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Bad Change Costs the Caps in OT Loss to Nashville

Posted on 17 March 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson scored on a two on one in overtime to send the Washington Capitals to their fifth loss in their last six games. The Predators received that two on one because Evgeny Kuznetzov changed when Nashville had the puck in the neutral zone, which is a no-no, according to Coach Barry Trotz.

“In the 3 on 3, if the other team possesses the puck, especially if they are standing in the neutral zone, you can’t change. They’re just waiting for you to go out of the box and passing it, so it’s an automatic two on one. We talk about that all of the time, so it’s not about the change, it’s the decision to change, that created the chance. When you have the puck, especially three on three, it’s all about possession and decisions, when you don’t have it, you have to be positionally sound and patient and you can’t make poor decisions.”

Once on the two on one, Arvidsson got off a shot that the Holtbeast wasn’t necessarily set on. Typically in those situations, the defensemen’s job is to take the pass and leave the shooter to the goalie. Holtby told me afterwards that he and John Carlson got their signals crossed, and they’ll work on that going forward.

This was “a quiet game” as Coach Trotz described it and I couldn’t agree more. The building was pretty dead, so Washington didn’t really get energy from the home crowd. The ice wasn’t very good either, but it’s the same for both teams.

The Capitals played a strong first period outshot attempting the Predators, 17-9, and they took the lead 11:41 into the contest when Lars Eller forced a turnover in the offensive zone. Jakub Vrana scooped up the mishap and fed Brett Connolly for his career high 15th goal of the season. Nashville coach Peter Laviolette screamed at the referees, wanting a trip on Eller, but on replay it was pretty clear that the Predators player made a poor decision to turn up the middle of the defensive zone and he flat out blew a tire on the wonky ice.

Alex Ovechkin and company would dominate that first frame, but they struggled to get to the paint and get that all important second marker. In period two, the Predators carried the shot attempt tallies, 22-11, but it seemed like puck possession was pretty even. The problem was that Washington was too fancy and over passing. On one instance, the top line made two nice passes to set up T.J. Oshie on the right wing side in close and #77 tried to make an extra pass instead of firing away on Pekka Rinne (22 saves). That was the theme of period two, the Caps cycling the puck and trying for the perfect play or turning the biscuit over and allowing a very good rush team in Nashville to go the other way.

You can’t drop pass or play fancy against the Predators and a Marcus Johansson turnover allowed the game to end up tied with just 1:04 left in the second frame. Jojo tried to feed Dmitry Orlov at the left point, but the puck was intercepted by Kevin Fiala and he went the other way on a rush. James Neal was the trailer on the play and Fiala dropped the puck to #18, who shot the puck off of #9’s stick and by the Holtbeast. That gave Nashville some momentum that they didn’t have for much of the game.

In the third period, the game was pretty even, but I thought the Caps had the better scoring chances. Again, Nashville protected the front of their net well, and Washington did too, on this night, so this one headed to overtime where the boys from Tennessee prevailed.

There were lots of positives for the Caps in this game. They only took one penalty that put them shorthanded and they killed that one off (second period). Oshie nearly scored shorthanded twice on his PK shift. The low penalty total allowed them to roll four lines for a majority of the night, with the third line getting short changed the most (yet they were the only line to score). On defense they were solid and on offense they possessed the puck quite a bit.

On the negative side of the ledger, the Capitals didn’t shoot the puck enough or make things tough for Rinne, especially in the second period. It was too much perimeter hockey and not enough jam. Coach Trotz gave credit to Laviolette’s crew, but he also faulted his own squad.

“They collapse pretty hard and I didn’t think we had the mindset of shooting the puck and getting to the net as much as we needed to.”

Overall, this was a pretty tight checking game. Nashville is fighting for their playoff position, so they played a classic road game. They stay structured in their own end and hoped for turnovers and counter attacks. They were fortunate to get two such opportunities that they were able to light the lamp on, and as a result they got the extra point and leave town sweeping the Caps in their two game season series.

For Washington, at 45-17-8 (98 points), they still lead the Metropolitan Division by two points over the Blue Jackets, who knocked off the Florida Panthers on Thursday night, and three points over the Penguins, who were idle. Both teams have a game in hand on the Caps, so this race is ultra tight.

If the Capitals want to win the Metropolitan Division and get home ice for the playoffs, they need to get back to what makes them successful, putting bodies and pucks to the opposing teams net. They didn’t do enough of that on Thursday night and that is why they lost.

Notes: Ovechkin had six shot attempts (3 on net). He is moving his legs better, but he is taking a beat too long to shoot the puck. If he can get back to his quick release, he’ll start scoring more often…Connolly, who had the only goal, only received 8:25 of ice time. I’d like to see that line get more ice time, especially when Andre Burakovsky returns, which could be very soon (likely next week)…final shot attempts were 44-42, for Washington…Tom Wilson pounded Austin Watson in a fight 7:29 into period three after #43 put a clean hit on Mattias Ekholm. I don’t understand why clean hits result in fights these days, but maybe I’m too old school, I don’t know?…next up for the Caps are the Tampa Bay Lightning in Florida on Saturday night. The Bolts, who got trounced, 5-0, on Thursday night in Toronto, are fighting for their playoff lives, so the Capitals better be prepared to match the intensity of Coach Jon Cooper’s squad or they’ll be run out of the Sunshine State.

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Caps Get Coach Trotz Career Win #700 at Madison Square Garden

Posted on 28 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals came into Tuesday night’s contest at Madison Square Garden 0-2 against the Rangers on the season. 20 minutes into this affair, which was also the Caps debut of Monday’s big defensive acquisition, Kevin Shattenkirk, it looked like it was going to be 0-3.

Washington had a defensive coverage breakdown at 5:09 of period one that allowed Brady Skjei to tally on a layup on Braden Holtby (29 saves) and take a 1-0 lead. The Rangers would have 11 of the first 16 shots on goal early on and that doesn’t include the three posts they hit that could’ve really put the Capitals behind the eight ball had any of them gone in. New York also benefitted from their home cooking zebra, Dan O’Halloran, who gave them two power plays in the opening frame to zero for the Caps, but more on him later.

The Holtbeast (29 saves) was strong, once again in net, and in period two the game changed rather quickly. Marc Staal decided to stupidly cross check Alex Ovechkin giving the Capitals an early power play. Washington didn’t score, but Shattenkirk manned the point on the first unit and fed Ovi perfectly for a one timer that King Henrik (34 saves) stopped. The Caps would gain momentum and intensity off of that man advantage. They finally started moving their feet and taking the game to the Blueshirts, but Lundqvist was holding steady in net.

