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Ovechkin and Holtby Carry the Caps Over the Flames, 4-2

Posted on 21 March 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin had a goal and an assist, Nicklas Backstrom notched a goal and two assists, and Braden Holtby made 29 saves to lead the Washington Capitals to a 4-2 victory over the Calgary Flames at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night.

Kevin Shattenkirk added two assists and Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie (1 goal, 1 assist) also tallied for the Caps.

In short, Coach Barry Trotz’ star players shined on Tuesday night and that’s why Washington won.

But it wasn’t pretty and there are things that definitely need cleaning up.

The Caps came out fast in the first frame with the fourth line having a monster early shift, but Daniel Winnik’s shot in the slot hit the shaft of the stick of Flames goalie, Brian Elliott, and went over the net. Just 6:47 in, though, the Capitals would take the lead. Lars Eller forced Johnny Gaudreau to have to slow down in the neutral zone and then Andre Burakovsky flew in and picked the pocket of Johnny Hockey and went the other way. #65 then fed Kuznetsov streaking to the net all alone and Kuzy slid the puck inside the far post for an early marker.

The Caps prosperity, however, didn’t last long. At 10:06 Sean Monahan finished off a sublime feed from Gaudreau on a two on one break. Shattenkirk was doing his job pinching in on the boards on the right wing wall, but the Flames got control and went the other way. Winnik came charging back, but he and Brooks Oprik seemed to get their signals crossed and Monahan had an easy lane to the cage to get a back door goal.

The rest of the first frame was really sloppy by the Caps, but Calgary, who came in with a 12-1 record in their last 13 games, had several mishaps, as well.

In the second period, Washington really seemed to find their game, although there were some tense moments. Midway through the period, Michael Stone took a hooking penalty on Justin Williams, who was crashing the net. On the ensuing power play, a pass to Oshie in the slot was defended well and the Flames went the other way on a two on one break. Shattenkirk left his feet trying to break up the pass, and he missed badly. Mikael Backlund went in on Holtby and instead of shooting he passed across the crease to Michael Frolik, who appeared to have an open net. Somehow Braden stuck out his pad and made an incredible save to keep the game tied. If Calgary scores there, who knows what happens the rest of the way?

The Caps were clearly energized by the humongous stop and really played as well as I’ve seen them play this season in the last eight and half minutes of period two. They were skating and shooting the puck like crazy. Elliott was playing very well, but on the Washington second tally he had no chance. Backstrom, after taking a pass from Dmitry Orlov at the point on the right wing half wall, slid a diagonal pass to Ovi in the left wing circle. The Gr8 then passed it to the Osh Babe on the doorstep and he directed it home, top shelf. The goal was Oshie’s 30th of the season and the way Ovechkin described it after the game was perfect, “Ka-ching!” (h/t @jjregancsn of Comcast).

Ovi and company weren’t done, though. With 20 seconds left in the period, the Gr8 split the Calgary defesnse and drew a penalty. It took the Caps just 17 ticks to make it a two goal cushion as Shattenkirk’s shot hit Elliott and then knuckleballed behind him and slid towards the net. It looked like Backstrom nudged the puck before it crossed the line, but as of this posting just before midnight, the goal remained #22’s. (UPDATE: On Wednesday morning the goal has been changed by the NHL to be Backstrom from Shattenkirk and Oshie, so Ovechkin lost one of his two original assists).

In that middle period, the Capitals were downright dominant and that was the result of the top line just carrying the play. Coach Trotz put those guys on the ice quite a bit and the Flames had no answer.

So given how well the Caps locked down Saturday’s win in Tampa, this 3rd frame was going to be a “Walk in the park, Kazansky” right? Well, not so fast.

Calgary wasn’t going to lie down and for some reason Washington decided to revert to some very bad habits; drop passes and back passes in the offensive zone with a two goal lead instead of getting pucks on net or deep in the offensive zone. It was bad hockey and if they do stuff like that against the Penguins in the playoffs, they will likely lose. The Caps would still carry the two goal cushion into the final five minutes, but they kept trading end to end rush situations and that allowed Troy Brouwer to finish off a nice passing play with 4:56 remaining to make this a one goal game. What was even worse was just a dozen seconds later, this game was nearly tied! Mark Giordano somehow ended up with a clear lane to Holtby on a two on one break, but the Holtbeast made a huge save to preserve the lead.

Just 20 seconds later, Calgary sealed their fate when they took a delay of game penalty. Coach Trotz gambled on his top guys and kept Ovi on the left point and it paid off. The Capitals worked the puck around well tiring out the Flames defenders and when Shattenkirk faked a shot inside the blue line and fed the Gr8 nicely in the left circle, Ovechkin went top shelf to close this one out with 2:51 left in regulation.

It was fitting that Ovi got that goal because he was fantastic in this affair. His legs have been coming around in recent weeks and on this night, he played his best game of the season. He was dominant and creating all kinds of chances and havoc for Calgary. Backstrom and Oshie were superb, too and it was nice to see Shattenkirk have a big outing.

As Coach Trotz told Nestor Aparacio and I at our WNST puck talk at Greenmount Station in Hampstead on Monday night, this trade has been a big transition for #22. The Blues play a more passive system where the defense sits back further from the forwards. In Washington’s structure, however, Trotz wants the defense up in the play with good gap control and support to the centers and wingers. That’s caused quite an adjustment for Shattenkirk, but he’s starting to feel more comfortable.

Overall, this was a good win against a very hot team, and I can sum up each period for the Caps with one word:

First period – sloppy

Second period – dominant

Third period – careless

The win was important though, because the Penguins also won so they are just a point behind the Caps (47-17-8, 102 points) with 10 games to go. Columbus is two points back and their game in hand is against the Leafs on Wednesday night. The Blue Jackets then come to DC on Thursday for a first place showdown.

I still don’t like the way the Capitals played in the 3rd period and parts of the first frame. Coach Trotz also noted on Monday night at the WNST event that the Caps are first in the league in puck possession, but 16th in shots. There’s the smoking gun on over passing and some bad decision making, at times, in the offensive zone. That needs to change if Washington wants to win in the postseason.

They were fortunate that they were really playing at the top of their game in period two and also that the Holtbeast was in Vezina form in key situations. The stars made enough plays to provide a W, but that final frame leaves more to be desired in respect to Washington’s overall game.

Notes: Final shot attempts were 62-60 for the Caps. It was 52-35 after 40 minutes, so Calgary had a 25-10 advantage in the last 20 minutes. That stinks…Washington gave up far too many odd man rushes in this contest…Shots on goal were 40-31 for the Capitals…Ovechkin had 13 shot attemps, 11 of them were on goal. He was dynamite on Tuesday…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with a low total of 22:21… the Caps lost the face off battle, 27-25, but Eller was 9-4.

