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Caps Win Game 4

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Caps Lock Down Columbus, 4-1, to Even Up the Series

Posted on 19 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals first line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Tom Wilson collected a total of seven points and Braden Holtby made 23 of 24 saves to give the Caps a 4-1 victory in game four of this best of seven series and send things back to DC knotted up at two games apiece. Game five is Saturday afternoon at 3 pm at Capital One Arena.

After winning in double overtime on a goal mouth scramble bounce in game three, the Caps continued their push to the front of Sergei Bobrovsky’s net and it paid off with some big tallies. Wilson scored first just 6:16 into this affair. John Carlson and Chandler Stephenson broke out on Ian Cole on a two on one rush thanks to a super breakout pass by Alex Chiasson. Bob made the initial save on Carlson and Thomas Vanek managed to clear the rebound before Stephenson could deposit the loose change. The problem for the Blue Jackets was that the puck went right to Kuznetsov, who put one on a tee for a fresh off of the bench Wilson, and Top Line Tommy lasered the biscuit into the twine.

Another rebound marker, this one on the power play, by T.J. Oshie just before the midpoint of the game gave Washington a two goal cushion. Carlson made a super keep in at the blue line of a failed Cam Atkinson clear and that set the whole play in motion against a fatigued Columbus PK unit. Oshie wheeled the puck behind the net and to the right wing half wall to the great Nicklas Backstrom. Nicky fed #74 at the right point and he fired on net. Bobrovsky made the initial save, but the biscuit bounced right to Ovi charging in from the left wing circle. The Gr8 shot, but Bob denied him. Kuznetsov poked at the puck, but Bob padded it up into the slot, where the Osh Babe quickly snapped it, with his amazing hands, into the goal.

In both games one and two, the Capitals had two goal leads, but they frittered each away with bad penalties, untimely offensive zone miscues that led to Blue Jacket rush goals, and some shaky goaltending. In game four, the Caps stayed disciplined, limited their offensive and neutral zone mistakes by getting pucks deep, and of course, the Holtbeast was a confident wall in the cage.

For the last 10 minutes of the second frame, the Caps played smart and made Columbus work for every inch. Washington took that 2-0 lead to the locker room after 40 minutes and they came right out in period three and played the same exact way. The Blue Jackets, who were working doubly hard to try and fight through the Capitals neutral zone trap and strong defensive blue line front, were being forced to go 200 feet to generate opportunities and fatigue started taking over.

The Caps extended their lead to three pucks just 2:49 into the final stanza. Wilson went flying through the neutral and offensive zones on the right wing boards with the puck and attempted to fire on Bob, as he should do in that situation. Willy’s shot was blocked and he and the Columbus player slid into the right wing corner with the puck. Kuzy alertly skated quickly in to retrieve the disc and he fed Ovechkin in the high slot. The Gr8 then quickly went backhand to forehand and sniped one below Sergei’s left pad to really stick a dagger in Columbus.

From there on out, the Blue Jackets tried everything they could to sneak a player behind the Washington defense and they also pinched on the walls trying to keep pucks in the offensive zone. Columbus’ only goal came off of a faceoff win, at 6:22 of period three, on a Boone Jenner deflection with tons of traffic in front. After that, the Caps exploited the Blue Jackets “cheat” for several scoring opportunities, most notably an Ovechkin breakaway that would have made it 4-1, but Bob robbed him glove side.

Over a minute after Columbus dispensed of their keeper with 3:29 remaining, Kuznetsov stole a puck in the neutral zone and hit the empty net with 2:19 left to end the scoring and even up the series.

This was one heck of a team effort by the Caps.

On Wednesday morning, I asked Coach Barry Trotz about how the team would shut down the Blue Jackets potent rush game and he stated that the key was getting numbers back and the forwards exhibiting strong back pressure on their opponents.

Boy did his team follow that game plan perfectly!

