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Ovi 600

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Ovechkin Hits 600 Career Goals in Caps Thrilling OT Victory

Posted on 12 March 2018 by Ed Frankovic

With his wife in the building along with budding young super star, Patrick Laine, who had tied him for the NHL lead with 40 tallies coming into Monday’s night contest, Alexander Ovechkin took his game to another level notching his 599th and 600th career goals before Evgeny Kuznetsov scored on a breakaway in overtime to give Washington a 3-2 triumph over the very good and very fast Winnipeg Jets.

Philipp Grubauer made 26 saves for his 10th win of the season thanks in part to Chandler Stevenson’s diving break up of a two on one Winnipeg rush to set up Kuzy’s winning marker with 49 seconds left in overtime.

Wow! What a hockey game!

Below are my thoughts and analysis on this thrilling affair at Capital One Arena:

Back in 1st Place, Baby! – Washington’s win improves their record to 39-23-7 (85 points) and they leapfrog the Penguins back into the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. The Caps have a game in hand on the Pens with 13 contests remaining in the regular season. More importantly, the Capitals opened up a four point lead on the Flyers, who lost to Vegas on Monday night and have also played one more game than Coach Barry Trotz’ squad.

Nobody Does It Better – He isn’t a Russian spy, no, he’s a Russian goal scoring machine. Granted I never saw Rocket Richard or Bobby Hull play back in the day, but I’ve been watching hockey since the early 70’s and given the way the game is played now and the quality of goaltending, Ovechkin is, for my money, the greatest goal scorer I’ve ever seen. He has a sensational shot that he can get off in so many different ways. His first of the night was a low snapper from the point that found its way through Tyler Myers, T.J. Oshie and then Connor Hellebuyck (40 saves) and into the net for a five on three power play marker to give the Capitals an early 1-0 lead. Then, after Nikolaj Ehlers tied the game just 58 seconds later by stealing a poor back pass by Lars Eller, the Gr8 became the 4th fastest player in NHL history to score 600 goals when he tallied 3:53 into period two (only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Brett Hull have reached the 600 mark faster). Matt Niskanen made a great keep in on the left wing boards and he fed Kuznetsov in front just outside the right post. Kuzy shot, but the puck bounced to Tom Wilson in the slot. Willy fired the puck on net and Hellebuyck stopped it, but he couldn’t control the rebound. Ovi came in strong on the left post side and then whacked at it twice over a falling Dustin Byfuglien and finally, on his third try, he lifted the biscuit into the basket over a sprawling Hellebuyck to spark bedlam in the arena. It was clear from the outset of this game that Alex was on a mission to get 600 and help his team earn two critical standings points. His stat line for the night is monstrous: two goals, 15 shot attempts, eight shots on goal, five hits and 0 turnovers in 23:07 of ice time. With that, it’s time to cue the Carly Simon.

”Nobody does it better, makes me feel sad for the rest, nobody does it half as good as you, baby, you’re the best…”

Pivot Patrol – Once again, the Capitals received super play from their top two centers in Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist) and Kuznetsov (1 goal, 1 assist). Backstrom had six shots on goal, a takeaway, and was 10-8 in faceoffs in 20:58 of ice time while Kuzy had four shots on net, two takeaways in 23:13 of time. It was #92 who once again centered Ovi and Willy while Backy was the pivot man for Andre Burakovsky and Brett Connolly. Eller had a rough first period with his poor back pass in a four on four situation that led to Ehlers goal, but Coach Trotz received a strong game from Jay Beagle, who was 13-4 on draws logging 10:02. After losing to the Jets in OT on February 13th, the Washington bench boss made a smart adjustment by having #83 take the opening draw in the extra session and he won it cleanly back to John Carlson. From there Kuzy took the puck up the middle of the ice and drew a slash from Bryan Little that put the Caps on a 4 on 3 power play just 19 seconds into overtime. Washington would not convert despite some great looks, especially Oshie’s rebound attempt in front that somehow Hellebuyck got his glove on. When #19 and #92 are engaged, the Capitals are very hard to beat.

Jet! – It’s no surprise that Winnipeg is a Cup contender out west with the speed and talent they have in their lineup. Adding Paul Stastny at the trade deadline to go with a crew of amazing forwards that includes Laine, Ehlers, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, and the currently injured Mark Schiefele really puts them in the elite of the Western Conference with the Nashville Predators and the surprising Vegas Golden Knights. With Hellebuyck playing well in net, and he was the main reason the Caps didn’t win in regulation, they have a legitimate chance to make the Stanley Cup Finals. Speaking of the kid, Laine, the young man was outdone by the his boyhood hero, the Gr8, but he did get his 41st goal of the season in the third period after a terrible set of turnovers by Washington in their own zone following a sequence where Ovechkin decided to pass up a great shot opportunity that could’ve given him the hat trick and his team a two goal lead. Winnipeg is very talented and as I said in the opening salvo, a very fast squad. I seem to always get that great Paul McCartney tune in my head when I see the Jets fly up and down the milky ice these days.

