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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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Caps GM McPhee faces very critical week

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Caps GM McPhee faces very critical week

Posted on 27 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee is arguably facing his most critical week in his 16 year tenure.

His Caps sit at 15-17-1, 11th place in the Eastern Conference and 23rd overall in the NHL, with the trade deadline just one week away on April 3rd at 3pm.

It is waters they have not chartered since 2006-07 and a team that won four straight Southeast Division titles from 2008 to 2011 with 94, 108, 121, and 107 points, respectively, and had 92 points and finished eighth in the East last season, is currently moving towards a location often called “No Man’s Land.”

No Man’s Land is a spot in the NHL where you aren’t good enough to contend for the Stanley Cup, likely won’t make the playoffs, but also aren’t bad enough to land one of the top three spots in the draft. It is a position where it is very difficult to get better quickly, just ask the Calgary Flames or the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have been the President and Vice President of No Man’s Land in the NHL the last several years. Those teams, who have rabid and demanding fan bases, have recently routinely gone with the mind set that they are only a player or two away from the playoffs or contending in them. Both have been reluctant to take a critical step back in order to possibly move two or three steps forward (that might finally be changing in Calgary this spring, but is it too late?).

The Capitals were headed to No Man’s Land once before, in the days of Jaromir Jagr, but owner Ted Leonsis and McPhee went the “blow it up” route and started over. For the most part, especially from a business standpoint, they had success and it landed them Alexander Oveckhin, who is worth the price of admission on most nights, all by himself. It is important to note that hockey is first and foremost a business to many owners. So the bottom line is vital. Thus the push to just get into the playoffs can often be the difference between being in the red or black. The bottom line can drive an approach that constantly looks at the short term solution instead of the bigger picture.

This is a danger I see for the Caps right now. They are a team that has an incredible home sellout streak of 169 games and the marketable product in Ovechkin. But everyone knows in the Baltimore/DC area that winning is your most marketable item. This region demands a winner and when a club can’t consistently do that, the fan base erodes exponentially (see the Baltimore Orioles for 14 years). So owner Ted Leonsis surely is leery of what the impacts of a losing season or missing the playoffs would do to his club that generates full building after full building these days. So it can be a risk to have a losing season.

Clearly the Caps would love to make a run and reach the postseason this year but after last night’s loss to New York Islanders, they are seven points out of first place in the Southeast Division and four points behind the Rangers for eighth place overall in the Eastern Conference. With no Western Conference matchups, it is very difficult to make up ground. To reach the post season, the Capitals will likely need to go 11-4 or something along those lines. Is that really doable with this team, one that is finally healthy and still couldn’t beat John Tavares and company, at home, in a very important game?

That is a question that McPhee needs to ask himself because the way I see it right now he has three options over the next week:

1. Stand pat and do nothing

2. Become a buyer and try to make the post season

3. Sell off some assets ensuring a post season miss but put yourself in position to snag one of the elite players in what appears to be a draft with some impact players at the top.

In option one it will be difficult to make the postseason and the Caps likely end up 9th or 10th in the East. They would have low odds to win the new draft lottery to pick first overall and probably would draft around the 10th to 14th spot in New Jersey in June. In addition, unless they sign Mike Ribeiro, they likely lose him to unrestricted free agency after the season.

In the second choice, McPhee would really need to add an impact player to get this team to go 11-4 down the stretch. It would have to be a top line winger and to do that they have to give something up, likely their first round pick this year or perhaps one of their recent first round picks (Evgeny Kuznetsov, Filip Forsberg, or Tom Wilson). It is a mortgage the future type of move that might get them in the postseason but likely doesn’t put them in a real position to contend for the Stanley Cup given what the Pittsburgh Penguins roster looks like now after acquiring Brenden Morrow and Doug Murray. Making the playoffs would help the bottom line but would the price be too great? Then they’d still have the issue of trying to sign Ribeiro along with the asset they acquired at the deadline. The Caps currently have only $15M of salary cap space for 2013-14 with just 15 players under contract. Two top six forwards would eat up much of that and McPhee still has to sign defensemen Karl Alzner who is a restricted free agent, as well as some other players. Sure the competitor in me would like to give it a shot but depending on what you have to give up this season for a top six forward asset, doesn’t appear to make a lot of sense.

