Tag Archive | "hunter"

Caps Lose Late 2 Goal Lead & Fall to Flyers in OT

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Caps Lose Late 2 Goal Lead & Fall to Flyers in OT

Posted on 31 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

After heroics in Buffalo on Saturday night garnered them two huge points, the Washington Capitals turned right around on Sunday night and blew a late two goal lead to the Flyers and ended up losing in overtime, 5-4, in Philadelphia.

It was a gut wrenching defeat given that the tying tally came with 10 seconds left after the Caps were called for an iffy icing call. Nonetheless, Washington failed to win a late defensive zone draw and Philadelphia’s Kimmo Timonen bombed one in through traffic before Ruslan Fedotenko won it in overtime on a Caps defensive breakdown.

Defensive breakdown. Those are two big words for this Capitals team and it has been something that has plagued them all season long. No matter how good things are going or if they have the momentum, they somehow seem to find a way to make a mistake in their own end that allows the puck to eventually end up in the back of their own net. It is a maddening event that continues to occur with this 2013 Caps club.

You can call it bad luck, but I label it lack of attention to detail. This Caps team did a good job of learning to play in their own side of the rink last season under coach Dale Hunter, but somewhere along the way in their quest for more offense under Coach Adam Oates they’ve lost that ability this season. Maybe it’s the departures of a solid two way player in Alex Semin and Dennis Wideman on the back end, but whatever the case, this team seems to have forgotten how to cover their opponents inside their own blue line? And doing that leads to bad results in hockey, for the most part, thus the 16-17-2 record Washington now posseses with just 13 games remaining.

What is even more discouraging is that this poor defensive zone play isn’t coming against the better clubs in the league. In their last four games the Caps have no regulation wins against Eastern Conference squads that are in the bottom eight of the conference in the Rangers, the Islanders, the Sabres, and Philadelphia. This at a time when Washington is trying to put together a late surge to make it into the post season.

It is frustrating because at times this Capitals team really looks good, poised to click and go on a run. After a clean hit by Steve Oleksy on Claude Giroux resulted in the Flyers Jakub Voracek acting like an idiot and jumping #61, the Caps received a four minute power play early in period three. Despite struggling on their first four power plays of the game, including a nearly full two minute five on three, the Caps finally made Philadelphia pay for its thuggery and buffoonery by scoring two times (Marcus Johansson and Alex Ovechkin) to take what appeared to be a commanding 4-2 lead. Even though there were still 13 minutes left, it should have been game over.

But Washington couldn’t close, they failed on another power play attempt and then Troy Brouwer took a bad penalty. Giroux scored on the power play and the Caps were on their heels most of the last seven minutes before the dam finally gave way.

It was a crushing loss on a night they should have had two points, yet they pick up only one.

What makes it even worse is it came against the hated Flyers, and that does not make Capitals fans feel good at all.

Notes: Washington’s last game before Wednesday’s trade deadline is Tuesday in Carolina. The Caps need to win that game if they want to win the division and make the playoffs…Defensemen Jeff Schultz played for the second straight game while Dmitry Orlov curiously sat in back to back tilts…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 32-25 with Jay Beagle going 6-0. Unfortunately due to the apparently erroneous icing call, Oates couldn’t put Beagle on for the critical late draw that the Caps lost just before the tying tally…Ovechkin now has points in eight straight games and he has 18 goals in 35 games, putting him at a 40+ goal pace in a normal season…the Capitals were 2 for 7 on the power play while the Flyers went 1 for 4.

 

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Ovechkin Deserves Much of the Blame for Caps Bad Start

Posted on 25 January 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Michal Neuvirth was stellar in net on Friday night as the Capitals rallied from a 2-0 third period deficit to force overtime before losing to the New Jersey Devils, 3-2.

Sure it was nice to finally get a point, and the Capitals were the last team in the league to do so, but this team needs wins in a short 48 game season.

Washington is now 0-3-1 and you can criticize the bad penalty killing and complain about a system change due to the new coach, but to me the single biggest problem with this team is the terrible play of Alexander Ovechkin.

In 92:29 of ice time in the four games he has 0 goals, 1 assist, 13 shots on goal, and just 8 hits. At $9M a year, that production just doesn’t cut it.

Ovechkin continues to struggle on the point on the power play and he is not getting his shots through and on net. With all of the power play time Washington had on Friday, if the team captain is producing there then maybe the Caps win in regulation or don’t need Mike Green’s late game tying tally?

I’ve written this several times before but Ovechkin would be a better fit down low on the power play. His size and strength would force opponents to focus more on him and that would open things up for his teammates. Bruce Boudreau and Dale Hunter both did that, at times, but it didn’t seem to last long, for whatever reason. However, there were several times when that move was very effective.

Much was made of Hunter sitting Ovechkin in the post season last spring due to his defensive deficiencies. Those problems continue this year. Oates tried him on the PK but after he was caught standing like a statue on the second Winnipeg goal on Tuesday night, that experiment seems to have ended.

Alex can be very guilty of trying to do things on his own too much and not use his teammates effectively. His turnover in overtime that led to the winning goal on Friday was an example of that. In addition, after turning the puck over Ovechkin was late coming back on defense. As a result he over reacted to the play and got caught down low, which opened up the Washington defense for an easy goal. Oates will not like what he sees of #8 on the sequence that led to the Devils winning tally.

I am not sure what is going on with a guy who should be one of, if not the best player in the NHL? Given that he played in the KHL during the lockout, you can’t blame his poor play on a lack of conditioning.

Whatever the problem is, it is up to Oates to figure it out and stop Ovechkin from performing so poorly. Like a quarterback in football, it is tough to win when your top player is not scoring and Ovechkin still has a big donut hole on the stat sheet in the goals column.

The bottom line is the Caps can’t win consistently without Ovechkin playing well and until they get him untracked, this team will have trouble winning games.

So fair or not, he deserves much of the blame for Washington’s terrible start to this season.

 

 

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Season of “Moneyball” begins for Angelos, Duquette, Buck & Orioles of 2012

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Season of “Moneyball” begins for Angelos, Duquette, Buck & Orioles of 2012

Posted on 13 July 2012 by Nestor Aparicio

The second half of the Baltimore Orioles’ re-awakening 2012 season is about to begin and the local baseball fans are a bit befuddled by it all.

