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The Caps score with 1.3 seconds remaining to grab a 1-0 series lead over the Rangers

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Alex Ovechkin Delivers in Caps Game 1 Victory

Posted on 30 April 2015 by Ed Frankovic

All hail Alexander Ovechkin!

The Gr8, after scoring the Caps first goal on the power play on a laser of shot that was so hard you had to watch the replay to see it go in, set up Joel Ward’s game winning tally from behind the Rangers net with 1.3 seconds remaining to give Washington a 2-1 victory and a 1-0 series lead.

The pass by Ovechkin came after he was hauled down by Dan Boyle, which allowed Boyle to gain possession of the puck in the corner. Boyle tried to run the clock out but was hit hard and clean by Nicklas Backstrom to jar the puck loose to Ovi. Ovechkin skated behing the net and then centered a sweet pass into the slot where Ward, who had hit the post earlier from the doorstep, shot it by Henrik Lundqvist (27 saves). Game over.

Wow, what a hockey game!

The Rangers won the Presidents’ Trophy this season for obvious reasons and they have a fast skating team, but also some players with good size too.

Braden Holtby (31 saves) kept Washington in it early until the Caps finally got their legs going around the eight minute mark of period one.

Ovechkin’s power play marker at 18:13 of the first period looked like it might hold up as the game winner, but Washington struggled for long stretches in the final frame before Jesper Fast deflected Kevin Hayes shot by Holtby with 4:39 remaining.

The Caps did generate 11 shots on net in the final frame but they were not able to get a consistent forecheck going and that allowed the Rangers to use their speed and get the Washington defense on their heels. Sitting back is not a strategy the Capitals want to employ and Coach Barry Trotz commented afterwards that he didn’t think the Caps played well on Thursday (h/t @alexprewitt).

But Holtby was super in net and the Caps did a good job of keeping New York to the outside.

To beat the Rangers, the Capitals will need big performances from their star players and Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Holtby more than delivered in game one. Brooks Orpik and John Carlson were strong on the back end too.

Up front, the line of Brooks Laich, Curtis Glencross, and Tom Wilson did a solid job of putting pressure on the New York defense. Wilson (5 hits in 10:07), especially, had an excellent game.

Afterwards, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault was incensed thinking Backstrom should have been whistled for a penalty on Boyle. Perhaps he should be more upset at Boyle for not moving the puck quicker? I’ve watched the replay several times and I’ve yet to see a penalty. Backstrom glides into Boyle, who turns and ducks his head, keeps his elbow down and hits Boyle on the right shoulder. But Vigneault has a history of whining to the officials and I’m sure the NY Post, who has already gone out of their way to “vilify” Tom Wilson and the Caps as dirty players, will likely have a field day Friday trying to help their home town team influence the NHL and the referees.

Hopefully the referees are smart enough to ignore the complaining that no doubt will come from the NHL’s “darlings.”

But back to hockey, as Trotz noted, the Capitals have a higher level they can get to in their play. They will need to do that on Saturday if they want to win game two. The biggest thing is to get their legs moving more and generate pressure on the New York defense. When the Caps buried the Rangers in their only regular season victory, they did so with a relentless forecheck.

Relentless are what the Capitals will have to be on a consistent basis to defeat a very fast and talented team.

Notes: Shot attempts were 65-60 for New York…Ovechkin had 12 shot attempts, Backstrom had five and Ward four as the Capitals top line was dominant…the Rangers won the face off battle, 34-27…Carlson led the Caps in ice time at 23:10 and Orpik logged 22:54.

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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 Play Poorly to Lose Game 1

Posted on 16 April 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs did not go as planned, at all, for the Washington Capitals as they fell to the New York Islanders, 4-1, at the Verizon Center.

You could sum this game up with the following sentence.

The Islanders played very well while the Capitals did not.

New York, led by John Tavares, looked confident and fast as they came out flying to dominate the first frame. Somehow the Caps were able to keep it 1-1 after 20 minutes but in period two, the Islanders scored directly off of a face off after a lazy icing was whistled on Washington. New York would add another goal just past the midway point and they played solid defense the rest of the way to win in relatively easy fashion.