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Bad Change Costs the Caps in OT Loss to Nashville

Posted on 17 March 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson scored on a two on one in overtime to send the Washington Capitals to their fifth loss in their last six games. The Predators received that two on one because Evgeny Kuznetzov changed when Nashville had the puck in the neutral zone, which is a no-no, according to Coach Barry Trotz.

“In the 3 on 3, if the other team possesses the puck, especially if they are standing in the neutral zone, you can’t change. They’re just waiting for you to go out of the box and passing it, so it’s an automatic two on one. We talk about that all of the time, so it’s not about the change, it’s the decision to change, that created the chance. When you have the puck, especially three on three, it’s all about possession and decisions, when you don’t have it, you have to be positionally sound and patient and you can’t make poor decisions.”

Once on the two on one, Arvidsson got off a shot that the Holtbeast wasn’t necessarily set on. Typically in those situations, the defensemen’s job is to take the pass and leave the shooter to the goalie. Holtby told me afterwards that he and John Carlson got their signals crossed, and they’ll work on that going forward.

This was “a quiet game” as Coach Trotz described it and I couldn’t agree more. The building was pretty dead, so Washington didn’t really get energy from the home crowd. The ice wasn’t very good either, but it’s the same for both teams.

The Capitals played a strong first period outshot attempting the Predators, 17-9, and they took the lead 11:41 into the contest when Lars Eller forced a turnover in the offensive zone. Jakub Vrana scooped up the mishap and fed Brett Connolly for his career high 15th goal of the season. Nashville coach Peter Laviolette screamed at the referees, wanting a trip on Eller, but on replay it was pretty clear that the Predators player made a poor decision to turn up the middle of the defensive zone and he flat out blew a tire on the wonky ice.

Alex Ovechkin and company would dominate that first frame, but they struggled to get to the paint and get that all important second marker. In period two, the Predators carried the shot attempt tallies, 22-11, but it seemed like puck possession was pretty even. The problem was that Washington was too fancy and over passing. On one instance, the top line made two nice passes to set up T.J. Oshie on the right wing side in close and #77 tried to make an extra pass instead of firing away on Pekka Rinne (22 saves). That was the theme of period two, the Caps cycling the puck and trying for the perfect play or turning the biscuit over and allowing a very good rush team in Nashville to go the other way.

You can’t drop pass or play fancy against the Predators and a Marcus Johansson turnover allowed the game to end up tied with just 1:04 left in the second frame. Jojo tried to feed Dmitry Orlov at the left point, but the puck was intercepted by Kevin Fiala and he went the other way on a rush. James Neal was the trailer on the play and Fiala dropped the puck to #18, who shot the puck off of #9’s stick and by the Holtbeast. That gave Nashville some momentum that they didn’t have for much of the game.

In the third period, the game was pretty even, but I thought the Caps had the better scoring chances. Again, Nashville protected the front of their net well, and Washington did too, on this night, so this one headed to overtime where the boys from Tennessee prevailed.

There were lots of positives for the Caps in this game. They only took one penalty that put them shorthanded and they killed that one off (second period). Oshie nearly scored shorthanded twice on his PK shift. The low penalty total allowed them to roll four lines for a majority of the night, with the third line getting short changed the most (yet they were the only line to score). On defense they were solid and on offense they possessed the puck quite a bit.

On the negative side of the ledger, the Capitals didn’t shoot the puck enough or make things tough for Rinne, especially in the second period. It was too much perimeter hockey and not enough jam. Coach Trotz gave credit to Laviolette’s crew, but he also faulted his own squad.

“They collapse pretty hard and I didn’t think we had the mindset of shooting the puck and getting to the net as much as we needed to.”

Overall, this was a pretty tight checking game. Nashville is fighting for their playoff position, so they played a classic road game. They stay structured in their own end and hoped for turnovers and counter attacks. They were fortunate to get two such opportunities that they were able to light the lamp on, and as a result they got the extra point and leave town sweeping the Caps in their two game season series.

For Washington, at 45-17-8 (98 points), they still lead the Metropolitan Division by two points over the Blue Jackets, who knocked off the Florida Panthers on Thursday night, and three points over the Penguins, who were idle. Both teams have a game in hand on the Caps, so this race is ultra tight.

If the Capitals want to win the Metropolitan Division and get home ice for the playoffs, they need to get back to what makes them successful, putting bodies and pucks to the opposing teams net. They didn’t do enough of that on Thursday night and that is why they lost.

Notes: Ovechkin had six shot attempts (3 on net). He is moving his legs better, but he is taking a beat too long to shoot the puck. If he can get back to his quick release, he’ll start scoring more often…Connolly, who had the only goal, only received 8:25 of ice time. I’d like to see that line get more ice time, especially when Andre Burakovsky returns, which could be very soon (likely next week)…final shot attempts were 44-42, for Washington…Tom Wilson pounded Austin Watson in a fight 7:29 into period three after #43 put a clean hit on Mattias Ekholm. I don’t understand why clean hits result in fights these days, but maybe I’m too old school, I don’t know?…next up for the Caps are the Tampa Bay Lightning in Florida on Saturday night. The Bolts, who got trounced, 5-0, on Thursday night in Toronto, are fighting for their playoff lives, so the Capitals better be prepared to match the intensity of Coach Jon Cooper’s squad or they’ll be run out of the Sunshine State.

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Caps Set Franchise Record for Consecutive Home Wins in 1-0 Triumph Over New Jersey

Posted on 02 March 2017 by Ed Frankovic

In a game reminiscent of 1995 NHL hockey, the Washington Capitals received a power play goal from Jakub Vrana 7:21 into the third period and Braden Holtby made 15 saves as the Caps defeated the New Jersey Devils, 1-0 at the Verizon Center on Thursday night. The victory was a franchise record 14th win in a row at home for Washington.

The Devils are a rebuilding team that doesn’t have a whole lot of talent to work with, so under Coach John Hynes they play a very structured game. They constantly keep players back and clog the neutral zone making zone entries very difficult. What results is some pretty boring hockey.

Boring was the case on Thursday night as New Jersey tried to play a style that gave them pretty much their only chance of winning.  It still really didn’t come close to working. The Devils were outshot by the superior Capitals by 7-4, 7-5, and 10-6 in each period and there weren’t many quality scoring chances for either club, especially New Jersey. When the Devils did get an opportunity, the Holtbeast was there to shut the door for the Caps.

Shot attempts were 59-50 for Washington in this one and the ultimate difference was that the Caps found a way to get to the front of the Devils cage in the third period to first draw a penalty and then bury the biscuit for the game winner. Jay Beagle drew a tripping infraction on Damon Severson directly in front of Devils goalie Cory Schneider (23 saves) with the Caps buzzing the tower in the final frame. After the Caps played predominantly on the perimeter for most of this one, #83 did some dirty work and parked himself in the prime scoring opportunity and when he went to gather in the rebound of a shot, the Devil hauled him down.