As a Baltimore sports fan, I’m never allergic to exciting wins and a 12-game over .500 start to any baseball season. We’ve seen a manager who not only channels Earl Weaver in his size, stature and mannerisms but also with shrewd use of role players and borderline big leaguers. It’s been three months of watching guys who are trying hard no matter who is called up from Norfolk or who hits the disabled list. We’ve witnessed the blossoming of a true superstar in Adam Jones, who signed a record contract in mid-May against all previous precedent given by the Angelos family.

And, for the first time since 1997, this version of the Baltimore Orioles has stirred fans’ awareness – if not necessarily their emotions or beliefs – that this could be a dog-days-of-summer presentation that will bare watching as the fellows in the purple sweaters practice in Owings Mills in two weeks.

But here’s the problem: the 2012 Baltimore Orioles roster — as currently assembled on July 13th — is either in parts of tatters, simply unproven or just flat-out stinks.

I’ve been watching baseball for 40 years and I can’t think of any situation that compares to this.

The 2012 Baltimore Orioles are 45-40, now just five games over .500. However, if the season ended today they’d be in the playoffs. It’s officially the second half of the season – I watched the All-Star Game on Tuesday night even if none of the rest of you did – and the Orioles have a legitimate chance to play at least one postseason baseball game in October.

In the new Bud Selig fantasy world of more October baseball and profit, the Orioles are truly contenders in a way we couldn’t have imagined in March and haven’t seen since the Clinton administration. And no one else in the American League East looks to be galvanized to go on a tear, either.

Meanwhile the young guns of Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter are all in Norfolk after repeated self-inflicted shots into the bleachers after a series of “Ball Ones” and long, hot innings of ineffectiveness and blown leads.

The now-rested bullpen will attempt to continue to atone for the sins of the many failed starts over the past eight weeks.

The offense is in tatters. Despite the trade for a post-40 Jim Thome – yet another acquisition a player who is in the December of his career ala Sammy Sosa and Vladimir Guerrero — the Orioles are at least making some attempt to get to October after such an encouraging start.

Will Brian Roberts be a factor in the second half? Is Nick Markakis fully healed from his hamate bone injury? Can J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters provide more offense in the second half? Is Xavier Avery a star or just another so-so-outfielder from the Orioles’ depth chart?

There are far more questions than answers heading into the second season of baseball.

The Orioles have been irrelevant for 15 years. This year it appears we’ll have the first-ever Ravens’ training camp opening where the orange team will be the ones making summer headlines.

Will they trade? Who will they trade? What will they get?

One thing we know: trades for legitimate pitchers and hitters who can help the Orioles will not only cost some prospects but will involve large sums of money to pay these proven

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Caps & Other Hockey Thoughts on the Eve of the Stanley Cup Finals

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Caps & Other Hockey Thoughts on the Eve of the Stanley Cup Finals

Posted on 29 May 2012 by Ed Frankovic

Now that it has been over two weeks and the dust has settled on another crushing playoff defeat, Capitals fans can look forward to the Stanley Cup Finals and the exciting things to come for their team following it. This Caps off-season will be like no other in the recent past because General Manager George McPhee not only has to select a new coach, he has two first round choices in the 2012 NHL draft (11th and 16th overall picks), and he also has a lot of salary cap room to work with for the first time since perhaps the summer of 2008. With the Alexander Semin departure freeing up $6.7M on the books and Dennis Wideman’s $3.5M hit expiring along with some other smaller contracts that have ended (see Mike Knuble and Tomas Vokoun), GMGM has some flexibility to reshape the team and hopefully fill the holes that has prevented the club from advancing past the second round of the playoffs over the last five years.

So with that as a stage setter, here are 10 thoughts on the Caps, the NHL, the Memorial Cup, as well as my Stanley Cup Finals prediction:

- With the Finals starting Wednesday (8 pm on NBC), Tuesday was media day at “The Rock” in New Jersey. One of my favorite quotes of the afternoon came from Kings coach Darryl Sutter when he was talking about what turned it around for his club after it struggled during much of the regular season. He began by talking about guys starting to understand his system but then focused on center Mike Richards ability to find his game again in mid March after suffering a concussion earlier in the campaign. He then said the addition of Jeff Carter from Columbus at the trade deadline was the final piece needed since it allowed him to spread the offensive wealth. Specifically, he was talking about Kings superstar forward Anze Kopitar, who was having a hard time scoring goals. “At that position, you can’t be great all by yourself,” said Sutter. That excellent quote, which explains a lot, could easily be uttered by several other teams in the league who struggle to win consistently without two true scoring lines (see the Caps and Alexander Ovechkin).

- It is always tough to watch the playoff round following the one in which your team is eliminated and that was truly the case this spring once Washington was bounced by the Rangers in seven games. I fully expected the Caps to knock off the Rags but the bounces did not go the Capitals way at all in games three and five and Henrik Lundqvist was superb in net. Coach John Tortorella also received excellent play from defensemen Michael Del Zotto and forward Marian Gaborik in that series. Against the Devils, it was a different story and New Jersey dominated the Blueshirts before dispatching them in six games. Del Zotto was terrible against Peter DeBoer’s club and Gaborik disappeared like Jimmy Hoffa. On Frozen Blog’s John Keeley, before the Devils series against New York, penned a super blog on Lou Lamoriello’s club. John was spot on about the Devils talent and style of play and had the Caps beaten the Rangers, I don’t think they would’ve have been able to defeat the three time Stanley Cup Champions, but I sure would have liked to have seen Dale Hunter and company try!