The Caps struggled with their passing and breakouts all game. They tried to make the long stretch pass far too often and they were ultra sloppy in the neutral zone. Troy Brouwer’s turnover allowed Brock Nelson to skate in alone down the right wing side and he snapped a wrister by Braden Holtby short side for the opening tally. It was not a good goal allowed by #70.

Marcus Johansson tied the game with 57 seconds left in the first period after Brooks Laich outworked two Islanders in the corner and made a nice feed in the slot to a streaking #90. Jojo beat Jaroslav Halak (24 saves) five hole to whip the Verizon Center crowd into a frenzy.

But on this night the Capitals could never get any sustained offense going. They repeatedly made poor passing decisions that led to turnovers allowing New York to excel in their transition game. This was one of the worst games Washington had all season in terms of breaking the puck out of their own zone. On Wednesday night they looked more like the 2013-14 Caps instead of the team that amassed 101 points in 2014-15.

Afterwards the message in the Caps room and from Coach Barry Trotz was consistent. The Islanders deserved part of the credit for winning while the Capitals played poorly and needed to be a lot better. Trotz said he was very disappointed in the performance of many on his team. The Washington bench boss pointed out that there weren’t many scoring chances for either team in this tilt. New York did a good job of clogging the middle of the ice in the neutral zone and in front of their own net. If the Caps want to win they need to get bodies and pucks through to try and rattle Halak, who had a far too easy night.

Fortunately this is just one game and the playoffs are all about adjustments by the players and the coaches. Game one was all New York and now it is on the Capitals to adjust. Will that include lineup changes? Perhaps. Michael Latta only played 5:16 and he lost the draw that led to the Islanders winning goal. Does Tom Wilson get back in or is he still recovering from the puck he took to the head in Detroit on April 5th? Does Jason Chimera, who took a bad penalty at the end of periods two and three, come out for Andre Burakovsky? That’s to be determined.

There’s no need for the Capitals to panic, at this point. They played poorly and lost the series opener to give away home ice. But where the game is played doesn’t matter a whole lot, it’s how you play the game. In the series opener the Islanders played extremely well and they deserved to win. The Caps, on the other hand, have a lot of work to do in order to come out on top in game two on Friday night. They need to pass the puck better and they need to win more of the one on one battles.

Notes: Washington won the face off battle handily, 39-23, but Latta lost that key second period draw to Tavares, who was fabulous in this game, that led to the winning goal…New York out shot the Caps 27-25 and out shot attempted them 65-55, primarily behind a 23-11 first period advantage…both teams were 0 for 2 on the power play…Matt Niskanen was on the ice for all four Islanders goals (the last was an empty net). Brooks Orpik and John Carlson were the only plus players for the Capitals (+1)…Carlson led the Caps in ice time at 23:03. Orpik was second with 21:37…Alex Ovechkin had 12 shot attempts, including eight shots on net…Nicklas Backstrom was 14-6 on draws…Jay Beagle and Eric Fehr returned to the lineup after missing several games due to injury…Travis Hamonic missed the game for New York, but the Islanders defense played well. Johnny Boychuk led the team with 23:05 of ice time.

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Ovechkin Nets 50th Goal in Caps 4-2 Victory

Posted on 01 April 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin notched his NHL leading 50th tally and added an assist, Braden Holtby made 23 saves, and Mike Green had a goal, an assist and was +3 in a Washington Capitals 4-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. The win moves the Caps to 42-25-10 (94 points) with just five games to go and kept them three and six points ahead of the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators, respectively, after both of those clubs won too. It was a much needed victory against a speedy and pesky Canes club that had drilled Washington, 3-0, in Raleigh on February 27th.

Brooks Laich, who had one of his best games of the season with a goal, six hits, and 1:40 worth of great penalty killing time, said the team had discussed that loss in their Tuesday morning meeting and noted that Carolina always plays the Caps tough. As a result, Laich said the team wanted to have a good start.

They did just that scoring on a deflected pass (Green’s goal) and then the Gr8 buried his biscuit at 11:12 after a nice feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Caps carried the majority of the early play, but then in the second period they got away from their game and allowed Carolina to generate numerous odd man rushes. The Canes would tie things up on Eric Staal’s tap in just past the midway point of the game and things looked shaky for the Capitals.

