Tag Archive | "Kuznetsov"

Game 4 Pens

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Caps Season On the Brink After Overtime Loss

Posted on 05 May 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Instead of losing a three games to one series lead this spring, the Washington Capitals will have to find a way to rally to win one.

Patrick Hornqvist’s goal just 2:36 in overtime off of a Mike Weber failed clear allowed the Penguins to seize a 3-2 victory in a thrilling contest and put them on the brink of the Eastern Conference Finals with just one more victory over the Caps.

The Penguins, who were playing without top defensemen Kris Letang, put together a spirited effort and gave Washington big problems with their speed through the neutral zone in the first 30 minutes to take a 2-1 lead after Jay Beagle’s early marker made it 1-0 Capitals.

Pittsburgh was given pretty much no chance to win before the game by Mike Milbury on NBC, but they amped up their physical play and did a much better job of their zone exits in period one and for the first half of period two. Washington had too many struggles coming out of their own zone and they were on their heels for much of the first 30 minutes.

Braden Holtby (30 saves) made some big stops to keep it a 2-1 game and then the Caps started playing to their strengths, which was keeping the puck on the walls and cycling the smaller Pens. Justin Williams made a great play in the corner and he fed John Carlson for a brilliant tally with 3:41 to go in the middle frame to tie the game.

A nerve racking third period, in which the Penguins received the only power play, yielded no goals. The Caps did a great job of killing off a high sticking penalty by Karl Alzner on Sidney Crosby with 3:38 to go, allowing no shots on the Holtbeast.

In overtime, Mike Richards had a great chance to win it, but Matt Murray (34 saves) came up large once again setting the stage for the misplay by Weber and an easy marker for Hornqvist.

This was one tough way to lose again for Washington.

They didn’t play with the passion and sense of urgency we saw on Monday night when they dominated in a 3-2 loss, instead they looked nervous and out of sync too often for the first half of this game. That is certainly a surprise, given what was at stake and the loss of Letang for Pittsburgh.

So now the Caps get two days off to regroup and game five will be at the Verizon Center on Saturday night at 7:15 pm. Letang will be back in the lineup for the Pens while Brooks Oprik is still out another game. Washington needs to examine what they are doing well and doing poorly, then adjust accordingly. The Penguins clearly made the changes they needed after getting dominated, yet winning, in game three and it showed early on. That gave the Penguins the confidence to win without their best defensemen. A big part of that was their effort. They routinely out worked the Capitals in the first 30 minutes.

All four games so far have been one goal tilts, so the margin between victory and defeat has been ever so slight. Murray has been great in net for the Penguins and the Caps have had too many defensive gaffes to maintain momentum and pressure on Pittsburgh.

Simply put, the Capitals must come out on Saturday night and focus on one shift at a time and play each like it’s potentially their last game of the season. Thinking about winning three in a row puts you in the wrong mindset. They just have to play with the passion and energy they had on Monday night, but eliminate those glaring mistakes.

If they don’t, it’s golf time.

Notes: John Carlson logged a game high 30:15…the Caps won the shot attempts battle, 69-61…Alex Ovechkin had seven shots on goal in 21:16 of ice time…Daniel Winnik missed the remainder of period two after taking a high hit at the blue line from Evgeni Malkin. Former NHL referee Kerry Fraser, via Twitter, thought charging should’ve been called on #71. Winnik did come back for some shifts in the 3rd period…Crosby left for some of the third period after an Ovechkin slash to #87’s hands, but returned…the Caps won the face off battle, 40-36. Evgeny Kuznetsov went 12-6…the Penguins went 0 for 4 on the power play while the Caps went 0 for 2…the Caps were out hit, 47-41.

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Caps Flyers Game 3

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Caps Discipline Leads to 6-1 Rout of the Flyers

Posted on 19 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals used a four goal third period to bury the Philadelphia Flyers, 6-1, on Monday night and put Philly’s season on notice. The Caps now have a three games to none lead in this best of seven series. Game 4 is Wednesday night at 7 pm at the Wells Fargo Center.

Simply put, the Capitals embarrassed the Flyers.

In addition, the Flyers and their fans, who repeatedly threw bracelets onto the ice on Ed Snider night late in the third period, totally melted down embarrassing themselves and the NHL with their awful penalties and idiotic behavior. Frankly, they looked like a bunch of whining babies when it was all said and done.

With the crowd amped up, the game got off to a bad start for Washington as Michael Raffl put the rebound home of a Brandon Manning point shot just 57 seconds into the contest. Braden Holtby (31 saves) said afterwards that was a shot he wanted back, but following that, the Holtbeast shut the door on the Flyers.

