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Why did the Caps lose to the Rangers? Who will be back for 2015-16?

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Here’s Why the Caps Lost and How They Can Be Better in 2015-16

Posted on 17 May 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Last Wednesday, in a thrilling and razor close series, the Caps found a way to end their season in heartbreaking fashion once again. They blew a 3-1 series lead in the second round for the first time in team history, including two games at Madison Square Garden in overtime. They were a 101 seconds from the Eastern Conference Finals in game five and fell short.

There have been 40 years of Washington Capitals hockey and 0 Stanley Cups.

As they say, it is what it is.

You can call the series loss whatever you want, a choke, a collapse, a lack of clutch play, or an absence of a killer instinct, it doesn’t matter, at this point. The bottom line is the Capitals lost while the Rangers, who I’ve been asserting since January are the best team in hockey, move on to take on Tampa and likely the Western Conference champion following that.

Make no mistake about it, the Rangers were the best team in the NHL in the regular season, and they are working on proving it in the post season. They were resilient and stuck to their process, for the most part, and that allowed them to move on. I expect them to win the Stanley Cup in June.

The Caps were oh so close, though. How tight was this series? Here are some numbers to back that up:

13-12, Rangers, in goals (all games decided by a single goal).

236-223, Rangers, in shots on goal (1.86 per game).

458-438, Rangers, in shots attempted (2.86 per game).

232-220, Capitals, in hits (1.71 per game).

One stat that wasn’t close was face-offs, the Caps dominated those, 250-199 (55.7%), thanks primarily to Nicklas Backstrom and Jay Beagle. Ironically, though, it was some key draws that ultimately did Washington in. Most notably the series winning sequence where Eric Fehr was beaten badly by Derek Stepan, which caused both Fehr and Andre Burakovsky to become confused defensively, allowing Stepan to sneak to the far post for a wide open rebound goal. Another key draw that the Capitals lost was the one with 3.6 seconds left in the opening frame in game six. Chris Kreider scored on a rebound with 0.3 seconds remaining to give New York a 2-0 lead that the Capitals ultimately could not overcome despite a furious and dominating rally.

Simply put, the Rangers, who had a major focus lapse at the end of game one, didn’t have as many “lack of focus” sequences as the Capitals did in the series, and that’s ultimately why they won. Washington struggled out of the gate in many first periods as well as in the third period in game six. Also, after a dominating first period in game seven, their best opening frame by a mile in the series, they took some terrible penalties to lose all of the momentum they had built up. Mike Green’s cross checking penalty on Dan Girardi was a classic lack of focus moment. It was a terrible decision at the wrong time, especially after two straight Capitals penalty kills, and it was a big factor in Washington not winning game seven.

Adding to the lack of focus issue was a putrid Washington power play. For the series the Caps were 1 for 15, while New York went 3 for 18. That’s a big factor in a super tight series. The Caps, who had the best power play in the NHL in the regular season, struggled with zone entries and when they were able to get set up, were far too predictable in their attempts to force Alexander Ovechkin the puck. The playoffs are all about adjustments. The Washington coaching staff did a nice job of making adjustments in the series at even strength, but they failed to change course on the power play. That was a mistake. They have used a set up where they put two guys in front of the opposing goalie and fire away from the point, but they failed to employ that strategy in the Rangers series.

In the opening round series win over the Islanders, the Capitals had success at getting pucks deep and hitting the New York defense with a relentless fore-check. Washington had a much harder time of that with the Rangers. The New York forwards are lightning fast, but their defense was an area that the Caps needed to exploit better with pressure and physicality. In game three, particularly in period two, the Rangers defensemen were petrified of Tom Wilson. “Willy” had his best game of the series and had the Rangers defense backing up from him. I’m surprised that the Capitals coaches didn’t try to use that tactic and advantage more often in the series. In addition, when New York did get the puck, the Capitals first forward too often flushed or chased the Rangers D-man behind the net causing an easy exit for New York on too many occasions. I didn’t think that was a wise strategy and I’m not sure if it was the coaches instructing the players to do that or the players choosing to do it on their own? Either way, it is best, especially with no red line, to shade the defensemen one way or the other and try to trap him before he exits the defensive zone. Washington did that well in their 5-2 regular season beat down of New York at Madison Square Garden, but they couldn’t repeat that fore-checking success in the playoffs against the Blueshirts.

Overall, the better team won the series. But in sports the better team doesn’t always win and the Capitals let an opportunity to close out the series and possibly win the Stanley Cup slip by.

It was a bitter defeat and it was as close as Washington has come to making the conference finals since 1998. Make no mistake about it, it stinks to lose, but the Capitals are once again a Stanley Cup contender after not being one since prior to the Montreal loss in 2010 (and you could argue that team had too many holes as well, especially at second line center and on defense).

So going forward there should be lots of optimism, but a busy summer of business and roster tweaking looms ahead for General Manager Brian MacLellan and Head Coach Barry Trotz. The Capitals were a big and physical team, but they struggled against teams with speed. Adding team speed will need to be addressed with the off season moves.

Trotz and MacLellan have done a magnificent job of changing the culture to be much more team focused and the personnel moves to upgrade the blueline, something I called for along with a “team first” concept last May before either was hired, were spot on. Last summer’s decisions were validated with the strong regular season and playoff performance.

With John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen under contract this team has the foundation for a strong blueline for next season and beyond. Orpik had a fantastic season and brought a physical presence to the back end this club has not had since Brendan Witt left. #44 will be 35 years old in September, but the way he conditions and maintains himself, he’s a very young 35 and should be fine next year. Alzner, under the tutelage of Todd Reirden in Trotz’ system, had his best season as a pro.

In net, Braden Holtby stepped up and was dominant, again, as predicted here. Holtby is a restricted free agent and will be a priority to sign to a long term deal. He played 73 games, including 72 starts, winning 41 of them with nine shutouts. Ideally you’d prefer Holtby to play between 60 and 65 games, so Washington needs to figure out its’ backup goaltender situation in the offseason. Justin Peters is signed for another campaign, but he struggled in his nine starts and 12 appearances going 3-6-1 with just a .888 save percentage. Basically, he played like an AHLer. The other option would be to bring up Philipp Grubauer, who started game two against the Islanders and won, although he wasn’t real sharp in that tilt. Better play from the backup, who will likely see the cage on the latter half of back to back game situations, is necessary in order to not give away valuable standings points during the regular season.

The main priority, other than signing Holtby, for MacLellan and Trotz is to find a top line right wing. That position is the team’s biggest hole and a big factor in why the team isn’t moving on. There is no player on the current roster that can fill that gap, so that has to be the outside focus this summer via free agency or trade.

Second line center, well we won’t be talking about that issue any more. Evgeny Kuznetsov showed in the playoffs that he has that spot covered. What a super finish to his first full NHL season for the young 22 year old Russian! He is so good and strong with the puck and he has the ability to take over games as he did in game five against the Islanders and game six against the Rangers.

With Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and now the emergence of Burakovsky, the Capitals have four legitimate top six forwards. Ovechkin had a monster season with 53 goals and 81 points. He swung his plus/minus from -35 to +10. A much improved blue line, a structured system, and hard work by the Gr8 led to a sensational turnaround. Big credit should be given to the Capitals coaching staff for properly developing young offensive minded forwards Kuznetsov and Burakovsky. Without their astute handling this team doesn’t get as far as it did. Trotz clearly knew what he was doing in bringing along these two kids in the manner in which it unfolded. Both are strong on the puck and improved immensely in their own zone from where they were in the season opener back in October. Right wing is the big issue now, as mentioned above.

As for Wilson, well the Capitals have to better utilize his talents. His hands and puck skills, as well as his skating, must improve. He has the potential to be at least a third line force or possibly a second liner, at some point. Opposing defensemen fear a guy like him and he can open up lots of space for his line mates. The coaches have to find a way to make him a bigger factor in 2015-16.

Making things tough on MacLellan this offseason will be the salary cap and the contracts he likely won’t be able to move in Troy Brouwer (0 playoff goals) and Brooks Laich (1 playoff goal). That is $8.1M tied up in two players who are bottom six forwards. Joel Ward, at $3M, had far better production than those two in the post season, but the 34 year old is headed to unrestricted free agency and will likely end up elsewhere for more money.

As for Marcus Johansson, he’s a restricted free agent who had a strong regular season, but disappeared too much in the Rangers series. Marcus is bumped off of the puck too easily in the playoffs and is not a threat to throttle opposing defensemen. I’m not sure where he fits in the team’s plans, but if the Caps keep him they can’t overpay him for his regular season statistics when he’s not producing in the playoffs.

When it comes to Jason Chimera, Coach Trotz stated in his final presser that he and #25 butted heads, at times, during the regular season. Chimera had a poor regular season, but in the playoffs he was a different guy. He gave the Rangers fits with his speed and tenacity. He’s under contract next year for $1.9M so he’ll likely be around. It would be nice if “Chimmer” brought the way he played in the post season on a consistent basis to next year’s regular season.

Beagle, Fehr, and Curtis Glencross are all unrestricted free agents so they’ll only return if the price and fit is right. Beagle is great on draws and on the penalty kill so he has a greater chance of being back. Fehr scored 19 goals and goes to the net well. His injury history will likely keep his price down and increase his chances of a return to Washington. He’s definitely a well liked player in the locker room. Glencross added speed, but he had the propensity to make the big mistake. His giveaway in overtime of game five was totally the wrong play. He needed to stride to the red line and dump the puck. If Laich had the advantage he thought he had, then gaining the red line and rimming it would have worked too, instead he opted for the high risk pass and Laich mistakenly changed when he should have headed back on defense. It was a costly lack of focus by both players there.

Speaking of next year’s regular season, making the playoffs is not going to be any easier. It wasn’t until the last week of the regular season that the Capitals clinched a spot in the dance since it took until game 80 to do that. You have to think the Blue Jackets, Flyers, Hurricanes, and Devils will find ways to be better next year, so Washington will have to work hard just to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2015-16.

The Caps were relatively healthy in 2014-15. You can attribute a part of that to luck, but the way the roster was handled and the ice time spread out properly, especially on the blue line, allowed the players to be fresher and not more susceptible to injuries. The coaching staff along with the training staff, led by Greg “Smitty” Smith, did an outstanding job of knowing when to push and back off of this team in terms of practice time, as well.

In terms of the regular season and qualifying for the playoffs in 2014-15, Green played a huge factor in the Caps just getting there. His ability to rush the puck and drive offensive pressure is something this team needed from the back end due to the lack of up front scoring. Unfortunately, #52 was not that same player in the Rangers series. In 14 post season tilts he had two assists and no goals. Against the Blueshirts he struggled to gets shots on goal and his two penalties in game seven were terrible. Green improved a ton defensively this season under Trotz, but under pressure in the biggest game of the season, he failed in key situations. I’ve always been a Green supporter, however, he’s an unrestricted free agent and I can’t see the Capitals spending big money on him when they have other more pressing needs in the top six at right wing. Someone will offer Green a big contract and he’ll have no choice but to take it. Washington will look to Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt to fill the holes that will likely be vacated by Green and Tim Gleason. However, that is a big risk given Orlov and Schmidt’s injury history, not to mention that both players do not have the offensive talent of #52. MacLellan may need to add a defensemen in the summer, as well.

Overall, the fans have to be positive about the state of affairs despite a tough, stinging, and emotional loss that had many proclaiming “Same Old Caps” when it was said and done.

Hey, I get it. I’ve been watching this team since 1974 and I’ve seen the highs and mostly lows when it comes to the post season.

However, I’m as optimistic as I’ve been in five years. The team finally has a coach and GM duo that understands the importance of a blue line and a structure that leads to proper play. The core players are on board with the team concept and style of play. Backstrom stated that they are playing the right way for only the second time since he’s been with the Caps, with the other being the partial season that Dale Hunter coached the team. The way the Capitals played in 2014-15 during the regular season and the playoffs backs that premise up.

Now they need to take the next steps necessary to be good enough to get to the final and win. That starts with finding a top line right wing. In my book, that player is not in the organization right now, so it’s up to them to find one.

Washington made great strides in 2014-15 and because of the better talent level and improved system, they had the puck more than their opponents once again after a downward trend in that category.

But the future is now; there can be no sitting back and patting each other on the back after a second round exit. There is no pity in sports, especially hockey. Yes, the team had a good season, but there is lots of room for improvement from the game starts to protecting leads to putting clubs away when they’re on the ropes. It’s going to take commitment, effort, and focus from the coaches and the players.

In summary, Washington Capitals hockey is back after what was a train wreck situation just a year ago. Now it’s up to the leadership of the club, on and off the ice, to remain relentless until that donut hole next to Stanley Cup titles is finally gone.

 

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Some major gaffes prevent the Capitals from wrapping up the series, now they must win Game 7.

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Big Mistakes, Poor Power Play Costs Caps in Game 6

Posted on 11 May 2015 by Ed Frankovic

There were too many “big” mistakes, plain and simple.

Add to that a power play that goes 0 for 4, including a poorly executed one with 2:54 left, and it all adds up to a 3-1 series lead lost, and a game seven on Wednesday night between the Capitals and the Rangers.

What an opportunity lost on Sunday night. Home ice was there for the Caps to hold serve and they squandered it with a terrible start and end to period one.

Then, after a dominant second period where the Capitals would outshoot the Rangers, 18-4, they gave up an early third period goal to make it 3-1. Just over three minutes later it was 4-1 when Curtis Glencross lost Dan Boyle in the defensive zone and #22 shot one by a screened Braden Holtby (24 saves).

