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Caps Rally But Fall in OT to the Penguins

Posted on 08 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

After trailing 3-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the game’s midpoint, the Washington Capitals rallied with three goals to send game #80 to overtime before falling, 4-3.

Braden Holtby made 31 saves, including several big ones when it was 3-1 in the third period, and those stops allowed the Caps to come back and nearly win. Marcus Johansson notched two goals and then Andre Burakovsky nicely deflected home a John Carlson (two assists) pass with 6:24 remaining to even things up.

From there both teams had chances to win it before Pittsburgh received a breakaway with a minute remaining in the three on three session to close the deal.

The bad news of the evening was that the Holtbeast failed once again to tie Martin Brodeur’s NHL single season wins record. Holtby is 47-9-7 this season and he’ll get one more shot this weekend to tie Marty, but he won’t break it since Philipp Grubauer will also play once.

Other than that, this game meant diddly to the Capitals and they played like it for long stretches. As I wrote after the loss to the Islanders on Tuesday, hockey is a game that requires a physical and emotional investment. Coach Barry Trotz prefers Washington employ a style of heavy hockey that emphasizes going through your opponent. For the first four months or so of this season, the Capitals did just that and that is how they pretty much wrapped up the Presidents’ Trophy by Valentine’s Day.

Since then, with their standings position solidified, the Caps have been more about staying in shape and avoiding injury. So far, it has worked.

Thursday’s game resembled one of those week 17 NFL games where clubs who have their playoff seeding wrapped up are just trying to get through the contest unscathed. That’s been the Capitals for several weeks. Playing heavy hockey and going through your opponent comes with a risk, and that is injury. The Capitals have been so far ahead in the regular season that it is just not worth that risk, at this juncture.

So we have only two more of these glorified preseason games to go, on Saturday in St. Louis and Sunday at home against the Ducks. Those two teams have division titles to play for while the Caps only have individual achievements left to motivate them.

Let’s be honest, that’s of more importance to the fans than the Capitals themselves. Talking with the players after Thursday’s contest you could just sense that they are extremely tired of where they are at right now, which is playing for nothing. They want to be in the playoffs, which won’t start until Thursday the 14th. I’ll reference the great Tom Petty with one of his lyrics to sum up the current state of the Caps, “The Waiting is the Hardest Part.”

There are many who are concerned about the Capitals recent uneven play, but Alexander Ovechkin was asked about the Capitals string of losses afterwards and if he was worried. His simple one word answer says all you need to know, “No.”

Anyone who watches a lot of hockey and was subjected to the contest on Thursday night knows that game looked nothing like how things will play out starting next week. Too many players had time on the ice without an opponent hitting them or being in their grill.  We could go through the tape of the contest and I could point out dozens of instances where a Capitals player chose not to throw a hit or be more involved because frankly, these games don’t matter. The last thing anyone wants to do is be injured with the post season just a week away.

While this game had minimal hitting, there was some chippiness to it because these teams frankly don’t like each other, and both fan bases despise each other, as well. They are second on my list, after the Flyers. It’s never fun to lose to either of those Pennsyltucky squads and with this triumph the Penguins won the season series with the Caps, 3-2. All that will get them is bragging rights, though, because if these two teams each win their first round playoff series, then they’ll meet in round two and Washington will have home ice.

Hopefully the Caps will be healthy too, and not exposing themselves to potential injuries now will end up paying off next week and beyond.

Keep the faith.

Notes: Tom Wilson hit Nick Bonino from behind and earned a five minute boarding major in period two. It was an unnecessary play and he was benched, other than in penalty killing situations, for the rest of the contest. He finished with just 5:50 of ice time…both teams were 0 for 4 on the power play, but the Pens had 9:25 of time to just 6:25 for Washington…shot attempts favored the Penguins, 56-52…Ovechkin had five hits and 10 shot attempts, including six on net in 22:03 of playing time…Matt Niskanen led the Capitals in time on ice at 27:37. Kris Letang played 30:44 for the Penguins. How much will he have left in the tank for the post season with all of the minutes he’s been logging?

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Isles Beat Caps

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Caps Squander Lead and Lose to Islanders in Overtime

Posted on 05 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

There are good losses in sports and there are bad losses.

On Tuesday night at the Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals suffered one of the bad variety yielding a 3-1 lead with 12 minutes remaining and losing in overtime to the New York Islanders, 4-3.

The Caps kept their season long streak of not losing two games in a row in regulation alive, but for just the second time after a loss, they fell in overtime and are now 15-0-2 after a regulation defeat in 2015-16.

Washington has been in preseason-like mode in several games recently, due to the standings, but they played a decent first period and took the lead on Alex Ovechkin’s 46th goal of the season thanks to a great screen in front by T.J. Oshie. The Caps had the puck a lot in that first frame, but they didn’t get enough rubber on rookie goalie, Christopher Gibson, who was playing because starter Thomas Greiss manned the cage on Monday in a 5-2 win over Tampa. Jaroslav Halak is also out injured and third goalie, Jean-Francois Berube, is sick, so you’d think that Washington would want to rattle the youngster early? They failed to do so and Gibson got stronger as the game went on.

Period two was pretty bad hockey as Washington looked in “la-la” land repeatedly turning pucks over and let New York hang around to get the game tied after 40 minutes. Heading into this contest the Caps were 3-0 against the Islanders this season after defeating them in seven games in last spring’s first round. It was getting to the point where the Isles had to feel like beating the Caps might’ve been too tall a mountain to climb.

With New York having played the night before, common wisdom had the Capitals coming out and jumping on the Islanders in the third period, and they did just that. Oshie scored his 26th goal of the season when he took a fanned Marcus Johansson pass and snapped it by Gibson just 75 seconds into the period. Ovechkin would then score his 47th goal of the season at the 6:56 mark finishing a three on one break from Oshie and Johansson.

Game over, right?

In the past with Washington, that normally would’ve been the case, but not tonight. The Islanders more than climbed that mountain storming back quickly with two goals in 1:45 as the Capitals went to sleep in their own end. Braden Holtby, who was on the cusp of tying Martin Brodeur’s win record, seemed to buckle a bit under that pressure and had a mistake of his own on each of the two New York comeback tallies. On the second Islanders goal, by Kyle Okposo, he totally misplayed the puck as it came out from behind the net and on the game tying tally, he probably should’ve had the shot, although Dmitry Orlov made another mistake by failing to clear Anders Lee from the front of the net, which allowed Lee to tip the biscuit by the Holtbeast.