Washington’s power play, which went 1 for 5 in this affair, worked the puck around well, but they didn’t light the lamp until Vrana gathered in a loose puck from Evgeny Kuznetsov in front of Schneider after Brett Connolly was battling for it in the slot with a Jersey defender. #13 wasted no time in putting it past Schneider to give the Caps the only goal they would ultimately need with just under 13 minutes remaining.

After the Capitals had another power play, but failed to build on the advantage, Connolly was whistled for slashing with 13:27 remaining after his stick was held in the corner. #10 then gave Kelly Sutherland the business on a call that he didn’t like, he felt the slash was the result of pulling his stick away from another Jersey clutch, grab, and hold specialist. Sutherland didn’t like the lip and tacked on an additional two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct, so with 6:33 remaining the Capitals would have to kill off a four minute power play. The first penalty I could see Connolly being upset about, but arguing long and hard was the wrong move, Brett should’ve held his temper, taken the two minutes there and felt shame, and then told the zebra why he thought it was a bad call at a stoppage in play when cooler heads would’ve prevailed. That’s a good lesson to learn before the post season.

The good news for the home squad was that Daniel Winnik and company killed off the two minors while only allowing one shot on net. For the night, the Caps PK unit went a stellar four for four.

New Jersey then pulled their keeper, but Miles Wood took a foolish cross checking penalty on Brooks Oprik and the Caps ran out the clock to give the Holtbeast his 8th shutout of the season.

This victory was not an aesthetically pleasing one, but it was another two points to push the Capitals record to 43-13-7 (93 points) with 19 games remaining. They lead the Metro Division by seven points over Columbus, who has a game in hand. Third place still belongs to the Penguins with 84 points, but the Rangers are also at 84 points after a 2-1 victory over Boston on Thursday. Pittsburgh still has 20 games remaining while the Rags just have 18. In the Presidents’ Trophy race, the Caps are five points up on Minnesota, who lost 1-0 to Columbus on Thursday, but the Wild have a game in hand.

Heading into last season’s playoffs, the Penguins had the best record in the NHL after January 1st. That title belongs to the Caps right now and since December 5th, they are a staggering 30-6-4!

Guess what? This team can only get better as Kevin Shattenkirk feels more comfortable in the Caps system and T.J. Oshie returns to the lineup (as well as Andre Burakovsky in a couple of weeks). Washington won Thursday’s tilt, but they didn’t exactly go totally through the Devils, like their bench boss, Coach Barry Trotz, wanted until the final frame. However, the Caps play in their own zone was fairly stellar and New Jersey never came close to going through the Capitals.

A win is a win and the Caps thankfully are done playing the Devils this season as those type of games are hard to stay awake for, at times.

They will take the “W” and move on to face the despised Flyers at the phone booth on Saturday night.

Notes: Shattenkirk and John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 21:24, but Matt Niskanen logged 21:07. That is some serious balance right there…the Capitals lost the face off battle, 28-26, but Beagle was 9-5…Alex Ovechkin logged 20:33 and had eight shot attempts and four hits…Oprik returned to the lineup and played 17:15 and had a team leading five hits.

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Caps Get Coach Trotz Career Win #700 at Madison Square Garden

Posted on 28 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals came into Tuesday night’s contest at Madison Square Garden 0-2 against the Rangers on the season. 20 minutes into this affair, which was also the Caps debut of Monday’s big defensive acquisition, Kevin Shattenkirk, it looked like it was going to be 0-3.

Washington had a defensive coverage breakdown at 5:09 of period one that allowed Brady Skjei to tally on a layup on Braden Holtby (29 saves) and take a 1-0 lead. The Rangers would have 11 of the first 16 shots on goal early on and that doesn’t include the three posts they hit that could’ve really put the Capitals behind the eight ball had any of them gone in. New York also benefitted from their home cooking zebra, Dan O’Halloran, who gave them two power plays in the opening frame to zero for the Caps, but more on him later.

The Holtbeast (29 saves) was strong, once again in net, and in period two the game changed rather quickly. Marc Staal decided to stupidly cross check Alex Ovechkin giving the Capitals an early power play. Washington didn’t score, but Shattenkirk manned the point on the first unit and fed Ovi perfectly for a one timer that King Henrik (34 saves) stopped. The Caps would gain momentum and intensity off of that man advantage. They finally started moving their feet and taking the game to the Blueshirts, but Lundqvist was holding steady in net.

A heavy, but borderline hit by Adam Clendening on Daniel Winnik then changed the outcome of the game. #26 didn’t like it, he thought it wasn’t clean, and a few seconds later they both dropped the mitts behind the New York net and Winnik jack hammered Clendening for a TKO victory. The rough stuff further amped up the Capitals intensity and just 21 seconds later, Marcus Johansson tied the game up.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, who is so important to this club and struggled in period one, made a nice pass to Dmitry Orlov that allowed #9 to exit the defensive zone with speed and fly through the neutral zone. Orlov then carried the puck into the offensive zone and had a nice give and go with Jojo just inside the offensive blue line. Orlov then smartly carried the puck deep and banked it off of Lundqvist’s pads. Johansson alertly went to the net and buried the rebound to tie this one up.

The Rangers then thought they had regained the lead at 11:53 of period two after a puck bounced about 15 feet in the air in the slot and then fell down in the crease where a New York player banged it home before Holtby knew where it was. Once again, the Caps video coaches, led by Brett Leonhardt, caught an offside infraction on the zone entry and Coach Barry Trotz successfully challenged the goal.

That took some more wind from the Rangers sails and the Capitals took over from there dominating the play and pouring tons of shots on the Swedish net minder. Washington’s relentless pressure, the Caps were not only skating, but they were hitting New York and playing with snarl, paid off when Niskanen carried the puck into the offensive zone on a nice rush to set up the game winning goal. The puck actually rolled off of #2’s stick, but Brett Connolly was parked in the slot and he gathered in the biscuit and quickly whipped it in the basket, beating a stunned Lundqvist for his career high 13th goal of the season. Connolly, Lars Eller, and Jakub Vrana had some really strong shifts as the third line.

The Caps took that 2-1 lead to the locker room and then put the hammer down early in period three. Kuznetsov (2 assists) used his speed to back the Rangers defense up, then he fed Jojo in the slot, and #90 deflected it top shelf past Lundqvist to make it 3-1 just 1:15 into period three. That really caught the home town boys by surprise and the Capitals did a good job of keeping the Rangers on the perimeter the rest of the way.

O’Halloran, who at times should just don a Rangers sweater because he has a history of poor officiating against Washington dating back to at least game two of the 2015 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals at the Garden, then gave New York two gift power plays to try and get back in this affair. However, the Caps penalty killing unit wanted none of that and the Holtbeast slammed the door shut. After O’Halloran and his zebra partner, Brad Meier, let a Matt Zuccarello blatant goalie interference on Holtby go uncalled, they finally had to give Washington a second power play when Ryan McDonagh mugged Tom Wilson.

