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Ovechkin, Holtby Pace Caps Over Oilers

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Ovechkin, Holtby Pace Caps Over Oilers

Posted on 25 October 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin and Braden Holtby are both red hot right now.

The Gr8 notched a goal and an assist and Holtby stoned (30 saves) the Oilers until two minutes remaining in regulation as the Capitals played a strong road to knock off Edmonton, 4-1, on Thursday night.

The victory moves the Capitals to 5-5 on the season and into 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division. It was a win against a weak club, but the Oilers came out hard in the first frame and once Washington seized the lead on Ovechkin’s NHL leading 10th goal of the season, they gradually took over and eventually put a stranglehold on the contest.

Washington’s top line of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson had a brutal first shift but after that they were the story of this tilt. They dominated at all ends of the ice playing easily their best defensive game of the young season. Ovie and company used strong play in their own zone to ramp up their transition game and by the third period the Oilers were out of gas. The Gr8′s goal once again came directly off of a faceoff and that’s at least three goals in that fashion for Ovechkin this season. Ovie now has 15 points in 10 games.

Outside of the top line, the Brooks Laich and Mikhail Grabovski units had quality outings, as well. Grabovski, playing with Joel Ward and Jason Chimera, have turned into a really good third line and Grabo’s sneaky steal led to Chimera’s tally that made it 4-0. Laich’s line is particularly solid in their own end, something this club definitely needs given some of the inexperience on the back end.

More encouraging was that the Caps achieved this dominating victory without having to rely on their power play. All four Caps goals came at even strength. After some shaky first period moments, Washington played better in their own zone and did a decent job of positioning, communicating, and moving their feet. There still are lapses and Mike Green was beat a couple of times simply because he wasn’t skating. Coach Adam Oates also won’t like the lone Edmonton tally, which was the result of poor coverage and positioning by Washington’s fourth line along with Steve Oleksy and John Erskine on defense.

Overall though, this was a good win and the team is moving in the right direction. They’ve won three straight and the energy and passion is back in their game after the Rangers thoroughly outworked them last Wednesday. The club still must keep working on their own zone play. If they keep getting better there, than look out, because this Capitals team has a ton of offensive talent.

Notes: The Caps next play in Calgary on Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada (10 pm EST)…Edmonton dominated from the dot, 32-21, but the Capitals did score a big goal off of a draw…Johansson had two assists…Green led the Caps in ice time at 22:40. Aaron Volpatti was the low man but he had 10:01, so Oates was able to spread the time out with the lead.

 

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Ovechkin, Holtby Help Caps Beat Jets in Shootout

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Ovechkin, Holtby Help Caps Beat Jets in Shootout

Posted on 23 October 2013 by Ed Frankovic

There’s an old saying that “there are no style points in sports.”

That absolutely applied to the Capitals 5-4 shootout victory over the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre on Tuesday night.

Washington played miserably on defense for much of the night, but thanks to some timely goaltending from Braden Holtby (43 saves) and two goals from Alexander Ovechkin (NHL leading 8th & 9th tallies), the Caps grabbed a win on the first tilt of their five game road trip to improve their record to 4-5 overall.

Time after time the Caps gave up odd man rushes to a very fast Winnipeg team but somehow Holtby managed to make the big saves to keep the Caps from falling too far behind. The Jets, once they watch the film on this one, will curse themselves for not scoring more on their numerous opportunities.

Washington struggled with their first three power plays giving up a shorthanded tally and if not for #70, the Jets might have had more. Still, when Washington received a power play in the third period the man advantage finally clicked with Troy Brouwer banging home a goal off of a sweet feed from Nicklas Backstrom to give the Caps a 4-3 lead.

Naturally, on this night, some horrible defensive zone play by the top line and the Mike Green-Nate Schmidt defensive pair, led to the tying tally less than three minutes later. Green would play one more shift in the 3rd period, on a Washington power play, but after that he did not see the ice again, including the overtime session. Oates stated afterwards that the decision to sit #52 was because he was struggling (h/t to Mike Vogel for that info). The question though, is were the struggles due to a physical ailment, because Green has not looked that lethargic or played that poorly in a long time?

Offensively, the Caps did numerous good things and they generated a lot of speed going into the Winnipeg offensive zone. Marcus Johansson (2 assists) and Mikhail Grabovski (1 goal) were really flying for Washington in this one. The Capitals also had some very good fore checking shifts that wore out the Jets defense and forced Winnipeg into some costly turnovers. Rookie Tom Wilson continues to play hard, hit, and wreak havoc when he’s on the ice. Those were some of the positive things that came out of the victory.

Defensively, well, there is a ton of work to do. The Caps are far too guilty of puck watching and not moving their feet in their own zone. You could call it “road cone” defense, if you will. Defense is an effort and attention to detail part of the game. Washington has much work to do in this area, especially when it comes to looking around and finding out where your opponent is going so that you can take away their time and space. Coach Adam Oates has his work cut out for him getting some of these guys to buy in on playing in their own end. If the Capitals want to have a strong regular season and then advance deep into the playoffs, they have to improve their play when they don’t have the puck, particularly in the neutral and defensive zones.

Still, a win is a win and they don’t say how, they just count the two points for a victory during the regular season.

The Caps did not play particularly well, but they did manage to not quit, show some passion and resiliency, and earn a very big win to open up an important early road trip.

