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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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Caps Keep Rolling with Win Over Florida

Posted on 04 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Roberto Luongo has historically given the Washington Capitals fits, going 15-1 in his last 16 starts against the Caps.

So Sunday’s tilt with the Panthers at the Verizon Center, against a pesky Florida squad that is big and had previously taken the Capitals to two shootouts, loomed like a tough one coming off of the big Winter Classic victory on Thursday.

Despite being shorthanded five times, including three times in the final period, the Capitals carried the play for much of this contest and garnered a well earned 4-3 victory over the Panthers to improve to 20-11-7 (47 points).

The Capitals are now 10-1-3 in their last 14 games.

Alexander Ovechkin (goal and an assist) had another stellar game and it was his open ice collision with Luongo in the first period that eventually drove the net minder from the cage after forty minutes. Luongo gave up three goals but because his club also tallied three times, he wasn’t saddled with the loss. Al Montoya, who played the third period, gave up a goal on five shots to take the defeat.

Braden Holtby was in net for Washington, his 15th straight start, and he stopped 29 of 32 shots en route to his 18th victory (18-8-6). His save percentage on the season is at .920 and he continues to play well. About the only goal you could fault him on was the third Florida tally, by Nick Bjugstad, which came from down low and beat #70 top shelf in the closing minutes.

After a strong opening period that was scoreless, the Caps struck first on the PP with Ovechkin’s 19th tally of the season off of a sweet pass from Nicklas Backstrom. That first goal is so important this year since the Capitals are now 19-1-2 in that situation against a 1-10-5 record when the opponent gets on the board first. Despite the early lead, the Capitals would play keystone cops at the offensive blue line which led to a two on zero Cats rush. Somehow Holtby managed to stop the first two shots on that sequence, but his defensive help didn’t come quickly or properly enough and the third shot found the back of the twine. Just 85 seconds later Florida took the lead.

In the past, the Caps might have wilted, but not this more resilient bunch under Coach Barry Trotz. The Capitals would storm back, thanks primarily to the line of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward to grab a 3-2 edge heading into period three. From there Ovechkin set up Andre Burakovsky for the fourth goal that ended up being the game winner.

Overall, the Capitals played well but they still have issues taking penalties. They were shorthanded for a total of 9:13 and as chronicled after the Winter Classic win, the number of infractions they are taking must decrease. Granted the call against Brooks Orpik that gave the Cats a 5 on 3 was downright ridiculous and Trotz called out Vincent Trocheck for diving on that play in his post game presser.

Florida is a big and physical team, but the Capitals outworked them on Sunday and that’s why they won the game and the Panthers coach, Gerard Gallant, made that clear afterwards.

“We weren’t good enough. I mean, we battled back and found a way to come close there at the end, but not good enough. We didn’t play hard enough. They were more physical than we were tonight. They wanted the puck battles and that’s why we ended up losing the game at the end,” said Gallant.

Burakovsky, who is only 19 and played in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) last season, received his first start on the first line with Ovechkin and Backstrom and he played well in 12:05 of even strength time. His skill, primarily his hands and shooting ability, is something sorely needed in that top line position and he delivered on Sunday. Trotz liked #65’s play and commended him afterwards.

“He was playing with two big stars, and he didn’t look intimidated. A couple times he shot the puck where sometimes you should make the extra pass, but he got the puck and he just made plays. I like that. Defensively he was pretty sound. We didn’t spend much time in our own end, but he was pretty sound in terms of his tracking and all that, so I was really happy for him. He’s such a great kid and he comes from a great family. He’s a really good hockey player…but I think in the scheme of things, looking at his whole career, he’s going to be a really good player for us,” said Trotz.

So the Capitals continue to keep finding ways to win hockey games and they get two days of practice at Kettler Ice Plex before facing the Maple Leafs in Toronto Wednesday and then they finally play the Flyers, for the first time this season, on Thursday, in Philadelphia. Those are two tough games in a back to back situation and the Caps last loss was on the 2nd night of one of those in New York right before Christmas. It will be interesting to see if Trotz goes with Holtby in net twice or turns to Justin Peters for a start for the first time since November 29th.

