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The Capitals are 1-5 lifetime against the Islanders in playoff series. Will 2015 be any different?

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Are the Capitals Due to Beat the Islanders in the Playoffs?

Posted on 12 April 2015 by Ed Frankovic

It’s the greatest time of the year for hockey fans with the Stanley Cup Playoffs commencing this week.

Locally, after missing the post season a year ago and subsequently firing their General Manager and Head Coach, the Washington Capitals return to what will be a two month grind for two teams with a strong squad and major cause for optimism.

The Caps took second place in the Metropolitan Division with 101 points and gained home ice against their first round opponent, the New York Islanders, who also had 101 points, by virtue of a 2-0-2 head to head record.

At this point, I’d expect many long time Capitals fans to “duck and cover” given Washington’s 1-5 all time playoffs series record against the guys in blue and orange. Sure the last time they met was in 1993, but when it comes to the playoffs, New York has pretty much owned the Caps, although nearly every series has been close.

This spring’s series promises to be another close affair, especially since these two clubs played three overtime games this season. I’ll have my series preview up on Monday night in plenty of time for Wednesday’s opener at the Verizon Center at 7 pm.

The previous six Caps-Isles series don’t really matter to any of these players, since it’s been 22+ years since they occurred. But for the Washington fans, they have to feel like the Capitals might finally be due to win, right?

So with that in mind, here’s a recap of the previous six Caps-Islanders series with my take on each, since I was either viewing as a fan, covering it for the PG Post Sentinel, or working for the Capitals in my role as team statistician (1987-1997). I hope you enjoy a trip down memory lane, despite the five unhappy endings.

1982-83 Patrick Division Semifinals (1st Round): Islanders win series, 3-1.

This was the season the Capitals made their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a marvelous first season under GM David Poile and the Secretary of Defense, Rod Langway. Unfortunately the Caps ran into the best team in hockey that year as the Islanders would go on to win their 4th consecutive Stanley Cup. This was a total mismatch series, but Washington did win game two on Long Island, 4-2, as Bob Gould scored the game winner. That’s about all to remember about that series.

1983-84 Patrick Division Finals (2nd Round): Islanders win series, 4-1.

Washington won their first playoff series ever in the opening round literally punching the Philadelphia Flyers in the mouth in a three game series sweep. Bob Carpenter and Mike Gartner were terrific and each beat up a Sutter brother (Rich and Ron) in a Washington 5-1 triumph in game three. That brought them the aging but still four time Stanley Cup Champions in round two. The Caps came out strong in the series and won game one, 3-2, at Nassau Coliseum and had a great chance to win game two, only to lose in overtime, 5-4. With game 3 at the Capital Centre, a super Caps team played New York tight but the game and the series turned on a penalty call on Carpenter, who was sent to the box for illegal equipment, he had a hole in his glove! That was against the rules (Never, never..) and the Capitals, who were carrying the play, gave up a power play goal and didn’t recover. They lost, 3-1, in game three and were beaten soundly in games four and five. The Islanders would go on to the Stanley Cup Finals, but Wayne Gretzky and company took them out in five games to win their first Cup. That sent the Islanders dynasty, which received a shot in the arm with the arrival of rookie Pat Lafontaine in the spring, on its first step towards a decline that would eventually lead to a rebuild.

1984-85 Patrick Division Semifinals (1st round): Islanders win series, 3-2.

This was the beginning of the Capitals penchant for blowing two game series leads. The Caps won two razor close tilts at the Capital Centre, in overtime, to take a 2-0 lead. Alan Haworth beat Billy Smith in game one and then Gartner came down the right wing and beat Kelly Hrudey early in the second OT of game two. The series moved to the Nassau Coliseum and after losing game three, 2-1, the Caps had a chance to tie game four late when the Islanders knocked the net off with the puck in the crease. Carpenter was given a penalty shot and he missed sending the series back to Landover. The Caps were super in game five that was officiated by Bryan Lewis, much to the chagrin of many unhappy Washington fans. This was the peak of the “clutch and grab” era and the Capitals felt that Lewis allowed the Isles to slow down a faster and younger Caps team with those tactics. However, the Capitals still dominated play and the shot totals, but Smith was in the zone in net. In fact, the Capitals could still be trying to get the tying tally on the crazy net minder and they probably still wouldn’t score. Smith stoned Washington as the Isles got two pucks past Pat Riggin to win, 2-1.

1985-86 Patrick Division Semifinals (1st round): Washington wins series, 3-0.