Notes: Backstrom, Brouwer, Brooks Laich, and Martin Erat scored in succession in the shootout, which the Caps won, 4-3…Washington was 1 for 5 with the power play while Winnipeg went 0 for 3 (but the Jets did have a SHG)…Oates relied heavily on Karl Alzner and John Carlson as a d-pair in this one, with both playing 26 minutes and change…Green had only 18:13 of ice time, a season low…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 47-34 and Eric Fehr went 1-6…somehow Evander Kane only had an assist in 28 plus minutes of ice time. #9 had 6 shots on net and was all over the rink. He’s a Capital killer but Holtby denied him in the gimmick right before Erat notched the game winner.

 

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Caps Take Step In Right Direction With Convincing Victory

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Caps Take Step In Right Direction With Convincing Victory

Posted on 14 October 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals got a much needed 4-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night at the Verizon Center to push their overall record to 2-4. This was a game the Caps had to have to get things turned around in the right direction after three defeats in a row. Alexander Ovechkin notched the game winner scoring his sixth goal of the season and he added his third assist of the young campaign too, which gives him nine points in six contests.

Braden Holtby stopped 28 shots, many of which were key when this tilt was close for the first 30 minutes, and delivered the best goaltending game of the year for Washington. When a team is struggling, like the Caps have been in the early going, you need a goalie to step up and turn in a top notch performance, Holtbeast did just that on Monday night and he was a major reason the Capitals won the game.

The offense rose from the dead in this one against a weak Oilers team as Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, and Joel Ward all got their first tallies of the season, with Ward’s and Brouwer’s both coming on the power play. The Caps were 2 for 3 with the man advantage and were also 3 for 3 on the penalty kill. When you win the special teams battle by a +2 margin, you often win the game.

Still there are issues that need to be worked out. Edmonton really carried the play in the first period using their speed to put Washington back on their heels. The Caps seemed a step slow and they also were not moving the puck well at all. Too many passes were going east-west and in players skates. In addition, the Caps were not moving their feet and were caught reaching with their sticks in compromising positions. The Oilers were able to strike first after a neutral zone turnover and some poor coverage by the first line, once again. Down 1-0 and having trailed for most of the season, the Caps were in a sticky spot.

Fortunately, Steve Oleksy was skating well on the ice and paired with Nate Schmidt, they were arguably the best Caps d-pair in this affair. Shortly after Edmonton tallied, Oleksy alertly jumped on an Oiler turnover in the offensive zone and fed Laich for the game tying goal and that play seemed to get the giant piano off of the Capitals back. The team suddenly found their legs and started to exert more pressure on the Oilers defense.

With the Caps skating well in the middle frame, the Oilers got into penalty trouble and Washington sandwiched two man advantage tallies around Ovechkin’s sweet goal in the slot with Nicklas Backstrom screening (3 assists) goalie Jason Labarbera (16 saves). Marcus Johansson had his best shift of the game to help set that one up with some hard work on the boards and earned his 100th NHL career point in the process.

Coach Adam Oates and his team should feel some relief after getting this victory without having to sweat too much at the end. The offense came alive and that seemed to lead to an increased confidence level for Washington. Anyone who has ever played hockey, at any level, but especially in the NHL, will tell you that confidence is the most important part of a team’s game. The Caps seemed to finally get some confidence on the ice on Monday. The passing still needs to be crisper and the players have to realize that keeping their wheels moving is so important to their success. When they go back and watch the tape of this one, that should be evident.

Next up is an important affair against the Rangers at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night at 8 pm on the NBC Sports Network. The Caps need to start winning Eastern Conference games and especially those in their own division at home. They also would like to get some payback for losing to the Rags in the playoffs last spring.

Notes: Shot attempts were 48-45 in favor of Washington…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 28-26…Oates was able to spread the ice time around with the 3 goal third period lead. John Carlson led the team in ice time at 21:35 while Tom Wilson was the lowest at 8:02. Martin Erat had 11:50 and played well…Schmidt was very solid in 19:13 of ice time on the back end. #88 skates well and continues to improve.

 

 

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Ovechkin Leads Caps Rally Past Flames

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Ovechkin Leads Caps Rally Past Flames

Posted on 04 October 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Caps spotted the young and rebuilding Calgary Flames 3-0 and 4-1 leads on Thursday night in Washington’s home opener at the Verizon Center, but thanks to three points from Alexander Ovechkin (2 goals, 1 assist) the Capitals were able to rally and defeat their opponents, 5-4, in a shootout. As in Tuesday’s contest against Chicago, there was lots of good and bad to Washington’s play, but the most important thing is that the Caps were able to even their record at 1-1 and gain two standings points.

So what went right for the Capitals on Thursday night?

First, their power play continues to scorch the opposition. Ovechkin and company were 2 for 3 with the man advantage and Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) scored the game tying tally with 5:50 remaining after a super feed from Mikhail Grabovski. Last year the Caps were first in the NHL with the power play at 26.8%. In two games, they are 5 for 9 for a 55.6% success rate. That is amazing, but when you watch this team work with the puck in five on four situations it is a thing of beauty and that is why the results are so good. The Caps are extremely difficult to defend and Grabovski has actually been an upgrade over a very good Mike Ribeiro on the first unit so far.