Nicklas Backstrom then tallied on the man advantage on a shot that deflected off of a Rangers defensemen and past King Henrik to make it 4-1 with 2:03 remaining. MSG was mostly empty, at that point, except for some Caps fans who made it up to support their first place squad.

This was a huge victory for the Caps in many ways. First, they had struggled with the super fast Rangers in their first two meetings and the opening period certainly looked like more of the same, but Washington got aggressive and played with an edge. Second, the Rangers poked the bear and the Caps woke up and really handed it to them in the second and third period. In that middle frame, the Capitals out shot attempted New York, 31-16 and for the game it was 65-54. Washington played fast and heavy and the Rangers really had little push back.

Several Capitals played well, despite the absence of T.J. Oshie and Brooks Oprik, who are both day to day. Winnik’s fight, overall tenacity, and super smart hockey in 14:04 was very noticeable. Niskanen, who just returned from missing two games over the weekend, had two assists and was +3 in 18:19 of ice time. #2’s partner, Orlov, was +2 and had an assist while logging 17:14.

Wilson was also outstanding in a high ice time total of 19:34. #43 wrecked Derek Stepan hard early with a clean hit and he was sensational on the Caps PK, which went 4 for 4. Willy did a nice job of jumping up to the first line right wing spot in Oshie’s absence. He was physical and fast for the large majority of the contest and he got under New York’s skin without taking any infractions himself. Well played, Tom.

As for Shattenkirk, well he was pretty darn impressive for a guy who missed the morning skate the night after being traded. #22 had four shots on net and he can really skate and play physical, too. This looks to be just a sensational addition to an already very good hockey team.

I could go on and on about several other players, but I also thought both John Carlson (24:35) and Karl Alzner (23:41) were very strong against the Rangers top guys, which allowed the rest of the Washington lineup, particularly the second line, to win the game. Johansson (2 goals and one assist) was clearly the player of the night for the Caps and he now has a career high 21 tallies this season. He’s been super since Sweden mistakenly left him off of their World Cup of Hockey roster last September. Big mistake guys, big mistake (although the Capitals are benefiting from his fresher legs).

The win, which was Coach Trotz’ 700th NHL victory, puts the Capitals at 42-13-7 (91 points) with 20 games remaining (10 at home and 10 on the road). This has been a grueling stretch coming out of the bye week with five of the six tilts on the road and two back to back occurrences. The Caps went 2-2-1 in the away games in Detroit, Filthy, Smashville and Madison Square Garden (twice) while winning their only home tilt, 2-1, against Edmonton last Friday night.

Now it’s time for some home cooking and the Caps will take on New Jersey on Thursday before they get the despised Flyers in town on Saturday night. They’ll then face the Dallas Stars on Monday at the Verizon Center before heading out to California for three games late next week.

Home ice has been good to the Capitals this season and they’ll have a chance over the final quarter of the season to lock up home ice advantage for the post season.

Notes: Forwards Vrana (9:27) and Riley Barber (7:55) were called up from Hershey with Oshie and Andre Burakovsky out and Zach Sanford moved to St. Louis in the Shattenkirk blockbuster…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 37-33. Backstrom went 16-9…McDonagah led the Rangers in ice time with 23:54…Shattenkirk was paired with Nate Schmidt on Tuesday night.

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Depleted Caps Out Skate the Super Fast Oilers in a 2-1 Victory

Posted on 24 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

In a fun game to watch, the Washington Capitals increased their franchise record tying home winning streak to 13 games with a 2-1 victory over the super fast and talented Edmonton Oilers on Friday night.

The Caps were missing some big names due to the fact that the sore loser Neanderthal Flyers banged up Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, and T.J. “Pay the Man” Oshie in Filthy on Wednesday night. Washington was already without Andre Burakovsky, who fractured his hand before the bye week.

Riley Barber and Aaron Ness were called up from Hershey and suited up. Both Taylor Chorney and Nate Schmidt were in the lineup and boy did Caps Coach Barry Trotz get a SUPER outing from his six defensemen. The speedy Oilers, led by all world center Connor McDavid, are scoring machines, but Washington kept them predominantly to the perimeter in this game and the only goal they allowed was a turnover by Evgeny Kuznetsov and Justin Williams in the first minute of period two. Leon “Sniper” Draisaitl pounced on that miscue and beat Braden Holtby (30 saves) from the prime scoring area. There was nothing really the Holtbeast could do there, that one was on his forwards.

Speaking of Kuzy and Stick, those guys had that blunder and one other that led to an Oilers partial breakaway, but they were pretty much flying all night. Kuznetsov was matched up most of the evening against the 1st pick in the 2015 NHL draft and to be honest, #92 had bragging rights on this night. When it comes to skating, McDavid is almost unbeatable, but watching Kuznetsov stride in this one was an absolute joy. He had his wheels going so well he looked like he could have starred for the USSR Red Army teams of the 1970’s.

As for Williams, well he scored the game winner on a great no look pass from Jay Beagle just 5:48 into period three. Beagle’s line, the 4th unit of “Flip Phone” Beags, Tom Wilson, and Daniel Winnik was outstanding, once again, and sure seem to be making a strong case to be the best fourth line in the NHL right now. Wilson scored the opening salvo in this affair after a great pass from Dmitry Orlov at 12:22 of the 1st frame. #9’s ability to carry the puck in onside with his feet, Pele style, after a pass from Chorney, set the play up. Wilson, who is steadily improving in the offensive end, took the disc and fired it towards the net. Cam Talbot (23 saves) had no chance to stop the shot, which was just inside the far post, because Winnik was running traffic in front of the cage at the perfect time.

That 4th line not only played a big role in the two goals, but they continually seized momentum for Washington with strong shifts, especially with their forechecking and strong wall play. Simply put, they wore the Oilers big guns out and made them go 200 feet. By game’s end, big lug Milan Lucic was exhausted and resorted to barking at Wilson from the bench. Clearly #43 had gotten into #27’s grill big time.

On the back end, John Carlson was just outstanding logging 27:19 of ice time. Orlov played just five seconds short of his season high (24:24) and he was downright dominant. His overall game has just improved so much this season and that is a big reason why the Capitals are leading the league. Chorney was great in 18:37 of ice time and Karl Alzner was his usual steady self with an assist in 21:24.

The other thing the Capitals coaching staff will really like, besides the strong effort, was the fact that the Caps didn’t take a single penalty in this contest. That was a direct result of keeping their feet moving the whole game (effort) and keeping their sticks down. Washington was outshot attempted in this one (61-54), but in terms of having the puck, my eyes tell me the Capitals had the biscuit more often than their counterparts, but they did struggle to get shots from in close, and naturally they had several sequences where they over passed when a shot was the right play. Kuznetsov and Lars Eller were both guilty of not firing from the prime scoring zone in this one.

But overall, this was a gutsy effort by a depleted team against an up and coming hot Edmonton squad. The Caps played a high tempo game against one of the fastest teams in the league and their depth was the difference. That’s very encouraging.

