Tag Archive | "Johansson"

You can not stop the Washington Capitals right now, in fact, you can't even contain them.

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Caps Dig Early Hole, Then Demolish the Rangers, 7-3

Posted on 20 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

In case you’ve been living under a rock since October, I have a memo for you:

The 2015-16 Washington Capitals are really good.

For the second straight contest, the Caps put themselves behind the eight ball stinking up the first period and trailing, 3-1, in Madison Square Garden, before reeling off six straight goals to demolish the New York Rangers, 7-3. Sir Paul McCartney was in the house with his son and actually caught a puck in the 1st period when the Capitals, after taking an early 1-0 lead on a Justin Williams goal (2 goals, 1 assist), played a terrible final 10 minutes of the opening frame. During that stretch they were not physical, made turnover after turnover, and also took a bad penalty that yielded the third Blueshirts tally. Washington was out shot 15-7 in those first 20 minutes and it appeared that the New York curse over the Caps would continue.

But there were still 40 minutes to play and fresh off of their three goal rally on Friday night against Tampa, Washington knew if they settled down and played the heavy style their coach prefers, they would be able to get back in it. From the opening shift of the middle stanza, where Marcus Johansson hit the crossbar, this was all Washington. Shortly after killing off an early unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Tom Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsov scored after a Rangers turnover, that was pounced on by Dmitry Orlov (2 assists) in the slot. Wilson, who had just returned to the ice from feeling shame, went to the front of the net and distracted King Henrik Lundqvist on a goal that turned things around. Just less than two minutes later, Nicklas Backstrom (three assists) dumped the puck perfectly off of the right wing boards and the biscuit was picked up by T.J. Oshie, who buried it pass Lundqvist to tie the game just 7:01 into the 2nd period. Oshie went flying in the air on that goal and would miss some time in that period, but return and play the final 20 minutes.

At that point you could see the Rangers, who have been banged up and struggling, realize they were in trouble. The Capitals continued to pounce and drew two penalties (Andre Burakovsky and Wilson) that they finished thanks to outstanding power play feeds by Johansson (1 goal, two assists). Alex Ovechkin (17th goal) and Williams buried those passes and following 40 minutes, Coach Alain Vigneault pulled Lundqvist, who I’ve been suspected of being slightly injured for several weeks.

Ovechkin would take a hooking penalty early in period three, but the Capitals PK unit responded with Wilson chipping a puck out that gave Jason Chimera a breakaway on goalie, Magnus Hellberg. Chimmer made it look easy notching his eighth goal of the season to pretty much end this contest. Johansson would close out the scoring off of a sweet Kuznetsov feed from behind the net just over two minutes later and this one pretty much became a glorified preseason tilt from then on.

The musical legend McCartney would get up to leave late in the contest, presumably to go get his new Ovechkin jersey, and I couldn’t help but think that Blueshirt fans would’ve have liked him to crank out “Yesterday” seeing how the Caps have turned the tables totally on New York with the acquisitions of Williams and Oshie in the offseason.

The Caps are now 24-6-2 (50 points) and lead the Metropolitan Division by eight points over the Rangers with three games in hand. In the Eastern Conference, they are seven points up on Montreal with two games in hand and overall they are tied with the Dallas Stars for the best record in the NHL, but they have a game in hand. Bottom line, this team is really, really good.

But they can still get better, and that’s scary. Yes, they brought their “A” game over the last 40 minutes on Sunday, much like they did the last 20 minutes versus Tampa. Still, this team needs to get off to better starts and clean up some things in their own zone. When they do that and play a physical style, they are awfully hard to beat.

It was a huge victory for Washington on 33rd street on Sunday night with Manhattan fireworks that sent the Rangers faithful home after they thought they were going to get another big win versus the Caps. Barry Trotz and company played the role of “The Grinch” and buried a New York team that looks lost right now (3-9-2 in their last 14 games).

There has been a changing of the guard in the Metropolitan Division and the Caps own the keys to the castle with 50 games left in the regular season.