Second, Oates’ decision to switch goaltenders in the first period paid off. Braden Holtby (3 goals on 11 shots) wasn’t getting much support in front of him so at 16:22 of the first frame Michal Neuvirth came in and he stopped 27 of 28 shots as well as two shootout attempts in the gimmick. Neuvy’s only blemish was on his giveaway behind the net that led to Lance Bouma’s tally that made it 4-1 Calgary 29:05 into the contest.

Finally, the Capitals generated a lot of chances and despite giving up four goals, the Flames Karri Ramo played solidly in net (4 goals on 39 shots).

So what went wrong and why?

After too many turnovers in Chicago on Tuesday and some coverage lapses against a super Blackhawks team, one would hope that the Caps would be able to shut down a much less talented Calgary forward group. That did not come close to happening. Time after time the Flames came into Washington’s zone with speed and they created lanes to the net that made goaltending difficult. In the overtime Calgary carried the four on four play as Washington struggled to move the Flames off of the puck in their own zone.

The early season struggles on defense is a bit of a concern and the injury to Jack Hillen isn’t going to help. Hillen was rammed into the left wing boards by Bouma on a hit that looked a little late and too low. #38 went to the ice in pain and was helped off. It was reported afterwards that he suffered a lower body injury and was at the hospital. We’ll know more tomorrow but it looks to be a long term injury which will necessitate the need for a call up. A left handed defensemen is needed and Nate Schmidt is in the mix for the potential call up. Based on NHL experience, Dmitry Orlov seems like a logical choice but #81 continues to struggle with his game after suffering a concussion last December.

As for the poor defensive performance, Oates felt that the Capitals came out flat after an emotionally charged game on Tuesday in the Windy City. As a result, the Flames got a couple of early goals and that juiced their energy. Calgary was really flying, at times, and the Caps had some trouble keeping up. Brooks Laich thought Washington was outworked in the first period. Karl Alzner was not happy with the performance on defense and stated that the team could not win consistently giving up four or more goals. Alzner said that Calgary is quick and they did have more jump early. He mentioned that he spoke with some of the Flames prior to the game and they had a hard working training camp, which helped their conditioning. In addition, King Karl says that the Capitals D may be focusing too much on getting the puck up the ice quickly and it is leading to turnovers and poor positioning. Alzner stated that rather than trying for the fast outlet pass that the defense consider the option of just chipping it out off of the glass when the pass completion percentage is not great.

Overall, the Flames generated far too many scoring chances and Neuvirth had to make some tough stops in the third period and overtime to give his team a chance to get the victory. The offense did their part to cover up some shoddy play in Washington’s end. Through two games defense is the major area of concern, but there are 80 more contests to go and as stated after Tuesday’s loss, this is a work in progress on the back end.

The intensity and focus was not there for Washington for stretches of play, but the Capitals did manage to earn a much needed two points.

Notes: Marcus Johansson had three assists…Connor Carrick scored his first NHL goal on a breakaway after coming out of the penalty box. He logged 17:26 of ice time on defense…Tom Wilson pounded Bouma in a fight after the Flame took out Hillen. Wilson only played 5:52 but he was effective in that time with a couple of shots on goal and a pair of hits…Martin Erat only played 6:30 and is probably not a happy camper…the Eric Fehr line (Jason Chimera and Joel Ward) logged about six minutes more at even strength than the Erat, Wilson, and Jay Beagle unit…Mike Green had an assist in 31:01 of ice time (led all players in TOI)…the Caps claimed defensemen Alexander Urbom off waivers from the Devils and sent center Michael Latta to Hershey to make room for the left handed defensive defensemen from Sweden…next up for the Caps are the Dallas Stars at Reunion Arena on Saturday night at 8pm.

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Caps Start 2013-14 With High Expectations Once Again

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Caps Start 2013-14 With High Expectations Once Again

Posted on 29 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It is awfully difficult to win a championship in professional sports but heading into 2013-14 that is once again the goal of the Washington Capitals, who have yet to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup since their inception in 1974. The Caps, who have made the playoffs the last six years, have another quality team as they prepare to open their season against the defending champs, the Chicago Blackhawks, in the Windy City on Tuesday night at 8pm on NBCSN.

On Sunday, Caps General Manager George McPhee made several moves to help put some clarity to the opening night roster culminating with a trade of center Matheiu Perreault to the Anaheim Ducks for a 4th round pick and AHLer John Mitchell. In addition, several players were sent to Hershey, including defenesemen Tyson Strachan and Dmitry Orlov. For now, here is what the Caps roster looks like:

Goalies (2): Braden Holtby, Michal Neuvirth

Defensemen (7): Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, John Erskine, Jack Hillen, Steve Oleksy, and Connor Carrick

Forwards (14): Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Mikhail Grabovski, Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, Martin Erat, Tom Wilson, Eric Fehr, Joel Ward, Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera, Aaron Volpatti, and Michael Latta

The move of Perreault was predicted here last week and makes sense from a hockey and salary cap standpoint. This Caps team needed to get bigger and more powerful up front and Wilson’s outstanding camp made keeping him up with the main club, rather than shipping him back to a weaker league (OHL), an easy decision. The 19 year old, who was the 16th overall pick in the 2012 NHL entry draft, brings a dimension that this Washington team needs more of in the post season: size and the ability to score the tough goals in close. Six months with Coach Adam Oates and some highly talented teammates is what is needed for Wilson to continue his development, the OHL is just not going to help him get any better.