Therefore, option three seems to be the smart move. Signing Ribeiro is going to be awfully tough to do and with number 9 at 33 years old and wanting a five year deal, it just doesn’t seem like a wise option on his terms. Remember Michal Nylander? That signing in 2007 arguably cost McPhee the salary cap space he needed in 2009 to shore up a Washington defense that was likely the biggest thing holding them back from beating the Penguins in 2009 and going on to win the Stanley Cup. So why hamstring yourself with a big contract to an aging player and risk that scenario all over again when you are planning on contending again?

But if you can get a number one draft pick or more this year for Ribeiro, then you should deal him. Sure you will definitely miss the playoffs but you also now have two first round picks and could package them to possibly move up to number one, two, or three and get one of Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, or Jonathan Drouin. Jones, according to my sources, is the best player in the draft and NHL ready now. He very likely will be a number one defensemen on a team in the NHL in a couple of years. He’s a team changer. Snag him and you suddenly have options to possibly move some of your other defensemen, like Mike Green, who you are paying $6M a season now.

In addition to Ribeiro or Green, there are other guys on this roster that teams might be interested in such as Marcus Johansson or Joel Ward or one of the three goalies (Braden Holtby, Michal Neuvirth, or Philip Grubauer) at the trade deadline.

What McPhee and his staff need to do is work to the Baltimore Ravens model of “Right Player, Right Price.” You have to know the value you place on every player on your team and in the league and make moves accordingly. Washington’s pro scouts will really need to be doing their jobs well and feeding the GM the info he requires to make some hard decisions. If you do it right you don’t overpay for your own guys and can end up with better players at or below that price (see the Ravens getting Elvis Dumervil, Chris Canty, and Marcus Spears for the same overall amount the Cleveland Browns paid for Paul Kruger).

McPhee has made some very smart decisions on players before, such as Semyon Varlamov, who he traded for a 1st and 2nd round pick. The 1st rounder is now Forsberg while the Capitals haven’t taken any hit at all in the goaltending department. Sergei Fedorov for Theo Ruth was another blue ribbon deal by the GM that made the Caps a legit Stanley Cup contender for two straight springs. But he’s also had some not so good decisions (re-signing an aging Tom Poti for two years, the four year deal for Jeff Schultz, and the two years given to an aging Roman Hamrlik). Those contracts have impacted Washington’s salary cap while not yielding quality results on the ice.

With Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, and John Carlson having long term deals clearly they are the guys for McPhee to build around going forward. Everyone else should be up grabs. It is Asset Management 101 at this point for Washington. They need to do what they can to transform a team that was one of the best in the league from 2008 to 2010, but has steadily declined, back into a Cup contender.

Sure its a risk from a marketing standpoint, but the fans in this area recognize when you are going in the right direction and will have the patience to endure a reshaping of the roster, especially if they believe it will eventually lead to Washington’s first Stanley Cup. So it’s a low risk play and if the moves are done right and there is a championship in the next few years or so, then you have people locked into your team long term (see the Philadelphia Flyers, who still sell out despite not winning a Cup since 1975).

So this is a huge week for McPhee and one he has three roads he can possibly take. They aren’t easy decisions and only he and his staff really know what options are going to be available to him in return for his current assets.

The path he ultimately chooses will likely make or break his and the Capitals future.

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Ovechkin, Backstrom, & Holtby Lead Caps To Win in Big Apple

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Ovechkin, Backstrom, & Holtby Lead Caps To Win in Big Apple

Posted on 24 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Caution: Objects in your rear view mirror are larger than they appear!

That line is from an old Far Side cartoon and pictured in that comic is a car mirror with a huge eye ball in it.

Well Southeast Division teams Winnipeg and Carolina, that  huge eye ball encompassing your rear view mirror is now none other than Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.