All the Right Moves – The Caps had 43 shots on net and 73 shot attempts to 28 and 62, respectively, for the Jets. Washington built on the way they played in San Jose by getting more pucks and bodies to the net. It’s simple hockey and there were fewer occasions where I muttered to myself or tweeted “so and so should’ve shot the puck” in this affair. On defense, the Caps held one of the best offensive teams in the league to under 30 shots on goal and that’s now five straight games they have done so. As I wrote after Saturday’s win, Washington needs to play this style of hockey to do well in the post season. More shots directed towards the net and solid team defense. With the additions of Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek the blue line has been stabilized. Carlson seems to gel well with Kempny, who excels at breakout passes and Brooks Orpik turned in his second high quality performance in a row paired with Jerabek, who also is adept at getting the puck out of the Caps end quickly. Orpik logged 18:43, including a tied for the team high 3:54 on the PK (Niskanen). #44 was a big factor in Winnipeg going 0 for 3 with the man advantage. The team defense improvements are allowing Grubauer to see the shots and #31 is so dialed in right now that you can see Washington’s confidence in their own end building. GM Brian MacLellan’s low cost additions on the blue line have started to really work with time. Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey are going to be very good players in this league, but they are still rookies and realistically, the Caps aren’t going to go deep in the post season with two very green players on the blue line. While Kempny and Jerabek don’t have a lot of NHL experience, both have played at least eight seasons professionally, something Alan May astutely pointed out in the Caps pregame show.

Good Day at the Zoo – I’ll admit that Jean Hebert and Dean Morton aren’t my favorite zebras, but I have to tip my hat to them for a job well done in a very fast paced hockey game. All seven penalties called in this affair were spot on and it took guts for Hebert to blow the whistle on Little in overtime, but he clearly got Kuznetsov on the glove and deserved to go to the box and feel shame. The referee duo set the tone early that stick infractions and trips were not going to be allowed and they stuck to that mantra. Any stick put on an opponent in the glove area was correctly whistled in this one. They allowed physical contact to take place and they were consistent. You can’t ask for more than that and that’s three games in a row where I’ve felt that the guys in stripes were spot on, well done zebras!

Notes: The Caps will be in action on Thursday in Brooklyn before coming home to face the Islanders at Capital One Arena on Friday in a back to back set. I’d expect Grubauer to start in New York while Braden Holtby gets back in the cage on Friday at home…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:14…Byfuglien logged 30:56 for Winnipeg…Devante Smith-Pelly had six hits to lead Washington in that department…the Caps were 1 for 4 on the power play. They failed to score in OT and they also took themselves off of it right after Ovi scored his 1st goal when Oshie was called for slashing. Shortly thereafter Eller made his mistake in the 4 on 4 and the game was tied…Ovi has 600 goals and 509 assists in 1,109 games. He’s a sure fire 1st ballot Hall of Famer. Nobody does it better…

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Backy Sharks

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Caps Get Rare Regulation Victory in San Jose

Posted on 10 March 2018 by Ed Frankovic

For nearly 25 years, the Washington Capitals have not known the way to winning in regulation in San Jose. On March 10th, 2018, Philipp Grubauer stopped all 24 shots he faced and Nicklas Backstrom turned in an all world performance, including notching the only non-empty net goal, in a Caps 2-0 victory at the Shark Tank. It was the Capitals first win without extra time against the Sharks at SAP Center since October 30th, 1993.

“Do you know the way to San Jose…”

The Caps do now, and the way they won was with solid team defense, strong goaltending, and a committed effort to getting pucks deep and towards the net, especially over the last 40 minutes.

The victory improves the Caps record to 38-23-7 (83 points) and combined with the Leafs 5-2 triumph over the Penguins on Saturday night it puts Washington back in 1st place in the Metropolitan Division by a point. The Caps have a game in hand on the Pens and third place Philadelphia has also played 68 games like the Capitals, but trail by two points.

Here are nine thoughts and analysis on a humongous win in a state that has not been kind to Washington.

California Dreamin’ – Coming into this matinee, the Caps had lost seven straight games in the Golden State. Last season, with seemingly the best roster, on paper, ever assembled in franchise history, the Presidents’ Trophy winning Capitals went zero and three. La La land was not good to Coach Barry Trotz and his team this week either as they suffered a 4-0 defeat in Anaheim, a game that they looked like they were sleeping through, and then a tough 2-1 loss to the Kings on Thursday. The Caps played much better in that affair, but they could not put the biscuit in the basket. Saturday’s victory against a third straight California team that is desperate for points was one of the most sound defensive performances by the Capitals all season.