Notes: Washington plays its last game before the holiday break on Monday night in Carolina. The Hurricanes have been playing better lately (5-4-1), so this has the potential to be a trap game. Coach Trotz may very well go back with Braden Holtby (33 saves) given that the Holtbeast had that break on Friday night…the blowout win allowed the ice time to be spread out in preparation for Monday’s tilt in Raleigh. Taylor Chorney (1 assist, +3) logged 9:49 in the 3rd period and played a total of 18:40, a season high for him. Nate Schmidt, who had a key shot block that stung him early in period three, was able to be rested a bit and only played 15:19…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time at a low figure of 22:13. Matt Niskanen logged 21:27, but no other Capital played over 20 minutes…the Rangers won the shot attempt battle, 66-52, but it was 23-12, New York, after one period (h/t to Dan Rosen of NHL.com)…the Caps lost the face off battle, 35-30, but Kuznetsov went 11-7…Washington was 2 for 3 on the power play while the Rags went 1 for 5.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Be sure to listen to 1570 AM Baltimore on Monday since I’ll be on air talking all things Washington Capitals with host and station owner, Nestor Aparacio. Listen Live via WNST.NET on your computer or mobile device.

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Down 3-0, the Caps ride their power play to overtake Tampa and win, 5-3.

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Ovechkin and Oshie Rally Caps Past Tampa, 5-3

Posted on 19 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

It’s a really good thing the Verizon Center roof is secured tightly, otherwise it might have blown off as the Washington Capitals put on a furious rally from a 3-0 deficit, including four third period goals, to sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning out of town, 5-3.

The comeback was fueled by outstanding offense from T.J. Oshie and Alexander Ovechkin, who both had two goals and two assists as the Capitals rode three power play tallies in four attempts to victory, including Marcus Johansson’s sweet game winning goal with 5:44 remaining. Ovechkin had 19 shot attempts, including nine shots on goal in this contest; those are some amazing numbers right there.

Philipp Grubauer (seven saves) came on in relief of Braden Holtby (three goals allowed on 12 shots) with 10:54 remaining in the middle period and the Caps trailing by a trio of pucks. Holtby wasn’t bad, the Capitals had terrible breakdowns in front of him on each of the three Tampa tallies, and Coach Barry Trotz said his decision was more about the skaters and not the Holtbeast.

“I pulled Holtby because I was tired of Braden bailing the team out…he’s been our MVP,” said the Washington bench boss, who has guided the Caps to a 23-6-2 start (48 points) this season.

Coach Trotz was okay with Washington’s first period, where they outshot Tampa, 10-4, and out attempted the Bolts, 22-18, despite trailing 1-0. Ben Bishop was perfect in that opening frame and was the biggest reason the Caps were losing.

Then came an abysmal start to the middle frame by Washington. They were sloppy and letting the fast Tampa squad skate all over them. The Caps also made many mistakes, including some terrible mental ones. On the Bolts second goal, the Washington defender comes back and over skates his man after getting caught up ice, then he goes down and blocks #70’s view of the shot, which was buried by Andrej Sustr (1st of the season). On the third Tampa marker, the Caps won a faceoff and turned the puck over in the neutral zone right in front of the Capitals bench. That’s not disastrous, but for some reason, two of the forwards, including the right wing from the far side of the ice, decided to change. Bad, bad, bad hockey decision and it resulted in Steven Stamkos, the 2nd best shooter in the NHL (Ovechkin), burying one by Holtby from the slot in between the circles. Braden had no chance on that one since the Capitals boneheaded mistakes allowed #91 to have an easy lane to the net. Afterward, Coach Trotz commented on that particular sequence.

“That’s details and that angered me quite a bit,” stated the bench boss, who is fighting a cold, which he said prevented him from yelling during the game, and specifically at that moment.

The goalie change would wake the Capitals up and they finally got on the board with just over six minutes left in period two. Oshie drew Bishop out of his cage on the power play and made a ridiculous, no look pass to the Gr8, who quickly buried the biscuit.

