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Backstrom Saves the Day for the Caps in OT

Posted on 07 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

And then Nicklas Backstrom saved the day for the Capitals.

Nicky’s tally through the legs of Tuukka Rask 1:36 into overtime allowed to Caps to survive, 4-3, after they blew a three goal advantage.

Washington looked like gangbusters for the first 25 minutes building that 3-0 lead on the backs of two Justin Williams goals from the paint and then a sweet shot by Daniel Winnik on a two on one break after a superb feed from Jay Beagle. But with Matt Niskanen getting hurt on a dirty hit from Patrice Bergeron late in the first period and not returning, the Bruins took over the game physically and worked their way back into it. That hit by Bergeron only landed #37 in the sin bin for two minutes when it easily could’ve been called a major.

After Winnik’s marker, the Caps would then go 26 minutes and 27 seconds without a shot on goal. By then it was 3-3 with only 7:42 remaining in regulation.

Boston’s first goal was fluky. After Alex Ovechkin was picked off of the faceoff, the Bruins threw the puck on net. Brooks Orpik was pushing his man, Anton Blidh, away from the net while Holtby tried to clear the biscuit. Unfortunately he put it right on #81’s stick and he fired it off of the Holtbeast and Dmitry Orlov failed to tie up notorious Cap killer, Dominic Moore, and he deposited the puck into the open cage.

Then things got really hairy when Evgeny Kuznetsov, who set up the first two goals for Washington and played a super first period, made a terrible turnover at the offensive blue line with just over a minute left in the middle frame, and it led to a David Pastrnak breakaway. #88 beat Holtby through the five hole on the backhand and suddenly two goals in two minutes and 25 seconds late in period two made this a one puck hockey game.

With one of their top three defensemen out in Niskanen, the Caps were getting exposed badly. Boston simply amped up their game and physical play and the Capitals couldn’t match the push. That continued into the final frame and after an iffy penalty to Tom Wilson, Brad Marchand and Autin Czarnik set up Colin Miller in the slot and he lasered one by #70 late in the power play to even things up with 11:41 left.

About four minutes or so later, the Capitals finally started getting their legs going again and stabilized the ship, setting the stage for Backstrom’s OT heroics.

For the game, the Caps were outshot 34-20 and they allowed Boston to have too many easy outs from their own end. The forecheck and heavy hockey that earned them the 2-0 lead in the first frame disappeared. It was almost like the Capitals thought that they could just go back to the perimeter game and still win.

Luckily for them, they did, because they needed these two points. However, they cannot be happy about what happened after the first period. They once again forgot what makes them successful; winning one on one puck battles and using their size. The Caps typically handle the Bruins because the B’s employ a physical style that fits Washington’s lineup perfectly. But Coach Barry Trotz’s team quit playing and it was the Bruins who were doing the manhandling.

Holtby, who made 31 saves, was a big reason, once again, why this team was able to get a victory when they were outplayed badly for two periods.

And Backstrom delivered another key goal, like he did in Tampa last Saturday night when he got the Caps to overtime, but this time he potted the game winner.

So on Wednesday night, which was NBC Rivalry Night, we saw the good from the Caps in the first period, the bad in the second period and parts of the third, but thanks to Holtby and Backstrom, we didn’t have to deal with the ugly, which would’ve been a loss after a great start.

Notes: Rask has still never won a game at the Verizon Center…Williams doubled his goal output of the year just 7:57 into the contest. The first goal came at the 23 second mark. Kuznetsov assisted on both goals. Ovechkin assisted on the first one, and likely deserves a helper on the second, as well…Niskanen was +2 in only 6:44 and his short night due to injury showed how thin the Washington back end is when it loses either he, Karl Alzner, or John Carlson. I have to think GM Brian MacLellan will be trying hard to add a top 4 D before the trade deadline…the Caps only had seven shots total after they went up 3-0. They scored on the only shot in OT for either team…Marcus Johansson and Nate Schmidt both made nice plays to set up the winning goal and each earned an assist for their effort…T.J. Oshie returned to the lineup after missing seven games with an upper body injury (shoulder). He got banged up in the lower body area early, but he eats rocks for breakfast and stayed in the game. He only played 15:11, though…Carlson played 25:04 to lead the Caps in ice time and Alzner was close behind with 24:04…final shot attempts were 62-44 for Boston. It was ugly after Niskanen left the game…next up for the Caps are the Sabres in Buffalo on Friday. There is no practice on Thursday, so we won’t know about the status of #2 until Friday. He has an upper body injury.

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Johansson Rallies the Caps Past Buffalo in OT

Posted on 05 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Marcus Johansson blasted a slapper past Robin Lehner 2:38 into overtime to give the Washington Capitals a 3-2 victory to end their three game losing streak. It was fitting that Johansson, who also scored the game tying goal with 6:18 remaining, tallied the game winner because he’s been outstanding all season and now has 11 goals on the campaign.

The Caps other goal on this night came from their most determined player, Jay Beagle, who tallied his fifth of the season on a redirection of a great pass from Brooks Orpik in the middle frame. That tied the game at one.

Beagle, Johansson, and the injured T.J. Oshie have been the hardest working and best Capitals forwards this season.

Unfortunately for Washington, lately the word “hard working” has not been a part of the game plan for many of the players. Since Oshie went down with a shoulder injury against the Red Wings on Friday, November 18th, the Capitals have missed his energy and aggressiveness that typically rubs off on the other players. Oshie is the best on the team at winning one on one puck battles. His absence has showed as the team was 2-3-1 without #77 heading into Monday’s tilt with the Sabres.

Buffalo was missing three key defensemen in Zach Bogosian, Dmitry Kulikov, and Josh Gorges, however, they came to play at the Verizon Center while the Capitals appeared to continue to take the “It doesn’t matter until the playoffs” mantra a little too seriously.

