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Caps 2013-14 Roster Pretty Much Set with Alzner Signing

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Caps 2013-14 Roster Pretty Much Set with Alzner Signing

Posted on 10 July 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It’s July 10th, but the Washington Capitals lineup, barring any trades, is mostly set for training camp in September with GM George McPhee announcing Wednesday that defensemen Karl Alzner has been signed for four years at $2.8M per season. Now McPhee only has restricted free agent LW Marcus Johansson to ink to complete the roster, and given that MJ90 doesn’t have much leverage, this one shouldn’t take too long. Following that signing, and using data from capgeek.com, the Caps will have 21 or so players with about $4M or so remaining against a salary cap of $64.3M for 2013-14.

Alzner, who is one of the best interviews going, seemed extremely happy with the new contract on his media conference call (full audio available here). The four year term for a player who is only 24 is a good deal for both sides at this price given Alzner’s significant ice time and strong two way play. Karl played much of last season with Mike Green and the duo formed an outstanding first d-pair that should get even better next season.

With that, here are my thoughts on the team going forward:

- Before game 5 against the Rangers, I chatted with New York assistant coach Jim Schoenfeld about the series and the Blueshirts strategy, at that point. Having worked for the former Caps bench boss, I put him on the spot and said, “It’s pretty obvious you guys are doing whatever you can to keep [Alex] Ovechkin and Green from beating you.” Now normally you’d expect a statement like that to be dodged by the opposition, but Schoeney didn’t hesitate, telling me, “I hope it keeps working!” With Brooks Laich out and the early game four injury to Martin Erat, Washington become a team that was much easier to shut down. You need balance in the NHL to win in the post season and not having those two players really hurt the Caps chances to advance. With Mike Ribeiro departing in free agency, the return of Laich and a fully integrated Erat are going to be key to Washington’s success next year. You can bet that the opponents will focus on Ovechkin and Green again, after all it worked for the Rangers, so the other guys in the lineup must step up.

- Free agency is pretty much over, and given the prices and term attached to many of the signings, it was a smart move by the Caps to sit this one out. Doing one of those deals would likely come back to bite the team down the road. Having a healthy Laich will be like a free agent signing for Washington. Also, there is hope that defensemen Dmitry Orlov will return to his 2011-12 form and crack the second pairing. In addition, there is a possibility that Evgeny Kuznetsov will come over to DC following his KHL season next spring.

- On Monday, McPhee stated once again that ”he likes his team.”  Why wouldn’t he make that statement given the six straight playoff appearances? But that doesn’t mean he isn’t on the look out for ways to improve his club. So if the right trade option came along, you can bet the Washington GM would make the move. It’s a fluid business and there are lots of games to play between October and the trade deadline. It’s a constant process of evaluating and analyzing. April and the playoffs are nine months away.

- Injuries are a big factor so a healthy Mike Green is going to be vital to Washington’s success in 2013-14. Once paired with Alzner, combined with the new system/style employed by Coach Adam Oates and assistant coach Calle Johansson, it appeared that #52 was not taking the big hits he used to sustain in previous seasons. Certainly Green is maturing as a player, but Alzner confirmed on Wednesday’s conference call that the coaching staff is focused on minimizing the shots his blue liners take in their own zone. That type of attention to detail from this coaching staff is something that could be a huge difference maker for the Capitals this upcoming season.

- The new division Washington will be in 2013-14 is going to be more fun, but much more competitive. Sure the Flyers did some big things, but right now I am not sure how much better they really are? And how will the signings they make impact them long term? The Rangers have a new coach, the Devils have a new goalie, the Blue Jackets signed Nathan Horton (but he’s out until December with a shoulder injury), and Carolina will get Cam Ward back. So you can say those teams are improving but to imply the Caps won’t be improved because they weren’t active in free agency doesn’t add up for me. As Alzner stated on Wednesday, another year of experience has to help. In addition, the better travel schedule should reduce some wear and tear on the Caps.

- Finally, I know it’s July, but if you want to catch some free hockey, the Caps Development Camp continues through Saturday with a live scrimmage each day down at Kettler IcePlex. Go check it out!

 

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Caps Draft Burakovsky as Big Trades Fail to Materialize

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Caps Draft Burakovsky as Big Trades Fail to Materialize

Posted on 30 June 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The days leading up to the 2013 NHL Draft generated a lot of hype for the extremely talented players slated to be taken at the top of the draft as well as for the possibility of some blockbuster trades given the NHL’s salary cap dropping from $70M in 2013 to just over $64M in 2013-14. Well the first several selections lived up to the billing but as far as deals went, outside of the Cory Schneider to New Jersey trade for the 9th overall pick, there wasn’t much that was done to impact the rosters of many clubs.

Center Nathan MacKinnon, as expected, went first overall to the Colorado Avalanche, but surprisingly the Florida Panthers chose forward Aleksander Barkov with the second pick and Tampa took winger Jonathan Drouin with the 3rd choice sending defensemen Seth Jones, who many had rated as the top player in the draft, to the Nashville Predators with the 4th pick. So former Capitals GM David Poile was the winner in this draft, in my opinion. Jones, who is big, can skate, and has offensive talents, gives the Preds another great right handed defensemen to go with the powerful Shea Weber down in Music City.

