Tag Archive | "Holtby"

Tie game in the 3rd period? No problem for the Caps as Alex Ovechkin notches his 81st career GWG.

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Alex Ovechkin Scores Late to Lift the Caps Over the Canucks

Posted on 23 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin scored his 81st career game winning goal with 4:55 remaining after a sweet feed from Evgeny Kuzentsov, then the Caps defense and Braden Holtby (23 saves) made it stand up for a come from behind, 3-2, victory in Vancouver.

It was the Capitals first victory on the road against the Canucks since 2001.

Jay Beagle had a super outing for Washington scoring the game tying goal in the third period by going to the net and getting a bounce. He also set up the Caps first tally with a strong move up the right wing that allowed him to feed a super pass to Jason Chimera for a back door goal for the only first period score. Beagle then did a nice job of defending the Sedin twins in the 3rd period, something he didn’t get a lot of chances to do in the first two periods because the Canucks head coach kept putting the Sedins out against the Caps top line (T.J. Oshie, Kuznetsov, and Ovechkin). Barry Trotz outcoached Willie Desjardins in the third period by turning the match-ups in his favor despite being on the road. It should be noted that both of the goals Beagle was involved in came when the Sedins were on the ice.

The Sedins and Radim Vrbata have historically feasted on the Capitals and they did so in the second period scoring at even strength and then on the power play. Vancouver dominated much of those middle 20 minutes, but it was the Capitals who carried the play in the first and third frames. Holtby had some timely saves in the second period when the Canucks were on the verge of taking over the game.

A key to Washington coming back in the last 20 minutes was their physical play. After trying to out-finesse the Canucks in the second period, the Caps amped up their intensity and physicality and started winning the board battles. That’s hard to do against the Canucks when the Sedins get into their cycle game in the offensive zone.

Overall the Caps out shot Vancouver, 35-25, but Ryan Miller was super for the Canucks in net.

This win pushes the Capitals to 5-1 on the season and they are two for two on their Western Canada swing, which continues in Edmonton on Friday night (9 pm on CSN). The Oilers are playing well after getting the first pick in the 2015 NHL draft and choosing the superb Connor McDavid, who has four goals and two assists in his first seven games. Edmonton is fast and uses the excellent Rexall Place ice surface to their advantage. The Caps will go with Philipp Grubauer in net in a back to back situation. Clearly the Oilers are favored given that Washington will travel from British Columbia to Alberta in the early hours of Friday before taking the ice later that night.

However, this Capitals team has showed some special things already by rallying in a building they’ve historically struggled in against some top players (the Sedins and Miller) who have typically played their best against them. The Caps are playing well and the additions of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams plus the increased development of Kuznetsov, have made them much harder to defend. Win or lose in Edmonton on Friday, this road trip has already been a success.

Oh, and the Caps still have that #8 guy, who once again delivered when the game was on the line.

Alex Ovechkin is still the best player in the National Hockey League, in my book.

So I hope you stayed up late to watch another super game winner by the Gr8, it was well worth it!

Notes: Ovechkin had seven shots on goal and Miller made a big stop on him in period one when it was 1-0, Caps. Karl Alzner fed the Gr8 in the slot but Ovi didn’t get the shot where he wanted it…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:11 and John Carlson (assist) logged 24:43…Dmitry Orlov had an assist in 13:25 of ice time. Nate Schmidt played for the first time in over a week and was +1 in only 11:20 of ice time. I’d expect Taylor Chorney to be in on Friday against the Oilers…the Caps got creamed on faceoffs, 30-16. Nicklas Backstrom was 2-15…the Caps were 0 for 2 on the power play and they were only 2 for 3 on the penalty kill… Andre Burakovsky had an assist in 12:00 of ice time. I thought he had a strong game and he continues to improve.

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The Caps destroy Calgary in the second period scoring three goals, en route to a 6-2 victory at the Saddledome.

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Caps Click on All Cylinders in Rout of Flames

Posted on 21 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

If you stayed up late on Tuesday night to watch the best pro sports squad in the Maryland-Washington-Virginia area, then you were treated to a total Washington Capitals team effort as they dismantled the Calgary Flames, 6-2 at the Saddledome.

After giving up the first goal in the opening frame, the Caps had to kill off two penalties shortly thereafter. At an important juncture in the game, Washington’s PK unit was stellar, barely allowing any Calgary chances. The Flames then tried to get physical on the Capitals, a style Calgary likes to play, but it backfired against a heavy and highly skilled Washington team.

Evgeny Kuznetsov deftly stripped Dennis Wideman of the puck and then made a behind the back, no look pass to Andre Burakovsky, who buried it past a stunned Karri Ramo (14 saves on 18 shots). That tied the game up with 3:58 left in the first period. The first 20 minutes ended tied with both teams having their share of opportunities.