That gave Washington life and after 40 minutes they trailed by two pucks, 3-1. Coach Trotz and Oshie afterwards both stated that the locker room, between the 2nd and 3rd periods, was positive and the team wanted to focus on playing a heavier game with more hits. Basically this tilt was a match up of speed vs. size and through the first two frames speed was killing. Shot attempts were 40-35 for the Bolts, including a dominating 22-13 in the second period.

Tampa had only really been using three lines most of the night, so when the Caps amped up their intensity and started taking the body in those last 20 minutes, the Bolts got tired and became unglued.

But all of that doesn’t happen if not for a huge save by Grubauer on Vladislav Namestnikov with just over seven minutes into period three. It was one of only seven he had to make in relief, but it was a great scoring chance, and if it goes in, it’s 4-1 and that’s your ballgame. But #31 came up big and immediately following the save, Oshie corralled the puck, skated down the right wing, and fired one over the shoulder of Bishop to electrify the Verizon Center.

Matt Niskanen then laid out J.T. Brown with a big hit, which was a little bit of a pay back for what Brown did to Nate Schmidt last Saturday in Tampa. That not only fired up the home crowd further, but Victor Hedman took an interference penalty.

That brought out the famed “Unleash the Fury” video montage and with the crowd buzzing, Ovechkin made a sweet curl and drag move around the Tampa defender and put one past Bishop to tie the contest up. Verizon Center was really rocking after that and the Capitals kept coming into the offensive zone like they were storming the beaches of Normandy. During that sequence, Dmitry Orlov drew a tripping penalty on Anton Stralman. Once again the power play made the Bolts pay with Ovechkin and Oshie making two sweet passes to set up Jojo for the one timer, which he buried from the lower right wing circle to make it 4-3.

The Caps would really lock things down from there and with less than a minute left, Ovechkin made a super play in his own zone with Bishop pulled allowing him to get the puck to Nicklas Backstrom just inside the Caps side of the red line. Nicky then fed Oshie, who hit the empty net from just outside the blue line to close this one out. Backstrom picked up his 600th career NHL point on that play.

Following the game, Oshie praised the environment in helping the Capitals win.

“Let’s get this out of the way right now, Unleash the Fury is hilarious…that’s the loudest it’s been in here all year.”

It certainly was loud and the Caps ability to find ways to win games when they are not playing their best continues to be encouraging. They were dominated badly during the middle portion of this game, but they regrouped and refocused, played to their strengths, and crushed Tampa down the stretch to win the season series, 3-0.

Now the Capitals will head to New York on Sunday night for a rematch with the Rangers, who drubbed Washington, 5-2, earlier in the season. The Rags have been struggling lately and with the Caps winning their fourth straight game, Washington is now six points ahead of New York (48-42) with three games in hand (New York was defeated, 5-2, in Winnipeg on Friday night) in the Metropolitan Division. The Caps, who were knocked out of the playoffs last season by the Blueshirts, will be extra focused for this one, but when Backstrom was asked about it, he provided a bit of the old Crash Davis “play them one game at a time, good Lord willing” type of answer.

“It’s going to be a good match up. Yeah, it will be fun, we lost against them last year, so we need a rematch here.”

#19 clearly didn’t want to give New York any bulletin board material and prefers to let the Caps game on the ice do the talking.

If Washington plays anything like they did in period three on Friday night, then there will be fireworks on 33rd street in Manhattan on Sunday.

Notes: the Caps outshot Tampa, 23-19, but overall shot attempts were 56-52 for the Bolts…Ovechkin now has 16 goals and 13 assists in 30 games. Oshie has 12 goals and nine assists in 31 games. The Caps are undefeated when the American shootout whiz scores a goal…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 26:17…the Capitals lost the face off battle, 24-23…the Bolts went 0 for 3 on the power play.

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The Caps dominate Detroit but need the shootout to secure the victory.

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Ovechkin, Johansson Help the Caps Defeat Detroit

Posted on 09 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

There will be no Washington Capitals losing streak.