For several weeks, the Caps effort has been suspect and multiple forwards such as Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, and Tom Wilson have been underperforming in terms of production. After losing to the Penguins last spring, Washington seemed to get caught up a little too much in being a speed team at the expense of an aspect of their game that makes them elite, heavy hockey.

The Capitals forecheck has been MIA for weeks and the lack of hitting from a big hockey club has been evident. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that heading into this contest I had enough of the soft and uninspired play. Unfortunately, for 40 minutes on Monday, that trend continued.

After the second period, in which the Capitals trailed, 2-1, former Capital and stellar Comcast analyst Alan May summed up the Caps last 20 minutes of play, one in which they were outshot, 16-7, in a perfect seven words: “out hustled, out muscled, and out shot.”

You could take that statement and apply it to many of the periods the Caps have played since Oshie went down (and there were duds, at times, before #77 was hurt, too). They were downright awful and so far away from what had made them successful that they were getting manhandled by a cellar dweller team that was missing three NHL caliber defensemen.

Luckily for Washington, they have an all world goalie in Braden Holtby (31 saves), who once again, much like last Saturday in Tampa, kept the Caps in it until they could get their “you know what” together.

Apparently Coach Trotz finally reached a boiling point, as well, and according to Comcast Caps reporter Jill Sorenson he lit into the team after that second frame. It was well deserved because this club was playing as soft as butter.

The coach also tinkered with his lines and also shuffled up his defensive pairings, something I have been calling on for several weeks. John Carlson was reunited with Karl Alzner and Dmitry Orlov was paired with Matt Niskanen. Suddenly there was some stability on the back end now that you had an offensive minded defensemen paired with a solid defender in his own end on each of the top two pairs.

The fixes on the back end certainly helped support the forwards, who began playing with passion and were finally taking the body. Washington was relentless from the 13:00 mark of the third period on and it was because they were skating, hitting, and forcing turnovers. Even Kuznetsov, who has been shying away from physical play quite a bit, put a strong hit on Justin Falk to help force a neutral zone turnover and keep the pressure on Buffalo near the midpoint of the period.

Naturally, the results started coming once they played the way that fits them best. Fortunately, though, the opponents were a depleted Sabres lineup and they were able to get away with a 40 minute absence. That type of effort, though, won’t cut it against the better teams in the league.

Look, you absolutely cannot play “balls to the wall” hard every night in an 82 game season that’s followed by up to two months of playoffs, but you can’t keep taking nights off in a very balanced league. Washington had gotten too lackluster with their performances and heading into Monday found themselves in fifth place in points in the Metropolitan Division. Sure, they have games in hand on many of the teams above them, but given the trend of not showing up and being committed, things were getting dicey. For 40 minutes on Monday, there was little sign that Washington was going to break out of their funk.

Luckily they did, so it is okay to be pleased with the way the Capitals played in the third period and overtime. It’s good to know, like we saw when they blew the doors off of the Penguins, 7-1, a few weeks ago, that they can amp their game up. However, there are still guys on this roster who are struggling, and to get out of it they’ll have to be more committed to the physical aspects of the game and win more of the one on one puck battles. If they do that more consistently, the wins and points will come in bunches.

Notes: Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 26:27…Johansson logged 20:00 and scored on his only two shots, the first of which was a power play deflection of a Carlson blast that was on net (#74 been struggling to do that for several games)…Alex Ovechkin played 21:57 and only had one shot on net. He hasn’t played well since the hat trick game against the Blues. Right before the Sabres made it 2-1, he was at fault on what would’ve been Buffalo’s 2nd goal when he failed to take a proper pass from Brooks Orpik on the boards. Luckily the Caps correctly challenged and won it since the Sabres were offside on their zone entry…Beagle led the Caps with six shots on goal in 17:24 of ice time, including 36 seconds on the 2nd power play unit…Wilson didn’t have a shot on net, but he made a great play on the PK late in the game when it was tied. #43 has been really good at killing penalties, but the Caps need him to be more physically involved at even strength…Brett Connolly was scratched, which was surprising to me given that he played great against Buffalo in the Caps last win before Monday and he had been getting lots of chances, plus he is a good physical fore checker…next up for the Caps are the Bruins at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night at 8 pm (NBC Rivalry Night).

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Ovechkin Hat Trick Carries the Caps Over the Blues

Posted on 24 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin notched his 16th career hat trick to lead the Washington Capitals to a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night. The Gr8 scored his 10th, 11th, and 12th goals of the season in three different periods to once again prove that he’s the greatest goal scorer in the game today and among the best of all time.

As good as Ovechkin was in this one, the biggest development in this tilt was the return of Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuzy came to play on Wednesday and he was driving the net and shooting the puck. He played with confidence and that seemed to open up the ice for him. It was Kuznetsov’s great power play feed that allowed Ovi to score the game’s first goal and then he made it 3-1 for Washington by going to the net on a rush and banging home a sweet Dmitry Orlov feed in the third period. Part of the reason #92 was so open for that goal was because all of the Blues seemed to be focused on Ovechkin in the high slot.

Just 22 seconds after Kuznetsov’s third goal of the season, the Gr8 had a two on one rush and he buried the biscuit top shelf over the glove of Blues goalie Carter Hutton (21 saves) with 13:07 left in the contest. That completed the hat trick and a several minute delay ensued while the ice crew picked up the tons of hats that were thrown onto the ice.

Washington seemed poised to cruise to an easy win, but St. Louis scored on the power play and with the goalie pulled at 18:45 to make it 4-2. Then with just 28 ticks left, Vladimir Tarasenko scored his second goal of the game to pull the Blues within one. But the Caps won the ensuing face-off and Washington didn’t allow St. Louis any chances to tie it.