From there the game ramped up and both teams had chances. Holtby made a great glove save on Anders Lee with about three minutes left. Evgeny Kuznetsov was in position to shoot one on one with Gibson late, but he chose to force a pass to Ovechkin for the hat trick attempt and another great scoring opportunity was squandered.

In the overtime, Kuznetsov (nine shots on goal) had a breakaway after a John Tavares turnover, but instead of using one of his great deke moves, he shot early, perhaps sensing the opposing defensemen closing in on his right, and Gibson denied him. Ovechkin then had a great chance in the slot, yet somehow the young goalie got the shaft of his stick on it and made the save.

That was all of the help the Islanders needed and Tavares made a great play to set up Thomas Hickey for the game winner and Washington’s domination over New York was gone, along with Holtby’s chance to tie Brodeur on Tuesday night.

That will now have to wait until Thursday night against Pittsburgh at the Verizon Center. The Pens are red hot and the Capitals are not. They are simply going through the motions for too many long stretches so who knows how that game will play out?

One now has to wonder, does this slight downturn matter given that this is glorified preseason right now? I’d like to say, no, it doesn’t. However, some bad habits have crept into Washington’s play.

It’s fair to ask if the Capitals will be able to flip the switch next Thursday in game one.

The good news in all of this is Caps players are not getting hurt and if this contest really mattered, Nicklas Backstrom would’ve suited up. He’s correctly being nursed back to 100% health. Washington is also not really employing their preferred style of heavy hockey right now, likely because these games, despite the talk of records for Holtby and trophies for Ovechkin, just don’t matter.

You have to be fully invested physically and emotionally to dominate and win hockey games. You can’t do it on skill alone. Right now, the Caps are not invested enough to do so, and that is why the mistakes are happening. They aren’t hitting like they will next week and that’s a big factor in why they don’t look dominating, at this juncture.

So in the grand scheme of things, this “bad loss” did prevent Holtby from getting the record, but it may not really matter if Washington stays healthy and then can turn on their brand of hockey in the post season.

We are just nine days away from that starting and it can’t come soon enough for the Capitals.

Notes: The victory clinched a playoff berth for the Islanders and also means that Washington will likely face one of the Flyers, Red Wings, or Bruins in the first round. Boston lost in the shootout to Carolina on Tuesday so they are tied for 3rd place with Detroit in the Atlantic. The Wings have a game in hand…the Caps outshot the Islanders, 32-27, but New York had more shot attempts, 62-57…all three Capitals goals came from the top line. Ovechkin (two goals) and Johansson (three assists) were both +3 while Oshie (three points) was +2…Orlov and Andre Burakovsky were both -2. Orlov was on the ice for three Islanders goals and just one Caps tally (the first). He continues to have defensive zone lapses…Tavares had a goal and two assists and was the best player in the game.

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The Capitals go all out for 60 minutes in Braden Holtby's 47th victory of the season.

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Caps Dominate Avs in 4-2 Victory

Posted on 02 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals turned in a dominant performance en route to a 4-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on Friday night.

Jay Beagle, Alex Ovechkin, Jason Chimera, and T.J. Oshie scored as the Capitals carried the play for very long stretches.

Braden Holtby made 17 saves to earn his 47th victory of the season and move within one of Martin Brodeur’s single season record.

Wow, this was some effort by the boys in white. They routinely won puck battle after puck battle to stifle an Avs team that had to have this contest for their faint playoff hopes. If not for the efforts of Semyon Varlamov (43 saves) and the goalposts (the Caps hit at least five pipes), then this one would have been as lopsided as the shots on goal, which were 47-19. Shot attempts were even scarier, 83-37 for Washington, that’s amazing!

Up and down the lineup the Capitals played well. Washington was skating and playing physical. Tom Wilson had a monster hit on Nikita Zadorov in the middle period and for the game he had six of the Capitals 22 hits (Brooks Orpik also had six hits). #43 was a beast all evening and Colorado wanted nothing to do with him in this one.

Speaking of beast mode, Beagle was terrific all night. He scored the opening tally on a stuff attempt. That was a key goal for Washington, who were piling the shots on Varly, but he and the posts were not beatable until that point.

But once Beagle scored the dam broke and Washington notched Ovechkin’s 45th of the season on a power play when Marcus Johansson fed him nicely in front. The Gr8 used his strength and reach to bury that biscuit.

Mike Richards, who was dynamite once again, had a great shot pass from the point that Jason Chimera deflected nicely in the high slot to make it 3-0. Stan Galiev did a good job of creating traffic there, too.

The Caps came close to making it 4-0, but they overpassed on a power play, and when Matt Niskanen took an offensive zone penalty, Jarome Iginla scored late in period two to give the Avs some hope.

In the final frame, Washington continued to put shots on the Avalanche, but could not get the fourth tally. Then Gabriel Landeskog scored on one of the rare Caps defensive breakdowns on this night to make it 3-2 with just under six minutes remaining.

Beagle, however, would be the hero when the Avs had the goalie pulled as he won a series of puck battles behind the Washington cage and that allowed Daniel Winnik to send the puck down the rink. Oshie then outraced the Colorado players to the biscuit to drop it into the vacant cage to close this one out. That empty netter was T.J.’s 25th goal of the season.

Again, this was an excellent performance by Washington and it really is baffling that the score was this close. Still, the victory pushes the Caps record to 55-16-6 (116 points) as they head to face the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night.

Colorado badly needed two points and the Capitals pretty much gave them no chance. You have to be very pleased with this performance, other than the lack of goals.

Notes: Nicklas Backstrom missed the game due to an upper body injury, but he did take an extended morning skate, so the injury is likely not serious…Ovechkin had 8 shots on goal and 14 shot attempts…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 32-22, Beagle was 8-6…both teams were 1 for 3 on the power play…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:34…the game was well officiated by Brad Watson and Ian Walsh

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Alex Ovechkin scores his 44th goal of the season and the Holtbeast makes 33 saves in a shootout loss.