Washington, though, answered quickly, less than four minutes after the Flyers early goal to really settle things down. 15 seconds after Wayne Simmonds took a holding infraction, John Carlson blasted a shot from the point and it hit Marcus Johansson on the way in to tie things up. The Caps would score on one of their two power plays in the opening frame while Philadelphia went 0 for 2 with their man advantage situations.

In the middle frame, the Capitals took the lead at the 8:50 mark as Alex Ovechkin (two goals, one assist) slipped behind the Flyers defense and snapped a wicked shot just below the glove of Steve Mason (21 saves) and inside the far post to give Washington a lead it would not relinquish.

The Flyers did their best to try to tie it up, throwing their body around and pretty much tossing the kitchen sink at Holtby. Brooks Orpik took a vicious hit from Ryan White that resulted in an upper body injury and he did not return. From that point on in period two, Philadelphia was really all over the Caps. Somehow Washington managed to maintain their focus and Brayden Schenn took a stupid slashing penalty at the end of the frame that set the table for a big Caps final stanza.

What a period it was as Evgeny Kuznetsov scored on the ensuing power play when the Caps got a lucky break off of the back glass on a Justin Williams hard around that bounced right into the slot and on the stick of #92, which he deposited by Mason just 1:58 into the period. The Flyers and their fans were absolutely stunned. Sure it was a lucky bounce, but if Schenn doesn’t take the bad penalty, Kuznetsov is not all alone and in position for the easy marker.

But the Flyers would not learn from their mistakes and Radko Gudas took another bad penalty, tripping Kuznetsov in the offensive zone and Carlson made him pay with his third goal in three games with Williams setting a beautiful screen on Mason at the top of the crease. That made it 4-1 and the Flyers were pretty much done with the hockey part of their game.

It’s in the DNA of the Broad Street Bullies to get dirty and cheap when the game is heading into the out of reach category and right on cue, the Flyers went there. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare hit Dmitry Orlov awkwardly from behind and earned a five minute major at the 12:17 mark. A scrum ensued and many Flyers fans lost it, at that point, littering the ice with the bracelets and causing a couple of delays. They were then warned by the referees, via the Flyers in house announcer, that if more objects were thrown on the ice then the home team would be penalized.

The Caps worked the puck around in the offensive zone for several minutes on the five minute major creating numerous chances before Ovechkin fired another dart past Mason to make it 5-1 with 5:02 remaining. Naturally, several more bracelets were tossed onto the rink and the referees assessed a bench minor to the Flyers for the fans insubordination. Those who threw the objects onto the ice basically acted like three year old kids. It was embarrassing for those fans who were behaving properly, and there was a good number of them. It also disrespected the game and was a black mark for the NHL. Simply put, the NHL cannot be happy with the behavior of the Flyers and their fans and that will do them no favors the rest of the series. Snider, if he were still with us, would be disgusted at the lack of respect for the game shown by numerous Flyers fans.

Jay Beagle then closed out the scoring after Matt Read took a slashing penalty and the Caps earned a five on three power play.

The final statistics for the third period included four Capitals goals, a shot attempts advantage of 33 to 15 and a 13-6 margin from the dot on draws. Up until that period, the Flyers had a 27-13 edge on faceoffs and 48-35 on shot attempts. The mostly young Philly team took themselves out of the contest with terrible decisions and penalties; it was not simply the result of one lucky bounce.

Overall, the Caps did a super job in this game of keeping the Flyers to the outside and either blocked shots or allowed Holtby to see the biscuit clearly. Coach Trotz stated that despite the offensive weapons his team has up front, his club is really built on defense.

Washington also won this contest by keeping their cool and destroying the Flyers on special teams. The Caps went 5-9 with the power play while Philly was 0-5.

“It’s tough, you want to retaliate, but you have to look at the bigger picture and know what we’re playing for here. Everyone takes hits to make plays, takes slashes, you have to take a lot of stuff if you want to get where you want to be,” said two time Stanley Cup Champion Mike Richards, who had six hits in 11:05 of ice time.

“It tests your patience, for sure, but the end goal is to win the game. We have to stick up for each other, stay together as a group, but especially when our power play is going like that, we’ll just turn it into a game like that and keep scoring goals,” added Matt Niskanen, who blocked five shots in a game high 26:48 on the blue line for Washington.

This was the first time in franchise history, in eight tries (h/t Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post), that the Caps have taken a 3-0 lead in a best of seven series, but in the locker room following the game, you’d be hard pressed to tell that Washington is on the verge of sweeping this opening round series. Basically, it looked like another night in Caps land during the regular season. There was no celebration or feeling of accomplishment, just a singular focus on the task at hand, which was to win a hockey game and then get one more on Wednesday.