In the past, most Capitals teams would’ve gone in the tank and packed it in for game seven.

Not this Caps team coached by Barry Trotz, though. Washington put on a furious rally and closed to within a goal with 9:27 remaining only to see New York find a way to hang on.

The Caps dominated most of the final forty minutes after a first period that saw New York carry the shot attempt totals by 32-26. The Rangers, like they’ve done all series in the opening 20 minutes, had the better of the quality chances.

Chris Kreider scored both goals after Capitals mistakes. On the first goal Washington had a couple of early good chances but the puck came out of the offensive zone and Kreider got position on Matt Niskanen. The big forward scored on a backhand on his team’s first shot. Niskanen needed to haul the Ranger down there, plain and simple.

Then to end the period, the unthinkable happened. After a questionable roughing call on Troy Brower, the Caps lost the defensive zone face off with 3.6 seconds remaining and Kreider scored with 0.3 of a second on the clock after the puck bounced off of John Carlson’s skate right to #20. That’s unacceptable to allow a goal there.

But the Capitals battled back and outplayed the Rangers in period two, but only scored on Jason Chimera’s rebound tally just 28 seconds into the middle frame.

Evgeny Kuznetsov (2 points) and Joel Ward (3 points) would score during the third period rally that fell short. For the 4th consecutive game in this series, both Alex Ovechkin (12 shot attempts) and Nicklas Backstrom (4 shot attempts) were held pointless.

Rick Nash scored his 1st goal of the series 54 seconds into period three. The Capitals made several defensive zone mistakes on that goal, with Niskanen’s giveaway the biggest. However, afterwards Trotz felt that the linesmen missed an obvious icing call on New York. The Rangers player shot the puck in the zone six feet behind the red line but somehow icing was washed out?

The Caps, however, did not lose this one due to the referees, in fact, blaming them would be ridiculous. Washington had four power plays and only generated five shots on net. That’s terrible! It might be time to make some personnel changes as the Rangers did a super job of not allowing the Capitals to get in the zone and set up. With so few power plays available in the playoffs, it makes sense to load up your top unit with your best offensive players in order to score. Towards that end, I’d drop John Carlson and Marcus Johansson off of that unit and insert Mike Green and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

So now we have a game seven on Wednesday night. The Capitals certainly did a lot of good things on Sunday night. They outshot attempted the Rangers, 96-55, including 70-23 over the last 40 minutes. Part of that was the score effects, but the biggest difference was the Caps played with a sense of purpose and pressured the Rangers defense with more physical play and hard work.

That pressure the Rangers in their own end recipe is one that Coach Trotz needs to employ more on Wednesday. Sure it opens you up to some odd man rushes, but if the Caps play the system correctly, the third forward should be in position to prevent those.

Washington certainly played some of their best hockey of the series and ended up losing. You can put that on defensive lapses and a poor power play.

As Trotz stated afterwards, the pressure is equally on both teams. The Rangers have the best record in the NHL and are very speedy and talented so they’re expected to win. Washington has an immensely talented squad too and had a 3-1 series lead.

At this point, the two days off actually help the Capitals in this one because they spent a lot of energy trying to come back. Washington would love to have home ice, but that’s gone now. The Garden will be rocking and most people will be picking the Rangers to win.

But it is one game, winner take all, and the Caps have the luxury of not worrying about tickets and distractions, like the Rangers players will endure.

Washington just has to show up and play a hockey game on Wednesday.

If they can play with the ferocity they did in periods two and three and not make so many costly mistakes, they could win the game.

They’ll also need their stars, Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Holtby to deliver top performances.

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The Caps play their best hockey of the series in game 7 to advance to the second round.

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Caps Game 7 Win Validates Off Season Moves

Posted on 28 April 2015 by Ed Frankovic

It may not have been dominant on the scoreboard, and it took Evgeny Kuznetsov’s brilliant goal with 7:18 remaining for the Caps to get the game winning tally, but that was an impressive performance by the Washington Capitals in a tough seventh game against a formidable opponent.

The Caps outshot the Islanders, 26-11, and dominated puck possession nearly the entire game to advance to the second round to face the New York Rangers.

Coach Barry Trotz’ team turned in what Brooks Orpik and Nicklas Backstrom called the team’s best game of the series by playing physical and winning the one on one battles all over the ice. Backstrom said afterwards that the team talked about playing “through the battle, instead of going around” and they did just that exhibiting a punishing physical style that wore the smaller Islanders out.

For several years I’ve blogged about my dislike for the depth of the team’s defense, but year after year former GM George McPhee would roll out his standard line of “We like our D.” Fortunately new GM Brian MacLellan and Coach Trotz understood the need to upgrade that part of the hockey team and achieved that with the additions of Orpik, Matt Niskanen, and Tim Gleason on the back end.

Also, the move to bring in Trotz gave Washington the system and foundation they needed to be a better defensive hockey club. After all, they don’t say “Defense Wins Championships” for nothing.

The result of the off season course change, which was sorely needed, was a game seven of only 11 shots allowed to one of the most prolific offenses in the NHL. Of those 11 shots, only three came from forwards (h/t @JapersRink)! John Tavares, arguably the league’s MVP, didn’t have a single shot attempt in 20:44 of ice time in the biggest game of his career. In fact, of the 49 shot attempts the Islanders generated, and 29 of them were in period three, 11 came from Johnny Boychuck, alone. That’s some team defense by the Capitals!

Simply put, this series victory validates the entire off season by the Capitals organization. They needed to become a team and they needed to upgrade their coaching and defense. They did all three of those things and the result is a position in the elite 8 of the NHL.

Following the game, the Capitals locker room was happy, but not exactly exuberant. Every player I spoke with was pleased with the win, but each one of them pointed out it is just the first step towards their ultimate goal. They clearly aren’t satisfied with a single series victory and Backstrom was quick to say this core has not been past the second round, yet.

This series was big in a lot of ways because the Capitals won without having to totally rely on Alex Ovechkin (5 points) and Backstrom (6 points) for offense. Kuznetsov (3 goals, 1 assist) stepped up and showed that he can be a second line center in crunch time with his outstanding play. He was poised and controlling with the puck and gave the Islanders defense fits. Andre Burakovsky, who played the last four games of the series, three of which were Capitals victories, showed that he can play both ends of the ice. He was strong on the wall with the puck and played wiser than your typical rookie.

As for the goaltending, Braden Holtby had a superb series despite starting it with a nasty stomach bug that forced him out of game two. Holtbeast won’t be happy with the goal he allowed to Frans Nielsen on Monday night, but he was another reason why Washington is moving on. Braden stopped 157 of 167 (94%) shots in this series.