Notes: Washington won the face off battle 43-29 with Backstrom going 18-8 from the dot…shot attempts favored the Caps, 63-60…the Panthers were 0 for 5 on the power play while the Caps went 1 for 2 in only 3:16 of man advantage time. Yes, the Caps have been taking too many penalties lately, but some of the calls recently have been beyond bad. Bottom line, the officiating needs to improve too and they need to start penalizing the divers, like Trocheck, and not the players with integrity, such as Orpik.

 

 

 

 

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Caps Set to Face Blackhawks in Bridgestone Winter Classic

Posted on 31 December 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Well, it’s finally here.

We are less than 24 hours from puck drop at Nationals Park for the NHL’s Annual Winter Classic, sponsored by Bridgestone, between the Washington Capitals and the Chicago Blackhawks.

For those following along on EPIX in Ross Greenberg’s Road to the Winter Classic, you’ve watched two highly skilled teams orchestrated behind the bench by two very upfront coaches, in Barry Trotz and Joel Quennville.

Washington’s off season coaching change along with the personnel moves they’ve made on defense (via new GM Brian MacLellan) have propelled this club to an 8-2-3 December, and major cause for optimism, as I chronicled on Sunday.

The Caps are hot, but in this match up they are facing the best team in the NHL in the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks are led by Jonathan Toews, who has won two Stanley Cups and two Olympic Gold Medals in the last four years. He’s arguably the best player in the NHL, depending on who you talk to. Add to Towes the likes of Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook and it’s easy to see why this club is so good and narrowly missed winning Cup number three last year (they were knocked out by the Los Angeles Kings in game 7 of the Western Conference Finals in OT).

Chicago is talented, structured, and disciplined. They are everything the Capitals and Alex Ovechkin want to become on a consistent basis. Under Trotz, the Capitals are making steps towards that, but they are still a work in progress.

So let’s talk about Thursday’s game, which based on the weather conditions, may see a 60 to 90 minute delay due to weather. It’s not precipitation or temperature, but the sun that could cause the delay. With the shadows not covering the ice until roughly 2:30 pm, the potential for injuries due to glare (someone not seeing a puck properly) or bad ice (the sun can make the surface uneven) are much higher at the scheduled start time of 1 pm.

Now to the match up. The big question in Caps land is will Washington’s top left handed defensemen and major physical presence, Brooks Orpik, play after suffering a right knee injury on Monday?

Orpik did not skate during the normal team practice Wednesday at Nationals Park, but he did at Kettler Ice Plex in the morning, per a video shot by a fan that the super Capitals blog, Russian Machine Never Breaks, obtained. From that video, it’s apparent that Orpik could likely play, as he was moving well, but he’ll be a game time decision.

If Orpik is out, then Nate Schmidt goes into Orpik’s slot next to John Carlson, who by the way is having a very quiet monster season. #74 is fourth in the NHL in scoring by defensemen with four goals and 23 assists. He’s also a team leading +14! Yes, the 2010 American hero in the IIHF World Junior Championships has actually improved on last year’s super Olympic team making season playing alongside the steady and snarly Orpik. So hopefully Orpik’s absence, if it occurs, does not impact Carlson, as well.

Trotz routinely puts Carlson and Orpik against the opponents top line, so the question now becomes which D pair, if 44 is out, does he go with against the Toews-Kane line? My guess is he may switch that to the Matt Niskanen-Karl Alzner duo.

Up front, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have been DOMINATING on their shifts in puck possession in recent weeks and they are due for a big game on the scoresheet. Does it come Thursday against Chicago?

To win, I really think that 8 and 19 will have to carry the day and Braden Holtby will need to be his usual stellar self, especially if Orpik doesn’t play.

As chronicled over at another great Caps web site, Japers Rink, the Caps power play is in a recent funk and needs to snap out of it to aid the Caps chances of beating the mighty Blackhawks.

The Caps have also been getting solid production from the line of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward.

Chicago is a great team and they bring four good lines. Washington will need their second scoring line and their fourth line to be near their best to get a victory.

This game on New Year’s Day is only for two points, but let’s be honest, it’s a huge deal and the players will approach it like a playoff one.

It’s the NHL’s regular season signature event and a can’t miss one for hockey fans.

