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Caps Win in Overtime Thanks to the Holtbeast

Posted on 12 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Marcus Johansson’s rocket of a shot off of a Dmitry Orlov feed 2:20 into overtime allowed the Washington Capitals to knock off Jonathan Toews and company in the Windy city on Friday night, 3-2.

The Caps, who received two goals from Jay Beagle in the opening frame, including a shorthanded tally, led this game from 14:44 of the 1st period until 23 seconds left (nearly 45 minutes of action), when Marian Hossa tied it with Blackhawks goalie, Corey Crawford, on the bench for the extra attacker. It was a deflating goal for the Capitals, but they showed mental toughness once again and found a way to get a big two points.

Washington played well in stretches in this one, and they held Toews and Patrick Kane to a total of one shot on net. Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner were the main reasons for that on the back end.

But Chicago had their share of chances due to their risk-reward style of play and in the first 30 minutes they could’ve potted several tallies, if not for the Holtbeast. Braden Holtby made 32 saves on the night and he was dialed in from the opening puck drop. He was easily the game’s number one star, in my book, and if not for his outstanding goaltending, the Caps likely lose.

As for Beagle, his line didn’t get a ton of ice time, he only logged 9:59, but #83, Zach Sanford and Daniel Winnik were relentless on the puck all game and that was because they were skating. Beagle’s first tally came shorthanded after Niskanen forced a neutral zone turnover, which got the puck to T.J. Oshie (1 assist, +2) on the left wing. Oshie and Beagle had a two on one rush and #77 made a gorgeous pass to Beags, who deposited it in the yawning cage with Crawford having no chance.

It was Beagle’s first ever shorthanded goal, but the Blackhawks would answer on that power play just 22 seconds later when Brian Campbell’s shot appeared to deflect off of a Capitals stick ever so slightly, which allowed it to get by Holtby.

Beagle’s next goal came at even strength. Daniel Winnik made a strong play to get Beags the puck in the offensive zone right wing circle and he alertly carried around the net. Sanford smartly went to the net and that not only drew a Blackhawks defender, but Crawford seemed sure that a pass was coming into the slot and that slight hesitation allowed Jay to stuff the puck in at the far post for a beauty of a wraparound marker.

The middle frame saw both teams get some great chances, including Oshie on a breakaway, but he never got a shot off because Duncan Keith hooked his gloves, but the referees missed it. Justin Williams also had a one on one situation, but he was forced to his backhand and was denied nicely by Crawford. “Stick” is playing some good hockey and he’s getting quality chances, they just aren’t going in.

After 40 minutes, the shots on goal were even at 21 each, but you knew Chicago, who had won seven straight contests coming into this game, was going to try to throw the kitchen sink at the Capitals. They did generate 13 shots primarily as a result of Washington sitting back too much, especially over the last 10 minutes. Coach Barry Trotz had his team employing a 1-4 set up that was geared to throttle the Blackhawks ability to come flying into the offensive zone with speed. It worked, for the most part, but in the end, not trying enough to score at the other end caused a roll of the dice situation at the end of the game. I’d have much preferred that the Capitals were more aggressive on the fore check, which could’ve forced Chicago to play more in their own zone. Over those last 10 minutes, there was only one shift where the Capitals had any sustained pressure and offensive zone chances, and that came from the Beagle line with about five minutes remaining.

Simply put, with the speed and pace of play in the NHL these days, you can’t sit back on a one goal lead like that too often and get away with it. The coaches need to adjust their strategy going forward since the best defense is a good offense.

With the victory, the Capitals improved to 9-3-1 on the season and only the Minnesota Wild have given up fewer goals (28 to 24). Washington is playing good defense, for the most part, but they haven’t really gotten the offense untracked. The power play is struggling, but in this contest, that unit never even received a chance to go on the ice since Chicago was not penalized, at all.

Overall though, a win against a quality opponent that’s won the Stanley Cup three times since 2010 is an impressive accomplishment. The Caps can thank Holtby for keeping them in a game they might’ve been blown out of had #70 not been so on his craft on Friday night.

Notes: Niskanen, who was outstanding in this game, logged 25:18 to lead all Caps in ice time. Keith played 27:00 for Chicago…Oshie fell down on the winning goal and the Blackhawks defender tripped over him. Chicago wanted a penalty, but the referees deemed it incidental contact, which it was…Chicago out shot attempted the Caps, 59-51…Carlson and Orlov were an adventure for several shifts. They allowed multiple odd man rushes and after a strong game against San Jose, #9 had an erratic and inconsistent contest…Taylor Chorney suited up for his first game of the season. He played 13:31 and handled himself well. Nate Schmidt was the scratch on the blue line and Brett Connolly was the odd man out up front…Johansson now has seven goals on the season (tied with Alex Ovechkin)…the Caps will travel to Raleigh overnight and take on the Carolina Hurricanes at 7 pm on Saturday. Expect Philipp Grubauer in net for Washington.

