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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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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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