As for the rest of the squad, the strengths appear to be in goal and up front. Braden Holtby has established himself as a number one goalie and has the chance to move into the elite category with a very strong season. As McPhee told the media last Tuesday, to win the Stanley Cup you have to have great goaltending. #70 is the guy being counted on to deliver that, but Neuvirth is a more than capable net minder and will be needed to play well so that Washington can qualify for the post season in a very competitive Metropolitan Division.

At forward, the Capitals have some serious depth on the wings but still aren’t sure who is going to be the third line center. Backstrom has the first line locked up with Grabovski manning the second unit. The club could go with Beagle as the 3rd line center and Latta pivoting the 4th to start the season, but that depends on the health of the others, primarily Laich, who has been battling a hip flexor issue. Right wing is just loaded up with Ovechkin, Brouwer, Fehr, Wilson, and Ward. Both Fehr and Erat were tried at center this preseason by Oates with some success, so the head coach has lots of options. Johansson could play 3rd line center at some point too. The Caps have not had as talented a crew of forwards to start the season in many years and with the players they have there is lots of room for flexibility.

On defense, the top three is awfully good with Green, Alzner, and Carlson. After that, it gets dicey. Erksine was super last spring in the regular season but is he really a top 4 d-man? #4 will have a chance to prove it starting this week. Oleksy came out of seemingly nowhere to take a 3rd pair spot in the spring and Hillen overcame an early season injury to play a lot of quality minutes last year. Carrick was the biggest surprise of training camp, has great offensive skills and his hockey IQ is high. Learning to play defense in the NHL is harder than any other position so Washington has to be careful to not put too much on the 19 year old, who has incredible potential. The organization still has high hopes for Orlov, but given his injury situation last season, starting him in Hershey made too much sense. The 2009 2nd round pick will play top pair minutes in the AHL and can hone his craft for what appears to be an inevitable jump back to the NHL at some point during the 82 game season.

Special teams will be an important component of Washington’s success. Last season the Caps were #1 in the NHL with the power play (26.8%). You can expect it to remain at least top 5 and Oates and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe will continually be tweaking things to counter opposition tactics. As for the penalty kill, Laich stated on Tuesday that is one of the areas this Capitals club will have to improve in if they want to do well in the regular season and playoffs. The PK has been one of the team’s weaknesses the last few years and it was 27th out of 30 in 2012-13 with a success rate of only 77.9%.

In summary, the expectations are high for this Capitals team. The playoffs are not a given, but if this club can stay relatively healthy, then they have the talent to compete for the division title. Every team in the Metropolitan Division has its issues. The Penguins are the pick of many but their goaltending and team defense certainly has its question marks. Will the Rangers respond positively to a new coach in Alain Vigneault? How will the Devils do with the departure of Ilya Kovalchuk? The Flyers added Vinny Lecavalier but will Ray Emery or Steve Mason step up and be a top goalie in a pressure packed Philly market? Are the Islanders ready to take the next step up the ladder or was their playoff run last spring a one time deal? Is Columbus going to play like the team that nearly qualified for the post season last spring or the cellar dweller crew that started 2013? Finally, will Cam Ward returning in net for Carolina propel them to a winning season? Nothing is set in stone heading into the season and in the salary cap era every team has holes and/or issues. What is important is that the Capitals get off to a good start since coming from behind in the standings is not going to be as achievable as it was in the Southeast Division.

 

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Handicapping the Caps Opening Night Roster

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Handicapping the Caps Opening Night Roster

Posted on 24 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals held their annual media day luncheon on Tuesday at Kettler IcePlex and both Owner Ted Leonsis and General Manager George McPhee made it clear that winning the Stanley Cup was once again their barometer of success.  The Caps, who have made the playoffs in six straight seasons, will not have the benefit of getting into the dance via a Southeast Division title in 2013-14. Instead they will be in the Metropolitan Division competing with the likes of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Carolina Hurricanes, and Columbus Blue Jackets. It is a tougher task, but Leonsis and McPhee both feel that this year’s club is deeper than they’ve had in several years.

As of today, the Caps have over 25 players in camp with just one week to go until the regular season opener in Chicago on October 1st. An NHL club can carry up to 23 players but they also have to be under the $64.3M salary cap. Coach Adam Oates noted that you have to factor in the dollars as well as who could get claimed for nothing via other teams on the waiver wire when finalizing the roster. Via Capgeek.com, Washington currently has 22 players at a total of $63.6M. That list of 22 players includes 13 forwards, 7 defensemen, and two goalies (Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth). So who is going to make it and who likely won’t? Here’s a look at where guys stand, from what I’ve seen in the games and gauging from comments made by Oates today:

Goalies:

In: Holtby, Neuvirth

Defensemen:

In: Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, John Erskine

Likely In: Steve Oleksy, Jack Hillen

Bubble: Dmitry Orlov, Tomas Kundratek

Longshot: Connor Carrick

Forwards:

In: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich, Mikhail Grabovski, Troy Brouwer, Martin Erat, Joel Ward, Eric Fehr, Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera

Bubble: Mathieu Perreault, Aaron Volpatti, Tom Wilson

Basically, the club has some tough choices to make at defense and it gets even harder at forward. McPhee stated that they could keep 19 year old Wilson up and stay under the cap, but acknowledged he might have to move a player to do so. The GM stated that he doesn’t like to keep teenagers on the roster, but Wilson has shown he can play and is making the decision on the big right winger very difficult. Ideally, Wilson would start the season in Hershey but since he is an Ontario Hockey League draft pick, he cannot play in the AHL until he is 20 years old. It appears there isn’t much to gain for Wilson going back to his junior team (Plymouth). Sure he’d get power play time and could dominate, but he did that last season. To me, Wilson brings a dynamic this Caps team needs. The kid is big, can skate, hits, and he goes to the net. Six months under Adam Oates in preparation for the post season, in my book, is just too hard to pass up. The Capitals need another power forward who can wear opposition defenders down in the playoffs and Wilson is a player who can do that.