The Caps, behind Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, who each had a goal, an assist, and a shootout goal, along with the goaltending of Braden Holtby (30 saves), knocked off the Rangers in a contest that went to the gimmick, 3-2, on Sunday night in Madison Square Garden.

It was a gigantic victory for Washington against a team that, on paper, appears to be Stanley Cup Contenders and it improves the Capitals record to 15-16-1.

What is more impressive is that this was three straight victories, on the road, in four nights for the Capitals. The Rangers were the more rested team yet Washington was able to jump out to a quick start, blow a 2-0 lead, and then hold serve until they could win it in the shootout. It was a gutsy Caps victory and getting the extra point is so critical to their playoff hopes right now. New York moves into 8th place but Washington is just two points behind.

The key for the Capitals, though, is the Southeast Division. Now that the club is healthy, they have a good chance to win the division if they can stay away from an injury to one of their top six forwards and their current defensive crew. That is a big if, but this team seems to be really bonding now that one of their leaders, Brooks Laich, has returned. The work ethic has been there in all four games since #21 came back and getting Mike Green, Dmitry Orlov, and even Jack Hillen healthy on defense has made a world of difference.

The Caps did a lot of things well on Sunday but two things they must improve on is their five on three power play and they can’t give up so many odd man rushes. Washington had nearly two minutes to take the lead early in period two with two Rags in the box but the Capitals overpassed the puck and when they shot, it was the wrong selection. Personally, I’d prefer Green out there on the point on the 5 on 3. So far this year the team is one for six in five on three situations while their opponents are a strong six for eight. The Rangers scored quickly on their two man advantage in period one to tie the game.

As for the odd man rushes, it was Green who got caught on the boards in the offensive zone that allowed Aaron Asham to score on a two on one and the Rangers had several other quality looks off of odd man breaks. Marian Gaborik had a second period breakaway but Holtby made his best save of the game to steady things for Washington at a critical time. The Rangers score there and this likely ends up a loss.

But despite some of the areas that need to be cleaned up, the big positive is the way this team is finally playing. Their puck movement and support is much better and they appear to be having fun again. Ovechkin is on a tear and now has 16 goals and 15 assists in the 32 games. In an 82 game season he is at a 41 goal pace (he had 38 goals in 78 games last season). So much for all of that over the hill garbage we’ve been hearing from guys like Mike Milbury. The Gr8 is producing at a better rate lately because Coach Adam Oates now has two lines that are a threat to score, making it tougher for opposing defensive men and coaches to focus totally on Ovechkin.

Hockey is a team game, it can’t be won by individuals and that is what is happening with the Caps right now. They finally have a healthy roster and they are playing together. They dug themselves a huge standings hole with the bad start but this 3-1 road trip that began with a tough loss in Pittsburgh appears to be huge cause for optimism.

Their next seven games are very critical with one against Carolina and the other six against teams sitting 10th to 15th in the Eastern Conference (h/t Corey Masisak). Washington has a solid lineup now, some momentum, and they are playing like a team.

They must take advantage of this upcoming stretch and put themselves into playoff position.

But for now, the teams above them should be awfully concerned when checking their rear view mirrors.

Notes: The Caps were outshot 32-24 but the attempted shots favored Washington at 65-55. The Rangers block a lot of shots…New York won the faceoff battle 27-25…John Carlson led the game in ice time with 26:26 and it was a super road trip for #74. He is playing at a high level for the Caps right now…Holtby’s stickhandling was a big factor in Washington’s ability to get out of their zone cleanly on a number of occassions. That skill is an underrated one and is a big help to the team’s defense…the Capitals can get to .500 with a victory at the Verizon Center on Tuesday against the New York Islanders. The Isles smoked the Caps, 5-2, on the Island back on March 9th.

 

 

 

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Caps Blitz Jets Again Behind Ovechkin & Holtby

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Caps Blitz Jets Again Behind Ovechkin & Holtby

Posted on 22 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

After the Caps smoked the Jets, 4-0, on Thursday night, I blogged that we’d know around 930pm if the Capitals were back in the Southeast Division race.