A heavy, but borderline hit by Adam Clendening on Daniel Winnik then changed the outcome of the game. #26 didn’t like it, he thought it wasn’t clean, and a few seconds later they both dropped the mitts behind the New York net and Winnik jack hammered Clendening for a TKO victory. The rough stuff further amped up the Capitals intensity and just 21 seconds later, Marcus Johansson tied the game up.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, who is so important to this club and struggled in period one, made a nice pass to Dmitry Orlov that allowed #9 to exit the defensive zone with speed and fly through the neutral zone. Orlov then carried the puck into the offensive zone and had a nice give and go with Jojo just inside the offensive blue line. Orlov then smartly carried the puck deep and banked it off of Lundqvist’s pads. Johansson alertly went to the net and buried the rebound to tie this one up.

The Rangers then thought they had regained the lead at 11:53 of period two after a puck bounced about 15 feet in the air in the slot and then fell down in the crease where a New York player banged it home before Holtby knew where it was. Once again, the Caps video coaches, led by Brett Leonhardt, caught an offside infraction on the zone entry and Coach Barry Trotz successfully challenged the goal.

That took some more wind from the Rangers sails and the Capitals took over from there dominating the play and pouring tons of shots on the Swedish net minder. Washington’s relentless pressure, the Caps were not only skating, but they were hitting New York and playing with snarl, paid off when Niskanen carried the puck into the offensive zone on a nice rush to set up the game winning goal. The puck actually rolled off of #2’s stick, but Brett Connolly was parked in the slot and he gathered in the biscuit and quickly whipped it in the basket, beating a stunned Lundqvist for his career high 13th goal of the season. Connolly, Lars Eller, and Jakub Vrana had some really strong shifts as the third line.

The Caps took that 2-1 lead to the locker room and then put the hammer down early in period three. Kuznetsov (2 assists) used his speed to back the Rangers defense up, then he fed Jojo in the slot, and #90 deflected it top shelf past Lundqvist to make it 3-1 just 1:15 into period three. That really caught the home town boys by surprise and the Capitals did a good job of keeping the Rangers on the perimeter the rest of the way.

O’Halloran, who at times should just don a Rangers sweater because he has a history of poor officiating against Washington dating back to at least game two of the 2015 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals at the Garden, then gave New York two gift power plays to try and get back in this affair. However, the Caps penalty killing unit wanted none of that and the Holtbeast slammed the door shut. After O’Halloran and his zebra partner, Brad Meier, let a Matt Zuccarello blatant goalie interference on Holtby go uncalled, they finally had to give Washington a second power play when Ryan McDonagh mugged Tom Wilson.

Nicklas Backstrom then tallied on the man advantage on a shot that deflected off of a Rangers defensemen and past King Henrik to make it 4-1 with 2:03 remaining. MSG was mostly empty, at that point, except for some Caps fans who made it up to support their first place squad.

This was a huge victory for the Caps in many ways. First, they had struggled with the super fast Rangers in their first two meetings and the opening period certainly looked like more of the same, but Washington got aggressive and played with an edge. Second, the Rangers poked the bear and the Caps woke up and really handed it to them in the second and third period. In that middle frame, the Capitals out shot attempted New York, 31-16 and for the game it was 65-54. Washington played fast and heavy and the Rangers really had little push back.

Several Capitals played well, despite the absence of T.J. Oshie and Brooks Oprik, who are both day to day. Winnik’s fight, overall tenacity, and super smart hockey in 14:04 was very noticeable. Niskanen, who just returned from missing two games over the weekend, had two assists and was +3 in 18:19 of ice time. #2’s partner, Orlov, was +2 and had an assist while logging 17:14.

Wilson was also outstanding in a high ice time total of 19:34. #43 wrecked Derek Stepan hard early with a clean hit and he was sensational on the Caps PK, which went 4 for 4. Willy did a nice job of jumping up to the first line right wing spot in Oshie’s absence. He was physical and fast for the large majority of the contest and he got under New York’s skin without taking any infractions himself. Well played, Tom.

As for Shattenkirk, well he was pretty darn impressive for a guy who missed the morning skate the night after being traded. #22 had four shots on net and he can really skate and play physical, too. This looks to be just a sensational addition to an already very good hockey team.

I could go on and on about several other players, but I also thought both John Carlson (24:35) and Karl Alzner (23:41) were very strong against the Rangers top guys, which allowed the rest of the Washington lineup, particularly the second line, to win the game. Johansson (2 goals and one assist) was clearly the player of the night for the Caps and he now has a career high 21 tallies this season. He’s been super since Sweden mistakenly left him off of their World Cup of Hockey roster last September. Big mistake guys, big mistake (although the Capitals are benefiting from his fresher legs).

The win, which was Coach Trotz’ 700th NHL victory, puts the Capitals at 42-13-7 (91 points) with 20 games remaining (10 at home and 10 on the road). This has been a grueling stretch coming out of the bye week with five of the six tilts on the road and two back to back occurrences. The Caps went 2-2-1 in the away games in Detroit, Filthy, Smashville and Madison Square Garden (twice) while winning their only home tilt, 2-1, against Edmonton last Friday night.

Now it’s time for some home cooking and the Caps will take on New Jersey on Thursday before they get the despised Flyers in town on Saturday night. They’ll then face the Dallas Stars on Monday at the Verizon Center before heading out to California for three games late next week.

Home ice has been good to the Capitals this season and they’ll have a chance over the final quarter of the season to lock up home ice advantage for the post season.

Notes: Forwards Vrana (9:27) and Riley Barber (7:55) were called up from Hershey with Oshie and Andre Burakovsky out and Zach Sanford moved to St. Louis in the Shattenkirk blockbuster…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 37-33. Backstrom went 16-9…McDonagah led the Rangers in ice time with 23:54…Shattenkirk was paired with Nate Schmidt on Tuesday night.

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Oshie and Carlson Lead the Caps Over Detroit, 6-3

Posted on 09 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

T.J. Oshie scored two goals and added a big assist on John Carlson’s game winning tally to lead the Washington Capitals to a 6-3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings at the Verizon Center on Thursday night. The win was the Caps 11th straight at home and fifth overall. During this home winning streak they’ve outscored their opponents by a whopping 56-15 margin!

Oshie was +4 and it was his steal behind the Detroit net after Washington’s fourth line had a monster forechecking shift that allowed #77 to take the puck and feed Carlson for the winning blast just 4:15 into the final frame. T.J. is just so much fun to watch on the ice.

Pay the Man!

Seriously, could that trade with St. Louis have worked out any better for the Caps?

The correct answer is “Heck No!”

“Osh Babe,” as Alexander Ovechkin calls him, brings it every night and wins board battle after board battle. He has a great shot and he is such a good two-way forward. There is no other player in the entire Capitals organization that can do what he does and if somehow this franchise wins its first championship this spring, there’s no doubt he’ll pay a big role in that.

But let’s get back to Thursday’s victory over the Wings.

