Tag Archive | "Kopitar"

johny-torts

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Team USA’s Real Problem: Lack of Center Ice Talent

Posted on 22 September 2016 by Ed Frankovic

The 2016 World Cup of Hockey was supposed to help USA Hockey right the “wrongs” of Sochi and restore the team to at least the level they reached in Vancouver in 2010 (silver medal), but after two games, their entire tournament went kaput.

A stunning tournament opening 3-0 loss to Team Europe and then the not surprising at all 4-2 defeat at the hands of the Canadian power house leaves USA Hockey eliminated from the World Cup of Hockey after Thursday night’s meaningless game against the Czechs.

USA Hockey is now in disarray and searching for answers.

So how did it get this bad?

Well for starters, the choice of head coach put things headed in the wrong direction. John Tortorella is a fiery man and he’s won a Stanley Cup, but that was back in 2004 when the game was drastically different. Post lockout, Torts has had minimal success in Tampa, New York, Vancouver, and now Columbus. There are many who feel that the game has passed him by. His record since the lockout, and especially most recently, backs that up.

The fingers can also be pointed at USA Hockey management, as Craig Custance duly noted on Wednesday afternoon. After Sochi they publicly blamed players such as Phil Kessel for the problems. Bobby Ryan, who was left off of the team, had his name dragged through the mud in an article detailing the management conversations that went into selecting the 2014 Olympic team. For this tournament USA Hockey vowed to construct a team that was tough, gritty, and would stick together. Dean Lombardi was given the reigns, but let’s be honest, the blueprint for this roster came from longtime USA Hockey manager, Brian Burke. “Truculence” is one of Burke’s favorite words, he loves that style of play and he won a Cup in Anaheim with that style, but also with some very skilled and talented players in Scott Neidermayer, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry.

So the trio of Burke, Lombardi, and Tortorella were the architects of this 2016 mission and they not only played a style that lacked imagination, but resulted in no real flow and little offense. Following the defeat, Kessel and Ryan, who still feel slighted from 2014, took to twitter and basically blasted the management of USA Hockey. It also irked many of the USA players such as Zach Parise, David Backes, and Derek Stepan and they took public issue with the tweets. There are multiple camps on this one, many feel that the USA Hockey management deserved the brunt of the attack, and they are primarily right, but some think that those guys were just calling attention to themselves and piling on. I am not happy with USA Hockey management as well, but I tend to be in the latter camp. I felt the tweets were unnecessary. However, as someone in the game noted to me on Wednesday night, when you’ve got pride, you’ve been blamed for past failures and you see the current team, which you are not on, have no success, then it’s hard to take major issue with those players for pouring more gas on the fire. That’s a fair point, even though the players on the team who lost likely won’t forget the shots they feel were also sent their way by the tweets from those players.

But let’s get to the real problem that is killing USA Hockey at the pro level, and adding wingers Kessel and Ryan to this team would not have helped one iota in this area: center ice.

That same NHL scout, who basically gave Kessel and Ryan a pass for their tweets, noted that as much as we in the media and fans want to call USA’s loss to Team Europe an embarrassment, it really wasn’t. Europe has one of the best centers in the NHL in Anze Kopitar and they also have an up and coming center ice star in Leon Draisaitl. The scout felt that Europe’s third center, Frans Neilsen was equal to Stepan. So it’s no surprise that Europe beat the Americans and the most entertaining coach of the tournament, Ralph Krueger, smartly rode #11 as much as he could against the USA.

Simply put, the USA is woefully weak up the center of the ice in an era where you must be strong there to have a chance to succeed. Their #1 center was Stepan, and he’s a number two on his NHL team. After that there isn’t much to note. Tyler Johnson is a center, but he was left off of the team. Arguably, the best centers the USA have are Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel, but they were on Team North America because they are still teenagers. In contrast, you look at Canada and they go Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews up the middle of the ice, not to mention they have guys like Patrice Bergeron and Joe Thornton as additional pivot men.

So given the USA’s lack of center ice men to choose from, in Burke, Lombardi, and Torts’ defense, they felt they had to play a certain style to have a chance to win. It doesn’t make that choice right, because the game is about puck possession and speed these days, but that was likely their thinking.

Now USA could’ve played a different way and swapped out some wingers and added Johnson, but would it have mattered? Maybe a little bit, but they still weren’t beating Canada.

Look no further than the words from the coach who is going to win this tournament, Mike Babcock. The Leafs bench boss said himself that Team Canada is playing the exact same system that he used in Toronto this past season to finish DEAD LAST in the NHL. Babcock made it abundantly clear, it’s not about systems, it’s about the players. He has the best players to choose from in Canada and he will win. They are loaded at the most important position, center (and every other position, too).