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Caps Lose in the Shootout to the Flyers

Posted on 30 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

The Philadelphia Flyers had everything to play for and the Washington Capitals only had some individual milestones to motivate them as well as the annual stench that is the squad formerly known as the Broad Street Bullies.

In an entertaining game that saw the referees pretty much let things get out of hand, the team from the City of Supposed Brotherly Love came out on top in the skills competition, 2-1.

On the good side, Alexander Ovechkin notched his 44th goal of the season on the power play and now has a five puck lead for the Rocket Richard trophy with six games remaining (Patrick Kane and Jamie Benn). On the bad side, Braden Holtby was fabulous in the cage with 33 saves, but a hooking penalty by Marcus Johansson led to a late Brayden Schenn power play tally when he tipped home Claude Giroux’s blast with 5:28 remaining.

Washington received an overtime man advantage when Wayne Simmonds tripped Evgeny Kuznetsov, but Nicklas Backstrom hit the left post on a beautiful set up and Philadelphia killed the remainder of that sequence. It was clearly an opportunity lost for Washington.

Sean Couturier then ran Holtby, but somehow the zebras gave #70 a matching minor for roughing??!!

Yeah, something.

The Flyers would then defeat the Caps in the shootout and the Holtbeast is still stuck on win number 46 with likely four starts remaining for him. He needs two victories to tie Marty Brodeur’s single season record. Holtby was just outstanding in this game making several big stops.

Overall, this was a pretty even game. The shot attempts favored Philly, 69-68, and shots on goal were 34-30 for the Flyers. The Caps were unlucky with some pipes hit, in addition to Backstrom’s in OT, Ovechkin hit the left pipe in the second period after he undressed Nick Schultz.

Kuznetsov, who has been struggling in recent games, was better in this one and his pass to the Gr8 on the power play 1:28 in to period three was a beauty of the saucer variety. It’s one that Fox Mulder probably would classify as a UFO.

Believe.

It’s never fun to lose to the Flyers, but in the four games they’ve played against each other this season, the Caps are 2-0-2. One loss came in 3 on 3 and the other in the gimmick. None of that stuff happens in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. So for the group of Debbie Downers out there on the ledge afraid of playing Philly in the post season, I have a quote from one Douglas C Niedermayer, Sergeant at Arms, for  you.

“You’re all worthless and weak! Now drop and give me twenty!”

Once again, believe.

This Caps team is deep and will bring the intensity when the games matter. Right now this is basically glorified preseason for them. I’ll give the Flyers credit for playing hard, albeit a bit dirty, at times, but I expect nothing less from them.

The loss drops the Caps to 54-16-6 (114 points), but the Presidents’ Trophy was already clinched on Monday night. It’s now off to Colorado and Arizona for back to back tilts this weekend. You can expect to see Philipp Grubauer get one of those starts and perhaps Michael Latta, Stan Galiev, Mike Weber, and Taylor Chorney will see some game action, as well, to shake off the rust?

Right now it’s all about staying healthy for the playoffs. April 13th can’t come soon enough, but patience is all we must have right now.

Keep the faith.

Notes: The Caps were dominated from the dot, 41-28. Backstrom was 1-14, ouch!…Dmitry Orlov had a better game on Wednesday and doled out four hits. His decision making in his own zone was very solid, too…Jay Beagle led the Caps with five shots on goal. He had a great chance in overtime, but waited too long after Steve Mason (29 saves) had the five hole open for a few moments…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 26:42…both teams were 1 for 3 with the man advantage.

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John Carlson has a memorable return from injury with an OT blast that gives the Holtbeast his 45th victory of the season

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Carlson Tallies the Game Winner as Holtbeast Blanks the Devils

Posted on 25 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

In his first game back after missing 12 contests, John Carlson showed why he is so valuable to this Washington Capitals team as he fired a laser just inside the far post past Scott Wedgewood to give the Caps a 1-0 overtime victory over the New Jersey Devils.

Carlson’s rocket, after a super feed from Jason Chimera, ended Wedgewood’s shutout streak at 159:34 and put Washington just a single point away from clinching the Presidents’ Trophy. In addition, Braden Holby (22 saves) earned his 3rd shutout of the season, in Martin Brodeur’s old building. The Holtbeast notched season triumph number 45 and he is just three victories away from tying Marty’s all time NHL leading single season win total.

Washington came out strong early on, which has been a recent trend, once again dominating the shot attempts, but they failed to find the handle on several sequences around the net. The Caps would outshoot the Devils, 10-4, in that opening frame, however, Wedgewood and several missed opportunities kept this one scoreless.

The second period mirrored the first, with the Caps outshooting the Devils, 9-6. Both goalies made some decent stops and with New Jersey having played the night before in Pittsburgh and ending the Pens six game winning streak on Thursday, one would think they would be the more tired club in the final frame.

That was not the case as the Devils fired 11 shots on Holtby while Washington had just five. The Caps were guilty, once again, of over passing the puck and therefore, were not able to not consistently get the biscuit to the cage. Alex Ovechkin drew a penalty with 2:16 remaining, but Washington’s power play struggled to get set up and off to overtime we went.

In the extra session, Wedgewood made a huge stop on Ovechkin to extend the game. Shortly thereafter, Marcus Johansson made another great zone entry and he gave the puck to Chimera on the left wing boards. Chimmer skated behind the net looking for a pass and he came patiently out the other side to tee it up for #74 for the game winner.

This was tough sledding for the Caps as New Jersey basically conserved energy by guarding their own net like a fort. They tried to sit back and counter attack, but Washington did a nice job of not forcing plays which will often lead to odd man rushes. However, skating through the Devils and trying to get pucks to the front of the opposing goaltender was exactly how Craig Laughlin termed it, “like a tractor pull.”

It was not going to be pretty hockey, much like the case in the Capitals previous visit to the Prudential Center. In that contest Washington had to overcome the Devils in a shootout. Simply put, New Jersey doesn’t have the fire power that the Caps have so they really have only one way to try and win, sit back and hope for mistakes. That style earned them a point on Friday night, but their season is basically over, except for the mathematics.