I was wrong, we actually knew an hour earlier as the Capitals destroyed Winnipeg, 6-1, on Friday night. The victory puts the Caps just five points in back of first place Winnipeg with a game in hand. In addition, Washington is just three points behind the 8th place New York Rangers with a Sunday date at 7pm looming with the Rags.

Everything has pretty much come together for Washington this week and as I mentioned after Thursday’s win, it starts with having a close to full lineup. The return of Brooks Laich has done wonders for the forward combinations and suddenly Coach Adam Oates has two lines that can put the biscuit in the basket. It was the second line that set the pace again scoring first as Laich buried one by Ondrej Pavelec off of a sweet feed from Mike Ribeiro. Then Ribeiro set up Troy Brouwer on a two on one to give Washington a 2-0 advantage.

In the middle frame Jay Beagle scored after a nice pass from Joel Ward to chase Pavelec and then the Gr8 greeted Al Montoya with a top shelf snapper that made it 4-0 and ended this one for all intensive purposes. In the third period, Mike Green scored with Laich doing a super job of screening in front and then Alexander Ovechkin tallied on the power play for his 2nd of the night and 15th of the season (now tied for 7th in NHL goal scoring) to round out the Caps markers.

Braden Holtby continued his stellar play and didn’t lose his shutout until late in the third period. #70 made some big stops early in the game when Winnipeg was playing hard and physical against Washington. The Jets also received the first four power plays of the game but Holtby didn’t allow any rubber to get past him.

So the Caps are now 14-16-1 with 17 games remaining. It is very clear that despite the loss to the Penguins on Tuesday, they picked up some confidence in that tough defeat. Pittsburgh has won 11 in a row and Washington nearly beat them in that game in the Steel City. Since then the Capitals have built on that confidence in the two white washes of Winnipeg. Confidence is so critical in hockey and the Caps clearly have that right now. Their more mobile defense with Green and Dmitry Orlov is getting to the puck quicker and getting it up to the forwards so that they can create more offense. The improved health has brought a lot of optimism this week.

The question now becomes, can they finally beat the Rangers, who have won both affairs this season? The Rags have the Caps number lately and John Tortorella’s crew has two talented top lines. New York has been struggling of late but you can bet they’ll be fired up for the Caps.

A win on Sunday in Madison Square Garden and things get really interesting. That is one tough place to play and the Capitals are due for some luck there after the game five disaster last spring.

Going in healthy in this third and final matchup between the two teams will certainly help.

But that game can wait until Sunday evening, Washington’s season was on the line coming to Manitoba and the Caps are leaving the province with a sweep of the Jets. Winnipeg and the MTS Centre are still trying to figure out what hit them and I’m not sure the Jets recover the rest of the regular season after getting their rears slapped around. The Capitals came in and showed Winnipeg who was boss, now Washington needs to continue to do that down the stretch to the rest of the teams they face.

Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle, 28-19. Laich was 9-4 on draws and as a result, Ribeiro only took one face-off, which is not #9′s strength…John Carlson had another really strong game logging a team high 22:37. No other Capital played over 20 minutes and none were under 10 minutes. Oates was able to just roll the lines which hopefully helps keep everyone fresh for the huge Sunday night contest.

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Healthier Caps To Big Victory

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Healthier Caps To Big Victory

Posted on 21 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

When the Capitals lines and defensive pairings for Thursday night’s contest against the Jets were tweeted out by Washington Capitals writer Mike Vogel during warmups, I tweeted back the following:

“Strongest Lineup All Season”

Well the Caps proceeded to make me and more importantly, themselves, look good as they smoked Winnipeg, 4-0 at the MTS Centre in a must win game.

Alex Ovechkin had a goal and two helpers and Braden Holtby stopped 20 shots in a dominant performance by Washington.

It was the Capitals best game of the season and it is no coincidence that it came when they were able to field their best lineup of the year.

Mike Green returned to the ice after the Caps got back Brooks Laich and Dmitry Orlov for the first time this campaign on Tuesday in Pittsburgh. Marcus Johansson is finally healthy as well. As noted in Tuesday’s blog after their loss to the Penguins, Washington’s effort was very good. On Thursday the effort was excellent and with a nearly healthy lineup for the first time this season (only John Erskine is really missing at this point), Adam Oates’ crew delivered a dandy performance.