In addition to the superb play from Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky put up two assists and seemed to finally get some deserved production in the points department. #65 has been playing “bigger” this season, but he hasn’t been in on a lot of goals lately as he and Kuznetsov have been in scoring slumps. Both broke out on Wednesday night against one of, if not the best, blue lines in the NHL. The 8-92-65 trio was +3 for Washington and Coach Barry Trotz has to be pleased to see that, especially with Nicklas Backstrom’s line playing well also.

The Blues played on Tuesday night in Boston and won 4-2, so the Capitals were catching a scheduling break taking on a sure to be tired squad. You can only play the games as they are lined up and Washington took advantage of it, holding St. Louis to only 21 shots in the game and just 10 in the first 40 minutes. Most of St. Louis’ chances came late in the game with the outcome already decided. Afterwards, Coach Trotz was happy with the victory, but not pleased about the way the contest finished up and he remarked that the team would be more focused on how to close out games when they have a lead.

This win comes after the referees gifted the Blue Jackets a late game victory over Washington on Sunday. That present for Columbus included a terrible high sticking call on Backstrom and then a missed hooking infraction on Cam Atkinson, who put his stick into the mid section of Tom Wilson to prevent a clear, right before the game winning power play tally with under two minutes remaining. It was a bad zebra sequence and it cost the Capitals at least a point in the standings.

But the Blues are not the boring Blue Jackets, so it was expected that Ovechkin and company would be motivated and ready for St. Louis. The Caps are a very good team when they are focused, as evidenced by the 7-1 rout of the Penguins last week, and on Wednesday they played with a purpose.

The Capitals were not as good as they were against Pittsburgh the week before, but they were very dominant, at times, and they took it to a solid St. Louis team.

Washington is now 12-5-2 (26 points) and they’ll take on the Buffalo Sabres at 5 pm on Friday at the Verizon Center. This will be one of those games where the Caps are likely to have a hard time getting up for the opposition.

Notes: The Gr8 only logged 15:29 of ice time. He had five shots on goal in eight attempts. Coach Trotz is clearly managing Ovi’s minutes to keep him healthy and fresh for the post season…the Caps won the face off battle, 29-27. Jay Beagle was 9-4…Matt Niskanen led the Capitals in ice time with a low total of 22:51. Coach Trotz continues to spread the minutes around the lineup…Lars Eller returned to the lineup after missing Sunday’s game and he logged 14:49…only T.J. Oshie is hurt now and he’s battling an upper body injury (week to week)…Kuznetsov had a goal and an assist in 15:53 and he had four shots on net…the Caps were 1 for 4 on the power play in 4:35 of advantage time while the Blues went 1 for 5 in 7:30…Braden Holtby made 18 saves for the Caps.

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Ovechkin Bails Out the Caps in Overtime

Posted on 03 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

On a night when they blew a three goal third period lead, the Washington Capitals really needed their captain and best player to step up and win the game.

Alexander Ovechkin did just that with a rocket of a top shelf shot on the power play with 1:39 left in overtime to give the Capitals a victory and much relief.

The Gr8 notched two goals and an assist in this one while his career long center, Nicklas Backstrom, had a goal and two helpers. They were the best players on the ice for Washington along with T.J. Oshie, who played on a line with Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky.

The Caps took awhile to get their legs going in this one, but once they did late in period one, they dominated throughout the second period and led 3-0 after 40 minutes. After only four first frame shots on goal, Washington was all over the Jets firing 18 pucks at Michael Hutchinson (28 saves) in the middle stanza. Winnipeg was pretty fortunate to only be down by that much, at that point.

In the third period, the Capitals received an early power play after Justin Williams failed to convert on a breakaway (Evgeny Kuznetsov was hooked on the play trying to make it a two on none rush) and then the horror show began. Washington lazily carried the puck out of their own end and tried a low percentage backhanded pass across the center of the ice that the Jets picked off. They would skate in and Braden Holtby (24 saves) tried to come out and play the puck, but it bounced off of him and then he and John Carlson collided giving Winnipeg a gift shorthanded tally. It was an ugly, train wreck of a goal and that is being positive about the play.

That marker gave the Jets life and they started skating while the Caps delved into a reach fest. Winnipeg continually kept coming at the Caps and just over three minutes after they made it 3-1, they pulled within a goal.

Dustin Byfuglien picked off a bad Dmitry Orlov clear in the neutral zone and went flying into the offensive zone. Orlov, who is not the best skater, tried to match D-Buff’s speed and mistakenly went with him around the back of the net, but a good step behind #33 and with his stick in terrible position. Simply put, he was in no man’s land and it showed his continual lack of defensive zone awareness and ability. What he should have done was hit the brakes at the side of the net, let Byfuglien go alone behind the cage, and yelled “switch” to his defensive partner, Carlson. However, because he got himself out of position, Carlson and the forwards felt forced to turn towards the puck carrier and vacate the slot. That’s a no-no, but given Orlov’s inability to play his end correctly, it threw everything out of whack. Adam Lowry found himself standing all alone in the slot and he put the biscuit in the basket.

Winnipeg then found another gear while the Caps looked in shock and the Jets tied it up with over eight minutes remaining after another shot from the slot where the Capitals defense was lost. Carlson and Nate Schmidt were the victims and that was three straight tallies where #74 was on the ice. Carlson is struggling a bit, and I put a lot of that on being paired with the wrong type of player. John likes to join the rush, but to do that he needs a strong defensive partner. It might be time for Coach Barry Trotz to switch up the defensive pairs and put him back with Karl Alzner or Brooks Oprik because Orlov’s erratic play is hurting both of their games.