The Caps then dominated over the last 40 minutes. The Flames have struggled with goaltending all season and Alex Ovechkin (1 goal, 1 assist) took advantage of a bad rebound on his initial shot and backhanded the biscuit into the basket to give Washington a 2-1 lead just 30 seconds into the middle stanza. For the next several minutes the Caps stormed the castle without a goal, but then Brooks Orpik did a super job of keeping a puck in at the offensive zone. That allowed John Carlson to corral it on the right wing boards and #74 swung it to Justin Williams (two assists) behind the net. Williams, who is as smart as they come in the NHL, fed a wide open Nicklas Backstrom (two goals) in the slot and #19 buried it.

Less than a minute later T.J. Oshie went to the front of the net and pushed Doug Hamilton out of the way to finish a Kuznetsov feed and make it 4-1. The rout was on and Ramo was pulled for Jonas Hiller, at that point.

The Flames pushed hard early in the third period by activating their defense and Mark Giordano made it 4-2 just 3:09 into the final frame. Then the Caps burnt Calgary on an odd man rush with Jason Chimera beating Hiller high to the far post and it was pretty much game over. Backstrom would add a nice backhand goal on the rush after Williams made a great indirect pass to Nicky off of the boards to close out the scoring.

Overall, this was a complete game by the Capitals. They used their size and skill to throttle the Flames at every opportunity and it was the men against the boys in the second period. Kuznetsov dazzled generating three assists and Burakovsky had his best performance of the season. You could go up and down the lineup and cite the contributions from every single player in this contest, the Caps were that good and supported the puck so well that Calgary had no chance from the second period on.

Coach Barry Trotz will have a lot to like in this victory and to dominate in their first road game of the season is encouraging. The Caps are now 4-1 and head to Vancouver for a Thursday night tilt (10 pm), which has been a house of horrors for them in recent years. The Canucks, specifically Radim Vrbata and the Sedin twins, seem to always give the Capitals fits. They also have Ryan Miller in net, another player who seems to bring out his best against Ovechkin and company.

This will be another early test for a Washington Capitals squad that looked strong on paper heading into the season and has backed that up with its play on the ice through five games.

Notes: Ovechkin has six points in four games. He had 11 shot attempts (seven on net) in 17:35 of ice time…Taylor Chorney and Dmitry Orlov had their best outing of the season. Both played over 15 minutes and were +2 and +3, respectively…Orpik had six hits and an assist in 19:36 of time…the Caps outshot the Flames, 30-19…Johnny Gaudreau had two assists for the Flames. #13 was Calgary’s best player on Tuesday.

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Nicklas Backstrom has a goal and two assists in his return to the Caps lineup on Saturday night.

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Nicklas Backstrom Shines in His Caps Season Debut

Posted on 17 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

For those who routinely watch the Washington Capitals, they know just how good Nicklas Backstrom is at hockey. Just in case anyone forgot, Nicky took care of that quickly on Saturday night as he scored a goal and set up two others in his season debut, a 4-1 Caps victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. Backstrom’s performance in his first game back even impressed his head coach.

“A guy who hasn’t played any exhibition games and comes into the National Hockey League, in a fast game, against a fast team, and he looks like he didn’t miss a beat – we realize how good he is….it looked pretty easy for him,” said Caps Coach Barry Trotz following the win.

Saturday’s game really was as one-sided as it gets in terms of scoring chances. Washington was all over a Carolina club that played on Friday night and if not for Cam Ward, it could’ve easily been five or six to nothing after two periods. Amazingly the 2006 Stanley Cup Champion goalie stopped 26 of 27 Capitals shots through forty minutes and Washington was forced to sweat this one out a bit in the final frame.

T.J. Oshie, Backstrom, John Carlson, and Alex Ovechkin all scored against Carolina with the last three coming in the third period. The Caps first and third goals were on the power play, the only two opportunities they received all evening. Carolina had four power plays, including a 38 second two man advantage in the middle stanza, but Washington killed that sequence off. As is often the case, a team that fails to score on a two man advantage usually loses the hockey game.

With Backstrom back in the lineup, the Capitals moved Andre Burakovsky down to the fourth line. The 20 year old forward had struggled a bit at center in the first three games and with Marcus Johansson playing so well, #65 was the odd top six forward out. As I blogged after Thursday night’s win, the key will be for Burakovsky to just keep working hard and keep his confidence level up. He will be a big part of this team this season and the Caps will need him in the playoffs, when things really matter.

As for Johansson, well he was dynamite despite being held without a point. MJ90 has been doing a great job of going to the net and creating screens and the Caps don’t score goals two and three without “Jojo” doing just that. Marcus also had some quality scoring attempts in the game, but Ward was very strong on this night.

Oshie now has two power play goals and he is a huge upgrade over Troy Brouwer as the man in the middle with the man advantage. Eventually teams will have to shift more attention to him, which will open things up for Ovechkin and the others. Speaking of Ovechkin, he now has three goals in three games and he, Oshie, and Evgeny Kuznetsov were really good as a first unit, once again. Backstrom, Johansson, and Justin Williams formed a potent second line. Basically, trying to stop the Caps is going to be a lot harder this season now that GM Brian MacLellan has upgraded the skill on the top two lines.