 

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Caps, Holtby Shut Down Devils in Road Win

Posted on 06 December 2014 by Ed Frankovic

After Tuesday night’s Caps loss to Vancouver, the Capitals players talked about getting off to better starts in games. Two contests later, they are two for two when scoring first, and now are 11-1-1 this season when doing so (h/t @ThePeerless).

Braden Holtby was fabulous in net stopping 33 shots and Jay Beagle scored the game winner on a “Jari Kurri” type rush and finish to lead Washington to a 4-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils in East Rutherford on Saturday night. The Caps are now 6-1-1 in the Metropolitan Division and are 12-10-4 overall (28 points), good for 3rd place in the division.

As predicted, this was a grind it out type of contest, with the team winning the individual puck battles and minimizing mistakes the likely victor. The Caps did that most of this game, outside of Karl Alzner getting walked by Danius Zubrus on the only Devils goal.

In the second frame, all four lines were contributing, which hasn’t happened much this season and that is when the Capitals broke a 1-1 tie to forge a 3-1 lead that they would nurse through the 3rd period until Brooks Laich’s empty netter sealed the deal.

After Beagle’s goal, both the first line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Tom Wilson and the new second line, based on even strengh utilization, of Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward pinned the Devils in their own zone and that then allowed Marcus Johansson to draw a Devils penalty on the next shift. On the ensuing power play, Adam Henrique received a clean breakaway but Holtby stopped him cold. Washington then went down and received a sweet power play goal from Evgeny Kuznetsov with Laich providing some nice traffic in front. That sequence turned out to be the difference in the game.

New Jersey had the puck most of the 3rd frame, but the Capitals did a super job of not allowing any odd man rushes and they kept the Devils mostly to the outside. There were some flurries of activity for the Devils, but Holtby was strong, once again.

This was a classic road victory as Washington kept their game very simple. The Caps limited neutral zone turnovers and they routinely got pucks in deep on the Devils to try to wear out an inexperienced defense and keep the puck away from a talented and experienced forward group.

Coach Barry Trotz rolled his forward lines most of the night, but on defense, he went heavily with the trio of John Carlson (25:22), Brooks Oprik (25:18) and Matt Niskanen (24:36). Karl Alzner, who scored Washington’s 1st goal after Wilson forced a turnover, logged 20:44 but the other two D, Nate Schmidt and Jack Hillen, played only 11:15 and 9:35, respectively. This was an important game to win so Barry shortened his bench to give his club the best probability of doing that. It worked, as it did in Carolina on Thursday.

So the Caps have a little bit of momentum right now and their goalie, Holtby, is playing well. The team is making a better effort to get net presence and it is starting to pay off. They still don’t have a bonafide second line that can score when the Ovechkin line isn’t producing, but by relying less on the old second line (MJ90, Brouwer and either Kuznetsov or Andre Burakovsky) the Caps aren’t giving up untimely goals due to bad turnovers or missed defensive assignments.

Having Laich back has been a big plus since he helps Trotz better balance his lines, plus 21’s great work ethic rubs off on the rest of the squad. The team is a still a work in progress and as reported by TSN’s Bob McKenzie earlier this week, GM Brian MacLellan is trying to improve the forward position via the trade market.

But for now, this is what Trotz has to work with and lately he’s been using an old tactic of shortening the bench to try and close out games. Holtby has also helped him do that successfully.

Now it is on to Tampa to try to avenge a tough 4-3 defeat they endured there back in November. The Bolts lead the Eastern Conference with 39 points so this will be another good barometer on where the Capitals stand.

Notes:  Face offs were even at 34-34….shot attempts were 66-42 in favor of NJ but they were close to +20 in the 3rd period alone, so that can be explained mostly by score effects…the Caps were 1 for 2 on the power play and they successfully killed off both Devils power plays…That bitter loss to Tampa last month came as a result of a critical Burakovsky missed defensive coverage in the slot in the last 10 minutes. Burakovsky was scratched in NJ and I don’t expect him to play in Tampa either. He really would be best served getting some games down in Hershey to learn the center position, and more importantly, how to play defense. He’s only 19 and after all, if guys like Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf played close to 20 games in the AHL at the age of 20, why wouldn’t it be a bad thing for #65 to get some work down there and rebuild his confidence?