For the 7th time this season, the Caps came into a contest having been defeated in the previous tilt, most recently a 2-1 OT loss to Winnipeg on Saturday, and once again they came out victorious.

Washington played a very strong game in terms of puck possession and dominated the shot clock, 40-23 in shots on goal and 68-52 in shot attempts, but needed the gimmick to finally triumph over a very good Detroit Red Wings squad, 3-2.

Justin Williams opened the scoring just 43 seconds into this one putting home the rebound of a Evgeny Kuznetsov shot, but two defensive breakdowns allowed the Wings to take a 2-1 lead after 23 minutes of hockey. On the first Detroit tally, Washington made a turnover that ultimately resulted in an icing call on the Caps. That’s not normally too big of a deal, but Coach Barry Trotz was stuck with his 4th line and 3rd defensive pair on the ice against the Henrik Zetterberg line and #40 buried one on the doorstep after the Caps badly lost the defensive zone faceoff.

Early in period two, Joakim Andersson out maneuvered Dmitry Orlov behind the Capitals net and for some reason, the other defensemen, Taylor Chorney, chose to vacate the spot in front of Braden Holtby (21 saves) and go behind the cage, as well. That basic hockey “no-no” of having both defensemen behind the net cost Washington and allowed Tomas Jurco to score another easy goal all alone in front on the Holtbeast.

From that point on the Caps would really carry the play outshooting the Wings, 27-14, from the 3:16 mark of period two until the shootout. It was nearly 42 minutes of quality hockey by Washington against a team that is fast and prefers a more wide open transition game. The Caps, after nearly getting into that type of affair in the first 20+ minutes, really clamped down on turnovers and played a very smart and structured style the rest of the way.

Jimmy Howard (38 saves) was really strong in net for the Wings and it took an Alex Ovechkin power play marker (13th goal of the season) with 9:09 remaining to even this one up on the scoreboard. The Gr8 scored by going to the cage and getting a rebound that was created by a nice net drive move by Marcus Johansson.

Despite the Capitals pouring lots of shots on Howard and seemingly having the puck the entire third period, this one went to overtime where the Caps survived a two minute power play by Detroit. In the gimmick, T.J. Oshie and Kuznetsov made brilliant moves to score, while Holtby stopped both Wings shooters.

The Caps now move to 19-5-2 (40 points) on the season and have retaken first place in the Metropolitan Division from the Rangers, once again. Washington has two games in hand, as well.

Overall, this was a really strong effort by the Caps in their only home game in a stretch of seven contests. Ovechkin was the number one star, but I thought Johansson was just as good with four shots on goal and two assists after missing the Winnipeg game. #90 was really flying on the ice and his speed provided a good matchup against Detroit. Afterwards Coach Trotz praised his top two lines for producing the excellent advantage the Caps had in shots.

Most players had strong outings, but with Brooks Orpik missing his 12th straight game, the top four defensemen are playing more minutes because Trotz is just not super confident in his 3rd pair. Chorney had a subpar game and only logged 11:16 of time while putting up a -2 performance. That’s not good. John Carlson played 27:45, Matt Niskanen 25:51, a banged up Karl Alzner chipped in 23:09 in his 401st straight game, and Nate Schmidt logged 21:48. Yes, this was an overtime contest, but you’d like to see the third defensive pair getting more ice time, but they just aren’t playing well enough to earn it, at this time.

So now it’s back on the road for the Caps. They head to Florida on their annual dad’s trip. They’ll face the Panthers on Thursday night and then the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday before looking for revenge against the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Monday.

This Capitals team is very good and they keep finding ways to win. On this night, they were clearly the better team despite needing the full 65 minutes and the shootout to get the two points.