Keeping Wilson though, likely means a move elsewhere has to be made. That brings us to Perreault. With McPhee and Oates announcing today that Erat is going to play center in these last few preseason games, after Fehr had his trial at center last week, it sure looks like the team is looking for options other than #85 to play the pivot position. So would Perreault, who counts just over $1M on the salary cap, be the player moved if Wilson is kept up with the big club? That’s certainly one viable option. McPhee noted that the trade chatter has picked up in recent days but did acknowledge again, that making trades in the salary cap era is very hard.

On defense, it’s hard to see the six guys who finished the season in the spring not being the top six starting on October 1st. The question then is who do you keep up as the 7th guy. Orlov is a player that has an immense amount of talent but he’s coming off a difficult year healthwise. When asked about #81 today and his performance against Chicago last Friday night, Oates stated that he’s mainly looking for Dmitry to get fully comfortable in games again. To me that spells a ticket to Hershey to start the season where Orlov can get in total hockey shape before making what seems to be the inevitable jump up to the big club at some point this season. Orlov can still go to Hershey without having to clear waivers while Kundratek cannot. Thus it appears that Kundratek is the likely choice for 7th D, but given that Erskine is coming off of surgery in the spring the GM and coach may opt to keep a left handed shot around. That would give Orlov an opening. As for Connor Carrick, the youngster has had an outstanding training camp and opened a lot of eyes. He has great hockey sense and possesses some “Mike Green” like skills. The future looks bright for Carrick, but I don’t see him on the big club this season.

Another issue that needs to be factored into the roster decisions are injuries. Laich made it clear that he was not 100% today and despite playing 20 minutes in Monday’s tilt against Boston and feeling fine afterwards, he woke up this morning not feeling right. #21 says he has October 1 circled on his calendar but as Oates stated, he’s a little snakebit right now with injuries after playing over 300 straight NHL games in a row. In addition to Laich, Ward is nicked up too, so that complicates the roster decisions.

While McPhee and Oates have some really hard choices, both acknowledged that this is a good thing for the hockey team. The Capitals have some depth in their organization and Laich feels like, when healthy, the Caps will have three lines that can score. That is something Washington has not had in several years and if you can generate balance, then it makes it harder to gear a defense towards stopping Ovechkin’s line and Green on the back end. The Rangers used that tactic this past spring, especially after Erat went down with an injury early in game four, so the Capitals have to be looking for ways to have a multi-dimensional attack.

Notes: Laich stated that he’s been working with a new stick for the last six weeks and is still learning to adjust to it. The stick has a different lie and curve than what he used for the past 12 years, so this is a big change. Oates played a factor in Laich’s decision to switch and #21 talked about how passionate the head coach was on the issue. Laich joked that when you see that type of passion than “the person is either really smart or crazy!” I’ll go with the former on Oates, after all, he did go to RPI…Oates had the Caps power play clicking on all cylinders last season and when asked if he expects adjustments from other teams, he said “absolutely.” The bench boss pointed out that video is used extensively in the NHL, as much as in the NFL, and that teams will adjust to what the Caps are doing and it is on him and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe, who runs the power play, to adjust back accordingly.

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Caps 2013-14 Roster Pretty Much Set with Alzner Signing

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Caps 2013-14 Roster Pretty Much Set with Alzner Signing

Posted on 10 July 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It’s July 10th, but the Washington Capitals lineup, barring any trades, is mostly set for training camp in September with GM George McPhee announcing Wednesday that defensemen Karl Alzner has been signed for four years at $2.8M per season. Now McPhee only has restricted free agent LW Marcus Johansson to ink to complete the roster, and given that MJ90 doesn’t have much leverage, this one shouldn’t take too long. Following that signing, and using data from capgeek.com, the Caps will have 21 or so players with about $4M or so remaining against a salary cap of $64.3M for 2013-14.

Alzner, who is one of the best interviews going, seemed extremely happy with the new contract on his media conference call (full audio available here). The four year term for a player who is only 24 is a good deal for both sides at this price given Alzner’s significant ice time and strong two way play. Karl played much of last season with Mike Green and the duo formed an outstanding first d-pair that should get even better next season.

With that, here are my thoughts on the team going forward:

- Before game 5 against the Rangers, I chatted with New York assistant coach Jim Schoenfeld about the series and the Blueshirts strategy, at that point. Having worked for the former Caps bench boss, I put him on the spot and said, “It’s pretty obvious you guys are doing whatever you can to keep [Alex] Ovechkin and Green from beating you.” Now normally you’d expect a statement like that to be dodged by the opposition, but Schoeney didn’t hesitate, telling me, “I hope it keeps working!” With Brooks Laich out and the early game four injury to Martin Erat, Washington become a team that was much easier to shut down. You need balance in the NHL to win in the post season and not having those two players really hurt the Caps chances to advance. With Mike Ribeiro departing in free agency, the return of Laich and a fully integrated Erat are going to be key to Washington’s success next year. You can bet that the opponents will focus on Ovechkin and Green again, after all it worked for the Rangers, so the other guys in the lineup must step up.