Overall, this was a solid effort from the Capitals and Coach Trotz will be pleased that they stuck to their game plan without getting frustrated. They kept doing what they were supposed to do and maintained strong puck support all evening, which prevented the opportunistic Devils from capitalizing on any turnovers.

Perhaps the most encouraging item of the evening was getting Carlson back. His goal, in my book, was just icing on the cake to a solid performance in which he actually appears to be moving much more like the player he was before originally sustaining a lower body injury against Montreal back on December 26th. Carlson is the Capitals number one defensemen and an elite NHL blue liner, so his return to form is important for the post season. Washington was finally able to ice its top six defenders and it was clear how much of a difference it makes in terms of controlling the play.

The victory improves the Capitals to 53-15-5 and an astounding 111 points with nine games remaining. They are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games despite really having nothing to play for. On Saturday at the Verizon Center, Washington will take on the St. Louis Blues, who rolled over the Canucks on Friday night. It will be a matchup of two teams coming off of shutout victories that also had to travel to the District afterwards. As mentioned above, any point earned by the Caps yields them the franchises second Presidents’ Trophy.

That piece of hardware has been a foregone conclusion for weeks and the team focus has been on better starts and building their game for the playoffs. On Friday in New Jersey, large portions of this game were playoff-like in terms of the lack of open space on the ice, so it was another good tune up in order to help the Caps prepare for the all-important post season.

Notes: Both teams failed to score on the power play (NJ was 0 for 3 and Washington went 0 for 2)…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:14. Carlson logged 19:27 and Nate Schmidt had the lowest for a blue liner with 16:25. That is excellent ice time management by the coaching staff since no one was overworked…the Capitals dominated from the dot, going 32-20 (62%). Mike Richards was 9-2 and Nicklas Backstrom went 10-7…Ovechkin had nine shot attempts with four that made their way through to Wedgewood…T.J. Oshie missed the game due to the flu. Stan Galiev received a sweater as a result and logged 8:21. He had two shots on goal.

Special thanks to budding journalist, Anthony Poisal, for providing me with key statistics and assisting in the development of this game story.

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Braden Holtby stops 28 shots and Alex Ovechkin scores his 43rd goal in another Caps victory

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Caps Jump All Over Sens Early in 4-2 Win

Posted on 22 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals jumped all over the Ottawa Senators scoring three times in the first 15 minutes and then played solid defensively the rest of the way to earn a 4-2 road victory.

By doing so, they clinched the Metropolitan Division and the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a record of 52-15-5 (109 points). They are just five points away, with 10 games remaining, from locking up their second Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history (2009-10).

The Caps came out flying in this one and tallied just 2:32 into the contest as the fourth line forced a turnover along the right wing wall. Tom Wilson, who had his best game in several weeks, collected the Sens mistake and fed Mike Richards all alone in front of the net. #10 then made a nice move to his left and managed to push the puck past Craig Anderson (18 saves) to give Washington its first opening frame marker in 20 days.

Alex Ovechkin would then notch his league leading 43rd goal of the season on the power play at 12:22. Marcus Johansson made a super pass from below the goal line to a charging to the cage Gr8, and Ovi made no mistake about the finish. Nearly two and a half minutes later Nicklas Backstrom would complete a beautiful passing play with Jason Chimera and Jay Beagle to make it 3-0.

In the last five minutes of that opening period, the Caps would kill off a 63 second five on three power play to maintain their three goal lead. They are now 20-0-0 when leading after the first 20 minutes.

From there, Ottawa had the puck a lot, but they didn’t really get many quality chances. Washington wasn’t yielding odd man rushes and they kept the fast, but smallish Senators on the perimeter most of the night. Chris Wideman did score just past the game’s midpoint on a long range shot that Braden Holtby (28 saves) missed after Karl Alzner tried to snag it with his glove. That allowed the Sens to close to 3-1, but they only had 19 shots on goal through two periods, while Washington generated just 12. The Caps were guilty of passing up some good looks and also missing the net on several decent chances.

In the third period, Washington managed the game extremely well giving Ottawa no quality chances until late in the game when the Senators pulled Anderson. After referees Steve Kozari and Trevor Hanson missed an obvious closing the hand on the puck infraction on Zack Smith, Mika Zibanejad banked one in off of Holtby to make it a one goal affair with 1:33 to go.

But Richards, who was dynamite in this contest, Backstrom, and Beagle worked their tails off to keep Ottawa out of the offensive zone and then T.J. Oshie notched his 23rd goal of the season when he outraced Erik Karlsson to the biscuit and deposited it into the empty net to halt the Capitals three game road losing streak.

This was the 44th victory of the season for the Holtbeast and he’s just four wins shy of tying Martin Broduer’s NHL record.

Washington’s victory was important because they kept their season long streak alive of not losing in regulation in back to back situations. They are now 14-0-1 after a loss. That last defeat, to the Pens by a 6-2 margin, caused several Caps fans to lose their collective minds on Twitter on Sunday night. It was maddening to see the doom and gloom and first round loss predictions flowing for a team that has lost just 15 games all season in regulation. Yes, you heard that correctly, the Capitals have lost only 15 times in regulation all season. That’s amazing!

So I’m sure the local hospitals were all full on Sunday evening and Monday morning to deal with all of those from the Debbie Downer crew who broke their legs jumping off of the bandwagon following the meaningless defeat to Pittsburgh.

Hey, bad games happen, especially when the other club is fighting for their playoff lives and you are just going through the motions. The Capitals really haven’t had much to play for in a month or so because they have been just so darned good since the start of the season. Hockey is an intense emotional game and if you aren’t invested in the game, it’s hard to play at your peak. The Caps have not played at their peak consistently in awhile, but that doesn’t surprise me given the large standings lead and the length of the regular season.

I’ve been telling everyone since last summer that this is the best Caps team ever. I still 100% believe that, and oh by the way, they’ve been playing without their best defensemen, John Carlson, for most of the second half of the season. But words are just that, and this team will have to back me up in the post season with 16 W’s.

We are still three weeks away from the playoffs, so the Caps will continue to play pretty much meaningless affairs and the main goal will be to stay fresh and avoid injuries.

This stretch is like a second pre-season for the Capitals, but hopefully in the end, their regular season dominance will pay off in April and beyond.