The victory improves Washington to 41-12-7 (89 points) and they are +73 in terms of goal differential. More impressive, though, is the way this team is rebuilding their game after the bye week. This was the fourth game since beach time (well, skiing for Orlov) and you could see the positive result of the rest in the way the Capitals players were really moving their legs and skating. When they do that and get pucks and bodies to the cage, they are hard to beat.

Yes, they missed the “Osh Babe” and Burakovsky up front, but the depth of the team showed and that has to make both Coach Trotz and General Manager Brian MacLellan feel really good heading into Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline. I don’t expect anything major to happen from the Caps or around the league given how close the standings are and how many teams still think they can make the postseason (but let’s just hope the Flyers are golfing thanks to the Caps win on Wednesday. No one outside of that city wants to see those goons in the playoffs).

Notes: McDavid had an assist, but he was -1 in 21:42 of ice time…Brett Connolly moved up to the top line in #77’s absence and played well. He had one sequence where he made a great defensive play, then broke the puck out up the ice with speed to get a one on one with Talbot. Unfortunately he missed the net…Washington won the face off battle, 28-16. Flip Phone was 10-2…Barber played a team low 9:56 and Ness only received 10:37 of ice time, but both did not look out of place…Alex Ovechkin had nine shot attempts (3 SOG) in 18:31. He looked good in this one and something tells me a goal scoring streak is coming for him soon…Wilson had three shots on goal and five hits. He was a force all night…the injuries to Niskanen, Oprik, and Oshie are all believed to be minor, but they will not play on Saturday in Smashville. The Caps take on the Predators at 5:00, but I’m not sure why they are playing so early in the Music City?

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Oshie and Carlson Lead the Caps Over Detroit, 6-3

Posted on 09 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

T.J. Oshie scored two goals and added a big assist on John Carlson’s game winning tally to lead the Washington Capitals to a 6-3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings at the Verizon Center on Thursday night. The win was the Caps 11th straight at home and fifth overall. During this home winning streak they’ve outscored their opponents by a whopping 56-15 margin!

Oshie was +4 and it was his steal behind the Detroit net after Washington’s fourth line had a monster forechecking shift that allowed #77 to take the puck and feed Carlson for the winning blast just 4:15 into the final frame. T.J. is just so much fun to watch on the ice.

Pay the Man!

Seriously, could that trade with St. Louis have worked out any better for the Caps?

The correct answer is “Heck No!”

“Osh Babe,” as Alexander Ovechkin calls him, brings it every night and wins board battle after board battle. He has a great shot and he is such a good two-way forward. There is no other player in the entire Capitals organization that can do what he does and if somehow this franchise wins its first championship this spring, there’s no doubt he’ll pay a big role in that.

But let’s get back to Thursday’s victory over the Wings.

The Capitals came out of the gate like Secretariat at the Belmont in 1973 forging a 9-1 shots on goal advantage. However, they only had a 1-0 lead thanks to the strong play of Wings goalie Peter Mrazek (25 saves). When Nate Schmidt and Anthony Mantha went off with matching minors 11:25 into the game, things suddenly changed. Four on four has not been a strength of the Capitals and the Wings took advantage of some poor defense by Dmitry Orlov and especially Ovechkin to knot the game at one. Nicklas Backstrom then took a boarding penalty and Andreas Anthanasiou notched his second tally of the night in less than three minutes to give Detroit the lead. Both tallies were top shelf on Braden Holtby.

But red hot Brett Connolly, after going hard into the boards and getting up gingerly, put home the rebound of a point shot by Karl Alzner from a bad angle for his 12th goal of the season to tie things up with 90 ticks left in period one. #10 was definitely in some pain after the collision, but he played the rest of the game and had his wheels rolling just fine. Connolly continues to play excellent hockey.

Unfortunately, the Capitals lost Andre Burakovsky to an apparent hand injury in the first period.  #65 went down to block a shot and took one in the right appendage and did not return. Let’s hope this injury is not serious because the third line of Lars Eller, Connolly, and Burakovsky has been downright dominant.

Oshie scored his first of the game off of a great stretch pass off of the boards by Carlson just 1:16 into period two to make it 3-2. #74, who had 10 shot attempts on the night (5 on goal), was super in this contest with two points and a +4 rating.

Washington would not be able to solve Mrazek again in period two so they had a one puck lead heading to the final 20 minutes despite a 25-12 shots on goal advantage and a 42-25 shot attempt edge.

The third frame started very sleepily for Washington and another defensive zone breakdown allowed Henrik Zetterberg to go in all alone on Braden Holtby (14 saves). The Holtbeast, who had an uneven night, held his ground and forced #40 to his backhand, but the Swede managed to lift one up over Holts’ glove, which got caught against the post, and into the cage just 1:25 into period three. Braden was not happy about that one, but Oshie and Carlson would play big roles in the next two goals, and then Backstrom (1 goal, 2 assists) would hit the empty net to close out the scoring.

Marcus Johansson had another superb effort and his goal after a great fore check by Justin Williams and cross crease pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov gave the Caps their 1-0 lead 5:57 into the game. Jojo also made a nice pass to Backstrom, who then fed Oshie on the fifth goal, which was a power play marker that pretty much ended this contest with 5:42 remaining. Marcus now has 18 goals on the season.

Overall, this was a dominating offensive show by the Caps, but they were too loose in their own zone, at times, and they need to work on four on four play before the playoffs. If they aren’t better there, teams will try to take coincidental minors and put Washington in that situation. Remember, it was a four on four instance that allowed Pittsburgh to rally from a 3-0 deficit back in January in a 8-7 overtime loss for the Caps in Steel Town.

The Capitals are now 38-11-6 (82 points) after scoring five or more goals at home for the 10th straight time. They lead the Blue Jackets by 9 points and the Penguins will likely win in Colorado on Thursday night to move into second place, eight points behind Washington. Both of those teams have two games in hand. Coming up in the rear view mirror of Columbus, though, are the New York Rangers, who are now at 71 points. So things are going to be interesting down the stretch in the Metropolitan Division standings.

For the Caps though, it’s all about cleaning up their game and being healthy for the post season. The Burakovsky hand injury is a concern, right now. Fortunately, the Capitals only have Saturday’s game against Anaheim before they get their bye week and can rest up.

They’ve played a lot of hockey since Christmas and following that tilt with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, it’s a well needed five day shut down away from the rink.

Notes: Ovechkin played a season low 13:54 and only had two shot attempts (none on net). He didn’t look engaged in this contest, but he was good on Tuesday and the Caps will need him on Saturday…final shot attempts were 55-34 for the Caps (shots on goal were 31-17)…the Wings have the fewest regulation or overtime wins in the NHL (16)…Carlson led the Caps in TOI with 22:22…Alzner was +3 in 21:25…faceoffs were tied at 31 apiece. Jay Beagle went 12-8.

