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Caps Holes Evident in Loss to Rangers

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Caps Holes Evident in Loss to Rangers

Posted on 17 February 2013 by Ed Frankovic

 

Typically in pro sports, wins and losses comes down to talent. On Sunday night in New York at Madison Square Garden talent was the difference as the New York Rangers knocked off the Washington Capitals, 2-1, despite an outstanding goaltending performance from the Caps Braden Holtby (38 saves).

The Caps came into this game already missing Brooks Laich up front and Dmitry Orlov on the back end and when they had to play without their best defensemen, Mike Green (lower body injury), you knew it was going to be tough sledding for Washington. And that is exactly what happened as the Rangers used their talent up front to dominate puck possession and the shot clock for the first 30 minutes of this contest. The only thing that made it a game to that point was Holtby, who somehow managed to keep the scoreboard knotted at one.

Unfortunately for Washington, Holtby couldn’t score goals from the opposing crease and that is what doomed the Capitals in this one. Over the last 30 minutes Coach Adam Oates’ team started to carry more of the play, but when you only have three top six forwards and are relying on guys like Wojtek Wolksi and Jason Chimera to score from the left wing on the top two lines you are in trouble. Don’t get me wrong, I like Chimera. He is a lunch pail, hard working forward, but he is a third line left winger. Wolski, well that’s another story. The former first round pick isn’t on his fifth team for nothing, although that is what the Caps pretty much paid for him. In this case, the old saying, “You get what you paid for” certainly applies. Wolski had several opportunities to score on Sunday night after some sweet set ups from Nicklas Backstrom, yet Wolski couldn’t find the net on many of them.

On the back end with Green out, Oates had two choices in either Tom Poti or Roman Hamrlik. Neither are good ones at this point as both older players have shown that their careers are pretty much finished. Poti got the call on Sunday and played less than 10 minutes. On the Rangers first goal, Poti was downright terrible turning the puck over and then failing to tie up Carl Hagelin by the net as #62 put the biscuit home. Oates barely played #3 after that one.

Still, given the talent imbalance, I have to give the Capitals players credit for battling a team that many have picked to come out of the Eastern Conference to play for the Stanley Cup this spring down to the wire. There was no lack of effort from Washington’s players and Oates has impressed me with what he’s done in many areas with this team. But at the end of the day, they just don’t have enough finishers. The Caps opponents know they just need to key on Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Mike Ribeiro and they are in good shape. Even still, the Capitals almost tied this one up late, so kudos on the effort.

But despite the late surge the effort yielded 0 points and Washington fell to 5-9-1, good for last place in the Eastern Conference.

Two years ago in the post season the Capitals eliminated the Rangers in five games. After that series, Rangers Coach John Tortorella said, “We are not there yet,” describing his lack of talent compared to Washington’s, at the time. Last spring, the Caps and New York played a seven game series that was pretty much a dead heat but the Rangers got the bounces and moved on.

So what transpired last summer from a management perspective for these two clubs? Well the Rangers went out and acquired former #1 draft pick Rick Nash while the Caps acquired Ribeiro to fill their gaping hole at second line center. Unfortunately the Capitals let Alex Semin and Dennis Wideman walk in free agency without replacing them. Sure they were counting on Orlov to fill some of Wideman’s shoes, but Wideman didn’t get upwards of $5M a year for nothing. Semin received $7M from the Hurricanes, who are in first place in the Southeast Division. Based on that, combined with the injuries to Laich and Orlov, it is pretty easy to see why the teams sure seem headed in opposite directions right now.

To get back into the playoff race will be extremely difficult for the Caps, at this point, unless management makes some moves. That doesn’t appear easy, even if they are willing to do so. Sure Washington has some good young talent overseas and at the junior level. But Evgeny Kuznetsov (2010 1st round pick) won’t be in the NHL until 2014, Filip Forsberg (2012 1st round pick) is playing in Sweden this year, and Tom Wilson (2012 1st round pick) needs the proper time to develop. There is no immediate help in the system this season so the answer would have to come from trades, which are difficult to pull off in the salary cap era.

Therefore, it just looks like the Caps will have to gut this out and see where things take them. If they aren’t making up ground by the trade deadline (April 3rd), then a decision will have to be made on Ribeiro, who will be a free agent this summer. Based on the way #9 has played, he will bring value in return. Then again, it may be worth signing him if Washington thinks it is in position to compete with the elite of the East starting in October. It also doesn’t make any sense to rush Laich and Orlov back from their injuries, as well.

In no way am I advocating quitting on the season, you never do that. However, given that there are some prize players at the top of the draft board this year, particularly American defensemen Seth Jones, who just helped Team USA win the Gold Medal in the World Juniors in January, the Caps need to be smart about things because adding a player like Jones given what is in the pipeline the next two years changes the dynamic of your team.

But there are still 33 contests to go and the Eastern Conference is pretty weak after the Rangers, Boston Bruins, and New Jersey Devils. The Penguins and Hurricanes certainly appear to be in the next grouping but after that, there are no really strong teams so anything can happen.

Still, when you see the holes in the Capitals lineup, it is tough to get excited about this short lockout stained season.

