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Braden Holtby Walls Off the Sabres in a 2-1 Capitals Triumph

Posted on 21 December 2018 by Ed Frankovic

“All in all it’s just another brick in the wall”

“All in all you’re just another brick in the wall”  – Pink Floyd

Braden Holtby put on a goaltending clinic on Friday night at Capital One Arena stopping 36 shots, many of which were of the ten bell variety, while Chandler Stephenson scored shorthanded, and then Tom Wilson potted the game winning tally to lead the Capitals to a 2-1 victory over the vastly improved Buffalo Sabres.

Simply put, if Holtby is not the Caps goaltender on this evening, Washington most certainly loses the hockey game. Braden was that good.

“He’s a leader on and off of the ice. He’s our backbone every night,” was how Willy described the Capitals savior in goal after the contest to Smokin’ Al Koken and per Isabelle Khurshudyan of The Washington Post, Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was absolutely fabulous in this affair, had the following to say about the Holtbeast.

“He’s a god, and he’s always saving our ass.”

Washington, who lost a tough one to the Penguins at home on Wednesday night, 2-1, in a game they dominated for long stretches (outshot attempted Pittsburgh, 77-46, and those numbers were indicative of the play), needed a win to keep pace in a Metropolitan Division that is tightening up. They would get it to improve to 21-10-3 (45 points) and they lead the second place Columbus Blue Jackets by four points.

Early on the Capitals skated well and had the territorial advantage, but as they did on Wednesday versus their archrivals, they struggled to hit the net on their chances. Washington had to settle for a 0-0 first period in which there weren’t a ton of scoring opportunities for either team.

That all changed in period two where the game opened up a bit. Jonas Siegenthaler took a penalty just 2:37 into the middle frame when the Caps players, except for their all world goaltender, appeared to have stayed in the locker room listening to Baby It’s Cold Outside by the late, great Dean Martin. The way they played to start that second stanza also indicated that they might have been enjoying some of Dean’s favorite adult beverages during the intermission.

Anyways, the much maligned penalty killing unit, which was effectively dented all three times on three tries against the Sabres just six days ago, was great in not allowing any quality chances on Wilson’s first period hooking penalty. They then used that momentum and confidence gained to take it to 11 on their next PK, scoring shorthanded. Nic Dowd did his best Phil Mickelson imitation with a gorgeous flop shot out of the Caps zone that Chandler Stephenson, who was scratched on Wednesday against the Pens, raced to gather up in the offensive zone. Stephenson skated in with the puck and beat Carter Hutton over the shoulder with some nice top shelf cheese at the 2:50 mark.

The remainder of the period saw lots of chances both ways, with the Capitals “taking” a 2-0 lead, but due to a quick whistle by the zebras, a tuck in goal by Kuznetsov on the power play that certainly appeared to be over the line was not allowed. Washington’s power play looked good on that attempt, but once again, it was mostly a disaster on this evening going 0 for 4. The set up is too stagnant right now and the players simply aren’t working hard enough to generate the quality looks we are used to seeing from this unit. Perhaps going to a simplified structure where they put bodies in front of the net (cough, cough, Top Line Tommy) and fire away with the intent of scoring off of a tip, a screen or a rebound would be an idea for the second unit?

Washington would fail to score on both power plays they had in the middle frame and Buffalo started to bring a heavy forecheck that was causing lots of Caps turnovers in the defensive and neutral zones. Holtby made several big stops, including coming out nearly to the defensive blue line to prevent Conor Sheary from getting a breakaway after an errant pass by Jakub Vrana in the offensive zone. That was a crazy sequence, but it was indicative of the night Braden was having, he was going to do whatever he could do to prevent the Sabres from lighting up the scoreboard like a pinball machine.

Heading into the final frame, the Caps had a 1-0 lead, but a very poor and LONG shift by Alex Ovechkin (1:12) and T.J. Oshie (1:04) resulted in the Sabres scoring off of a bounce in front of the net that Holtby had no chance to stop. Ovi, who only had five shot attempts (1 SOG) and frankly just didn’t have it on this night, decided against an opportunity to take a neutral zone line change and then found himself hemmed in his own end. With his tank on empty, the Sabres moved the puck around until they finally worked hard and long enough to push one past the Caps Stanley Cup winning goalie.

Buffalo then received a power play just 23 seconds after the Johan Larsson tally, but the Caps penalty killing unit stepped up big time to preserve the tie.