The Capitals came out of the gate like Secretariat at the Belmont in 1973 forging a 9-1 shots on goal advantage. However, they only had a 1-0 lead thanks to the strong play of Wings goalie Peter Mrazek (25 saves). When Nate Schmidt and Anthony Mantha went off with matching minors 11:25 into the game, things suddenly changed. Four on four has not been a strength of the Capitals and the Wings took advantage of some poor defense by Dmitry Orlov and especially Ovechkin to knot the game at one. Nicklas Backstrom then took a boarding penalty and Andreas Anthanasiou notched his second tally of the night in less than three minutes to give Detroit the lead. Both tallies were top shelf on Braden Holtby.

But red hot Brett Connolly, after going hard into the boards and getting up gingerly, put home the rebound of a point shot by Karl Alzner from a bad angle for his 12th goal of the season to tie things up with 90 ticks left in period one. #10 was definitely in some pain after the collision, but he played the rest of the game and had his wheels rolling just fine. Connolly continues to play excellent hockey.

Unfortunately, the Capitals lost Andre Burakovsky to an apparent hand injury in the first period.  #65 went down to block a shot and took one in the right appendage and did not return. Let’s hope this injury is not serious because the third line of Lars Eller, Connolly, and Burakovsky has been downright dominant.

Oshie scored his first of the game off of a great stretch pass off of the boards by Carlson just 1:16 into period two to make it 3-2. #74, who had 10 shot attempts on the night (5 on goal), was super in this contest with two points and a +4 rating.

Washington would not be able to solve Mrazek again in period two so they had a one puck lead heading to the final 20 minutes despite a 25-12 shots on goal advantage and a 42-25 shot attempt edge.

The third frame started very sleepily for Washington and another defensive zone breakdown allowed Henrik Zetterberg to go in all alone on Braden Holtby (14 saves). The Holtbeast, who had an uneven night, held his ground and forced #40 to his backhand, but the Swede managed to lift one up over Holts’ glove, which got caught against the post, and into the cage just 1:25 into period three. Braden was not happy about that one, but Oshie and Carlson would play big roles in the next two goals, and then Backstrom (1 goal, 2 assists) would hit the empty net to close out the scoring.

Marcus Johansson had another superb effort and his goal after a great fore check by Justin Williams and cross crease pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov gave the Caps their 1-0 lead 5:57 into the game. Jojo also made a nice pass to Backstrom, who then fed Oshie on the fifth goal, which was a power play marker that pretty much ended this contest with 5:42 remaining. Marcus now has 18 goals on the season.

Overall, this was a dominating offensive show by the Caps, but they were too loose in their own zone, at times, and they need to work on four on four play before the playoffs. If they aren’t better there, teams will try to take coincidental minors and put Washington in that situation. Remember, it was a four on four instance that allowed Pittsburgh to rally from a 3-0 deficit back in January in a 8-7 overtime loss for the Caps in Steel Town.

The Capitals are now 38-11-6 (82 points) after scoring five or more goals at home for the 10th straight time. They lead the Blue Jackets by 9 points and the Penguins will likely win in Colorado on Thursday night to move into second place, eight points behind Washington. Both of those teams have two games in hand. Coming up in the rear view mirror of Columbus, though, are the New York Rangers, who are now at 71 points. So things are going to be interesting down the stretch in the Metropolitan Division standings.

For the Caps though, it’s all about cleaning up their game and being healthy for the post season. The Burakovsky hand injury is a concern, right now. Fortunately, the Capitals only have Saturday’s game against Anaheim before they get their bye week and can rest up.

They’ve played a lot of hockey since Christmas and following that tilt with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, it’s a well needed five day shut down away from the rink.

Notes: Ovechkin played a season low 13:54 and only had two shot attempts (none on net). He didn’t look engaged in this contest, but he was good on Tuesday and the Caps will need him on Saturday…final shot attempts were 55-34 for the Caps (shots on goal were 31-17)…the Wings have the fewest regulation or overtime wins in the NHL (16)…Carlson led the Caps in TOI with 22:22…Alzner was +3 in 21:25…faceoffs were tied at 31 apiece. Jay Beagle went 12-8.

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Caps Canes Ovi Jojo

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Ovechkin Leads the Caps Over Carolina, 5-0

Posted on 07 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Carolina Hurricanes came into Tuesday night’s game against the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center riding a three game winning streak. The Canes, who are fast and have historically given the Caps some trouble, fired the first six shots on net in the first five plus minutes of this contest.

That would be the high water mark of the night for them.

A sleepy Capitals start was erased at the 5:54 mark when Caps Captain Alexander Ovechkin put a big hit on defensemen Brett Pesce in the offensive zone. Basically, the Gr8 was letting his teammates know that the beginning of this tilt was not what he had in mind and it was time to get going.

The troops followed their Captain’s lead and ramped up their intensity. Shortly thereafter, Dmitry Orlov made a nice move in the offensive zone and drew a tripping infraction on Ron Hainsey. 85 seconds into the power play, Ovechkin once again set the tone for his club by scoring off the glove of Canes goalie Eddie Lack (23 saves) on a shot that was likely headed wide. The shot was so hard that the Carolina goalie swatted at it and changed the disc’s direction right into the twine. It was Ovi’s 26th goal on the season.

Just over three minutes later, red hot Brett Connolly made a super move in the slot to buy some time and a shooting lane to the cage and he roofed one short side on Lack to make it 2-0. It was #10’s 11th tally of the season, just one off of his career high.

Washington would build off of those two goals and generate several more chances in the late stages of period one and into the middle frame, but Lack started heating up. The Caps had numerous quality looks in period two, but they couldn’t get that key third goal. Carolina didn’t have a lot of opportunities, although they did generate a one on one chance for Sebastian Aho, but Braden Holtby (23 saves) shut the door.

Heading into the third period, the outcome was still slightly in doubt, but two Washington goals in 27 seconds changed that quickly. Connolly made a great steal in the neutral zone and on a three on two zone entry, the super smart hockey player picked the right direction with his pass. That was on the stick of Lars Eller, who was coming with speed down the left wing side of the ice. #20 wound up and fired a laser that beat Lack short side, top shelf, once again. It was the second goal of the night for the third line, which has absolutely been on fire since Christmas.

The second unit was not to be outdone, though, and some strong wall work by Justin Williams jarred the puck free on the right wing boards in the offensive zone. Marcus Johansson then fed Evgeny Kuznetsov cruising in the high slot and #92 put the biscuit in the basket to make it 4-0 just 6:37 into period three. It was Kuzy’s 12th goal of the season and it was revenge for a dirty Brock McGinn slash near the end of period one that initially injured Kuznetsov. Paybacks are hell, Brock.

The Caps would then score five or more goals at home for the ninth straight game when Jojo deposited the rebound of an Ovechkin power play shot into the open cage with 5:48 remaining. Ovi absolutely got every bit of the puck on that blast, which was off of a nice feed from Matt Niskanen, and Lack simply could not contain it, allowing the perfectly positioned Johansson to notch his 17th goal of the season. Good things happen when you go to the net.