On defense, the top two pairs were solid, but the third defensive pair is still working through things. Dmitry Orlov only logged 13:36 and Taylor Chorney played 15:31. Against an Auston Matthews sweepstakes team like Carolina, you’d like to see that pairing get more ice time, but until they earn it, Coach Trotz can’t risk victories for the team in order to develop that new duo.

Overall though, the Capitals look like a really strong team. Their three wins have come against hockey teams that played the night before, but you can only face the opponents as they are scheduled. Now at 3-1 after four home games, they head out to Western Canada for a three games in four nights road swing that starts on Tuesday night in Calgary (9 pm on CSN). This will be a good measuring stick to see how improved they are, last season the Caps went 1-2 on this trip with the lone victory against the Flames.

Notes: Braden Holtby made 18 saves. He had a scary moment in the middle period when the Canes had a two man advantage and his helmet was knocked off. Somehow the officials took several seconds to blow what should’ve been an immediate whistle and luckily a shot on net went over a covered up Holtby…Carlson led the Caps in ice time once again, at 23:26…Oshie now has two goals and two assists in the four games…the Caps outshot Carolina 34-19, Oshie led the Caps with six shots on goal…Brooks Orpik had five hits while Ovechkin had four…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 31-29.

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T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin score and Braden Holtby makes 26 saves in a Caps 4-1 rout of Chicago

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Holtby, Caps Top Line Throttle the Defending Champs, 4-1

Posted on 15 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After a clunker on Tuesday night against the San Jose Sharks, it was expected that the Washington Capitals would come out with energy against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night at the Verizon Center, and that they did. Washington received goals from T.J. Oshie, John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and Alex Ovechkin as they pulled away in the 3rd period for a 4-1 victory to improve to 2-1 on the young season.

Oshie scored on the power play at 8:48 after Viktor Tikhonov took a silly penalty. Tikhonov went after Tom Wilson after #43 hit Hawks captain Jonathan Toews in the defensive end and as is the case so often, if you take a bad penalty, the other team usually scores with the man advantage. The Caps only allowed one shot on goal in the first 10 minutes and only five in the first frame to get off to a much needed good start. Washington’s top line of Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Ovechkin was clicking and the third line of Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera, and Wilson was flying around creating energy and putting the body to Chicago.

The second period, however, would be where Chicago would make their push given that they played on Wednesday night in Philadelphia (a 3-0 loss). Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby had no interest in seeing his club lose the early lead and he was stellar stopping 17 shots on net, many of which were of the quality variety. Carlson notched his first goal of the season on a point blast that Scott Darling had no chance on because Marcus Johansson was running a perfect screen in front of him. That goal came shortly after a point blank Holtby save. Chicago’s efforts yielded no tallies, primarily thanks to #70.

In the final frame, the Caps looked more like the team from the first period throttling Chicago and holding them to just five shots on net. The lone Hawks goal came shortly after Niskanen’s tally, which was the result of a super pass from Johansson. “Jojo” did the dirty work behind the net and then found #2 all alone at the top of the slot. Chicago’s Victor Svedberg would be the only one to dent Holtby, who never saw the shot. But Coach Barry Trotz commented afterwards that he really liked the way his team didn’t panic and shut the Blackhawks down the rest of the way. Washington’s top three lines did a super job of hemming their opponents in their own zone and as a result the game became a relatively stress free win down the stretch.

Overall, this was an encouraging game. Granted the Blackhawks played on Wednesday and had to travel from Filthy, but they are still a strong team with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Marian Hossa up front and Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook on defense.

The Caps received strong performances from several players. Holtby was deservedly the first star, but Carlson, Kuznetsov, and Johansson were at the top of their respective games.

Andre Burakovsky had a rough first two periods, but the 20 year old is adjusting to the center position after playing mostly wing last spring. #65 seemed to have his best period of the season in the third frame and confidence is so important to that young man. He was finally skating well and playing his game instead of looking like he was over thinking things on the ice.

Chimera continues to pick up where he left off in the playoffs and used his speed to keep Chicago on its heels. Wilson has really improved and was a physical force creating space for his line mates. He does an excellent job of getting under the skin of his opponents.

The Capitals now face the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night at the Verizon Center with a chance to go to 3-1 before heading away on their western Canada trip. The Canes are in the Auston Matthews sweepstakes so if the Caps bring the energy and play smartly, they should win. There is also a chance that Nicklas Backstrom, who had offseason hip surgery, could make his season debut.

Notes: The Caps only took one penalty on Thursday (a questionable roughing call on Ovechkin) while Chicago was in the box only twice. Coach Trotz noted that the Blackhawks don’t take many penalties and he was happy that his club moved its feet and didn’t take any penalties of the lazy variety. Overall, referees Francois St. Laurent and Marc Joannette let the players play the game, and that was pleasing…shot attempts were 55-54 for Chicago and face offs were dead even at 23 apiece…Carlson led the Caps in ice time at 25:01 while Keith played 22:13 for the Hawks (he logged 9:01 in the first period alone).