“You want to win, that’s where the focus is, but they have a really good team. [Claude Giroux] is a great leader and Simmonds is a great leader, so you know they’re not going to lay down and die, so we have to play our best game. The toughest is to get that fourth win and we know they are going to come hard,” finished Richards.

Notes: Orlov, despite the nasty hit he took then crawling out from under the donnybrook that occurred while he was laying on the ice, came back and notched a power play assist. #9 eats rocks for breakfast and looked very solid and comfortable in 12:34 of ice time…Nate Schmidt, one assist, was excellent in 11:58 of playing time…with Orpik likely out for game 4, you can expect Mike Weber to get a sweater on Wednesday given that his game most closely resembles #44’s…Karl Alzner was fabulous on D in 22:52 of ice time.

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Ovi Playoffs

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Table Set for the Caps As They Begin the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Posted on 11 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

“This is it…make no mistake where you are…This is it…your back’s to the counter…This is it…don’t be a fool anymore”Kenny Loggins

The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin for the Caps on Thursday, April 14th at 7 pm from the Verizon Center against the Philadelphia Flyers.

They are finally here.

The Washington Capitals organization and their fans have been waiting for this day to come since Derek Stepan’s puck went past Braden Holtby into the back of the cage in overtime of game 7 last spring, on May 13th, 2015.

334 days ago, to be exact.

I remember the frustration, anger, and pain that came immediately afterwards. It’s a feeling long time Caps fans know far too well.

My first tweet immediately, once that shot went in, was simple and to the point.

“Why must the Capitals always lose this way?”

It was agonizing for all who are emotionally invested in this team, to include the players and the entire organization.

But as that night progressed and the group healing began on Twitter, we all really knew, that the despite the bitter loss, this team was extremely close to much bigger things. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Jason Chimera, Karl Alzner, and many others had taken their game to new levels under Coach Barry Trotz and his excellent coaching staff. GM Brian MacLellan had rebuilt the defense in the summer of 2014 to continue to help turn a ship around that began steering in the right direction with the hiring of Coach Trotz.

For once a crushing Capitals season ending didn’t feel like an end all be all, once the analytic side of everyone took over.

MacLellan, the very next day, then said what everyone was thinking.

“We need to improve our top six forwards group.”

It was as transparent and refreshing of a statement as you could hear from the man calling the personnel shots. But saying it and then completing it are two entirely different actions.

But Mac pulled it off, landing Justin “Stick” Williams in free agency and then getting T.J. Oshie in a blockbuster trade with the Blues.

They were brilliant moves in July of 2015.

After those additions I felt, and then blogged before the season began, that on paper, this was the best Caps team ever.

The Presidents’ Trophy winning 2015-16 regular season, where the Caps were NEVER defeated back to back in regulation contests, confirmed just that.

Along the way MacLellan and Trotz added to the deck bringing in two time Stanley Cup Champion Mike Richards, in another amazing move that stabilized the bottom six forwards and penalty killing unit.

Kuznetsov continued his rise towards the NHL’s elite. Tom Wilson improved his game as both Coach Trotz and GM MacLellan had stated they needed after the loss to the Rangers. The Caps would then develop such a great standings points lead that they were able to manage their roster and ice times down the stretch so that it could be as healthy as ever entering the most important season.

That time is now here.

The playoffs are a totally different animal. The space on the ice is limited and the game is extremely physical and fast.

You have to play through your opponent.

It’s a shift by shift, period by period, game by game, and series by series struggle.

You must stick together as a team and play smart.

Discipline is paramount and you have to remain focused on and off of the ice.

So now the table is set.

The past stings for the Capitals organization, but now they have a great chance to change all of that.

It’s all there for the taking.

This is it!

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Isles Beat Caps

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Caps Squander Lead and Lose to Islanders in Overtime

Posted on 05 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game over, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Caps Lose in the Shootout to the Flyers

Posted on 30 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, something.

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

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

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

Believe.

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

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

Once again, believe.

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

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

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

Keep the faith.

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

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

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Caps Jump All Over Sens Early in 4-2 Win

Posted on 22 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Evgeny Kuznetsov has three helpers and Daniel Winnik tallies twice in a dominating Caps win over Nashville.

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Kuznetsov, Winnik Lead Caps to a 4-1 Win on Craig Laughlin Night

Posted on 18 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

On Craig Laughlin night at the Verizon Center on Friday, it was fitting that a plumber notched two tallies for the Capitals in a 4-1 victory over the Nashville Predators.