This season is still one of the most painful for me to think about because it was really a year in which the Caps had a great chance to win the Cup. The two time defending champion Oilers would get knocked out in the second round by the Flames when Steve Smith put the puck in his own net in game seven and the Canadiens, riding a rookie goalie named Patrick Roy, would go on to defeat the Flames in the Finals. The Caps had a GREAT team that season. At the time they had a club record 107 regular season points (no three point games then!) and were really loaded from top to bottom with the biggest weakness being goaltending. Scott Stevens was a dominant defensemen in the league at the age of 22 and with Langway and future hall of famer Larry Murphy on the back end, the Caps were scary good. Unfortunately, the Capitals headed into that post season without one of their top offensive players, Bengt Gustafsson. Dennis Potvin had broken the leg of Gus on a dirty check in a game in March and #16 was out for the season. I think of that cheap shot every time I hear New York Rangers fans yell their favorite chant: “Potvin [stinks].” But even without Gus, the Caps were too much for the Islanders and the Capitals swept New York handily. Unfortunately bad Caps goaltending and John Vanbiesbrouck did in the Caps in round two. Again, that season end still really stings nearly 30 years later.

1986-87 Patrick Division Semifinals (1st round): Islanders win series, 4-3.

Leave it to the Caps to be the first team to blow a 3-1 series lead in the new playoff format which was instituted that season. The NHL finally got smart and went away from the five game first round, which was four games in five nights, and moved to a seven game opening round series. Naturally, Washington raced out to a 3-1 series lead, in what still entailed a four game in five night format. The game four win came on the night when Larry Mize chipped in on Greg Norman to win the Green Jacket, I clearly remember watching his hole out from the Isles press room, but I digress.

For some reason, Caps Coach Bryan Murray chose to play Pete Peeters at home after Bob Mason had stoned the Islanders in games three and four in the Nassau Coliseum. Mason gave up one goal in those two games to stake Washington to that 3-1 series lead. Peeters would allow four pucks to the Islanders as they won game five at the Capital Centre and then Hrudey held on against a furious Caps late rally to win game six, 5-4. Hrudey and Mason would battle in the epic four overtime thriller at the Capital Centre in a game that extended into Easter Sunday. As a Caps statistician, I was keeping Islanders time on ice that night by hand (we didn’t have software to do the visitors ice time by computer yet) and after the second overtime Murray told me to stop keeping it, he said it didn’t matter anymore! Anyways, I remember Caps defensemen Greg Smith hitting the cross bar in the first overtime and then he ended up fracturing his knee cap in a later period to end his season. The Islanders would win on Lafontaine’s shot off of the post. Hrudey was the other big hero stopping 70+ shots. Mason was super, but Hrudey was better that night. Many new hockey fans were made around the country that evening and early morning as the game seemed to go on forever.

1992-93 Patrick Division Semifinals (1st Round): Islanders win series, 4-2

The Islanders made the post season after missing the two previous years and were led back that season by 23 year old Pierre Turgeon, who scored an astounding 132 points, including 58 goals. He was their best player and certainly played well in the series. After the Caps won game one, 3-1, in dominating fashion, New York would win the next three games in extra time, with two of the goals coming in double overtime. In game two at the Capital Centre, Brian Mullen tallied at 34:50, then in games three and four it was Ray Ferraro, at 4:46 and 25:40 to give the Islanders a 3-1 series lead. The Caps blew 3-1 leads in the third period in both of those tilts. In one of those two games on Long Island, the Caps would have been up by a bigger margin, but Terry Gregson mistakenly wiped out a Capitals goal calling goalie interference on Todd Krygier when replays showed Glenn Healy was hit by the stick of his own player. It was bad zebras that night, but mostly bad goaltending in the series for Washington as Rick Tabarcci was terrible when the pressure came on in the third period. Dale Hunter and Al Iafrate carried the Caps in this series, especially in game five. Iafrate would score six goals in the series, but Don Beaupre was terrible in game six on Long Island and the series ended when Turgeon scored late. I was working the computer that night and I can still vividly recall Capitals statistician lead Mike Herr telling me “goal,” with a slight pause and then the words “and a cheap shot by Hunts.” We all remember that one and Dale would be suspended for the first 20 games of the 1993-94 season because of that move that separated Turgeon’s shoulder. On our way out of the Nassau Coliseum, which was my last visit to that barn, our Capitals team buses were pelted with rocks. On the plane ride home, a bewildered Iafrate wandered up to talk to me and said, “Hey Eddie, how did we lose that series?” I just shook my head.

So there you have it, a little history lesson on the Capitals-Islanders playoff series. It’s 5-1 in favor of New York. So are the Capitals finally due to win one?