But then the Caps upped their effort and scored twice in 82 seconds to grab a 4-2 lead that they held rather easily in period three.

In that final frame, Washington went to their strengths by forechecking hard and taking the body in an attempt to wear out the Canes players. It’s a recipe they used successfully in New York on Sunday. On Tuesday, after the “loose” middle frame, they refocused and shut the game down in the final period with their pressure.

“If we can pressure them and hem them in there for more than 10 seconds, 15 seconds it really slows down their game. Their D won’t join as much. Their center gets tired because he’s boxing guys out and has to work to get the puck back. It really sets our game up well. It fits our strength as a team well if we can grind there. When they do get the puck out, all they have energy for is to chip it out. Then we get a change and we’re coming right back at them with speed, that’s kind of our identity, I think,” said Matt Niskanen on how the Caps want to throttle the opposition.

Carolina, like the Rangers, have a lot of speed. So will the Capitals upcoming opponents, the Montreal Canadiens (Thursday) and the Senators (Saturday). Thwarting that speed starts by keeping the puck in the offensive zone and being responsible. Washington got away from that in the second period and if not for some good saves from Holtby, the Canes may have seized the lead. But once the Caps got back to a strong forecheck, and the line of Laich, Eric Fehr, and Jason Chimera was a big part of that, they achieved what Coach Barry Trotz calls “managing the game.”

“Good dumps, coming out clean out of your zone and then puck placement in the offensive zone. Then running proper routes. First guy has to go do a straight line, make contact, then the strong side winger down the wall and the offside winger looking for that D to D behind the net. If it is not there, coming across over their center men in the middle of the ice. If we execute properly there is nowhere for them to go. Jason, Eric, and I have been able to do that,” said Laich on the strategy of a proper forecheck, that the Caps have been executing well the last couple of games.

That line, newly cobbled together for the Rangers game, has certainly been successful and the Capitals have dominated when they up the effort and execute the plan Laich described.

Now the Caps go on the road for three games in four nights, with the last tilt coming on Sunday in Motown. Washington has not beaten Montreal all season, they’ve lost in a shootout and then in overtime, but have dominated puck possession in each of those contests. Canadiens goalie Carey Price is likely the only thing standing between Ovechkin and his fourth Hart Trophy, at this point.

But individual trophies are not what the Gr8 cares about, at this juncture in his career. It’s all about the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Caps need three more wins to qualify without worrying about what their opponents are doing, so a strong road trip is paramount. Keeping up their effort and forecheck are the keys to victory on this upcoming trip.

Notes: Carolina out shot attempted the Caps 45-42. It was 11-7 in period three, but the Canes had the games only two power plays in that final frame…shots on goal in the 3rd period were 5-1 for Carolina…the Caps PK has been successful on its’ last 14 attempts…Washington won the face off battle, 29-24. Nicklas Backstrom was 9-5…Tim Gleason was +3 in 16:51 of ice time and had a strong effort against his former teammates…Ovechkin only played 15:13. That’s down due to the lack of power plays.

 

 

 

 

 

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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 Mistakes Costly in 3-1 Defeat to Rangers

Posted on 12 March 2015 by Ed Frankovic

In hockey, you’ll often hear coaches talk about bad losses and good losses.

On Wednesday night at the Verizon Center, Washington Capitals Coach Barry Trotz would not categorize the Caps 3-1 defeat to the New York Rangers as a bad loss.

Despite the post game reaction from numerous Caps fans on twitter, where it seemed several people were out on the ledge and ready to leap, I definitely agree with the Washington bench boss.

Sure the Rangers were playing their third game in four nights, but the Caps were missing two of their top five defensemen in Mike Green and Brooks Orpik and their top center, Nicklas Backstrom, was playing with a bad stomach bug that prevented him from skating for four days. So coming into this contest against the Blueshirts, who I believe are the best team in the NHL right now and will likely win the Eastern Conference and perhaps the Presidents’ Trophy, I didn’t have a good feeling for the Caps given that Nate Schmidt was playing his first NHL game in over two months and Cameron Schilling was also in the starting lineup on defense.