This was a solid win for the Capitals against a team that is fighting for their playoff lives, but the Caps, once they got going, were simply too much for Carolina to handle. Coach Barry Trotz just rolls out line after solid line and it wears their opponents down. In the last nine games at the Verizon Center the Capitals have now outscored their opponents by a staggering 48-11!

The Holtbeast earned his 7th shutout of the season. He didn’t have a ton of work, but he was solid and didn’t give up a goal in the first five minutes when the Caps were still finding their legs. Between Holtby and Grubauer, the Caps are getting superb net minding night in and night out.

The win improves the Caps to 37-11-6 (80 points) and they lead the second place Blue Jackets by seven points and the third place Penguins by eight points, although both of those clubs have two games in hand. It’s not time to start quoting the Ron Howard B-movie classic “Eat My Dust” just yet, but a Metropolitan Division title is certainly there for the taking for the Capitals. Washington now has a +66 goal differential this season and they continue to crush their opponents in the first period (58-23).

As I stated on WNST on Tuesday morning and wrote on twitter (@EdFrankovic) before puck drop, motivation for the Caps in this game was something I was concerned about. They did start slow, but once Ovechkin laid a licking on Pesce, the team woke up and ultimately cruised to victory. It wasn’t a clean game for the Capitals, but they got the job done and didn’t really give Carolina many chances to crawl back into the contest.

This hockey team is really good, and believe it or not, they can actually get better.

Notes: Shot attempts were 57-51 for the Caps…Washington was buried at the dot, 35-20. Eller was 8-6…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:10…Ovechkin had two points (50 for the season now) in just 17:18…Brooks Orpik and Nate Schmidt were each +3…the Caps were 2 for 3 on the power play while the Canes went 0 for 3…next up for the Capitals are the Red Wings at the Verizon Center at 7 pm on Thursday night.

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Connolly Kings

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Caps Dominate Kings, 5-0, on Super Bowl Sunday

Posted on 05 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Los Angeles Kings had a five game winning streak as they came into the DMV on Sunday afternoon to face the Washington Capitals.

The key word there is HAD.

When it was all said and done, the only five that mattered were the five tallies the Caps deposited into the Kings net in a 5-0 rout.

To steal a line from The Breakfast Club, “Don’t mess with the bull…you’ll get the horns.”

Once again, the Capitals wasted little time in announcing their presence with authority. Andre Burakovsky battled strong on the right wing boards with two Kings and that allowed Brett Connolly to come out of the scrum with the biscuit and feed Lars Eller all alone in front of Peter Budaj. #20 then buried it off of the left post to give the Caps a 1-0 lead just 3:16 into the contest.

Naturally, the Kings would push back after falling behind. Trevor Lewis hit the cross bar and then Philipp Grubauer (38 saves) made two outstanding stops on Dustin Brown on the doorstep. Not scoring on those chances would doom LA because late in the opening period the Capitals upped their lead.

Brooks Orpik made a great step up and steal in the defensive zone and he fed the puck to Evgeny Kuznetsov in transition. As #44 was changing, Kuzy skated into the offensive zone while Los Angeles was undergoing a line change, as well. Two Kings then went to #92 on the left wing boards and that opened up Marcus Johansson in the slot. Jojo received a nice feed from Kuznetsov and he fired the biscuit on net right after Justin Williams cruised through the paint. #14’s net drive took Jake Muzzin there too, and #6 screened Budaj, who never saw Johansson’s shot go by him and into the twine.

Last season, the Capitals were not a fast starting team and that was something they wanted to improve on in 2016-17. This season, the Caps have outscored their opponents by a whopping 56-23 in the opening frame, including 2-0 on Sunday.

That’s impressive stuff.

The other thing the Caps wanted to do more of this season was to increase their bottom six scoring. On Saturday in a victory over Montreal, they received two goals from their third and fourth lines. Eller’s first period tally wouldn’t be the only one on Sunday, as well. Karl Alzner made a superb play in the neutral zone to make a steal on Brayden McNabb. Tom Wilson gathered the disc after the #27 poke check and he went into the offensive zone on the right wing boards with speed. #43 recognized that Connolly was streaking in all alone and he gave him a sweet pass. #10, who was an outstanding offseason acquisition by General Manager Brian MacLellan, skated in and easily beat Budaj to make it 3-0 on his 10th goal of the season. How did Connolly get so open? Well, Kevin Gravel decided to change after getting hit hard in the offensive zone and he vacated the ice leaving LA short on the back end.

There were still 26 plus minutes to go in the contest, but this one was pretty much over. Los Angeles would get a good chance a few minutes later when Marian Gaborik had the puck all alone in front of Grubauer, but there was no denting #31 on this afternoon.

T.J. Oshie then made the third period pretty much worthless when he scored top shelf on a sweet feed from All Star Nicklas Backstrom with 3:36 left in period two. The “Osh Babe” shot was so perfect that it destroyed Budaj’s water bottle creating a perfect highlight clip that you’ll see a lot of over the next 24 hours. It also destroyed Budaj’s day, and the man who had two straight shutouts for Los Angeles heading into Super Bowl Sunday would not play the final stanza.

Justin Willliams added a late third period marker to close out the scoring, from guess where?

If you said the paint or the doorstep, you win!

Yes, the Caps got another in close goal when Jojo gathered in a Kings turnover on the left wing boards and fed Stick all alone in front of Jeff Zatkoff. Williams victimized his old teammates  for his 18th goal of the season and sent them off to Florida to face the Lightning on Tuesday after a thorough butt whipping at the hands of the best team in the NHL.

For 40 minutes, this was pretty much a manhandling by the Capitals on the scoreboard and in terms of quality chances. The Caps continue to do a great job of getting net presence and easy goals off of their fore check. They are rolling four lines and once again, every Washington forward unit had at least a point on a tally in this whitewash of the Kings.

As for shot attempts, they were one sided for Los Angeles, 80-35. Most of that is on the meaningless third period as well as a bunch of perimeter shots by the Kings that didn’t find their way to the cage because they were blocked (29 of them). Coach Barry Trotz’ team plays outstanding defense in their own zone; they rarely allow the opposition to penetrate into the prime scoring areas and that is why their five on five goal totals are so dominant. So if someone tries to point to the shot attempts as an area of concern for Washington on Sunday, just go all Willie Nelson and tell them to roll those numbers up and smoke ‘em.

The victory improves the Caps to 36-11-6 (78 points). They are seven points up on the Blue Jackets and Penguins in the Metropolitan Division, although both of those squads have two games in hand.

This Washington team is really good and definitely better than last year. The additions of Eller and Connolly are paying big dividends for the bottom six forwards and they are more experienced on the back end. Add in the way Kuznetsov is playing and it’s pick your poison playing the Capitals forward lines. The playoffs can’t come soon enough.