Hey Nineteen – When Washington gets strong play up the middle of the ice, they are an extremely tough team to beat. Many Capitals struggled in the first two games of this road trip, but Backstrom was near the top of that list. After his terrible turnover in period one in the City of Angels, he was a total non factor in the loss on Thursday. On Saturday, however, Nicky was the best player on the ice. His compete level was through the roof and he repeatedly won puck battle after puck battle playing with Brett Connolly (1 assist) and Andre Burakovsky in a newly configured trio. Connolly’s pass to Backy with 1:28 left in period two was a superb one, but #19’s slap shot was even better and he ripped it over Martin Jones’ glove into the top shelf. That tally is Backstrom’s 17th goal of the season. I’m of the opinion that several Caps are trying to pace themselves so that they can peak their game in April, when the postseason starts. Backstrom is definitely one of them, but on Saturday, the Caps needed a win badly in a tightening playoff race, and Nicky announced his presence with authority all afternoon.

Meet in the Middle – It’s no secret that Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan has focused the build of this team up the middle of the ice. In addition to Backstrom’s outstanding game against San Jose, pivots Evgeny Kuznetsov (+1 in 20:05) and Lars Eller (goal, +1 in 17:04) were excellent. Since Coach Trotz went all Reg Dunlop and shuffled his lines around, Kuzy centered the Gr8 and Tom Wilson while Eller was flanked by Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie. The change certainly helped Burakovsky and Connolly the most since there aren’t many centers better than #19 in this league. However, I liked how Oshie, who is rounding back into form and is long overdue for a goal, and Vrana played with Eller. Vrana has really improved his defensive zone play and he used his speed to get the puck out of the Caps own end a couple of times. All three of the Caps top centers were playing well in San Jose and Lars was rewarded with an empty net tally with 1:49 remaining to put a dagger in the Sharks.

Letting Them Play – For my money, the last two Washington games have been the best officiated tilts I’ve seen all season. In both affairs, the referees didn’t call a lot of penalties and let the teams play. However, stick infractions or obvious trips, clips, and interference were whistled. It was clear that the players for the Caps, Kings, and Sharks all knew how the games were going to be officiated and they played accordingly. There was lots of hitting and good end to end skating. The one constant in both contests was Trevor Hanson. The Richmond, British Columbia native is in his sixth season in the NHL and he’s quickly becoming one of the best zebras. Gord Dwyer and then Dan O’Rourke was the other referee in the Kings and Sharks games, respectively. The Caps had a three to one power play advantage on Thursday while the Sharks had two man advantage situations to none for Washington on Saturday. Both penalties on the Capitals at the SAP Center were well deserved infractions by Wilson. Simply put, I’d certainly like to see Hanson doing more Caps games.

Shoot to Thrill – Making the right decisions inside the offensive blue line has been a problem area for the Capitals this season, and in years past, especially in the playoffs. Those brain cramps have cost Washington a lot of odd man rushes and goals against this campaign. Poor offensive zone play is a big reason the Caps goals against average has gone up in 2017-18. In the first period of the Sharks game, the Caps forwards made a few mistakes in the offensive and neutral zones that San Jose turned into quality chances. Fortunately for Washington, Grubauer was at his best in a scoreless first frame where the Sharks had the better of the play. In the middle stanza, however, the Capitals really played the right way for the first time on this road trip and made sure to get pucks deep and towards the net. The result was a 12 to 3 margin in shots on goal in the middle twenty. When trailing 2-1 on Thursday at Staples Center, a House of Horrors for the Caps, Washington only put five shots on net in the third period. Connolly passed up a great look in the center of the ice and that’s just not a good choice given his super shot. Oshie and several others have been guilty of not firing the puck on net from the high danger areas, too. Coach Trotz, in his first two seasons in Washington, used to constantly utter the mantra, “This is a shoot first league.” He’s right and many of the goals are scored on rebounds or quick ones where the goaltenders don’t have time to get set. It would behoove the Caps to maintain the mentality they displayed in the second and third periods in San Jose, because that type of hockey is how you win in the spring. To reinforce the thought process, I recommend that AC/DC’s Shoot to Thrill be blasted in the Caps locker room before EVERY period.

Blue Line Reconfiguration – After the loss to the Ducks on Tuesday, Coach Trotz and assistant coach Todd Reirden made changes on the back end. Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov were still together while John Carlson was paired with Michal Kempny with Brooks Orpik and Jakub Jerabek forming the third duo. Things went okay in LA, except for the game winning goal where Jerabek failed to keep a puck in the offensive zone and then Trevor Lewis went around #44 like he was an orange road cone to score on his third shot in succession. It was a poor play by Orpik, who has struggled pretty heavily since the all star break, but Jerabek and Grubauer didn’t exactly shine in that sequence either. You can certainly put some of Orpik’s issues on being paired with rookie Madison Bowey, a future top four defensemen, who was understandably starting to have trouble with the intensity and speed of the game post January 1st. Against San Jose, a team that typically gives the Capitals fits, Brooks turned in arguably his best game in three months. He was physical with five hits and he had no giveaways in 17:04 of action. He was also part of a penalty killing unit that allowed only one power play shot in four minutes of man advantage time. Orpik must continue to play the way he did on Saturday and it would probably be wise for the coaching staff to give him some days off before the playoffs commence to keep him healthy and fresh, especially in back to back tilts.