Daniel Winnik scored twice, the first of which came on another spectacular pass by Evgeny Kuznetsov (three assists) to tie the contest up at one after former Cap Filip Forsberg had given the Preds a second period lead on a power play. It was Winnik’s first two goals as a Capital after coming over on February 29th in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Kuznetsov (three assists) was sensational in this game and it was another one of his vintage passes, this one behind his back, to T.J. Oshie on the goal line that #77 deposited over Carter Hutton at 12:22 of the middle frame to give Washington its’ first lead of the night.

With 18 ticks remaining in the second period, the Capitals really put Nashville behind the eight ball when Winnik scored his second tally of the night after a great rush and feed by Dmitry Orlov. The Caps then inserted the dagger on the Predators just 36 seconds into period three when, you guessed it, Kuznetsov stripped the puck from Ryan Johansen, who was horrible in this one, and fed Andre Burakovsky all alone in front of Hutton. #65 promptly roofed it for his 15th goal of the season to end the scoring.

Coming into this contest David Poile’s team was one of the hottest clubs in the NHL, going 11-1-5 over their last 17 games, including a 4-2 win over the Islanders on Thursday night.

After arriving into the District around 2 am on Friday morning, the Capitals pretty much made sure that the Predators had no chance in this tilt.

Sure they scored the first goal early in period two, but the Predators were held to just four first period shots and zero quality chances. The Capitals turned in a strong first frame, but for the 14th time in the last 17 games they failed to grab the initial lead. Coach Barry Trotz is all about the process so he had to like that opening period even though it was scoreless.

Despite giving up the power play tally that occurred after a Taylor Chorney trip, Washington did not lose momentum in the second period. On Winnik’s first goal, which came right as the Preds penalty expired (Johansen), Braden Holtby (20 saves) made a great long feed to Kuznetsov to catch Nashville in a change. Kuznetsov then worked his magic to totally fake out the entire Nashville team and slide the biscuit through a seam to Winnik, who merely had to deposit it into the yawning cage. It was the Holtbeast’s first assist of the year and it sucked pretty much any life left out of the Predators, who thought they might be able to steal a game in which they were getting heavily outplayed, to that point.

The Caps onslaught would continue from there and it wasn’t until it was 4-1 that Nashville really got any type of consistent pressure. But by then it was just score effects and overall the Capitals held the Predators to just 21 shots on net.

Orlov was outstanding on the back end and in addition to his assist, he was +4 on this night. You could go up and down the Capitals lineup and cite contributions from nearly every player and even Tom Wilson, who had been struggling a bit lately, did a nice job of going to the net and causing traffic on Hutton.

Washington’s impressive victory pushes their record to an astounding 51-14-5 (107 points) and even if the Los Angeles Kings go 13-0 the rest of the way, the Caps would just need nine points in 12 games to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy. Like I’ve said before, that’s a done deal.

This was two straight quality efforts by the Capitals and it was their first win by as many as three goals since January 19th against Columbus (h/t to Mike Vogel). Holtby earned his 43rd victory of the season and is now just five wins shy of Martin Brodeur’s all-time record. Washington also improved to 21-12-5 when allowing the first goal of the game. They are 30-2-0 when scoring first.

So now it is on to Pittsburgh on Sunday night to take on the Penguins at the Consol Energy Center. The Pens are in a dogfight of their own to make the postseason and they’ll face the red hot and despised Flyers on Saturday afternoon at 1 pm. Here’s to hoping there’s a whole new rash of penalty minutes in that one!

For the Caps, though, the beat just keeps marching on. Washington took advantage of a team who played the night before by out skating them all evening.

It was a thorough whipping of Nashville by Coach Trotz’ crew and it came on a night where everyone was in a celebratory mood given that it was “Locker’s” silver anniversary. Ole #18 delivered once again with another excellent performance in the booth with his partner in crime, Joe Beninati.

Thanks for all of the great work, analysis, and laughs over the last 25 years, Craig!

Notes: Kuznetsov earned the game’s number one star. In addition to his three helpers in 17:30 of ice time, he went 13-5 from the dot as the Capitals won the face off battle, 34-24…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:21 while Roman Josi and Shea Weber both played over 27 minutes each for Nashville. Those numbers display the difference in depth between these two bluelines as the Caps next highest defenders in time on ice were Karl Alzner at 21:34 and Brooks Orpik at 20:22…Oshie and Alex Ovechkin led the Caps in shots on goal with five. The Gr8 had 13 shot attempts, but zero points…Oshie, who set a career high with his 22nd goal, led the Caps with five hits…the Caps have 28 victories at home this season.