Another problem area is the power play. At five on four they are not clicking and the first four resulted in zero goals for and a shortie allowed. That’s unacceptable. The units are too stationary and the point shots with traffic are not coming near often enough.

Luckily for the Capitals, the overtime power play was a four on three and they had more ice to work with, which allowed for Ovechkin to do what he does best, score goals from his office.

The win pushes the Caps overall record to 7-2-1, which is 15 points and on pace for 123 for the season, but it’s early. This team is really strong up front and when they move their feet and use their size, we see their awesomeness, as we did in period two. However, when they stop skating the problems mount, especially with the issues on the back end. Their top three of Matt Niskanen, Karl Alzner, and Carlson are typically really good, but as mentioned earlier, #74 needs a steady partner in his own zone so he can play more to his strengths. That’s not happening here in the early going.

Sure the Capitals were tired after traveling all over the place since Friday night and playing four games in six nights, but they have to be better at locking down a lead. That’s two games in a row where they allowed a non playoff squad like the Jets to come back and tie a game when down multiple pucks in the final frame.

Washington is winning, but it’s all about the process, and the type of glaring mistakes we’ve seen in their own end, at times, won’t cut it in the post season.

Notes: The Caps were excellent on the penalty kill, going for two for two. Oshie and Jay Beagle are excelling in those roles and the Holtbeast made some strong saves while shorthanded, as well…the Caps outshot attempted Winnipeg, 65-53 and won the faceoff battle, 35-25…Ovi had eight shots on goal…Kuznetsov was 10-5 on draws, which is a good sign…Orpik led the Caps with five hits…Eller made a great hit to set up the Oshie goal that made it 2-0 and Ovechkin’s hit helped set up his first goal, that made it 3-0. Washington needs to keep using its size to create turnovers in the offensive zone…next up for the Capitals are the Florida Panthers at the Verizon Center on Saturday night at 7 pm.

 

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Holtby Delivers for the Caps in Winnipeg

Posted on 02 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Playing their third game in four nights in Western Canada, the weary Washington Capitals relied heavily on some timely scoring plays and their goaltender, Braden Holtby, to defeat the Winnipeg Jets, 3-2. It was the Caps third straight victory to finish their four game road trip after an opening loss in Edmonton last Wednesday. The win improves their overall record to 6-2-1 (13 points).

The Caps likely lose this game if not for the Holtbeast, who stopped 43 shots. Washington scored the game’s first two goals. Karl Alzner notched his 2nd marker of the season with a sweet shot from the top of the slot after Brett Connolly made a great hit in the corner to force a Winnipeg turnover. After #10’s super forecheck, Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) alertly grabbed the biscuit and swung it to Marcus “Red Hot” Johansson (1 goal, 1 assist), who then found Alzner all alone. King Karl put it precisely in the right top corner to give the Caps a 1-0 lead with 19:16 gone in period one.

Washington would double their lead in the middle frame, again as a result of a forced turnover. Johansson stripped the Jets of the puck in the neutral zone and fed Kuznetsov, who streaked down the left wing boards. Tom Wilson smartly made a bee line for the left side of the net and all of the Jets defenders went towards him thinking that Kuzy was going to try one of his patented no look, behind the back passes. To quote the great Ron White, “They were wrong!” and Kuzy carried around the cage and fed an all alone Jojo in the slot. #90 buried it at 8:15 of the middle stanza for his 6th goal of the season and his team leading 11th point.

From there the game went back and forth with the Jets firing a lot of pucks from the outside. Holtby did have to make a huge save on one sequence after Dmitry Orlov was beaten (again) on defense and then T.J. Oshie somehow played second goalie to keep the disc from crossing the red line. After that the Caps did a good job of holding the Jets to perimeter shots through 40 minutes.

But in the final stanza, the Capitals legs grew fatigued and they started reaching instead of moving their feet to play defense. The Caps were still up 2-0 with 10 minutes to go and per Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) the team was 71-1-6 under Coach Barry Trotz when leading at that point in the game.

Things were looking good; especially after Oshie hustled to draw a trip and take the Jets off of a power play. Shortly thereafter though, Nate Schmidt got outmuscled in a four on four situation and Alzner went down to block a pass putting himself out of position for a Jets rebound and the subsequent goal at the 13:04 mark.

No problem still, right? Well, not so fast. Washington was fading and when Brooks Orpik missed a hit on the right wing boards and John Carlson made a bad decision to try and hit Joel Armia, the puck was passed easily to Adam Lowry all alone in front of Holtby. He then deked the pride of Saskatchewan to the ice and deposited the biscuit in the basket to tie the game up with 2:25 left.

At that point, overtime seemed imminent, but Washington forced an offensive zone draw and Coach Trotz had Jay Beagle take the faceoff. Beags won the draw back to Carlson and then fought his way towards the net. Carlson’s point shot found #83 in front and he backhanded it past Connor Hellebucyk for the win with just 30 ticks remaining.

It was a huge goal and the first of the season for the Regal Beagle.

This was not one of the Capitals better performances, but that’s to be expected given the travel and schedule. They needed a top game from their all world goalie and they received it. In addition, there are several guys who are in the groove offensively, such as Oshie, Johansson, Beagle, and Kuznetsov and the Caps rode them to victory.

The line of Johansson, Kuznetsov, and Wilson has been really strong as has been the Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, and Oshie unit. Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and Justin Williams continue to try and find chemistry, but given how well the other three lines, to include Beagle, Connolly, and Zach Sanford are playing, Coach Trotz likely needs to let those stars work their way through it.

On defense, the Alzner and Matt Niskanen pair has been excellent. Carlson and Orlov have not been a duo you can wager your cash on so far this season and I put most of that on #9. He’s still deficient too often in his own zone. Orpik and Schmidt form a decent third pair since #88 is good at rushing the puck and #44 is sound defensively, but both made mistakes on the Jets goals in this one. Simply put, one has to think that GM Brian MacLellan is looking at potential defensemen to bring in in the event that things don’t improve on the back end.