- Speaking of Tortorella, there is no doubt that he is a super hockey mind but his abrupt and abrasive press conferences following playoff defeats became a hot topic in the Washington and then the New Jersey series. It got so bad that super NHL Network analysts’ Kevin Weekes and Craig Button finally called him out on it. Everyone knew Torts was trying to deflect criticism of his club and put the heat on himself, but the Rangers bench boss clearly took it too far. However, the man who has a very classy side, as was displayed on HBO’s 24/7 series, smartly changed his ways and was insightful and more patient with the media even while his team lost the last three contests to give away a chance to play in the Stanley Cup Finals. He was even more revealing and truly honest this past Monday during his club’s breakdown day. He talked about how certain players get what the team is trying to do while others do not. He said it would be up to the organization to get rid of those not on board. You can’t be much more up front than that and it was certainly refreshing to hear a truthful assessment of a team following their defeat with no excuses offered (such as Phoenix blaming the referees in the Western Conference Finals). Kudos to Tortorella, who also FULLY endorsed assistant coach Mike Sullivan for any NHL head coaching opening. Well done John, I was tough on you this post season but you’ve gone way up again in my book with your late playoff changed ways with the media, who work hard to promote the game many of us truly love. Perhaps I’ll take a cue from Torts and go easier on the referees next season??!! On second thought, I will have to think a little bit more on that one. ;)

- As for Sullivan, it is rumored that Calgary is the leading destination for the former Boston Bruins bench boss given his past relationship with Flames GM Jay Feaster in Tampa. Many once fired coaches learn and improve the second time around (see Bill Belichick and Joe Torre) and “Sully” seems to be the hot prospect this spring. I imagine the Capitals have strong interest in the New York assistant too given that the style Washinton played under Hunter is similar to what Sullivan and Tortorella were using in New York. With all of the moving pieces McPhee has going on this summer it will be interesting to see if Washington’s GM sets up his roster first before picking a head coach (the patient route that New Jersey took last summer with DeBoer) or he selects a coach and shapes the roster to fit the new coach’s style. Put me in the first category as I think the Capitals need to play a style like they played this post season. They need to continue to be responsible in their own end. Now if GMGM adds some offensive talent, and there is no doubt he has top six forwards in mind, then the club can be more aggressive offensively like New Jersey and Los Angeles are doing now, but both teams still have a STRONG defensive foundation at the root of their respective systems.

- When it comes to defense, I have to wonder what the heck happened to the Pittsburgh Penguins this spring?! That club was most people’s pick to go to and win the Finals this June but Coach Dan Bylsma’s squad fell flat on their faces. The Pens clearly lost their focus down the stretch and their play away from the puck, especially in their own end, was just awful. They had the most talented roster in the Eastern Conference and laid an egg in the first round. It is more proof that you have to be responsible defensively if you want to win the Stanley Cup and Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and company seemed to have forgotten all of the good defensive lessons former coach Michel Therrien taught them before being dismissed during their 2008-09 Cup winning season. Wide open hockey does not work in the post season, plain and simple, just ask the 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers and they will confirm that axiom.

- After Hunter left his post here in Washington, he immediately went to sit in the press box and watch his London Knights battle for the Memorial Cup, which is the championship tournament featuring a pre determined host city and the three winners of Canada’s top junior leagues (the Western Hockey League (WHL), the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMHJL), and the Ontario Hockey League (OHL)). London won from the OHL, Edmonton represented the WHL, while the defending Memorial Cup champs, the Saint John Sea Dogs, represented the QMHJL. The host city, Shawinigan, was the fourth club. The host Cataractes ended up defeating Hunter’s club in overtime of the final game to capture the Cup in a 2-1 thriller. Both goalies (Michael Houser of London and Gabriel Girard of Shawinigan) were impressive in the final match as were several other already NHL drafted players. Jarred Tinordi (Montreal), Austin Watson (Nashville), and Brandon Gormley (Phoenix) really stood out for me and seem poised to have good NHL careers. Russian Krill Kabanov (Islanders), who had one crazy junior career, did some nice things as well but it remains to be seen if he turns out to be an every day NHLer. The undrafted player that was high on my radar was Max Domi of London, son of former Leafs and Rangers tough guy, Tie. The 17 year old, who is draft eligible in 2013, was all over the ice with his speed and tenacious play. He isn’t big right now size wise, but he plays large and I have to think many teams will be very interested in him next June.

- Stan Galiev, of the Caps, played again for Saint John in the Memorial Cup, and the 2010 third round pick seems to have a bright future. He projects to be a top six offensive player but personally I think it would be wise for Washington to let him get at least a year in Hershey to properly develop and gain size and confidence.  The Russian forward will definitely help the Bears next season, who will not have former AHL Calder Cup MVP Chris Bourque back next year. Bourque, who very recently became a first time father, was traded on Sunday to Boston for center Zach Hamill. Hamill was the 8th overall pick in the 2007 draft and is still just 23 years old. He should help Hershey next season, as well.

- After last February’s NHL trade deadline I asked an NHL scout, with over 20 years in the business, why Tampa didn’t get a goalie this season when it was clear that it was their biggest hole and was certain to prevent them from making the playoffs despite the great goal scoring year Steven Stamkos was having. The scout said something that was quite telling. “It is not as easy as it seems to find what you need.” I expect Tampa to go after Vokoun or some other veteran goalie this summer to go along with youngster Dustin Tokarski, who won the 2008 Memorial Cup with Spokane.

- By the way, that scout’s quote is clearly relevant to what McPhee has been dealing with when it comes to second line center. GMGM knows he needs a center, but he’s been unable to get one for many reasons. As I said above, this summer might be his best chance, given the flexibility he finally has in terms of salary cap room. However, it takes two to tango and you can bet that other GM’s may not be willing to give what the Capitals desperately need without getting something significant back. Recent history shows though, that getting the superstar player while sacrificing lesser players, draft picks, and prospects is a recipe for success. Los Angeles, who did that to get Richards and Carter, and New Jersey, who did the same in acquiring Ilya Kovalchuk, both went that route and have been rewarded with a shot at the Cup. Pittsburgh did the same when it plucked Marian Hossa from Atlanta back in 2008. So it seems to make sense for GMGM to be aggressive and try and hit the home run on the center position this summer by giving up some assets to finally get an elite player to complement Nicklas Backstrom up the middle and alleviate some of the pressure on Ovechkin.