 

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Bottom Two Lines & Holtby Lead Caps over Canes

Posted on 04 December 2014 by Ed Frankovic

There are no style points in the NHL, you can look it up.

So despite all of the complaints from your fan base on twitter for not being perfect, a win is a win is a win.

On Thursday night in Carolina, the Capitals did what they needed to do to get a victory they desperately needed against a division opponent.

They didn’t put a dangerous Canes team that features Eric Staal, Alex Semin, and Jeff Skinner on the power play, they received excellent goaltending from Braden Holtby (29 saves), and they got super performances from their defense as well as their bottom six forwards.

The win moves the Caps to 11-10-4 (26 points) and ties them with the New York Rangers for 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division.

With the Caps struggling with slow starts and nine of the next 12 games on the road, Coach Barry Trotz’ club desperately needed an early goal to start things out right.

Jay Beagle delivered that after Jason Chimera, who might have had his best game of the season, outraced the Carolina d-man and fired a hard shot on Anton Khudobin. The Canes goalie couldn’t handle the puck and #83 scooped it into the net just over two minutes into the contest.

It was exactly the start this team needed and they had some other chances in the next two periods but couldn’t convert. Carolina then tied the game early in the third frame after an Andre Burakovsky offensive zone turnover led to a Canes counter attack. #65 then lost Semin in the slot and #28 fired a nasty backhander up under the cross bar to beat his old teammate. It was another nightmare defensive zone coverage shift for Burakovsky, who seems to be having more and more of those lately.

The kid is only 19 so asking him to play 2C in the NHL, at this point, is treacherous. Burakovsky has enormous potential but he doesn’t know how to play defense and trying to learn it against the world’s best players is not an easy chore. Perhaps the team should look at moving him down to Hershey so he can properly learn the defensive side of the house while building up his offensive confidence? You don’t want to wreck a player that has such a huge upside. Detroit routinely over cooks guys in the minors and Nashville put Filip Forsberg, who was 19 last season, down on the farm and he’s averaging a point a game now and carrying his club offensively. The NHL is a man’s league and if you aren’t ready it will destroy you over an 82 game season. So GM Brian MacLellan and Trotz should seriously consider what’s best for this player from a long term development standpoint.

Now back to the hard earned victory in Carolina where Washington’s bottom two lines carried the day. The third unit of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward would net the game winner with just under four minutes left as excellent fore checking pressure led to a Canes turnover and Fehr buried it top shelf. Had he not put the biscuit in the basket the Caps would’ve had a power play anyways, but Fehr rendered that point moot.

So as stated earlier, this was not a pretty victory, but it was a big step in the right direction from a work ethic standpoint. The Caps didn’t come out sluggish and they really carried a lot of the wall play and individual puck battles, something they have not done well since their torrid six game start. There is still sloppy play and the top two lines are woefully inconsistent, especially the second unit. The top line was mediocore, at best, on Thursday as Alex Oveckin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Tom Wilson looked very sleepy for most of the contest.

In addition, the Caps power play failed to connect on two tries. The Canes shadowed the Gr8 and the other four forwards didn’t read and react to that properly, so assistant coach Blaine Forsythe has some work to do with that crew.

But defensively, the Capitals didn’t give Carolina a whole lot of space due to a hard work ethic. When the Canes did get some room, Washington did a nice job of blocking shots with none bigger than Brooks Orpik’s block of Semin’s grade A chance in the slot with the Carolina goalie pulled.

A win is a win is a win and when you work hard, like most of the Caps did on Thursday, you get the two points you deserved.

Notes: Washington lost the face off battle 32-28. Michael Latta was 3-10 on draws…Orpik had seven hits, seven blocked shots and led the team in ice time with 25:13…Burakovsky only played 10:02, lowest on the team…Evgeny Kuznetsov was a healthy scratch….courtesy of Adam Vingan, this was the Caps first victory scoring two or fewer goals in a regulation game since March 11, 2012 (Dale Hunter was head coach)…next up for the Caps are the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night. Last time these two teams played the Devils won, 1-0, at the Verizon Center. So expect another hard working, low scoring game.