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Caps Dominate Kings, 5-0, on Super Bowl Sunday

Posted on 05 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Los Angeles Kings had a five game winning streak as they came into the DMV on Sunday afternoon to face the Washington Capitals.

The key word there is HAD.

When it was all said and done, the only five that mattered were the five tallies the Caps deposited into the Kings net in a 5-0 rout.

To steal a line from The Breakfast Club, “Don’t mess with the bull…you’ll get the horns.”

Once again, the Capitals wasted little time in announcing their presence with authority. Andre Burakovsky battled strong on the right wing boards with two Kings and that allowed Brett Connolly to come out of the scrum with the biscuit and feed Lars Eller all alone in front of Peter Budaj. #20 then buried it off of the left post to give the Caps a 1-0 lead just 3:16 into the contest.

Naturally, the Kings would push back after falling behind. Trevor Lewis hit the cross bar and then Philipp Grubauer (38 saves) made two outstanding stops on Dustin Brown on the doorstep. Not scoring on those chances would doom LA because late in the opening period the Capitals upped their lead.

Brooks Orpik made a great step up and steal in the defensive zone and he fed the puck to Evgeny Kuznetsov in transition. As #44 was changing, Kuzy skated into the offensive zone while Los Angeles was undergoing a line change, as well. Two Kings then went to #92 on the left wing boards and that opened up Marcus Johansson in the slot. Jojo received a nice feed from Kuznetsov and he fired the biscuit on net right after Justin Williams cruised through the paint. #14’s net drive took Jake Muzzin there too, and #6 screened Budaj, who never saw Johansson’s shot go by him and into the twine.

Last season, the Capitals were not a fast starting team and that was something they wanted to improve on in 2016-17. This season, the Caps have outscored their opponents by a whopping 56-23 in the opening frame, including 2-0 on Sunday.

That’s impressive stuff.

The other thing the Caps wanted to do more of this season was to increase their bottom six scoring. On Saturday in a victory over Montreal, they received two goals from their third and fourth lines. Eller’s first period tally wouldn’t be the only one on Sunday, as well. Karl Alzner made a superb play in the neutral zone to make a steal on Brayden McNabb. Tom Wilson gathered the disc after the #27 poke check and he went into the offensive zone on the right wing boards with speed. #43 recognized that Connolly was streaking in all alone and he gave him a sweet pass. #10, who was an outstanding offseason acquisition by General Manager Brian MacLellan, skated in and easily beat Budaj to make it 3-0 on his 10th goal of the season. How did Connolly get so open? Well, Kevin Gravel decided to change after getting hit hard in the offensive zone and he vacated the ice leaving LA short on the back end.

There were still 26 plus minutes to go in the contest, but this one was pretty much over. Los Angeles would get a good chance a few minutes later when Marian Gaborik had the puck all alone in front of Grubauer, but there was no denting #31 on this afternoon.

T.J. Oshie then made the third period pretty much worthless when he scored top shelf on a sweet feed from All Star Nicklas Backstrom with 3:36 left in period two. The “Osh Babe” shot was so perfect that it destroyed Budaj’s water bottle creating a perfect highlight clip that you’ll see a lot of over the next 24 hours. It also destroyed Budaj’s day, and the man who had two straight shutouts for Los Angeles heading into Super Bowl Sunday would not play the final stanza.

Justin Willliams added a late third period marker to close out the scoring, from guess where?

If you said the paint or the doorstep, you win!

Yes, the Caps got another in close goal when Jojo gathered in a Kings turnover on the left wing boards and fed Stick all alone in front of Jeff Zatkoff. Williams victimized his old teammates  for his 18th goal of the season and sent them off to Florida to face the Lightning on Tuesday after a thorough butt whipping at the hands of the best team in the NHL.

For 40 minutes, this was pretty much a manhandling by the Capitals on the scoreboard and in terms of quality chances. The Caps continue to do a great job of getting net presence and easy goals off of their fore check. They are rolling four lines and once again, every Washington forward unit had at least a point on a tally in this whitewash of the Kings.

As for shot attempts, they were one sided for Los Angeles, 80-35. Most of that is on the meaningless third period as well as a bunch of perimeter shots by the Kings that didn’t find their way to the cage because they were blocked (29 of them). Coach Barry Trotz’ team plays outstanding defense in their own zone; they rarely allow the opposition to penetrate into the prime scoring areas and that is why their five on five goal totals are so dominant. So if someone tries to point to the shot attempts as an area of concern for Washington on Sunday, just go all Willie Nelson and tell them to roll those numbers up and smoke ‘em.

The victory improves the Caps to 36-11-6 (78 points). They are seven points up on the Blue Jackets and Penguins in the Metropolitan Division, although both of those squads have two games in hand.

This Washington team is really good and definitely better than last year. The additions of Eller and Connolly are paying big dividends for the bottom six forwards and they are more experienced on the back end. Add in the way Kuznetsov is playing and it’s pick your poison playing the Capitals forward lines. The playoffs can’t come soon enough.

Notes: Alzner and John Carlson were outstanding in this game. Alzner was +3…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 29-23…Alex Ovechkin drew two penalties, had four shots on net and had an assist…the Capitals were 0 for 2 on the power play while the Kings went 0 for 4…Drew Doughty played 30:33 for the Kings and was even. Alec Martinez was -4, ouch!…every Capital except for Daniel Winnik earned a plus on Sunday, but that’s no knock on #26, who continues to play great hockey at even strength and on the PK….next up for the Caps are the Carolina Hurricanes at the Verizon Center at 7 pm on Tuesday.

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Backstrom & Kuznetsov Lead the Caps Over Boston, 5-3

Posted on 01 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Boston Bruins seem to bring out the best in Nicklas Backstrom.

Washington’s number one center had a beast of an evening against the B’s at the Verizon Center notching a goal and two helpers as the Caps pulled away for a 5-3 victory.

It was #19’s great saucer pass up the middle of the ice that set up T.J. Oshie for a breakaway goal just 3:06 into this contest and then later in the opening frame he buried the rebound of a Matt Niskanen point shot.

The Capitals looked like they were going to be in command of this one early, but then the Bruins, who rallied from a 3-0 hole in DC earlier in the season before losing in OT on a Backstrom goal, came back with two power play goals by pesky Brad Marchand to tie things up just 2:49 into period two. Boston started to take over the game for a good portion of that stanza, much like the Islanders did to the Caps on Tuesday in Brooklyn after a power play goal. Somehow, though, Coach Barry Trotz’ crew found another gear.

Marcus Johansson, who did stellar work winning many board battles in this one, drew a late second period penalty. That set the stage for Alex Ovechkin to score a huge goal with 15 seconds remaining in period two. The Gr8 took a pass from Niskanen and with Jojo screening in front, he snapped it by Tuukka “0 for the Verizon Center” Rask for his 25th marker of the season.

The Caps, who only had nine shots on net in the first 35 minutes, would take command of the last part of the period and earned a 36-31 shot attempt advantage.