- Finally, I am going with the Kings in five games in the Stanley Cup Finals. Los Angeles is just rolling right now and my only concern with them is their eight day layoff. I can’t see their power play continuing to struggle the way it has to date in the post season. I love the way the Devils play the game and Zach Parise is one of the best players in the NHL right now. However, I think they are over matched in this series and if they don’t win game one, then this thing could be over quick. However, if New Jersey holds serve at home against a LA squad that is perfect on the road this post season, then anything can happen. That is why they play the games. Enjoy!

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Will Donald Fehr Wreck the Caps Off Season?

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Will Donald Fehr Wreck the Caps Off Season?

Posted on 17 May 2012 by Ed Frankovic

“We’re getting too down. As soon as we get a goal scored against us it kind of feels like it’s the end of the world. It’s just one goal. It’s bound to happen every game. We’re killing our momentum by having them score and then giving up another one.”

“We were too slow. We were soft. We weren’t making the smart plays, helping each other get open. If you’re not working hard for each other you’re not going to be successful.”

Those are some really telling quotes there, aren’t they? While doing some end of season spring cleaning, I stumbled upon the quote sheet that the Caps super PR department distributes after games and the above were from November 25, 2011 after the Caps lost, 6-3, to the New York Rangers. Those two quotes were from the always honest and straight forward Karl Alzner.

The night after that contest Washington would get blown out, 5-1, in Buffalo and that would spell the end of the Bruce Boudreau era and bring Dale Hunter into the fold.

We all know what happened from there in a roller coaster season that nearly put the Capitals into the Eastern Conference Finals before a tough end in New York last Saturday night.

Unfortunately, Hunter announced on Monday that he is heading back to Ontario to be with his family and to work with his London Knights franchise. Selfishly I would have loved for Dale to stay here and coach this team because I felt that when he took over he was the right guy for the job and I still believe that. It is clear that this team came together under ole number 32 like they haven’t done in recent years. Reading those two quotes above from Alzner should remind EVERYONE just how far this hockey team came in the nearly six months Hunter was behind the bench.

The Caps no longer were mentally weak and found ways to come back from some crushing defeats (see late season loss to Buffalo, games one, three, and six to Boston, as well as games three and five to the Rangers). They also became a tougher team to play against and the word soft could only be used to describe perhaps a couple of players instead of most of the team. Washington’s players certainly learned to stick together and play for one another and at the end of the season I will say that this club overall became greater than the sum of their parts, which in the past often didn’t seem to be the case.

But the season is over and Hunter is gone. There were lessons learned that should be carried forward and that locker room unity we saw hopefully continues next fall, if there is a 2012-13 hockey season, but more on that in a minute.

Every season hockey rosters turn over and with free agency coming on July 1st, the Caps will no doubt undergo some changes. I would bet my last dollar that both Alex Semin and Dennis Wideman won’t be back. Add goalie Tomas Vokoun to that list too. Right there that is over $11M in salary cap room for General Manager George McPhee to work with. There will be other changes too and it is well documented in this blog that McPhee’s number one player issue is improving the middle of the ice. We all saw how inconsistent the Caps were when Nicklas Backstrom went down for 40 games. They nearly missed the playoffs because they had a hole at the number one and two center positions. Finding a true second line center isn’t easy and many Caps fans were hoping that 2010 first round pick Evgeny Kuznetsov might be the answer to that next fall, or at the very least he could come over and play on one of the top two lines as a winger. That isn’t happening. Kuznetsov, who turns 20 on Saturday, is staying in Russia. He can make more money there in the KHL and the uncertain NHL labor situation (the CBA expires on 9/15/2012) definitely didn’t help the Capitals cause.

The importance of quality centers cannot be overstated. There is no doubt that good centers help puck possession and other fancy stats. The Caps struggled in that area simply because they had pivots who could not break the puck out of their own zone very well, especially when #19 was injured. Hunter knew he had issues there and I firmly believe he put in place a strategy that gave him the best chance to win with the absence of strong centers. That was to focus on their own end and try to generate scoring chances via transition. He nearly pulled it off and if Alex Ovechkin or Troy Brouwer score from in tight in overtime in game three or they survive the last 25 seconds of game five they defeat the Rangers and instead they are the ones facing the New Jersey Devils.

Just look at the difference Brad Richards has made for a Rangers team that Washington manhandled in the first round in the spring of 2011! The bad news is there are no players like Richards on the free agent market this year, so McPhee has his work cut out for him.

Speaking of the market, does anyone have any idea how that will shake out this summer? After all, the head of the NHL players union is game killer Donald Fehr (see 1994 MLB strike and World Series cancellation) so you can bet that the NHL owners won’t be giving their GM’s a whole lot of rope to play with in the summer given the economic uncertainty facing the league with no collective bargaining agreement in place after September 15th.

So Fehr alone could wreck McPhee’s chances of retooling the Capitals this summer and getting them ready for a Stanley Cup run in 2013. It will not be a fun NHL offseason from that standpoint alone. McPhee does have two first round draft picks in this June’s NHL Entry draft so he needs to use those to help re-stock the prospect pipeline. He could package one of the picks in a trade to obtain a top six forward, but that seems to be a less likely scenario.

But given all of that, there are still places where this Caps team can improve on over the summer and it starts with each individual player. Regardless of who the next coach will be, every guy who wore a red sweater this past season needs to remember what brought them post season success: hard work, sticking together, and defensive hockey. The days of wide open play are over. The Caps kept doing that towards the end of the Boudreau era and all it led to was what I call “Odd Man Rush City” for the opponents. You can’t win that way in the NHL and even the Edmonton Oilers learned to play the right way before winning their first Cup in 1984. Defense wins championships, plain and simple.

You do need offense though and one way to improve that is by GMGM finding another top center. Washington needs two scoring lines and they didn’t have that this season. The result is it makes it much easier to defend Alexander Ovechkin. Hunter tried putting Backstrom with Semin on the second line to try and balance things out. It was a move that Boudreau smartly used in 2008 and 2009, but he had Sergei Fedorov to center the Gr8.