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Is this the best Capitals team, on paper, ever?

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Caps Bury Islanders in Preseason Finale

Posted on 04 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals certainly made their preseason finale a good one.

Facing a New York Islanders team that was without John Tavares, Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, and Jaroslav Halak the Caps had their fastest start of the seven game preseason slate scoring three times in the first 7:10. From there, the Caps used their deadly power play to bury the Islanders with three man advantage tallies en route to a 6-2 rout.

Yes, the Islanders were missing some key players, but the Caps were without Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Orpik too. This game wasn’t even close, it was the men versus the boys and a deep team against a club that is in big trouble if any of the four players mentioned above get injured for any length of time.

Simply put, after a 5-0-2 preseason all of the hype and positive press the Caps received because of the offseason moves made by GM Brian MacLellan sure looks to be accurate.

I’ve watched this team since they began in 1974 and I can honestly say that this is the best Capitals team ever, on paper. Sure the 1985-86 and 1991-92 teams come close, but those clubs lacked goaltending and neither had a superstar of the magnitude of Alex Ovechkin, who had two more power play tallies on Sunday evening.

The additions of TJ Oshie and Justin Williams give this Capitals club a legit top six for the first time since perhaps 2008-09, the last year of Sergei Fedorov. Adding those two pieces shifts the other players into the proper spots in the lineup. I paid close attention to Williams and Oshie on Sunday and believe me; these two guys have significantly upgraded the forward group. Both have excellent offensive skills, but what also impressed me is their hockey IQ and drive to get the puck back once the Caps lose possession. Williams is so good at supporting the puck and being in the right place at the right time. His ability to read a play is uncanny. Oshie is so strong on the wall and having him in the middle of the power play, the spot where Troy Brouwer used to play, opens things up even more for the other players because TJ’s shot is so good teams have to slide down and cut off passes to him. Ovechkin certainly will continue to benefit from that.

In addition, goalie Braden Holtby (22 saves on 24 shots) commented afterwards on how much those two guys have helped the Caps off of the ice.

“Off the ice is pretty evident. In the locker room they fit in really well, easy guys to get along with. Very knowledgeable about the game and know how a team mentality works.”

Tom Wilson had another strong game with two assists as he attempts to solidify himself as the Capitals regular third line right wing. Washington will need his size to wear opponents out, particularly his ability to pound the opposing defense with his crushing checks. Wilson creates space on the ice for his teammates so it is imperative that he keeps developing his skill set and stays disciplined. He also gets under opponents skin and draws penalties. Coach Trotz does not need him playing the role of enforcer because he isn’t helping the team if he’s in the box for five minutes.

On defense, Matt Niskanen was back after missing Friday’s game due to the birth of his child and logged 22:00 of ice time. He and Karl Alzner were their usual steady self on the blueline. John Carlson played quite a bit with Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov was paired a good deal with Taylor Chorney. Orlov had an up and down game, but he just needs reps after missing 17 months of NHL action due to a wrist injury. Chorney is very solid and will see time as the seventh defensemen.

Overall, the team is in good shape health wise outside of Backstrom and Orpik’s injuries and Jay Beagle was nicked up with a lower body injury on Sunday. According to Coach Trotz, #83 could’ve returned but he was held out for precautionary reasons. Because of the depth that MacLellan has built up in just under 18 months, this club will be able to be patient with the Orpik and Backstrom injuries. That’s a luxury they have not had in recent years.

So now the real season begins on Saturday night against the Devils. Sure I’ve proclaimed this team the best Caps one ever to start a season, on paper, but the games are played on the ice. Coaching and execution will be key and staying healthy is likely the biggest thing to worry about.

It all shapes up to be a very good season and perhaps one that has a different end result than the first 40 years of franchise history.

Notes: The Caps outshot the Islanders, 18-11, and outscored New York, 5-1, through 40 minutes. The third period was more of a “let’s just end this and get to the regular season” type of stanza…the Caps were 3 for 4 on the power play and a perfect 3 for 3 on the penalty kill…Washington won the face off battle, 29-22…final rosters to start the season are due on Tuesday afternoon and Coach Trotz noted afterwards that the club has pretty much made their final decisions.

 

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The Caps move to 4-0-2 in preseason with a 2-1 shootout victory over Boston.

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Ovechkin Scores as Caps Beat Boston

Posted on 02 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

TJ Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored in the shootout and Braden Holtby stopped both Bruins shooters to give the Caps a 2-1 victory on Friday night at the Verizon Center.

Holtby, who came on after Philipp Grubauer played the first period (6 saves on 7 shots), did not allow a single goal in 23 shots over the 45 minutes he played.