Time after time a Columbus player would appear to have some speed and a lane in the neutral zone only to be slowed by a wall of Caps defenders at the Washington blue line. Then a back checking forward would either stick lift the Columbus player to steal the puck or the Blue Jackets would force a pass into the middle of the ice where the Capitals would grab the disc and go the other way. This pattern went on for much of the third period and you could see the Blue Jackets were being forced to use the whole rink to generate opportunities, but it just wasn’t happening because of the defensive posture of Washington.

On the night, Columbus only had 24 shots on goal and failed to hit double digits in any period. When shots did get through, Holtby was dialed in and took away any hope of a victory for the home squad. The Holtbeast is now 16-4-2 as a starter against the Blue Jackets, lifetime.

A successful lineup adjustment that Coach Barry Trotz made from game three to game four was to put Stephenson back up with Backstrom and Oshie on the second unit while bumping Jakub Vrana down to line four. That move paid dividends once the Caps got the lead because #18 is a really strong two way player who can skate. Vrana is a very good skater, too, and in his limited time (6:41) he played well, but with Coach John Tortorella having the match up advantage, Trotzy had to counter with a strong two way line. By doing that, the Kuznetsov trio was able to win their match up and be the difference in the hockey game.

Overall, this was an outstanding performance and the best the Capitals have played in the post season this spring. They played a simple game and have now won six of their last seven road playoffs tilts dating back to last April. That is the good news, but the bad news is they have lost five of their last six playoff contests at home. The key to winning again wearing Red is to pretend it is a road contest and play a simple style. There is no need to be trying to impress the fans with fancy passes and pretty plays. This is the playoffs and dirty, gritty goals are what make the difference between winning and losing. The Washington fans will gladly trade pretty plays for a simple W this time of year.

On Thursday night, the Capitals played a textbook road game and left the state of Ohio with two victories, just as their captain said they would do before game 3.

Promise Delivered.

Notes: Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:29 and was outstanding. Nisky is playing the best hockey of his season. His defensive partner, Dmitry Orlov, logged 24:10. #9 has made some mistakes in this series and has another gear he can get to, but his fellow blue liner has really stabilized things on the back end…Michal Kempny (18:14), Brooks Orpik (17:01) and Christian Djoos (12:36) all played well on defense…Washington, who got Jay Beagle back in game two after he was out due to an upper body injury, owned the face off circle going 36-20. Beags was a downright dominant, 14-3. Winning draw after draw forces the opposition, especially when trailing, to expend a lot of energy to try and get the puck back…the leader in ice time for the series, Seth Jones, played 26:22 minutes of action that included being hounded by a Caps player pretty much all night…Artemi Panarin, who was the best skater in the series in the first three games, was held in check in game four. He had only one shot on net, took two penalties, and was -1 in 20:56 of ice time…the Caps were 1 for 3 on the power play while CBus went 0 for 3.

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Kuzy Flyers

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A Caps Victory Over the Flyers is Always Special

Posted on 23 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Evgeny Kuznetsov tallied twice, Alex Ovechkin assisted on goals by Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, and Braden Holtby made 33 saves as the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers, 4-1, at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday on NBC Rivarly Night.

Ahhhhh, victory over the Flyers is always so extra special and nice!

The Broad Street Bullies are the Caps oldest rivals dating back to 1974-75, so long time Capitals fans always have a little extra “mojo” in their stride after a win over the despised Flyers, who often try to take hockey back to the Neanderthal Era.

Despite the three goal margin this was not an easy triumph, and if not for an early video review, the Flyers are up 1-0. Holtby fumbled the rebound of a Radko “Stiff” Gudas shot just 21 seconds in and the puck squirted into the slot. Philadelphia then put the biscuit in the basket, but on replay, you could clearly see forward Dale Weise pushing the Holtbeast to his right, which took #70 out of position to stop the shot. That’s a no-no and the NHL officials called it correctly, no goal.