Solid as a Rock – Braden Holtby has not had a good post all star break stretch and former Caps goalie Brent Johnson stated on Twitter that he believes fatigue, which ultimately then led to a drop in confidence, has been the issue. After #70 gave up three goals in the first half of the Ducks game, and all of those certainly weren’t on him, Coach Trotz has gone with Grubauer in net. #31 had a decent game against the Kings in a loss, but against San Jose he was superb in the opening frame until the Capitals got their game in gear. The Sharks hit a couple of posts early, as well, but Washington has been due for some breaks. In earning his second shutout of the season, Philipp improved to 9-8-3 this year and his save percentage is up to .925. Grubauer will be starting on Monday against the Jets at Capital One Arena and he’ll likely split the back to back games with the Holtbeast against the Islanders later in the week. The German keeper has certainly earned the cage right now with his solid play. He has been steady and he came up with some big saves early against the Sharks.

Closing Time – Overall, this was a much needed victory for Washington made more impressive by their style of play. This was a very important game to the Sharks and the Capitals matched San Jose’s compete level and desperation. It was a tight checking affair that is very reminiscent of how the game will be played in April and beyond. To win this way, with much improved team defense and better offensive zone decision making, bodes well for the Caps down the stretch.

Notes: Alex Ovechkin had 10 shots attempts and six shots on goal. His best chance to score his 41st of the season and 599th of his career was on a third period semi-breakaway, but Jones stopped him with his glove…Orlov led the Caps in ice time with 24:22. Carlson is getting a lot of press for his play this season, and deservedly so, but #9 has been very consistent since late October/early November on the back end…the Caps won the face off battle, 33-20. Kuzy was 10-8 after going 1-10 against the Kings. Eller was 6-1, Backstrom went 8-5, and Jay Beagle won six of nine draws…Wilson, who has been outstanding most of the season, took a puck to the head in the second period in LA but returned in that contest. On Saturday, he played, but looked a little off timing wise. He took two penalties and did not get a hard shot off on a good pass from Ovechkin in tight…Brent Burns led the Sharks in ice time with 26:01…congratulations to MacLellan for receiving a well earned contract extension from Caps ownership…it will be Washington vs. Winnipeg on Monday night at 7 pm from Capital One Arena. The Jets will definitely make the post season and they appear to be a lock for second place in the Central Division.

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Kuzy Sens

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Kuznetsov Takes Over In Caps Win Over Ottawa

Posted on 27 February 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored twice, sandwiched around a Tom Wilson laser, and Philipp Grubauer made 28 saves to lead the Washington Capitals to a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators at sold out Capital One Arena on Tuesday night. The Caps triumph leap frogs them over the Philadelphia Flyers and back into first place in the Metropolitan Division with a 36-21-7 (79 points) record. Philly has a game in hand on Washington. The Pittsburgh Penguins are in third position, three points behind, after losing a one goal game at home against the New Jersey Devils (3-2).

Without further adieu, here are eight thoughts and analysis on this much needed win.

Man of the Match – I’ve written the following so many times before, and it’s still true each and every time. When Kuzy wants to play the right way, the Capitals are extremely hard to beat. Evgeny and his linemates, T.J. Oshie (1 assist) and Jakub Vrana (1 assist) were flat out dominant in this hockey game. Kuznetsov’s first goal came shortly after a penalty on Matt Niskanen expired. Oshie made a great stretch pass coming out of the defensive zone to Nisky and #2 executed a super back pass off of the left wing boards to #77. The Osh Babe then cruised down the slot and found #92 skating back door. Kuzy fired quickly beating Mike Condon five hole for a 1-0 Washington lead with just under five minutes left in period one. Then, with just 11 seconds left in period two, Kuznetsov took a nice neutral zone pass from Niskanen and cruised in to the Senators zone with speed. Kuzy then went for the wraparound and buried the biscuit. According to Courtney Laughlin, that was Washington’s first wrap around goal all season. The tally gave the Caps a 3-1 lead heading into the final frame. For the evening, Evgeny had six shots on net and was +2 in 16:39 of ice time. When he is shooting the puck, he is deadly and he now has 19 goals on the campaign to go with 42 assists for 61 points in 64 games.

Best Supporting Wingers – Vrana did everything but score in this tilt. He was flying all over the ice opening up lanes for his teammates and he gave the Ottawa defense fits. Jakub led the Caps in five on five shot percentage with an amazing 21 shot attempts for and only three against. He had a breakaway in the final frame that he shot over the crossbar. If he keeps playing like that, the goals will come. As for Oshie, he was dogging pucks like crazy and seemed to finally have his legs and hands back in sync. He had a couple of quality chances, but just could not bury the biscuit. Still, the way these guys played on Tuesday is so critical to the Caps success because they can’t count on Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Top Line Tom Wilson to carry the load every night. The second line had 11 of the Capitals 22 shots on goal on Tuesday. Well done, men.