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Chicago and the zebras combined on Sunday afternoon to defeat the Capitals, 3-2.

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Caps Get Slimmed in Chicago, 3-2

Posted on 28 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

“Well, um, icing happen when the puck come down, bang you know, before the other guys you know. Nobody there, you know. My arm go comme ça then the game stop then start up.” – Goaltender Dennis Lemieux of the Charlestown Chiefs.

On Sunday afternoon in the Windy City, the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks played a thrilling hockey game with the club that has won three Stanley Cups in the last six years coming out on top, 3-2, despite a late Caps rally.

This was a fantastic display of the sport, by the players, with the Capitals dominating a breathtaking first period. Washington poured 17 shots on net in the opening frame as well as several others that missed the cage, including Evgeny Kuznetsov’s shot in tight that hit the post. Chicago only had six shots on goal, but thanks to a Justin Williams turnover and Patrick Kane being a “sneaky bugger” the game was tied after 20 minutes. The Caps goal came on a power play with Marcus Johansson baseballing the rebound home at the doorstep after a strong shot from Williams in the slot. That tally was the first time the Capitals scored first in the last eight games and it was easily their best first frame since the All Star Break. Unfortunately, the solid play did not translate to a road lead and that ended up costing Washington as the game progressed.

The Blackhawks took over period two, out shootoing the Caps, 14-4, aided by some curious penalty calls on the Caps and at least one each of missed icing and offsides infractions. Brooks Orpik was called for hooking on a clean hit shortly after an obvious offsides on the Hawks. The Caps killed that one off, but then a missed icing call on Chicago led to an incorrect tripping call on Taylor Chorney. That was two power plays for the bad guys on no real infractions. Jonathan Toews scored on that second man advantage situation to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead heading into the final period.

Washington would carry large portions of the final 20 minutes, outshooting the Hawks, 9-3, but when linesmen Matt MacPherson and Brandon Gawryletz missed an obvious icing call on Chicago, Nate Schmidt and the rest of the Capitals eased up awaiting the impending whistle. It did not come. As a result, Richard Panik seized the puck and hit a charging Dennis Rasmussen in the slot, who was all alone and beat Braden Holtby (20 saves) to make it 3-1. You are taught at a young age in all sports to play to the whistle, so shame on Washington for stopping and not finishing the play. That’s a good lesson to learn, but seriously, what is with the inconsistent officiating in this league? The linesmen should know what icing is, it is even simpler than Dennis Lemieux explained it in Slapshot! To steal from another great movie, Fletch, “Perhaps [the refs] need a refresher course!”

The Capitals players and bench were incensed and afterwards Coach Barry Trotz, Alex Ovechkin, Jay Beagle, and the Holtbeast were not happy with the bad or missed calls. In fact, Trotz told Caps beat reporter Mike Vogel that two of the missed icing calls directly or indirectly lead to Chicago tallies. It was no doubt a bad night for all four zebras, but the league will likely do nothing about it.

After receiving a late five on three man advantage the Caps pulled Holtby to make it a six on three. Washington promptly lost an offensive zone faceoff, but Nicklas Backstrom made a great play knocking down a Hawks clearing attempt and from there #19 got the puck to Kuznetsov, who banked it in from below the goal line on Corey Crawford (28 saves). The Capitals stormed the castle again after that, but T.J. Oshie couldn’t connect on a great chance in front. #77 was in the right positions most of the game, however, his hands weren’t there on Sunday.

So the loss drops the Caps to 45-12-4 (94 points). They still lead Chicago in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy by 11 points and they have three games in hand, so Washington still has the inside track for that piece of hardware. More importantly, getting home ice for the entire playoffs would be a key to winning the silver hardware they really desire. If they do happen to meet the Hawks in the Finals or the Rangers in the second round or anyone else in a game seven, that would be played at the Verizon Center.

Speaking of the Rangers, the Blueshirts were “gifted” Carolina forward Eric Staal for half price in salary in return for two second round picks and a prospect. This deal for the Rangers was outstanding and it was only plausible because Marc Staal plays for the Rags. The Canes, who were in the hunt for a playoff spot, should feel shame for aiding the crew from New York. Sure they get some marginal assets, but seriously, that was worse than the bad Iran nuclear deal.

But back to Caps-Hawks, both goalies made big stops in this one and you can’t fault the Holtbeast on any of the goals. Washington needs to hit the net more consistently, that was their downfall on Sunday, along with the guys in stripes, who missed a good game.

Notes: the Caps outshot the Hawks, 30-23 and outshot attempted them, 53-48…the Caps were two for five on the power play while Chicago went 1 for 4… the Caps were creamed on draws, 31-20. They had no answer for Toews, who went 18-4…the trade deadline is on Monday at 3 pm and if the Caps do anything, it might be to add a faceoff specialist, but, in my opinion, they don’t need to make any moves…John Carlson did not play in this contest. He underwent a minor procedure on his knee on Saturday and was placed on long term injured reserve, so he’ll miss at least the next 10 games. Coach Trotz stated on Sunday morning that they expect him back in three weeks…the Caps had 47 hits to just 27 for Chicago. In the first period the Caps really came out playing the body hard and that ended their bad first period streak…this was only the second time all season that the Capitals lost in regulation after scoring first.