Notes: Backstrom was 12-6 on faceoffs and Washington won the battle there overall, 31-27, but on the Rangers game winning PPG, Jay Beagle was beaten cleanly on the draw and the Rags scored in seven seconds for the ball game…the Rangers had 20 shots in the 1st period but Holtby, in amazing fashion, stopped them all…Tomas Kundratek played a career high 23:25 with Green out of the lineup…Washington’s power play missed #52 and went 0 for 4…the Caps have a crucial two game series with the Devils starting on Thursday. If they lose both tilts, then the Jones talk will heat up even more…for more of my take on the team, check out my on-air session with Thyrl Nelson of WNST from Friday’s MobTown Sportsbeat show here

 

 

 

 

 

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Improving Caps Win 3rd Straight

Posted on 14 February 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals did a lot of things right and several things wrong on Thursday night but the bottom line was the Caps got a much needed and deserved victory in Tampa by the score of 4-3.

Eric Fehr potted two tallies and Mathieu Perreault had three assists as Coach Adam Oates third line, that also includes Joel Ward, was the primary reason the Caps were victorious.

Jay Beagle had the eventual game winner to make it 4-1 with 12:31 to go but if you watched the entire game, you knew it was not going to be an easy finish against a very talented Lightning club. The Caps continue to have their struggles in their own zone with poor coverage and turnovers. The last eight plus minutes basically turned into “The Count Floyd Show” as the team survived one scary shift after another en route to a nailbiting win.

Beagle won some big draws late and Braden Holtby, who made several huge stops in this one but also had a breakdown or two himself, held strong at the finish.

It was a game the Caps had to have to stay in the playoff race and they worked hard to win it. The effort has certainly amped up here during this three game winning streak and Washington also did a good job of not taking bad penalties in this one. The Capitals only went to the sin bin twice and thwarted both Tampa power plays.

On offense, Washington has 15 goals in three games. The power play looks great and clicked early on its only try and that goal by Troy Brouwer on a pretty passing play set the tone. With the Caps going 8 for their last 15 with the man advantage the Bolts knew they could not afford to take penalties. They did take some infractions but fortunately for them, zebras Frederic L’Ecuyer and Steve Kozari were pretty much letting things go in this one.

When Oates took over it was believed that Washington’s offense would return and it certainly has in the last week. The Caps had a lot of sustained pressure and poured 39 shots on Mathieu Garon. In this streak they are getting the biscuit deep and using the cycle game to generate chances. They are also crashing the net much more. Tonight they won the game with three of the four goals coming from their bottom two lines.

What is concerning is the Caps defensive zone play. There are times when Washington just doesn’t look like they know what they are doing in their own end. Oates must address this to keep this streak going because Holtby certainly bailed the team out several times in the first 50 minutes of this one.

Fortunately the head coach has two days to work on the defensive zone because one thing their next opponent, the New York Rangers, will do on Sunday is test Washington in their own end with hard work and a strong cycle game.

But that is for tomorrow and Saturday, on Thursday the Caps got a Florida sweep to move to 5-8-1. They still have issues on the defensive side and their top two lines could use some personnel upgrades. A Brooks Laich return soon would be an upgrade over Wojtek Wolski, for sure. It would also be nice if GM George McPhee could make a move while the team is winning to get another top six winger because playing Jason Chimera and/or Matt Hendricks with Mike Ribeiro and Alex Ovechkin isn’t a long term recipe for success.

One thing is becoming clear though, Oates is a smart hockey guy and he has this team’s attention.

The Hall of Fame bench boss has this hockey club playing hard and improving, despite some big holes in the lineup.

Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle, 36-29. That is a very important stat on the road. Beagle was 8-3 from the dot, Perreault won six of eight draws, while Nicklas Backstrom was 13-10…Karl Alzner had his best game of the season and logged 26:12 to lead the Caps in ice time…John Erskine was excellent again and played a whopping 23:42 on the blue line…Ribeiro and Ovechkin were both -2 on the night but I thought #9 was good. He made some super two way plays and his wingers just aren’t finishing right now. The Gr8 had defensive zone issues but he was better on D on his very last shift at the end of the game. His positioning and posture appear to be his biggest problems in his own end.

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Ovechkin’s Best Game of Season Gets Oates His First Win

Posted on 27 January 2013 by Ed Frankovic

For the Caps to win consistently, they need above average games from their three star players.

On Sunday afternoon, Washington got exactly that from Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green.

Add some superb goaltending from Michal Neuvirth (22 saves) into the equation and it resulted in a 3-2 Caps victory over Buffalo, Washington’s first of the season in five tries. It also was Coach Adam Oates first head coaching victory at the NHL level.

This was a game the Caps absolutely had to have after an 0-3-1 start, especially with two road games this week in Ottawa and Toronto followed by home tilts on Friday with the despised Flyers and Super Bowl Sunday afternoon with the hated Penguins.

Fortunately they won it because the real Ovechkin showed up at the Verizon Center on Sunday. The Gr8 was skating hard, hitting (3 hits), and shooting the biscuit (5 shots on goal). He also scored the game winner on a perfect power play feed from Green, who continues to carry the Caps defense (27:58 of ice time). When Ovechkin plays like that, more often than not, the Capitals win.