Knocking on the Door – Willy had a fight and a goal in this affair, but once again was just an apple away from getting the Gordie against the Senators. Tom notched his career high 11th of the season firing a rocket past Condon after taking a great pass from Backstrom inside the offensive blue line in period two. #43 was physical with three hits and he was in the face of the Senators all night long. He also spent 3:22 of his 16:50 of ice time killing penalties. Sooner or later Wilson is going to get the Gordie Howe Hat Trick the way he’s performing. He is a beast on the ice and the Ovi-Backy-Willy line is not only quick, but very heavy. It’s a perfect trio for post season hockey.

Back End Improvement – Niskanen had arguably his best game of the season with two great assists in 22:59 of ice time. Matt played with fire and determination. Brooks Orpik, who has struggled mightily since the All Star Break, had one of his better outings going +2 in 19:59 of work. I didn’t like the penalty he took that put Washington down two men in the middle frame and led to Mike Hoffman’s power play tally, but the high sticking call on #44 in the third stanza was complete rubbish and embellishment by Zack Smth. Orpik, who many on Caps Twitter want to be scratched, gets a sweater each night because of one primary reason; he’s a good penalty killer. Brooks logged 5:05 of PK time in this affair which saw Washington go shorthanded seven times to just two for Ottawa. If the Capitals are going to go anywhere this spring, they’ll need top performances from their defense and getting Nisky and Orpik back playing at a higher level is crucial, especially since the Caps were unable to add a high end defensemen at the trade deadline due to high prices, as GM Brian MacLellan called Monday’s madness.

Bad Zebras– Washington was called for seven penalties in this tilt and Ottawa had two lengthy five on three power plays. The Sens didn’t score on either of those, but did connect right after the first five on three went to a five on four. Dave Jackson and Kyle Rehman were the officials on Tuesday and they did not have a good night. Outside of the mistake on the Oprik high stick and the non called embellishment on Smith, the two zebras missed several other hooking and tripping infractions on the Senators while Washington was not so lucky. Jackson is usually a good referee, but on Tuesday he and his partner were out to lunch.

I’ll Be There for You – Washington was shorthanded seven times in the game and as Coach Barry Trotz said afterward, “We took some penalties, warranted or not, but we didn’t complain and we fought through it. We had each other’s backs.” The PK was just incredible on Tuesday and it started with Jay Beagle winning defensive zone faceoffs. For the night #83 was an astounding 17-3 on draws, so many of those Ottawa power plays started with 15 seconds immediately killed off while the Senators went back to their end to get the puck. On a couple of the third period power plays, the Caps didn’t even allow a shot on net. John Carlson was outstanding with his clears and he led the way in shorthanded ice time with 6:58. Power play time in this game was 11:14 to 4:00 in favor of the visitors. Your goalie often has to be your best penalty killer and #31 stopped four of five Ottawa power play shots. The one he didn’t get was one he never saw – he was totally screened on Hoffman’s blast that made it 2-1.

The Bottom Line – When it was all said and done, the Caps, who were creamed on Monday in Columbus and then had to fly home, were able to persevere and knock off a rested Ottawa squad that hadn’t played since Saturday afternoon. It was not pretty, but it was gritty and the effort was there, despite the fatigue. The Capitals have now finished a grueling stretch of 15 games in 28 days that saw them go 7-6-2. That’s not bad considering all of the breaks they had in January that prevented them from practicing and sharpening their game. It’s been a rocky February, especially for the defense, who has really hung the goaltenders out to dry too much, particularly Braden Holtby. Washington has lots of talent and when motivated can compete with any team in the league, especially when Kuznetsov and Backstrom are playing well. Their next outing is Saturday night at the Naval Academy Stadium where they’ll take on the Auston Matthews-less Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL outdoor Stadium Series game at 8 pm. You can bet that the Caps will be heavily motivated to win that one.

Notes: Defensemen Jakub Jerabek, who was acquired for a late round draft pick from Montreal last week, made his Caps debut and played 12:35. Michal Kempny logged 15:58 on defense, as well. Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey were the scratches on D…Travis Boyd was recalled from Hershey and he and Alex Chiasson didn’t dress for Ottawa…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 36-24, thanks to Beagle…Ovechkin only had four shot attempts. He notched his NHL leading 39th goal on Monday in CBus. Ovi looked tired on Tuesday and he also had to sit for long stretches due to the Capitals being shorthanded so often. He had only four shot attempts in 18:27 of ice time…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 24:01…Erik Karlsson scored Ottawa’s second goal just 3:14 into period three. It was an extreme short side tally that Grubauer wants back…Ovi  is three goals short of 600 for his career.