As for the the Caps, General Manager George McPhee stated that he tried hard to trade up into the top third of the first round but was unsuccessful. Thus Washington selected Austrian born/Swedish left winger Andre Burakovsky with the 23rd pick in the draft. The early line on the Swedish forward who reportedly has excellent offensive skills is mixed. TSN’s Bob MacKenzie listed him 24th on his board while Craig Button had Burakovsky as far down as 58th on his final list. McPhee and Director of Amatuer Scouting, Ross Mahoney, have not had a first round bust since Anton Gustafsson in 2008. Over the period of 2008-12, they’ve picked up John Carlson, Marcus Johansson, Evgeni Kuznetsov, Filip Forsberg, and Tom Wilson in the first round. Certainly one would hope that Burakovsky fits in with that last group but one scout I talked to, who called the 2012 1st round picks “home runs” for Washington, had him more in the Gustafsson camp. Guess we’ll find out over the next few years who is correct on that front? McPhee did state that he believes Burakovsky will take time to develop, so he is likely several years from the NHL, at this point.

In the second round, the Capitals took right handed shooting defensemen Madison Bowey from the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League with the 53rd pick and then traded their 3rd (84), 4th (114), and 5th (127) round selections to move up to the 61st spot to take forward Zach Sanford from Derry, New Hampshire. Sanford will play in the USHL this year and then is currently committed to Boston College in 2014-15. Bottom line, the NHL draft is a crap shoot since you are choosing 17 and 18 year olds and many selections take years to develop.

Going back to the trade front, it’s pretty easy to figure out that Washington wants to upgrade the left side of its defense. Specifically, they need a left handed shooting d-man to play with John Carlson on the second d-pair. In addition, with center Mike Ribeiro slated to test the free agent waters, the Caps will likely need to add a number two center once again. There was hope that perhaps one or both of those voids could be filled with trades in New Jersey but despite the buildup, there were no big deals for top 6 forwards or top 4 defensemen at Sunday’s draft. But there are still four more full days until free agency begins on Friday, July 5th.

The biggest news of the weekend was Tampa Bay using its’ compliance buyout on 1998 1st overall pick Vinny Lecavalier. Naturally there is interest galore in the 2004 Stanley Cup winning center and he’d be a nice fit in Washington. But he’d be great for a lot of teams. McPhee noted that Adam Oates met with Lecavlier, facilitated by the fact that Oates was an assistant with the Bolts back in 2009-10, and that the Caps coach thinks highly of him. At the end of the day though, this is likely to come down to money and Washington just might not have enough salary cap room to land Lecavalier.

The next two weeks will do a lot towards shaping the Capitals roster for 2013-14. The GM has not decided if he will use a compliance buyout or not, routinely scratched Jeff Schultz is slated to count $2.75M against the Capitals salary cap, but he says he has ownership’s support to use that mechanism, if necessary. McPhee still has to sign restricted free agents Karl Alzner and Marcus Johansson but the only questions there are pretty much the dollars. It will be interesting to see what the GM does to fill what look to be two holes heading into a season in which they move into an extremely competitive new division. Is Dmitry Orlov ready to be an NHL second pair defensemen? The Devils improved themselves by adding Schneider in goal while the Flyers have lost Ilya Bryzgalov and Danny Briere to costly compliance buyouts. In addition, Philly signed 35 year old defensemen Mark Streit to a long term deal for four years at $21M. So Paul Holmgren and company continue to do some crazy things and don’t appear to be any better, at this point.

But there are a couple of more weeks where the big action still looks to take place via trades and free agency, so stay tuned!

Notes: The Caps will hold development camp at Kettler Iceplex from July 8-13…Team USA will holds its Olympic orientation camp at Kettler as well from August 25-29 in preparation for the 2014 Olympic Games that will be played in Sochi, Russia. Poile is USA’s GM while the Penguins Dan Bylsma will coach the squad. This is a big deal for the area to host this type of event.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on the Morning Reaction with Drew Forrester talking NHL and Caps draft at 7:25 am Monday morning.

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Ribeiro OT Tally Gives Caps a 3-2 Series Lead

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Ribeiro OT Tally Gives Caps a 3-2 Series Lead

Posted on 11 May 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The New York Rangers had the Washington Capitals on the ropes early on in game five on Friday night.

Brian Boyle scored after a vicious forecheck just 53 seconds into the contest and then for the next 10 or so minutes New York was all over Washington. The Blueshirts received two power plays and were dominating play. But Braden Holtby (24 saves) made some big stops and the Caps rode the energy from the crowd at the Verizon Center until they could find their legs.

Then Coach Adam Oates, aided by his assistant coaches, made an adjustment that helped change the course of the game. Oates switched his defensive pairs moving a more mobile Jack Hillen with John Carlson on the second defensive duo while John Erskine slid down and skated with Steve Oleksy to start period two. The move, which Oates credited to assistant coach Calle Johansson, gave the Capitals some better matchups on the ice and they slowly started to take over the game. After trailing in shots late in the first period, 10-5, they would out shoot the Rangers 30-15 over the remainder of contest but it took Mike Ribeiro to tally in overtime to win, 2-1.