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Caps Should Win the Metro This Year

Posted on 08 October 2014 by Ed Frankovic

On Thursday night the Washington Capitals open up their regular season against the Montreal Canadiens at 7 pm at the Verizon Center celebrating 40 years as a franchise. As a nine year old kid who didn’t know a whole lot about hockey, my father, who had a sports radio show on WLMD at the time, started taking me to Caps games that first season. Boy were the Capitals bad and there were many nights when simply icing the puck could be considered a good play. To me, it’s fitting that the Caps are opening this 40 year anniversary season against Montreal, a team that thoroughly dominated the Capitals in the 1970’s. But Montreal, who had the great Guy Lafleur and Ken Dryden, manhandled everyone back then winning four straight Stanley Cups from 1976 to 1979.

Fast forward to 2014 and that nine year old kid is now a nearly 50 year old man who has watched this Capitals franchise go through it’s peaks and valleys. There were the seemingly hopeless 70’s followed by Stanley Cup aspirations in the 80’s and 90’s before things came crashing down in the early 2000’s. But then along came Alexander Ovechkin in 2005 and things started to turn around so much so that the term “Stanley Cup contender” was uttered by Capitals hockey fans once again in 2008 through 2010.

However, the failings of the previous GM to address a decaying blue line and his inability to bring in an experienced coach led to major changes after four straight seasons of mediocre hockey, at best. Clearly a new direction was sorely needed.

Enter new coach Barry Trotz, who cut his teeth in the Caps organization in the early 90’s, plus promoted GM Brian MacLellan and 2014-15 takes on a whole new outlook. It is one that I’m very optimistic about for several reasons, as outlined in this blog two weeks ago.

The saying that “Defense Wins Championship” is thrown around for a reason and simply put, the Caps haven’t had the talent nor the will or wherewithal to play defense for a long time. It was a side of the ice that this franchise, which has a proud history of great blue liners from Rod Langway to Scott Stevens to Kevin Hatcher, neglected terribly during the George McPhee era. But those days are over and with MacLellan and Trotz running the ship, you can bet that things will be different this year.

They’ve brought in top four defensive talent in Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik to go with Trotz’ ability to devise systems to minimize the amount of times the red light goes on behind it’s goaltender. Floating and gliding in the defensive zone should be a thing of the past in Washington. Those great Caps teams from the 80’s and 90’s that featured super blue lines didn’t lose due to defense, it was often the result of a weak offensive punch and/or subpar goaltending.

With Ovechkin, the Caps will always have a player who can put the biscuit in the basket and pre-season has shown us that there is some serious talent developing to help him in Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky. The 2010 and 2013 first round picks, respectively, are highly skilled players that should blossom into top six forwards. How quickly that happens will help determine how successful the Capitals are in 2014-15.

Nicklas Backstrom returns for his 8th season and he is an outstanding center that doesn’t get the credit he deserves from the media around the league. Ask Trotz about Backstrom and he almost becomes like a kid in a candy store. #19 is a super two way player that should take another step forward under this new regime.

So what should we expect from the Caps this year and what did we learn from the eight pre-season games?

Let’s start with the pre-season. Niskanen showed exactly why the Capitals opened up the bank to sign him. He’s a strong two way defensemen who knows when to pinch at the point and also when to take the body in the defensive zone. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with him and think he’ll have a monster season. Burakovsky was the surprise of camp for how quickly he’s adapted to the pro game. He is big, is an excellent skater, and has some of the best hands I’ve ever seen. If this kid is coached properly and has the right attitude the sky is the limit for him. As for Kuznetsov, he took some heat in pre-season but I liked the way he stood up against the big and physical teams like Boston and Philly. Kuzy is not easy to move off of the puck. The key for #92 will be learning how to play in his own zone, but that’s something this whole team needs to improve on. I’ve seen signs of this team being better away from the puck under Trotz and I’m hopeful that we’ll see more progression in that department right away. In years past, the Caps lack of ability to play away from the puck is a big factor in why they’ve been in the bottom half of the league in puck possession.

Other things that stood out in pre-season were fourth liners Chris Brown and Liam O’Brien. These two guys are big and have some offensive skill, which is what you need from your fourth line. Last season the Capitals did not have a good fourth unit but that should change in 2014-15. On the disappointing end of things, I did not like that Mike Green was injured again. #52 took a huge hit behind the net in the 3rd period against Boston and hasn’t played since that tilt. Green is now in his ninth pro season and if he keeps taking hits like that he’ll end up spending long stretches of time on injured reserve. Assistant coach Todd Rierden and Trotz need to get #52 to learn how to avoid those crushing blows. If they can do that, the Capitals will have a daunting right side of their blue line in Niskanen, Green, and John Carlson.