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Kuzy Sabres

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Caps Roll Buffalo to Retake 1st Place in the Metro

Posted on 24 February 2018 by Ed Frankovic

After giving away Thursday night’s game in Florida to the Panthers, the Washington Capitals needed a victory very badly. On Saturday night at Capital One Arena the Washington stars came out to play as the Caps rolled the Buffalo Sabres, 5-1, getting two goals from Alexander Ovechkin and four points from Evgeny Kuznetsov (one goal, three assists). Andre Burakovsky had the game winning tally with a gorgeous end to end rush goal and Philipp Grubauer made 28 saves.

The triumph, combined with the Penguins loss to the Panthers on Saturday, puts Washington back in first place in the Metropolitan Division with a 35-20-7 (77 points) record with 20 games remaining. The Pens have 19 games to play while second place Philadelphia is also at 76 points with 20 games left. This race is close now, but as we’ll discuss later in this blog, Pittsburgh made a huge trade that changes the landscape in the Eastern Conference.

Here are eight thoughts and analysis following a game the Capitals pretty much had to have against a struggling squad.

Second Fiddle – There’s an Alabama song that goes, “If you’re going to play in Texas, you have to have a fiddle in the band.” For the Washington Capitals, when Kuznetsov plays the second fiddle role well in support of top line center Nicklas Backstrom, the Caps are a hard team to beat. Kuzy’s opening salvo was a superb individual effort that was only surpassed by Burkie’s second period beautiful lamp lighter. The talent that #92 has is insane and the question often becomes, which Kuzy is going to show up each night? When Kuznetsov is skating and playing the right way, like he did on Saturday with four shots on goal, the opposing defense is in big trouble.

Catch Me If You Can – The Penguins have been on a tear lately and Geno Malkin hit goal #36 on Saturday night while both teams were simultaneously playing. For #71, that’s something like 14 goals in his last 13 games as the Pens have been on fire despite their loss in the Sunshine State. Ovechkin must have been hearing the Malkin footsteps in the goal scoring race because Ovi was in beast mode against Buffalo. The Gr8 had 11 shots on net and his two third period markers pushed him up to 38 total tallies for the season. His 37th was a sweet top shelf cheese shot on the power play and then he closed out the scoring with a great deflection of a John Carlson blast in the final two minutes. Alex is arguably playing the best hockey of his career. His skating is outstanding – he could’ve scored on several other chances in which he used his speed to generate opportunities – and he’s playing well in all three zones.

He’s Going to 11– Burakovsky, after being benched again a few weeks ago, is finally playing like the guy who dominated game six against the Penguins last spring. He’s skating the best he has all year and he’s attacking the net. Over his last seven games he’s scored four goals and has two assists. Andre’s number, 65, adds to 11, and he’s reaching that level right now. Hopefully he can keep it up because he’s a difference maker when he plays this way, along with Lars Eller, because he gives Washington a third scoring line.

Solid as a Rock – Grubauer defeated the Sabres for the second straight time this week and he’s now won three games in a row. Over his last four appearances, that include a mop up third period in the Chicago debacle last Saturday night, he’s stopped 102 of 108 shots for a .944 save percentage. #31 is now 7-7-3 with a .919 save percentage this season. The Capitals are not in first place and are likely fighting for their playoff lives if they don’t have Philipp as their backup goaltender.

How Do You Like Them Apples? – Carlson, who was burnt badly on the game tying tally in Florida on Thursday night, continues to put up the points on the back end. He made a super pass to Ovi for his power play marker that broke this one open and then he made a smart play to fire the puck on net late allowing Ovechkin to notch a sweet deflection goal. John is an unrestricted free agent this summer and he’s having a monster year offensively. If the Caps are confident they can sign him long term, then the back end is set for many years to come. If not, General Manager Brian MacLellan needs to work the phones hard to get a top return for #74 before Monday’s 3 pm trading deadline. Carlson’s offense certainly dictates a huge payday, but his defensive zone, like many blue liners on Washington, has been very lax and inconsistent since the All Star Break. That needs to improve if the Caps want to make a serious playoff run this spring.

Southbound Again – On Saturday night, the Capitals played the right way, for the most part. They were shooting the puck and playing the north-south style they will need to employ to be successful from here on out. Washington had 36 shots on goal, including 16 in a third period that saw them start the frame up two pucks. Getting pucks and bodies to the cage is how you score in the playoffs and Coach Barry Trotz’ crew did that fairly well against a weak Buffalo squad that was without both Jack Eichel (injured) and Evander Kane (scratched in advance of a trade). There was no sitting back with the lead and as a result, they won going away after a really bad shift to start period three. The Sabres needed only 14 seconds to slice the Caps 2-0 lead in half. Backstrom and the top d-pair of Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen each had defensive zone breakdowns that led to a sweet backhanded goal for Sam Reinhart. Other than that sequence and a really terrible offensive zone cross ice pass by T.J. Oshie in period three with a one goal lead, there was not a lot to be upset about for the Caps.  Washington, as a team, needs to ditch that cross ice crap at the offensive blue line. #77 was better on the puck in this affair, but he needs to start shooting more often. He has a great shot, but has been falling into a Harlem Globetrotters “pretty play” mentality too often, of late.