WNST Event Note: Please come out to Buffalo Wild Wings on Monday evening in Belair to meet Coach Barry Trotz. Nestor Aparacio and I will be interviewing the great bench boss. In addition, there will be swabbing done by There Goes My Hero for the Bone Marrow Registry. This is a simple process and it is very helpful in the fight against leukemia.

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Despite losing two players to injury, the Caps go "Next Man Up" to defeat Buffalo, 5-2

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Ovechkin, Kuznetsov Carry Banged Up Caps to their 9th Straight Victory

Posted on 31 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Injuries are a part of sports, there is no denying that, but it’s how a team reacts to them that’s important.

So with the Washington Capitals trailing, 2-1, after 40 minutes on Wednesday night to the Buffalo Sabres at the Verizon Center, and with both Nicklas Backstrom (upper body) and Jay Beagle (upper body injury that will require surgery) having to leave the game, Coach Barry Trotz needed his big guns to step up.

They did just that as Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists), reunited with Alex Ovechkin (two goals) and T.J. Oshie (one assist) to reform the TKO line, caught fire to lead the Capitals to a four goal final frame and a 5-2 victory, their ninth straight win. Kuznetsov, the game’s number one star, put on a clinic on the ice on how to shred a defense with dazzling moves and superior puck management. The young Russian made a super pass to the Gr8 just 1:24 into the 3rd period to tie the game up. Then, after the Caps lost the initial draw on a power play, Oshie outworked two Sabres in the left wing corner to get the puck to Kuzya. After trading passes with Matt Niskanen (1 assist in 25:40 of ice time), #92 fed Marcus Johansson in front for the game winner with 11:28 remaining.

Johansson (1 goal, 1 assist) was another of the players who really stepped up in the third period moving to the center position after having played wing for most of the last several seasons. Jojo, with Backstrom out for the third period, logged a season high 20:11. Andre Burakovsky took advantage of his opportunity, as well, and had a huge goal just 84 seconds following the Johansson tally. After a successful Brooks Laich offensive zone forecheck, Johansson was able to grab the puck and feed #65 in the slot for Andre’s third goal of the season and his first since October 23rd. Ovechkin would add an empty net goal, his 20th of the season, with 1:13 remaining to close this one out.

It was a very strong final 20 minutes and Coach Barry Trotz commented afterwards that the whole team really did step up. The Coach called it “Next Man Up” and the resilient Capitals out shot attempted the Sabres, 28-20, in that period to take full control of the hockey game.

“We got it from our top people, and I thought we got it from everybody. Our lines are all messed up, obviously, with a couple guys out, especially in the middle, and I thought Jojo [Marcus Johansson] stepped in and played center. I thought Ovi [Alex Ovechkin] and the big line really stepped up. I thought our defense core as a whole really got resilient. A guy like Zach Sill came in and did a really good job. I just thought everybody said, “hey, let’s find a way to win, it doesn’t bother us, just go.” It’s an opportunity for guys to step up and they did,” added the man whose team now leads the NHL with a 28-6-2 record (58 points).

Overall, this was a strong game for Washington, save for some sloppy sequences where they over passed the puck in the middle frame, which led to some Sabres quality scoring chances. Even with multiple turnovers and the occasional extra pass, the Capitals dominated with 43 shots on goal and 76 shot attempts to just 27 and 55, respectively, for Buffalo.

“It’s a fine line, you don’t want to discourage skill, guys are making those plays where sometimes you’re looking for a better shot and when it works a lot of times they’re the ones that go in because the goalie has to move from side to side. So I understand the reasoning behind it, but you’re kind of flirting with danger there when you’re making those cross ice passes and when there’s extra guys jumping in the rush you open yourself up to odd man rushes the other way, as well. You don’t want to discourage it, but I think just recognize how the game is going and be smart about it when you try those plays,” said Niskanen on the Caps skill and their tendency, at times, to pass up shots for another pass.

Coach Trotz, when talking about the over passing, stated that he’d like to see more shots, as well, even though he pointed out they did have 43 of them on Wednesday, but he doesn’t want to stifle the creativity and high end skill that many of his players possess. To him, the key is “game management” and knowing the situation you are in, much like what Niskanen stated.

With John Carlson out of the lineup for the second straight contest, and Trotz stated afterward that #74 will not travel to Carolina and Columbus for the next two games, the defense was forced to step up, too. Niskanen was outstanding leading the club in time on ice while Nate Schmidt (23:23), Dmitry Orlov (21:53), and Karl Alzner (20:24) all logged significant minutes. Taylor Chorney played 13:12 and Connor Carrick (-2), who only logged one third period shift before Ovechkin’s empty net goal, chipped in with 11:04.