Notes: Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:22. Alzner played 22:55 and Brooks Oprik logged 22:20…Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky only played 12:17 and 11:09, respectively, as Coach Trotz played the third line of Jojo, Chimera, and Beagle quite a bit. That line was very good in this contest…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 31-30, but Beags went 8-3 and Backstrom was 10-7…Karlsson played a game high 31:54 for Ottawa, that is just too many minutes and it is indicative of the lack of depth on the Senators roster…next up for the Caps are the New Jersey Devils at the Rock on Friday night at 7:00.

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The Caps improve to 13-0-1 this season in the game immediately following a regulation loss.

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Ovechkin’s OT Tally Helps the Caps Hit 50 Wins

Posted on 16 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin scored in overtime off of a nice “sauce” pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Braden Holtby stopped 25 shots as the Capitals defeated the Carolina Hurricanes, 2-1.

The extra session is supposed to be “sudden death,” but that was not the case on this evening as the Canes challenged the game winner stating that the Capitals were offsides on the zone entry. After a minute or so review, replays seemed to indicate that Kuznetsov came across the line before he brought the puck in, but somehow the goal stood and Washington walked away as winners of their 50th game of the season through 69 tilts. In doing so they clinched a playoff spot and they are the first NHL team to do that in this campaign and they still have 13 more games remaining.

That playoff spot was a formality and at this point, sitting at 50-14-5 (105) points, their magic number to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy is 11 points as only the Los Angeles Kings, if they happened to go 13-0, could reach 115 points. So winning that piece of hardware is a formality, as well. As I’ve said all season, this is the best Capitals team ever and they are only the 6th team in NHL history to win at least 50 out of their first 69 games.

Other milestones on this night included the Holtbeast setting the franchise record for wins in a season with 42. Olie Kolzig had won 41 back in 1999-00. In addition, the Gr8’s winning tally was his 17th career overtime goal and he leads the NHL in overtime markers since 2005-06.

Overall, the Caps played a very solid game against a club that is fighting for a playoff spot. Carolina is weak on talent with Justin Faulk out of the lineup on defense and forward Eric Staal now donning a Blueshirt, but they play a structured game and are well coached by Bill Peters.

Washington came out flying and played their best first period in quite some time. They worked hard, got the puck deep on the Canes defense, and generated numerous scoring chances. Unfortunately they couldn’t finish, hitting the iron at least three times in frame one and on at least five occasions over the course of the entire game. Eddie Lack (29 saves), was good for Carolina in net, but he also had luck on his side, too.

Coach Barry Trotz pulled a Reg Dunlop and shuffled his lines around before this contest moving Jay Beagle up to right wing with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. He also put T.J. Oshie with Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky. Then in an attempt to get the third line going, Justin Williams was paired with Marcus Johansson and Jason Chimera while Mike Richards centered Daniel Winnik and Tom Wilson on the fourth unit.

The moves certainly generated a spark and when Williams put home a great feed from Chimera just 1:30 into the middle frame, the Capitals had scored first for the first time since the Toronto game on March 2nd. Scoring first has been nearly a guaranteed victory when the Caps do so and they are now 30-2-0 when that happens. Coach Trotz stated that the Chimera-Johansson-Williams line was the best for his club against Carolina and it would be hard to argue that one. Chimera and Jojo both performed as well as they have in several weeks.

However, the Canes weren’t going to let this one be easy and Coach Trotz noted that after his club scored, the shift immediately afterwards was not good and that gave Carolina hope that they could stick around. They did just that scoring at 10:50 of period two when Dmitry Orlov gifted the puck to Jordan Staal in the slot right after it looked like the Hurricanes had too many men on the ice.

Following a scoreless third period in which Carolina received a power play, the game went to the extra portion and Coach Trotz started with Beagle, Backstrom, and Matt Niskanen in the three on three format. That was a new overtime configuration and both Nicky and Beags kept several pucks alive in the offensive zone making it tough for the Canes to change players. Those three Caps were on for close to a minute before the three Russians, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, and Orlov, came on to win the contest.

Carolina was clearly not happy that the goal stood, and they might have a beef, but the zebras didn’t have the best night missing some obvious infractions on Capitals scoring chances, not calling the too many men right before the Canes goal, and ignoring Lack touching the puck outside of the trapezoid in the third period. But that’s hockey and Washington certainly carried enough of the play to deserve the two points and get closer to locking up the Presidents’ Trophy and home ice for the playoffs.

Ovi’s goal was his first in six games and he now has 42 goals this season. He’ll need eight tallies in 13 contests to reach the 50 goal plateau, but I don’t think he really cares much about any individual achievements, at this point. It’s all about winning the Stanley Cup.

On Tuesday night, the Caps certainly had the proper effort from the outset to calm the “bad start” fears that were persisting around this club and its fan base. They didn’t bury the Canes in the goal department, but they certainly dominated the quality scoring chances and shot attempt totals (56-48).

They are also a resilient crew, as evidenced by their 13-0-1 record following a regulation loss this season.

Next up are the Nashville Predators at the Verizon Center on Friday night at 7 pm.

Notes: Holtby stated afterwards that he thought his best save was his first one, on Jeff Skinner, early in the contest. The Holtbeast was dialed in on Tuesday and I thought another great sequence he had was in the third period when he made a sliding save on a Canes power play chance and kept his body in control and in position for any rebound attempt…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 24-20, Kuznetsov was 8-5…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:27. No Washington player logged less than 11 minutes as Coach Trotz did a nice job of spreading around the ice time….Ovechkin led the Caps with 12 shot attempts and seven shots on goal….Brooks Orpik had seven hits to lead all players on both teams.

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A furious Capitals rally from a three goal deficit forces overtime, before Jeff Carter ends it for the Kings in the extra session.

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Caps Rally from Three Down But Fall in OT to the Kings, 4-3

Posted on 10 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Do not go to sleep on the Washington Capitals, ever.

On Wednesday night, the Caps rallied from a 3-0 third period hole to force overtime at the Staples Center before losing, 4-3, on Jeff Carter’s goal when a Capitals player headed to the bench on a bad line change giving the Kings an odd man rush.

Wow, what another thriller!