Oates could finally put two scoring lines on the ice and he had three very good defensive pairings to use for the first time this season. As a result, John Carlson didn’t have to play close to 30 minutes and that helped him have one heck of a hockey game. #74 was downright superb in his 23:23 of action. That total led the club and looking at the ice times, the depth in the lineup allowed the Caps to roll the lines and the defensive pairs. As Alan May tweeted before the contest, the defense was the most mobile Oates has been able to play all year. Predictably, Washington’s ability to get to the puck and move it up the ice increased tremendously. Overall players were fresher and more productive with not many guys playing out of position. It is a shame that it has taken 30 games to get a healthy lineup, but it is, what it is.

Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) have reformed their chemistry from past seasons and are both heating up. The Gr8 now has 27 points in 30 games and five points in his last three games. It’s no surprise that his numbers have improved as the team is getting back to full strength.

So the Caps get a huge win in Manitoba to pull within seven points of the Jets with a game in hand in the Southeast Division race. With the Carolina Hurricanes losing their fifth in a row, Washington is just five points in back of them.

On Friday at 7pm, the Caps and Jets go at it again. It is another must win for Washington. If they can get it, they are back in the division race. If they lose, then the hole they dug is likely too deep to recover from to make the postseason.

It is tough that it comes down to this game on Friday, but that’s what happens when you put yourself so far behind the eight ball.

Still, the fact that the Capitals played at a high level when they finally iced a nearly healthy club has to be very encouraging. It gives the team and its fans hope that they may be able to salvage this season after all, especially if they can get a W for the second straight night.

We will know more around 930pm on Friday night.

Notes: Steve Oleksy continues to play solid hockey and he also took on big forward James Wright and held his own in a first period fight. #61 played 16:40, which is a good amount for a guy just cutting his teeth in the NHL this season. He doesn’t look out of place at all so far…Orlov played just 14:40 but he was +2 and looked really good at getting and moving the puck. He was paired with Green…Ovechkin had two monstrous hits in the second period on one shift (Bryan Little and Mark Stuart). Stuart only played one shift in the third period…Holtby’s best stop came in the 3rd on a sweet pad save on an all alone Antti Miettinen.

 

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Crosby’s Pens Too Good For Ovechkin’s Caps

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Crosby’s Pens Too Good For Ovechkin’s Caps

Posted on 19 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Caps fans may not like hearing this, but Sidney Crosby is one heck of a hockey player.

On the flip side, despite the constant bashing from clowns like Mike Milbury, Alexander Ovechkin is still a heck of a hockey player too.

On Tuesday night in Pittsburgh the two teams met in the Steel City and both players brought it in an exciting game. Ovechkin had a power play goal to give Washington the lead but Crosby answered back by setting up two goals. One of those setups, unfortunately for Washington, came after the Penguins had killed off a critical late four minute power play and they scored on the ensuing rush after a Capitals turnover to prevail, 2-1.

It was a crushing loss for the Caps who got Brooks Laich and Dmitry Orlov back in the lineup for the first time this season. The effort was good, but efforts don’t necessarily translate into points in the hockey world.

So now the Caps head to Winnipeg for a two game set with the Southeast Division leading Jets. Winnipeg has a nine point lead so Washington’s playoff chances continue to dwindle with the trade deadline set for two weeks from Wednesday (April 3).

The Caps will need to play hard like they did on Tuesday, but they also need to be more efficient. Their power play let them down and John Carlson continues to struggle with his passing at the point. A return of Mike Green would certainly be a boost to the man advantage situations. #52 is on the road trip.