Notes: Alzner and John Carlson were outstanding in this game. Alzner was +3…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 29-23…Alex Ovechkin drew two penalties, had four shots on net and had an assist…the Capitals were 0 for 2 on the power play while the Kings went 0 for 4…Drew Doughty played 30:33 for the Kings and was even. Alec Martinez was -4, ouch!…every Capital except for Daniel Winnik earned a plus on Sunday, but that’s no knock on #26, who continues to play great hockey at even strength and on the PK….next up for the Caps are the Carolina Hurricanes at the Verizon Center at 7 pm on Tuesday.

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Backstrom & Kuznetsov Lead the Caps Over Boston, 5-3

Posted on 01 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Boston Bruins seem to bring out the best in Nicklas Backstrom.

Washington’s number one center had a beast of an evening against the B’s at the Verizon Center notching a goal and two helpers as the Caps pulled away for a 5-3 victory.

It was #19’s great saucer pass up the middle of the ice that set up T.J. Oshie for a breakaway goal just 3:06 into this contest and then later in the opening frame he buried the rebound of a Matt Niskanen point shot.

The Capitals looked like they were going to be in command of this one early, but then the Bruins, who rallied from a 3-0 hole in DC earlier in the season before losing in OT on a Backstrom goal, came back with two power play goals by pesky Brad Marchand to tie things up just 2:49 into period two. Boston started to take over the game for a good portion of that stanza, much like the Islanders did to the Caps on Tuesday in Brooklyn after a power play goal. Somehow, though, Coach Barry Trotz’ crew found another gear.

Marcus Johansson, who did stellar work winning many board battles in this one, drew a late second period penalty. That set the stage for Alex Ovechkin to score a huge goal with 15 seconds remaining in period two. The Gr8 took a pass from Niskanen and with Jojo screening in front, he snapped it by Tuukka “0 for the Verizon Center” Rask for his 25th marker of the season.

The Caps, who only had nine shots on net in the first 35 minutes, would take command of the last part of the period and earned a 36-31 shot attempt advantage.

Just 3:29 into period three, Washington regained their two goal lead on a pretty passing play set up by a great rush by Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuzy skated in the zone with speed on the right side of the ice and fed a hard charging Dmitry Orlov in the high slot. #9 then made a great pass to Brett Connolly, who went to his back hand and put the biscuit in the basket. It was #10’s ninth goal of the season and he continues to play extremely well on the third line with Andre Burakovsky and Lars Eller.

From there, Boston would make a big push, but they couldn’t dent the Holtbeast (30 saves) until after Kuznetsov made it 5-2 with 4:07 left after a great feed from Tom Wilson. Wilson, after some strong board work by Johansson and Niskanen, stole the puck on the fore check and fed #92 cruising in the slot and he made no mistake about it.

Boston would finally get an even strength goal with 1:31 to go, but the game was over.

What was big about this contest was the Capitals received great performances from their top two centers, Backstrom (3 points) and Kuznetsov (2 points). They outplayed the Bruins strong pivot duo of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci and that’s the main reason why the Caps were able to win a game against a team fighting for playoff position.

The biggest negative in this tilt was the Capitals penalty killing unit, which is struggling. They’ve allowed too many PPG’s lately and they seem to have lost some of their aggressiveness. I’m not sure if the downturn has coincided with the flu bug going through the team or the lack of practice, but it’s an area they need to get back on track? It takes a lot of energy and structure to be consistently successful on the PK and Washington hasn’t had a lot of either while shorthanded in the last eight to 10 games.

Overall, though, Coach Trotz has to be happy with the play of his top three lines. With Justin Williams missing the game due to a lower body injury, Jay Beagle jumped up on the second line. That weakened the fourth line and forced the other three units to play more, but Backstrom owns the Bruins, much like Braden Holtby does, too. The Holtbeat is now 10-0-0 in his last 12 starts, overall. #70 was solid in net again after being the MVP, at least in my book, in Sunday’s NHL All Star Game.

Special teams weren’t the best for Washington on Wednesday night, as they allowed two goals on three shorthanded situations, but Ovechkin’s power play goal with just 15 seconds to go in period two was so important, as NBC’s Keith Jones pointed out in the intermission.

As for Rask, well he’s still never won at the Verizon Center and is now 1-9-5 in his career against the Caps (h/t @ThePeerless).

With the victory, the Capitals improve to 34-11-6 (74 points). Despite losing three times to the Islanders in regulation, they still lead the NHL standings. The Blue Jackets are four points back, but have two games in hand, though, as do the Penguins, who are seven points back. Columbus and Pittsburgh play each other on Friday night in Steel town.

Notes: Washington won the face off battle against a Bruins team that is good on draws, 30-26. Chandler Stephenson, who played with Stick out of the lineup, was 5-2…John Carlson played his second straight game after missing several games due to injury and led the team in ice time with 22:40. He was +2 and very solid on the back end…final shot attempts were 63-47 for Boston, but that was mostly score effects as the Caps had a 36-31 advantage after two frames…Kuznetsov was named the NHL’s first star of the month for the great January he produced (20 points in 15 games)…next up for the Caps are the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre at 1 pm on Saturday.

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Caps Beat Stars

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Caps Rally to Win in Overtime in Dallas

Posted on 22 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Capitals may want to think about bringing their “Dad’s” along in the post season this spring.

Washington tallied twice on the power play in the 3rd period after trailing, 3-1, and then Jay Beagle scored from the paint 19 seconds into overtime after a super feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov to give the Caps a 4-3 victory in Dallas over the Stars.

It was the first time the Capitals have won in the Lone Star State since October of 2008 and their all time record on the “Dad’s/Mentor’s trip” is now 12-5.

Clearly this club, which plays it’s best when highly motivated, reached down deep to pull out a victory that they may not have achieved had their collective group of “old men” not been present. Down two pucks, they killed off a double minor high sticking penalty on Dmitry Orlov that carried into the start of the final frame, and then an Alex Ovechkin laser followed by T.J. Oshie’s deflection of Matt Niskanen’s (3 assists) rocket from the center of the ice squared things up in Big D with 14:34 remaining in regulation.

Philipp Grubauer (32 saves) would then make one of the best saves of the season for Washington on a Stars late power play when he somehow got his blocker on a shot by Tyler Seguin that was targeted for the twine. It was an incredible stop and #91 dropped his stick afterwards in disbelief.

That set the stage for the short overtime that began with Beagle winning the draw for the Caps. Possession is so important in three on three overtime and #83 is Washington’s best face off man.

The Caps started out fast in this one and received another first goal from Andre Burakovsky and the smoking hot third line. Brett Connolly fired a shot from the high slot and with Lars Eller screening in front, Kari Lehtonen struggled with the rebound and that allowed #65 to bang the biscuit home just 2:17 into this one.

But the prosperity would be short lived as the Capitals took back to back delay of game penalties and the Stars had a 1:22 five on three. Washington would kill that off with some great work by Brooks Orpik and Karl Alzner on the blue line with Nicklas Backstrom and then Beagle up front. They then worked off the remaining time on the five on four. Unfortunately, just 38 seconds after the game was back to five on five, the Stars scored on a point blast by Jordie Benn that Adam Cracknell tipped and Grubauer never saw.