The Caps had a very sloppy and listless first period, but as the game went on they got stronger with Kuznetsov, Oshie, and Alex Ovechkin piling up scoring chances. It took a slick Kuzya pass to the Gr8 late in regulation for the Caps to finally get a biscuit past a Bruins goalie. Tuukka Rask played the first 40 minutes for the Beantown Boys and was absolutely stellar thwarting breakaways and many other grade A chances. He was a perfect 15 for 15 in the cage. Jeremy Smith was excellent as well, but he had little chance on the Ovechkin game tying goal.

The Gr8 continues to have the best shot in the league since Ovi has a fast release and can fire the puck from many different angles. Simply put, he is one of the greatest goal scorers to ever play in the National Hockey League.

There was a lot to like in this game for Washington besides the Ovechkin line and Holtby. Justin Williams was superb and had several quality chances. He had eight shot attempts while Ovechkin had 10 and Kuznetsov had eight. That’s a nice distribution in the top six.

Washington went 0 for 5 on the power play, but they moved the puck well and generated some great chances without their PP QB, Nicklas Backstrom (hip), in the lineup. I’d like to see a little more traffic on the opposing goaltender.

The Caps penalty kill was a perfect 4 for 4. The biggest key to the Capitals improving in this category will be to minimize the number of infractions they take. One way to do that is to have the puck more often and adding the likes of Oshie and Williams should do that.

The defense looked decent without Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik (wrist) in the lineup. Dmitry Orlov played well and appears to have locked up the #5D spot. Nate Schmidt had a bad giveaway on the lone Bruins goal (and John Carlson didn’t help him out by breaking up the ice early and leaving Loui Eriksson all alone in front of the net), but after that he was better. Orlov and Schmidt are both guys who can rush the puck up the ice which should help fill the void left by Mike Green’s departure. Orlov can also throw some sneaky good hits.

What I didn’t like were the four fights. Tom Wilson fought Kevan Miller twice, splitting the bouts. Wilson, who logged 1:37 of PK time in this game and didn’t look out of place, needs to be on the ice for Washington and not in the box. The only positive is he did fight a legit NHL D man. As for the Oshie-McQuaid fight, that was one that no one wanted to see. Oshie laid a clean hit on McQuaid behind the net and Torrey Krug took exception to it and started shoving #77. Then McQuaid came in from behind and the next thing you know TJ is in a fight where he’s in over his head. Coach Trotz gave him credit for standing up there, but as Comcast’s Alan May astutely pointed out afterwards in the post game show, either a teammate or a zebra needs to jump in there and save Oshie. Washington can’t have one of its’ star players fighting and potentially getting injured.

The slow starts are also something that plagued this team in last year’s playoffs and they need to correct that early on this season.

Overall, the best news was the Caps are just one game away from the regular season. Noone was injured and after Sunday’s 5 pm tilt with the New York Islanders at the Verizon Center, the regular season begins at home on Saturday, October 10th against the New Jersey Devils.

Notes: Derek Roy had a solid outing and appears to be a good bet to be a Capital in the home opener if he and the Caps can work out agreeable financial terms…Center Chandler Stephenson was decent, but at 21 years old, another season in Hershey makes the most sense for him…Carlson logged 30:05 to lead Caps defensemen while Ovechkin led the forwards with 23:39…the Caps out shot attempted Boston, 53-51, and won the face off battle, 33-31…Regulars who didn’t play on Friday that aren’t injured were Andrei Burakovsky, Jason Chimera,and Niskanen.

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The Caps dominate the Canes and win 2-0 in their preseason opener.

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Expectations High as Caps Win Preseason Opener

Posted on 21 September 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Yes, it is only preseason, but thank goodness hockey is back!

Just over four months ago the Washington Capitals season came to a crushing halt in overtime against the New York Rangers, a series the Caps could have easily won. During the summer, Capitals 2nd year GM, Brian MacLellan, talked the talk and then walked the walk once again, upgrading his top six forwards like he stated he would by inking former Kings forward Justin Williams to a free agent contract and then trading Troy Brouwer, a 2nd round pick, and minor league goalie Phoenix Copley to St. Louis to acquire Team USA Olympic hero, TJ Oshie.

Needless to say expectations are high around here for the 2015-16 Capitals season, as they should be.

The Caps are in the second year of the Barry Trotz era and MacLellan has done his best to give the coach one of, if not the strongest roster in Capitals history.

The only downer of the off season have been the surgeries to first line center, Nicklas Backstrom (hip), and top left handed defensemen, Brooks Orpik (wrist). Orpik should be back by the start of the regular season on October 10th, while Backstrom is slated to return some time in the first 10 regular season games.

But the hockey season is a long, grueling marathon so it is best that these two take their time to get right because the Capitals Stanley Cup aspirations are linked to both of them, as well as the overall health of the team.

Simply put, on paper this roster looks extremely strong and the coaching staff is excellent.

So with that background, the Caps opened training camp on Thursday and on Monday night they took on the Carolina Hurricanes at the Verizon Center in preseason tilt number one of seven. Needless to say the opening period was anything but beautiful, as expected. The team looked sloppy and out of sync. The good news is $30+M man Braden Holtby was excellent in the cage thwarting all 11 shots he faced.