Let’s be honest, this team has a strong group of 13 forwards with the additions of Eller, Connolly, and Sanford, but the defense, which let them down when suspensions and injuries hit last spring is still a big question mark.

On Tuesday night in Winnipeg, however, the Caps were fortunate to have one of the game’s best goalies deliver them the two points.

Long live the Holtbeast!

Notes: Shot attempts were 61-48 for Winnipeg and shots on goal were 45-27…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:50…Ovechkin had 12 shot attempts, but only three made it on net…the Caps did dominate from the dot and that was key in the victory, going 37-28. Beagle and Backstrom were both 10-5…Connolly led the Capitals in hits with four and he was one of the best Washington players in this one…the Caps and Winnipeg will play again in their final meeting of the season on Thursday night at the Verizon Center.

 

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Caps Build on Victory in Vancouver, Defeat Flames, 3-1

Posted on 31 October 2016 by Ed Frankovic

A night after playing the right way in Vancouver and dominating the Canucks in a 5-2 victory, the Washington Capitals were back at it in Calgary on Sunday night. Traveling in the wee hours of the morning, losing an hour of time (Pacific to Mountain time zone), and going into the higher elevation of the Rockies against a rested and red hot Flames team (winners of three straight) appeared to be a daunting task.

But Coach Barry Trotz’ crew passed the test with flying colors taking the play to Calgary for much of the night en route to a 3-1 triumph and improved their record to 5-2-1 on the season.

Washington made no lineup changes following Saturday’s win. Coach Trotz stated beforehand that he felt the guys who played against the Canucks deserved a sweater again because of how hard and how well they performed. On Sunday, it was more of the same as the Capitals moved their feet and won the majority of the loose puck battles.

It was that hard work that got the Caps on the board early, and to no surprise, it was Jay Beagle who battled behind the Flames net to find a wide open Brett Connolly in the slot, and #10 buried the biscuit for his first tally as a Washington Capital just 121 seconds into this contest. Zach Sanford was a big factor on the play by knocking the puck away from Calgary captain Mark Giordano on the goal line and as a result, he earned his first NHL point.

Just over five minutes later the Capitals would get the only other goal they’d need on the power play. Alex Ovechkin made a sweet pass to Marcus Johansson at the side of the net for an easy tap in. That two goal early burst continued a trend of strong first periods this season, something that was hard to come by in 2015-16 for Washington.

The Capitals would continue to work hard and carry the play, but Brian Elliott (26 saves) was really strong in net, something the Flames did not have last season, at all. Calgary would get a goal back later in the first period when rookie Matthew Tkachuk knocked Nate Schmidt to the ice in the right wing circle and that allowed Mikael Backlund to beat Braden Holtby (21 saves) from a bad angle. The Holtbeast likely wanted that shot back, since he was a little too deep in his cage, but the goal easily could have been waved off for interference by Tkachuk on Schmidt, however, that play is not reviewable.

Nonetheless, the Capitals were undeterred and kept taking pucks deep in the Flames zone and putting pressure on Elliott. The Calgary net minder would give the home team some hope heading into the final frame with his club only down a puck.

After a shaky first five minutes of period three, a tired Capitals crew fought through the fatigue and really throttled the Calgary rush through the neutral zone from then on out forcing the Flames to routinely dump the puck. Washington’s structure was very good and the Caps blue liners rarely had trouble getting the puck out to the forwards, who from the 10 minute mark on basically did whatever they could to get the biscuit on net or below the Calgary goal line. As a result, the Holtbeast didn’t have to make any huge saves down the stretch. It was textbook execution with a one goal lead.

With just over a minute remaining, the Flames finally pulled their goalie for the extra attacker on an offensive zone draw, but Beagle (two assists) and Johansson (two goals) forced Johnny Gaudreau into a turnover at the blue line and they went the other way on a two on one rush with the net empty. Beags feathered a sweet backhand pass to Jojo in the center of the ice and the Swedish forward, who has been superb in the first nine games, deposited the puck into the yawning cage to end the scoring.

This was not a pretty win, but it was a fundamentally sound one. The Capitals played the right way once again and limited their turnovers. They moved the puck out of their end with pace and precision and they made the Flames defensemen have to turn their backs to play the puck in their own zone. It was smart hockey with a lead and something Coach Trotz and his crew had to do given the circumstances of the back-to-back contests situation.

Holtby didn’t have to do anything spectacular in this one, but he did make some strong stops to preserve the lead. T.J. Oshie, Beagle, Sanford, and Johansson were all strong on the puck like they were in Vancouver and Evgeny Kuznetsov had one of his better games, as well. #92 didn’t shy away from contact and he limited his turnovers. He still has a ways to go to get out of the funk that started late last season, carried into the postseason, and now into October, but his last two outings have been encouraging.

Washington talked last season about playing fast, but in Edmonton they tried to do that without using their size and strength. Over this recent weekend, they did that and got back to a heavier hockey style that fits them. Playing fast and heavy are not mutually exclusive. You need both and the Caps showed on Saturday and Sunday how combining those elements can be extremely effective for themselves.

Notes: Washington out shot attempted Calgary, 51-45, and out shot them, 29-22…the Caps lost the face off battle, 32-28. Kuznetsov was 2-12. Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist) was 9-5…Ovechkin only played 15:05 due to the minimal power play time and Coach Trotz spreading the ice time around in a back to back situation. The Caps were 1 for 2 in their 2:35 of man advantage situations…Washington’s penalty killing unit was a perfect two for two…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 23:47…next up for the Caps are the Winnipeg Jets in Manitoba at 8 pm on Tuesday.