At the end of the night, the hard work was there but the loss to the Penguins, who have now won 10 in a row, is a bitter one. Pittsburgh is a very good hockey team, even without Evgeny Malkin and Kris Letang, who are both out injured. Dan Bylsma has his club playing defensively as well as they have since they won the Stanley Cup in 2009. I am not sure how he turned a leaky blue line core around but part of the equation is the strong backchecking of their forwards. Pascal Dupuis’ late stick check on Ovechkin in the slot likely saved the victory. It is one example of how Pittsburgh is doing the little things in their own zone to thwart their opponents. Simply put, if the Pens keep playing like that, even Boston will have a hard time beating them in the Eastern Conference.

As for the Caps, well it was another lost game in a frustrating and disappointing lockout shortened campaign.

In the words of one Reg Dunlop, “We got a lot of losses.”

So Washington’s season is on the brink heading to Manitoba this weekend and if they don’t turn it around, the only way this loss to Pittsburgh on Tuesday will be worth it, in my book, is if they end up winning the draft lottery and getting defensemen Seth Jones.

That’s asking a lot, but that’s what it takes to get over a Capitals loss to the Penguins these days.

 

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Caps Follow Ovechkin’s Lead to Victory

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Caps Follow Ovechkin’s Lead to Victory

Posted on 18 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

After a subpar effort in Boston on Saturday, the Washington Capitals needed a fast start to get back on track Sunday night against the Buffalo Sabres. They got just that as Alexander Ovechkin lasered home the biscuit 19 seconds into the contest after Nicklas Backstrom won an offensive zone draw and Marcus Johansson tapped the puck to the Gr8. The Caps would go on to grab a 4-1 lead, see it shrink to 4-3, before Mathieu Perreault put this one away with 4:55 to go. The victory improves Washington to 12-15-1 and seven points out of first place in the Southeast Division with 20 games remaining.

There were lots of good and some not so good in Washington’s play Sunday evening but one thing is for certain, the Sabres are a bad team and appear headed to battling Florida for the bottom spot in the Eastern Conference and perhaps the NHL standings.

The fact that Buffalo is bad was my primary takeaway of the night but there are several things worth pointing out in this contest as it relates to the Capitals:

- Ovechkin’s night included the early goal and he could have had several more. In 20:11 of ice time he had 16 shot attempts, five of which found the cage. He hit the post in the first period and had numerous scoring chances. He also doled out three hits and very importantly, he came to the aid of teammate Backstrom in the middle frame. The Sabres are not a physical team on the back end but their primary pest and chief punk, forward Steve Ott, is someone you have to watch out for at all times on the ice. Ott was up to no good most of the evening and after a whistle he reached for Backstrom’s throat area. Ovechkin quickly grabbed Ott from behind and took him to the ice. This was especially good to see given that many were questioning the ability of the Caps to come to the aid of their teammates after Matt Hendricks was jumped in Beantown on Saturday. The team captain was having none of the pesky Ott trying to take out the Capitals #1 center. Good to see there Ovi, great toughness and leadership.

- Washington’s power play is a thing of beauty at times and I credit much of that to Mike Ribeiro and Backstrom. The two of them are creative magicians with the puck and the Troy Brouwer tally that made it 2-1 is one you could watch over and over because of the work of numbers 9 and 19. Brouwer has been very good at being the guy in the middle of the ice who finds space for the in close quick shot or for screening the opposing goalie. Oates has done a good job with the power play and if Mike Green were back healthy, it would likely be even better. John Carlson has a great shot but his passing skills are not at 52′s level and once again on Sunday #74 had a hard time of putting the puck in the correct area for Ovechkin to get off his patented one timer. The Caps went 1 for 4 with the man advantage but if they could get the Gr8 the puck in his wheelhouse the damage could be far greater.

- Speaking of the power play, the Caps received one late when Ott was sent to the dressing room for basically being a horse’s rear. The score was 5-3 and I’m sure many players were thinking about the post game, at that point. I’ve blogged about Oates’ atttention to detail in the past and I noticed that old #77 was quite animated talking to his club before the start of that power play with 1:20 to go. Brouwer said afterwards that Oates was explaining he was going with two defensemen and for his team to be careful and not take chances. He also warned his club that the Sabres would pull Ryan Miller and make it a 5 on 5 situation. Buffalo did just that and the Caps were prepared.