After game four I blogged about the importance of home ice, adjustments, and the influence of last change in the matchups. All three were a factor on Friday night. In addition to the defensive pair adjustment personnel wise, the Caps made a minor move on their power play that allowed Joel Ward to score just 14 seconds into their first man advantage and tie the game. Alex Ovechkin (9 shots on goal) was moved closer to the net and that seemed to confuse the Rangers, who were all set to once again deny both Mike Green and the Gr8 shots from higher up in the offensive zone. The shift created a 4 on 3 down low and opened up the passing lanes in the high slot, which is where Ward shot from to score.

Home ice was also critical, not just because the fantastic Verizon Center faithful were extremely loud and provided energy, but the Washington forwards could put their stick down second on faceoffs and Oates could work the matchups in his favor. In game four the Capitals were beaten soundly, 34-19, on draws but in game five Washington held a 42-30 advantage from the dot. Ribeiro was a super 19-8 and that was a big difference in the hockey game. That second line with #9, Troy Brouwer, and Eric Fehr was very strong for the Caps and they received right around 21 minutes of ice time each. Given that the Caps top line had its issues with getting out of their own zone for parts of the game, it was critical that Oates get production from his other lines. The Ribeiro line as well as the third unit of Mathieu Perreault, Ward, and Jason Chimera played well. Chimera used his speed, was a physical presence, and his hit on Ryan Clowe in the first period knocked the big winger out of the contest.

Speaking of physical, Tom Wilson made his NHL debut and looked very good in 6:24 of ice time. The rookie right wing, who was Washington’s 1st round pick (16th overall) last June, had four hits and helped wear down a Rangers defense that looked gassed in the third period and overtime. Oates and Ovechkin both praised #43 afterwards for his play and the Gr8 noted that with Wilson the Caps have four really big and powerful right wings in the lineup.

So home ice is 5 for 5 now in this very close series. Washington was able to withstand the early punches from New York and then wear the Rangers out and get a victory. The Caps fans were a big part of this game as they kept their energy up despite an early Rangers lead.  But you can bet that at Madison Square Garden the Rags will get big time support from their fans, as well. Oates feels that the Capitals will need to survive the first 10 minutes on Sunday in game 6 (faceoff at 4:30 pm).

If Washington wins, it is on to the second round with home ice. If not, game 7 is on Monday night at the Verizon Center.

Home ice has been a big key in this series and the Caps held serve on Friday night.

Now the pressure is on a Rangers team that many picked to go to the Stanley Cup Finals before the season started.

Notes: The Rangers had four power plays to just two for the Caps and the overall series tally is now at 21-14…shot attempts were 71-67  in favor of Washington…Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh both played over 29 minutes for the Rangers while Green played 29:16 to lead the Caps in ice time. Green’s partner, Karl Alzner, played 28:27.

 

 

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps in Game 1 Victory

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps in Game 1 Victory

Posted on 03 May 2013 by Ed Frankovic

All season long the Capitals have ridden Alexander Ovechkin’s offense and Braden Holtby’s goaltending. So it was no surprise that with the New York Rangers up 1-0 in the second period despite being outplayed, that a Holtby save on a Carl Hagelin breakaway and then a Gr8 power play tally on the rebound of a Mike Green point shot, helped even things up for Washington. From there the Caps killed off a critical five on three Rangers power play and riding the boisterous Verizon Center crowd, the Caps got a sweet goal from Marcus Johansson on a breakaway after a pretty feed from Steve Oleksy and then a tally from Jason Chimera with Mathieu Perreault running traffic in front of Henrik Lundqvist just 46 seconds later.

That second period sequence would pretty much end up deciding this contest and the Capitals were victorious, 3-1, and lead the best of seven game series, 1-0. Game two is Saturday at 12:30 pm at the Verizon Center (NBC telecast).

There was a lot to like in this win:

  • Holtby (35 saves) was very good and despite giving up a fluky first goal to Carl Hagelin, he buckled down and shut the door on New York. #70 was excellent with his rebound control and he looked poised in the cage.
  • The Caps won the special teams battle as they went 1 for 5 with the man advantage while killing all four Ranger power plays.
  • Washington received solid efforts from all four lines with the third unit of Perreault, Chimera, and Eric Fehr being big difference makers
  • Coach Adam Oates’ crew did a good job of moving the puck out of their own zone to thwart, for the most part, a very strong New York forecheck. Karl Alzner pointed out that the Rangers clog the boards so it was important for Washington to not turn the puck over to their waiting opponents and overall the Caps were successful doing that.
  • Caps fans were extremely loud and helped provide the team with energy. Troy Brouwer mentioned that at least three times in his post game media scrum and was very appreciative of the home crowd.