Ovechkin is at the top of my list of who can definitely improve next year. Better personnel will help him right off of the bat, if those moves can be made. But the Gr8 also can help himself by applying what Hunter was trying to teach him: good defense leads to more offense. Ovechkin needs to work on his defensive game regardless of the system implemented by the new coach. Pavel Datsyuk and Fedorov are great offensive talents but they both are/were very good defensively too. There is no reason why Alex can’t get better in his own zone. If he gets rid of the straight legged and gliding posture, bears down more, and does extra film study of opposing defenders to learn their tendencies, I am willing to bet that the Gr8 could score 10 more goals next season just by going from defense to offense more efficiently. His size and speed are some of his greatest assets and if he used them better in his own zone he could become the most dominant player in the league, once again. But Ovie has to want to do that and put the work in, plain and simple. Maybe he should give Ray Lewis a call to learn about work ethic and the benefits of film study?

Marcus Johansson is next on my list. MJ90 had a rough playoffs and was moved off of the puck too easily by the Rangers. Given that he was on one of the top two lines, that really hurt Washington’s chances to win the series. I’d much prefer him on the third line where he could really be effective and not have so much pressure on him, but with the lack of talent in the top six forward area, Marcus was forced to play up. He’s only 21 and he has great speed, but he needs to build strength and be stronger on the puck. The playoffs are all about winning the battles on the wall and he was not equipped to do that this spring.

We saw lots of promise out of Braden Holtby and Dmitry Orlov and both must avoid the sophomore slump. Alzner and John Carlson became a flat out dominant pair on the ice and they will be expected to do that and more next season. Carlson deserves first unit power play time, in my opinion. He has a great shot and isn’t afraid to use it. #74 was super in the playoffs and I see no reason why he can’t continue that level of play next season. Brooks Laich is a rock for this team but he needs to score more, hopefully the new coach gets him more power play time.

Right down the roster every player must find a way to improve while staying within the team structure. That brings us to the most important off-season decision that is non-player related, hiring the next head coach. The new bench boss must be a guy the players respect. Hunter certainly commanded it for his reputation as a player but also because every guy on the roster was held accountable, regardless of their contract or star power. That must continue.

McPhee smartly said he will take his time with the decision but there are some names out there that immediately bubble to the top of the list based on discussions I’ve had with people very familiar with the NHL coaching landscape: Craig Ramsay, Mike Sullivan, Jim Playfair, and Mike Eaves. Ramsay, Sullivan, and Playfair all have NHL head coaching experience while Eaves has been coaching at Wisconsin since 2002. Take a look at their respective coaching records yourself and you will be impressed with each candidate. McPhee certainly couldn’t go wrong picking any of those four, but perhaps he goes a different route and chooses someone with more ties to the Caps organization, such as a Terry Murray or Adam Oates?

It will be interesting to see what McPhee does, and this is a critical decision for him with this hockey team coming off of some positive playoff production.

There is a good vibe to this hockey team right now despite a disappointing end to the season, but the 2012 summer holds a lot for the Washington Capitals with so many important things on the agenda to address.

It is imperative they do the right things this summer. Let’s also hope that the NHL labor negotiations, and particularly Fehr, don’t wreck what is a very crucial off-season for the Caps.

 

 

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Another Crushing End to a Caps Hockey Season

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Another Crushing End to a Caps Hockey Season

Posted on 12 May 2012 by Ed Frankovic

There are no moral victories in pro sports, so the fact that the Capitals, after a dismal regular season made it to game seven of the second round, only to lose 2-1 to New York, shouldn’t make any Caps fan feel good about the season. Nope, this campaign is another failure in my book because Washington didn’t even get to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The game five meltdown, which officially stands as the worst loss in team history by my accounting, cost the Capitals a chance to play the New Jersey Devils for a shot at the Stanley Cup Finals. Instead they lose to a club they beat in FIVE games in the spring of 2011. The Rangers didn’t have Ryan Callahan last April when the Capitals dominated them, but they didn’t have Brandon Dubinsky in this series either. What the Blueshirts did have are two bonafide top line centers. GM Glen Sather, who once moaned in Edmonton about not being able to spend money to stay competitive, went out and got Brad Richards and at the end of the day, he was the difference between the Capitals going golfing and the Rags moving on to face Marty Brodeur and company.

It is a bitter pill to swallow for Caps fans and the core of Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Semin, Mike Green, and Brooks Laich has now gone five years without advancing past the second round. Ovechkin, after a great game six, was pretty much a non factor in the most important game of his career. It will be an interesting off-season now with Semin, Dennis Wideman, Tomas Vokoun, and Mike Knuble all unrestricted free agents. In addition, #52 is a restricted free agent.

Meanwhile, Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Laich will be back for sure, as well as Joel Ward, given their contracts. Roman Hamrlik will also likely be back since he gets $3.5M for another season (and he played very well in the post season).  Jeff Schultz is still due $2.75M for each of the next two seasons so he’s not going anywhere either.

Despite the overall failure, there were some good things that came out of this season. We know that Karl Alzner and John Carlson are a super defensive pair and should both be locked up long term, at some point. Braden Holtby stepped up and proved that he just might be the number one goalie going forward, his puck handling skills certainly helps the defense. We also know that this team can play the type of hockey necessary to win in the post season from a defensive standpoint. Guys like Matt Hendricks and Jay Beagle were major positives in an underachieving regular season. I am squarely in the corner of hoping that Dale Hunter is the coach next season. I’d just like to see him have more of his type of players.

The Caps have two first round picks in the upcoming draft, which reportedly is a good one. But General Manager George McPhee must FINALLY address the real problem facing this club, a lack of another center to go along with Backstrom. The Caps continue to rotate players in and out of that position and it is the MAIN reason why they are so wildly inconsistent (see only 4 shots in period three tonight when their season was on the line). Marucs Johansson, Mathieu Perreault, and Laich were all tried there this season and the problem was never really solved. It also IS the reason why the Caps nearly missed the playoffs before a late rally. No Backstrom for 40 games meant a lack of top two centers for half of the season.

Another reason for the season failure is the power play. The Caps were given a chance to tie the game up late in regulation in this one and it failed miserably. I still want to know why Johansson is on the first unit instead of someone with more strength along the boards and more ability to get to the front of the net? Also, Carlson would have been a much better choice than Wideman on the point and the indecision and lack of chemistry between #6 and #52 prevented the Capitals from getting set up at a critical time in the season. Special teams decide playoff series and the Rangers won it with their PP in game five while the Caps blew their golden opportunity to tie the game with the man advantage in game seven.