- Free agency is pretty much over, and given the prices and term attached to many of the signings, it was a smart move by the Caps to sit this one out. Doing one of those deals would likely come back to bite the team down the road. Having a healthy Laich will be like a free agent signing for Washington. Also, there is hope that defensemen Dmitry Orlov will return to his 2011-12 form and crack the second pairing. In addition, there is a possibility that Evgeny Kuznetsov will come over to DC following his KHL season next spring.

- On Monday, McPhee stated once again that ”he likes his team.”  Why wouldn’t he make that statement given the six straight playoff appearances? But that doesn’t mean he isn’t on the look out for ways to improve his club. So if the right trade option came along, you can bet the Washington GM would make the move. It’s a fluid business and there are lots of games to play between October and the trade deadline. It’s a constant process of evaluating and analyzing. April and the playoffs are nine months away.

- Injuries are a big factor so a healthy Mike Green is going to be vital to Washington’s success in 2013-14. Once paired with Alzner, combined with the new system/style employed by Coach Adam Oates and assistant coach Calle Johansson, it appeared that #52 was not taking the big hits he used to sustain in previous seasons. Certainly Green is maturing as a player, but Alzner confirmed on Wednesday’s conference call that the coaching staff is focused on minimizing the shots his blue liners take in their own zone. That type of attention to detail from this coaching staff is something that could be a huge difference maker for the Capitals this upcoming season.

- The new division Washington will be in 2013-14 is going to be more fun, but much more competitive. Sure the Flyers did some big things, but right now I am not sure how much better they really are? And how will the signings they make impact them long term? The Rangers have a new coach, the Devils have a new goalie, the Blue Jackets signed Nathan Horton (but he’s out until December with a shoulder injury), and Carolina will get Cam Ward back. So you can say those teams are improving but to imply the Caps won’t be improved because they weren’t active in free agency doesn’t add up for me. As Alzner stated on Wednesday, another year of experience has to help. In addition, the better travel schedule should reduce some wear and tear on the Caps.

- Finally, I know it’s July, but if you want to catch some free hockey, the Caps Development Camp continues through Saturday with a live scrimmage each day down at Kettler IcePlex. Go check it out!

 

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Ovechkin Scores Twice But Neuvirth the Caps Hero vs Tampa

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Ovechkin Scores Twice But Neuvirth the Caps Hero vs Tampa

Posted on 08 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

There are times in a sports season when a team needs a certain player to come up big and help carry their club to victory on a given night.

With the Washington Capitals facing a Tampa Bay Lightning squad that had its back to the wall, Coach Adam Oates really needed goalie Michal Neuvirth, who hadn’t played a game since March 16th, to be that guy on Sunday evening.

Number 30 delivered and the Caps might have been three or more goals down if not for some great saves the Czech net minder made in the opening frame, which saw Washington trail only 1-0 despite being out quality chanced by a two to one ratio. Bolts captain Vinny Lecavalier, who scored that big overtime goal in game two of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Caps in 2011 on Neuvirth that pretty much ended that series, was not able to beat Neuvy on this night and he had a couple of one on one chances in the first period. Simply put, #30 was the man on Sunday and was the game’s first star, in my book.

From Alexander Ovechkin to Nicklas Backstrom to John Carlson, they all praised the play of their goalie afterwards, for keeping Washington in the game until they could get their legs under them in the middle frame.

Hockey is a game that is so much based on good health and confidence. Right now, that combination is what has Washington’s top line of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson firing on all cylinders. They are as dominant as any line in the NHL at this juncture and Ovechkin notched two goals, including the clinching empty netter, to tie Steven Stamkos for the league goal scoring lead at 25 tallies. Alex is playing outstanding and he seems as happy as I’ve seen him in years. I can’t help but think his life off of the ice, which includes a recent engagement, is a part of the picture, but the coaching of Oates and more importantly, the play of his linemates is making it easier for him.

Backstrom, after a shoulder injury in 2010, a nasty concussion in 2011, and some type of neck injury in December of 2012 did not reach 100% health again until several games into this lockout shortened campaign but Oates told the media after the game that for the last month and a half he is playing outstanding. Nicky doesn’t get the accolades that the Gr8 gets, and let’s be honest, Ovi is a rock star, but he is as important to the Capitals hockey team as Ovechkin is. In past years I’ve talked about how strong Backstrom is on his skates and he has that back again this year. He is winning a large majority of the one on one battles on the boards and as a result he is dominating play.

As for Johansson, Oates acknowledges that the young Swede has the hardest role on that line. He has to feel the pressure to get the puck to the two superstars and yet he’s playing as well as he ever has. His confidence is sky high right now. If he can work on taking his shot more often, that would help keep the opposing defenders and goalie more honest, which would open things up even greater for the entire line.

Washington really played well as a team from the second period on and their strong play in their own end led to numerous odd man rushes in this contest. In fact the winning tally by Joel Ward came on a 3 on 2 rush and #42 beat Bolts goalie Ben Bishop short side because the goaltender was cheating to his left thinking pass. It was a big goal and seemed to deflate the Bolts.