Oates clearly saw a change in Ovechkin and Backstrom in this one because he reunited 19 and 8 six minutes into period two and more importantly, he put a physical Troy Brouwer along with them. In my opinion, those are the three best players at their respective positions on the team and to “load up” the first line seems to make the most sense.

Washington continued to get another strong game from Joel Ward. #42, who told me at the team’s first practice that he was finally healthy after hernia surgery, continues to work hard and go to the net. He is strong in the corners and is back skating like the dominant player he was in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Nashville Predators. Ward had a goal and assist in 15:23 of ice time, which included 1:45 of power play time. He certainly merits that man advantage time and deservers a spot on the second unit simply because he goes to the net where the garbage goals are scored.

The Caps also did their best job of the season of staying out of the penalty box. They only had to kill off two minors (and the call on Joey Crabb was borderline, at best) and they now are 9 for their last 10 on the PK.  On the power play, the Caps did get the winning tally with the man advantage and went 1 for 3. Washington still needs to get more traffic on the opposing goalie because perfect passing plays are not always going to be available like they executed on the game winner. If they get bodies and pucks to the net on a consistent basis they will improve on the 4 for 23 rate they have through five games.

Overall, it was a good victory for the Caps but they beat a team that was without their best player in Tomas Vanek. Washington has dug itself a little standings hole here early and with Tampa jumping out to a 4-1 start, the Capitals will need similar efforts every night to make a run for the division or get into the post season.

With Brooks Laich still out up front and Dmitry Orlov still sidelined on the back end, the Caps are missing two players that I expected a lot from this season. The team is already short top six forwards so Ovechkin, Backstrom and Green along with the goaltenders, have to be on their games each night for this team to contend.

They did that on Sunday, so the club can breathe a sigh of relief. However, the games continue to come fast and furious in this 48 tilt season so there is a very small margin of error going forward.

Notes: Oates showed defensive confidence in Backstrom and Ovechkin putting them on the ice in the last minute. Both did their job in their own end with #19 making a great play to get the puck to Ovechkin for what looked to be an easy open net, but somehow the Gr8 didn’t bury the biscuit on a play he typically scores on 99 times out of 100…Washington dominated from the dot, 33-20, and outshot the Sabres, 30-24…Jay Beagle was 12-3 on faceoffs…Jason Chimera had two assists in another solid game.

 

 

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Oates Needs to Figure Things Out Fast

Posted on 22 January 2013 by Ed Frankovic

0-2 is no time to panic in a normal hockey season and even in a 48 game campaign, there is no need for the Capitals to do that after losing their home opener to the Winnipeg Jets, 4-2.

However, they don’t exactly have a month or so to get things together since every loss and missed opportunity is magnified in this lockout shortened season.

On the ice, this team has not adjusted well to their new coach and they look a step slow on the ice.

Is it because they are out of game shape?

Are they thinking instead of reacting instinctively like you need to do when playing hockey?

Why is the penalty killing so bad (allowed five goals on opponents first nine tries)?

I could go on listing more, but you get the message, right now there are more questions than answers about this Capitals squad.

Coach Adam Oates is still learning his personnel and trying to implement his system so things couldn’t possibly go smoothly right out of the gate given a really short training camp and no real exhibition games, right?

Naturally, the answer to that is yes. Rome wasn’t built in a day and you can’t impose a new system and philosophy on a hockey team and get them to hit close to optimal performance immediately. So we have to give Oates and his staff a pass, at this point, and hope he can find the answers quickly.

Already he seems to have realized that playing Marcus Johansson on the top line and first power play unit is a mistake as MJ90 only received one third period shift. As I blogged after Saturday’s loss, Ovechkin and Backstrom need someone who can go to the net for them. Crashing the crease is not a Johansson specialty nor is he going to be an asset down low in the corners getting the puck out to 19 and 8. I much prefer a bigger guy with those two and wouldn’t mind seeing either Troy Brouwer there or even Eric Fehr, who has had past success playing on that line.

In addition to top line personnel changes, here’s to hoping the Alexander Ovechkin on the penalty kill idea is jettisoned as well. I am a big fan of the Gr8 but to waste his time trying to have him do something he is just not cut out for, playing defense when a man down, doesn’t make sense. Having Ovechkin rest while the Caps are shorthanded seems more logical. Defense is not Ovechkin’s strength, so why put him out there in those situations?

There are still 46 games left and there were some encouraging things in the 3rd period of Tuesday night’s loss (Caps outshot the Jets 17-6 and outscored them 1-0) so hopefully the team can build off of a decent period going forward. But how much of that improved Caps play was the result of Winnipeg hitting the wall after three games in four nights?

We can add that one to the question list as well, however, the bottom line is this team is playing very poor hockey right now.

Therefore, Oates needs to figure this mess out fast before the shortened season gets away from Washington too quickly.

Notes: The Caps have three games in four nights starting Thursday at home vs Montreal before facing the Devils in New Jersey on Friday and then the Sabres at home on Sunday…Braden Holtby allowed 4 goals on 34 shots. He was hung out to dry quite a bit, but on the first Jets goal, which went off of John Carlson’s skate, he overplayed the pass. It was a fluky and weak goal that Washington didn’t need after taking an early 1-0 lead…Mike Green played 27:35 to lead all Caps in ice time…Matt Hendricks had a goal and two fights. I thought he and Jay Beagle were the best Caps on the ice on Tuesday…this team could really use a healthy Brooks Laich but there is still no definitive time table for his return to the lineup.