Perhaps most important is how this Capitals team, who Coach Trotz has been saying is different than past Washington clubs, didn’t panic when they dominated the play but couldn’t score for 30+ minutes. They remained calm when Nielsen tied the game up just 3:13 into the final frame. Past squads might have panicked and deviated from the game plan, but not this crew. The Capitals just came out stronger after the tying tally until Kuznetsov scored on a play that very few others would have the patience and skill to execute.

That goal will go down in Capitals history as one of the great playoff series clinchers along with goals from Dale Hunter (1988), John Druce (1990), Joe Juneau (1998), Sergei Fedorov (2009), and Joel Ward (2012).

As for the Verizon Center crowd, well it was as good as it’s been in years. Every Capitals player spoke of the energy in the building and just before the handshake line following the victory, Coach Trotz made a point to wave and thank the fans, who played a role in this tough series triumph.

There was a lot to like on Monday night and Washington was the better team in a very close series.

Best of all, when the chips were down, they turned in their best performance in a game seven, something they have struggled to do in the playoffs since 2008.

This series win is a big step in the right direction for Capitals hockey.

Notes: Shot attempts were 60-49 for the Caps but were 47-20 through 40 minutes…Washington won the faceoff battle, 32-21. Backstrom was 16-5…Ovechkin had an assist on Joel Ward’s goal feeding Orpik with a brilliant cross ice pass…the Gr8 had seven hits and six shot attempts in 16:52 of ice time…the only penalty was curiously called on John Carlson for roughing with 2:54 remaining. It seemed very weird given everything else had been let go until that point…Niskanen logged 23:05 and Orpik 23:01 to lead Washington in ice time…Nick Leddy (26:19) and Boychuk (25:57) were the work horses for the Islanders…Tavares was 2-9 on faceoffs and looked out of gas in game seven.

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The Caps chase Jaroslav Halak from the net in the third period to take a 3-2 series lead.

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Kuznetsov Carries Caps to Game Five Rout of Islanders

Posted on 24 April 2015 by Ed Frankovic

In a pivotal game five at the Verizon Center, Washington Capitals 2010 1st round draft pick, Evgeny Kuznetsov, had his NHL coming out party. The young Russian, who is playing his first full year in North America, scored twice, added an assist, had seven shots on net, and was +3 to lead the Caps to a 5-1 victory over the New York Islanders. The Caps lead the series, 3-2, with game 6 on Long Island on Saturday at 3 pm.

The Caps didn’t have a great start as the Islanders came out once again and played a physical style. Then when John Tavares wasn’t whistled for closing his hand on the puck on a play that led to Josh Bailey’s tally that made it 1-0, Capitals fans had to start wondering if the fix was in for a Rangers-Islanders series.

To the Caps players’ credit, they didn’t flinch. Washington applied massive pressure to the Islanders in the offensive zone and Kuznetsov scored his first marker of the night by batting the puck in the cage to tie the game up at the 9:08 mark, less than four minutes after New York had seized the early lead. It was a swing that would’ve made Hall of Famer Eddie Murray proud and a goal that energized the Caps and the Verizon Center crowd.

After one frame, this contest was pretty even with both team attempting 21 shots, but the Capitals had 10 on net to just eight for New York. In the middle period, the Capitals seemed to get stronger and their quality chances went up dramatically. The Islanders weren’t getting in the shooting lanes as much as earlier in the series and, as a result, the Caps poured 18 shots on goal. They would only score on Karl Alzner’s wide open net shot after Troy Brouwer did a super job of taking the puck from Halak at the right post, wheeling around the cage, and setting up #27 streaking in from the left point for an easy one.

Shortly thereafter Kuznetsov was called for a high stick, this after several obvious penalties on New York weren’t whistled by Chris Rooney and Frederick L’Ecuyer, but the Caps did an excellent job of killing it off. Alex Ovechkin was tripped at the 40:00 minute mark so Washington started period three on the power play.

The Caps had very good zone time on their power play to start the third period, but struggled to get shots on net, some of which were due to bad passing and other times the result of bouncing biscuits. But shortly after that penalty expired Jay Beagle made a great play to get the puck deep for the Caps and Washington pounced on a tired set of New York skaters. Brooks Laich would score from the slot to make it 3-1 and, at that point, you could see the shoulders of the Islanders start to slump.

The Caps then received another power play when Cal Clutterbuck lost his mind and started slashing Tim Gleason. The man advantage looked a little out of sync again, but they did have some prolonged zone time. As the penalty was expiring the Islanders gave the puck away in the neutral zone and Matt Niskanen hit Kuznetsov with the puck in stride at the offensive blue line. Kuzya went in all alone on Halak and beat him like a rented mule five hole with one of the prettiest moves you’ll see.

At that point the Verizon Center went nuts and the game was pretty much over. Jason Chimera would add an insurance goal and the Caps cruised to the win while Islander skaters Matt Martin and Clutterbuck were both given 10 minute misconducts for acting like babies.

In the end, it was a dominating finishing performance by Washington to turn a close tilt into a lopsided affair.

If I told you before game five that both Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom would have no points and finish at -1, how many of you would have said the Caps would win, and in a rout? Probably no one!

But with New York so focused on hitting plus matching up their top line and top defensive pair of Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk against the Capitals superstars it created a mismatch for the other lines and Kuznetsov and company took full advantage. There were lots of strong performances from lines two through four, including rookie Andre Burakovsky, who was very good in 14:09 of ice time. The young Swede had one of the key plays in the game when he skated a dangerous lying puck out of Washington’s end in period two with the Islanders buzzing and the game still tied. That very mature play by the 20 year old allowed the Capitals to score at the other end and to start to take over the contest. Simply put, Burakovsky was strong on the puck all night, was +2, and should never be scratched again. He has the skill, speed, and size necessary for the NHL game and he matches up well with New York.

In goal, Braden Holtby was super, stopping 22 of 23 shots to pick up his second victory of the playoffs.

So the Caps are one win away from a second round date with the Rangers-Penguins series winner (likely New York). Game six will be in the raucous Nassau Coliseum, so it will be a tough task to close things out on the Island.

The key once again for the Capitals is to bring their strong effort and match the Islanders physical play. New York will come out hitting again in their barn and try to run the Caps out of the game early on to force a seventh tilt.

On Thursday night in game five, it was the Evgeny Kuznetsov show. Washington will need another excellent performance on Saturday to defeat a skilled Islanders squad and advance to round two for the first time since the spring of 2012.

Notes: Shot attempts were 67-60 for the Caps but when you look at the shots on net it was 41-23 for Washington. The Capitals did a good job of getting pucks through to Jaroslav Halak, who was pulled for the last 11 minutes yielding the way for former Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth. Neuvy made six saves. Halak allowed five goals on 35 shots on net…Mikhail Grabovski played his first game since February and was -1 in 15:38 of ice time…Nisakanen led the Caps in ice time at 22:46..Johnny Boychuk led the Islanders with 26:00 minutes and Nick Leddy logged 23:45 on the back end, as well…The Caps won the face off battle, 31-18. Backstrom was 11-3…Hits were 49 a piece. Brooks Orpik had six for the Caps while Boychuk had 10 trying to slow down Ovechkin…Ovi had only seven shot attempts in game five in 18:23 of work.