That set the stage for Kuzy, who had his best game in weeks because he was skating and wanting the puck, to steal the biscuit from Hutton behind his own cage and backhand the disc to Willy in the lower right wing circle. Tom buried it for the game winner and his 10th goal in just 15 games this season with only seven minutes left. Kuznetsov was fantastic and when he competes like that, he’s easily in the top five players in the league. That line, with Kuzy, Willy, and the super fast Jakub Vrana, was the Caps best one against Buffalo.

As for the top line, they looked sllllooooowwwww. I’m not sure what was up with that trio, but perhaps it might be time for Coach Todd Reirden to go back to the top nine forward group that won them the Stanley Cup last June?

Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Wilson

Vrana-Backstrom-Oshie

Connolly-Eller-Burakovsky

Andre Burakovsky returned after being in the press box for four games and he was decent. He battled hard and skated well, but his timing is understandably off. He certainly deserves to stay in the lineup though, and getting him going must be a priority going forward.

On the back end, defensemen Madison Bowey had one of his better games logging 16:24. That allowed Coach Reirden, who played John Carlson over 29 minutes on Wednesday, to cut Carly’s ice time back to a much more sustainable 23:47. With the Capitals headed to Ottawa in a back to back situation, it was important that the ice time was spread around better than what we saw against the Penguins in the 2-1 defeat.

Buffalo had several more opportunities to tie things up late in period three, but Holtby, who tweaked something with just over two minutes left, but remained in the game, was a wall in net and would not allow his club to be beaten just four days before Christmas. It was his present to his team, and based on the quotes from Willy and Kuzy, they certainly appreciated it.

All Hail the Holtbeast!

Notes: The Caps will face Ottawa at 7:00 pm in Canada’s capital on Saturday night. The Sens played in New Jersey on Friday and were smoked, 5-2. So both teams will travel overnight and then play their last tilt before the NHL shuts down from Monday through Wednesday for the Christmas break. Pheonix Copley will almost surely get the start against the Senators which gives the Holtbeast five full days to recover from the minor tweak he suffered as well as the heavy workload he faced against Buffalo…the Capitals play the Hurricanes on December 27th at Capital One Arena…the Caps were outshot attempted, 72-50, in this one. The Sabres robbed some teams in their offseason trades (see St. Louis and Carolina) and now they have a squad that almost surely should make the postseason. They are a fast and very good hockey team…Washington won the faceoff battle, 28-23. Nicklas Backstrom was 14-6…Rasmus Dahlin was -2 and made a stupid dive onto Holtby very late in the game to move what would’ve been an offensive zone faceoff for Buffalo into the neutral zone. That’s a rookie mistake there and probably should’ve been a penalty…Vrana (5 SOG) and Wilson (4 SOG) had 9 of the Capitals 24 shots on goal.

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Ovechkin’s Shootout Tally Carries the Caps Over the Sabres, 4-3

Posted on 15 December 2018 by Ed Frankovic

“I said, train kept a-rolling all night long, Train kept a-rolling all night long…” – Aerosmith

Alexander Ovechkin failed in his attempt to get his third consecutive hat trick, but he did score his league leading 29th goal to tie this contest at three in period two and then he notched the game winning shootout tally in the fourth round to propel the Washington Capitals to a 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night. Pheonix Copley made 26 saves for the Caps and he was only dented once in four tries in the gimmick.

The Sabres had the schedule advantage in this contest, but it was the Defending Stanley Cup Champions coming off of Friday’s shootout win in Raleigh who dominated this affair at even strength. Buffalo essentially scored three power play goals, their first marker by Jack Eichel came right as Michal Kempny’s high sticking penalty expired and the other two, one by Eichel and the other by rookie standout Rasmus Dahlin, also came with the man advantage. Washington, meanwhile, had four power plays, and didn’t convert on any of them. Coach Todd Reirden needs to get the special teams back under control, especially the PK, which badly misses Brooks Orpik.

Carter Hutton (35 saves) was the biggest reason, along with a leaky Capitals penalty killing unit, that this affair wasn’t ended by the Champs in regulation. Washington totally out quality chanced the Sabres at even strength, but the big goalie was the difference. At the other end, Copley played well, although he probably wants the third goal back. Still, the biggest question mark coming into this season for Washington was backup goalie, yet the man born in North Pole, Alaska is now 7-1 in his last nine starts. Caps fans can thank Copley for a Merry Christmas in 2018, because he’s been stellar as Philipp Grubauer’s replacement, at a much lower price.