- Once again Washington lost a defensemen in the game and were forced to play with five rearguards. Tom Poti took a cross check from Ott in the second period and didn’t return (played only 7:38 total). Oates said that #3 already had a bad back so the injury wasn’t all on Ott. As a result, Carlson logged 30:15 while Jack Hillen played a season high 23:03. Steve Oleksy played 21:09 but it wasn’t his best game as he screened Braden Holtby (27 saves) on the Sabres first goal and he got suckered into a penalty by Ott in the third period. In fairness to #61, Ott did ask him to go then when Oleksy dropped his mitts the Buffalo forward turtled. In his post game presser, Oates didn’t seem too happy with what Ott did and noted the pre penalty verbal exchange was clear on the video. With the injury to Poti it is unclear who will suit up in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Tomas Kundratek, who was injured in Carolina on Thursday skated minimally on Sunday morning. Green is close to returning while John Erskine is on IR and did not skate on Sunday. In addition, Dmitry Orlov played for Hershey on Sunday night, notched two assists, and was the game’s third star so perhaps #81 could make his Caps season debut in the Steel City or sometime in the near future? One thing is for sure, the Caps have to be tired of losing defensemen in game and having to play short.

Overall, the Capitals got a much needed win on Sunday night. It came against one of the weaker teams in the league. Washington was sloppy, at times, and will need to play a much better game on Tuesday, when they face the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road. The Pens have won nine straight and have really clamped down in their own end. The Caps will have to be close to perfect to beat Sidney Crosby and company.

Notes: Brooks Laich told me he will be back in the lineup “very soon.” Let’s hope that means Tuesday in Pittsburgh or at worst, Thursday in Winnipeg…the Caps destroyed the Sabres from the face off dot, 41-23. Brouwer was 10-2, Perreault was 8-3, and Ribeiro was 5-1…Johansson had a goal and an assist in 18:57 of ice time. It was his best game of the season and he played on the top line with Ovechkin and Backstrom. Ribeiro (two assists) centered Brouwer and Eric Fehr to form a solid second unit…Perreault and Joel Ward had two points on the third line and Jason Chimera scored his first goal of the season, a big relief for #25.

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Bad Weekend Puts Caps Behind the 8 Ball

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Bad Weekend Puts Caps Behind the 8 Ball

Posted on 10 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Just when it looked like the Caps had worked themselves back into the playoff discussion, they come out and lay a total egg on the weekend.

Back to back three goal defeats to the New York Islanders and New York Rangers drop Washington to 10-13-1 and in a major standings hole at the mid point of this lockout shortened 48 game season.

It was a disappointing pair of games at a time when they needed their star players to step up, but the Capitals got very poor performances from both Alex Ovechkin (-5) and Mike Ribeiro (-4). Neither player registered a single point in the two games and each took an untimely penalty (a double minor in Ribeiro’s case). They both received a lot of ice time but their hockey focus and effort were downright terrible. To sum it up, you can pretty much hang these two losses on those two players.

Washington continues to play without Brooks Laich up front and Mike Green’s groin injury forced him out of the lineup for both weekend tilts. As a result the Caps power play, which was on fire early on, is struggling big time. Not having #52 is a big part of that as he is the team’s best point passer. Yes, John Carlson has a good shot but time after time #74′s passes are off the mark, and he is getting good at putting the biscuit into the skates of Ovechkin for his patented one timer. In the skates is not the place those feeds need to be.

So now the Caps face a daunting task. They are eight points out of the division lead with 24 games to go, however, they get the Southeast leaders, the Carolina Hurricanes, in their next two contests. These are must wins for Washington on Tuesday and Thursday if they want to stay in the playoff hunt.

If they get swept by Carolina, then management has some hard decisions to make, none more important as keeping or trading unrestricted free agent Ribeiro by the April 3rd deadline. If #9 plays like he did this weekend, the decision is pretty easy.

Bottom line though, the Caps put their playoff chances behind the eight ball with their two listless performances against the Islanders and the Rangers.