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Caps Win, But the Effort Needs to Be Much Better

Posted on 26 March 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Washington Capitals Coach Barry Trotz knew full well following the Caps 3-2 overtime victory over the New Jersey Devils that his team stole two points when they probably didn’t deserve them. The Capitals jumped to a 2-0 lead in period two only to stop skating and finally see their lead evaporate with 29 seconds remaining in regulation on Steve Bernier’s layup.

Fortunately Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was one of the few Caps who played well, made a nice play in the corner and then seemed to deflect home the game winning goal on a Matt Niskanen point shot that went past Cory Schneider just 73 seconds into overtime.

“I thought [the New Jersey Devils] were way better than us. We looked sloppy. We didn’t have much of a hard work ethic. (We) weren’t diligent on our responsibilities and that was probably one of our sloppier games that we played. I do not want to take anything away from New Jersey. New Jersey was better than us today. We got two lucky goals. In a sense, we did [toy with fate tonight],” started Trotz, “I know I wasn’t happy with that game, and I know [the players] shouldn’t be. If they are, then we’re fooling ourselves. We didn’t play very well. Like I said, I do not want to take anything from New Jersey. They did some really great things. Our decision-making was poor. Our execution was poor. Our resilience and determination was average at best. We had too many guys, who weren’t getting it done tonight and fortunately, we had a couple guys that were able to.”

Hammer meet nail. You can’t describe that game any better from a Washington perspective.

From a stats perspective the Capitals had 16 giveaways to just seven for New Jersey. Shots on goal favored the Devils 31-24, too. Luckily for the Caps, Braden Holtby was on his game in the cage making 29 saves, many of which came through traffic because the Capitals just didn’t put forth a good effort.

There were some other bright spots for the Caps besides Kuznetsov and Holtby. The newly formed line of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Tom Wilson was Washington’s best all night and Fehr tallied his 19th marker of the season after Mike Green did a nice job of pinching down in the offensive zone and keeping the puck in.

The Caps also won the faceoff battle, 31-26, but after that you start running out of very many good things to say about this game. Their lone power play was a disaster since the Caps allowed the Devils to score shorthanded as two Washington players used the “Ole” defense. The Devils, believe it or not, nearly scored twice on that Capitals power play of doom.

Speaking of good news, other than the two points the Caps gained in the standings, the out of town scoreboard came through for Washington as the Penguins, Islanders, Senators, and Bruins all lost. Boston did get a point in their OT loss to Anaheim, though.

The Caps 40-24-10 record now puts them at 90 points, which is five clear of both Boston and Ottawa. The Senators do have a game in hand. In addition, the Capitals are just a point behind Pittsburgh (91) and three behind the Islanders (93). Washington has a game in hand on the Isles.

Seriously, though, the Capitals can’t expect to do very well down the stretch or in the post season with efforts like they displayed on Thursday night. After four days off and some hard practice time you would have thought this team would have turned in a much sharper performance, right? That was not the case against the Devils and the team needs to look in the mirror and refocus. Simply put, poor efforts and lack of attention to the proper way to play will lead to a quick playoff exit.

Notes: Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom both played over 20 minutes and had six and one shot attempt, respectively…Kuznetsov was +2 in 15:13 of ice time…Wilson had four shot attempts in just 11 minutes and was a physical presence all over the ice. It was one of his best games this season…next up for the Caps are the Predators at 12:30 on Saturday followed by a trip to Madison Square Garden to take on the Rangers at 3 pm on Sunday.

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Caps Win Fourth Straight for 1st Time in 2014-15

Posted on 21 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

In a very well played hockey game, by both teams, the Washington Capitals won their fourth straight by besting the first place New York Islanders, 3-2, in the gimmick.

Both goaltenders, Braden Holtby (30 saves) and Chad Johnson (25 saves), had strong outings and it was the Islanders back up who made some big saves to keep his club in it in the middle frame.

Unlike the Penguins game on Tuesday, this was an extremely well officiated game and both teams only had one power play each. When Dave Jackson referees a contest, you usually get a good one, primarily because the players know what to expect and Jackson typically lets them decide the outcome. Kudos Dave and a hat tip to Steve Kozari, who fell in line and called one of his best games too.

With the limited power play time we were able to see two strong five on five teams duke it out. Washington had the edge for most of the contest and when Eric Fehr scored off of a sweet drop pass from Brooks Laich with 5:34 remaining it sure looked like the Capitals were going to win this one in regulation and pull to within three points of the Metro Division leading Islanders.

But then the Capitals coaching staff made some terrible player deployments and gifted New York a point by playing what football fans would call the prevent defense. From the 5:34 mark to the :48 time when Ryan Strome tied the game the Islanders had 14 straight shot attempts!

Yup, you got it, the Capitals didn’t fire a single biscuit towards the Isles cage. The main reason for that was some poor decisions by the coaches. Instead of playing Alexander Ovechkin’s line, he put out the possession black hole unit of Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Troy Brouwer the second shift after Fehr’s tally. That unit would get stuck on the ice for nearly two minutes. Somehow the Caps survived, but then Trotz chose not to use Ovechkin and Mike Green (was on for seven seconds) for the final three minutes until the Islanders scored. Ovechkin and Green are two of the top puck possession players on the Capitals roster, but for some reason the bench crew used others over them down the stretch. Even Jason Chimera logged 70 seconds in two shifts once it was 2-1 Caps instead of the Gr8 or Game Over Greenie. So that’s 0:00 ice time for Ovechkin and 0:07 of ice time for #52 once the Capitals led.

That’s unthinkable and I’ve blogged about the misuse of Green before, back in January, when the Caps get a lead.

My simple message to Coach Barry Trotz and the Capitals coaches is this: Play your best players late in the game!

Going all defense is just that, you’ll be playing defense and just giving the other club more chances to tie things up. At least if you put your best players out there you have a better chance of being in the offensive zone and increasing your lead.

Oh well, that’s my rant on this victory, which should have come in regulation.

Still, it was a solid performance by the Caps, even though the Isles went with their backup goalie (but he was super) and are still missing Kyle Okposo and Mikhail Grabovski up front. With the two points the Capitals move to 33-17-10 (76 points). The Caps ended up going 2-0-2 against the Islanders this season while New York was 2-1-1 with their two victories coming in OT on 4 on 3 power plays. If these two teams meet in the post season, it should be a razor close series.

A win is a win is a win, and Caps fans, coaches and players will be happy with it, but let’s be honest, playing the prevent defense late in the game is a recipe for disaster that needs to be shredded by the coaching staff before the playoffs begin.