Just 3:29 into period three, Washington regained their two goal lead on a pretty passing play set up by a great rush by Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuzy skated in the zone with speed on the right side of the ice and fed a hard charging Dmitry Orlov in the high slot. #9 then made a great pass to Brett Connolly, who went to his back hand and put the biscuit in the basket. It was #10’s ninth goal of the season and he continues to play extremely well on the third line with Andre Burakovsky and Lars Eller.

From there, Boston would make a big push, but they couldn’t dent the Holtbeast (30 saves) until after Kuznetsov made it 5-2 with 4:07 left after a great feed from Tom Wilson. Wilson, after some strong board work by Johansson and Niskanen, stole the puck on the fore check and fed #92 cruising in the slot and he made no mistake about it.

Boston would finally get an even strength goal with 1:31 to go, but the game was over.

What was big about this contest was the Capitals received great performances from their top two centers, Backstrom (3 points) and Kuznetsov (2 points). They outplayed the Bruins strong pivot duo of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci and that’s the main reason why the Caps were able to win a game against a team fighting for playoff position.

The biggest negative in this tilt was the Capitals penalty killing unit, which is struggling. They’ve allowed too many PPG’s lately and they seem to have lost some of their aggressiveness. I’m not sure if the downturn has coincided with the flu bug going through the team or the lack of practice, but it’s an area they need to get back on track? It takes a lot of energy and structure to be consistently successful on the PK and Washington hasn’t had a lot of either while shorthanded in the last eight to 10 games.

Overall, though, Coach Trotz has to be happy with the play of his top three lines. With Justin Williams missing the game due to a lower body injury, Jay Beagle jumped up on the second line. That weakened the fourth line and forced the other three units to play more, but Backstrom owns the Bruins, much like Braden Holtby does, too. The Holtbeat is now 10-0-0 in his last 12 starts, overall. #70 was solid in net again after being the MVP, at least in my book, in Sunday’s NHL All Star Game.

Special teams weren’t the best for Washington on Wednesday night, as they allowed two goals on three shorthanded situations, but Ovechkin’s power play goal with just 15 seconds to go in period two was so important, as NBC’s Keith Jones pointed out in the intermission.

As for Rask, well he’s still never won at the Verizon Center and is now 1-9-5 in his career against the Caps (h/t @ThePeerless).

With the victory, the Capitals improve to 34-11-6 (74 points). Despite losing three times to the Islanders in regulation, they still lead the NHL standings. The Blue Jackets are four points back, but have two games in hand, though, as do the Penguins, who are seven points back. Columbus and Pittsburgh play each other on Friday night in Steel town.

Notes: Washington won the face off battle against a Bruins team that is good on draws, 30-26. Chandler Stephenson, who played with Stick out of the lineup, was 5-2…John Carlson played his second straight game after missing several games due to injury and led the team in ice time with 22:40. He was +2 and very solid on the back end…final shot attempts were 63-47 for Boston, but that was mostly score effects as the Caps had a 36-31 advantage after two frames…Kuznetsov was named the NHL’s first star of the month for the great January he produced (20 points in 15 games)…next up for the Caps are the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre at 1 pm on Saturday.

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Ovi Devils

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Caps Offense Reignites in 5-2 Win Over New Jersey

Posted on 26 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin scored on a great steal and power move just 6:14 into the game and Braden Holtby made 27 saves as the Washington Capitals defeated the New Jersey Devils, 5-2, at “The Rock” on Thursday night.

The goal by the Gr8 was a tone setter for the Capitals, who were playing their 17th contest in the last 31 days. It was an important tally because on Tuesday in Ottawa, the Caps had no legs and with both John Carlson (lower body injury) and T.J. Oshie (family matter) out of the Devils tilt, they needed an early spark to get them through this contest and off to a weekend away from the rink for the All Star break.

Evgeny Kuznetsov (two goals), Dmitry Orlov (two assists), Andre Burakovsky (goal and an assist), and Brooks Orpik (+3 in 20:22) all had monster outings as the Caps were able to find enough juice in the tank to survive a Devils team that thrives on using neutral zone speed to generate opportunities.

For most of this game, the Capitals did a nice job of throttling that speed, especially in the first 15 minutes of period two when they increased their 2-0 first frame advantage to a 4-1 lead and chased Keith Kinkaid on 17 shots. In came Cory Schneider (18 saves) and despite a few early quality chances for the Caps, #35 stabilized things for New Jersey and when they scored a late second period power play goal and then hit the pipe on the next shift, this one was far from over.

During the first 10 minutes of the third period, the Devils stormed up and down the ice on Coach Barry Trotz’ squad, but the Capitals did a good job of keeping New Jersey on the perimeter and any shots that made their way through were gobbled up by the Holtbeast.

At that point, it looked like the Caps were gassed and already on their break, but then Washington turned up their intensity and for the next four plus minutes they hemmed New Jersey in their own zone and stifled any comeback. The Capitals would make the final six minutes look pretty easy and when the Devils pulled Schneider, Kuznetsov stole the puck in the neutral zone and skated in uncontested for the empty net clincher.

#92 was very much on in this one. His hit in the left wing corner set up a turnover that allowed Burakovsky to make it 2-0 and then on the next Washington power play, in the second period, he received a super feed from Orlov and raced in all alone on Kinkaid and beat him with a backhand through the five hole as he was being hooked.

Orlov was sensational in the second period in earning his two assists and he could’ve had more. He was excellent at stopping any New Jersey rushes and was getting his stick in the lanes so that the Devils could not enter the Washington zone cleanly. Offensively, he is finding ways to get his shot through to the net. It was his great snapper that Kinkaid played off of his pads with Lars Eller screening him. As a result, #20 was able to swat home the Caps third goal from the paint, which came five minutes after the Devils had closed to just a goal.

For New Jersey, Taylor Hall was flying most of this contest. He had seven shot attempts (four on goal) in 22:22 of ice time, but he’ll be most remembered in this one for getting blown up by Orpik on a clean hit 6:52 into the final frame. #44 logged 20:22 and was a force on the back end.

Once again, the Capitals offense produced four or more goals and they all came from going to the cage. Net presence has been a big staple of Washington’s attack since the Christmas break and during these 17 games, they’ve gone 13-2-2. They lost the first one to the Islanders after the lay off and then they had the 40+ shot effort versus New Jersey that was primarily perimeter based and resulted in a shootout defeat. Since that game, it’s been all pucks and bodies to the net, except for Tuesday’s Ottawa tilt where Washington had a Jackson Browne type of effort, Running on Empty.

With no Oshie and Carlson and weekend plans away from hockey for everyone except for the Gr8 and the Holtbeast, this looked like a trap game. Ovechkin, however, set the tone and the rest of the crew followed his lead to grab another two points and improve to 33-10-6 (72 points). This 13-1-1 run since December 31st has given the Caps a four point lead over Columbus (CBus has a game in hand), a seven point cushion on the Penguins (PIT has a game in hand), and a nine point edge on the Rangers as many of the Capitals head to a beach or golf course down south.