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Johansson and Oshie Lead Caps Over Vancouver, 5-2

Posted on 30 October 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Playing the right way is so important in hockey.

On Wednesday night in Edmonton, the Capitals tried to play the “easy game” against the high flying Oilers and they were run out of the new Rogers Place, 4-1. Several players were passengers in that contest and failed to exert the energy needed to defeat a team that is on a roll. Simply put, they were soft.

After two plus days of having that black cloud of a loss hang over their heads, the Caps came out on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday (and into Sunday on the east coast) and played their brand of hockey. They were getting pucks deep, using their size to win the one on one battles, and using all five players on the ice to put pucks and bodies at the Vancouver Canucks net. The result was a 5-2 win that was closer than it should have been due to some luck (or specifically bad luck for Washington).

Marcus Johansson (two goals, one assist) and TJ Oshie (goal and an assist) were the stars for the Capitals with Tom Wilson (goal) having his best game in a long time. Philipp Grubauer (23 saves) got the call in net and he was solid making several key stops when the Capitals had some breakdowns that led to odd man rushes. With the game 3-2 in the third period, Grubauer thwarted a couple of chances on a Canucks power play, and more importantly, he didn’t yield any big rebounds when the outcome was still in doubt over those final 20 minutes. He is now 2-0 on the season.

Washington has been off to a slow start in the special teams department and they had allowed a power play goal in five of the six games they’d played this season. On Saturday, the Canucks went 0 for 3 with the man advantage and they didn’t have many good looks until their third period opportunity. On the flip side, the Caps scored on their first power play when Vancouver overplayed John Carlson and Alex Ovechkin, which allowed Nicklas Backstrom, Oshie and Johansson to dominate down low and score when Jojo put home the rebound of T.J.’s shot that caught iron and fell prone in the crease.

Special teams aside, the first 40 minutes, and especially the middle frame, saw complete domination by the Caps. The Caps were getting the puck in the offensive zone cleanly and carrying it down towards the goal line. When the Canucks collapsed, the Capitals forwards were finding the points for shots while they crashed the net. It was simple, but very effective hockey.

After two periods, shot attempts were 45-31 and shots on goal were 26-19 in favor of Washington and Comcast had the scoring chances as 16-9. Somehow, though, a 2-1 first period lead was only 3-2 after two stanzas. Jacob Markstrom (30 saves) played fairly well in net for the Canucks and he also received a break when a Capitals goal was waved off in the second period due to goaltender contact in the crease by Backstrom.

But the Caps were not going to be denied by the bad breaks or numerous unfinished scoring chances. They kept playing the same way all evening, for the most part, and they grinded out a win. In the end the Capitals outshot Vancouver, 35-25, and the shot attempts were 62-44 for the Caps. Sure the Canucks played on Friday night and they’ve been struggling, but Washington totally outworked them and deserved the win.

The victory didn’t come easy and each goal was the result of proper structure and hard work. It was the type of victory they needed and Coach Barry Trotz will be very pleased with it.

To quote that old Smith Barney commercial, the Capitals captured these two points the old fashioned way, “They Earned It.”

Notes: The Caps are now 4-2-1 on the season and they’ll travel to Calgary overnight to take on the Flames on Sunday night at 9:30. Braden Holtby will be between the pipes…the Caps won the face off battle, 37-32. Justin Williams was 6-0. Ovechkin, who had four shots on goal, was only credited with three hits but he was physical all over the rink all night…Coach Trotz did his best Reg Dunlop imitation and shuffled his lines for this game to try and get more offense and it worked. Ovi and Nicky played with Williams, Oshie was on a line with Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky, and Evgeny Kuznetsov (one assist) had a great game centering Jojo and Wilson…Dmitry Orlov rebounded from a poor outing in Alberta to log 19:17 of ice time. He was much more defensively sound in this contest…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 23:27…Daniel Winnik was scratched, but he’ll likely be in the lineup against the Flames. I’d expect Zach Sanford or Brett Connolly, who were both minus one and played under eight minutes, to be in the press box…the Caps were one for two with the man advantage…Oshie’s tally at 17:33 made it 4-2 and then Karl Alzner banked one in from long distance in four on four action with Markstrom pulled to end the scoring.

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Ovechkin and Oshie Help Caps Blank the Avs, 3-0

Posted on 18 October 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin made no mistake about who the best player on the ice was on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center. The Gr8 scored the game winning power play goal in the first period off of a nice Dmitry Orlov feed and assisted on T.J. Oshie’s second tally of the night late in the third period to close out a 3-0 Caps victory over the Colorado Avalanche.

The Caps improved to 2-0-1 on this young season and they’ve taken over first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Ovi was everywhere in this one with nine shot attempts, five of which were on net, three takeaways, two hits, and a whole new rash of penalty minutes (three minors). His goal and assist were his first points of the season and his line with Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov had 15 of the 40 shots on goal the Capitals would throw at Semyon Varlamov in this tilt. If not for Varly, it would’ve been more of a blowout.

Oshie (two goals) led the Caps with six shots on net and he was downright dominant on the boards and in front of the net. His first goal was a power play marker in the slot that came off of a sweet feed from Nicklas Backstrom. Washington’s power play looked really strong against Colorado going two for five and improving it on the season from John Blutarsky’s grade point average (0.0) to 15.3% (2 for 13) overall. Special teams were strong in this one for the Caps since they also blanked the Avalanche on all three of their shorthanded situations.