Brett Connolly and Jakub Vrana notched their 7th and 10th goals of the season, respectively, as Washington received contributions on the scoresheet from each of their top three lines. Devante Smith-Pelly made a key steal from Hutton less than a minute after the Sabres took a 1-0 lead to feed Conno all alone in front for a layup. That was a critical goal given that the Capitals played on Friday night and Buffalo was sitting waiting to knock off the Cup winners in their first try of 2018-19. The Sabres had early momentum and DSP’s hustle and heads up play completely took that off of the table.

Vrana’s tally, which came on a rocket from the slot, was all set up by a great fore check by Tom Wilson. Willy’s pressure and speed forced the Sabres Matt Tennyson to turn the puck over up the left wing wall right to Evgeny Kuzentsov and Kuzy slid the disc cross ice to Jakub, who blasted it past Hutton to make it 2-1 less than 10 minutes into this affair.

The Sabres would notch two power play goals in the first 7:21 of period two to take a 3-2 lead, although Craig Laughlin thought both of the calls by the Quebec “not so dynamic” duo of Francois St. Laurent and Pierre Lambert weren’t penalties. He was right, but there were a couple of phantom calls on Buffalo, as well, especially the delay of game penalty on Marco Sandella in period three. That was pure rubbish, but enough on the incompetent zebras, you just have to play well enough to overcome them these days and Washington did, but Hutton held the fort for as long as he could for the visitors.

Sam Reinhart had a super chance to win this contest in the last minute after a Capitals turnover and then poor defensive work by Kuzy, but he hit the left pipe from the slot. In overtime, Kuznetsov had a late breakaway, only to be stoned by Hutton trying to go five hole.

But Evgeny would get revenge in the gimmick and he forced Casey Middlestadt to score on the third shot to keep this one going. Mighty Casey did tally, but then the Gr8 beat Hutton through the wickets on his shootout attempt and Copley stopped Jason Pominville to send Caps fans home happy and the many Buffalo supporters in attendance, out into the rainy night with a defeat, but also a standings point.

The Sabres are certainly a rising club and they play with pace, but the Capitals are still Kings of the Castle and improved to 20-9-3 (43 points). They lead the Metropolitan Division by six points over second place Columbus and the third place Penguins by seven points. It certainly looks like that trio should be your three playoff teams coming out of the Metro, barring major injuries to star players, while the Atlantic Division places five teams in the postseason with Tampa, Toronto, Buffalo, and Boston looking like locks for four of those slots. There are still 50 games to play, though, and the game changes on January 1st when things get more physical and buckled down defensively. The good news for Washington is they can play that style of hockey, too.

This triumph over the Sabres closes the book on a seven goal and one shootout tally winner for the Gr8 in the three games played this week. It’s pretty much a no-brainer that he’ll capture NHL Player of the Week when it is announced on Monday. The Caps will be off on Sunday, and they earned it. Next up are the Penguins at Capital One Arena on Wednesday night. The Pens have recently overcome a rough patch and are starting to play better hockey, so this next one should be a dandy.

But for now, the Capitals can sit back and enjoy their five game winning streak and take a few days to catch their breath. I’m sure that the coaching staff will also work on their penalty killing because the Pens have perhaps the most deadly power play in the league.

In addition to the five game run, the Capitals have now won 12 of their last 14 games, so it’s time to cue up the Steven Tyler again.

“Train kept a-rolling all night long, Train kept a-rolling all night long.”

Notes: The Caps had a 38-29 shots on goal and a 77-54 shot attempts advantage. They certainly didn’t look like a team that was supposed to be tired and you have to like the professionalism of this squad. They are getting excellent coaching and more importantly, great leadership, starting with Ovechkin and then All Star Nicklas Backstrom (who made a whale of a pass to set the Gr8 up for his game tying goal in period two)…the Capitals won the faceoff battle, 31-27. Backstrom went 11-5 and Kuznetsov was 9-6…Wilson had eight hits as the Caps won the body battle, 32-16…John “Norris Trophy Leading Candidate” Carlson logged 29:11 and was +3. The guy is a total stud on the back end…Michal Kempny had a trio of penalties, but as mentioned earlier, Locker didn’t think the second infraction was worthy of a call…Tennyson was -3 for Buffalo, who are back in town to face the Caps again on Friday, December 21st…Andre Burakovsky and Dmitrij Jaskin were the forward scratches. Tyler Lewington was recalled earlier on Saturday from Hershey to serve as the seventh defensemen.

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Ovechkin Hat Trick Carries the Caps Over the Blues

Posted on 24 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin notched his 16th career hat trick to lead the Washington Capitals to a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night. The Gr8 scored his 10th, 11th, and 12th goals of the season in three different periods to once again prove that he’s the greatest goal scorer in the game today and among the best of all time.