Yes, I’d like to see Team USA play more of an up tempo speed game like Team North America is playing right now, but you have to have the talent to do that. It wasn’t there with this roster or the pool of players they had to choose from.

The bottom line is USA Hockey can swap out the management philosophy, and I think they absolutely should, but until they get some center ice men at the NHL level, it’s not going to make a huge difference.

Luckily they have Matthews and Eichel coming in the near future, but will that be enough to close the very large gap that exists between the USA and Canada at center?

Comments (0)

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Grubauer Stellar in Caps Victory Over the Kings

Posted on 17 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments Off on Grubauer Stellar in Caps Victory Over the Kings

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kings Will Win The Cup, But It Won’t Be Easy

Posted on 03 June 2014 by Ed Frankovic

In a series that was the best I’ve ever seen in my lifetime, the Los Angeles Kings defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime in game seven of the Western Conference Final to move on to face the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final.

The Western Conference, in terms of elite teams, is clearly the better side, but the way the Rangers are gelling, this is not going to be an easy series for the Kings. New York is playing with tremendous emotion, they have excellent speed, and Henrik Lundqvist is money in the cage. Los Angeles brings size, “deep” depth at forward, and a never say die mentality.

Let’s take a look at the match-up in terms of offense, defense, goaltending, coach, and intangibles.

Offense: The Kings lead the NHL in goals for per game in the post season, at 3.48 while New York is 8th at 2.70. Los Angeles has an excellent top six crew of forwards and the bottom six is as good, if not better, than any team in the league. Coach Darryl Sutter has a talented group of players that really filled its’ biggest need with the Marian Gaborik acquisition at the trade deadline (In a related story, Kings GM Dean Lombardi is wanted on felony robbery charges in the state of Ohio). Justin Williams, after the Kings won a thrilling series with the Blackhawks, called “Gabby” the missing piece for LA. He was dead on, since adding an offensive talent like #12 allowed Sutter to balance his lineup. The Kings survived a series of 0 goals from their best offensive player, Anze Kopitar, in the Western final, so that tells you how deep this crew of Kings forwards is. Mike Richards is mostly playing on the bottom two lines, and he’s a second line center on many NHL clubs. The Kings “That 70’s line” of Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter, and Tanner Pearson brings speed and energy. Carter was amazing in the series against the Blackhawks and is a big reason the Kings have a chance to win their 2nd Cup in three years. New York has not scored a lot of goals and Martin St. Louis is their points leader with 13 in 20 games. Chris Kreider has come in to give New York a shot in the arm on offense and he has 10 points in 10 games. The Rangers will rely heavily on his speed and that of guys like Carl Hagelin and Matt Zuccarello. Simply put, though, the Rangers don’t score a lot of goals. Their power play is operating at a 13+% level while Los Angeles is cruising at 25+%. In addition, the Kings can throw four interchangeable lines at you while the Rangers struggle to find a fourth unit. Advantage: Heavily for the Kings.

Defense: The Rangers have a very good top four defense in Ryan McDonough, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and Anton Stralman. Their third pair of John Moore and Kevin Klein is solid too. New York’s deep defense allows Coach Alain Vigneualt to not worry alot about exposing one of his pairs to a major mismatch. Any of the three pairs can face high end talent. The question for New York is what pair do they put against the Kopitar line and which one gets the Carter line? I’d imagine we see 27 and 5 go against Kopitar, Gaborik and Brown while Staal and Stralman get the 70’s line, at least initially. As for the Kings, Drew Doughty is the best defensemen in the NHL and he’ll log a ton of minutes. Doughty will make some mistakes but he’ll more than make up for that with numerous “how’d he do that type of plays?” The questions, though, for LA come with the rest of their crew. The injury to Robyn Regehr has been huge and getting Willie Mitchell back in game two against Chicago was very important. Mitchell and Doughty are great penalty killers. Slava Voynov elevated his game in the Blackhawks series and along with Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez and Matt Greene, they are key to Los Angeles’ ability to win. Will the Rangers speed be too much for those guys? Somehow the Kings were able to overcome Chicago’s speed up front, but the Rangers are likely faster. However, the Rangers forwards don’t have the high end skill like Chicago had with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Sharp. The Kings, however, are one injury away from the slow footed Jeff Schultz being inserted in the lineup. Advantage: Rangers, because of their balance and depth.