The inexperience and lack of skill on the blueline is something we saw help wreck the Capitals post season appearance streak last spring and to be honest, the defensive lineup iced on Wednesday night was a bit reminiscent of last year’s club that routinely featured two or more AHL calibre players. As expected, the youth led to the Rangers first tally when Schmidt was beaten badly in the neutral zone. Then on the second New York marker, Tim Gleason, who was playing the off side for him, tried to go high glass on a dump out and the puck hit the stanchion and allowed the Rangers to get a quick three on two that J.T. Miller buried short side on Braden Holtby (28 saves).

The Caps would get a good bounce on Alexander Ovechkin’s power play tally in the opening frame and the Gr8 now has 45 goals on the season. The first period was pretty even, shot attempts favored the Caps 21-20, but the Rangers led because of the two costly Capital miscues.

Washington would open period two on a lengthy five on three (78 seconds) but the Caps couldn’t score. Cam Talbot, who was sensational in this contest, especially in period three, made a highway robbery glove save on Backstrom and that turned the game around, giving the Rangers a boost that they used to carry the play in the middle stanza. The Rangers would out shot attempt the Caps, 23-12, in period two.

“To be honest with you, five on three was my mistakes, I just missed the net. It’s kind of the moment you have to score. Especially when they give you a chance and they give you an opportunity to shoot so it was total blame on me,” said Ovechkin.

“When you don’t score off a five on three of that extent, that usually swings the momentum and then they got a few power plays that we killed off, but it took a little bit of steam out of our game,” added Matt Niskanen, who was outstanding for the Caps in 28:10 of ice time (led all players).

In the final frame, the Capitals threw the kitchen sink at Talbot, but he was a brick wall. #33, who has been superb in relief of an injured Henrik Lundqvist, was easily the game’s first star and he made numerous point blank saves. Trotz pointed out afterwards that the Caps had an 8-1 edge in quality chances in period three, but the only goal came for the Rangers when Tom Kreider picked off John Carlson’s cross ice pass and fed Martin “Caps Killer” St. Louis on a two on none break for the game closing tally. In that last 20 minutes, the Caps out shot attempted a fatigued Rangers club, 35-10.

Overall for the game, the Caps won the shot attempt battle, 68-53, but all that matters is the 3-1 final score. The Rangers are a very good team and they can roll four lines and three defensive pairs. That’s part of why they were able to go 3-0 in this tough three game in four nights stretch against the Blackhawks, Islanders, and Caps. The biggest reason they won on Wednesday was Talbot and the team’s ability to protect a one goal lead, something they’ve been strong at for several seasons.

“When they get the lead, they just put four guys close to the net and they block lots of shots. Again, it was not surprising at all. They are a pretty solid team, they know how to play, and they were in the Stanley Cup Final last year,” stated Ovechkin.

The Rangers have a very good team and could easily win the Stanley Cup, so losing a close game in which you out chanced your opponent is nothing to hang your head on. The Caps were shorthanded on the back end and one of their best forwards wasn’t right, yet they were in the game until the end and likely find a way to win against many other goalies. But they lost and now they have to watch out that they don’t drop to the second wild card spot with the Boston Bruins charging hard in the standings.

With the Rangers looking like a good bet to win the East, the Caps must avoid a first round match up with the Blueshirts, so they can’t afford to fall to the second wild card slot.

In the end, the Caps played hard but made too many mistakes to win and the Rangers net minder was the big difference. Losing is no fun, but Ovechkin summed things up pretty good afterwards.

“I think we play a good game, a couple of bounces cost us a victory or at least one point. It’s a situation when you have to just forget about it and move forward. But it’s kind of disappointing when you have that kind of chance to move closer to an opponent or a team who is in front of you,” finished the Gr8.

Certainly the Caps can’t be happy with losing, as every standings point matters, but they did do a lot of good things against the best team in hockey on Wednesday night.

Notes: Joel Ward assisted on the Ovechkin goal and he was one of the Caps best forwards in 18:25 of ice time…Trotz limited Backstrom to 18:38 due to his stomach virus…the Caps won the face off battle 38-29. Eric Fehr was 12-3…Jay Beagle was hit hard, but cleanly, by Dan Girardi in period two. #83 would return for a shift or so but then left the contest for the third period due to an upper body injury…next up for the Caps are the Dallas Stars at the Verizon Center on Friday night.