As good as Ovechkin was in this one, the biggest development in this tilt was the return of Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuzy came to play on Wednesday and he was driving the net and shooting the puck. He played with confidence and that seemed to open up the ice for him. It was Kuznetsov’s great power play feed that allowed Ovi to score the game’s first goal and then he made it 3-1 for Washington by going to the net on a rush and banging home a sweet Dmitry Orlov feed in the third period. Part of the reason #92 was so open for that goal was because all of the Blues seemed to be focused on Ovechkin in the high slot.

Just 22 seconds after Kuznetsov’s third goal of the season, the Gr8 had a two on one rush and he buried the biscuit top shelf over the glove of Blues goalie Carter Hutton (21 saves) with 13:07 left in the contest. That completed the hat trick and a several minute delay ensued while the ice crew picked up the tons of hats that were thrown onto the ice.

Washington seemed poised to cruise to an easy win, but St. Louis scored on the power play and with the goalie pulled at 18:45 to make it 4-2. Then with just 28 ticks left, Vladimir Tarasenko scored his second goal of the game to pull the Blues within one. But the Caps won the ensuing face-off and Washington didn’t allow St. Louis any chances to tie it.

In addition to the superb play from Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky put up two assists and seemed to finally get some deserved production in the points department. #65 has been playing “bigger” this season, but he hasn’t been in on a lot of goals lately as he and Kuznetsov have been in scoring slumps. Both broke out on Wednesday night against one of, if not the best, blue lines in the NHL. The 8-92-65 trio was +3 for Washington and Coach Barry Trotz has to be pleased to see that, especially with Nicklas Backstrom’s line playing well also.

The Blues played on Tuesday night in Boston and won 4-2, so the Capitals were catching a scheduling break taking on a sure to be tired squad. You can only play the games as they are lined up and Washington took advantage of it, holding St. Louis to only 21 shots in the game and just 10 in the first 40 minutes. Most of St. Louis’ chances came late in the game with the outcome already decided. Afterwards, Coach Trotz was happy with the victory, but not pleased about the way the contest finished up and he remarked that the team would be more focused on how to close out games when they have a lead.

This win comes after the referees gifted the Blue Jackets a late game victory over Washington on Sunday. That present for Columbus included a terrible high sticking call on Backstrom and then a missed hooking infraction on Cam Atkinson, who put his stick into the mid section of Tom Wilson to prevent a clear, right before the game winning power play tally with under two minutes remaining. It was a bad zebra sequence and it cost the Capitals at least a point in the standings.

But the Blues are not the boring Blue Jackets, so it was expected that Ovechkin and company would be motivated and ready for St. Louis. The Caps are a very good team when they are focused, as evidenced by the 7-1 rout of the Penguins last week, and on Wednesday they played with a purpose.

The Capitals were not as good as they were against Pittsburgh the week before, but they were very dominant, at times, and they took it to a solid St. Louis team.

Washington is now 12-5-2 (26 points) and they’ll take on the Buffalo Sabres at 5 pm on Friday at the Verizon Center. This will be one of those games where the Caps are likely to have a hard time getting up for the opposition.

Notes: The Gr8 only logged 15:29 of ice time. He had five shots on goal in eight attempts. Coach Trotz is clearly managing Ovi’s minutes to keep him healthy and fresh for the post season…the Caps won the face off battle, 29-27. Jay Beagle was 9-4…Matt Niskanen led the Capitals in ice time with a low total of 22:51. Coach Trotz continues to spread the minutes around the lineup…Lars Eller returned to the lineup after missing Sunday’s game and he logged 14:49…only T.J. Oshie is hurt now and he’s battling an upper body injury (week to week)…Kuznetsov had a goal and an assist in 15:53 and he had four shots on net…the Caps were 1 for 4 on the power play in 4:35 of advantage time while the Blues went 1 for 5 in 7:30…Braden Holtby made 18 saves for the Caps.

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Evgeny Kuznetsov has three helpers and Daniel Winnik tallies twice in a dominating Caps win over Nashville.

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Kuznetsov, Winnik Lead Caps to a 4-1 Win on Craig Laughlin Night

Posted on 18 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

On Craig Laughlin night at the Verizon Center on Friday, it was fitting that a plumber notched two tallies for the Capitals in a 4-1 victory over the Nashville Predators.