Landscape Change – On Friday, the Pittsburgh Penguins completed a very shady deal with the Ottawa Senators and Vegas Golden Knights to get center Derrick Brassard. Caps fans remember him from his days with the Rangers and the Blue Jackets. The Pens were hurt by the offseason losses of Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen as third and fourth line centers, respectively, so this really improves their roster. PIT gave up defensemen Ian Cole (to Ottawa) and fourth line goon, Ryan Reaves (to Vegas) in a deal that sees former Capital GM George McPhee retain 40% of Brassard’s salary to prevent Derrick from going to Winnipeg and also to stick it to the franchise who fired him (and that firing should’ve been done a lot sooner). Pittsburgh also gave up their 2018 first round pick and top goalie prospect, Filip Gustavsson from Sweden. The add of Brassard clearly puts the Penguins as the front runner for their third straight Stanley Cup. For Washington to have a chance against the Pens, they’ll need to upgrade their defense by Monday’s deadline with a legit second pair blue liner to play with Carlson. A depth forward that can skate would help, as well.

Notes: Eller had an empty net goal to make it 4-1 with 2:12 remaining. That was Lars’ 14th goal of the season…shot attempts were 77-63 for Washington…the Caps were one for one on the power play and two for two on the penalty kill…the Capitals tied the faceoff battle at 31 apiece. Backstrom was 11-8 and Jay Beagle was 8-6. Ryan O’Reilly went 19-9 for the Sabres…Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov led the Caps in ice time with 23:58 and 23:50, respectively. They are the Capitals best defensive pair, but that isn’t saying a whole lately as the blueline has been struggling since the All Star Break…Michal Kempny, who was on the ice for two goals against on Thursday, played 16:59. Christian Djoos had sixth defensemen minutes, with 15:03 of ice time, but he was +2…Madison Bowey and recently acquired from Montreal, Jakub Jerabek, were the scratches on defense…Jakub Vrana rode the pine on offense as Alex Chiasson went back into the lineup on the third line…the Caps are in Columbus on Monday and then come home to take on Ottawa on Tuesday. After that, the next tilt is the Stadium Series game against Toronto on Saturday night (8 pm) at the Naval Academy stadium in Annapolis. Auston Matthews will not play for the Leafs due to a shoulder injury.

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Caps Return to Form in Win Over Buffalo

Posted on 19 February 2018 by Ed Frankovic

After their worst performance of the season on Saturday night in the Windy City, the Washington Capitals used a very strong first 40 minutes to build a 2-0 lead and then they overcame some poor play from their blue line in the third period to hold on for a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres in upstate New York.

The victory puts the Caps back in first place in the Metropolitan Division over idle Pittsburgh. Washington is now 34-18-7 (75 points) and they lead the Pens by a point plus they have two games in hand, which will be Tuesday’s home tilt against the NHL leading Tampa Bay Lightning and then in the Sunshine State against the Florida Panthers on Thursday.

Here are seven thoughts and analysis on where the Capitals stand after a 2-1-1 road trip, their longest of the season.

Boy, You’re Going to Carry That Weight – When the Caps bring the effort, they are usually a hard team to beat. On Saturday, they laid a big fat egg in a blowout, 7-1, loss to Chicago. It was the worst skating performance and game of the season and the captain, Alex Ovechkin, called himself out saying it was his worst outing as a Capital. He was right, but the whole team stunk and looked like they went out for a lot of Chitown pizza and beer with the dads on Friday night. Hey, over the course of 82 games, you are going to have clunkers and let’s not take anything away from Chicago, who still has some high powered players on their roster. The Blackhawks were a pissed off team after losing eight straight and they flat out rolled Washington, who offered a futile resistance in that affair. On Presidents Day, the Capitals were back to playing the right way and they deserved to win this game. When the team works and pulls on the rope in the right direction, they are one of the best in the NHL.

Poking the Bear – You had to figure Ovi was going to have a bounce back contest after Saturday’s no show, but Rasmus Ristolainen didn’t do Buffalo any favors by hitting the Gr8 up high early in the affair. That hit clearly angered Ovechkin and he was a force all game in earning the number one star. It was heavy hockey from Alex, who had four hits, as he and Tom Wilson just pounded the Buffalo defense as often as they could. The Gr8 notched his NHL leading 35th tally of the season with a beautiful tip of a Christian Djoos point shot in period two to open the scoring. That goal was the result of a nice forecheck by Brett Connolly after he exited the box, and then some great wall work by T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov, shortly thereafter.

Winning at the Track – Had you played the trifecta of 74-77-92 you would’ve had the trio that was on the ice for all three Washington tallies. Oshie (one assist) especially had a very strong game and is rounding back into proper form as we head into the final seven weeks of the regular season. Kuznetsov, after some early weak shifts, started playing the correct way and had his best performance of the road trip. Kuzy had three shots on net and his play to seal the deal with his empty net tally was a super forecheck, something this team needs to do well to succeed. As for Carlson, well he was really good, too, but he was the only one of the trio to be on for a goal against. John left Evander Kane wide open with three ticks left to put a small dent in Philipp Grubauer’s (32 saves) sweet stat line.