The Caps, who played the first period like they were still shopping on Rodeo Drive, trailed by three pucks after just 13:26. Washington once again was penalized by the zebras early in a game for the 10,000th straight time and after a failed clear on the penalty kill, a pinballing puck shot from the point hit notorious Cap killer Vinny Lecavlier on the way to the net and past Braden Holtby (26 saves). It was the 12th time in the last 14 games that the opposition scored on the Caps first.

The Holtbeast made several other big stops in the opening frame, but with the Capitals over pressing to tie things up, they made an offensive zone blue line turnover that allowed the Kings to get a three on two rush. Defensemen Jake Muzzin jumped up in the play and Tanner Pearson gave #6 a nice drop pass that he snapped top shelf by Holtby to make it 2-0.

Shortly thereafter, with the Capitals again trying to press the play, Karl Alzner lost the puck down low and the forward covering for him, Evgeny Kuznetsov, decided to freeze at the top of the right wing circle instead of turning and heading back on defense, as he is supposed to do. The result was a three on one for the Kings that Milan Lucic buried for his 16th goal of the season.

Perhaps you could partially fault Holtby on the second goal, but not the other two. He also made several other big saves on Los Angeles quality chances, otherwise it would’ve been at least four or five to zip.

It was another dud of a first frame for Washington, there’s no two ways about. They were outskated, outshot (14-6), and outplayed.

But in 2015-16 Capitals fashion, they never gave up. They had some super chances in period two, but couldn’t connect as the biscuit was just not bouncing their way. The shots on net after 40 minutes were 21-13 for the guys in black, but it was 7-7 in the middle stanza, so the tide was turning.

Three goals down heading into the final frame at 12:30 am, it’s time to go to bed on the east coast, right? I mean this Capitals team isn’t coming back from three down against one of the best squads in the NHL, right?

Since the Caps were in LA, I think it’s only fitting that we quote the great Jack Nicholson from a Few Good Men here, “You’re <blankety blank> right they did!” [Sorry, this is a kids friendly blog, so I won’t give you the exact quote, but you get the message, right?]

Shame on you if you bailed, because the Caps totally stormed the castle in that third period getting back in it on a goal just 1:46 in from T.J. Oshie on their only power play of the game, to three for the Kings (thanks for nothing Francois “You really should be selling ties” St. Laurent). Marcus Johansson made a nice play in front, after a Matt Niskanen shot, to keep the puck alive before #77 snapped it home.

Washington continued to swarm like bees around honey and with just over nine minutes remaining, Oshie made a brilliant pass to Alexander Ovechkin in front of Jonathan Quick (29 saves). Ovi was cut off so he tried a spin move and the fired puck hit off of the Kings defender in front right to Nicklas Backstrom. Nicky promptly buried it to end his 18 game goalless drought and put all LA fans at the Staples Center on edge, as they rightly should’ve been at that point, against the powerhouse Capitals.

Kuznetsov (1 assist) then had a glorious chance in the slot to tie the game up, but Rob Scuderi made a sprawling dive to cut #92 off and send the puck wide of the net. The Caps would not let up and their relentless pressure paid off soon after as Dmitry Orlov tied the contest with 3:22 to go on as pretty a play as you will see. Kuznetsov carried the puck in the zone and fed Justin Williams, who hit Orlov at the right point. #9 then weaved his way through several Kings defenders with amazing grace and stick handling before putting a quick, but deadly backhander past Quick. It was an amazing tally.

The Caps would then pressure the Kings for the last three plus minutes of regulation, but couldn’t convert on the game winner.

Both teams received a point and off to overtime we went. It was a sensational extra session with both teams having great chances, including Johansson just barely missing top shelf on a quality chance. As is usually the case, those misses cost you and the Kings scored on their ensuing possession after Jojo made a bad decision to change without his team having the puck, giving Los Angeles a three on two that Carter finished off.

Wow, what a game!

This Capitals team just never quits. It doesn’t matter how bad they start, they always seem to find the extra gears to get back in the contest to either win or at least salvage a point. They do that by wearing their opponents out, which should not happen when you are playing your sixth game in nine nights or seventh in 11!

But this team is great.

Sure it was a loss, but given the way they battled back to force overtime, it feels like a win. If they can just get some better pregame locker room tunes going so they start games off stronger, then they might never lose again. So somebody please yank the Barry Manilow CD or whatever other bad music (Kanye West?) is in there out of the boom box before puck drop in San Jose on Saturday night (10:30 pm on Comcast Sportsnet).

So the Caps finished off their seven games in 11 nights stretch going 4-2-1.

To quote Max Cherry from the 1997 movie Jackie Brown, they are like The Delfonics, “They’re pretty good.”

In there was a string of four games in five nights, plus a west coast flight. This squad should have had no gas left in the tank for a comeback on Wednesday night, but they somehow did. They have perseverance and incredible pride. They know that if they right the ship and start playing the “north-south” game their coach desires, they will eventually get results.

On Wednesday in LA, they took a costly 20 minutes off from playing Capitals hockey, but kudos to them for never quitting and putting one heck of a scare into a two time Stanley Cup winning hockey club.

Notes: Johansson and Oshie led the Caps with five shots on goal each. Ovechkin had four, three of which came after the first 40 minutes…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 28:22…the Caps lost the face off battle, 37-29…shot attempts were 60-53 for the Capitals, thanks to the furious third period rally when the Caps out shot Los Angeles, 18-6, in shots on net…the Kings presented separate video tributes to both Williams and Mike Richards, who each played their first game as visitors in the City of Angels since winning two Stanley Cups for Coach Darryl Sutter …Washington is now 49-13-5 (103 points). The league should have the Presidents’ Trophy engraved already.

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A Matt Niskanen shot leads to the third game winning Caps goal this week.

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Grubauer Leads the Caps to the Century Mark in Points

Posted on 05 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Coming off of a tough loss to the despised New York Rangers, the Washington Capitals were set to play their fourth game in five nights in Beantown against a red hot Bruins club. To win, they would need effort from everyone on the roster and superb goaltending.

They received both of those.

Matt Niskanen’s rocket 2:36 into overtime beat Tuukka Rask (28 saves) as the Capitals rode some stellar goaltending from Philipp Grubauer (33 saves) to defeat Boston for the sixth straight time, 2-1.