Washington will travel to Philadelphia through the snow to take on the Flyers at 12:30 on NBC on Sunday. The Flyers have been hot lately and have pulled within four points of a playoff spot (Boston is in 8th with 65 points) while the Caps are firmly entrenched in a spot for the Stanley Cup battle this spring. The Caps are 1-1-1 versus the Broad Street Bullies this season.

Notes: Shot attempts favored the Islanders 75-67, but that was because of the 14-0 late run that New York was given to tie the game…the Caps won the face off battle 38-34 but they lost three straight defensive zone key ones when New York had the goalie pulled…Matt Niskanen, who scored the Caps first goal, was the ice time leader with 25:37…Travis Hamonic, who opened the scoring, led the Isles in ice time with 25:17.

 

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Kuznetsov Shines in Caps Shootout Victory

Posted on 06 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Caps fans have been waiting a long time for Evgeny Kuznetsov to deliver on the promise that so many hockey fans saw when he carried Team Russia on his back to win the 2012 Gold Medal at the World Junior Championships. Lately, that skill, ability, and desire to dominate has begun to show up on a more regular basis.

On Friday, against the team with the best record in the NHL, the Anaheim Ducks, #92 set up both Capitals goals with amazing passes and he also notched a marker in the shootout to lead his squad to a 3-2 win over Bruce Boudreau’s boys. It was a big win for Washington after playing in Ottawa on Thursday night and they improve to 28-15-10 (66 points). For the Capitals this was their third win in a row and they take on “you know who” on Sunday to try and gain a four game winning streak for the first time this season. But more on those punks from up I-95 in a few paragraphs.

Philip Grubauer was recalled to face the Ducks after the Caps had to travel from the Great White North late last night. #31 was very solid in net and the team played well in front of him. Sure, the 2nd goal he allowed was weak, but overall Gru did what this squad needed, stop enough pucks so they could finally win a game without Braden Holtby in net. Grubauer has been excellent in Hershey this year playing lots of minutes and Coach Barry Trotz stated that he’ll head back there tonight. The rationale for waiting so long to give Gru a game appears to be that Washington is trying to save as many recalls as possible for after the trade deadline, at least that is what Trotzy alluded to after the game.

Anyways, the schedule gets better going forward for Washington and as Caps ace beat writer Mike Vogel pointed out, the Caps played two recent stretches of 7 games in 11 nights and went 4-2-1 in each set. That is some very good hockey there.

Speaking of good hockey, Troy Brouwer had another outstanding game making the diving keep in of the night to allow Kuznetsov to set up Jason Chimera for an easy 1st goal. Then #20’s screen in front on Ilya “Humongous” Bryzgalov allowed John Carlson to score what should’ve been the game winner in regulation.

But Corey Perry got a cheapie on Grubauer, he’s a great goal scorer so you expect #10 to get the bounces, and he did on that play (Grubauer needed to have the post covered better too). That forced overtime and then “the gimmick.”

The Caps were 1-4 in the shootout and the Ducks 7-4 coming in so, go figure, Washington won this one.

Overall, this was a slower than normal game as both teams showed the wear and tear of playing Thursday. Both were missing superstars as the Ducks were without Ryan Getzlaf and the Capitals scratched Mike Green very late, presumably due to complications from the ugly knee-to-knee hit he took from Chris Phillips the night before. The referees didn’t call that one and they only whistled the clubs for three infractions on Friday, and you probably can guess who had fewer power plays (starts with C and rhymes with Saps).

Speaking of saps, the Philadelphia Flyers come to town on Sunday afternoon. The club formerly known as the Broad Street Bullies is on a recent hot streak, going 6-3-1 over their last 10 tilts. Their best players are Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and both give the Capitals fits. Wayne Simmonds is the Flyers chief punk these days and Philadelphia may be looking for retribution after Matt Niskanen put Flyers forward Scott Laughton into March with a clean, open ice hit back on January 14th. It’s no secret that the Flyers are the Capitals longest and most despised rival so these games, no matter the records of the teams, always carry a little extra meaning. Most Caps fans, in a voice like Newman from Seinfeld lore, would say, “I deeespise the Flyers!” Who can forget those old brawls at the Capital Centre where the arena had to call in extra security to police all of the drunken fights in the stands? Ah, memories.

Anyways, this is a chance for Washington to really bury their long time rivals in the standings. Philly lost last time in Washington, 1-0, but the Capitals hung on for dear life in that one. You can bet there will be a buzz in the air on Sunday and hopefully there won’t be too much orange in the crowd. There’s a good chance they’ll be some scraps on the ice too, particularly since the Flyers tend to play dirty, especially when they are losing.

It should be a great game and it’s also a celebration on television for long time Caps announcer Smokin’ Al Koken. Smokin’ is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet and I’ve known him since he came to town 30 years ago. Koken will spend a period in each of the different broadcasting roles on Sunday: play by play, analyst, and rink reporter. Al is a super guy and I know he’d like nothing more than for Washington to defeat their biggest rival on his special day.

Game time is 3 pm on Sunday, so go ahead and start your tailgating right away.

Notes: Washington dominated the shot attempt battle, 64-51…the Caps also out shot the Ducks, 34-25…Kuznetsov had two assists and was +2 in 18:30 of ice time…Niskanen played 28:51 to lead all players in ice time…Washington won the face off battle, 34-30. Eric Fehr went 9-3…Nicklas Backstrom didn’t have one of his better games but he notched the shootout winner…after starting 1-14-6, the Caps have now won two games in a row when allowing the first goal of the game…Andre Burakovsky was sent to Hershey due to the Grubauer recall since he is able to go down to the AHL without requiring waivers. #65 will return on Saturday and play on Sunday against the Flyers..Cam Schilling played on D for Green and was +1 in 13:42 of ice time.

 

 

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps in Solid Road Victory

Posted on 06 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals were 1-14-6 this season in games played this season when the opponents score first.

So when Kyle Turris broke a scoreless contest just past the midway point of period two to put Ottawa up 1-0, how many Caps fans turned off their televisions?

Well, hopefully it wasn’t many of you because shortly thereafter Evgeny Kuznetsov scored to tie it before Alexander Ovechkin did his best Cal Ripken impersonation by batting one home on the following shift to give the Caps a 2-1 lead.

From there, Braden Holtby and the Capitals would shut the door and win their first game when allowing the first tally since November 7th (h/t to Adam Vingan).

This was a very solid road win by the Caps. They were a little sluggish at times over the first 30 minutes and they made things tough on themselves in period three by taking three straight penalties. But Holtby (25 saves) was there to make the stops and any rebounds were cleared by the defense, who had a very strong game, especially Brooks Orpik (1 assist, +1, in 22:32 of ice time). During those three key penalty kills at the beginning of the third frame, Ottawa did not get many quality chances.