After what appeared to be another horror show start, the Capitals might have been looking at a three game losing streak (the Caps were terrible in weekend tilts in Detroit and New York in the opening frame), but they righted the ship quickly. Ovechkin, who didn’t get many shot attempts in this one, made a big hit on Brandon Manning, who was battling for the puck along the right wing boards with Oshie, and it jarred the puck loose to #77, who then fed Backstrom in a prime scoring position. #19 then wasted no time and fired it on net. The puck hit Gudas in the leg and deflected past Michal Neuvirth (25 saves) to give Washington the lead just 6:33 into the contest.

The Caps and Flyers would trade more chances in the opening frame, but then the opportunistic Capitals increased their lead to two pucks when Kuznetsov buried one top shelf on Neuvy on the power play with 3:32 left in period one. Washington would go to the dressing room up 2-0, but it certainly felt like a much closer game, with the Holtbeast once again being a difference maker in goal for the Caps.

The Flyers, who are battling for their playoff lives, then threw the kitchen sink at the Caps in the middle frame. At the 6:54 mark, they cut the deficit to 2-1 on a Brayden Schenn deflection after Gudas took out Matt Niskanen’s knee, with a little help from Wayne Simmonds from behind, in the right wing circle. #2 would leave the bench and head to the locker room for further evaluation. He returned and played a penalty killing shift late in the second period, but then the Caps announced he would be done for the night with a lower body injury that will be evaluated further on Thursday by team doctors. Uh oh, if Niskanen is out long term, then this is trouble for the Caps. GM Brian MacLellan smartly traded a conditional draft pick for right handed shooting Tom Gilbert from the Kings during the bye week for blue line depth, so the Capitals have some insurance there. However, if Nisky is going to be out long term, then BMac might need to swing a bigger deal by the NHL trade deadline (Wednesday, March 1st).

But injuries are a part of the game and the show must go on. In Niskanen’s absence, John Carlson stepped up and logged 27:37 of ice time and he was rock solid going +2 with nine shot attempts (five on net) and an assist. Dmitry Orlov (20:37) and Karl Alzner (25:40) also took on bigger roles and got the job done.

Speaking of getting the job done, the Washington fourth line of Tom Wilson, Jay Beagle, and Daniel Winnik didn’t score any points, but those guys, along with Lars Eller, killed off two penalties and wore down their opponents all evening. Winnik has been especially good in February at even strength and on the PK.

Still this was a one goal game until late in the second period and that’s when Washington’s quick strike capability came through, again. Taylor Chorney, who received a sweater for the first time since January, made a great breakout pass that sprung the second line on a three on two rush. Justin Williams entered the offensive zone with speed that backed the Flyers defense up and he made a sweet cross ice feed back to Kuznetsov coming down the left side of the ice. #92 then tried to hit Marcus Johansson going to the net on his right, but the puck fortuitously hit Gudas’ twig and went through the five hole of Neuvirth to make it 3-1 with 2:01 left in period two. That was a crusher of a goal to the Flyers.

In the third period, with just five defensemen, the Capitals then did a super job of managing the game. They kept the Flyers to the perimeter and rarely gave up quality chances. Ovechkin, who still needs to work on his defensive posture, took a bad slashing penalty on Gudas with 13:46 remaining, but the Capitals killed that off fairly easily.

Philadelphia had the puck quite a bit in the last 20 minutes, but again, they were not getting good looks, just perimeter shots. The Caps opportunistic offense then sealed the Flyers fate with a sweet goal from the top line. Ovechkin made a great rush with the puck out of the defensive zone and he fed cross ice to Nicklas Backstrom on the left wing side of the rink. #19 carried the puck across the offensive blue line and with the Gr8 streaking to the net, Nicky put it right on Ovi’s tape. Ovechkin then went to the backhand, then Neuvirth got his stick on the puck, but Oshie beat Manning to the puck in the paint and slammed it home.

Cya Flyers!