On the flip side, here are some of the things Oates will want to see improved for game two:

  • Washington allowed too many odd man rushes. Hagelin’s breakaway, had he converted, would’ve made it 2-0. In addition, a Johansson giveaway led to a New York two on one in period three but the Rangers somehow hit the crossbar and didn’t score. There were some other poor passes that led to Rags chances that need to be avoided going forward.
  • Green took some big hits from Mats Zuccarello late in the game. Washington does not want #52 getting run and they did well at this until the end of the game. Green (1 assist, 26:38 of ice time) is so critical to this team and there is no doubt the Rangers are targeting him.

Overall it was a physical game and the Caps held up extremely well. They battled against a gritty club but used their skill and desire to gain the victory. The Caps went hard to the net and were rewarded. There were several post whistle scrums and Brouwer made a point to praise the NHL officials for communicating with the players. #20 said the refs talked to the players, let them know where the line was, and backed it up with calls when the line was crossed. Troy noted that in the playoffs that everything is a battle and the referees did a good job of not overreacting to the scrums. Brouwer also praised his teammates for not getting caught up in the emotion of the moment and taking unnecessary penalties.

The keys for Washington going forward, first and foremost, is to realize this is just a single game and be ready to battle again on Saturday and beyond. The Rangers are a team that scraps, like their head coach, so it will be hard to take their will completely. Oates talked about holding serve at home and if the Caps clean up some of the turnovers and minimize odd man rush issues, then they should carry the play again.

Notes: The Rangers rely heavily on their key players. D man Dan Girardi logged 29:00 and the Hagelin, Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan line saw a lot of minutes…Washington won the faceoff battle, 32-30. Backstrom went 14-11…Ovechkin had five shots on net and five hits…Rangers forward Rick Nash logged 23:04.

 

 

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Will Ovechkin & Caps Avenge 2012 Series Loss to Rangers?

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Will Ovechkin & Caps Avenge 2012 Series Loss to Rangers?

Posted on 28 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

For the Caps organization and their fans, the memory of last spring’s Eastern Conference semifinal game five overtime defeat to the Rangers that ultimately led to a series loss in seven games still stings. Washington was basically twenty five seconds away from a win on enemy ice with a chance to wrap the series up at the Verizon Center, but an unfortunate double minor for high sticking turned that whole storyline around. Instead of moving on to play the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals the Caps headed to the golf course.

But just one year later, Alexander Ovechkin and the Caps have a chance to avenge that crushing defeat against a Rangers team that many predicted to win the Stanley Cup before the season started. The addition of Rick Nash to the Rags lineup seemed to give them that big time gun they lacked and on paper they had two nice scoring lines in Nash, Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan, and Carl Hagelin. But the game isn’t played on paper and the war between Gaborik and stubborn head coach John Tortorella ultimately led to #10 being shipped to Columbus. GM Glen Sather went out and added left wing Ryane Clowe from San Jose at the trade deadline to give Torts a player that better fit his dump and chase, grinding style. New York, despite losing top four defensemen Marc Staal to an eye injury, played well down the stretch and moved up to the six seed to face Washington in a series that will begin on Thursday night at the Verizon Center. However, they lost Clowe to an injury last Thursday in Carolina and it is unclear if he will be able to go against the Caps. Thus it looks like the Rangers could possibly start the series without a top 4 D man in Staal, a top 6 forward in Clowe as well as a depth forward in injured Brian Boyle.

As for Washington, well they are a much different team than the one they had in last year’s series. The Caps were offensively challenged from a system and player standpoint last spring but General Manager George McPhee brought in new coach Adam Oates, who plays the up tempo style that better fits Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. In addition, the GM has assembled a true second scoring line, something Washington hasn’t had in the post season since 2009. Center Mike Ribeiro was added in a deal with Dallas and then at the trade deadline McPhee brought in speedy left winger Martin Erat from Nashville. With the emergence of Marcus Johansson and the improvement in the Caps power play in Oates’ system, Washington is a very dangerous offensive team once again.

In the bottom six forwards department, the Caps have a super crew that has gotten a big boost from a healthy Eric Fehr. At some point the Caps will also get Joel Ward back too. Washington has a chance to win this series if their bottom six forwards can outplay the respective crew from New York.

On defense, the Caps have Mike Green playing as well as ever and paired with Karl Alzner he is not getting run in the corners as often. That will be something that Oates must continue to avoid, the big hits on his defense because that is the way the Rangers like to play, dump the puck below the goal line and wear you out down low. The Caps may have lost Dennis Wideman on the back end to free agency last summer but from one to six, they are a more improved club from last spring. John Erskine is playing super with John Carlson and the third defensive pair of Jack Hillen and Steve Oleksy is solid and mobile. Washington has more depth on the back end than New York, who prefer to give their top four of Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan McDonagh, and Anton Stralman a ton of minutes. John Moore and former Capital Steve Eminger are the third pairing.

In net, you’ve got a super battle between Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby. Last spring was #70′s first NHL playoffs and he performed extremely well. Outside of game one in New York, Holtby was outstanding. Holtby is a year more experienced and his puck handling still makes a big difference for Washington. Oates has used #70′s skills in that area even more than former coach Dale Hunter did and they will need it to combat the Rangers dump and forecheck style.