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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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Caps Slay The Defending Champion Kings, 4-0

Posted on 04 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

“I’m shuffling lines around, guys. I’ll let you know when I get it straightened out.” – Reg Dunlop, Charleston Chiefs

For 50 games, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz has been juggling his forward line combinations trying to find the right fits.

In game number 51, which turned out to be a Caps 4-0 rout of the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings, he just may have found his best forward line up yet.

Trotz moved Marcus Johansson, who is having his best pro season, up into the top right wing spot, and inserted rookie forward Andre Burakovsky into Jojo’s spot on the second line giving the Caps a very offensively talented top six crew of forwards. In addition, the bench boss took Jason Chimera and Michael Latta out of the lineup and went with a fourth unit of Aaron Volpatti, Jay Beagle, and Tom Wilson. The third line, Washington’s checking trio of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward, went unchanged.

The result was a thing of beauty as the Capitals gap control was as good as it has been all season.

Taking the strong blue line play that the Caps have enjoyed all season combined with elite goaltending from Braden Holtby plus a very motivated hockey club this was a thorough whipping of a Kings team that still has Norris Trophy leading candidate Drew Doughty, all world goalie Jonathan Quick, and super forward Anze Kopitar. But Los Angeles is really not a Cup contender this season since they’re playing with a much weaker blue line due to the loss of Willie Mitchell (salary cap) and Slava Voynov (domestic abuse charges). As I’ve been saying for years, it is tough to be consistent and win in the post season without a good blue line. Fortunately with the departure of former GM George McPhee, the Capitals finally figured it out in the offseason and brought in some talent that gives Washington a very deep crew on the back end.

But the key to becoming a really top team is to have not only strong goaltending and defense, but depth at forward. That has been the challenge for Trotz and his job has been tougher by having to work in two rookies in Evgeny Kuznetsov and Burakovsky, along with second year man Wilson. It’s not an easy task and being a rookie in the NHL is very difficult. But Trotz has brought each of them along differently given their age and history. Kuznetsov is starting to blossom into the second line center role and his behind the back pass to Troy Brouwer is one that you usually only see from the Nicklas Backstrom’s of the world. That 1st goal was so huge because the Caps were 24-1-4 when tallying first and 1-14-6 this season when yielding the first marker. That is quite a telling statistic.

On that Brouwer goal, of note was the forechecking pressure that Burakovsky put on Robyn Regehr. The heat from #65 forced Regehr to put Alec Martinez in bad position with the biscuit and the man who scored the Cup clinching tally against the Rangers made an errant pass to Karl Alzner on the left wing boards. Alzner found Kuznetsov below the goal line and a sweet pass later it was 1-0. Trotz praised Burakovsky afterwards and stated that pretty soon everyone will all know the kids name.

Not only did the super gap control lead to production, but it also kept Washington out of the penalty box. This Caps team has had a recent propensity of taking tripping, high sticking, interference, and hooking penalties that are often the result of poor positioning and a lack of structure. The Capitals only had to kill one penalty on Tuesday night, which was their lowest total since December 4th against Carolina (h/t to Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post). You can add in discipline to that equation as Washington did not retaliate against a big Kings club. John Carlson took a couple of cheap shots from Kyle Clifford late in period two that somehow didn’t garner a penalty call from Paul Devorski and Tom Kowal (imagine that!). #74 could have easily gotten upset and attacked Clifford but Carlson kept his head and didn’t take an unnecessary penalty at a time when the game was still in question. Big kudos to Carlson there, that’s putting your team first, something we’ve seen more and more of this club this season than any other in the recent past.

Overall, it was a dominant performance by the Caps and Holtby came up big when he needed to be in stopping 27 shots. He made some key saves, with perhaps his best one coming on Jeff Carter in period two when it was still 1-0. Carter, who is a true sniper, appeared to have the top right corner picked but #70 managed to get most of his glove on the biscuit and knock it to the corner. Holtby also stoned Marian Gaborik on a semi-breakaway in period two. Holtby has now gone three straight games without allowing a goal in regulation and the only tally he yielded came in OT against the Habs and league MVP Carey Price on Saturday.

So the Caps end up going 1-1-1 against some of the better teams in the league with the lone regulation blemish coming against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday. The Blues are my current pick to win the Stanley Cup so a one goal defeat to them, after Washington played the day before while St. Louis rested, is not a black mark at all.