Washington would get outworked by an ornery Stars squad that started two fights in three seconds midway through period one. Dallas picked up momentum from those bouts and they outskated and outhit the Capitals for the remainder of the period, but they couldn’t take the lead.

The strong play by Dallas would not change in period two and the scoreboard would indicate that, as well. Patrick Eaves scored on a rebound 6:47 into the middle stanza and then after Connolly was jailed for boarding, Jamie Benn made it a two goal cushion at 15:59, just two seconds before #10 was due to exit the sin bin. The Caps had only four shots on net in period two.

With it 3-1, Orlov took the careless double high sticking minor on Benn and it was looking like there would be no post game Caps dancing in this one.

Washington’s penalty killing, which has been fabulous this season, would step up and then the power play answered with two goals on two attempts. Actually, had the officials called things correctly, the Caps would’ve had another power play after Oshie’s game tying tally since Antoine Roussel’s high stick on Alzner drew all kinds of blood. Zebras Steve Kozari and Jon McIsaac ignored it despite Caps Coach Barry Trotz’ insistence that they look at King Karl’s face and note the red stuff flowing out of his mouth.

Overall, the Caps were not very good in this tilt. They were outshot 35-22 and out attempted, 62-50. Part of that was the six minor penalties they took and you can only really argue the Taylor Chorney hold in the third period, the others were all clear cut. Still, Dallas should’ve been jailed at least a couple of more times for minor infractions, but that’s hockey. Washington was able to even this game up thanks to their great special teams. They were five of six while shorthanded and a perfect two for two with the power play.

The Capitals clearly wanted this game and they found a way to prevail without anything close to their “A” game. They really miss John Carlson on the back end, too. Good teams find ways to win when they don’t have their best stuff and Coach Trotz’ crew did just that to move to 31-9-6 (68 points) and maintain their two point lead on Columbus. The Blue Jackets knocked off the Hurricanes, 3-2, on Saturday afternoon.

Those who follow the Capitals Twitter and Facebook feeds saw the video of Lars Johansson dancing and then doing “the bump” with Trotz to Hall & Oates after the win in St. Louis on Thursday. For 40 minutes on Saturday night it looked like there would no encore on the final game of this season’s “Dad’s” trip.

But a motivated Caps team clawed back and then won the contest setting in motion another post game celebration with ABBA’s Dancing Queen fittingly being the song of the night. Jojo’s dad once again didn’t disappoint and showed that he indeed is the Swedish Dancing King, with another assist from Coach Trotz.

The Dallas curse is over.

Notes: Orpik was +1 and now leads the Caps at +23 overall…Ovechkin now has 22 goals on the season. He had three shots on net in just 15:46 of ice time (low due to all of the PK time). He led both teams in hits with five…Niskanen logged 25:24 to lead the Caps in ice time. Orpik played 23:01 and was outstanding…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 32-31. Beagle was 13-8…Beagle has 10 goals and 10 assists on the season in just 46 games…Oshie now has 17 goals…next up for the Caps are the Carolina Hurricanes at the Verizon Center on Monday night.

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Ovi over leafs

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Ovechkin’s OT Winner Completes Caps Comeback Victory Over Toronto

Posted on 03 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

2016 NHL number one overall draft pick, Auston Matthews, and his Toronto Maple Leafs steamed into the District on Tuesday night carrying a five game winning streak. The Leafs, who are eerily reminiscent of the 2006-07 Capitals, can really put the puck in the net, and they did.

Coach Mike Babcock’s team took advantage of several Washington mistakes and penalties, including a shaky call or two from the zebras, plus some missed calls on the Leafs, to race to a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes. Matthews was brilliant with his play, especially his second assist of the night that really put the Caps behind the eight ball.

Remember though, that I mentioned that this Leafs club is like the 06-07 Caps? So that means they are weak on the blue line and have issues in their own zone. That proved to be the case on Tuesday night.

Washington, once they stopped being ushered to the sin bin, finally stabilized things and rallied to tie the game with two quick goals early in period three, which forced Babcock to use his timeout to settle his young squad. Tom Wilson then took a bad hooking penalty, but the Caps PK unit, which was uncharacteristically dented for two goals in six shorthanded situations on the night, killed this one off.

However, Matt Niskanen missed a takeaway in the neutral zone, then Mitch Marner got by Lars Eller to score on Philipp Grubauer on a breakaway with 8:52 remaining and the Leafs looked poised for their sixth straight victory.

But the Caps circled the wagons and stormed the net like crazy and finally tied it on John Carlson’s goal from the paint with 6:05 remaining after Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 goal, 3 assists) set it all up with a behind the back pass after an initial breakaway. Justin Wiliams (1 goal, 2 assists) and Marcus Johansson (2 assists) were crashing the net, as well. In the last three games the Capitals have now scored 14 goals, and almost all of them have been due to net presence, which has been a point of emphasis since the 44 shot, one goal shootout loss to New Jersey last Thursday.

After the referees let some more clear infractions on the Leafs go, Matthews nearly won the game late on a dandy of a backhander that somehow hit Grubauer in the head and went over the net. What a player this kid from Arizona is now and will be in the future, wow!

Off to overtime the game went and Kuznetsov carried the puck in the offensive zone then took it around the net and passed to Carlson at the top of the right wing circle along the boards. The puck was tipped en route so #74 had to make a great play to keep it in, otherwise the Leafs are off to the races. The 2010 Team USA World Juniors hero then made a super cross ice pass to the Gr8, Alex Ovechkin, and he made no mistake about burying it for his 18th goal of the season to give the Capitals a wild 6-5 victory.

Whew!

What a hockey game. It was a crazy one and the Caps turned in one of their worst defensive first periods all season. They only gave up eight shots, but too many were of the high quality variety and the Capitals defenders were too intent on trying to go to the ice to block shots when they have an all world goalie behind them in Braden Holtby. This made things difficult for the Holtbeast and he didn’t have his best stuff either, so Coach Barry Trotz pulled him after 20 minutes. I put the yanking mostly on the shoddy play by Washington in their own end, though. That needs to be cleaned up before Thursday’s big game against Columbus, but we’ll get to that one in a few paragraphs.

Dmitry Orlov (1 goal, 1 assist) was fantastic in this game on the blue line and as Alan May mentioned on Comcast in the post game, he is at his best when he’s in the offensive zone and going forward. His rocket tied the game at four and his first period power play blast hit Williams on the way in to give the Caps an initial early lead in this contest, one that they would not regain until Ovi buried the game winner.

As for the penalties, the Caps took too many, yet the Leafs were doing several similar things, but referees Chris Lee and Chris Schlenker chose not to call it evenly. Particularly bad was a sequence when Nazem Kadri cross checked Ovechkin hard and then Ovi roughed #43 back. While that was going on Leafs defensemen Jake Gardiner punched the Gr8 in the back of the head. It was a cheap shot, but somehow he avoided jail time and Ovechkin received a double minor for roughing. Ridiculous! Over the last the three games the Capitals have now been shorthanded 19 times and have received just seven power plays, that’s ludicrous! Where’s Oliver Stone when you really need him?