Killing off six of seven minutes via penalties to start the final stanza is not usually a recipe for success, but after those kills, the Capitals took over the rest of the way. Over the last 10 minutes the Capitals carried the play by not sitting back and still attacking. In fact, I counted only 1 scoring chance for Ottawa after the 10:00 mark, a wide shot by Mika Zibanejad. Coach Barry Trotz did not shorten his bench on defense with the lead and that strategy paid off.

The Caps would pretty much seal the deal with this victory when Eric Fehr drew a late interference call on Milan Michalek and Ovechkin nearly had his 33rd goal of the season after a sweet feed from Marcus Johansson, but somehow the Gr8’s shot went high.

Trotz maintained the same top three lines as he rolled out in the win over Los Angeles and the first two lines were very impressive. Johansson was just fabulous with Ovechkin and Backstrom and his play on the right wing boards and subsequent pass to a streaking Jay Beagle set up the game winning goal by Ovechkin, who outbattled Erik Karlsson in front.

The second line was very good again and Andre Burakovsky was very noticeable, in a positive way. Once again, he won’t get an assist, but his strong play on the right wing boards set up the Kuznetsov tally. On that one, #65 got the puck to Tom Wilson who carried the biscuit behind the net and fed Orpik for a point blast. Sens goalie Robin Lehner couldn’t control the rebound and #92 deposited it into the empty net. Bottom line, if that second line of Burakovsky, Kuznetsov, and Troy Brouwer can continue to contribute the sky is the limit for this Capitals team.

As for Holtby, well he set the tone for the game with a huge early stop on Bobby Ryan on a Senators three on one. #70 made several other big stops in the game that normal goalies don’t make, yet Braden is making them look so easy. It was another outstanding goaltending performance and it still makes me wonder what Adam Oates was smoking last season by trying to change his game and why former GM George McPhee had three goalies up most of the season and then traded for Jaroslav Halak at the deadline? Boy am I glad those two guys are gone.

So the Capitals get a strong win on the road against a fast Ottawa team that typically gives them fits. This was an impressive finish by Washington. They did not sit back and hang on, they kept the pressure up and as a result, they protected their one goal lead rather easily. The team moves to 27-15-10 (64 points) and are just three points behind the first place Islanders in a very tight Metropolitan Division race.

On Friday, they have a tough task at hand as they take on the NHL standings leading Anaheim Ducks at the Verizon Center. The Ducks smoked the Predators, 5-2, in Smashville on Thursday so both teams will not be rested for this tilt.

The big decision now for Trotz is to decide who to play in goal, Holtby or Justin Peters? With the Flyers in on Sunday afternoon, it seems to make sense to give Peters another shot, but then again, the way the Capitals played the last 10 minutes, Braden should be fairly rested if Trotz calls his number again.

Notes: Jason Chimera was reinserted into the lineup after being scratched on Tuesday and had a strong game (11:33 of ice time)…Wilson wasn’t very noticeable the first 30 minutes but he got involved physically and had a big assist on the game tying goal. It’s time for #43 to step his game up…Washington won the shot attempt battle, 59-50, despite the fact that Ottawa had four power plays to just one for the Caps…the Capitals won the face off battle, 25-20. Jay Beagle went 7-2…Mike Green was hit knee on knee in period one but didn’t miss a shift. Greenie had a super game and earned a stint in the “Eats Rocks for Breakfast” club…Michael Latta and Aaron Volpatti were the forward scratches.

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Tough Weekend for Caps, But Not For Hershey

Posted on 18 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After going 4-0-1 in the first nine days of a seven games in 11 day stretch, it appears fatigue finally caught up with the Washington Capitals as they dropped two tough one goal losses to the Nashville Predators (4-3) and Dallas Stars (5-4) over the weekend on days 10 and 11. In both contests the Capitals fell behind early, two pucks in Music City and then a 3-0 deficit in Big D, expended tons of energy in rallying, before wilting late to lose two heart breakers.

The loss to the Predators, in Coach Barry Trotz’ return to Smashville, was especially disheartening since the Caps led 3-2 with five minutes to go. But a soft penalty call on John Carlson, a bad PK, and then a Matt Niskanen untimely turnover added up to a horrible defeat.

In Dallas, it was the bad start, too many penalties, and just awful defense that cost Washington the game. They turned the puck over too much and allowed a super fast squad to beat them in transition. In addition, the Capitals strong defensive zone play that we’ve come to expect under Trotz looked very Oatesian in the Lone Star State and, at times, in Nashville.

Washington gave up nine goals in two games and that is unacceptable. Looking at all of those tallies against, it’s hard to fault the goaltender (Braden Holtby on Friday and Justin Peters on Saturday) on any of them.

Back to back situations also seem to plague this Capitals team. They are now 1-6-1 this season on the second half of those and 0-5-1 when game two is on the road. Again, unacceptable and the team they are chasing for the division lead, the New York Islanders, is 6-2 in those same instances. That’s a nine point swing and the reason why New York currently owns a five point lead in the division race over the Caps (61 points to 56).

The good news is the Caps top line continues to sizzle and Alex Ovechkin (25 goals) is playing some of the best hockey of his career. In addition, the Caps have a game against the Edmonton Oilers at home on Tuesday before getting a week off for the NHL all star break. Boy do the Caps need some rest.

Along with the defensive zone issues, Washington’s second line continues to be wildly inconsistent. Evgeny Kuznetsov was downright terrible in Nashville and he, along with Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer just aren’t where this team needs their second line to be.

Barring some major injuries, you can pretty much bet the house that the Caps will return to the playoffs this spring. But just making it is not enough. Ovechkin is not getting any younger nor is Brooks Orpik and some others, so the Capitals need to seriously think about what they need to do over the remaining 37 games to prepare themselves to win in the post season. The Eastern Conference has many good teams, but there is no clear cut front runner. GM Brian MacLellan and Trotz need to figure out what to do about the forward line combinations, including determining if some trades are needed, and solidify them for April and beyond. The East is there for the taking so just being content with getting back in the dance should not cut it.

It’s been an encouraging season and a major turnaround for Washington thanks to off season defensive acquisitions along with bringing in a talented and organized coaching staff. As George Allen used to say, “The Future is Now.” The Caps have to think like that, unlike the words we used to hear from the former GM about just getting in and hoping to win. You have to be aggressive at the trade deadline in an attempt to plug any holes and build depth for the unexpected injury that could occur down the stretch and in the post season. It will be interesting to see what MacLellan does since the Caps have some holes that the kids on the roster (Tom Wilson, Andre Burakovksy, and Kuznetsov) have not been able to fill so far this season.

Speaking of kids, it was a super weekend for the Washington AHL team, the Hershey Bears. Coach Troy Mann’s squad won both weekend tilts to seize first place in the East Division. The Bears are also a strong defensive team but have had trouble putting the biscuit in the basket. Lately though, they’ve gotten hot offensively and have won five of six games.