Simply put, the Caps have seized the top spot in the NHL in January with an incredible run of hockey. They showed that when they are motivated, they are a really tough team to play against. Washington has four lines that can score and their back end, with Carlson, is very solid. Without #74 things got a bit shaky, but they were able to bury enough biscuits to overcome some periodic defensive trouble.

With the trade deadline just over a month away (February 28th), GM Brian MacLellan has a lot of guys playing near their peak making them very valuable commodities. This will be a tough trade deadline, though, with the NHL expansion draft looming in June, so this could be a year where most teams stand pat. If that’s the case, the Capitals have to feel really good about their team, with the only real need likely being a top four D in case one of Carlson, Matt Niskanen, or Karl Alzner goes down with a serious injury.

Overall, this team looks better positioned for the postseason than last year, but there are still 33 games and two and a half months to go. Washington has played a lot of hockey over the last month and have to be exhausted. It’s time for a well deserved break.

Notes: Shot attempts were 54-48 for Washington, including 36-29 in shots on goal. The Caps blocked just five shots but the Devils only blocked seven…Washington won the faceoff battle, 31-28. Eller was 7-5…Kuznetsov had eight shots on net in 16:57 of ice time…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:55. No New Jersey skater was within two minutes of #2’s game leading total…Tom Wilson was questionably kicked out of the game for third man in after Oprik blew up Hall and Kyle Palmieri jumped #44…next up for the Caps are the Islanders in Brooklyn on Tuesday, January 31st…enjoy All Star weekend everyone, I know I will since there will be no weekend blogs, but on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness, so you got that going for you…

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Caps Score Six More Goals in Rout of Carolina

Posted on 23 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Dmitry Orlov scored twice, Braden Holtby made 25 saves, and the Washington Capitals continued to crash the net to bury the Carolina Hurricanes, 6-1, at the Verizon Center on Monday night. The Caps have now gone 14 straight games without losing in regulation (12-0-2).

That streak started with a terrible shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils back on December 29th where the Caps had 40+ shots on goal, but not many from the paint or prime scoring area.

Since then, everything has changed. The Capitals have gone to the net with authority since that perimeter defeat and they’ve rocketed to the top of the NHL standings (32-9-6, 70 points) and are now third in the NHL in goals for (155) after a slow offensive start to the season.

All four lines are going and the goals are a flowing.

Carolina came out of the gate fast in this one and took an early lead after a weak holding call on T.J. Oshie. Jordan “Can’t Stand Ya” Staal scored just six seconds after “Osh Babe” was sent to the sin bin. Shortly thereafter, the Hurricanes had some good looks and it took a Nate Schmidt block of a sure tap in with his stick and a couple of big saves by the Holtbeast to keep this a 1-0 affair.

Washington then received a power play and Orlov unleashed a rocket that nicked Staal’s stick and went by Cam Ward (19 saves) short side. Justin Williams had set up shop in front of the Carolina net minder and that didn’t help the Stanley Cup winning goalie, either. Then with just under three minutes to go in the opening frame, Williams skated to the top of the high slot and snapped one towards the cage. Marcus Johansson was tied up in the middle of the ice with a Carolina defender and as a result, Ward never saw the biscuit go inside the far post to make it 2-1.

After killing off an early Carolina penalty in period two, the Hurricanes pressed the play for several minutes, but then they came undone by more Washington net presence. The third line of Brett Connolly, Andre Burakovsky, and Lars Eller, which has been very stellar, created offensive zone pressure and with #20 screening Ward, Orlov fired another laser that found the twine to make it 3-1 with 8:06 gone in period two.

The Caps then smelled blood in the water and kept going hard to the net. Tom Wilson nearly made it 4-1 on a deflection in front off of a great Jay Beagle pass, but the shot went over the crossbar. Evgeny Kuznetsov would then get it to a three goal cushion with 1:20 left in the middle stanza when he drove to the net and fired a shot on the cage that hit Karl Alzner in the back right in front, yes, I said Karl Alzner. King Karl tipped the puck to his left and Kuzy smartly was following up his original shot and buried the rebound. Williams was also in front there battling with Carolina defenders.

That whole sequence though was set up by #14’s great back check at the other end that broke up a potential Canes odd man rush. All night long the Caps were aggressive in the offensive zone, but when they got beat and Carolina went the other way, they back checked with a vengeance. It was outstanding hustle and hockey and the coaching staff has to be extremely pleased with that aspect of Washington’s game. When you do that, you can cover up for the mistakes you make, and the Capitals did make a lot of those, but again, they back checked well and covered the front of their net in terrific fashion.

In the final frame, the Capitals top line kept their point scoring streak alive after all star Nicklas Backstrom out worked three Canes for the puck in the neutral zone and slid it ahead to Alex Ovechkin. The Gr8 carried the biscuit into the zone and he found Oshie flying down the slot all alone. #77 gathered in the great feed from Ovi and abused Ward with a dandy of a move and backhander. It was Oshie’s 18th goal of the season. Pay the Man! Eller then closed out the scoring when the sensational third line scored late, once again from in close with all kinds of traffic on Ward.

All six goals the Capitals had were either in close or with lots of traffic. That’s been a consistent aspect of this team’s game since January 1st and it’s why they are consistently scoring and winning. In addition, they have played excellent team defense, especially at home, and that starts with the hustle and back checking.

Sure they got out shot and out shot attempted, but most of that occurred after the Capitals were in command (Washington out shot attempted Carolina 20-14 in period one). This trend of a high shooting percentage would normally be overly alarming, but when you look at where the goals are coming from and what the Capitals are doing to earn them, it makes a lot of sense why they are lighting the lamp so often.

Add in superb team defense, especially the back checking aspect, plus great goaltending, and you see why they’ve earned 26 points in their last 14 games.

On to Ottawa.

Notes: Shot attempts were 61-42 for Carolina. That and Fifty Cents might get them a Coke (not stinking Pepsi) at a local soda machine…each skater on Eller’s line was +2 for the game…the Caps blocked 20 shots and were 3 for 4 on the penalty kill…Daniel Winnik was sensational on the PK, once again…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 36-25. Beagle was 12-7, Eller was 9-5, and Backstrom went 8-5…Kuznetsov had a goal and an assist and continues to play extremely well. He’s going to the hard areas of the rink more often…Orlov led the Caps in ice time with 22:40, but Matt Niskanen logged 22:22. Coach Trotz was able to roll the lines with such a big lead…the Caps play in Canada’s Capitol at 7:30 on Tuesday night. Philipp Grubauer will be in net for Washington…John Carlson missed his fourth straight game and likely won’t return until after the all star break. Taylor Chorney once again suited up in #74’s absence and he beat up Joakin Nordstrom at the buzzer. It was payback for a high hit that #4 did not like late in a blowout contest.

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