Washington’s offense was back in this one because they were working hard to get to the net and also shooting the puck or putting it towards the cage. All four Caps goals came from the prime scoring area. The Capitals, as they had done consistently from New Year’s Eve until the start of their bye week, won the battle in terms of quality scoring chances. Sure the Flyers had puck possession for extended stretches of this tilt, but it was Washington who found a way to get the really golden opportunities and bury them. That’s the name of the game and it’s why the Caps shooting percentage had been so high. Also, their save percentage has been stellar because they prevent their opponents from getting lots of great scoring chances.

Overall, the Capitals looked more like the dominant team we saw in January and early February on Wednesday. They still have things to clean up in their game and the loss of Niskanen, if long term, will hurt and have to be mitigated. The bye week is done and the ugly first periods to the Red Wings and Rangers are hopefully but a memory now. Washington has a lot of work to do if they want to be the team they believe they can be, so the next six to seven weeks are important to set the table for the playoffs.

Speaking of the playoff battle, this victory over the Flyers gives them a 40-12-7 record (87 points) and they lead the Penguins by five points, the Blue Jackets by eight, and the Rangers by nine points in the Metropolitan Division with 23 games remaining (Columbus has a game in hand). Washington also leads the Minnesota Wild by three points in the Presidents’ Trophy race.

But that’s not the trophy the Capitals want so they have to continue to hone their game.

On Thursday, though, the air will smell cleaner, the food will taste better, and the drinks will go down smoother for Capitals fans because of this big win over their arch rivals from Filthy.

Notes: The Flyers creamed the Caps from the dot, 43-22…the Capitals blocked 23 shots (Alzner led the way with five)…Travis Boyd was recalled from Hershey as the 13th forward and was scratched with Nate Schmidt…the Caps play the super FAST Edmonton Oilers on Friday at the Verizon Center at 7 pm. The Oilers beat the Capitals handily in Alberta back in October…all eyes and ears will be on Niskanen’s status on Thursday.

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Caps miss playoffs for first time in seven years

Posted on 10 April 2014 by Ed Frankovic

It was only a few seasons ago that the Washington Capitals were considered Stanley Cup favorites.

They were a young team on the rise that just needed to make some improvements in the talent level on the ice and also in the leadership department. I wrote about those very things just three springs ago.

Unfortunately, the team did very little of what I suggested in that blog from May of 2011.

Three seasons later, they have missed the post season for the first time in seven years.

It’s not surprising to me. Just two games into the season I blogged that the defensive personnel was an area of concern. The weaknesses on defense ended up dooming this Capitals club. Washington used 14 different defensemen in 2013-14, many of which had little to no prior NHL experience. It was a big time gamble by GM George McPhee and it failed miserably. Add the poor personnel to the fact that the coaching staff didn’t properly address the talent weaknesses with system modifications, going so far as to try changing goalie Braden Holtby’s style, and you have the recipe for a bad season.

Simply put, this club needs big time changes off of the ice and on it. McPhee has had 17 years to try and win a Stanley Cup in Washington and he hasn’t done it. It’s time for some new blood in the GM slot. With a new GM comes a new coaching staff and that is needed as well. Sure Adam Oates didn’t have the talent he wanted, but his staff’s inability to adapt made things worse.

In addition, Washington had three players ask for trades this year. Those kind of things are major warning signs of an organization gone wrong.

On the ice, it’s pretty clear this team needs to be built around Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, and John Carlson. Braden Holtby, who was invited to Team Canada’s Olympic camp last summer, would be my choice to be the #1 goalie. I still don’t understand why the club tried to change his game this season when he’d been so successful in the past?

Anyways, Tom Wilson and Evgeny Kuznetsov are promising young players that you can add to the mix that should play a bigger role next season.

As for the rest, they are fair game.

Washington does have salary cap room heading into next season so they have some flexibility to address some of their major holes.

They need talent and leadership on and off of the ice.

Owner Ted Leonsis and Team President Dick Patrick need to find the right person to lead this ship in the GM slot. Bringing someone in with Stanley Cup winning experience seems paramount.

Time is ticking on the careers of Ovechkin and Backstrom so the Caps can’t afford to swing and miss again this summer.

Stay tuned.

 

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