In the middle frame, the Capitals started to click and they fired 13 biscuits on Canes goalie Eddie Lack in the first 10 minutes. But Lack would stop all 22 shots he’d face in the opening two periods. Holtby could’ve spent the first 10 minutes of period two on twitter, since he only faced three shots and he exited just after the game’s midway point. Dan Ellis came on in relief and was a perfect 12 for 12, with a couple of dandy saves.

Overall, the Capitals really dominated the last 40 minutes and they finally broke through with two goals in period three. Tom Wilson, who is slated to play a bigger role this year, snapped a sweet shot by Drew Macintyre for the game winner and then rookie Stan Galiev (2010 3rd round pick) forced the Carolina defense into a turnover and Derek Roy, who MacLellan recently convinced to come to camp on a free agent tryout, scored to add the icing on the cake. Roy, who played the majority of his career as a top 6 six forward on the Buffalo Sabres, is 32, but looked very good. He had several quality scoring chances in 18:12 of ice time. It seems that if the Caps and Roy can agree on contract terms, there is a very good chance he’ll be wearing a Caps sweater on opening night against the New Jersey Devils. Roy can play center or wing and kills penalties, so he looks to be a nice fit and yet another shrewd move by MacLellan.

Alex Ovechkin had six shots on goal playing on a line with Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov. After the opening period of rust was worked out, that line performed well. Roy was with Galiev and 2014 first round pick, Jakub Vrana. All three had strong performances. Brooks Laich centered Wilson and Jason Chimera and they also carried the play when they were on the ice. Riley Barber, Carter Camper, and Sean Collins comprised the fourth line. On defense, Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner were the top pairing and excelled. Dmitry Orlov had a nice first game back from a year plus wrist injury and played well. His defensive partner, Connor Carrick struggled though, taking three penalties. The third pair of Christian Djoos and Aaron Ness were a pleasant surprise. Djoos had an assist and was on the ice for both Capitals goals.

With the NHL moving to three on three overtime this season in an attempt to reduce the number of shootouts, each team will have three preseason contests in which, regardless of the final score, they try out the new format. The Caps and Canes did just that. Boy, was it fun to watch, despite the fact that Carolina scored on an odd man rush just 57 seconds into overtime to end the night. Kuznetsov had a two on one with Ovechkin and when his rocket of a shot missed the net, the Hurricanes went the other way and tic-tac-toe’d it into the net past Ellis.

In summary, it was a good night for the Caps to be on the ice. They were victorious, 2-0. On Tuesday, they face the Boston Bruins on the road and according to excellent Caps reporter, Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps), there will be a fresh lineup playing in Beantown. So Williams will likely be making his Caps debut. The game is not televised and neither is Thursday’s tilt with the Montreal Canadiens at the Molson Centre.

 

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Hear how Caps prospects Madison Bowey, Jakub Vrana, and Riley Barber describe their game.

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Caps Prospects Take the Ice at Development Camp

Posted on 07 July 2015 by Ed Frankovic

With center Evgeny Kuznetsov successfully signed on Monday to a two year contract with a $3M annual average salary, the Washington Capitals brass turned their attention to this week’s Caps Development Camp. Over 35 of the organizations prospects were split into two groups and took part in drills on Tuesday afternoon at Kettler IcePlex.

The key word there is drills. The forwards and defensemen were separated on opposite ends of the ice on the two rinks and each spent time doing various hockey and skating drills. The forward drills were heavily focused on play off of the backboards, the corners, and into the slot where close in shots were practiced, including rebounds. These forward drills, run by Hershey coach Troy Mann, were very structured. On the defensive side of the ice, the blue liners worked on going D to D behind the net and shooting in different situations, including one timer’s off of D to D passes. In addition, keeping the puck in at the blue line and then handling the puck in the neutral zone and passing it to a forward after it exited the offensive zone were practiced.

Only one scrimmage is scheduled this week, for Saturday (Fan Fest), after just two were held the previous summer in the first year of the Coach Barry Trotz regime. In previous years the focus was more on scrimmages, with up to four or five of them occurring during camp.

From what I saw, it looks to me that the Trotz plan is a better one for development, especially since scrimmages can be difficult when players are in varying degrees of condition.

“It’s just the middle of the summer so it’s hard, a lot of guys haven’t been skating that much, so it’s tough…I think that playing games is a good thing, but I also like what they are doing here, teaching more and making sure you know what it’s going to take to get to the NHL. It’s definitely more teaching now, but that’s what you want as a young player,” said Riley Barber.

My focus at development camp was to get a look at some players that will likely play key roles in Hershey this fall and have the potential to be future NHLers. Specifically, the line of Chandler Stephenson (2012 3rd round), Jakub Vrana (2014 1st round), and Barber (2012 6th round) as well as defensemen Madison Bowey (2013 3rd round). In addition, I paid close attention to the play of goalie Vitek Vanecek (2014 2nd round).

