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Stephenson Nisky

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Washington Holds Off Carolina’s Late Charge to Win Again

Posted on 27 December 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby made 28 saves and T.J. Oshie’s second period power play marker held up as the game winning goal as the Washington Capitals knocked off the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-1, on Thursday night at Capital One Arena. The victory improves the Caps to 23-10-3 (49 points) on the season and they lead the second place Columbus Blue Jackets by two points, but Washington has a game in hand.

Here are 10 thoughts, highlights, and analysis of the first game out of the 2018 NHL Christmas break.

Petr Mrazek has a history of playing very well against Washington going back to his Detroit days and he turned in a gem on Thursday night. The Czech goalie made 30 saves and kept his team in it late into the third period. The Caps should’ve been up by more than two pucks, but he was stellar in net.

Washington’s power play has been struggling over the last 10 games and were in a 3 for 31 funk when the Osh Babe deflected home John Carlson’s point blast to make it 2-0 late in period two. That was the Caps fourth man advantage of the night and they were struggling to score. The Ovi spot has been walled off lately by the opponents and the Capitals have been a little too stagnant with the extra player, but they finally got smart and simplified things with bodies and pucks to the net. Good things happen when you do that, and it paid off there. If Washington can get those type of goals off of traffic, then the opponents will have to pull their defensive players back down tighter to the net, which will open things up in Alex’s office, once again.

Chandler Stephenson put the Capitals up 1-0 in period two when the fourth line was all over the Canes with a vicious forecheck. Devante Smith-Pelly forced Calvin De Haan to cough the puck up the middle of the ice and #18 jumped on it in the slot and snapped one over Mrazek to start the scoring. That fourth line of Stephenson, Travis Boyd, and DSP was pretty good all game.

DSP had a strong outing and he was a big reason the Capitals penalty killing went 4 for 4. Carolina really didn’t have a whole lot of chances until their last power play, when they nearly tied the game. Washington is doing an excellent job of keeping the opposing power plays on the perimeter and allowing their goalies to see any shots.

With 8:21 the play that changed the game, but fortunately, not the outcome, occurred. Matt Niskanen was heading back into his own right wing boards when Justin Williams hit him well before Nisky could get to the puck. That’s interference, especially considering some of the other ticky tacky calls made by the zebras on this night. The hit by Stick knocked Niskanen to his right and then Clark Bishop came barreling in and shoved Nisky in the back slamming him into the boards with an extra push. That’s boarding. The very experienced Capitals TV play by play man, Joe Beninati, reacted immediately to the bad hit with concern. Fortunately, Matt was able to avoid direct head contact with the boards and after staying down for a minute or so, Niskanen was able to get up and skate to the locker room on his own power. Coach Todd Reirden did not have a post game update on Nisky, so his status for Saturday’s game in Ottawa remains unclear.

Following the injury, the Capitals looked stunned because one of their leaders was out on a weird play and they didn’t get the power play they thought they rightfully deserved. Compounding the matter, shortly thereafter Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Carlson all were a little careless with the biscuit in the offensive zone and that led to a Michal Ferland breakaway. The Holtbeast, who has been outstanding in those situations this season thanks to the work he’s been putting in with goalie coach Scott Murray, stopped the one on one opportunity once again, but his teammates didn’t get back and Sebastian “I own the Caps” Aho fired the rebound into the empty cage with 7:35 left in the game. Suddenly a sure triumph was in doubt for the Caps.

The officiating by Jon McIsaac and Ghislain “Send Him Back to Quebec” Hebert was head scratching at times, and none more so than on that play where Niskanen was injured, but the linesmen then made a major blunder that nearly cost Washington the lead. The Canes dumped the puck directly into the Caps zone from behind the red line and Michal Kempny was way ahead of any Carolina player, but somehow the linesmen wiped out icing. A few seconds later Kempny was jailed for high sticking and with 3:48 to go the Canes had a man advantage situation to potentially tie up what was once a near blowout. Again, the Capitals PK came through, but the guys in stripes certainly were doing their best to give Rod Brind’Amour’s team a chance to even the numbers on the scoreboard.

Holtby was very good once again, he didn’t have to make a lot of quality saves, but the ones he had to deny were of the ten bell variety. He continues to be stellar on breakaways and the only goal he allowed was because the five skaters on the ice hung him out to dry.