The Caps have now played 185 minutes of hockey and have allowed exactly one even strength goal and just three overall. With Braden Holtby, who was honored in the pregame for his 2015-16 Vezina Trophy winning season with his adorable family present, sitting this one out to prepare for Florida on Thursday and the Rangers on Saturday, Philipp Grubauer received the call between the pipes and he posted his first NHL shutout. Grubauer didn’t have to make too many big saves, but he made them when they counted and stopped all 18 biscuits he faced. Yes, you read that correctly, the Avalanche only had 18 shots on goal.

Part of that was the fact that Colorado did the Capitals a huge favor by knocking off the Penguins on Monday night in overtime and then coming in tired for this game. The other factor was Washington’s dominant skating and effort. The Caps were simply all over the Avs from the opening puck drop, outshooting them 20-5 in period one, and never really gave Colorado a chance to win the game.

The closest opportunity they had to get in the game was late in period two when Nathan MacKinnon had a wide open cage, but missed the net when the puck rolled on him. Had the 2012 #1 NHL pick scored there, it would’ve been a 2-1 affair, but he misfired and the Capitals once again gave up minimal chances in the final frame to provide Grubauer with likely the easiest shutout he’ll ever have.

Going up and down the lineup, it was hard to find a Washington player that did not perform well. Orlov had a highlight reel hit on Avs superstar Matt Duchene and played a strong two way game. His shot is a real asset to the offense. Brett Connolly received his first sweater of the season and had some quality scoring chances. Overall, #10 had four shots on goal and four hits in 11:47 of ice time. He fit nicely on the line with Justin Williams and Lars Eller. Tom Wilson, playing with Daniel Winnik and Jay Beagle, had a quality game and he got under the skin of future NHL Hall of Famer, Jarome Iginla, and coerced #12 to take an instigator penalty in the middle stanza. That infraction was costly for the Avs since Oshie notched Washington’s second tally of the night on the ensuing power play.

On defense, John Carlson and Matt Niskanen each played over 22 minutes while Orlov and Karl Alzner were right around 19 minutes. Brooks Orpik, who was +1 and very solid on the back end, logged 16:29 while Nate Schmidt saw just under 13 minutes of action. Coach Barry Trotz and assistant coach Todd Rierden have been able to rotate their defensemen fairly well in the three games this season, which should help keep everyone fresh and healthy.

Simply put, this was a complete effort and strong performance from the Caps. In the three games they’ve played, they have looked very good and have started quickly in all of them. Faster starts and a killer instinct were things this team wanted to work on this campaign and so far, so good. Their only blemish was losing in the skills competition in Pittsburgh, and those things are coin flips.

On Tuesday night, the special teams were back clicking and Washington was doing a nice job of putting pucks on the net with traffic. Those types of things add up to lots of victories.

Most importantly on this evening, the Captain came to play and he was downright dominant. The Gr8 showed that when he’s focused, he’s the best goal scorer this game has ever seen.

Notes: Shot attempts were 61-36 for the Caps, that’s pure domination…Marcus Johansson had two power play assists…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 31-27, Backstrom went 13-4 and Beagle was 6-3…no Capital played less than 10 minutes and none played over 24 minutes, that’s balance…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 23:42…the Avs were 2-0 coming into this game…Washington is in Florida on Thursday at 7:30 pm and home against the Rags at 7 pm on Saturday night.

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Caps Suffocate Islanders in Home Opener, 2-1

Posted on 16 October 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Daniel Winnik scored twice and Braden Holtby stopped 21 of 22 shots as the Washington Capitals won their home opener over the New York Islanders, 2-1, on Saturday night at a sold out Verizon Center.

The Caps used their superior depth to suffocate New York in the final frame. Coach Jack Capuano’s crew only had five third period shots on net and one of those came from center ice. The line of Jay Beagle, Tom Wilson, and Winnik totally throttled the Islanders top unit, which is led by superstar John Tavares. #91 was held to only two shots on goal in 18:38 and he was minus one for the game. Beagle and company excelled in the head to head matchup and produced far more scoring chances for the Caps.

“We had a lot of good chances and we felt really good and all of our legs were kind of going,” started Wilson, who also nearly scored a goal late in the third period on a two on one with Beagle.

“I was licking my chops, thought I had a wide open net and whoever it was, the back checker made an amazing play just to get his stick in between my stick and the net, so I don’t know what else I can do, maybe dive head first and bury it in the net?” joked Wilson afterwards.

Coach Barry Trotz noted that line, which played sparingly in the opening game in Pittsburgh, came to him on Friday and wanted more ice time. The trio earned it quickly notching the contest’s first tally at 11:58 of period one. Overall, the line logged over 10 minutes of even strength.

“The first game was a little bit of a tough one playing only five to seven minutes. Tonight we just wanted to do whatever we could every shift to earn our ice time. If the coach isn’t comfortable playing us, that’s our fault,” commented Wilson on the increased ice time.

Tavares, who will be seeing Beagle in his upcoming nightmares, will be pleased to know that the Islanders don’t play the Caps again until December 1st.

The Caps carried the play for much of the contest. The shot attempts were 58-51, but like they did in Pittsburgh on Thursday, they passed up some good shooting opportunities. Coach Trotz stated afterwards that he would like more shots from his club.

Another piece of evidence showing the Caps domination of play was the special team situation statistics. Washington had five power plays to just two for New York. The problem was the Islanders scored on their first chance while the Caps were blanked. For the season the Caps are now 0 for 8 with the man advantage and they’ve allowed a power play goal in both games.

On offense, they’ve struggled to get set up as both the Penguins and Islanders have been very aggressive on the penalty kill. The pass to Alex Ovechkin is being defended, for the most part, so it’s imperative that the Caps get some point shots with traffic from the middle of the blue line. They did that a few times on Saturday, with Dmitry Orlov being the most notable, and it resulted in some juicy rebound chances that weren’t able to be finished.