Vanecek looked solid in net and he tracked the puck well. He isn’t big, he’s only 6’ 1”, so he relies on his positioning, athleticism, and quickness. The 21 year old Stephenson, who had five points in 10 AHL playoff games in his first season with Hershey, isn’t flashy, but he seems to be a well rounded player.

As for Bowey, Vrana, and Barber, I was able to catch up with them after practice and asked each to describe their game.

“I’d say a two way defensemen, first and foremost I like to take care of my own zone, that’s the key in this day and age. I try to help out offensively…I think my best aspect is probably breaking the puck out of the end, either using my speed or making that first pass…what I need to work on is being a little more physical in the defensive end and making sure I close on guys quicker than normally. I know that you really have to do that more here in the pros,” said Bowey, who averaged a point or more per game in both the regular season (60 points in 58 games) and playoffs (19 points in 19 games) this year for the Western Hockey League champions and Memorial Cup runner-up Kelowna Rockets.

“I think it’s offensive stuff, pretty good skater, I think I can make good goal scoring chances…it’s a smaller rink than Europe so you get more chances…you can shoot from everywhere, more goal chances…you can score from everywhere and at least you can have rebounds…it’s little details, like wall play [I can improve on], I can work on everything, of course, you can improve everything,” said Vrana, who has great hands and a sweet shot with a quick release. Vrana had five assists in three regular season tilts with Hershey and then followed that up with two goals and four assists in 10 games in his AHL playoff debut.

“Responsible in all three zones, but more of an offensive guy. I like to score goals, I like to get my feet moving, create chances and utilize my shot as much as I can. I think I have a good shot and can bury pucks. I think just bringing my speed, playmaking, and scoring goals [in Hershey] is what I would like to do…shot, playmaking, and speed…making plays and just getting pucks to the net,” said Barber, who can play either wing, and had 20 goals and 40 points in 38 games at Miami (Ohio) last season.

As for Stephenson, Vrana, and Barber, well they seemed to be put together on purpose and in drills looked like a potential scoring line in Hershey this fall.

“Those two guys are really good players, they’d be awesome to play with, we had some good chemistry out there, moving the puck pretty well, it was pretty exciting,” added Barber.

Clearly these players have a lot of work to put in and experience to gain before they are able to reach the NHL. However, the opportunity for them to succeed and move up on the depth chart is in their hands. Based on what I saw from the five players I’ve mentioned, the Caps and Hershey have some good young prospects in their system.

Notes: Both Braden Holtby and Marcus Johansson have not agreed to contracts as of this posting and have filed for arbitration. In over 95% of these cases the players and their respective teams agree to a deal before the actual hearing. I expect that to happen with both, although if I had to pick one that might make it to arbitration, it would be Johansson…by splitting into two groups, the players are getting a lot of individual attention from the coaches. During the hockey drill portion of the practice, there was a ratio of one coach to two players…practices are open to the public at Kettler and as mentioned above, the only scrimmage will be held on Saturday morning, July 11th.

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Caps GM Brian MacLellan Completes Caps Top Two Lines by Landing TJ Oshie.

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MacLellan Strikes Again Landing Oshie in Trade with Blues

Posted on 02 July 2015 by Ed Frankovic

As if Caps fans weren’t happy enough after last night’s signing of three time Stanley Cup Champion Justin Williams, Washington GM Brian MacLellan struck again landing top six forward TJ Oshie from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for third line forward Troy Brouwer, minor league goalie Phoenix Copley, and a third round pick in 2016.

Oshie will count $4.175M against the Capitals salary cap, which is just over $500K more than they were paying for Brouwer.

Wow! What a great move by the aggressive GM who in 13 months, along with head coach Barry Trotz, have changed the dynamic, culture, and roster of a team that was headed downhill under ex-GM George McPhee and former head coach Adam Oates.

MacLellan has now brought in two top four defensemen in Brooks Oprik and Matt Niskanen and two top six forwards in Oshie and Williams. That’s impressive given the salary cap limits MacLellan inherited from his predecessor.

It’s clear that both Williams and Oshie are excited to be members of the Capitals organization based on their conference calls with the media on Thursday. Williams indicated that his seven year old son told him a month ago “to go to Washington so he can play with Ovechkin, he’s the best.” Justin said that his son was all smiles when he woke up and heard the news. Both were thrilled to be playing with such skilled centers as Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

What’s even more exciting is that for the first time since 2009 the Caps have a legit top two forward lines. Based on the media conference call held with MacLellan on Thursday, it appears those lines will be configured as follows:

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – TJ Oshie

Andrei Burakovsky – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Justin Williams

That is an impressive top six. Is it October yet??!!