So another season goes in the books for the Caps. I call this one an overall failure and another major opportunity to win their first Stanley Cup wasted.

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Caps Collapse Late, Lose in Overtime

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Caps Collapse Late, Lose in Overtime

Posted on 07 May 2012 by Ed Frankovic

Just when Washington Capitals fans have thought they’ve seen it all, their beloved Caps found another way to lose a huge game, and perhaps a playoff series.

With the Caps clinging to a one goal lead and just 22 seconds left, Joel Ward did the UNTHINKABLE, he got careless with his stick and took a double minor penalty.

And you can guess what happened next, the Rangers pulled their goalie and tied the game with seven seconds left and then won it in ovetime on the second half of the power play on a Marc Staal point blast.

It was as cruel a loss as Caps fans can likely remember as they had a 3-2 series lead right there in the palm of their hand only to get careless.

The Rangers now lead this best of seven series three games to two with game six set for Verizon Center on Wednesday night. The Caps have never won a playoff series that was tied after four games when they’ve lost game five, they’d also won every playoff series in which they won game five in that same scenario.

What is even more of a killer is that Washington survived a terrible 1st period and seemed ready to take control of the series when John Carlson scored on the power play 4:20 into period three. The Caps would play a really good final stanza, up until the end, and get several odd man chances. Nicklas Backstrom hit the iron on a breakaway as Henrik Lundqvist got a piece of the shot, then the Capitals had a three on one but Staal made a great play to break that up. Those missed opportunities can sometimes come back to haunt you. 

Still with 22 seconds left, it looked good for Washington, then Ward, who was the hero in Boston in game seven, snatched the goat horns.  But the Caps could’ve still killed the six on four situation but the Rangers once again got a bounce they needed as Ryan Callahan tipped the puck to Brad Richards just before Braden Holtby was about to cover the puck. The Blueshirts pulled it out and then took advantage of the double minor carrying over to OT.

The question now is can the Capitals respond to adversity once again? This is as bad of a loss as I can remember in Washington hockey history. The only good news is there is still at least one more game to play.

Guess we will find out what this team is made of on Wednesday night.

Notes: In 12 Caps playoff games, the team scoring first has now won 11 of them…Alex Semin took two elbows to the head in the middle frame and only played one more shift that period. He did play in the third period. Dan Girardi had one of the elbows and it was #6 who smashed Mike Green in overtime and came up off of the ice on the play. If it was a Cap player doing that the New York media would start whining from here to California…

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Mentally Tough Caps Even Up Series

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Mentally Tough Caps Even Up Series

Posted on 05 May 2012 by Ed Frankovic

For all of the talk out of the Big Apple about the mental toughness of the Rangers in their three overtime victory early Thursday morning, the Washington Capitals sure answered back on Saturday with a gritty 3-2 victory at the Verizon Center on Mike Green’s late power play goal. It was a huge marker for #52 and the Caps, who now have tied this series up at two games apiece as it moves back to Manhattan for game five on Monday.

If you were projecting the future based on Caps team history, this was a contest that Washington probably would have lost following a heart breaking defeat in game three. But we just might be seeing a different Capitals club that is doing their best to rewrite that book with a brand new chapter. 

Today’s victory was a combination of the Young Guns stepping up their respective games combined with more solid play from some of the key guys who helped win two straight Calder Cups in Hershey plus some true blue collar grit from several grinders. Simply put, there were many players who contributed their part to the win.

Let’s go down the list starting with the Young Guns:

Alexander Ovechkin scored in the first period to give the Caps an important 1-0 lead off of a Rangers turnover. Why was that goal so key? Well in 11 playoff games this spring that the Caps have played, the first goal has won 10 of them (including today).

Nicklas Backstrom was probably the best forward on the ice today. #19 was a BEAST. His play on the second goal was pure power and skill as he showed his amazing strength on his skates by knocking Artem Anisimov to the ice like he was a flea and then the Young Swede skated into prime scoring position, took a sweet pass from Jason Chimera, and beat Henrik Lundqvist top shelf.

Green is a player that I felt would be the difference maker in this series in my round two preview. Today #52 made it happen for the Capitals. Game Over Greenie was +1 in 22:08 of ice and his rocket of a shot past King Henrik with 5:48 remaining was just what he and the team needed.

Alexander Semin was pointless but he came close to making it 3-1 in the middle frame. #28 was inches away from making a big play to break this game open or give the Caps the lead a few times but just couldn’t get a bounce. Perhaps in game five he will be rewarded for what was a good 17:02 from him on Saturday?

Now to the Hershey crew:

Karl Alzner and John Carlson were as solid as rocks on the back end. Alzner is the team’s shut down d-man and Carlson was all over the ice again winning lose puck battles and being a physical force. #74 is playing the best hockey of his young career and it was his strong play on the offensive blue line that kept the puck in the zone and as a result Carl Hagelin took his critical slashing penalty. #62 broke Carlson’s stick and the zebras had to call it, otherwise Marian Gaborik has a breakaway (the Rangers were upset that an Ovechkin slash on Brian Boyle minutes earlier wasn’t whistled but given that it happened in a non-threatening area of the ice, they let it go. Besides, the Rangers received two power plays in OT on Wednesday to none for the Caps so they can whine all they want, but they’ve had their share of the calls in this series.)

Jay Beagle was super once again in his own zone and even though he was 5-13 on face-offs, some of those key wins were at the end of the game. #83 is one of the best stories of the Caps season.

Braden Holtby continues to be unflappable in net and he made some big stops (18 saves overall). The two tallies against him were the result of poor coverage and bad breaks. On the first goal the puck bounces off of Brooks Laich’s skates right to Anisimov, who received a layup. The second tally started with bad officiating from the linesmen. The back linesman, who was directly in #70′s sight line, was calling icing but when the puck went over Dennis Wideman’s head the near linesman, for some crazy reason, waved it off. Holtby didn’t hear or see that and had his arm up thinking one of the Caps would touch up the puck. Instead Anisimov beat Wideman to the biscuit and #6 and Jeff Schultz both made the cardinal sin of vacating the front of the cage. That allowed Gaborik to get a lay up. Poor communication there first by the linesmen, second between Holtby and his d-pair, and more importantly, it was terrible non-talk by #6 and #55 to not decide who was staying out front. Holtby told me after the game had it not been icing he would have definitely played the puck. Oh well, there is one of those zebra breaks that went New York’s way. Overall, the missed calls have pretty much evened out through four games.