Notes: Ovechkin had eight shots on goal, 16 total shot attempts, and seven hits in 25:43 of ice time…Johansson played 19:40 after missing his first game in over 100 regular season tilts…Washington won the face off battle, 32-26. Nicklas Backstrom was 13-11…the Caps were 1 for 5 on the power play while Detroit was 0 for 1…Michael Latta (-2) only played 6:33 and Andre Burakovsky (-1) logged just 6:45. #65 is really struggling to get going after putting up five points in his first six games. He’s got two points since then…Detroit is now 7-0-4 in their last 11 games and defensemen Mike Green played 23:38 and took one penalty in his first game at the Verizon Center as a Caps opponent.

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Braden Holtby wins on Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada once again.

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Holtby Helps Caps Win Fifth Straight & Take Over 1st Place

Posted on 28 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby owns Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday, plain and simple.

The Holtbeast made 32 saves, 15 of which came in a Maple Leafs first period shooting gallery, and held the Caps in the game until they got their legs going over the last 40 minutes. Washington recieved even strength goals from bottom six forwards Jason Chimera (7th) and Tom Wilson (1st) before adding two power play tallies by Marcus Johansson (5th) and Justin Williams (7th) to defeat Toronto, 4-2. Johansson’s goal came without him using his stick for the second straight night and as I’ve often said, good things happen when you go to the front of the net.

This was a very strange game for the first 25+ minutes before Washington took over the contest. Pucks were bouncing everywhere on a bad sheet of Air Canada Centre ice and some terrible turnovers by both clubs led to a couple of tallies.

Once again, the Capitals dominated a third period with a lead. They were up two pucks going into the final frame and despite the fact that the Leafs had 14 shots on net to just eight for the Caps, the margin was never in jeopardy. Most of Toronto’s chances came from far out on the perimeter after tired rushes up the ice, while Washington put on a cycling clinic in the offensive zone holding the puck for long stretches at a time. Normally shot attempts are indicative of puck possession, but this third period was not the case, the Caps totally wore the Leafs out with their big forwards and stifling puck support from their defense. It was another really solid final frame to salt away a victory.

Playing on back to back nights, Coach Barry Trotz elected to go with his elite goalie for the first time this season in that situation. The decision, criticized by some on twitter, paid off royally. Holtby was outstanding and won for a personal best seventh straight time. The Caps have now won five in a row and with the Rangers going in the tank this week by losing three straight tilts, Washington has stormed past them and into first place in the Metropolitan Division at 17-5-1 (35 points). They are a point up on New York and they also have a game in hand.

The Caps power play continues to generate chances and the last two nights it has gone an astounding five for seven. Washington is 12-0 this season when they score a power play goal.

Overall, the Caps have to be extremely pleased with where they are at standings wise. Some will say they’ve played a weak schedule, but my counter is you can only beat the teams that you’re slated to face by the league. This Washington club is very strong and still improving. I’m sure they’d like to clean up many of the turnovers they’ve had recently that have led to odd man rushes against.

This team is supremely talented and when they play the system, as coached, they are awfully tough to beat.

The Caps will now have Sunday off before returning to practice on Monday. They just finished a seven games in eleven nights stretch by going 6-1. Based on that, Coach Trotz may give the boys Monday off too since their next game is not until Thursday in Montreal. The Habs are really good and they drummed the Rangers, 5-1, last Wednesday despite losing goalie Carey Price to a knee injury in that contest. It’s doubtful last season’s Hart Trophy winner will face the Capitals at the Bell Centre.

Notes: Shot attempts were 57-52 for Toronto. Most of the Leafs advantage came in the first period, plus their third period shots were almost predominantly from three point range…Alex Ovechkin had an assist and 10 shot attempts (only three on net) in 21:57 of ice time…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:29 and John Carlson (1 assist) logged 23:27…Toronto won the face off battle, 31-29. Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist) went 12-13…Be sure to tune in to WNST 1570 AM in Baltimore on Monday morning as Nestor Aparacio and I do our weekly Caps segment. Listen Live at WNST.NET.

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Washington gets lethal with the man advantage in a convincing victory over Tampa.

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Caps Dominate Lightning in 4-2 Victory

Posted on 27 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals power play has been generating a lot of chances in recent games, but had failed to cash in on numerous scoring opportunities. That all changed on Friday evening at the Verizon Center as the Caps man advantage caught fire going three for four allowing Washington to build a 4-0 in just over 45 minutes of hockey. From there the Capitals would go on to a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning, the 2014-15 Eastern Conference Champions.