This was one heck of a hockey game after the Capitals dominated the Rangers on Friday night, but lost due to some big mistakes. Washington had a good start on Saturday, however, it was one of those big mistakes that led to the opposition scoring first, once again. The Caps top line got caught out of position in their own zone and then an unfortunate bounce off of Nicklas Backstrom’s skate went Patrice Bergeron’s way and he deposited the biscuit into the cage just 7:11 into the game. Grubauer had no chance on that one.

Overall, though, it was a solid road period for the Caps and they were unlucky to trail, having outshot the Bruins, 9-7.

In the middle frame, things got very dicey, very quickly. The Bruins appeared to take a 2-0 lead on a rebound goal where the Capitals coverage broke down, but the Washington video coaches notified Coach Barry Trotz that they thought the play was offsides. Sure enough, Loui Eriksson’s skate was up in the air on zone entry and the goal was wiped out.

After surviving that, the next turning point occurred when Alex Ovechkin was given a questionable major for boarding by the overreacting Wes McCauley (the same referee who incorrectly whistled Tom Wilson for a match penalty against Ottawa earlier in the year). Brad Marchand earned a roughing call to negate the first two minutes of the major, but after Mike Richards, who was fabulous in this game, made a great steal and rush up the ice, Wilson was correctly called for interference. That gave the Bruins a five on three advantage for one minute and 49 seconds. Grubauer was spectacular in that sequence and he had some assists from the iron as the B’s hit a couple of posts.

Washington would ride the momentum from that big PK and Karl Alzner scored after carrying the puck deep in the offensive zone. #27 battled along the left wing boards and Ovechkin came in and snagged the biscuit. Ovi alertly spotted Backstrom in the far slot and then #19, with Alzner heading to the net, put one right on King Karl’s stick and he directed it home to tie things up.

The Caps gathered energy from that tying goal and kept pushing, but yet another mental mistake led to a too many dudes infraction. The Capitals penalty killing unit, which was a perfect five for five in 8:09 of shorthanded time, did the job.

As a result of all of the penalties, the Bruins had 20 shots on net in that middle frame, yet the game was still tied heading into the third period.

Normally the team playing the fourth game in five nights would be the one hanging on, but it was the other way around in this one as the Capitals carried the play with 10 shots on goal to just four for Boston. Each team had three minutes of power play time but neither could convert setting the stage for the OT.

In extra time, each club would generate three shots each, but then Marcus Johansson made a strong offensive zone entry and fed Andre Burakovsky just inside the blue line. Young Burra then made a nice cut across move and dropped the puck to Niskanen, who had just come off the bench on a change, and #2 just hammered it past Rask on overtime shot lucky number seven. It was the third time this week that a “Niscannon” blast led to the game winning goal (Oshie tipped his shot home in the win over Pittsburgh on Tuesday and Niskanen had the GWG against Toronto on Wednesday).

Wow, this was some great hockey game!

It was physical, Wilson fought Adam McQuaid in the first frame, and it was played at a high tempo, end to end pace. Coach Trotz’ crew worked hard all evening and afterwards he commended everyone’s “battle.” Battled was the right word because the Bruins love to play heavy hockey, as do the Caps. For some reason, Washington just seems to get the better of Boston ever since the 2012 playoff series victory. Normally it is Braden Holtby who terrorizes them, but on this night it was Grubauer who did the damage.

The victory improves the Capitals to the century mark in points at 48-13-4. They have an 18 point lead in the Metropolitan Division and are 15 points over the top clubs in the Western Conference. The NHL can just start engraving the Presidents’ Trophy now.

But that is not the hardware this club wants and their play over the weekend, despite losing to the Rags, is encouraging. They were emotionally involved in both hockey games after snoozing through many previous tilts. They still have some things to clean up, but overall the effort was back, and big credit for that goes to the newly cobbled fourth line of Richards, Jay Beagle, and Daniel Winnik. Those guys have pretty much tilted the ice for Washington since they’ve been put together this week. You can’t underestimate what a difference having a line like that makes now and will add in the post season since Coach Trotz can put any of his four lines out on the ice against any opposition line because this club is so deep. General Manager Brian MacLellan, who fixed the blue line in the summer of 2014, and the top six forwards in the summer of 2015, has now, along with Coach Trotz, fixed the bottom six forwards since the beginning of the season with the Richards signing and Winnik trade.

On Sunday, the Capitals will fly to California (I’m going back to Cali, Cali…) for a very difficult three game stretch against the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, and San Jose Sharks, the top three clubs in the Pacific Division. It starts on Monday night at 10 against a Ducks squad that has won 11 games in a row to pull a Linda Rondstadter (Blue Bayou, h/t Gary McCord) on the Kings.

To beat these three left coast powerhouses the Capitals will need the type of effort they had against Boston while minimizing the big mistakes.

Get your rest and your caffeine ready for the late night week ahead.

Notes: Niskanen, who was +2, led the Caps in ice time with 26:48…Ovechkin, despite the bogus major penalty, seemed more like himself in this one with nine shot attempts and five shots on goal. He and Zdeno Chara had their usual battle and #33 was called for roughing late in the game for trying to take Ovi’s head off. The Gr8 will face another one of his “buddies” on Monday in Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks…the Caps lost the face off battle, 29-26. Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was fabulous despite scoring no goals on seven shots on net, was 8-4…Brooks Orpik logged 22:30 but was cut late in regulation on a clean hit by the Bruins. T.J. Oshie also got hit high early by Chara in this one and stayed in the game…given the “battle” of this contest, it’s safe to say that the Caps will be eating rocks for breakfast on Sunday morning before their all day flight to California.

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Two of the NHL's best battle it out on Tuesday Night at the Verizon Center in a Caps 3-1 victory over LA.

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Grubauer Stellar in Caps Victory Over the Kings

Posted on 17 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

In a matchup of two of the NHL’s heavyweights, the Washington Capitals and Los Angeles Kings put on quite a bout on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center.

The Caps Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the game winner with 2:02 left in regulation when former King, Justin Williams, fed #92 on the left post for a tap in after LA goalie, Jonathan Quick (29 saves), was cut off by his own teammate, Kevin Gravel in the crease.