 

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Caps Lack of Early Intensity Costing Them Games

Posted on 03 December 2014 by Ed Frankovic

“There used to be a time when teams would come in here and we’d score three goals in the first period and nobody wanted to come in here.” – Brooks Laich

That’s a very telling quote right there and it explains a good portion of why the Washington Capitals are currently sitting at 10-10-4 and in 4th place in the Metropolitan Division after a 4-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center. Sure the game summary will show that the Capitals allowed three power play goals, so naturally the thing to point at is the penalty kill issues. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a very leaky unit right now, but to me, the problem is bigger than just penalty killing – it’s the way the Capitals are playing the game, especially early on.

Looking at the shot attempt totals for the game, it appears rosy for the Capitals since they won the overall battle, 70-56.

But let’s look at those shot attempts by period:

1st period: Caps 15, Canucks 21

2nd period: Caps 28, Canucks 22

3rd period: Caps 27, Canucks 13

In addition, the first two penalties of the game, in the second period, were against Washington. Troy Brouwer took an unnecessary offensive zone penalty for holding and Jay Beagle was called for hooking in the defensive zone after a series of Capitals mistakes. Both of those infractions, less than three minutes apart in the middle of period two, led to Canucks power play goals and a 3-1 edge for the visitors.

At that point, Washington finally showed some sense of urgency and dominated the rest of the contest. Suddenly pucks and bodies were going to the net, instead of the turnovers that were seen in the early part of the game, where the Capitals routinely attempted East-West passes instead of the North-South variety. The Caps only had 15 shot attempts in period one because they made it too easy for Vancouver and when they had the potential for shots, they tried to make the extra pass or fancy play.

A look at the Capitals giveaways by periods yields six in the first frame, none in the second, and three in the third period. One of those six in the first frame led to 4th liner Derek Dorsett’s goal.

Simply put, this team is killing itself with lousy starts and those are putting the club behind the eight ball in games. If they don’t change things soon, their chances of making the playoffs will drop considerably.

What is especially troubling is the Capitals home record of 5-5-4. That’s atrocious for a building that is routinely sold out. Washington’s terrible play has basically turned the Verizon Center into a library for the first 10 minutes of most games and that’s on the players, both Laich and Braden Holtby made that abundantly clear after Tuesday’s loss.

“That’s not the fans fault. We need to find something to make them get loud in the first 10 minutes…we know this building can be very hard to play in if we create that energy at the start of games,” said Holtby (28 saves).

Energy, that’s a great word. Anyone who has ever laced up the skates knows that hockey is an intense game that requires enormous energy. The Capitals can’t seem to find that coming out of the gate. They sit back and let the opponents dictate the game and a “sense of urgency” often doesn’t kick in until they are trailing. On Tuesday, that is what happened once again. Vancouver is a super hockey club, they are now 17-7-1 and in first place in the Western Conference, but the Caps dominated play once they ramped up their intensity.

Coach Barry Trotz stated afterwards that he has the players as prepared as he possibly can, John Carlson backed that up in his interview with the media after the game, as well. Trotz made it clear that the “sense of urgency” needs to come from the room. Whatever they are doing now, isn’t working. Whether they need to be more boisterous or cut out pre-game soccer or find some better tunes, Laich was very blunt that things need to change quickly.

“Whatever it is, as individuals you have to get yourself up for the games, you’ve got to get intense. Maybe manufacture some intensity in warmups before the game starts. You can’t wait until the puck drops and then try to get yourself into it. Certainly our first periods used to be better,” added Laich.

Washington is playing “the easy game” early on in contests. On rushes up the ice they are trying too often for the perfect play and it’s leading to turnovers that opponents are turning into odd man rushes. Trotz continues to call the NHL a “shoot first” league, but too many times, and especially on the second line, the extra pass is being made and then intercepted.

The Caps are just making it too comfortable for the opposition to come into Washington and play where fast starts used to get the Red clad fans rocking and intimidating the opponent.

“It makes the other team shrink down a bit and possibly come out of their game plan. The games that we have had success in, we have had one or two goal leads in the first period. Stats are overwhelming, I think, for the team that scores first. Whatever it is, we need to figure it out. You can’t play from behind all the time, especially not against good hockey teams. You just can’t play from behind and expect to win in the long term,” finished Laich on the importance of fast starts and the first goal.