Behind the bench you’ve got the abrasive but very experienced Tortorella versus the technically savvy Oates. Oates knows the Rags very well from his coaching days with the Devils last spring, so he is very familiar with what Torts wants his players to do. Torts will try to work the referees and manipulate the New York media to put the pressure on him, instead of his players. But both teams are under pressure to win now, so those tactics are just a waste of time and energy. Oates seems to be the type that doesn’t bother getting caught up in that stuff.

In the special teams department, the Caps have the best power play in the league (26.8%) while New York has struggled (15.7%), but in a seven game series, anything can happen. But this Washington team can play well at five on five too and my take is that the more five on five action there is, the more it favors the Caps given their superior depth. The Rangers have some very skilled players so staying out of the box is paramount. The Caps penalty killing finished 27th in the NHL at 77.9% during the regular season.

This is the fourth post season meeting between these clubs in five years. It is the tightest Eastern Conference matchup and a battle of two surging clubs with different styles of play.

The complete series schedule is listed below:

Thursday, May 2 7:30 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington  TV: CSN, NBC Sports Network, TSN

Saturday, May 4 12:30 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington  TV: NBC, TSN

Monday, May 6 7:30 p.m. Washington at NY Rangers  TV: CSN, NBC Sports Network, TSN

Wednesday, May 8 7:30 p.m. Washington at NY Rangers  TV: CSN, NBC Sports Network, TSN

*Friday, May 10 7:30 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington  TV: CSN, TSN

*Sunday, May 12 TBD Washington at NY Rangers  TV: TBD

*Monday, May 13 TBD NY Rangers at Washington TV: TBD

* – if necessary

Notes and Assorted Musings: The Caps ended the regular season with 164 power plays to 163 for their opponents. Why is this important? Well for the first time in 16 seasons Washington finally had more power plays than their opposition in a season. Overall they are down 471 power plays over the course of the streak, which coincides with McPhee’s tenure as GM. People always say that “the calls even out” so given that, shouldn’t we see more balance in the power play totals? Clearly it is not the case here and to give you an idea of the odds of this happening, it is akin to flipping a coin 15 straight times and getting heads for each result. The odds of that happening are 1 in 32,768! (s/t to Mike Vogel of the Caps for pointing out the power play stats in his blog last night)…it has been reported that Brooks Laich did indeed undergo surgery this spring and he is targeting a return in the second round of the playoffs, if the Caps can advance that far…down on the farm, the Hershey Bears won both games 1 and 2 versus the Providence Bruins over the weekend and can win their best of five opening round series with a victory at the Giant Center this weekend in either game three or four.

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Ovechkin Notches 32nd Goal But Caps Lose in OT

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Ovechkin Notches 32nd Goal But Caps Lose in OT

Posted on 26 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Ottawa Senators defeated the Washington Capitals, 2-1, in overtime, in a game that meant nothing in terms of playoff seeding to the Caps but was ultra important for the Sens post season chances.

With one team being desperate while the other was hoping to win, but more importantly, not sustain any injuries, it was not a surprise that Ottawa was the club that had more net presence for the majority of the contest. With NHL goalies being as good as they are these days, it made sense that the Sens came out on top given their willingness to crash the crease.

Crash is the operative word there. The scrappy Senators, who are offensively challenged with number one forward Jason Spezza out due to a back injury, know that in order to score goals they have to get the puck to their star offensive defensemen, Sergei Gonchar and Erik Karlsson, and blast the biscuit away with traffic in front. They must try to get the opposing goalie off of his game by getting in his grill and initiating contact when they can. On Thursday night they were very good at doing that.

On the flip side, the Capitals knew this was coming and were prepared to do what they could to stand up for their goaltender, Michal Neuvirth. Unfortunately for Washington, their keeper protection tactics were not allowed on this night by referees Tim Peel and Kevin Pollock. Late in the first period in which the Caps carried the play and the scoring chances but only received one power play, Matt Hendricks was whistled for a very questionable roughing penalty while trying to protect Neuvy after one of his 41 saves on the evening. Hendricks shouldered Sens forward Erik Condra and he lost his balance and fell into the net. Nearly 100 times out of a 100, that is not a penalty, but Pollock and Peel felt otherwise.

Suddenly a precedence was set. Ottawa basically had the green light to poke or contact Neuvirth with the comfort of knowing they weren’t going to the box. Even Daniel Alfredsson, one of the cleanest players in the league, realized he could take some liberties so it seemed that whistle after whistle the Capitals were forced to push Ottawa players away from their net minder. Ottawa even had a goal disallowed for contacting Neuvirth before the puck went in (not sure why the Caps didn’t get a power play out of that considering there was physical contact with #30 by Ottawa?). Add in the fact that some ticky tack calls went against Alexander Ovechkin and Mike Green after similar things were let go on the Senators in the first period and the frustration started building on the Washington side. The result was a five to one power play discrepancy and for the second time in three games against each other, Paul Maclean’s team scored the game winner on a late power play tally.