With the NHL shut down for three days for Christmas, Carolina had to travel from Raleigh on Thursday morning for this tilt. That was an advantage for the Caps and again, they dominated this game, but Mrazek kept it close. Fortunately All Star Nicklas Backstrom won a neutral zone faceoff directly back to Carlson with just under a minute to go and #74 rifled it from inside his own blue line into the empty cage to seal the deal for Washington. Brind’Amour gambled with the neutral zone draw by keeping Mrazek on the bench for the sixth attacker and he rolled snake eyes there.

The Capitals lead the Metropolitan Division by two points over Columbus and they have a game in hand on John Tortorella’s team. Pittsburgh is five points back and Washington has a game in hand on the Pens, as well. In fourth place are the Islanders at 40 points, so the Caps are nine points clear of a playoff spot here in late December. I expect the top three teams in the Metro to pull away from the pack and the question remains if Coach Barry Trotz’ crew can beat out Montreal or perhaps Boston for the last playoff position. Bottom line, barring any crazy injuries, the Eastern Conference playoff race is turning into a nine teams for eight spots race with the top six (Tampa, Toronto, Washington, Columbus, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh) looking solid. There are still 46 games left for the Caps, though, so let’s not count the chickens before they hatch, although it is very tempting to do so.

Notes: The Corsi Canes out shot attempted the Caps, 57-56, but the quality chances were clearly in Washington’s favor, by a good margin…Carlson led the Capitals in ice time with 25:05. Niskanen left after logging 16:54. With Kempny in the box late, Madison Bowey and Jonas Siegenthaler had to kill off part of the penalty and they did so in fine fashion. That is encouraging for the Caps as they build defensive depth. Brooks Orpik is expected back in the lineup very soon, perhaps as early as Saturday in Ottawa, and that’s a welcome sign, especially if Niskanen is out for any length of time. Tyler Lewington was recalled as the 7th defensemen for Thursday’s game after being sent down following last Saturday’s shutout victory in Ottawa to save some salary cap room…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 33-27. Backstrom was 12-4.

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Conno Ottawa

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Pheonix Copley Gets His 1st NHL Shutout in Caps Win Over Ottawa

Posted on 22 December 2018 by Ed Frankovic

“By the time I get to Phoenix, she’ll be rising…” – Glen Campbell

One night after Braden Holtby had me singing Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall,” Capitals backup goalie Pheonix Copley turned in an absolute gem of a performance making 35 saves at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa in a Washington whitewashing of the Senators, 4-0. It was Copley’s first NHL shutout and he certainly earned it. Naturally, I now have that country smash hit by the late, great Campbell in my head as the Caps move into the Christmas break at 22-10-3 (47 points) overall and a four point lead over the second place Columbus Blue Jackets.

Coach Todd Reirden’s club has now won 14 of their last 17 games and a HUGE reason for this great run has been the stellar play of their two goalies, the Holtbeast and Copper. For the season, Holtby is 14-8-2 with a .914 save percentage and Copley is now 8-2-1 with a .912 save percentage. Pheonix’s numbers are impressive and he’s perhaps been the biggest surprise of the season for the Caps given that Washington, due to salary cap constraints, had to part ways with backup Philipp Grubauer after winning the Cup. Copley, who fittingly at this time of year hails from North Pole, Alaska, is very good at making the first save and his team has become very adept at making sure the rebound isn’t ending up in the back of their net. That was a major key to Saturday night’s triumph in Ottawa because the Senators had their share of quality chances. Capitals goaltending coach Scott Murray continues to do an outstanding job with his keepers.

On the Washington side of the ledger, the offense was humming and getting only four lamp lighters is probably a low total given the opportunities they had in this affair. Brett Connolly, whose overall game keeps rising in his third campaign with the Capitals, is having his best season ever. Conno tipped home a Jonas Seigenthaler point shot just 1:32 into the game to give Washington an early lead and a jump in their stride. Connolly is up to eight goals and 14 assists (22 points) in the first 35 games. Andre Burakovsky didn’t get an apple on Brett’s tally, but his wall work in the right wing corner against two Senators was “Oshie-like” and created the turnover that led to the goal. I’ve really liked the effort I’ve seen from Burky the last two nights and feel like if he keeps working hard and staying positive, he’ll start seeing some points pile up.