Nail meet Hammer.

It’s time for the Capitals players to be prepared to play the game the right way, with intensity, starting with the opening face off.

Notes: Mike Green missed his fourth straight game due to an upper body injury…the Caps won the face off battle, 32-29…Carlson had two goals and an assist in 22:28 of ice time. He was a big reason the Capitals were in the game after the miserable start…next up for Washington is the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh on Thursday at 7 pm.

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Return of Laich Helps Caps End Losing Streak

Posted on 07 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

For the first 30 minutes of Friday night’s hockey game in Chicago, it looked like the men against the boys.

The Blackhawks were dominating the Capitals up and down the ice and they held a 2-0 lead, which could’ve been worse, if not for Braden Holtby (38 saves).

But somehow the Caps managed to fight through it and an Andre Burakovsky’s sweet top shelf goal on a Capitals 2 on 1 rush gave Washington life with just under five minutes left in period two. Washington would then tally two more times late in the second frame by getting bodies and pucks to the net to take a 3-2 lead into the third period.

From there, Coach Barry Trotz elected to clamp things down and go into a defensive posture for the final 20 minutes against one of the best teams in the NHL. Trotz put Jay Beagle on the top line with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin and relied heavily on the line of Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich, and Joel Ward. Despite the fact that Washington rarely possessed the biscuit in that third period, it worked. Chicago had very few quality chances over the last 20 minutes as Washington won a huge road game and improved to 5-5-3 overall (13 points). It was Laich’s first game back in the lineup since injuring his shoulder on October 18th versus Florida. The Caps are 4-0-2 with #21 in the lineup.

This was not a pretty win, but the Caps have been pretty lately and losing a lot. No, this is just what this team needed, a grinding, gritty victory against a super hockey team. They received a huge performance from their goaltender and they played excellent team defense once they got the lead.

As Mike Vogel, the Caps team beat writer, tweeted once it became 3-2, this was the 12th time in 13 games that the Capitals had led in a game this season. Recently they’ve fallen apart and lost after taking the lead in the middle frame. So to play the way they did defensively and close it out is huge. They didn’t make the big turnovers, instead opting to chip the puck out, and they kept the Hawks to the perimeter. Players were fighting for each other, blocking shots, and eliminating their man in the defensive zone from getting prime scoring chances.

They played the right way in their own zone once they had a lead against a stacked offensive club.

Sure it would have been nice to have some more offense in that final frame, but the way things have been going and the way Chicago is so stingy on defense, Trotz elected to go the smarter route in terms of winning the hockey game.

That decision paid off and Washington comes away with a very big victory and ends their five game losing streak.

More importantly, they won this game as a total team, and that should be something they can build upon going forward.

Notes: Shot attempts were 66-32 in favor of Chicago and the Blackhawks won 35 of 60 faceoffs…Brooks Orpik led the Caps in ice time with 25:57. He and John Carlson were outstanding as a shut down defensive pair in this one against an elite club…the Caps are home against the suddenly surging Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night at 8 pm. The Canes have won four straight games after an 0-6-2 start.

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps Over Devils, 6-2

Posted on 16 October 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Barry Trotz frequently calls the NHL a “Shoot First” league.

On Thursday night at the Verizon Center, his players took his advice and were rewarded with six biscuits in the basket in what became a 6-2 rout of the previously undefeated New Jersey Devils (3-1). Alex Ovechkin, Chris Brown, Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom, Joel Ward, and Andre Burakovsky all notched goals and Braden Holtby was outstanding stopping 26 of 28 shots.

Seriously, if Holtby is not dead on his game in the first frame, this contest could have easily gone differently. The only two markers #70 allowed were through traffic and he routinely made the big save in the first 30 minutes until the Capitals wore out the oldest team in the league over the last half of the game. Holtby’s arm save on Jaromir Jagr was highlight reel material and it came with the game tied at two (special thanks to my friends at Russian Machine Never Breaks for the picture of that save). Jagr was in total disbelief after that stop.

After being out shot attempted 29-13 in period one, the Capitals turned the tables on New Jersey going 43-27 over the last two frames. Washington is well on their way to being a puck possession team again, especially if they keep heeding the wisdom of Trotz.