Daniel Winnik scored twice, the first of which came on another spectacular pass by Evgeny Kuznetsov (three assists) to tie the contest up at one after former Cap Filip Forsberg had given the Preds a second period lead on a power play. It was Winnik’s first two goals as a Capital after coming over on February 29th in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Kuznetsov (three assists) was sensational in this game and it was another one of his vintage passes, this one behind his back, to T.J. Oshie on the goal line that #77 deposited over Carter Hutton at 12:22 of the middle frame to give Washington its’ first lead of the night.

With 18 ticks remaining in the second period, the Capitals really put Nashville behind the eight ball when Winnik scored his second tally of the night after a great rush and feed by Dmitry Orlov. The Caps then inserted the dagger on the Predators just 36 seconds into period three when, you guessed it, Kuznetsov stripped the puck from Ryan Johansen, who was horrible in this one, and fed Andre Burakovsky all alone in front of Hutton. #65 promptly roofed it for his 15th goal of the season to end the scoring.

Coming into this contest David Poile’s team was one of the hottest clubs in the NHL, going 11-1-5 over their last 17 games, including a 4-2 win over the Islanders on Thursday night.

After arriving into the District around 2 am on Friday morning, the Capitals pretty much made sure that the Predators had no chance in this tilt.

Sure they scored the first goal early in period two, but the Predators were held to just four first period shots and zero quality chances. The Capitals turned in a strong first frame, but for the 14th time in the last 17 games they failed to grab the initial lead. Coach Barry Trotz is all about the process so he had to like that opening period even though it was scoreless.

Despite giving up the power play tally that occurred after a Taylor Chorney trip, Washington did not lose momentum in the second period. On Winnik’s first goal, which came right as the Preds penalty expired (Johansen), Braden Holtby (20 saves) made a great long feed to Kuznetsov to catch Nashville in a change. Kuznetsov then worked his magic to totally fake out the entire Nashville team and slide the biscuit through a seam to Winnik, who merely had to deposit it into the yawning cage. It was the Holtbeast’s first assist of the year and it sucked pretty much any life left out of the Predators, who thought they might be able to steal a game in which they were getting heavily outplayed, to that point.

The Caps onslaught would continue from there and it wasn’t until it was 4-1 that Nashville really got any type of consistent pressure. But by then it was just score effects and overall the Capitals held the Predators to just 21 shots on net.

Orlov was outstanding on the back end and in addition to his assist, he was +4 on this night. You could go up and down the Capitals lineup and cite contributions from nearly every player and even Tom Wilson, who had been struggling a bit lately, did a nice job of going to the net and causing traffic on Hutton.

Washington’s impressive victory pushes their record to an astounding 51-14-5 (107 points) and even if the Los Angeles Kings go 13-0 the rest of the way, the Caps would just need nine points in 12 games to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy. Like I’ve said before, that’s a done deal.

This was two straight quality efforts by the Capitals and it was their first win by as many as three goals since January 19th against Columbus (h/t to Mike Vogel). Holtby earned his 43rd victory of the season and is now just five wins shy of Martin Brodeur’s all-time record. Washington also improved to 21-12-5 when allowing the first goal of the game. They are 30-2-0 when scoring first.

So now it is on to Pittsburgh on Sunday night to take on the Penguins at the Consol Energy Center. The Pens are in a dogfight of their own to make the postseason and they’ll face the red hot and despised Flyers on Saturday afternoon at 1 pm. Here’s to hoping there’s a whole new rash of penalty minutes in that one!

For the Caps, though, the beat just keeps marching on. Washington took advantage of a team who played the night before by out skating them all evening.

It was a thorough whipping of Nashville by Coach Trotz’ crew and it came on a night where everyone was in a celebratory mood given that it was “Locker’s” silver anniversary. Ole #18 delivered once again with another excellent performance in the booth with his partner in crime, Joe Beninati.

Thanks for all of the great work, analysis, and laughs over the last 25 years, Craig!

Notes: Kuznetsov earned the game’s number one star. In addition to his three helpers in 17:30 of ice time, he went 13-5 from the dot as the Capitals won the face off battle, 34-24…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:21 while Roman Josi and Shea Weber both played over 27 minutes each for Nashville. Those numbers display the difference in depth between these two bluelines as the Caps next highest defenders in time on ice were Karl Alzner at 21:34 and Brooks Orpik at 20:22…Oshie and Alex Ovechkin led the Caps in shots on goal with five. The Gr8 had 13 shot attempts, but zero points…Oshie, who set a career high with his 22nd goal, led the Caps with five hits…the Caps have 28 victories at home this season.

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