How Long, To Sing This Song – In honor of U2’s great song, 40, the first two periods by the Capitals were a textbook road performance. They played a north-south style and were very hard on pucks. As a result, they won the vast majority of the individual battles. They were only up 2-0 on Ovi’s 35th and Carlson’s 11th of the season, but it could’ve been more if not for Chad Johnson (27 saves) in net for the Sabres. Through 40 minutes, the Caps had 43 shot attempts to just 25 for Buffalo and the quality scoring chances had to be even more lopsided. Washington just couldn’t finish on several opportunities, but if they play like that more often, they will be hard to defeat. Again, it started with the effort and then they made the right decisions with the puck in all zones. It was very impressive hockey and the reason they left Buffalo with two points.

Hold the Line – After the contest, Coach Barry Trotz told the media that he wanted his team to continue to play the same way they did in the first 40 minutes in the third period. After watching the final frame again, his team pretty much listened to him. The first 3:30 of period three was just like the first two periods; the Capitals were forechecking and generating scoring chances. Then Nicklas Backstrom took a bad slashing penalty two thirds away from the Caps own net and the Sabres got some life with a power play. Washington stabilized things after killing off that infraction and while they didn’t get shots on net, they had some very good sustained pressure on Buffalo afterwards. The Lars Eller line, with Connolly and Andre Burakovsky, had a strong offensive zone pressure shift just inside the eight minute remaining mark, but then the Sabres came out of their own zone three on three. Madison Bowey then stepped up and flat out whiffed on defense in the neutral zone and that allowed Buffalo to break into the Washington zone with speed. Eller was forced to cover for the rookie’s mishap and by the time everyone was back on defense, the coverage was out of whack with #22 skating alone in the slot. The Sabres Scott Wilson fired on net from the high slot and Kyle Okposo deflected it home to make it a 2-1 ballgame with 7:32 remaining. Grubauer never saw the shot, mostly because of Bowey, but also due to the Brooks Oprik-Okposo battle in front. Washington was able to hold the line down the stretch, but there were some more mistakes by Bowey and Djoos in pressure filled situations. So what the statistics will show to look like a “Washington sat back” narrative, and I was at first guilty of accusing the Capitals of that, too, was really caused by poor play from the youngsters, and some others, on the Caps blue line.

Upgrading the Backend – Bowey and Djoos both have bright futures for the Capitals, but to quote George Allen, “The Future is Now,” and Washington can’t afford to go into the playoffs with two rookie blue liners. Madison has talent and potential, but the league really locks down from January on and he’s struggled since the game has gotten faster and more intense. On Monday, the Capitals traded a conditional 3rd round draft pick to the Blackhawks for left handed defensemen Michal Kempny. The 27 year old blue liner, who will wear #6, is a decent skating and puck moving player that is best in his own end. Washington’s struggles on the back end have been mostly because of poor passes, so hopefully Kempny can improve that aspect of the Caps game. With this acquisition, it makes the most sense to send Bowey down to Hershey to play a lot of minutes and hone his craft for next season. Madison could also come up if there are multiple injuries on defense. Djoos would probably be best on a third pair with Orpik, if Kempny can play the four hole with Carlson. There is also a strong possibility that GM Brian MacLellan adds another defensemen before the February 26th NHL trade deadline. Bottom line, the Caps inconsistent play since January 1st is likely most traced to the issues on defense. Bowey and Djoos should be good long term players, but Washington needs to try and win this year, so it’s up to the GM to keep upgrading this current deficiency.

You Make Me Wanna Cry – When the Capitals were temporarily bumped out of 1st place on Sunday night, Caps Twitter practically melted down. It was maddening to see so many people declare that the season was over and that MacLellan should start tearing the team down. Granted this is the same crew that complains when they are in first place, too, stating that the division title doesn’t mean anything and all that counts is the playoffs. Yes, the playoffs are what matters, but to want to rebuild for the future with a top eight team in a wide open race is ridiculous. Fortunately, it’s just an expected over emotionally based reaction by many on social media, but it’s really ludicrous. The Caps are a team that could go deep in the playoffs and possibly win a Stanley Cup should they continue to tweak the back end and play the right way. So for so many to lose their freaking minds is ridiculous, you make me wanna cry! [Cue the Godley & Cream].

Notes: Buffalo out shot the Caps, 17-6, in period three, including 31-12, in shot attempts. Again, I put that on the mistakes Washington made on defense, especially their young blue liners. When they make a mistake, it tends to lead to multiple chances for the opposition and causes a cumulative fatigue effect…the Capitals won the face-off battle, 35-33. Eller was 11-7…the Caps only had one power play while Buffalo had three. A weak interference call on Connolly shortened Washington’s only man advantage chance…Kuznetsov took a puck in the face, at one point, but came back to have a strong finish.

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