On Sunday, I took in the Bears tilt against the despised Lehigh Valley Phantoms (Philadelphia Flyers AHL club) at the Giant Center and came away very impressed with the team game that Hershey plays. Phoenix Copley got the start in net and he was solid, allowing only two tallies on 30 shots. Hershey does a decent job of keeping opponents on the perimeter and they transition from defense to offense well. I was impressed with the speed of Dustin Gazley. Gazley did a good job of helping a penalty killing unit that was a perfect eight for eight on Sunday.

Stan Galiev has 13 goals and is really improving. He is showing he belongs in the AHL now after a couple of years of bouncing back and forth between “The A” and the ECHL. Connor Carrick was okay on defense for Hershey, as well. Both played big roles in a Bears five on three situation in period two. Carrick manned the point, like Mike Green does in Washington, while Galiev had the Ovechkin spot on the PP. They moved the puck well in that situation but Phantoms goalie Anthony Stolarz, who was very shaky in the first period, was super in the middle frame and shut the Bears down to keep his club in it. Late in period three the Bears would score and then add an empty net tally to close out the victory.

Overall, I like Hershey’s team and they are poised to do well come AHL playoffs time. However, I didn’t see anyone I thought must be called up to DC this season. That’s also a testament to the strong roster the Capitals have at the NHL level, too. If there is a call up that could play a factor in Washington down the stretch, I’d have to say it would be goalie Philip Grubauer. With Peters struggling to get wins, one has to wonder if the team has much confidence in him? Grubauer does have NHL experience and has shown the ability to steal a game at that level where Peters just hasn’t come close to doing so in 2014-15.

Notes: The Caps out shot attempted Dallas, 68-51, but the only thing that counts is the final score…Hershey is 3-2-1 against Lehigh Valley but they play SIX more times this season…Grubauer returned from injury and won, 5-4, versus Albany on Saturday night.

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Caps Blank Flyers on Rivalry Night

Posted on 15 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

You only get two points for a win during the regular season in the National Hockey League, but some victories are better than others.

For the Washington Capitals and their fan base, many of whom have stuck with them for 40 years since 1974, beating the Philadelphia Flyers has always seemed worth more than two points.

On Wednesday night in front of a national television audience on NBC’s Rivalry Night, the Caps Braden Holtby stopped 21 shots to make Jason Chimera’s goal, just 3:13 into the game, stand up for a 1-0 victory in front of a sellout crowd at the Verizon Center.

The triumph, the Caps seventh straight at home, puts them at 24-11-8 (56 points) for the season and they are a staggering 14-1-4 in their last 19 games. In addition, they are 23-1-3 this season when scoring first.

Those are some good numbers there and holding the Flyers, a team that averages close to 29 shots a game, to just 21 on the cage is significant too. Overall the shot attempt battle was 55-54 for the Flyers, but Washington blocked 23 of those shots from Philadelphia (the duo of Brooks Orpik and John Carlson blocked nine of them).

As mentioned above and on tv, this was rivalry night and the history between these two clubs is long. In the early days, truckloads of Flyers fans would invade the Capital Centre for Caps-Flyers tilts and the beer would flow and the fights would erupt in the stands. Nowadays, there are Philly fans in attendance, I could see a smattering of orange jersey’s and thankfully we never got to hear them cheer, but it is nothing like the old days. Still, there is a special vibe or air in the building when the neighbors from up I-95 come to town and the Capitals coaching staff recognized it before the game.

“I was talking to [assistant coach] Lane Lambert and he said it’s ramped up a little bit when the Flyers are in town…we haven’t played a lot of our Metro division – people like the Rangers, the Flyers…so we could tell there’s a different energy in the building when those teams come in,” said Caps Coach Barry Trotz about his first home game against Philadelphia.

The Flyers had won the last four games, head to head, dating back to last season, so this was an important victory for the Capitals fan base. To many, Caps vs. Flyers is like Ravens-Steelers or Redskins-Cowboys in the NFL. Both teams respect each other, but they don’t like each other and when it comes to the fans, well they flat out despise the other fan base. So it was no surprise that down the stretch the Washington crowd was more into it than normal and their support seemed to energize the Caps players.

As for the game, it was an uneven one. Washington dominated early but couldn’t bury some great chances on Flyers 33 year old rookie goalie, Rob Zepp. The Zepper stopped Alex Ovechkin cold early on in a one on one situation and that seemed to help Philly, who was in jeopardy of being run out of the building, settle down. The game went back and forth for the sixty minutes with both sides carrying the play at various times.

Philadelphia had a stretch in the middle frame when it looked like they might take over the game but following a hard hit by Wayne Simmonds on Matt Niskanen in the neutral zone, Niskanen buried Scott Laughton with a hard, clean check that knocked #49 from the contest. Afterwards Trotz felt that the hit by Niskanen, who had the primary assist on Chimera’s goal, energized his club.

Overall the Caps had 26 shots on net but I thought they were too sloppy. There were far too many back passes that resulted in turnovers and the Washington top line of Nicklas Backstrom, Ovechkin, and Andre Burakovsky just didn’t look in sync. Burakovsky seems to be a bit intimidated by his linemates and is getting rid of the puck like it is a hot potato too often. The young Swede needs to settle down and carry the puck more, which is one of his strengths and allows him to create scoring chances.

At the end of the night, though, it was the Capitals vastly improved defensive play that allowed them to get another low scoring victory. Holtby, in his 26th straight contest and 20th straight start, was excellent again and when he needed assistance, guys like Orpik helped him out. #44 tied up Vincent Lecavalier’s stick late in the contest at the side of the net to prevent Vinny from notching a game tying tap in.

So now it is on to Nashville to face Trotz’ former team, the Predators, on Friday night. Trotz, in his post game presser, mentioned he chatted with Preds GM David Poile on Wednesday and that Poile was hopeful the Caps would beat Philly because he doesn’t like them. Poile was the Caps GM from 1982 to 1997, so he has a long history with the black and orange.

Trotz and the Caps did their former boss and more importantly, their fan base, proud on Wednesday night with a victory that now puts the Flyers 15 points behind the Capitals in the standings. It will be very difficult for Philadelphia to make the playoffs now.

Combine that fact, with the 1-0 blanking of the Broad Street Bullies, and you can bet that the food will taste better for several days.

Notes: Pekka Rinne, the Predators goalie and MVP, was injured in Tuesday’s game vs. Vancouver. Trotz stated that Rinne is out a couple of weeks so Washington gets a break and won’t have to face the super net minder in the Music City on Friday…Washington won the face off battle, 34-25, and Jay Beagle went 10-2…the Caps killed off all three Flyers man advantage situations while they went 0 for 2 with the man advantage (Ovechkin hit a post on one power play)…Carlson and Orpik led the Caps in ice time with 24:45 and 24:40, respectively…since Tom Wilson was a +1 on Wednesday, there is not a single active Capitals player with a negative +/- rating this season.

 

 

 

 

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