Goaltending: Does it get any better than Jonathan Quick vs. Henrik Lundqvist? These are the best goalies in the NHL going head to head for Lord Stanley. Amazingly, they both play different styles. Quick is far more aggressive and moves around much more than King Henrik. Lundqvist is the ONLY goalie in the league who can pull off the “deep in the net” style that he employs. That allows him to rarely be out of position on shots. The Rangers defense knows how #30 is going to play and they are a solid defensive unit. The Rangers are 2nd in the playoffs in goals against yielding 2.25 a game while the Kings are more leaky, at 2.86 per contest (9th overall). But those stats speak more to the style of play and defense of the teams than the net minders. Los Angeles has run into issues when they turn the puck over in the neutral zone, and that has led to a lot of odd man rushes against. Sutter must limit those against a fast Rangers club. Both goalies have had strong outings and also some poor ones, mostly because the team in front of them has struggled, at times. Overall, the Rangers have been more consistent, but they haven’t played the high end talent that Los Angeles has faced in San Jose, Anaheim, and then the 2013 Cup Champion Blackhawks. Advantage: Neither team, goaltending is a dead heat.

Coaching: I was not a John Tortorella fan and when they canned the fiery bench boss and replaced him with Vigneault, I expected marked improvement from New York. Did I think it would translate into a Stanley Cup Final run? Absolutely not. But give credit to the new bench boss (and GM Glen Sather too for some “ballsy” moves behind the bench and with personnel). He managed to survive a terrible schedule early in the post season and rally from a 3-1 hole against Pittsburgh. He’s doing a super job. Sutter is in an elite coach. He maintains an even keel so his team doesn’t get too high or low emotionally and he is a master tactician. Most other coaches would be golfing by now after facing a 3-0 hole in the opening round, but Sutter, assistant coach John Stevens, and the rest of the staff found a way to turn it around, mostly by fixing their poor neutral zone play. Sutter has a keen sense of who has it rolling on a given night and who just doesn’t have it. That’s why guys will move up and down the line-up. He somehow was able to win against the Ducks with both Regehr and Mitchell out, that speaks volumes to the coaching given that that they won with a guy who played the entire season in the AHL in Schultz. Advantage: Los Angeles.

Intangibles: Ever since St. Louis’ mom passed away unexpectedly, the Rangers have been a different team. Anyone who has played hockey, at any level, knows that it is a team game that requires intensity and an emotional commitment. New York clearly has that and throw Dominic Moore’s personal situation into the mix as well. The Rangers are on a mission. On the other hand, the Kings have won three game seven’s on the road, a feat that has never been done before in NHL history. They came back from a three game hole in the first round and were down 3-2 against the Ducks and survived. They were losing 2-0 early in game seven against the Hawks and scraped out a W. One thing that favors LA is the travel schedule. While the Rangers sat for days waiting to figure out who they would play, once they finally did they had to fly cross country to California. So I think that negates any rest they received. Both teams have played a lot of hockey. Advantage: Slight edge to Kings due to home ice.

So I think this is going to be an excellent series, but it will be lower scoring. It will be hard to top the Chicago-LA Western Final, no doubt. Both teams could win this thing, especially if the Kings can’t get net presence on Lundqvist. But I think the Kings will find a way and overcome a Rangers team that seems to keep improving.

The Pick: Despite the fact that broadcaster Kenny Albert and Rangers assistant GM, Jim Schoenfeld, are some of my favorite people in hockey, it’s Los Angeles in 6.

 

 

Comments (1)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ovechkin Carries Caps in Shootout Loss to Kings

Posted on 26 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The definition of pure entertainment?

Yes, that would be the Washington Capitals-Los Angeles Kings game from the Verizon Center on Tuesday night.

Wow, what a great hockey game!

The Caps raced out to a 2-0 and 3-1 lead on the 2012 Stanley Cup Champions only to see the Kings rally with three straight goals to take a 4-3 advantage before Evgeny Kuznetsov potted the rebound of an Alexander Ovechkin shot for his 1st NHL goal to tie the game with 42 seconds left.

A thrilling back and forth overtime period was played before the contest was ultimately decided in the shootout, where Kings goalie Jonathan Quick was just too good once again.

So the Caps lose for the second time in two games in less than a week to the Kings in the gimmick. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, but as Karl Alzner told me after the game, “we are [ticked] off that we didn’t win this game.”