Jason Chimera then added an empty net tally with nine seconds remaining to make it 3-1.

This was a hard fought victory for Washington. After a decent opening 10 minutes they chose to play the “easy game” for the next 25 minutes and as a result, found themselves trailing, 1-0, on an Anze Kopitar shorthanded marker with 3:17 left in period one. Caps Coach Barry Trotz noted that his club, like they did in Dallas in the second period on Saturday, was playing too much of an “east-west” game. Once again the Capitals were attempting high risk, cross ice passes instead of getting pucks in deep and paying the physical price to score. Too often it was a one in and one out sequence in the Washington offensive zone. They weren’t working hard to support the puck and that allowed the Kings to dominate the shot totals and scoring chances.

Fortunately for Washington, Philipp Grubauer (39 saves) was the great equalizer. For 35 minutes he kept the Caps in the game until they got their brand of heavy hockey going. Chimera noted that the team didn’t make any adjustments to spur the comeback, they just started moving their feet and putting bodies on opposing players to win the loose puck battles. Simply put, the Capitals returned to what makes them so successful, heavy hockey. The Kings are a big team with the likes of Milan Lucic, Dustin Brown, Kyle Clifford, Jeff Carter, and others, but the Caps are big too with skaters such as Tom Wilson, Chimera, Alex Ovechkin, and Brooks Orpik.

The Capitals roster is also deep, and with the return of Orpik (1 assist, +1, in 16:43) they were able to roll their three defensive pairs while Los Angeles relied heavily on its top four blue liners, especially their top pair of Drew Doughty (1 assist in 31:29) and Jake Muzzin (28:49).

Through 40 minutes, Doughty and Muzzin were both over 20 and 18 minutes respectively while Coach Trotz’ top defensemen, John Carlson, was just over 15 minutes. Similarly, Washington was rolling its four lines and that allowed the Capitals to dominate the first nine minutes of period three. The Kings didn’t have a shot on net during that span and it took some super saves from Quick to hold the fort for the visitors. Andre Burakovsky, who scored the Capitals first tally by going to the net and deflecting home a Dmitry Orlov point shot with under a minute left in period two, had a great chance on a two on one rush, but somehow #32 got his shoulder on a shot targeted for the top shelf.

Not to be outdone, Grubauer made a few point blank saves in the slot area to keep the game tied before Williams and Kuznetsov found a way to give the Caps the lead and eventually the win.

It was a super intense contest and credit the Kings for bringing their “A” game against Washington, but the Caps are just so deep and continue to take early punches then find ways to win hockey games. They aren’t always doing it the way their coach would like, especially the recent second period swoons, but the way they are carrying the final frame is a testament to their depth. When you are deep and can play a physical style that wears opponents out, it leads to strong finishes. On this night, the Caps certainly finished strong to beat one of the league’s best squads (and recent two time Stanley Cup Champions).

Going forward, the recent return of Carlson and then Orpik on Tuesday night on the back end will be a huge advantage. Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time at 22:40, but the lowest defensemen total was for Nate Schmidt with 13:27. That’s shows a fairly proper spread of blue line minutes and will pay off over the next two months when the Capitals will be playing a lot of hockey. When both Carlson and Oprik were out, Niskanen was routinely playing up in the 27 to 28 minute range, and that is just too much over the long haul. Coach Trotz noted that those guys, Niskanen and Karl Alzner, made it seem like the team wasn’t missing Carlson and Orpik because those two played so well. Trotz also stated that there is an upcoming stretch where they’ll play six games in nine days with the last one involving a cross country trek to Anaheim, so having the ability to spread the minutes is huge for his club.

Orpik, when asked afterwards if it makes a difference, noted the advantage this Capitals team has with a big standings lead and the depth on the blue line.

“I think so for sure, last week playing in Minnesota you see a guy like Ryan Suter plays almost 35 minutes. Over an 82 game season and hopefully playoffs, I don’t care how good of shape you are in, that just takes its toll on you. Especially tonight, there’s two to three minutes left and you see we got our fourth line out there. Coach trusts them in a tight game, that’s what you need. You can’t just wear your guys out down the stretch, especially with how physical the games get.”

Managing the minutes will be important, but should the Capitals take guys out of the lineup down the stretch to prepare for the playoffs?

“I think it’s a fine line too, you’re kind of in a similar situation to Pittsburgh when I was there. A few years we had big leads and sometimes we started resting some guys and taking them out of the lineup and that doesn’t really work so well. I think maybe backing off of the minutes on some guys you can do to keep everybody going, keep the rhythm going. Every year, if you look at that team which battles to get the last playoff spot has success. They have to play hard that last month and just roll that right into the playoffs. It’s not a league where you can say ‘ok, we’re going to turn the switch on now’ after four for five guys resting for a week or so. But definitely minutes wise you can be a bit smarter and back off guys,” finished Orpik, who Coach Trotz said played well in his return to the lineup after missing 40 games. He noted Oprik’s excellent passes and said that he and Dmitry Orlov were the second best defensive pair against the Kings.

The ice time management will be something to watch as the Caps, now 41-10-4 (86 points), play their remaining 27 contests.

Washington continued its season long streak of following up a regulation loss with either a non-regulation loss or a victory. On Tuesday, it was another W as they rode their back up goalie, Grubauer, for as long as they could until the team found a way to score a pair of greasy, going to the net type of goals that you must get to beat a super club like the Los Angeles Kings.

Notes: LA won the face-off battle, 33-25. No Caps player won more than half of their draws. Jeff Carter was 13-3 for the Kings…Doughty had an assist on the Kings goal when he thwarted a Marcus Johansson pass intended for Ovechkin in the slot. If the pass goes through, it’s an easy goal for the Gr8. That’s a big reason why Doughty is the best defensemen in the NHL, he can play at both ends of the rink at an elite level…each team had 33 hits, it was a “heavy affair.” Niskanen had six to lead the Caps while Brown had five for LA…Ovechkin had 15 shot attempts, including 10 on goal in 19:29 of work…next up for the Capitals are the Islanders in Brooklyn on Thursday night. The Caps are 2-0 against New York this season.

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