 

 

 

 

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Capitals Players Impressed With Oates on Day One

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Capitals Players Impressed With Oates on Day One

Posted on 13 January 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Hockey is Back!

At least that is the slogan the NHL is using coming out of the lockout.

Based on the deal finally made between the NHL and NHLPA, it was a stoppage that easily could have been avoided last September, but that is water under the bridge, at this point.

What is important is the Washington Capitals are about to enter their 38th season still seeking their first ever Stanley Cup, and they will attempt to do that with a rookie head coach in NHL Hall of Famer Adam Oates.

Oates inherits a team that was one game away from beating the New York Rangers and advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. It was a year that was a trying one for the team given a coaching change and Nicklas Backstrom’s 40 game absence due to a concussion.

In the offseason, General Manager George McPhee hit two home runs in the first round of the NHL draft in Filip Forsberg and Tom Wilson. Forsberg will play in Sweden this year and Wilson was in camp today, but likely will return to his Ontario Hockey League team (Plymouth) after no more than five NHL games. McPhee let enigmatic forward Alexander Semin go the route of free agency (now with Carolina), but the GM did fill a major hole by obtaining center Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars. It was a big move and the Caps now have two legit top six centers in Backstrom and Ribiero for the first time since Backstrom and Sergei Fedorov in 2009.

In talking to several players after Oates’ first on ice practice, which was precluded by a video session, there is a sense that Oates really knows the game inside and out and the team is ready to embrace the aggressive system he is going to employ.

Captain Alexander Ovechkin made it clear that gone is “dump and chase” hockey and the “ability to create” will be back in the game plan.

Mike Green was happy that the head coach was talking to him about the defense instead of that being delegated to one of his assistants.

Joel Ward said that the “stuff I learned in the last hours alone I’ve never even come across in my hockey career.” He also called Oates very detailed and said ”He doesn’t know if he’s seen a hockey brain like that in a while.”

Karl Alzner said Oates “knows exactly what he wants and how to teach it” and labeled the new system as proven.

Jay Beagle talked at length about a phone conversation he had with Oates last summer regarding stick curvature and the way its’ blade lies on the ice. By the end of the conversation #83 had agreed to a change and Oates shipped him new sticks shortly thereafter. Beagle will be using the new lumber this season.

Brooks Laich called the new coaching staff ”very intelligent” and “prepared” and said that everyone is excited to get going. He also stated he thought that there was no reason that the Capitals couldn’t be a powerful offensive team that is also strong defensively.

So it is clear the players are on board with what Oates wants to do, which I am not sure I could say about this club all of last season and perhaps the season before. It will be a tough transition period given they only get six days to practice before Saturday’s opener in Tampa (7 pm on CSN), but so much of hockey is attitude and working together.

On day one, this team has the right attitude and appear unified.

So Oates and the Caps have that going for them….which is nice.

Notes: Laich has a lower body injury and did not skate with the team. He will miss at least a week. He skated on his own prior to practice and said that he has a “roadmap” for getting back to full health and playing games…Backstrom didn’t show any ill effects of his recent neck injury…Ovechkin had a great practice and many of his shots in drills found the back of the net. The Gr8 had 19 goals in the KHL and looks to continue his hot early pace…McPhee signed right wing Eric Fehr to a one year, $600,000 deal. Fehr, who was drafted in the first round by Washington in 2003, played for Winnipeg last season but said he was never 100% healed from a shoulder injury but is fully recovered now….Ward said he had offseason hernia surgery and that the injury impacted his skating last year. He is 100% now…Beagle, who fractured his foot in the game five nightmare loss to the Rangers, had surgery and told me he is finally pain free…Green, who missed 30+ games last season, stated he is physically fine for the first time in a long time…defensemen Tom Poti, who hadn’t played in two years, was assigned to Hershey on a 14 day conditioning stint. He played this evening for the Bears and had a goal in a 5-0 Hershey victory.

 

 

 

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Mentally Tough Caps Even Up Series

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Mentally Tough Caps Even Up Series

Posted on 05 May 2012 by Ed Frankovic

For all of the talk out of the Big Apple about the mental toughness of the Rangers in their three overtime victory early Thursday morning, the Washington Capitals sure answered back on Saturday with a gritty 3-2 victory at the Verizon Center on Mike Green’s late power play goal. It was a huge marker for #52 and the Caps, who now have tied this series up at two games apiece as it moves back to Manhattan for game five on Monday.

If you were projecting the future based on Caps team history, this was a contest that Washington probably would have lost following a heart breaking defeat in game three. But we just might be seeing a different Capitals club that is doing their best to rewrite that book with a brand new chapter. 

Today’s victory was a combination of the Young Guns stepping up their respective games combined with more solid play from some of the key guys who helped win two straight Calder Cups in Hershey plus some true blue collar grit from several grinders. Simply put, there were many players who contributed their part to the win.