Overall, this was a big comeback win for the Caps because they haven’t really had a game where they were able to go all out offensively to rally. They were fortunate that this young Leafs team is fairly clueless too often in their own zone, but give President Mike Shanahan and GM Lou Lamoriello time to get some defensemen and this Toronto team could be a contender in a few years.

The victory is the Capitals third straight and they improve to 23-9-5 (51 points). They are in fourth place in the Metropolitan division; however, they are just two points behind the Rangers and have three games in hand. In first place though, are those Blue Jackets who have now won 16 games in a row! They are 27-5-4 and are one win away from tying the NHL record for victories in succession, which was set by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992-93.

Next up for Columbus are the Caps at the Verizon Center on Thursday night. The Blue Jackets defeated Washington in both games earlier this season, once in overtime and the other time on a zebra aided late power play goal at the Verizon Center on November 20th. So Coach Trotz’ crew should be very motivated to stop this streak by John Tortorella’s squad.

The Blue Jackets have a bunch of guys having career years and they are very physical and structured. Nick Foligno is a notorious Cap killer and he scored his 13th goal of the season in a 3-1 CBus win over Edmonton on Tuesday night. They don’t have the pure skill of the Leafs, but they are extremely hard on the puck and are getting great play from their blue line as well as their goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky. Washington will have to be much better in all phases of the game if they want to defeat a Columbus team that has all of the confidence in the world right now. This will be a good test for the Caps, who are doing a much better job at going to the net and creating havoc for opposing goalies over the last three tilts. They’ll need to do a lot of that to get the puck by Bob.

Notes: The Caps won the faceoff battle, 36-28. Jay Beagle was 9-5…T.J. Oshie scored his 12th goal of the season and continues to bring his A game each night. Pay the man!…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:59…Andre Burakovsky had no points, but he played hard on the puck and it was his net presence that allowed Orlov to tie the game at four early in period three.

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Carlson Bolts

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Carlson Scores Twice as Holtby Blanks the Bolts

Posted on 23 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

John Carlson scored twice in the first period and Braden Holtby stopped all 23 shots he faced as the Washington Capitals snapped a two game losing streak to defeat the depleted Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-0, at the Verizon Center on Friday night.

Let’s be honest, given all of the injuries the Bolts have, including starting goalie Ben Bishop, top goal scorer Steven Stamkos, top point earner Nikita Kucherov as well as Ryan Callahan and Ondrej Palat, it was going to be very difficult for Tampa to knock off the Caps. Add in the fact that Coach Jon Cooper’s crew played in Tampa on Thursday night and then had to fly to Washington in the wee hours of the night for the game and it was a recipe for a Capitals rout.

That pretty much was the case as Washington raced out to the lead just 55 seconds into the contest when Karl Alzner made a nice cross ice pass to Carlson at the offensive blue line. With Jay Beagle screening in front, the Carlson blast went off of Tampa goalie Andre Vasilevskiy’s glove and into the cage. It was a simple goal, but that type of shot and net presence is how you best beat NHL goalies these days.

The Capitals would dominate the first 10 minutes and the Bolts struggled to get a shot on goal, garnering just a total of two for the period. With 4:18 remaining in the opening frame, Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) made a strong play along the boards in the left wing corner and fed the puck to Marcus Johansson behind the Bolts cage. From there Jojo spotted Carlson all alone creeping in from the right point and #74 tattooed the pass past Vasilevskiy into the net to give Washington a two goal cushion.

That first period by the Caps was what they needed, although the Lightning did get two power plays, and Washington did a good job of making the hill very hard for Tampa to climb early in this one on Friday.

In the second period, the Capitals continued to throw pucks at the Bolts backup goalie, who had played well in the past two post seasons when called on, but they struggled to solve him further. Finally at 10:48, they connected when Dmitry Orlov made a strong defensive play in his own zone to steal the puck and then he flipped it over the Bolts D to an all alone Alex Ovechkin, who snuck on behind the Tampa D when Brett Connolly changed. The Gr8 skated in and when Vasiliveskiy went for the poke check, Ovi went to his backhand and beat the net minder like a rented mule to make it 3-0 and pretty much end this affair.

The Bolts lost forward Jonathan Drouin to injury along the way and their best defensemen, Victor Hedman, also missed time due to an ailment. It was a bad scene for Cooper’s crew, who has to be thrilled that they have reached the NHL’s three day Holiday break.

The Capitals ended the scoring in the final frame when Johansson came out of the box and Backstrom sent him in all alone on Vasilevskiy with a sweet cross ice pass. Jojo made no mistake about the shot for his 13th tally of the season to end the scoring. At that point, Cooper cried mercy and put in Kristers Gudlevskis in goal to get him some work.

Overall, this was a workmanlike victory for the Caps and the Holtbeast didn’t need to do a whole lot to earn a shutout. However, the way Braden has been bailing the Capitals out so much lately, including earning them a point in Filthy on Wednesday in a shootout loss to the Flyers and keeping them in the game with the Habs last Saturday in a 2-1 loss, he deserved an easy win.

Up front, Caps Coach Barry Trotz had to be pleased with the play of the Brett Connolly-Beagle-Tom Wilson line since they were on the ice to set up two of the goals (Carlson’s first and the Ovi breakaway) and the play of the Johansson-Backstrom-TJ Oshie unit, who were responsible for the two other goals. The third trio, Jakub Vrana-Lars Eller- Andre Burakovsky, that was so dominant in notching the only two goals in the terrible shootout loss in Philadelphia on Wednesday, was just okay on this night. They were a bit sloppy.

On the backend, all three defensive pairs played well and since the switch up of Orlov and Carlson in early December, both have drastically improved their respective games. It’s not surprising, given that you now have an offensive minded blue liner paired with a defensive minded one. The third pairing of Brooks Orpik and Taylor Chorney was good, as well.

The Capitals penalty kill continues to roll on and Tampa had the equivalent of John Blutarsky’s grade point average in terms of shots on goal with the man advantage, Zero Point Zero!

Now, in honor of Festivus, it’s time to air the grievances.

Let’s start with the Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Justin Williams line. This group is just out of sync. Williams works his rear off, but #92, who pretty much was the reason the Caps lost in Philly on Wednesday due to his horrible defensive zone giveaways, is just making all kinds of wrong plays. That has led to long shifts in their own zone and Ovechkin’s uneven play hasn’t helped either. Like another famed Seinfeld episode, they have “low flow” right now and they are giving up too many good chances against because of poor decision making.