Alzner is right, the Capitals could’ve gotten two points, especially up 3-1 heading into the final period. But Los Angeles is one heck of a hockey team and the Capitals, who lost their #1 center Nicklas Backstrom to an upper body injury early in period two after he was hit late by Drew Doughty, should be okay with the late rally to salvage a point. They could’ve have easily been beaten in regulation save for the late heroics by Kuznetsov while shorthanded, which was set up by Ovechkin (2 goals, 1 assist) and Eric Fehr.

The Caps not only lost Backstrom to what Coach Adam Oates said is not a concussion, but Troy Brouwer missed time during the contest as well as Chris Brown, who returned to set up Dustin Penner’s first goal as a Capital late in period two with some impressive grit and hard work. In addition, Ovechkin and Jack Hillen collided in overtime and #38 was down for several minutes before ultimately leaving the bench area under his own power.

The four injuries are a concern, especially the one to Backstrom. Fortunately the Caps don’t play again until Saturday afternoon so they have some time to heal.

Back to the tough loss, which puts the Capitals record at 34-27-12 (80 points) with nine games left to play. Washington received some stellar performances in this one, especially from their captain who had two power play markers before the game was eight minutes old. The Gr8, playing with Jay Beagle and Marcus Johansson, had another solid game and was even for the night.The captain’s play on the tying goal was one in which the Gr8 seemed to decide that there was no way his club was going to be held pointless after battling all night against a top NHL club.

In addition, Mike Green was fantastic in 24:46 of ice time. He had six shots on net and played one of his best defensive games of the season. If the Caps are somehow going to make the post season, they need the #52 that played on Tuesday in every single game down the stretch.

Alzner was fabulous, as well, on the back end. King Karl had the very difficult task of going up against Anze Kopitar, one of the best players in the NHL, and he held #11 off of the score sheet. #27 had a nice solid hit on Kopitar in the middle frame and was positionally sound and used the body effectively.

Brown, Penner, and Tom Wilson did a nice job on the fourth line and they chipped in a goal. The three big bodies were a force on the ice.

The concerning thing was that the Capitals were mostly outplayed by Los Angeles, who had won a night earlier in Philadelphia. The Kings dominated puck possession and had 75 shot attempts to just 43 for the Caps. LA is one quality hockey team and their captain, Dustin Brown, was outstanding for Coach Darryl Sutter. Brown’s hit and strip of the puck on Dmitry Orlov to start period two allowed him to draw a trip on Joel Ward. The Kings scored on the ensuing power play and he also put his club up 4-3 in the third period.

GM Dean Lombardi’s crew are Stanley Cup contenders, especially after the GM practically stole Marian Gaborik from Columbus. Gaborik, who scored the third Kings goal on a sweet top shelf shot, brings a dimension to the roster that Los Angeles previously just didn’t have, a left handed pure goal scorer.

For the first time in several games, the Capitals had defensive issues. Patrick Wey had a rough night and his cross ice giveaway led to LA’s fourth goal. Still, #56 is an up and coming player and the Caps are 5-0-2 with him in the lineup. He has helped stabilize Orlov’s game, although #81 had a rough night as well.

As for the goaltending, Jaroslav Halak was a mixed bag. Oates said that #41 would want the second goal back, in which he fumbled a point shot and left a juicy rebound that LA potted. However, Halak made some super saves down the stretch and in overtime to keep the game close or tied. Then, in the gimmick, Halak couldn’t stop any Kings shooter. Clearly the shootout is not Halak’s favorite event.

When it was all said and done, the Caps earned a critical point to keep themselves in a dog fight for the final two Eastern Conference playoffs spots with Detroit, Columbus, Toronto, and even New Jersey. There is not a lot of room for error with nine games left.

The Caps absolutely have to have a healthy Backstrom if they are going to go at least 6-2-1 down the stretch and qualify for the playoffs. They also have to get super performances from their captain, Green, Alzner, and several others if they are going to beat Boston and the other teams on the schedule.

The loss is a tough one to swallow and was disappointing to the Caps and their fans.

But having said that, from a pure hockey and entertainment standpoint, last night’s contest between the Caps and the Kings is a reason why hockey is the greatest sport on earth.

Notes: The Caps lost the face off battle, 34-29. Backstrom was 7-4 before leaving after only 8:10 of ice time…Brouwer had two assists…Doughty played 29:38 for the Kings. He is the best defensemen in the NHL, in my book and Quick is the best goalie…Kuznetsov and Fehr were stopped in the shootout while both Kopitar and Jeff Carter tallied for LA in the gimmick…the Kings went 1 for 3 on the power play while the Caps were 2 for 4. The PP was nowhere near as good once Backstrom was injured, which is no surprise.

 

Comments Off on Ovechkin Carries Caps in Shootout Loss to Kings