Let’s go down the list starting with the Young Guns:

Alexander Ovechkin scored in the first period to give the Caps an important 1-0 lead off of a Rangers turnover. Why was that goal so key? Well in 11 playoff games this spring that the Caps have played, the first goal has won 10 of them (including today).

Nicklas Backstrom was probably the best forward on the ice today. #19 was a BEAST. His play on the second goal was pure power and skill as he showed his amazing strength on his skates by knocking Artem Anisimov to the ice like he was a flea and then the Young Swede skated into prime scoring position, took a sweet pass from Jason Chimera, and beat Henrik Lundqvist top shelf.

Green is a player that I felt would be the difference maker in this series in my round two preview. Today #52 made it happen for the Capitals. Game Over Greenie was +1 in 22:08 of ice and his rocket of a shot past King Henrik with 5:48 remaining was just what he and the team needed.

Alexander Semin was pointless but he came close to making it 3-1 in the middle frame. #28 was inches away from making a big play to break this game open or give the Caps the lead a few times but just couldn’t get a bounce. Perhaps in game five he will be rewarded for what was a good 17:02 from him on Saturday?

Now to the Hershey crew:

Karl Alzner and John Carlson were as solid as rocks on the back end. Alzner is the team’s shut down d-man and Carlson was all over the ice again winning lose puck battles and being a physical force. #74 is playing the best hockey of his young career and it was his strong play on the offensive blue line that kept the puck in the zone and as a result Carl Hagelin took his critical slashing penalty. #62 broke Carlson’s stick and the zebras had to call it, otherwise Marian Gaborik has a breakaway (the Rangers were upset that an Ovechkin slash on Brian Boyle minutes earlier wasn’t whistled but given that it happened in a non-threatening area of the ice, they let it go. Besides, the Rangers received two power plays in OT on Wednesday to none for the Caps so they can whine all they want, but they’ve had their share of the calls in this series.)

Jay Beagle was super once again in his own zone and even though he was 5-13 on face-offs, some of those key wins were at the end of the game. #83 is one of the best stories of the Caps season.

Braden Holtby continues to be unflappable in net and he made some big stops (18 saves overall). The two tallies against him were the result of poor coverage and bad breaks. On the first goal the puck bounces off of Brooks Laich’s skates right to Anisimov, who received a layup. The second tally started with bad officiating from the linesmen. The back linesman, who was directly in #70′s sight line, was calling icing but when the puck went over Dennis Wideman’s head the near linesman, for some crazy reason, waved it off. Holtby didn’t hear or see that and had his arm up thinking one of the Caps would touch up the puck. Instead Anisimov beat Wideman to the biscuit and #6 and Jeff Schultz both made the cardinal sin of vacating the front of the cage. That allowed Gaborik to get a lay up. Poor communication there first by the linesmen, second between Holtby and his d-pair, and more importantly, it was terrible non-talk by #6 and #55 to not decide who was staying out front. Holtby told me after the game had it not been icing he would have definitely played the puck. Oh well, there is one of those zebra breaks that went New York’s way. Overall, the missed calls have pretty much evened out through four games.

As for the grinders, the list of hard workers that got it done is long.

Let’s start with Matt Hendricks who is doing ALL of the intangibles. #26 blocks shots, wins puck battles and just sacrificies like no tomorrow for his team. I can’t say enough good things about his determination and effort.

Laich, Troy Brouwer, Roman Hamrlik, Joel Ward, Chimera, Mike Knuble, and Keith Aucoin all did the little things necessary to win a tight hockey game. These guys all want to win badly.

So at the end of the day, Coach Dale Hunter has to feel good about his club. As he’s said and I’ve blogged about time and time again, special teams is such a huge factor in the playoffs. Today the Capitals started and finished strong with their power play (1 for 2) while they received two key penalty kills in the middle frame (2 for 2 overall). The PK’s were especially important because the Rangers dominated the first 10 minutes of that period but Alzner, Carlson, and Beagle all confirmed to me afterwards that Washington’s mid game turnaround was sparked by those penalty kills. If the Rangers go up 2-1 there, the series may have been squarely in the corner of New York, but they didn’t get that key go ahead goal and Washington went on to get a huge victory.

It was a win that showed their mental toughness and came after a rough defeat. Holtby and the Caps are now 5-0 after a loss in these playoffs.

They now head to New York on Monday to try and write a new chapter in Capitals history, one that could have a positive ending, for the first time in a very long time.

Stay tuned.

Notes: The Caps outshot the Rangers 26-20 but attempted shots were 52-40 in favor of the Blueshirts…Green’s goal came with he and Wideman on the points on the PP and Ovechkin down low, something I’ve wanted to see more of. On the replay of the goal you see the Gr8 with a free lane to the net and I can’t help but think that Lundqvist’s peripheral vision catches that and prevents #30 from totally squaring up on Green’s shot…Schultz blocked nine shots but was -2 and Marcus Johansson was -1 with a couple of giveaways. Both need to be better, especialy MJ90 who played on the top line with Ovechkin and Laich…I was thrilled to see the 8-19-90 line broken up before puck drop today. It lacked net presence on Wednesday and in the playoffs you need someone to crash the cage on each shift. Hunter’s four lines on Saturday all had that element with the Knuble-Aucion-Ward line doing that the best…for more of my take on the game, check out a post game video I did over at On Frozen Blog.