Braden Holtby won his league leading 24th game of the season and is now a staggering 16-0-1 in his last 18 tilts with two shutouts, a 1.76 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage. #70 was at his best in the second period, and he also received some good fortune on two pucks that hit iron, making several big stops. In the final period he didn’t have to do too much as Washington dominated play and didn’t allow many quality scoring chances.

So now it is on to Carolina for a game in Raleigh at 6 pm on New Year’s Eve. The speedy, well skating Hurricanes will once again be rested against a Capitals team that will have played the night before. Last time this sequence occurred, Philipp Grubauer stole a win for Washington. Given that the Caps play in Columbus on Saturday, you can expect #31 to be in the cage again versus the Hurricanes. He also might have to steal another win given the list of Capitals now in the infirmary. Backstrom will travel to Carolina and hopefully can play, as well as Michael Latta. But you can expect a forward and defensemen call up from Hershey as a precaution for Thursday’s game.

It’s once again “Next Man Up,” especially if the Capitals want to extend their winning streak to 10 games.

Notes: Justin Williams had the Caps first goal into a vacant net after a furious forecheck in which he and Kuznetsov forced goalie Chad Johnson (38 saves) to turn the puck over…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 33-30, which is no surprise with their 1st, 3rd, and 4th line centers out for the third period and more…Sill, recalled from Hershey on Wednesday, was only 3-9 from the dot in 10:08 of ice time…Ovechkin had 10 shots on goal and 15 shot attempts…notorious Cap killer Evander Kane had six shots on net and 10 shot attempts total for Buffalo…rookie Jack Eichel had 13 shot attempts (six on goal) and two assists to earn the game’s third star.

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Jay Beagle's line shines once again in a Capitals 3-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens

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Caps Third Line Propels Team to its 7th Straight Victory

Posted on 26 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river. – Creedence Clearwater Revival

Proud Mary is probably a good song to be playing these days if you are a Washington Capitals fan, especially after the Caps won again on Saturday night, defeating the Montreal Canadiens, 3-1, for their seventh straight victory.

Fresh off of a four day break, three of which were mandated for the NHL Christmas shutdown, the Caps came out and played a solid game at home against a team that is very quick and adept at causing defensive zone turnovers.

Washington would have its issues, at times, with the Habs speedy forwards, but on the whole, they dominated this game in the scoring chances department, and if not for some overpassing and good goaltending from Mike Condon (30 saves), the Caps win this tilt by a larger margin. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jay Beagle (GWG), and Jason Chimera tallied for the home squad, who are now 17-0-0 when scoring three or more goals this season.

On the other end of the ice, yes there were turnovers, but not a whole lot of quality shots for the Canadiens. That allowed Braden Holtby (29 saves) to get his league leading 22nd victory and lower his goals against average while raising his save percentage. It was another solid game for the Holtbeast, but on this night, he didn’t have to be the star because the Caps played pretty well.

The Beagle, Chimera, and Tom Wilson line had another superb effort and Willy picked up two helpers, and both were of the primary variety. When your third line scores two goals, there is a darned good chance you are winning the contest and Washington is still undefeated in regulation when #83 tallies. Wilson continues to improve and was super on the penalty kill, Montreal went 0 for 2, and he also earned a decision over Jared Tinordi in the first period. It was a properly timed fight by Wilson given that the Canadiens had three or four consecutive good shifts and Tinordi also cheaply cross checked him. After that bout the Caps seized the momentum right back in the hockey game.

Beagle’s game winner was a thing of beauty as the three forwards all did the proper things on the goal sequence. Chimera charged the net after getting the puck out to Wilson, and big #43 made a sweet pass back to Beagle, who used the Habs player as a screen to laser one over Condon’s shoulder. Plain and simple, it was a sweet goal.

Montreal would tally back 24 seconds later in the middle frame on a bad giveaway and poor coverage sequence by Washington’s second line, which was arguably the Caps worst shift of the game.

But with the Capitals nursing a 2-1 lead in the final frame, Nate Schmidt made a good pass to Willy in the neutral zone and he properly banked it off of the boards to a streaking Chimera. From there #25 turned on the jets to fly in and beat Condon top shelf, glove side. Caps play by play announcer, Joe Beninati, could not have called that one any better with the “Speed Kills” line. That goal came with 8:45 left and the Capitals salted this game away from there. The only scary moment came in the last five minutes when Matt Niskanen fired a point blank shot off of the right wrist of Alex Ovechkin. The Gr8 was in pain, but he did come back to play another shift after that. The captain, who clearly eats rocks for breakfast, also had a big shot block in the dying seconds of period two. That type of lay out and sacrifice your body for your squad sequence received lots of immediate praise from his teammates.