Washington is now 26-15-10 (62 points) and 9-1-1 in their last 11 home games (h/t to @ThePeerless). But the upcoming schedule doesn’t get any easier. After a day off on Wednesday, the Caps travel to take on a speedy Ottawa team on Thursday night, then come right home on Friday to play one of top teams in the NHL standings in the Anaheim Ducks. Finally, on Sunday at 3 pm they get a hot Flyers team at the Verizon Center. We all know what I think of Philadelphia, but that’s a story for another day.

Notes: Brouwer had two goals in his 500th NHL game…Backstrom had a goal and an assist while Alex Ovechkin had an assist. The Gr8 had 11 shot attempts…Washington led the shot attempt totals after 40 minutes, 40-21, that’s pretty impressive over one of the best puck possession teams in the NHL. Game total shot attempts were 52-44 for the Caps…the Kings won the face off battle, 26-23, but Backstrom was 12-6 from the dot.

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Ovechkin Nets 2 as Holtby Blanks Pens

Posted on 28 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

During their four game losing streak, the Washington Capitals surrendered 17 goals in four games, falling by a single puck each time. During those games the Caps looked nothing like the team that was solid defensively and worked hard on the back check during the first half of the season. Instead they lollygagged in their own zone and they lollygagged on the way back into the neutral and defensive zones.

What did that make the Capitals?

Well, to quote Richard Wuhl from Bull Durham, LOLLYGAGGERS!!

Enter Sidney Crosby and the despised Pittsburgh Penguins to the Verizon Center on Wednesday for NBC rivalry night and suddenly the team we saw so much defensive improvement and promise in before the skid was back as the Capitals dominated the Pens in a 4-0 victory.

Nothing like a team from western PA that you despise to regain your focus and get back to playing the right way.

On behalf of the Washington Capitals and their fans, thanks Penguins!

Pittsburgh was without Evgeni Malkin, who always seems to play well against Washington, but they had Crosby returning to the lineup and some of their top D who didn’t play in the last Caps-Pens game (a 3-0 Capitals win), such as Christian Ehrhoff and Paul Martin.

Alex Ovechkin set the tone early for the Caps by going to the cage and deflecting a Karl Alzner point shot by Marc-Andre Fleury just 4:50 into the contest. Given Washington’s record when getting that first tally, you can be sure that bookmakers in Rock Vegas were taking this game off of the boards, at that point.

Then, when Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green set Ovi up for a power play howitzer to make it 2-0 with some of the best passes you’ll ever see, I could hear John Blutarsky exclaiming “The Germans Have Bombed Pearl Harbor!”

Still it was just 2-0 heading into period three and we all know how poorly the Caps have played with the lead in recent weeks. But that would not be the case against the Pens and the Caps fired 14 final stanza biscuits on Fleury with Eric Fehr sealing the deal at the 8:58 mark. Then Green, who was outstanding again on Wednesday, put the icing on the cake burying an Evgeny Kuznetsov feed on a two on one with 7:36 remaining.

From there the Penguins decided to be sore losers, with David Perron sucker punching Troy Brouwer late in the contest. Noted chief punk and total pest Steve Downie also was a crap disturber all evening before getting his face bloodied by Michael Latta midway through the final frame. Downie, who will never be accused of being smart, was tagged with an extra 10 minute abuse of officials penalty, as well.

Speaking of the officials, well it was Tim Peel night at the VC and as expected, he was inconsistent. In addition, he called a penalty on Ovechkin for basically being too strong for Ehrhoff on a check that #10 initiated. Pretty bad stuff there.

Despite the zebra incompetence, the Caps were just too good to have Peel and company hose them on this night. Pittsburgh quality scoring chances were severely limited over the last half of the game and Holtby was excellent (27 saves) from the outset.

Simply put, it was one of the finer games the Capitals have played all year and it was on the tail end of a back-to-back situation. They were 1-6-1 in those situations heading into Wednesday night.

This season the Caps have lost to Edmonton twice, Buffalo once, and then Curtis McElhinney and the Blue Jackets on Tuesday, that’s not good.