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Bad Breaks and Mistakes Cost Caps in Game 1

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Bad Breaks and Mistakes Cost Caps in Game 1

Posted on 28 April 2012 by Ed Frankovic

In hockey, there are bad breaks and there are mistakes. Both of those went against the Washington Capitals on Saturday in New York and as a result the Caps fell, 3-1, to the Rangers in game one of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Game two is on Monday Night from Madison Square Garden at 730 pm.

The disappointing thing in this game is the Capitals did a lot of good things and easily could have won. They hit at least three pipes and they held the Rangers to only 14 shots on goal. Normally when you hold an opponent to so few shots, you should win, but more on that in a moment. Washington only generated 18 shots on goal themselves but they missed the net or hit iron on several occassions. Alex Oveckhin missed the net on a golden chance in the third period, Nicklas Backstrom clanked the post twice, and Alex Semin hit the cross bar. Clearly Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (17 saves) had a golden horseshoe shoved away in the right place for this one. The Caps only goal was a thing of beauty, as Brooks Laich set up Jason Chimera for a sweet one timer by King Henrik with four seconds left in period two to knot the game heading into the final frame.

The Caps also did a good job of drawing penalties until the referees, Steve Kozari and Kevin Pollock, decided that tripping wasn’t going to be called on the Blueshirts over the last 30 minutes of the game. Blatant haul downs by the Rags on Marcus Johansson and Ovechkin were ignored. But that is what I expect from those two and you can’t blame this loss on the zebras, as bad as they were, at times. There was no way the power plays should have been four to four but Rangers Coach John Tortorella will probably still complain anyways about the refs, because that is what he does. Let him complain about that and the media too (which he did after the game), I hope it wears his team out emotionally.

So where did the Caps lose this one? Let’s start with beef #1, the power play. Special teams are so important in the post season and when you get four advantage situations in a scoreless game you need to capitalize on them. The Capitals did not on Saturday, including a 33 second five on three in the middle frame. I am going to sound like a broken record here, but there were not enough shots from the point with traffic in front or bodies around the net for rebounds. I don’t like the fact that Johansson had 3:18 of power play time while Laich only logged 2:09 and Mike Green had 2:18. Finesse does not work in the post season, grit does, so get Laich out there, move Ovechkin down low, and put Green or John Carlson on the point. Ovechkin had only 1 shot on goal in 21:03 of game time so clearly he is NOT needed on the point for the power play. If Washington wants to win this series, they need to take advantage of the dumb penalties an overly physical Rangers team will take.

Speaking of Green and being physical, as predicted in this blog last night the Rags would hit #52 and the other Caps ad nauseum early on to try and set a tone and get the Capitals to back down. It wouldn’t have worked very well had the power play been effective, and I still think the Caps responded okay to that early rough play. It is more than past time for the coaches to fix the power play, though. Also, Green did not have a good game at all and I labeled him as the key to the series. He was outmuscled by Artem Anisimov on the first goal and his brain cramp decision to attempt to change allowed Chris Kreider to get a semi breakaway and score the winning tally.

Braden Holtby (11 saves) gave up some goals he probably would want back but he wasn’t that bad. On the first marker he got caught trying to poke check Anisimov, on the second he got beat with a good but not impossible to stop shot, and the third he gave up five hole. But all three of them were the results of defensive mistakes, especially the second goal where the Caps coverage was horrible. In particular Chimera looked confused and then Dennis Wideman didn’t commit quick enough for Holtby to know whether Brad Richards was going to pass or shoot. As a result #19 had an open five hole to fire at and a skilled player like that is not going to miss.

As for the Washington skill players, they did not deliver on Saturday. Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, and Green all need to be performing for the Caps to get where they want to go. There are no injury excuses, this team is as healthy as it has been all season. Those four guys need to step up and get it done. Ovechkin must be better and he needs to more effectively use his talent to get by a slooooowwww Rangers defense. He isn’t playing Zdeno Chara anymore so 1 shot on net in 21 minutes is INEXCUSABLE.

Overall, the entire team needs to be willing to pay more of a price to score goals. If Lundqvist sees the shot, he is likely going to stop it. Washington needs to get more pucks and more bodies to the net. It is that simple.

Regular season point totals are hooey, especially given the injuries Washington had during the season, so I don’t want to hear the Rangers are supposed to win because of that. The Caps have the team their GM wants playing this time of year so they need to produce.

This is a very winnable series, but the Capitals have to play the right way. They didn’t do that consistently in game one, but the contest was on the road so the adage that a big advantage isn’t gained in a series until a team loses a game on home ice rings true this evening. New York had to win today and they did given their history of getting beaten by the Capitals in the post season two of the last three years  (yeah, I said that “crap” John and I hope you are reading too).

But the Caps should have won today.  Had they played smarter and more consistently they would have.

Will Monday be different?