Carlson’s blast to tie the game up, also took some wind out of Tampa’s sails and it was a downright rocket. I am not sure I’ve seen a slap shot that hard in a game in a long time. To quote Crash Davis from Bull Durham, “Well, he really hit the <bleep> out of that one!” #74 is playing some good hockey paired with Jack Hillen (two assists).

Another player so key to the Capitals success, and they’ve now won four in a row and have a two point lead on Winnipeg in the Southeast Division, is Mike Green. #52 is the club’s number one defensemen and although he had 0 points in the game, he was outstanding at both ends of the rink. Mike’s health is good and as a result, he is very confident on the ice and playing as well as he has in his career. Another thing that helps out Green is the play of his partner, Karl Alzner. King Karl is hard to notice but all you have to do is look at Stamkos’ stat line tonight: three shots on net, 0 points, and -1. #27′s job was to shut down the league’s other premier goal scorer and he did it. Green and Alzner are the team’s top defensive pair and both logged over over 23 minutes at even strength to lead all players in that department. Overall Green played 26:37 while Alzner logged 25:34.

Unfortunately, as good as Ward was tonight in scoring the game winner and adding a helper, plus making a great back check to thwart a tying goal in period three, #42 had to leave the game after blocking a shot late in the contest. With Brooks Laich down for the count and slated to see a specialist on Tuesday plus Martin Erat still out day to day after being cheap shotted by Erik Gudbranson on Saturday, the Caps are likely going to be down three wingers when they face Montreal at the Bell Centre on Tuesday. Just when the Caps were finally getting healthy, the injury bug has struck again over the last three tilts, but that’s hockey.

Still, the team is on a roll and if the top line and defensive pair keep playing at the elite level while the goalies and other skaters do their respective jobs, then the Southeast Division is the Caps to seize. There are nine games to go, with six at the Verizon Center. After a very rough start and numerous injuries, their first goal, a division title, is very much there for the taking.

Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green, and Braden Holtby have all been carrying this team in recent weeks, as they need to be doing. But on Sunday night, Washington needed a big game from their other goalie, and Michal Neuvirth more than delivered as the catalyst in a critical victory over Tampa.

It was a game that wasn’t built up to be ultra important by Washington, but had Tampa been victorious, the whole Southeast Division race dynamic changes. Neuvirth would not let that happen on Sunday and so the Caps continue to control how this playoff race will play out.

Kudos, Michal.

Notes: Tampa is now eight points in back of the Caps. They have 10 games left, including another at the Verizon Center on Saturday…Backstrom was also dominant from the dot tonight going 13-7. The Caps won the face off battle, 35-32…Washington out shot Tampa 38-30 and shot attempts were 60-56 in favor of the Caps.

 

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Ovechkin Hat Trick Propels Caps over Cats

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Ovechkin Hat Trick Propels Caps over Cats

Posted on 06 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin is on fire and all of the national media critics who trashed him this year have egg all over their faces right now, especially Mike Milbury and PJ Stock. The Gr8 poured in three goals and added an assist as the Caps raced out to a 4-0 lead before giving up a tally with 32 seconds left to hang on 4-3 against the Florida Panthers in Sunrise on Saturday night.

Ovechkin now has 23 goals and 18 points in 38 games (tied for 7th in NHL scoring). He is second to Steven Stamkos (25 goals) in the NHL goal scoring race and in an 82 game season his goal total projects to just under 50. Yeah, he’s washed up and the team shouldn’t give him the puck.

The victory over a Florida squad that had won three in a row coming in pushes the Caps to 19-17-2 with 10 games left. Washington has 40 points, as does Winnipeg, but the Jets only have eight games to go.

Piece of cake for the Capitals to win the Southeast division, right?

Not so fast. For all of the good that happened in this one, there was one big bit of bad news. Trade deadline acquisition Martin Erat had to be helped to the dressing room after Panthers defensemen Erik Gudbranson boarded #10. The result was a five minute major and game misconduct for the Florida player but for Washington, it could be worse as Erat looked like he was in pain and the injury could be more than just a minor one. This comes on the heels of Brooks Laich missing Saturday’s contest.

So just when it seemed that Washington had a really solid forward lineup with balance, injuries to Erat and Laich have thrust that into turmoil once again. It’s no coincidence that Ovechkin’s hot streak (13 goals in 13 games) occurred once the Caps overall team started returning to health. Opponents could not totally focus on the Gr8 when Adam Oates had a full lineup but if 21 and 10 are out awhile, it will make it easier for opposing head coaches to do that now.

But before getting discouraged, Mike Green’s great play, after returning to 100%, is as big a factor as any of this as #52 is such a key in Washington’s breakout and he is superb at the point on the power play. The Caps had three PP goals in this one, two of which were by Ovechkin. The Gr8 has 14 PPG’s this season to lead the NHL and noone else even has 10.

In addition, you can’t discount the play of Marcus Johansson, who once healthy, has been a different player. MJ90 once again looks like the guy who showed such promise in the spring of 2011. He is a great skater and is a good passer, but he doesn’t have a great shot and he doesn’t always look to shoot. If he can keep playing at this level, and that is asking an awfully lot of him, then Washington should be able to hold off the Jets in the division race.