Overall, this was another nice win and the Caps have won eight straight in the friendly confines of the Verizon Center. Beagle noted that the crowd was loud and they helped Washington. There’s no doubt about that and the team is now 26-6-2 (54 points) to remain atop the Eastern Conference standings.

This team is really good and continues to find different ways to win games. The Caps continue to be on a roll, going 16-2-2 over their last 20 games, so I say cue the CCR.

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river.

Notes: Schmidt had two assists in 20:15 of ice time…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 26:17…shots on goal were 33-30 for the Washington, but shot attempts were 61-52 for Montreal. The Caps passed up a lot of shot opportunities and that resulted in offensive zone turnovers…the Habs won the faceoff battle, 33-25, but Nicklas Backstrom went 11-8…the Caps now play a home and home series with the Buffalo Sabres on Monday and Wednesday. On Monday, they are at the First Niagara Center. Sabres rookie forward and second overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft, Jack Eichel, had two goals and two assists in a 6-3 victory over the Boston Bruins on Saturday night. Ryan O’Reilly had three points and notorious Caps killer, Evander Kane, had a goal. This will be a tough two games with a young and improving Buffalo team…the Caps wore their third jerseys for the second time (2-0) and to quote the great Billy Crystal, “They looked Maaaaahvelous!”

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T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin score and Braden Holtby makes 26 saves in a Caps 4-1 rout of Chicago

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Holtby, Caps Top Line Throttle the Defending Champs, 4-1

Posted on 15 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After a clunker on Tuesday night against the San Jose Sharks, it was expected that the Washington Capitals would come out with energy against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night at the Verizon Center, and that they did. Washington received goals from T.J. Oshie, John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and Alex Ovechkin as they pulled away in the 3rd period for a 4-1 victory to improve to 2-1 on the young season.

Oshie scored on the power play at 8:48 after Viktor Tikhonov took a silly penalty. Tikhonov went after Tom Wilson after #43 hit Hawks captain Jonathan Toews in the defensive end and as is the case so often, if you take a bad penalty, the other team usually scores with the man advantage. The Caps only allowed one shot on goal in the first 10 minutes and only five in the first frame to get off to a much needed good start. Washington’s top line of Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Ovechkin was clicking and the third line of Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera, and Wilson was flying around creating energy and putting the body to Chicago.

The second period, however, would be where Chicago would make their push given that they played on Wednesday night in Philadelphia (a 3-0 loss). Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby had no interest in seeing his club lose the early lead and he was stellar stopping 17 shots on net, many of which were of the quality variety. Carlson notched his first goal of the season on a point blast that Scott Darling had no chance on because Marcus Johansson was running a perfect screen in front of him. That goal came shortly after a point blank Holtby save. Chicago’s efforts yielded no tallies, primarily thanks to #70.

In the final frame, the Caps looked more like the team from the first period throttling Chicago and holding them to just five shots on net. The lone Hawks goal came shortly after Niskanen’s tally, which was the result of a super pass from Johansson. “Jojo” did the dirty work behind the net and then found #2 all alone at the top of the slot. Chicago’s Victor Svedberg would be the only one to dent Holtby, who never saw the shot. But Coach Barry Trotz commented afterwards that he really liked the way his team didn’t panic and shut the Blackhawks down the rest of the way. Washington’s top three lines did a super job of hemming their opponents in their own zone and as a result the game became a relatively stress free win down the stretch.

Overall, this was an encouraging game. Granted the Blackhawks played on Wednesday and had to travel from Filthy, but they are still a strong team with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Marian Hossa up front and Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook on defense.

The Caps received strong performances from several players. Holtby was deservedly the first star, but Carlson, Kuznetsov, and Johansson were at the top of their respective games.

Andre Burakovsky had a rough first two periods, but the 20 year old is adjusting to the center position after playing mostly wing last spring. #65 seemed to have his best period of the season in the third frame and confidence is so important to that young man. He was finally skating well and playing his game instead of looking like he was over thinking things on the ice.

Chimera continues to pick up where he left off in the playoffs and used his speed to keep Chicago on its heels. Wilson has really improved and was a physical force creating space for his line mates. He does an excellent job of getting under the skin of his opponents.

The Capitals now face the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night at the Verizon Center with a chance to go to 3-1 before heading away on their western Canada trip. The Canes are in the Auston Matthews sweepstakes so if the Caps bring the energy and play smartly, they should win. There is also a chance that Nicklas Backstrom, who had offseason hip surgery, could make his season debut.

Notes: The Caps only took one penalty on Thursday (a questionable roughing call on Ovechkin) while Chicago was in the box only twice. Coach Trotz noted that the Blackhawks don’t take many penalties and he was happy that his club moved its feet and didn’t take any penalties of the lazy variety. Overall, referees Francois St. Laurent and Marc Joannette let the players play the game, and that was pleasing…shot attempts were 55-54 for Chicago and face offs were dead even at 23 apiece…Carlson led the Caps in ice time at 25:01 while Keith played 22:13 for the Hawks (he logged 9:01 in the first period alone).