Notes: John Erskine played only 8:17 as the Caps sixth defensemen. Cutting back his minutes messed up the rotation in the third period and as a result, it was Wideman and Karl Alzner on defense on the third goal…the Rangers dressed seven defensemen but stiffs Stu Bickel and Steve Eminger didn’t even combine to play 10 minutes total…fourth liner Mike Rupp took a bad penalty and played just 5:26…Tortorella basically relied on five defensemen and three lines so the Caps need to extend this series out because his top guys will eventually wear down playing so much.

 

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Can Ovechkin & Company Finally Make it Out of Round 2?

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Can Ovechkin & Company Finally Make it Out of Round 2?

Posted on 27 April 2012 by Ed Frankovic

On Saturday afternoon at 3 pm the Washington Capitals will embark on a critical game one of their second round playoff series from Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers. The Blueshirts, coached by the fiery John Tortorella, are the number one seed in the Eastern Conference after a super regular season while the Caps are coming in as underdogs for the second straight series despite upsetting the Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins in round one.

For Alexander Ovechkin, Mike Green, Brooks Laich, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin this will be their third venture into the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. So far they are 0-2. Last season they knocked off the Rags in five games before getting swept quickly by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Given that Washington has knocked off the Rangers two of the last three post seasons one has to wonder if perhaps the Capitals have the Rangers number? Maybe, but this is a different Rangers team.

Last spring they faced the Caps without an injured Ryan Callahan and then in the offseason they added a significant piece in center Brad Richards. Washington won that series in 2011 without Dennis Wideman (who had a so-so series, at best, against Boston) so the Rangers aren’t the only ones with a different roster for this matchup. New York is improved but I still think their defense is slow and they benefit a ton from Henrik Lundqvist bailing them out. Washington needs, like they did against Boston, to use their superior speed in the Caps forward to Rangers defense matchup. Guys like Marcus Johansson and Jason Chimera will play a key role once again.

When it comes to matchups, whatever forward-defensive combination coach Dale Hunter uses must contain Marian Gaborik and Richards. If those New York skill guys get on a roll then that spells trouble for Washington. You can bet that Jay Beagle, Karl Alzner, and John Carlson will factor into Hunter’s defensive matchups. As for Ovechkin, he had a rough series against the Bruins because he was facing Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, one of the best defensive pairs in the NHL. The Rangers will likely put Dan Girardi and Mark Staal up against the Gr8. But Ovechkin should be able to overcome Girardi better than he did the Boston duo of Chara and Seidenberg. Ovechkin needs to avoid trying too much one on one or trying to skate through the whole team. His best bet to score is to go to the net in this series. The Rangers defense doesn’t have the ability to move him down low so the Gr8 needs to drive to the cage as much as possible with the puck.

Braden Holtby comes off of a super round one performance and if he doesn’t try to do much and just plays his game, he should be fine. His puckhandling skills help prevented his defensemen from getting run regularly in round one and you can bet Tortorella will be instructing his forwards to pound the Washington defense, especially Green. To me, #52 is a major key to this series. If #52 continues to play well paired with Roman Hamrllik then that gives Hunter two really good defensive pairs to put on the ice (with 27-74) . The Rangers will try to run Green and he needs to be smart about how he plays going into the corners and on the rush. A good series from “Game Over Greenie” likely means the Caps will advance.

If Washington can find a way to win this series, then it signals that Ovechkin and company have finally turned the corner by buying into Hunter’s playoff style.

If not, then many players could be on their way out of town because it would be five straight post seasons without a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.

My prediction: The Caps kick the door in to get to the Final Four with a series victory in six games. Road warriors, baby, road warriors.

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Bruins Ramp Up Physical Play, Take Game 3

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Bruins Ramp Up Physical Play, Take Game 3

Posted on 16 April 2012 by Ed Frankovic

After the Caps won game two in Boston, Bruins Coach Claude Julien challenged his team to be tougher and more physical around Washington goalie Braden Holtby. On Monday night, his club responded by crashing the cage and playing an ultra physical game in a 4-3 victory at the Verizon Center. The Bruins now lead the best of seven series two games to one with game four on Thursday night in DC.

This game was there for the taking for the Caps as they opened up a 1-0 lead when their power play connected on its first try. Alexander Semin scored on a shot from the top of the circles with Brooks Laich running traffic on Tim Thomas with four minutes left in period one. Washington played pretty solid defense in that opening frame and Holtby was looking in great in net.

But Holtby finally blinked on a four on four situation and he let in a softie on Rich Peverley’s wrister. Alexander Ovechkin answered 13 seconds later and it seemed that the Caps were going to right the ship.

However, the Caps started to forget to do the little things, which is playing good defense away from the puck. That ability had gotten them the good showing in Boston but the defensive discipline started to slip away in the middle period and when Mathieu Perreault lost Daniel Paille in front of the net, #20 had a layup to tie the game up. Things then got worse in Washington’s own end as Laich allowed Brian Rolston to score again from in front early in period three. Laich would then tie it up with six minutes left scoring on a breakaway after a great feed from Nicklas Backstrom.

Boston received a questionable power play late, and I won’t even go there with the NHL referees who are having a tough playoffs across the board, but then Milan Lucic paid the price for his extra curricular physical play getting a four minute rough to just two minutes for Matt Hendricks. It seemed to be a good break for Washington but four on four has not been their game this year and the B’s took the lead late on Chara’s point blast that hit a Capitals stick on the way in. The Caps pressured late with Holtby pulled but couldn’t connect.