But the Caps can’t afford another big injury. They also need to tighten up their defensive zone when leading. Too many times they are giving up goals in front when they have players in position to make a play. In fairness, the team let down a bit after being up four pucks and Braden Holtby will likely tell you the first and third goals were on him.

Still, the Capitals top line is rolling. Nicklas Backstrom had three more assists and he has six goals and 33 assists for 39 points (tied for 11th in NHL) in 38 games. #19 has looked more comfortable and back to his usual dominant self since being reunited with Ovechkin a few weeks ago.

So there is still a lot to be positive about with this Capitals team despite the concern once again at left wing due to injuries. But Washington doesn’t have much margin for error due to their poor 2-8-1 start. They’ll need to keep the hammer down and ride the hot hand of Ovechkin down the stretch.

Where’s Milbury?! Hahahahaha

Notes: Oates was able to spread out the ice time with the big lead which should help Washington in their last back to back game of 2013, Sunday night at 7pm at the Verizon Center against Tampa…Green led the team in ice time with just 22:32…the Caps were 3 for 5 on the power play while Florida was 1 for 2…Washington outshot the Cats, 31-30, but Florida had a 16-5 third period edge when the game was pretty much over…shot attempts for the game were 58-45 in favor of the Caps…the face off battle was won by Washington, 29-26.

 

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Ovechkin, Green, Holtby Help Caps Survive Islanders in Shootout

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Ovechkin, Green, Holtby Help Caps Survive Islanders in Shootout

Posted on 04 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It took 37 games, but the Washington Capitals are finally in first place in the Southeast Division after a 2-1 shootout victory over the speedy New York Islanders. The Caps, who started 2-8-1, are now 18-17-2 (38 points) and are tied with the Winnipeg Jets in the division (the Caps have a game in hand).

So that’s 16-9-1 over their last 26 games and with the addition of Martin Erat and the return to health of Mike Green and to some extent, Brooks Laich (more on that in a moment), I can honestly say I think this Washington Capitals club can be a called a “good team” for the first time in 2013. But there are still 11 games to go and it is up to this squad to maintain that label, win the Southeast Division title, and keep improving for the post season.

As for tonight’s win over the Islanders, man they are one tough match up for Washington. New York leaves town with a 2-0-1 season record against the Caps and they nearly got all six points by rallying and tying the contest on another late game defensive zone breakdown by the Capitals. But these Islanders are a different club in 2013 and they are a team on the rise. They have speed, skate extremely well, and pass the puck efficiently. John Tavares is a bonafide star and the addition of Evgeny Nabokov last year in goal has helped cover up some of their holes on defense. The future looks bright for that squad and they have a very good chance to make the postseason this year.

But back to Washington, Green had the game’s only goal and #52 continues to play at a very high level. He is showing once again that he is the #1 defensemen on this club with his play at both ends of the rink. He looks confident on the ice and when he is on, the Caps can play with just about anyone. Pray for his continued good health, Caps fans.

Speaking of health, it is very obvious that Laich is not 100% and I suspect he will need some type of surgical procedure when the season is over. Unfortunately he took a shot in a spot you don’t want to get hit in mid game and according to Coach Adam Oates was achy all over. Smartly, team trainer Greg “Smitty” Smith and Oates decided to shut #21 down with nine minutes to go in the game. Laich eats rocks for breakfast but even he has to be having a hard time playing through this injury he suffered overseas during that ridiculous lockout.

Alexander Ovechkin had a strong game despite only having two shots on net. He was on the ice when Green scored and his shootout attempt was the only one that found the back of the twine. It was a sick and unbelievable backhander top shelf on Nabokov that had the Russian goalie shaking his head. Not many players can do what the Gr8 did there. Unfortunately Ovechkin’s nine game point streak was snapped but the Gr8 would tell you he could care less on Thursday night because his club gained two points and finally took over the division lead.

The biggest reason the Capitals won is none other than Braden Holtby. #70 made numerous big saves and he was rock solid in the shootout. Holtbeast is the team’s MVP this season so far. The guys love playing for him and his stickhandling ability makes it very hard on opposing teams to dump the puck in on the Caps. That skill is very underrated.

So all seems right in the world again in Caps land. Washington is back in first in the Southeast and they have momentum. Once Erat gets some practice time to adjust, he should help this club even more. He had a solid first night’s work in a Capitals uniform playing on the third line with Mathieu Perreault and Joel Ward. I am looking forward to seeing him with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, at some point.

Summing the night up, it was a big two points against a squad that gives the Capitals fits. Washington controls their season the rest of the way so hopefully they seize the opportunity. It looks very optimistic right now as long as they don’t suffer any major injuries.

Therefore, Caps fans may want to start clearing their May calendars, something they probably weren’t thinking about doing three weeks or so ago.

Notes: The Islanders late third period pressure saw them jamming the boards on Washington’s breakout. The Caps didn’t adjust to that tactic quick enough and the Islanders finally made them pay on the tying goal…Green logged 26 minutes to lead Washington in ice time…Eric Fehr returned to the lineup and played only 7:22…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 28-22, with Backstrom going 12-6…shot attempts were 59-50 in favor of New York and shots on goal were 36-22 for the Islanders. They easily could have won this game if not for Holtby, although Nabokov made some quality saves on his end too…the Caps are in Florida on Saturday to take on the Panthers before returning home on Sunday to face the Lightning, who believe it or not, are still in the Southeast Division title race.

 

 

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