As for the grinders, the list of hard workers that got it done is long.

Let’s start with Matt Hendricks who is doing ALL of the intangibles. #26 blocks shots, wins puck battles and just sacrificies like no tomorrow for his team. I can’t say enough good things about his determination and effort.

Laich, Troy Brouwer, Roman Hamrlik, Joel Ward, Chimera, Mike Knuble, and Keith Aucoin all did the little things necessary to win a tight hockey game. These guys all want to win badly.

So at the end of the day, Coach Dale Hunter has to feel good about his club. As he’s said and I’ve blogged about time and time again, special teams is such a huge factor in the playoffs. Today the Capitals started and finished strong with their power play (1 for 2) while they received two key penalty kills in the middle frame (2 for 2 overall). The PK’s were especially important because the Rangers dominated the first 10 minutes of that period but Alzner, Carlson, and Beagle all confirmed to me afterwards that Washington’s mid game turnaround was sparked by those penalty kills. If the Rangers go up 2-1 there, the series may have been squarely in the corner of New York, but they didn’t get that key go ahead goal and Washington went on to get a huge victory.

It was a win that showed their mental toughness and came after a rough defeat. Holtby and the Caps are now 5-0 after a loss in these playoffs.

They now head to New York on Monday to try and write a new chapter in Capitals history, one that could have a positive ending, for the first time in a very long time.

Stay tuned.

Notes: The Caps outshot the Rangers 26-20 but attempted shots were 52-40 in favor of the Blueshirts…Green’s goal came with he and Wideman on the points on the PP and Ovechkin down low, something I’ve wanted to see more of. On the replay of the goal you see the Gr8 with a free lane to the net and I can’t help but think that Lundqvist’s peripheral vision catches that and prevents #30 from totally squaring up on Green’s shot…Schultz blocked nine shots but was -2 and Marcus Johansson was -1 with a couple of giveaways. Both need to be better, especialy MJ90 who played on the top line with Ovechkin and Laich…I was thrilled to see the 8-19-90 line broken up before puck drop today. It lacked net presence on Wednesday and in the playoffs you need someone to crash the cage on each shift. Hunter’s four lines on Saturday all had that element with the Knuble-Aucion-Ward line doing that the best…for more of my take on the game, check out a post game video I did over at On Frozen Blog.

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Caps Get Breaks in Game Two to Even Series

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Caps Get Breaks in Game Two to Even Series

Posted on 01 May 2012 by Ed Frankovic

Remember all of those posts the Washington Capitals hit in game one in their series opening loss to the New York Rangers? Well, it was the Blueshirts who clanked the iron repeatedly on Monday night as the Caps stole a win in New York on Alexander Ovechkin’s third period power play goal. The Gr8′s wrister with Troy Brouwer providing traffic with 7:27 left in regulation was just what the doctor ordered for Washington in a 3-2 victory. The series shifts to DC on Wednesday for game three at 730 pm.

This game seemed to have more of a pace to it than the opening salvo. The Rangers dominated the opening 10 minutes before Washington settled down and in true Dale Hunter hockey fashion, the Capitals scored in transition after playing good defense. Joel Ward, Mike Knuble, and Keith Aucion worked a masterful three on two and old man Knuble banged the puck home from the doorstep for the first marker.

Braden Holtby (26 saves) rebounded with a strong game after giving up some questionable goals on Saturday. Most notable was his save on Chris Kreider on a breakaway after the puck took a bounce on the Knicks ice over John Carlson’s stick at the offensive blue line. #70 made a huge save and Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks, and Jason Chimera hustled at the other end to score after Henrik Lundqvist (22 saves) came out to play the puck and turned it over. That goal made it 2-0 Caps in the first period but from there it was some wild hockey and nail biting time for Capitals fans.

New York scored their first goal in four on four play, something the Caps have struggled with recently. Brooks Laich made a bad decision to change with the puck still in the neutral zone and Michael Del Zotto took advantage. The Rangers defenseman alertly pushed the puck up and Marian Gaborik got it to Brad Richards for an easy two on one goal. The Rangers would tie it up in the third period on the power play, which set the stage for Ovechkin’s game winner.

Basically, this series is pretty much dead even after two games. Rangers Coach John Tortorella had the last change for two games so Dale Hunter played it ultra conservatively and went mostly with his checkers, especially when leading. As a result, Ovechkin only played 13:36 and Alex Semin logged just 12:26 while grinders like Jay Beagle and Brouwer played 19:58 and 18:48, respectively. At the other end, Tortorella is pretty much going with three forward lines as four dressed Rangers played less than five minutes each (Stu Bickel, Mike Rupp, John Mitchell, and Artem Anisimov). This should be an advantage for Washington, especially as the series goes longer because the Caps have a more balanced lineup and the players should be more fresh.

Perhaps the best news of the night, though, was that the power play finally got untracked. They still have Ovechkin on the point but the Gr8 did make an adjustment, as former Caps PR director Nate Ewell pointed out. Alex went with a high wrister on the game winner instead of a slapper and Lundqvist struggled with it, especially with #20 battling with a Rangers defensemen right in front of him. If the Caps are going to win this series, special teams will need to be a difference maker. The Rangers play physical and they pounded Mike Green in the first period. That physical play though leads to penalties so a potent power play is really needed.

Looking at the three Capitals goals, they were all from in tight or with traffic. That is the only way to beat King Henrik. On Washington’s end, Holtby didn’t have much of a chance on either Rangers tally. They came as a result of Washington miscues.