Johansson, who has been known mostly as a passer since he came into the league in 2010, unleashed a filthy snap shot by Cory Schneider in the middle frame to notch the game winner. In the past, MJ90 may have tried to make a move or looked to dish the puck, but instead, under the prodding of his coach, he is firing away. Good things happen when you shoot.

Positive things also happen from winning the board battles and the Capitals are doing much better there this season. Brooks Laich’s hard work on the wall allowed Johansson to receive the puck in a prime scoring position. It’s the little things that win hockey games and this club is doing more of that so far.

So the Caps are now 2-0-2 with the only two losses coming in the gimmick. They trail the New York Islanders (4-0) by two points in the Metropolitan Division.

But it is too early to be checking the standings. It’s a time to build on an early strong work ethic and continue to listen to an experienced coach who has this Capitals team playing as a unit unlike we’ve seen in several seasons. A strong blue line is making a huge difference and the Caps now are a team that can break the puck out of their own end smoothly and generate quick offense. Sure, there are still moments where they get hemmed in, like we saw in the first frame, but they are learning that if they keep playing the system they will eventually win out.

Things are looking up and the vibe around the team and players is so much more positive than it has been in several years.

The key now is to keep working hard and stay the course.

Notes: John Carlson led the Caps in ice time at 21:23. That’s a low total and it is a product of the depth on defense and the fact that the Capitals pulled away in the 3rd period…12 Caps had points in this one…Andre Burakovsky scored his 2nd goal of the season in the 3rd period with an amazing wrist shot and Chris Brown’s goal in the first frame was a laser over the shoulder of Schneider…next up for the Caps are the Florida Panthers at the Verizon Center on Saturday night at 7pm.

 

 

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Expectations Are High for the Caps in 2014-15

Posted on 14 September 2014 by Ed Frankovic

After an off season of much needed major changes, the Washington Capitals are finally set to open training camp this Friday, September 19th at Kettler IcePlex.

Expectations for the 2014-15 Caps, who will host the 2015 Winter Classic against the Chicago Blackhawks at Nationals Park at 1 pm on January 1st, are extremely high after they spent big dollars to upgrade their defense and brought in an experienced NHL coach in Barry Trotz to work with new General Manager Brian MacLellan.

How much of an impact will those changes have on a team that missed the post season in 2013-14?

The impact will be significant and I’ll go so far as to say that a Metropolitan Division title and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final is very much within their reach.

Here are seven items, in order of importance, on why to be optimistic about the Capitals chances this season.

1. Improved Defense. Last year it was painfully clear that the Capitals blue line was their biggest issue from a talent standpoint so MacLellan wisely went out and upgraded what has been the weakest part of this team for several years. Adding Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to Mike Green, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Dmitry Orlov gives the Caps three strong defensive pairs. This is easily the most talented blue line the Capitals have had since 1998. When you have a sub par defense, it is much harder to get the puck out of your own zone and also feed it to your offensive players so that they can generate scoring chances. Therefore, it is no surprise that Washington’s puck possession statistics had steadily declined over the last several seasons with management failing to address the blue line deficiencies. Expect to see the Capitals improve greatly in puck possession this season now that they have a legitimate defense. For more about the depth the Caps have compiled on defense and a summary on each player, check out Mike Vogel’s recent Dump ‘n Chase blog here.

2. Experienced Coach. To quote the great Jim Ignatowski from Taxi, “There’s no substitute for experience.” The Capitals badly needed a coaching change and they sorely needed someone who knows the league. Hiring Barry Trotz, who previously coached in Nashville since 1997, was a no brainer. Trotz cut his teeth in the coaching business with the Capitals back in Baltimore in the early 1990’s and was the Predators only bench boss until they decided to go a different direction this past off season. The Predators routinely spent well below the NHL salary cap yet Trotz was often able to get a less talented squad to bond together and overachieve. In 2011, they gave the Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks all they could handle before bowing out in six games in round two.  Now Barry comes to Washington, a team that spends to the cap on personnel, and he has a crew of talented players that have struggled to bond and succeed. Getting players to work together is a Trotz specialty and Barry has already put that process in motion by appointing a leadership group to help foster communication between the coaches and the players, something that has not happened very well in DC the last several years. Leadership should not be all on the captain and alternates, it’s a group effort, and Trotz recognizes in order to win everyone has to be on the same page (As an example, this “leadership as a group” concept worked very well for Ken Hitchcock when he coached the Stanley Cup Champion Dallas Stars in 1999). Trotz’s ability to get the Caps to be “a team” is his most important task, but his knowledge of systems and the other coaches and personnel around the league will be a huge plus too. The Capitals hit a home run with this choice as coach, he was the best commodity on the market and looks to be a great fit.