Afterwards both Karl Alzner and Ovechkin, who scored his league leading 32nd goal on a sweet move after a nifty pass from Marcus Johansson, admitted that getting called for penalties when they were trying to protect Neuvirth was frustrating. Even Coach Adam Oates, who fielded several questions about the players losing their cool and retaliating, smartly took the fifth when asked about the curious call on Hendricks that set the tone for the remaining 40 minutes.

But in the NHL you are going to have nights where the game is not called in your favor, although it seems that tends to be the norm these days for Washington, so you have to rise above the frustration and play to the whistle. However, what is pleasing is how this club sticks up for one another, especially their goaltender. The Caps players should take pride in that despite how Peel and Pollock called the contest. Sticking together is how they overcame adversity this season and won the Southeast division title.

In the end, the Caps lost a game tonight, but given that they didn’t have much to play for and mostly avoided going to the net to prevent getting hit with their own shots, it isn’t something to be too concerned about. Ottawa is a potential first round matchup now (they are currently in the 6th spot) and even though the Sens were 3-0 against the Caps, they all were close games. The Senators were a desperate club on Thursday and still had to get some help from the guys in the stripes to win the contest.

But Washington still has momentum and they continue to play as a team. There is one more game to go against Boston on Saturday night before the real season begins next week.

Notes: The Caps still could play any of Ottawa, Toronto, the Islanders, or the Rangers in the first round…the Capitals won the faceoff battle heavily, 41-28, with Hendricks going 6-0…Ottawa had more shot attempts, 68-43, but they had five power plays while Washington only had one.

 

 

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Ovechkin’s 2013 Caps are a Special Team

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Ovechkin’s 2013 Caps are a Special Team

Posted on 23 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

24-10-1.

That’s what it takes to go from 2-8-1 and last in the NHL to clinching the Southeast Division for the fifth time in the last six years.

Kudos to Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals for a run that, to me, is more remarkable than the one they made in 2007-08, although both have to be categorized as special.

Special. That is a key word tonight and that is how this 2013 Caps team should be described.

It takes a really special group to do what this hockey club did after a terrible start. They overcame some big time injuries and major doubts from the critics, many of whom chose to blast Ovechkin for all of Washington’s problems. They were buried many times this season. Yet they stuck together and proved that their General Manager George McPhee was absolutely right back in January and early February during the losing times when he said “I think we have a good team.”

Credit the GM for standing up for the club he assembled, credit the head coach for putting the team in winning situations, and most importantly, credit the players for staying together and not quitting on a season that had the makings of a disaster at several points.

It took resolve and hard work. This team continues to get better and better as the season progresses. Their captain once again looks like the two time MVP he was in 2008 and 2009, only this year he is a better player overall. His defensive skills have improved, look no further than the back check he made to cover teammate Mike Green after #52 got caught pinching at the Washington blue line in the first period of Tuesday night’s Southeast Division clinching victory. Ovechkin’s passing, often underrated, is as good as its ever been. He is seeing the ice extremely well and he has embraced the transition to right wing. Opposing defenses are on their heels against the Gr8 once again.

Nicklas Backstrom is arguably playing at his highest career level and what a story Marcus Johansson has been being the guy to round out a top line that has been as good as any other in the NHL over the last month? Add in a second unit of Martin Erat, Mike Ribeiro, and Troy Brouwer and for the first time since 2008-09 the Caps are going into the post season with two legitimate scoring lines. Hard to believe that is possible given Brooks Laich’s injury but the Erat trade is exactly what Washington needed to compete in the post season.

Of course this team is not special without forwards like Mathieu Perreault, Matt Hendricks, Eric Fehr, Joel Ward, Jay Beagle, and Jason Chimera finding ways to contribute. In this playoff clinching win, the bottom six forwards scored three of the four Capitals tallies when Winnipeg had Ondrej Pavelec in the cage.

If you really want to pinpoint where the turnaround came from, it isn’t hard to figure out. The defense was a train wreck early on as Mike Green, John Erskine, and Jack Hillen were injured for long periods of time forcing the team to rely on players who don’t really belong in the NHL anymore. Once Oates and assistant coach Calle Johansson were able to put a solid defensive lineup on the ice, combined with the improved health of forwards Backstrom, Johansson, and Laich (for a 10 game stretch) then it became a challenge for opponents to match up with a club that could move the puck out of its zone quickly and up the ice where its skill could take over. Add in super goaltending from Braden Holtby and some great spot starts from Michal Neuvirth combined with the struggles of the rest of the division and what looked to be a season playing for a draft pick is now one where you can’t help but play “what if” as the Capitals prepare for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

This team right now is better than the ones that entered the post season the last three years. The 2013 crew is a special group because they never gave up and stuck together to make an improbable run to the third seed in the Eastern Conference. They are a team that will be a tough out it in the playoffs and they have enormous potential to go deep in the postseason.

The question is, can they stay healthy and keep it going?

It’s a good question to ask, but for Tuesday night and the rest of the week, Caps fans should just enjoy this “special” team and not worry about the playoffs until Monday.