As I blogged on Wednesday night, I expected the Capitals to be pumped up and focused for this contest and they were just that. Through 40 minutes they outshot the Bolts, 31-14, including 18 in the opening period, and thanks to two late second period tallies they opened up a 3-0 advantage. Seriously, it could’ve been five or six to nothing if not for the stellar goaltending of Andrei Vasilevskiy (33 saves), who kept his club hanging around until the dam finally broke in the last two minutes of that middle stanza.

Alex Ovechkin (12th), Jason Chimera (6th), and T.J. Oshie (6th) notched power play goals for the Caps and Marcus Johansson (4th) had the only even strength marker on a John Carlson (two assists) pass that banked off of his skate and into the cage. Good things happen when you go to the net. Evgeny Kuznetsov had another fabulous tilt with two assists, including a brilliant feed to Chimera for the second goal that really seemed to deflate Tampa. Chimera himself had a super assist on the Caps opening tally spotting the Gr8 open in the slot with the man advantage and Ovi buried it far post, top shelf at 7:09 of the opening period. That’s now four games in a row where the Caps have scored first, after nine straight yielding the game’s first marker, and they’ve won every single one of those contests.

Braden Holtby was strong in net, especially down the stretch when the Lightning put 17 of their 20 third period shots on the Holtbeast after it was 4-0. Holtby made a huge stop on Steven Stamkos with the Bolts on the power play and the game 4-2 late in the third period. Overall, Braden stopped 32 shots and improved to 14-4 on the season. He has now tied his career high winning streak at six games.

For nearly 50 minutes, this was arguably the best Washington has played all season. Every line was contributing and Andre Burakovsky, despite no points, had one of his better efforts carrying the biscuit and battling on the boards when he was on the ice with Chimera and Jay Beagle.

The Caps kept a speedy Bolts team at bay with constant puck pressure and when Washington had possession, they supported the play well making it hard for Tampa to get their excellent transition game going. Coach Barry Trotz had to be extremely pleased with the way his club dominated the Lightning until late in the third period.

With the win, the Capitals improve to 16-5-1 (33 points) and trail the Metropolitan Division leading New York Rangers by just a single point, since New York lost to Boston on Friday afternoon. The Caps have a game in hand. Both teams are in action on Saturday with the Rags hosting the Flyers in the afternoon while Washington travels to face the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Hockey Night in Canada at 7 pm. Earlier this month, the Leafs gave the Caps all they could handle at the Verizon Center and it took Nicklas Backstrom’s goal with one second left to tie the game and then Ovechkin’s goal in the shootout to earn a victory. Mike Babcock’s club did not play on Friday so they will be rested for the Capitals. I’d expect Philipp Grubauer to get the call in net for Washington.

Notes: Ovechkin logged 23:00 of ice time and had 11 shot attempts (6 SOG) and five hits…Oshie’s goal was a brilliant top shelf marker on the rush to make it 4-0, but he also led the Caps in hits with eight. One of those was a bone crushing smash of Victor Hedman on the back boards…the Caps outshot attempted Tampa 62-56, but most of the Bolts damage came after the game was over at 4-0…Washington won the face off battle, 41-33. Kuznetsov went 10-4…the Caps lost the first game of this five game home stand to Dallas, but then knocked off Colorado, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Tampa in succession to go 4-1. They are now 10-3-1 at the Verizon Center this season…This was Coach Trotz’ 1,300th NHL game. Only nine other coaches in NHL history have reached that milestone. Kudos Trotzy!

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The Caps get contributions from up and down the linuep in a dominant victory over the Flyers.

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Chimera Helps The Caps Pound the Flyers in Philly

Posted on 12 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After being shut out in Motown on Tuesday night, 1-0, despite 15 shots on goal from Alex Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals rebounded with a thorough whipping of the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night, 5-2.