The Caps GM will now hopefully get deals done with Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Marcus Johansson. MacLellan indicated that he’s flexible on term with Holtby, who is clearly priority one. After #70, the Capitals need to lock Kuznetsov down. As for Johansson, well his leverage just got significantly weaker. While his regular season stats have benefitted from him playing in the top six, his playoff performances and pass-first mentality is something that isn’t worth breaking the bank for. MJ90 will now play on the third line with the Caps, but he still should see power play time, if he is resigned and kept (a trade is a clear possibility).

Brouwer’s move is also significant because it opens up the third line right wing slot for Tom Wilson, who the organization expects to improve considerably, especially since he has a complete off season and training camp to get ready (Wilson was injured last summer). Third line center is still an open hole and it appears unlikely that Eric Fehr will be back to fill it. Joel Ward’s tenure in DC is clearly over too.

There are still cheap options out in the free agent market for a third line center, such as Shawn Matthias, but that will have to wait until at least Holtby and Kuznetsov are inked.

Coach Trotz told the media today that the fifth, six, and seventh defensemen spots are wide open. Dmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt, and Taylor Chorney will be the favorites to snag those slots, but depending on how negotiations go over the next few weeks, there could be money left for MacLellan to add another defensemen, likely a legit 3rd pair right handed d-man.

Overall, the last 24 hours in Caps land have been electric. MacLellan has proven to be very aggressive and has backed up his words every time he’s talked about the areas he’d like to see the Capitals improve in terms of personnel. He’s been transparent and refreshing. The second year GM clearly gets that the Caps have to win now given how close this club came in 2015 and he’s done it without mortgaging the future.

Dare I say it again, is it October yet??!!

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williams

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Caps Make Surprising Free Agent Splash Inking 3 Time Stanley Cup Winner

Posted on 02 July 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan stated that he thought that his team would be relatively quiet during free agency, and for good reason. The Caps still need to sign restricted free agents Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Marcus Johansson and they were roughly $19M or so under the cap heading into this week.

While there were numerous deals that occurred during the early portion of NHL free agency, including the Penguins trading for Phil Kessel and Mike Green signing a three year, $18M deal with the Detroit Red Wings, MacLellan stayed true to his words throughout the majority of the day and didn’t make anything more than minor moves, re-signing restricted free agent forward Stan Galiev and depth defensemen Taylor Chorney for $700K.

In addition, on Tuesday, the Columbus Blue Jackets boldy traded for center Brandon Saad from Chicago, so some Metropolitan division teams appeared to be improving their forward cores.

With Joel Ward and Eric Fehr on the open market and unsigned, there was the thought that the Caps GM might be trying to bring both back to at least keep pace with some of the other teams in the division up front. It seemed that MacLellan’s patience was paying off in that regard with Ward and Fehr still available late on Wednesday night. Then lightning struck the Capitals, but in a good way.

Washington was able to ink 33 year old forward and three time Stanley Cup winner, Justin Williams, to a two year deal at $3.25M per season. The dollar amount and term are likely lower than what Ward will receive on the open market and the former King, Hurricane, and Flyer is a slightly younger player (Ward is 10 months older) with a wealth of championship experience.

Williams, who missed the post season this year with a tired Los Angeles team, is a smart player who has incredible possession numbers over the past five seasons. I watch a lot of Kings games and he is as intelligent and solid a player as they come. He can play anywhere from first line right wing to third line right wing giving the coaching staff a lot of flexibility with their lineup decisions.

While he isn’t speedy, he is very clutch, and his nickname, “Mr. Game 7,” is well earned, he’s 7-0 in those tilts (h/t @VogsCaps).

This move, combined with the promotion of Philip Grubauer to back up goalie, along with the projected improvement from Kuznetsov and Andrei Burakovsky (rookies last season), and the expected better season from Tom Wilson has the Caps positioned to be a strong contender in the Eastern Conference once again.

Sure the loss of Green will hurt some, but Washington is expecting Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt to help fill the void on the blue line. You can also expect Matt Niskanen to step up on the offensive side of the puck now that he’ll get more power play opportunities that went to old number 52.

MacLellan still has work to do to get the three big RFA’s (70, 92, and 90) signed, and he has roughly $14.4M to achieve that (h/t to @AlexPrewitt and @GeneralFanager). It would be ideal if he can ink those three and also find a way to bring back Fehr, too, since he can play third line center as well as wing.

But a day that looked to be a sad one in Caps history with the departure of Green, who was always a class guy in the community, with the fans, and the media during his 10 year tenure, turned out to be much more positive with the surprise signing of Williams.

The game is always played and decided on the ice, but the Capitals organization and their fans should feel even better about their club with the addition of a proven winner, in Mr. Game 7. Williams should help a Caps franchise that has struggled to win those contests (4-10 in game 7s) throughout their 40 year history.

Notes: Caps development camp will be held at Kettler IcePlex next week (July 7-11). All four draft picks, including first round choice Ilya Samsonov from Russia (22nd overall), are expected to attend…MacLellan signed center and face-off/penalty killing specialist, Jay Beagle, to a three year deal at a cap hit of $1.75M per season on Monday.

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