Notes: Ovechkin notched his league leading 31st goal into the empty net to seal the victory…Green and Karl Alzner were downright dominant in this contest. Green logged 24:27 and had an assist while King Karl played 23:33. The two Western Canadian boys compliment each other well on the ice…Washington won the faceoff battle 39-31 and outshot the Jets 41-27. Shot attempts were 72-48 in favor of Washington despite the Jets getting three power plays to just one for the Caps…next up for the Capitals are the Ottawa Senators at the Verizon Center on Thursday night.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I’ll be on with Drew Forrester on WNST 1570AM Baltimore talking Caps hockey on Wednesday morning at 7:45am. Listen Live at WNST.NET

 

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Oveckhin, Erat Carry Confident Caps to 8th Straight Victory

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Oveckhin, Erat Carry Confident Caps to 8th Straight Victory

Posted on 16 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

After the Caps blew a four goal lead and had to win in overtime last Saturday night the question was would that third period collapse impact their confidence going forward?

On Tuesday night, versus a good Toronto team that was playing on the second half of back to back games, the Capitals answered that question with a resounding NO!

Washington came out with energy and effort and grabbed a 1-0 first period lead on another Jack Hillen goal. Then in the middle frame, their skating and power play took over as Martin Erat notched his 1st goal as a Capital moments after a Leafs penalty expired. Shortly thereafter Troy Brouwer scored on a pretty two on one with John Carlson and then the Gr8, Alexander Ovechkin, notched his NHL leading 28th goal on the power play to make it 4-0. The Leafs would add a 3rd period marker before Marcus Johansson would cash in on the power play, as well, to make it a 5-1 final for the Capitals eighth straight win.

The Caps are now 24-17-2 for 50 points after an awful 2-8-1 start. GM George McPhee is making his “I believe we have a good team” statements from late January ring true. Washington’s lineup is very solid now with Erat returning to health and #10 had a strong game with a goal and an assist. He gives Coach Adam Oates a second scoring line. Johansson continues to progress this season and the first line continues to dominate on the ice, even despite the fact that Nicklas Backstrom was held pointless tonight. The third and fourth lines are doing their jobs as well as the Capitals out shot attempted their opponents, 65-47, in this affair. Sure the Leafs were tired, but the Caps worked them over pretty good after losing the first two times to Toronto earlier in the season when Washington wasn’t healthy and lacked confidence.

Confidence is so important in hockey and this club has it now. The whole squad seems to have bonded and Jason Chimera showed that by going after and fighting Jay McClement a few minutes after the Leaf boarded Nicklas Backstrom (which zebras Paul Devorski and Tim Kowal failed to call). It should also be noted that Ovechkin roughed up McClement immediately after the illegal hit by the Toronto player. This is a team that sticks together better than we’ve seen in recent years.

Goaltending is always a very important aspect to a team’s confidence. The tender who can make the saves when the game is scoreless is so key and Braden Holtby did that again on Tuesday night. #70 didn’t have to make a lot of saves early, but there were some tough and key ones he had to stop. That allowed the Capitals to eventually grab the lead, and that just adds to the confidence level. It is an iterative loop when it comes to confidence, whether it is going good or bad, and right now, Washington has it going in the right direction.

Notes: Technically the Caps were 2 for 6 on the power play but Erat’s marker came right as the PP ended (so 3 for 6, in my book). The Leafs were 0 for 3 on the power play so Washington dominated the special teams battle in this one…Erat only logged 12:10 of ice time but his skating looked good on Tuesday so he is returning to full health…Mike Green had assists on the two official Caps PPGs and led the club in ice time with 22:42. That is a low leading total, which is due to the big lead, which allowed Oates to just roll his lines in the final frame…Mike Ribeiro picked up his 30th and 31st assists on the season…Joel Ward and Brooks Laich are still out injured…next up for the Caps are the Senators in Ottawa on Thursday followed by a date with the Habs in Montreal on Saturday night. Washington’s last three games are at home next week (WPG, OTT, and BOS).

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Holtby Leads Caps to 6th Straight Victory

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Holtby Leads Caps to 6th Straight Victory

Posted on 11 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

Well that definitely applies to Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby and his club on Thursday night. The Caps found themselves down 14-0 in shots on goal and 1-0 on the scoreboard midway through the opening period at the Verizon Center before rallying with two tallies in the middle frame then adding an empty net goal in the closing seconds to defeat a pesky Carolina Hurricanes team, 3-1.

The victory, their sixth in a row, pushes the Caps to 22-17-2 (46 points) and keeps them two points ahead of Winnipeg in the Southeast Division race. It was a win against a struggling team that Washington had to have and they delivered.

It was far from pretty though. The Caps were slow out of the gate and even when their passion and energy picked up, they were just a fraction off nearly all night. But that effort level is what carried the day and more importantly, Holtby was awesome in net (43 saves).