On the penalty kill, Holtby noted that the Islanders employed a different tactic. In the past, their strategy was to set up one timers from the flank, but in this contest they focused on just throwing pucks at the cage with traffic in front. It was their best weapon on Saturday.

Overall though, the Caps have played two good hockey games and have three of a possible four points. The gimmick loss in Pittsburgh easily could have been a victory. They’ve also done this with the Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, and Ovechkin line nowhere near their best, so the team’s depth has been very evident.

“The special thing about this group is we can win a game in a variety of ways. We have four lines that can play, a good D, and a great goalie. So if it’s going to be a shootout we can do that, we can pump goals into their net, if it’s going to be a low scoring tight affair, we can suffocate them like we did tonight,” finished Wilson.

Notes: Beagle had an assist, was +2, and went 11-4 in faceoffs…Ovechkin had 10 shot attempts in 19:07 of ice time, but only three made it on goal; six were blocked…the Caps have allowed only one even strength goal in 125 minutes of hockey…the Islanders won the face off battle, 29-27…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time (22:06) and shots on goal (six)…next up for Washington are the Colorado Avalanche at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night.

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World Cup of Hockey: Ranking the Goaltenders

Posted on 08 September 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Day one of the pretournament games for the World Cup of Hockey didn’t disappoint at all. In the first afternoon tilt, Finalnd’s Olli Maatta beat Sweden’s Jonas Enroth on a two on one rush in overtime to lead the Fins to a 3-2 victory over their archrivals. In the second matinee, Alex Ovechkin’s Russian squad took 3-1 and 4-2 leads and then hung on behind goalie Sergei Bobrovsky’s 29 saves to defeat the Czech Republic, 4-3. In the main event on Thursday night, Team North America, comprised of Canadian and American players all age 23 and under, smoked a slow looking Team Europe, which consists of all European players not from Russia, Sweden, Finland, or the Czech Republic, 4-0. North America was extremely fun to watch with their high speed game.

As for the Capitals who suited up and played on Thursday, the Gr8 and Evgeny Kuznetsov were both held pointless in 15:17 and 15:57 of ice time, respectively. Ovechkin did have three hits. Russia’s Dmitry Orlov had an assist and led his team in ice time, with 20:12. Nicklas Backstrom was also held without a point in 16:58 of ice time and he went 8-7 on face-offs.

Friday night has one game, and it is a big one: USA vs. Canada from Columbus, Ohio at 7 pm on ESPNU.

On Wednesday night, I provided my World Cup of Hockey blue line rankings. Now we take a look at the goalies from each squad. Keep in mind that this is a SHORT tournament and having a hot goalie is very important to win, so I give more weight to those teams who I believe have net minders who are prone to hot streaks. Depth is important too, because if one goalie is off of his game, it’s paramount that you have a quality backup.

So without further adieu, here’s my rankings of each team’s goaltending from worst to first:

Eighth – Team Czech Republic – Peter Mrazek (DET), Michal Neuvirth (PHI), and Ondrej Pavelec (WPG). Each of these goalies has the ability to steal a game or two, but there’s no long term success history for any of them at the NHL level, and especially in this big time type of a tournament.

Seventh – Team Europe – Jaroslav Halak (NYI), Tomas Greiss (NYI), and Philipp Grubauer (WAS). Halak looked pretty rusty in the game against North America. He battled injuries last spring and if he doesn’t recover quickly, Greiss or Neuvy will see the cage. Halak has gotten hot in the past, but that was many moons ago.

Sixth – Team Sweden – Henrik Lundqvist (NYR), Jacob Markstrom (VAN), and Jhonas Enroth (TOR). Markstrom and Enroth are not very good and King Henrik is now 34 years old. Sure Lundqvist has shown the ability to get in the zone and steal several games in a row, but we haven’t seen that since the spring of 2015 when he helped the Rangers rally from a 3-1 series deficit against the Caps. This is Sweden’s biggest weakness.

Fifth – Team North America – Matt Murray (PIT), John Gibson (ANA), and Connor Hellebuyck (WPG). Murray plays so big with his solid positioning and he looked to have not missed a beat in his debut against Team Europe on Thursday night. He’s won a Stanley Cup, which none of the Sweden, Europe, or Czech Republic goalies can claim. Gibson played very well in the World Championships a few years back, so he’ll be the backup.

Fourth – Team Russia – Semyon Varlamov (COL), Sergei Bobrovsky (CMB), and Andrei Vasilevskiy (TB). This is a really strong trio and all have big game experience. Each of them has the ability to get hot. I’m guessing “Bob” will be the starter. He battled injuries last season and Varlamov has a history of groin issues, as well.

Third – Team Finland – Pekka Rinne (NAS), Tuukka Rask (BOS), and Mikko Koskinen (KHL). It’ll be Rinne first and if he falters, Tuukka will take over. Both are goalies that can get extremely hot and dominate for several games, so that makes them dangerous. The good news for Rask is there are no games at the Verizon Center in actual tournament play, he’s never won in the phone booth.

Second – Team USA – Jonathan Quick (LA), Ben Bishop (TB), and Corey Schneider (NJ). All three are very good goalies and can get super hot. Quick is the likely starter given his two Stanley Cup rings and experience in the Sochi Olympics, where he helped the USA to only fall 1-0 in a semi-final game against Canada, one in which they had no business being that close in.

First – Team Canada – Carey Price (MTL), Braden Holtby (WAS), and Corey Crawford (CHI). This is a no brainer. They have the last two Vezina Trophy winners, including the 2014-15 MVP in Price and a two time Stanley Cup Champion in Crawford. Yes, Price is returning from injury, so there’s questions surrounding him, but if he can’t play then either the Holtbeast or Crawford have plenty of talent and experience to do the job. Canada is flat out loaded at every position.

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