Finally, I’m not sure what game referees Kelly Sutherland and Ghislain Hebert were watching on Friday? Somehow, despite the fact that the Caps dominated possession and the overall play, the Bolts received three power plays to just two for Washington. It was ludicrous how many infractions those two missed on Tampa, including a blatant high stick on Orpik in the third period that led to Coach Trotz unloading with a mighty string of harsh words and likely expletives for Sutherland, who was clearly checking his unfinished shopping list throughout this one. It was a poor performance from the guys in stripes and they’re lucky that they weren’t victims to the feats of strength. The good news is the Caps played well enough that the clowns on ice didn’t matter.

At the end of the night, with 50 games to go, the Capitals did what they had to do, get two points. They are now 20-8-4 (44 points) and are six points behind the Metropolitan Division and NHL leading Columbus Blue Jackets, who have won 12 games in a row. On that note cue Bob and Doug Mckenzie’s Twelve Days of Christmas. Somebody get me a beer and a jelly donut…and take off you hosers!

Notes: the Caps scored all four of their goals at even strength…Carlson led the team in ice time with 23:50…Kuznetsov only played 13:40 and he was 3-8 on draws. He needs a “reset” so maybe this Christmas break will do that for him…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 31-28. Eller was 6-1…Orlov played 18:24 and was outstanding…Oshie turned 30 on Friday night. It’s too bad he didn’t get a contract extension for his birthday. He’s a tireless worker and there is no replacement for him in the entire organization. Sign the man!…Daniel Winnik, Zach Sanford, and Nate Schmidt were the scratches…next up for the Caps are the Islanders in Brooklyn on Tuesday night at 7:00 pm.

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Caps Canucks Red Light

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Ovechkin Leads the Offense as Holtby Shuts Out the Canucks

Posted on 11 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

For the second straight game, there was a lot to like about the Washington Capitals performance in a 3-0 victory over the Vancouver Canucks at the Verizon Center on Sunday night.

Alex Ovechkin, who had picked up his play in recent outings, scored a first period power play goal and then assisted on Justin Williams’ tally that made it 2-0 early in the third period to lead the offense.

Braden Holtby stopped all 20 shots he faced and he was aided by some stellar Caps penalty killing, which went a perfect five for five and only allowed one shot on net in ten minutes of shorthanded time.

For the night, the Capitals team defense was excellent and they took advantage of the fact that Vancouver was playing their 3rd game in four nights. As Coach Barry Trotz mentioned following the win, there is a lot of parity in this league, and sometimes the schedule helps decide the outcome.

Agreed, but you also have to take advantage of that situation and unlike the Islanders game back on December 1st, Washington made no mistake about getting on a club that you figured would be tired.

On the Caps first power play of the game, they scored, and it was set up, once again, by a great zone entry by Marcus Johansson. Jojo, who is one of the best in the league at carrying the puck into the offensive end on a power play, used his superior speed to get across the blue line and then he made a nice pass back to Nicklas Backstrom. Nicky and John Carlson traded passes and then #74 slid the biscuit over to the Gr8 in his office and Ovechkin ripped it through Jacob Markstrom (26 saves).

That goal was huge and the Caps led 1-0 after 20 minutes, although it wasn’t the best of periods. They led in shot attempts, 20-17, but they were one for three with the man advantage and had as many giveaways as they did hits (four).

In the second frame, Washington really took over the contest, but couldn’t add to their lead. They outshot attempted the Canucks 23-9, which was amazing given that the Canucks had three full power plays in the period. The Caps four primary penalty killing forwards, Jay Beagle, Daniel Winnik, Lars Eller, and Tom Wilson were just terrific as were the four primary PK d-men, Brooks Orpik, Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen, and John Carlson. Add in the impenetrable Holtbeast and you have a recipe for an outstanding shorthanded unit.  The Capitals really carried the play over these 20 minutes, but a few times they were guilty of over passing.

Once the third period hit, you felt like Washington should really take over, given the Canucks fatigue situation, and they did. Five minutes into the final stanza, Ovechkin made a good rub out of the Canucks defensemen along the left wing boards and that allowed Evgeny Kuznetsov to the get the puck to the point to Dmitry Orlov. #9 rifled a shot towards the net that was shoved aside by Markstrom, but the Gr8 was there to corral it. Ovi fed Kuznetsov, who was all alone in the slot with only the goalie to beat. The whole right side of the net looked open too, but Kuzy chose to pass back across the ice to Williams, who luckily rifled it by two diving Canucks defenders and behind a sliding to his left Markstrom to give the Caps a much needed two goal cushion.

It was another case of over passing and afterwards Williams noted that the whole building was surprised that #92 passed there. Coach Trotz joked in his post game presser that he’s never surprised anymore when guys on his club give up great shots for a pass to a teammate.

From there, the Canucks gave their final push and their best chance to get back in the game was when Andre Burakovsky took a careless high sticking penalty less than two minutes after the Williams tally. It was in the offensive zone and it was unnecessary. #65 should be buying the entire PK unit dinner because that lazy infraction could’ve put a tired team back in the game. But Wilson and company did their jobs and that set the stage for #43 to get his second goal of the season on an empty net marker with 52 seconds remaining. Wilson really deserved that goal because he was really going hard all night and was a big reason the Canucks got nada with the man advantage.

As for the five penalties, Coach Trotz didn’t like the number and said he’d much prefer only one or two. He noted that offensive zone penalties are typically a red flag for him, but that he’d go back and look at each of them on video. Of the five, the ones to be most concerned about were Burakovsky’s high stick and Orlov’s two neutral zone penalties. I can live with the Johansson ticky tack hooking call and there is nothing Jakub Vrana could really do on his interference penalty, the Vancouver player sold it well.

As for Vrana, well he had a strong game with four shots on goal and he also had two other great chances, but missed the net on each. The Vrana-Eller-Burakovsky unit showed signs of life on Sunday, but they couldn’t bury the biscuit, especially #65, who along with Winnik were the only forwards to not put the puck on Markstrom. Winnik, though, gets a pass because of his great PK work.

Overall, this was an excellent team effort and Coach Trotz made sure to praise the Backstrom line for shutting down the Sedin Twins, calling that hard work something that shouldn’t go under the radar.  He’s right and Backstrom certainly should be in the running for the Selke Trophy.

When you add it all up, it’s the fourth straight victory for Washington and another two points for the Capitals. They are now at 17-7-3 (37 points) and in crazy fashion, though, they are still in fifth in the division in points. They are just two behind the Penguins, Rangers, and red hot Flyers (39 each), and just one behind the scorching Blue Jackets. Yes, there are five teams within two points of each other in the best division in hockey, the Metropolitan Division!

Notes: the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 34-31, but Backstrom went 13-5…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 23:42 and he was superb…Niskanen (+2) returned from missing one game with an upper body injury. He played well and had an assist on the Wilson ENG, as did Winnik…final shot attempts were 58-41 for Washington, including 29-20 in SOG…Ovi had 12 shot attempts and five on net…Eller was 1-10 on faceoffs, ouch!…next up for the Caps are the Islanders on Long Island on Tuesday at 7:00 pm.

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