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Caps Set to Face Blackhawks in Bridgestone Winter Classic

Posted on 31 December 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Well, it’s finally here.

We are less than 24 hours from puck drop at Nationals Park for the NHL’s Annual Winter Classic, sponsored by Bridgestone, between the Washington Capitals and the Chicago Blackhawks.

For those following along on EPIX in Ross Greenberg’s Road to the Winter Classic, you’ve watched two highly skilled teams orchestrated behind the bench by two very upfront coaches, in Barry Trotz and Joel Quennville.

Washington’s off season coaching change along with the personnel moves they’ve made on defense (via new GM Brian MacLellan) have propelled this club to an 8-2-3 December, and major cause for optimism, as I chronicled on Sunday.

The Caps are hot, but in this match up they are facing the best team in the NHL in the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks are led by Jonathan Toews, who has won two Stanley Cups and two Olympic Gold Medals in the last four years. He’s arguably the best player in the NHL, depending on who you talk to. Add to Towes the likes of Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook and it’s easy to see why this club is so good and narrowly missed winning Cup number three last year (they were knocked out by the Los Angeles Kings in game 7 of the Western Conference Finals in OT).

Chicago is talented, structured, and disciplined. They are everything the Capitals and Alex Ovechkin want to become on a consistent basis. Under Trotz, the Capitals are making steps towards that, but they are still a work in progress.

So let’s talk about Thursday’s game, which based on the weather conditions, may see a 60 to 90 minute delay due to weather. It’s not precipitation or temperature, but the sun that could cause the delay. With the shadows not covering the ice until roughly 2:30 pm, the potential for injuries due to glare (someone not seeing a puck properly) or bad ice (the sun can make the surface uneven) are much higher at the scheduled start time of 1 pm.

Now to the match up. The big question in Caps land is will Washington’s top left handed defensemen and major physical presence, Brooks Orpik, play after suffering a right knee injury on Monday?

Orpik did not skate during the normal team practice Wednesday at Nationals Park, but he did at Kettler Ice Plex in the morning, per a video shot by a fan that the super Capitals blog, Russian Machine Never Breaks, obtained. From that video, it’s apparent that Orpik could likely play, as he was moving well, but he’ll be a game time decision.

If Orpik is out, then Nate Schmidt goes into Orpik’s slot next to John Carlson, who by the way is having a very quiet monster season. #74 is fourth in the NHL in scoring by defensemen with four goals and 23 assists. He’s also a team leading +14! Yes, the 2010 American hero in the IIHF World Junior Championships has actually improved on last year’s super Olympic team making season playing alongside the steady and snarly Orpik. So hopefully Orpik’s absence, if it occurs, does not impact Carlson, as well.

Trotz routinely puts Carlson and Orpik against the opponents top line, so the question now becomes which D pair, if 44 is out, does he go with against the Toews-Kane line? My guess is he may switch that to the Matt Niskanen-Karl Alzner duo.

Up front, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have been DOMINATING on their shifts in puck possession in recent weeks and they are due for a big game on the scoresheet. Does it come Thursday against Chicago?

To win, I really think that 8 and 19 will have to carry the day and Braden Holtby will need to be his usual stellar self, especially if Orpik doesn’t play.

As chronicled over at another great Caps web site, Japers Rink, the Caps power play is in a recent funk and needs to snap out of it to aid the Caps chances of beating the mighty Blackhawks.

The Caps have also been getting solid production from the line of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward.

Chicago is a great team and they bring four good lines. Washington will need their second scoring line and their fourth line to be near their best to get a victory.

This game on New Year’s Day is only for two points, but let’s be honest, it’s a huge deal and the players will approach it like a playoff one.

It’s the NHL’s regular season signature event and a can’t miss one for hockey fans.

 

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Return of Laich Helps Caps End Losing Streak

Posted on 07 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

For the first 30 minutes of Friday night’s hockey game in Chicago, it looked like the men against the boys.

The Blackhawks were dominating the Capitals up and down the ice and they held a 2-0 lead, which could’ve been worse, if not for Braden Holtby (38 saves).

But somehow the Caps managed to fight through it and an Andre Burakovsky’s sweet top shelf goal on a Capitals 2 on 1 rush gave Washington life with just under five minutes left in period two. Washington would then tally two more times late in the second frame by getting bodies and pucks to the net to take a 3-2 lead into the third period.

From there, Coach Barry Trotz elected to clamp things down and go into a defensive posture for the final 20 minutes against one of the best teams in the NHL. Trotz put Jay Beagle on the top line with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin and relied heavily on the line of Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich, and Joel Ward. Despite the fact that Washington rarely possessed the biscuit in that third period, it worked. Chicago had very few quality chances over the last 20 minutes as Washington won a huge road game and improved to 5-5-3 overall (13 points). It was Laich’s first game back in the lineup since injuring his shoulder on October 18th versus Florida. The Caps are 4-0-2 with #21 in the lineup.