3. Braden Holtby. The coaching change and revamped defense will arguably benefit #70 more than any other Caps player. He should face less shots on net because the Capitals will have the puck more thanks to a better defense and a new system. In addition, he will work with proven goalie coach Mitch Korn, who came over from Nashville with Trotz. Korn, who has helped Tomas Vokoun and Pekka Rinne rise to the top of their games, should bring out the best in Holtby’s strengths. Also, the NHL has expanded the trapezoid by two feet on each side which will allow Holtby to play the puck more, something that he is good at and a skill that takes the heat off of the defensemen. Holtby has the ability to be a 3rd d-man, at times, so I expect Trotz to utilize that strength, something that former Coach Adam Oates failed to develop. I’d also expect the league to totally dump the trapezoid in the coming years. After all, they are trying to promote skill and allowing the goalies to play the puck fits in with that motto while also helping to reduce injuries on defensemen (perhaps we’d see fewer concussions?). Simply put, the Martin Brodeur rule needs to go.

4. Alex Ovechkin. The Gr8 scored 51 goals last season but much has been made of his -35. Plus minus is a team statistic and let’s face it, with the thin blue line the Capitals had last season it is no surprise they gave up so many even strength goals. Ovechkin had 24 of his tallies on the power play last campaign so it might be tough for him to hit 51 overall given that opponents will likely key on him on the man advantage. But Alex only had 28 assists in 2013-14 for a total of 79 points. With the improved talent around him, I have to think Ovechkin gets at least 90 points in 2013-14. Alex and his line mates should spend less time in their own zone with the improved blue line and as mentioned above, they’ll get the puck in better position to head up the ice, as well. 100 points for the Gr8 in 2014-15 could very well happen.

5. Mike Green. Heading into the final year of his contract, Green is in great shape and happy to be a part of Trotz’s leadership group. #52 is a very talented player who can drive puck possession. Unfortunately, due to a lack of blue line depth the last several years, the Capitals coaching staff has struggled to find the right partner for him. It’s very possible Orpik could be the stay at home and physical player that Green needs to succeed at an elite level once again. This could be a big year for Green because he won’t have all of the pressure on him to carry the back end with the additions of Orpik and Niskanen.

6. Evgeny Kuznetsov. “Kuzy” came over last spring and he had a lot of adjusting to do to play in the NHL yet he still managed nine points in 17 games. Judging by those last several games, he is an immense talent who likely will produce on one of the Capitals top two lines in 2014-15. The 22 year old has had the off season to prepare for a grueling 82 game grind but he knows what he is up against now because of last spring’s experience and he’ll be better because of it. Expect him to bigger, stronger, and more productive.

7. Brooks Laich. It’s hard to believe, but it hasn’t even been two years since Laich initially injured his groin during the 2012-13 NHL lockout. With the Caps eliminated from the post season last spring, #21 has had nearly six months to get healthy and initial reports are he is finally pain free and happy on the ice again. Laich is a heart and soul guy who is tough to play against. Brooks will fill a grinder role and be a fixture on the penalty kill. He’s also a guy who can work the front of the net on the second power play unit.

Last season was pretty much a disaster for the Capitals yet they only missed the post season by a handful of points. They are playing in a division that is wide open and you can throw the entire Eastern Conference into that equation, as well.

Clearly the play of the defense along with how this team bonds together under the new coaching staff are the two biggest keys to the season.

The talent is there for the Caps, but now they need to show a sense of urgency and execute.

Notes: Orlov and Tom Wilson, who were both injured after the Caps season ended, could see action late in September…the Caps first preseason game is this Sunday, September 21st at 5pm at the Verizon Center against the Buffalo Sabres.

 

 

 

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