So Julien tried his coaching move and his team responded. The Bruins outhit the Caps 58-36. Washington is more skilled and doesn’t want to get into that type of game but the way this one was being called, it played right into Boston’s hands.

Now it is time for Dale Hunter to make adjustments. First thing the Caps need to do is not get into the post whistle scrums and focus on the play with the clock moving. That wrestling stuff seems to heavily favor Boston. Washington also needs to clean up their own zone again and watch the guys away from the puck. Finally, they must correct their neutral zone, as the Caps tried too many cross ice plays that were intercepted.

Simply put, the Caps have the speed advantage in this series and need to get back to using that by dumping the puck behind the slow Boston defense and employing their cycle game to generate chances. The neutral zone miscues give the Bruins more time to set up their physical play and pound the Washington defense. The turnovers and poor coverage are not a recipe for playoff success.

Your move Dale.

Notes: The Caps lost the faceoff battle 37-33.  Marcus Johansson was 1-5…Perreault only played 4:23 and his ice time suffered for his defensive lapse in period two…Laich had three points (1G, 2A)…Mike Green led the Caps in ice time with 26:35….Backstrom was given a match penalty for cross checking Peverley as time expired. That carries an automatic one game suspension unless it is rescinded. Replays seem to come to #19′s aid but with the NHL, who knows?!

 

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Caps Coming Together As A Team At Right Time

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Caps Coming Together As A Team At Right Time

Posted on 14 April 2012 by Ed Frankovic

After Thursday’s tough 1-0 overtime loss to the Bruins, something happened, in defeat, with the Washington Capitals that spoke volumes to me. The Caps, with captain Alexander Ovechkin as one of the leaders, came out and mobbed rookie goalie Braden Holtby almost as if the team had won the game instead of leaving #70 to skate off by himself while the rest of the players filed off of the bench and down the tunnel, like typically happens more often than not around the league in overtime playoff losses.

What did that tell me? That this hockey club, that has had an extremely tumultuous season, is coming together as a team, at the right time. Today, they backed that feeling up for me with a gritty, 2-1, win in Boston in double overtime to tie this best of seven series up at one game apiece.

Holtby (43 saves) was excellent in goal again and so far he appears to be the catalyst for the Caps recent bonding. The rookie goalie is making timely saves so the team has confidence in him and as a result they are giving the defending Stanley Cup Champions fits so far. After Boston carried most of game one, the Capitals came out and more than held their own in this contest. Ovechkin (1 assist) had a much stronger effort and he relied more on his power than finesse, in this tilt. In fact, his strong play on the wall led to Troy Brouwer’s goalmouth tally that gave the Caps a 1-0 lead late in period two. It was a sandpaper type of goal and one Washington needed to prove they could find a way to get a puck past Tim Thomas (37 saves), who has been playing phenomenal, as well.

Even after Benouit Pouliot scored with just under eight minutes left in regulation to tie the game up, on a play where he bowled over Holtby after tipping the puck by him, the young goalie and his club didn’t appear panicked. Washington stuck to Coach Dale Hunter’s game plan of being responsible in their own zone and it worked.

Playoff games are often won or lost on special teams or on faceoffs. With both teams still failing to score on the power play in this series, it was an offensive zone draw that proved decisive for the Caps. Patrice Bergeron actually won it, but Nicklas Backstrom managed to push the puck below the goal line where Marcus Johansson corraled it. With three Boston defenders focused on MJ90, the young swede slid the puck to a wide open #19 in the slot, who fired one past Thomas for the game winner.

The Caps bench erupted and instead of going down 2-0, Washington is more than in this series.

The Bruins are still the favorites right now. After all, they have a ton of experience from last season to fall back on. They are a deep team with an excellent goalie. They play a physical game. They are supposed to win.

But the Capitals are healthy at the right time at forward and on defense, and the young Holtby is seizing a huge opportunity in goal to provide a backbone for this team. He is making key saves and also helping his defense out with his superior stick handling skills.

The kid is playing well but the pundits are still backing the defending champs.

But with those expectations comes more pressure for Boston. The Caps have internal pressure to win, but the media has mostly written them off.

It seems the lack of belief in them, along with some timely health, and the emergence of Holtby in net has allowed this Capitals club to come together as a team at the right time.

The key will be keeping it up by sticking together, listening to their coaches, and putting the team first. That is how you win playoff games and a series.

Notes: Karl Alzner and John Carlson were outstanding on defense today and that is four really good games in a row for #74, who is peaking at the right time…Johansson was the game’s first star while Alzner got the second. #27 is super smart on the ice…the Caps won the faceoff battle 34-30 with Jay Beagle going 11-6. #83 has been dominant on draws in this series…Mike Green was +2 and he led all Capitals in ice time with 33:28. He and Roman Hamrlik are playing very well together…Dennis Wideman and Jeff Schultz were once again on the ice for the Boston goal and have been the weakest defensive pair for the Caps. Wideman’s ice time was just over 20 minutes, where it likely should be with the other two D-pairs playing so well.

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