However, this squad gets up for the better teams and they have mostly delivered in those contests (2-0 vs. the Blackhawks, 2-0 vs. the Pens, 2-1 vs. Tampa, etc.).

So it is clear that when this team is focused they can play with anyone.

Keeping that focus going forward is going to be key. With Montreal, St. Louis, and the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings the next three clubs on the schedule, it will be interesting to see if Washington continues to play well against the NHL elite.

Since that set of games doesn’t begin until Saturday, for the next couple of days the Caps and their fans can savor this tasty victory over another Pennsylvania team they do not like.

Notes: Ovechkin has 29 goals on the season and now leads the NHL in that department…the Caps out shot the Pens, 36-27…Washington was 1-3 on the power play while killing all four Penguins man advantage situations…the Caps BURIED the Penguins on face-offs, 39-24. Fehr went 17-5 from the dot and most of those were against Crosby (7-17)…Brooks Orpik had an assist and led the Capitals in ice time with 22:55. That might have been #44’s best game of the season…Green had six shots on net in 18:49, getting a helper to go with his goal…special thanks to Adam Vingan for the Ovechkin post game photo.

 

 

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Caps Smoke Leafs, 6-2

Posted on 07 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Wednesday night in the “Big Smoke” the Washington Capitals did a lot of things correct against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

They scored the first goal to move to 20-1-2 when doing that this season.

They received stellar goaltending from Braden Holtby (31 saves).

They shot the puck extremely well, scoring “peanut butter style” (aka, top shelf) three times and tallying another time off of the far post.

They got traffic on Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier.

They received two goals from their second scoring line (Marcus Johansson had both tallies) and three from their third line (Eric Fehr had two and Brooks Laich had the other).

And, they STAYED out of the penalty box (the Leafs only had two power play chances).

All of those things added up to a 6-2 white washing of a struggling Toronto team.

The victory moves the Caps to 21-11-7 (49 points) and just four points behind the second place New York Islanders in the Metropolitan Division (the Caps have a game in hand too).

Washington did not play a perfect game, they struggled a little bit in the first period with getting pucks on the net, but once they got their legs going in period two, the Leafs really were no match for them. The Capitals certainly received some bounces in this game, but make no mistake about it, they were the better team despite losing the shot attempt battle, 59-53.

The difference in the contest was primarily defensive zone coverage. Washington’s was very good and the Leafs may have had shots on goal, but not a lot of quality ones. On the flip side, Toronto was atrocious on defense and time after time the Capitals received lots of space and open looks and when you provide that to a club as skilled as the Caps, you are going to get burned badly.

With Washington having to travel and play in Philadelphia on Thursday night (and clear customs too), a lopsided victory was important and it allowed Coach Barry Trotz to spread the ice time around (the lack of special teams play helped too). John Carlson, who was outstanding in this one going +3 with two helpers, led the Capitals in ice time with 24:13. The only player under 10 minutes was Tom Wilson, who logged only 6:46 and didn’t play after it looked like he hit his head doling out a check in the middle frame.

Wilson did come back and sit on the bench in period three (h/t @alexprewitt of The Washington Post), but his potential injury was likely the only real negative of the night.

So the Capitals are now 11-1-3 in their last 15 games. They are no doubt getting superb goaltending. Their only regulation loss in this run was on a back to back event in New York just before Christmas. On Thursday they will seek to win their first game all season on the latter half of a back to back sequence, when the second game is played on the road (0-4 so far this year in those situations). The question is does Trotz go with Holtby or finally play Justin Peters, who hasn’t seen the net since November 29th? Given that the Caps face the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday and have a busy upcoming schedule (7 games in 11 days), my money is on finally seeing #35 in the cage.

Notes: Washington lost the face off battle, 36-23…Ovechkin notched an empty net goal that was made possible by another super effort by Jay Beagle on the boards and a good cross ice feed from Nicklas Backstrom…Vincent “the diver” Trocheck of Florida, who went down from apparent sniper fire near Brooks Orpik on Sunday, was fined $2,000 by the NHL on Tuesday. That lack of integrity move by Trocheck gave the Panthers a 5 on 3 late in the game, that Washington fortunately killed off. It’s nice to see the NHL crack down on that “soccer like” move by Trocheck. The NHL doesn’t need that type of garbage.

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