This was not a pretty win, but the Caps have been pretty lately and losing a lot. No, this is just what this team needed, a grinding, gritty victory against a super hockey team. They received a huge performance from their goaltender and they played excellent team defense once they got the lead.

As Mike Vogel, the Caps team beat writer, tweeted once it became 3-2, this was the 12th time in 13 games that the Capitals had led in a game this season. Recently they’ve fallen apart and lost after taking the lead in the middle frame. So to play the way they did defensively and close it out is huge. They didn’t make the big turnovers, instead opting to chip the puck out, and they kept the Hawks to the perimeter. Players were fighting for each other, blocking shots, and eliminating their man in the defensive zone from getting prime scoring chances.

They played the right way in their own zone once they had a lead against a stacked offensive club.

Sure it would have been nice to have some more offense in that final frame, but the way things have been going and the way Chicago is so stingy on defense, Trotz elected to go the smarter route in terms of winning the hockey game.

That decision paid off and Washington comes away with a very big victory and ends their five game losing streak.

More importantly, they won this game as a total team, and that should be something they can build upon going forward.

Notes: Shot attempts were 66-32 in favor of Chicago and the Blackhawks won 35 of 60 faceoffs…Brooks Orpik led the Caps in ice time with 25:57. He and John Carlson were outstanding as a shut down defensive pair in this one against an elite club…the Caps are home against the suddenly surging Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night at 8 pm. The Canes have won four straight games after an 0-6-2 start.

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Ovechkin, Backstrom, Halak Pace Caps Over Hawks

Posted on 11 April 2014 by Ed Frankovic

It was game 81 of 82 and instead of gearing up for the playoffs, the Washington Capitals are playing out the string.

The good news is that Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom notched a goal and an assist each and Jaroslav Halak made 34 saves in a 4-0 blanking of the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Before getting too excited over the win, take notice that the Hawks didn’t have their three best players in the lineup in Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith.

Washington looked like the only club interested in participating in this tilt and they carried much of the play for two periods. The total shot attempts for the game were 64-55 in favor of Chicago, but the Blackhawks did most of their damage in the third period (17 shots on goal). Hitting was relatively non-existent and only 21 were credited in total for the night. Basically this was like another pre-season contest.

Jay Beagle took advantage of a depleted Chicago lineup and had his first ever NHL two goal game. #83 is a guy who never complains and brings his best effort every day to the organization, so it is great to see a lunch pail guy who is just happy to be able to contribute get two goals. Beagle has as good of an attitude as any player I’ve ever been around in my 39 years of following and covering the NHL.

Ovechkin scored his league leading 51st goal to open the scoring on the power play and Backstrom’s tally from a bad angle gave the tandem an even strength goal later on. On the evening the Caps were 1 for 3 with the man advantage while Washington killed off all three Chicago power plays.

The win moves the Caps to 38-30-13 with Sunday’s final game against Tampa looming. No doubt the Bolts will be resting any of their banged up players as they have a playoff series coming next week.

For the Caps, this is the last game in which this club, as configured, will be together.

Notes: The Capitals won the face-off battle, 27-17. Backstrom was 8-2…Marcus Johansson was injured in period two and did not return. He’s been ruled out of Sunday’s final game…Coach Adam Oates pretty much rolled the lines on Friday night so the ice time was evenly spread across the board.

 

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Caps John Carlson Makes a Strong Team USA Olympic Hockey Team

Posted on 01 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Following today’s NHL Winter Classic in the “Big House” in Ann Arbor, USA Hockey announced their 25 man roster for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in February and as predicted in this blog back in November, the Washington Capitals John Carlson made the team on defense.

Carlson, in a conference call with the media tonight, called it a “dream come true” and said that playing on this big stage would be an even greater feat than scoring the overtime game winning goal for USA in the 2010 World Juniors Gold Medal.

Washington’s #74 received a ringing endorsement from team captain Alex Ovechkin when the Gr8 said that Carlson was the team’s best defensemen and 100% deserved to be on the team. Carlson has had an outstanding season and when Mike Green was injured earlier in the year, he stepped up as the team’s #1 d-man on the power play to go along with his role of being on the #1 pairing for killing penalties. Simply put, his ability to play in all situations combined with his excellent skating and hard shot made him a perfect fit for this year’s Team USA Olympic squad.