So what do the Caps have to do to win Wednesday night? First thing is they need to play within themselves. They can’t go back to Harlem Globetrotters hockey with fancy drop passes a plenty in an effort to put on a show. They need to stick to this boring, grind it out style and take advantage of chances when they can. They need to get the pucks deep and wear out a not as deep New York roster. Finally, they have to get bodies and pucks to the net, otherwise Lundqvist will win the game.

Hunter now has the last change for two contests and can get the matchups he wants. The question is will the Capitals be able to execute in those matchups?

Smart, defensive hockey wins in the post season. Can the Capitals keep that up?

Notes: Another super game from John Carlson and Karl Alzner who led the team in ice time logging over 23 minutes each…Green played 8:31 in period one but finished with only 18:14 total. It made sense for Hunter to cut back his minutes because the Rangers were running him because 52 was ending up in too many tough situations with the puck…Jeff Schultz returned to the lineup for John Erskine and played 17:12..the face-off battle was even steven at 34 wins a piece.

 

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Bad Breaks and Mistakes Cost Caps in Game 1

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Bad Breaks and Mistakes Cost Caps in Game 1

Posted on 28 April 2012 by Ed Frankovic

In hockey, there are bad breaks and there are mistakes. Both of those went against the Washington Capitals on Saturday in New York and as a result the Caps fell, 3-1, to the Rangers in game one of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Game two is on Monday Night from Madison Square Garden at 730 pm.

The disappointing thing in this game is the Capitals did a lot of good things and easily could have won. They hit at least three pipes and they held the Rangers to only 14 shots on goal. Normally when you hold an opponent to so few shots, you should win, but more on that in a moment. Washington only generated 18 shots on goal themselves but they missed the net or hit iron on several occassions. Alex Oveckhin missed the net on a golden chance in the third period, Nicklas Backstrom clanked the post twice, and Alex Semin hit the cross bar. Clearly Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (17 saves) had a golden horseshoe shoved away in the right place for this one. The Caps only goal was a thing of beauty, as Brooks Laich set up Jason Chimera for a sweet one timer by King Henrik with four seconds left in period two to knot the game heading into the final frame.

The Caps also did a good job of drawing penalties until the referees, Steve Kozari and Kevin Pollock, decided that tripping wasn’t going to be called on the Blueshirts over the last 30 minutes of the game. Blatant haul downs by the Rags on Marcus Johansson and Ovechkin were ignored. But that is what I expect from those two and you can’t blame this loss on the zebras, as bad as they were, at times. There was no way the power plays should have been four to four but Rangers Coach John Tortorella will probably still complain anyways about the refs, because that is what he does. Let him complain about that and the media too (which he did after the game), I hope it wears his team out emotionally.

So where did the Caps lose this one? Let’s start with beef #1, the power play. Special teams are so important in the post season and when you get four advantage situations in a scoreless game you need to capitalize on them. The Capitals did not on Saturday, including a 33 second five on three in the middle frame. I am going to sound like a broken record here, but there were not enough shots from the point with traffic in front or bodies around the net for rebounds. I don’t like the fact that Johansson had 3:18 of power play time while Laich only logged 2:09 and Mike Green had 2:18. Finesse does not work in the post season, grit does, so get Laich out there, move Ovechkin down low, and put Green or John Carlson on the point. Ovechkin had only 1 shot on goal in 21:03 of game time so clearly he is NOT needed on the point for the power play. If Washington wants to win this series, they need to take advantage of the dumb penalties an overly physical Rangers team will take.

Speaking of Green and being physical, as predicted in this blog last night the Rags would hit #52 and the other Caps ad nauseum early on to try and set a tone and get the Capitals to back down. It wouldn’t have worked very well had the power play been effective, and I still think the Caps responded okay to that early rough play. It is more than past time for the coaches to fix the power play, though. Also, Green did not have a good game at all and I labeled him as the key to the series. He was outmuscled by Artem Anisimov on the first goal and his brain cramp decision to attempt to change allowed Chris Kreider to get a semi breakaway and score the winning tally.

Braden Holtby (11 saves) gave up some goals he probably would want back but he wasn’t that bad. On the first marker he got caught trying to poke check Anisimov, on the second he got beat with a good but not impossible to stop shot, and the third he gave up five hole. But all three of them were the results of defensive mistakes, especially the second goal where the Caps coverage was horrible. In particular Chimera looked confused and then Dennis Wideman didn’t commit quick enough for Holtby to know whether Brad Richards was going to pass or shoot. As a result #19 had an open five hole to fire at and a skilled player like that is not going to miss.

As for the Washington skill players, they did not deliver on Saturday. Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, and Green all need to be performing for the Caps to get where they want to go. There are no injury excuses, this team is as healthy as it has been all season. Those four guys need to step up and get it done. Ovechkin must be better and he needs to more effectively use his talent to get by a slooooowwww Rangers defense. He isn’t playing Zdeno Chara anymore so 1 shot on net in 21 minutes is INEXCUSABLE.

Overall, the entire team needs to be willing to pay more of a price to score goals. If Lundqvist sees the shot, he is likely going to stop it. Washington needs to get more pucks and more bodies to the net. It is that simple.

Regular season point totals are hooey, especially given the injuries Washington had during the season, so I don’t want to hear the Rangers are supposed to win because of that. The Caps have the team their GM wants playing this time of year so they need to produce.

This is a very winnable series, but the Capitals have to play the right way. They didn’t do that consistently in game one, but the contest was on the road so the adage that a big advantage isn’t gained in a series until a team loses a game on home ice rings true this evening. New York had to win today and they did given their history of getting beaten by the Capitals in the post season two of the last three years  (yeah, I said that “crap” John and I hope you are reading too).

But the Caps should have won today.  Had they played smarter and more consistently they would have.

Will Monday be different?

Notes: John Erskine played only 8:17 as the Caps sixth defensemen. Cutting back his minutes messed up the rotation in the third period and as a result, it was Wideman and Karl Alzner on defense on the third goal…the Rangers dressed seven defensemen but stiffs Stu Bickel and Steve Eminger didn’t even combine to play 10 minutes total…fourth liner Mike Rupp took a bad penalty and played just 5:26…Tortorella basically relied on five defensemen and three lines so the Caps need to extend this series out because his top guys will eventually wear down playing so much.

 

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