All season long the Caps players have talked about how good teams bounce back after a loss and how they are heavily focused on winning the next game after suffering a defeat. So far that’s four losses this year for Washington and four wins in the contest immediately thereafter. That’s the mark of a good team.

The win moves the Caps to 11-4 and what continues to be impressive is how they keep the shot totals against low and how they lock games down in the third period. Philadelphia only had 20 shots on goal, and they had four power plays in the game’s first 22 minutes! The Flyers would score their only tally on that fourth power play early in period two, which came as the result of a Tom Wilson charging minor, but they only had two shots on goal across all four man advantages. That’s impressive stuff.

On the flip side, the zebras finally started giving the Caps some well earned power play time in the second frame and they scored three times in three tries. The only problem was the last one didn’t count, which would’ve been Ovechkin’s record breaking 484th goal, but the play was correctly called back due to offsides on Justin Williams via the coaches challenge. It was disappointing for the Gr8, who had his fiancé in attendance, but the team didn’t get down and earned the much needed win. I expect Ovechkin to break the record on Friday night against the Flames, coaches challenge permitting!

As for the first two power play tallies, well you can thank the coaching staff for that success. With the power play in the doldrums, coach Barry Trotz put Jason Chimera out to get some net presence and he scored on a great feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov (2 assists) to tie things up at two near the midpoint of the game. Chimera then set up an even strength goal with his speed, this one went to Williams on the door step with an assist from Jay Beagle, who was battling in front. Then Chimera provided the dagger again. Wilson made a nice zone entry on the right wing boards with the man advantage and dropped the puck to Chimera, who fed Matt Niskanen for a point shot. Both Wilson and “Chimmer” went to the net and #25 was awarded the goal on a deflection. The coaches move to add net presence clearly paid dividends.

The Caps would close this one out in the third period when Wilson (two assists) made a great offensive zone hit and steal behind the Flyers net. “Willy” then fed Marcus Johansson in the left portion of the slot and “Jojo” slid a sweet 90 degree pass to Nicklas Backstrom for an easy marker. Boom, game over!

Overall, this was a solid road game by the Capitals. They can’t routinely take four penalties in the first period and they also need to do a bit of a better job of not allowing odd man rushes in the third period if they want to keep winning away from the Verizon Center. But despite those issues, they did so many other things well and really just thumped a weak Flyers team that is struggling. The Caps were physical and dominated the wall play. Andre Burakovsky (drew three penalties) was outstanding along with Chimera.

On defense, with Brooks Orpik missing the game due to a lower body injury, Nate Schmidt stepped up and played with John Carlson. #88 had another excellent effort in 17:23 of ice time. His ability to skate and get the puck out of the defensive zone was very evident.

You can go up and down the Caps lineup in this one and find contributions, including the first goal by T.J. Oshie after a patented no look pass from Kuznetsov.

Yes, this was an important win. The Flyers are the Caps biggest rival since the inception of the franchise in 1974. The other two are the Rangers and the Penguins and the Capitals are 0-2 against them this season, so far. Burying Philadelphia, who appear headed for the NHL draft lottery, in their barn is always delightful and it was more special to hear the Filthy faithful booing their squad off of the ice when the game ended. The Caps lost three of the four games to the Flyers last season so this victory makes the fan base much happier. No Caps fan ever likes losing to Philadelphia.

So on Friday, the air will seem cleaner, the drinks will go down smoother, and the food will taste better for Caps fans. It always does after a victory over the despised Flyers!

Notes: The Caps will take on the Calgary Flames at the Verizon Center on Friday night at 7 pm…Washington out shot the Flyers, 32-20. Braden Holtby earned the win with some solid goaltending…the Caps won the face off battle, 33-26. Beagle was 12-4…Beagle led the team in hits with six and Wilson had five…Karl Alzner was fabulous in this one going +2 in 23:28 of ice time. He was physical and positionally sound all evening. Great game by #27…Niskanen (1 assist, +2) led the Caps in ice time with 25:12.

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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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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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