As for the rest of the team, GM David Poile’s club that will be coached by Penguins bench boss Dan Bylsma is as follows:

Goalies (3):

Ryan Miller (Buffalo), Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles),and Jimmy Howard (Detroit)

Defensemen (8):

Carlson, Ryan Suter (Minnesota), Ryan McDonagh (Rangers), Brooks Orpik (Pittsburgh), Paul Martin (Pittsburgh), Kevin Shattenkirk (St. Louis), Kevin Faulk (Carolina), and Cam Fowler (Anaheim)

Forwards (14):

Patrick Kane (Chicago), Zach Parise (Minnesota), Joe Pavelski (San Jose), Ryan Callahan (Rangers), Derek Stepan (Rangers), James van Riemsdyk (Toronto), Phil Kessel (Toronto), Blake Wheeler (Winnipeg), David Backes (St. Louis), T.J. Oshie (St. Louis), Ryan Kesler (Vancouver), Max Pacioretty (Montreal), Paul Stastny (Colorado), and Dustin Brown (Los Angeles)

This is a very good team but the challenge, as Poile mentioned back in August, is to be able to handle the big ice surface in Sochi. Team USA has not fared well outside of North America in the Olympics so the pressure is on this club to produce. The strength of this squad, in my opinion, is the goaltending and up front. Miller, despite playing behind a weak Sabres club, has been performing at a very high level and if Quick doesn’t get healthy and play well quickly, it will be the Michigan State alum in net once again for the Americans. Up front, Kane is as good a scorer as any in the world. The defense is the question mark but this crew of eight is filled with players who can play at both ends of the rink.

The time zone change, Sochi is nine hours ahead of the east coast, will be a factor for many of the NHL players but that impacts nearly every squad. On paper, Canada and Sweden look to be the best while Russia is hoping home ice helps their cause. I see Russia’s defense and goaltending as ultimately being their downfall. There are still six weeks to go until the games start, but my prediction right now is:

Gold – Sweden

Silver – Canada

Bronze – USA

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Ovechkin, Holtby Help Caps Beat Jets in Shootout

Posted on 23 October 2013 by Ed Frankovic

There’s an old saying that “there are no style points in sports.”

That absolutely applied to the Capitals 5-4 shootout victory over the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre on Tuesday night.

Washington played miserably on defense for much of the night, but thanks to some timely goaltending from Braden Holtby (43 saves) and two goals from Alexander Ovechkin (NHL leading 8th & 9th tallies), the Caps grabbed a win on the first tilt of their five game road trip to improve their record to 4-5 overall.

Time after time the Caps gave up odd man rushes to a very fast Winnipeg team but somehow Holtby managed to make the big saves to keep the Caps from falling too far behind. The Jets, once they watch the film on this one, will curse themselves for not scoring more on their numerous opportunities.

Washington struggled with their first three power plays giving up a shorthanded tally and if not for #70, the Jets might have had more. Still, when Washington received a power play in the third period the man advantage finally clicked with Troy Brouwer banging home a goal off of a sweet feed from Nicklas Backstrom to give the Caps a 4-3 lead.

Naturally, on this night, some horrible defensive zone play by the top line and the Mike Green-Nate Schmidt defensive pair, led to the tying tally less than three minutes later. Green would play one more shift in the 3rd period, on a Washington power play, but after that he did not see the ice again, including the overtime session. Oates stated afterwards that the decision to sit #52 was because he was struggling (h/t to Mike Vogel for that info). The question though, is were the struggles due to a physical ailment, because Green has not looked that lethargic or played that poorly in a long time?

Offensively, the Caps did numerous good things and they generated a lot of speed going into the Winnipeg offensive zone. Marcus Johansson (2 assists) and Mikhail Grabovski (1 goal) were really flying for Washington in this one. The Capitals also had some very good fore checking shifts that wore out the Jets defense and forced Winnipeg into some costly turnovers. Rookie Tom Wilson continues to play hard, hit, and wreak havoc when he’s on the ice. Those were some of the positive things that came out of the victory.

Defensively, well, there is a ton of work to do. The Caps are far too guilty of puck watching and not moving their feet in their own zone. You could call it “road cone” defense, if you will. Defense is an effort and attention to detail part of the game. Washington has much work to do in this area, especially when it comes to looking around and finding out where your opponent is going so that you can take away their time and space. Coach Adam Oates has his work cut out for him getting some of these guys to buy in on playing in their own end. If the Capitals want to have a strong regular season and then advance deep into the playoffs, they have to improve their play when they don’t have the puck, particularly in the neutral and defensive zones.

Still, a win is a win and they don’t say how, they just count the two points for a victory during the regular season.

The Caps did not play particularly well, but they did manage to not quit, show some passion and resiliency, and earn a very big win to open up an important early road trip.

Notes: Backstrom, Brouwer, Brooks Laich, and Martin Erat scored in succession in the shootout, which the Caps won, 4-3…Washington was 1 for 5 with the power play while Winnipeg went 0 for 3 (but the Jets did have a SHG)…Oates relied heavily on Karl Alzner and John Carlson as a d-pair in this one, with both playing 26 minutes and change…Green had only 18:13 of ice time, a season low…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 47-34 and Eric Fehr went 1-6…somehow Evander Kane only had an assist in 28 plus minutes of ice time. #9 had 6 shots on net and was all over the rink. He’s a Capital killer but Holtby denied him in the gimmick right before Erat notched the game winner.

 

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