So how will the Capitals do in 2014-15?

I’m predicting a Metropolitan Division title. The additions on defense, combined with the young offensive skill and new coach should make the Capitals a lot better. Pittsburgh and the Rangers have lost players and gotten worse this summer while Columbus could very well be derailed by the Ryan Johansen holdout that was finally resolved on Tuesday. The Flyers overachieved last season and I’m not buying on the Islanders. I do think the Devils will be better than people think but Carolina is very likely to finish in 8th place.

But just because the Caps have upgraded their talent significantly and they have a new bench boss doesn’t mean they will win the division. This club has to learn to become a team and work hard. They need to be accountable and focused. That has been missing for several years.

The division and a super season are there for the taking for the Caps, but they need to be dedicated to their craft and show a sense of urgency.

To quote George Allen: “The Future is Now.”

Your move Ovechkin and company.

 

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Bruins Best Caps in Shootout in Baltimore Hockey Classic

Posted on 17 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

On a night with former all time great Capitals Rod Langway, Bengt Gustafsson, and Peter Bondra in attendance, the Washington Capitals lost to the defending Eastern Conference Champion Boston Bruins in a shootout, 3-2, in the Baltimore Hockey Classic. Boston won the gimmick in the eighth round after the B’s rallied from a late two goal second period deficit to force overtime. Tom Wilson and Casey Wellman tallied for Washington.

Here are my thoughts, observations, and analysis of the Caps third preseason tilt, all of which have gone to a shootout (Caps are now 2-1):

– Wilson continues to impress and seems a better than 50% chance to make the Capitals this season. He is big, skates well, hits like a freight train, and has a nice scoring touch. He has all of the makings of a good NHL power forward. When GM George McPhee and Director of Amateur Scouting Ross Mahoney selected the winger out of the Ontario Hockey League with the 16th pick of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, some of my sources from around the league felt that the Caps hit a home run with this player. He’s still only 19, but boy does he look the part.

– Braden Holtby received the start in net and in his 30 minutes of action was stellar. He made numerous quality stops and his poise and confidence in the cage continues to rise. He just looks to be on the verge of moving into the upper echelon of NHL goalies. Goaltending is a clear strength on this hockey team with Michal Neuvirth backing up and Philipp Grubauer third in line. Goaltending coach Olie Kolzig has to like coming to work each day with this crew of netminders.

– The birthday boy, Alex Ovechkin (28), didn’t score but he was all over the ice. He broke through the Bruins defense and skated in alone on B’s goalie Niklas Svedberg late in the contest but the young goalie denied the Gr8 of the game winning tally. Ovi did beat Svedberg in the shootout. Outside of nearly getting cut by a broken pane of glass, it was a good night of work for the reigning NHL MVP.

– Choppy ice made passing and handling the puck difficult but Washington’s power play was still able to do some good things. The Caps rode the man advantage to many victories last season and it will be interesting to see how opponents adjust to what made Washington successful last season and then how Coach Adam Oates and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe react to opposition adjustments. With the talent and skill Washington has, my money is on the Caps to continue to have a high ranked power play.

– Of the guys in the pipeline that still need development time, forward Nathan Walker and defensesmen Nate Schmidt made positive impressions once again after strong play in Saturday’s tilt against the Jets. Walker is not tall at 5′ 8″ but he isn’t afraid to go into tight spots. He skates well and has a knack for the puck. He set up Wilson’s first goal after stealing the biscuit on the left wing boards. Walker, who is only 19, is from Australia but played in the United States Hockey League last season notching 27 points in 29 games. He also had 63 penalty minutes. As for Schmidt, the Minnesota native is a smart hockey player who is excellent in the offensive end of the ice. It takes time to learn how to play in your own end at the professional level so going to Hershey and playing this season will be good for the 22 year olds development.

– After this group played on the big Olympic ice on Saturday, it was good to play a contest on a regular sized rink against a physical team like Boston. The Bruins are one of the elite teams in the NHL and having a game where you know you are going to get hit each time you have the puck is super preparation for the regular season.

Overall, it was a positive night in Charm City for the Caps and their fans, who got their money’s worth with the eight round shootout. After a day off tomorrow, the Caps will practice on Thursday at Kettler IcePlex and then they play their first preseason game at the Verizon Center on Friday night against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Saturday brings the Caps Convention, which is a big event for Capitals fans (check out washingtoncaps.com for details).

 

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