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

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Ovechkin’s OT Tally Helps the Caps Hit 50 Wins

Posted on 16 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In a thrilling late night game in Cali, the Capitals emerge victorious in the shootout, 2-1.

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Braden Holtby Ends the Ducks’ 11 Game Winning Streak

Posted on 08 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby allowed a goal to Ryan Getzlaf that he probably wanted back just one minute into the game on a delayed penalty call on Alex Ovechkin, but that was all the Ducks would get the rest of the night. Washington’s Andre Burakovsky tied the contest just 41 seconds into the third period and after overtime solved nothing, the Caps won in the shootout to halt Anaheim’s 11 game winning streak, 2-1.

Wow. Wow. Wow!

That was one incredible hockey game that was well worth staying up for!

It was physical; there were great end to end rushes, quality scoring chances, and some outstanding goaltending at both ends of the rink. John Gibson made 31 saves, robbing Justin Williams at least four times in this one, to carry the Ducks to the gimmick. Holtby held up his end of the bargain, as well, stopping 27 shots and he looked like early season Holtbeast. He made several huge stops, at key times, and he didn’t give up many rebounds. It was easily his best game since at least the all star break.

Williams, who was Comcast’s player of the game, did get an assist on the tying goal by Burakovsky. That second unit was all over the Ducks the entire evening and their only flaw was failing to pull the trigger when they had some great looks. Both Evgeny Kuznetsov and Burakovsky were guilty of overpassing on several occasions.

Each team played well and it is easy to see why the Ducks had been on a tear. They are extremely good and play a style that is conducive to lower scoring games. They have speed and size, just like Washington, so this was really an even matchup.

Mike Richards and his linemates, Daniel Winnik and Jay Beagle had another strong contest, especially in the third period when the Caps carried most of the play. #10 picked off a “D to D” pass with a minute to go and nearly won the game on a sweet backhander. Gibson, once again, kept his club in it.

The overtime saw the Caps carry the majority of the possession as they worked their three man cycle and overlap style very well. Matt Niskanen nearly won the game again for Washington with a sweet move to the net, but Gibson stopped his backhander in tight. The Capitals received a power play in OT when the Ducks were called for too many dudes, but just 16 seconds into that T.J. Oshie was called for closing his hand on the puck. Three on three continued without a decision, although the pace was frantic and heart pumping.

In the shootout, Holtby had two snazzy glove saves while Oshie made one of his sick head fake, then backhand roof job moves to give the Caps the edge early. Kuznetsov then had a chance to win the game, but despite beating Gibson, he shot wide. Corey Perry would deliver for Anaheim with a sweet backhand move of his own with the game on the line. Enter Nicklas Backstrom, who skated in calmly and coolly, faked going blocker side to open up the Ducks goaltender like a can of beans, and then #19 slid the puck on the ice between Gibson’s legs to silence the Honda Center. The Swedish assassin was quiet and deadly with his work and Washington earned another big victory against one of the NHL’s elite.

The exhilarating triumph improves the Caps to a 49-13-4 record, good for 102 points. That is just out of this world and even more impressive is that this was the Capitals fifth game in seven nights and they navigated that stretch at 4-1, including flying cross country on Sunday.

This group is clearly special and they once again shook off a rocky start to improve as the game went on. They were emotionally involved in the contest after the opening shift and they were winning many of the loose puck battles against a super hockey club.

There was just a ton to like about this victory, and perhaps, most importantly, was the way their goalie rallied after allowing an early goal to close the door with numerous ten bell saves.

Yes, the Holtbeast was back on the prowl on Monday night in a huge Capitals victory in Anaheim.

Notes: Burakovsky now has 23 points in his last 25 games…both teams went 0 for 4 on the power play in 6:16 of time. Washington’s PK was outstanding holding Anaheim to just 1 power play shot! The Caps man advantage efforts in regulation were superb and generated seven shots on goal, but Gibson was the difference…the Ducks won the faceoff battle, 29-22, although Kuznetsov went 8-6…Ovechkin had 0 shots on goal through 40 minutes but had four in the third period and one great chance in overtime that was denied by Gibson…Williams also had five shots on net…Niskanen played 27:05 to lead all skaters…Mike Weber had eight hits for the Caps. Brooks Orpik and Dmitry Orlov also had five each. The Ducks were credited with 43 hits to 33 for Washington…next up for the Caps are the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center at 10:30 on Wednesday night.

 

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

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Grubauer Leads the Caps to the Century Mark in Points

Posted on 05 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

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

They received both of those.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wow, this was some great hockey game!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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