back end. My recommendation would be to move at least one of them and upgrade the blue line, especially since Oprik is adding another year and he has an injury history.

Ovechkin is about to head into his 12th season and the Capitals need to win soon (Steve Yzerman’s first Cup came in his 14th season). The Gr8 was superb in these playoffs and downright dominant in several games, such as game five against the Penguins. Oshie, Williams, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Alzner are all free agents after next season and will require more dollars. Carlson has two more years to go at the deal of the century, a contract just under $4M per season. He was the Capitals best player in the post season and will command $7M plus in 2018-19.

Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky are two young players that had super regular seasons, but as a result of playing all 82 games, didn’t have the legs they had in 2015-16 when they were playoff difference makers. They need to learn from that and be better prepared physically next spring. They need to add strength and learn to get some ugly goals in front.

I typically wait several days before writing this blog to let the emotions of the playoff defeat die down, but I don’t think that will be possible this season. This was one tough loss and a major opportunity gone by the wayside. Everyone will feel the pain all summer and I certainly don’t want to be sitting here next season beginning my 2016-17 final blog with a 0 and 42 statistic.

I know the Capitals don’t want me to be doing so either.

Everything the Caps do between now and next April 15th has to be about the playoffs and winning the Cup. The team is tight and the culture is strong, but they need to develop that killer instinct. In addition, the management needs to address the personnel short comings on defense and the coaching staff needs to be quicker to adjust when things aren’t working.

The last thing management needs to do is panic and make radical changes, this team is ultra close, but more is necessary to get over the hump.

So the time is now for the Capitals to start getting at next year and doing everything in their power to make sure no stone is left unturned and no holes are left exposed when injuries or uncomfortable situations present themselves in the spring of 2017 playoffs.

There were a lot of things to like from this team this year, but the ultimate prize was not captured and the season was a major disappointment, or a failure, as many players called it.

The clock is ticking.

They must end this awful postseason losing cycle once and for all.

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