Notes: Philip Grubauer made his NHL debut and received the loss on Saturday. He played okay but turnovers and bad penalties cost the Caps that game…the best lines in that contest were the 3rd and 4th units…on Sunday, the Caps played a solid first 10 minutes but Braden Holtby gave up a bad goal and then the Rangers took over. The Rags have a very good team and are Cup contenders, in my book…Nicklas Backstrom was 14-0 on faceoffs against the Rangers…Steve Oleksy scored his first NHL goal on Sunday. The 27 year old d-man was one of the few weekend positives.

 

 

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Have The Caps Put Themselves Back in the Playoff Race?

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Have The Caps Put Themselves Back in the Playoff Race?

Posted on 26 February 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals played their second consecutive quality hockey game on Tuesday in a 3-0 white washing of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Braden Holtby’s 33 saves and Nicklas Backstrom’s goal and assist paved the way for a solid victory after Alexander Ovechkin put on that great show on Saturday against the Devils.

Coach Adam Oates’ club is exhibiting some serious signs of being a much better hockey team than we saw in the early part of this season and their shot output over the last two contests certainly indicates that. Washington has dominated both of these last two matchups.

So the question now becomes, have the Capitals put themselves back in the playoff race?

At 7-10-1 the answer would often be a solid “no.” But then again, the Caps play in the Southleast, er, Southeast Division. At 15 points, Washington is only four points out of the division lead, which would yield a third seed in the post season.

The Caps are now 5-2 in their last seven games and the way Holtby is playing in net and the fact that Ovechkin and Backstrom have kicked their games up to the elite level certainly gives Washington and their fans cause for optimism.

Backstrom clearly was the best skater on the ice in this one and owned the puck and his opponent most of the evening. Ovechkin (1 assist) didn’t have any shots on goal but the Gr8 had three takeaways, four hits, and some superb passes that should’ve had resulted in more Capitals goals if only there were additional finishers on this club. John Carlson (1G, 1A) is playing his best hockey of the season and was a force on the ice, as well.

In net, Holtby is in a major groove and his two top stops were while the Caps were on the power play. The first was on an Alex Semin breakaway early in a scoreless game and then on Eric Staal on an odd man rush in the third period. If either of those chances go in, the game might have gone differently. But #70 is playing large in net and looks ultra confident in the cage.

Simply put, if those four players are playing near the top of their respective games, the Capitals are going to be in every contest. That is what has been happening over this seven game stretch. Add in Mike Green returning to the lineup after missing three tilts due to a groin injury and it appears that things are finally heading in the right direction for the Caps.

The question is, can they keep this up? Teams will look to take away Ovechkin and Backstrom along with Mike Ribeiro. Those three players are the heart of the Washington offense. It will be up to players like Troy Brouwer, Eric Fehr, Mathieu Perreault, Joel Ward, and Jason Chimera to convert on the great setups they are getting from 9, 19, and 8. What would make things even better is if the Caps could get Brooks Laich back in the lineup in the near future.

So are the Caps back in the playoff race? Given the current standings, you’d have to say yes.

But tough games in Philadelphia on Wednesday, then in Winnipeg on Saturday before coming home to face the Boston Bruins on Tuesday loom large. How this team does in these three upcoming contests will go a long way towards answering things for the Capitals management.

A 2-1 or better mark certainly has to make owner Ted Leonsis and GM George McPhee seriously think about finding a way to add a finisher or two to the forward crew to give this club a chance to take the division and try and make some post season headway. However, if they drop two of three in regulation then the pendulum swings back to the longer term where finishing near the bottom of the standings will very likely yield a prize prospect.

It’s a fine line for this hockey team right now, but there is no doubt they are back in the playoff race with 30 games to go.

Notes: The Caps lost the faceoff battle for the first time in seven games, 31-29…Green played 21:54 in his first game back and looked fairly good, although there were some tentative moments along the walls, which is to be expected…the Caps were 2-2 on the penalty kill and 1-4 with the power play. Their third goal came 28 seconds after a Canes penalty expired but it was the PP pressure that resulted in the tally as Carolina never recovered territorially after the initial two minutes were up.

 

 

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