Alex Ovechkin was held without a point but he had 15 shot attempts, including one in the second period that seemed to dent the post. The Gr8′s line was very strong but Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson each had only one shot attempt. Both Nicky and JoJo probably should start looking for their shot a little more because teams are going to be focusing on a red hot Ovechkin. Still, Backstrom had an assist and was once again really strong on the puck. His hard work on the boards at the Caps blueline at the end of the game, along with John Carlson, allowed Troy Brouwer (2 goals) to hit the empty net and put the nail biter away. Johansson was super backchecking and using his speed and he gutted through getting banged up early on in this one. He forced the puck to Ovechkin a little too much for my liking but he was still really solid in this contest.

Several others had excellent outings including the 4th line of Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks, and Wojtek Wolski. Beagle set up a late charging Mike Green for the eventual game winner after Wolski made a super play on the offensive zone entry. I think Wolski earned himself some more minutes with his effort on Thursday night.

Mike Ribeiro, after a rough start, was also fairly dominant the last two frames as the second line center. He was playing agitated all night and his two way play was excellent. Brouwer, of course, had the two tallies to lead the offense. Aaron Volpatti played hard on that second line but he is offensively challenged.

But when it was all over, the man of the night was Holtby who made numerous quality saves and Carlson bailed him out on a puck lying in the crease early on. Holtbeast was a little erratic to start but he settled down quickly and won the game for Washington. It was nice to see the strong play in goal after teammate Michal Neuvirth had two straight super outings. Coach Adam Oates has to be really pleased with his goaltending tandem right now. Both guys are fierce competitors and the players recognize that.

So the Caps didn’t play close to their best game on Thursday night, but they did what they had to do to get a victory. At this point, that is what matters most. The Southeast Division title is in their control with just seven games to go. You can’t ask for more than that.

Notes: Both clubs notched a power play goal in a contest that got chippier as the evening went on. The Caps won the season series, 4-1, over Carolina and won the last three games after trailing, 2-0, 2-0, and 1-0, respectively…the Caps won the faceoff battle 32-31 with Backstrom going 13-8…next up for the Caps are the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7pm on Saturday night at the Verizon Center.

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Ovechkin, Neuvirth Carry Caps Past Habs

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Ovechkin, Neuvirth Carry Caps Past Habs

Posted on 10 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals and Alexander Ovechkin have been on a roll of late, but apparently, all of those goals the Gr8 has scored and all of the wins the Caps have reeled off to seize the Southeast Division lead don’t matter to some of the hockey pundits in North America because they haven’t come against the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

To them and anyone else who wants to listen, I have two things to say:

You can only beat the team that’s next on your schedule, and

On Tuesday night the Caps beat that next team on their schedule, and one of the top teams in the East at that, in the Montreal Canadiens, 3-2, at the Bell Centre.

And guess what? Ovechkin scored again notching his league leading 26th tally of the season (although Steven Stamkos also scored his 26th on Tuesday) after a nifty move around Michael Ryder gave him space to snipe one past Carey Price in the slot. It was another of those “Wow” goals from the Gr8 and it came with his club trailing 1-0. It was a big goal by the captain and it lifted his team, who grabbed the lead shortly thereafter on an Eric Fehr tap in. Jack Hillen would add a third period goal with Ovechkin screening Price and then Michal Neuvirth (27 saves) held off a furious late push from the Canadiens for the victory.

The Habs don’t have a roster that you look at and fear, but they are awfully fast and they play well as a team. But the Caps are doing the same thing now and despite having three of the their top nine forwards out of the lineup, they are still finding ways to win. What impressed me tonight about Washington’s play was how good the spacing was between the forwards and the defensemen. This allowed the Caps to jump on Montreal’s errant passes and get the play going the other way.

Ovechkin and company are also doing a lot of the little things right. They are getting pucks and bodies to the net and that’s how you beat a very good goalie in Price. They also are blocking shots, which has to make former coach Dale Hunter proud. Even the Gr8 was throwing his body in front of pucks tonight.

Simply put, this club is coming together and gelling as a team. The top line continues to play extremely well and they are getting super goaltending. Neuvirth followed up a superb performance on Sunday with another gem. Washington looks confident on the ice and usually wins are what comes from that.

A win in Montreal was doubly huge because Winnipeg won at home so the Caps keep a two point lead on the Jets with eight games remaining. Winnipeg only has seven.

Next up for the Caps are the Carolina Hurricanes, who are in a major freefall, at the Verizon Center on Thursday night.

But that’s who the NHL says they must play, and Washington will gladly take a win against the Canes if they earn it.

Notes: Martin Erat skated late in the pregame warmup on Tuesday so that was encouraging. #10 was slammed into the boards and injured last Saturday night…Joel Ward is day to day after getting hurt blocking a shot on Sunday against Tampa…LW Brooks Laich did not make the trip to Montreal and was seeing a groin specialist on Tuesday…Montreal had 76 shot attempts to the Caps 46, but that and a quarter won’t even get you a cup of coffee. Neuvirth was able to see almost all of the shots that came his way while Washington excelled at getting traffic in front of Price…Ovechkin had 8 hits…the Caps lost the faceoff battle pretty handily, 41-24.

Programming Note: I’ll be on talking Caps hockey with Nestor Aparacio on Wednesday morning at 7:50. Listen live via WNST.NET

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