Evgeny Kuznetsov didn’t have a point on Saturday night, but he was really flying, once again. The Capitals second line of Kuzy, Tom Wilson, and Jakub Vrana is really clicking right now. Vrana just keeps getting better and better and after getting stopped on a first period breakaway, it was #13 who really cemented this victory with a great stick lift of the Senators defense that led to his unassisted goal at 9:05 of period two that made it 3-0. He also received a celebratory face wash from the Capitals captain after he skated by the bench following the beautiful play. Vrana now has 11 goals and 9 helpers (20 points) in 35 games and he’s +13 overall. Like Kuzy, Willy didn’t have any points either, but he had six hits and created havoc all night for the Senators defense.

After a rough game on Friday night against Buffalo, the Capitals top line was better against Ottawa. Alex Ovechkin made a nice breakout pass to All Star Nicklas Backstrom that gave the Caps a three on two rush up the ice late in period one. Matt Niskanen joined the rush and with Nicky carrying the biscuit down the left wing boards, Nisky made a bee line for the net with his stick on the ice. Nicky then put one right on the tape of #2 and Matt tipped it home for a 2-0 Caps lead with 2:04 left in period one. That was a huge goal, and fundamental hockey, to really put the home club behind the eight ball after 20 minutes considering that both squads played on Friday and then had to travel late into the night to the capital city of the Great White North.

Coach Reirden made two lineup changes after Friday’s win inserting Travis Boyd for Devante Smith-Pelly on the fourth line and he also gave Tyler Lewington his first NHL game on the blue line. Tyler acquitted himself rather well in 13:07 of ice time going +1 while paired with Seigenthaler (16:15, 1 assist). The coaching staff, with the early lead, was able to pretty much roll the lines in this game with John Carlson being the team leader in ice time with a low total of 23:21. Carly and his defensive partner, Michal Kempny were +2 on the night. It was Kempny who put this one out of reach with 6:16 remaining in period two when his point shot ricocheted in off of a Senators player past Mike McKenna to make it 4-0. Connolly had an assist there and Burakovsky didn’t get a point again, but he made a smart play to move towards the net taking his defender with him. Kempny’s shot hit the player covering Burky and hit the twine. Good things happen when you get pucks and bodies to the net and the Capitals did that well on Saturday night.

The referees in this game, Eric Furlatt and Peter MacDougall, pretty much let the teams play. Ottawa had two power plays and the Caps had three and the officiating was very consistent, which doesn’t seem to happen a lot these days. Washington was good on the penalty kill, and that started with a great neutral zone presence that prevented Ottawa from coming into the offensive zone with speed. The Sens are a rush team with guys like Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, and Bobby Ryan, but the Capitals really didn’t let them come flying into their end at all in their two man advantage situations. The Caps power play struggled again, for the most part, although the last one late in the game showed signs of life. Kuznetsov hit the post and Backstrom missed a wide open net from the left side of the cage on a quick redirect.

Simply put, the Capitals have become a very good even strength team and they don’t have to rely on their power play to win them games these days. That’s the mark of a really good hockey team and there is no doubt the defending Stanley Cup Champions are once again among the top teams in the NHL.

The Capitals have given their fans another reason to smile this Christmas season, so everyone should enjoy the four day break!

Notes: Washington plays next on Thursday, December 27th at 7 pm at home against the Carolina Hurricanes…the Caps were creamed on faceoffs, 32-18.  Lars Eller was 7-8…Ovechkin had 11 shot attempts after only five on Friday night (he had 14 against the Penguins on Wednesday)…the Capitals blocked 16 shots to just nine for Ottawa.

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Ovi Sabres

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Ovechkin’s Shootout Tally Carries the Caps Over the Sabres, 4-3

Posted on 15 December 2018 by Ed Frankovic

“I said, train kept a-rolling all night long, Train kept a-rolling all night long…” – Aerosmith

Alexander Ovechkin failed in his attempt to get his third consecutive hat trick, but he did score his league leading 29th goal to tie this contest at three in period two and then he notched the game winning shootout tally in the fourth round to propel the Washington Capitals to a 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night. Pheonix Copley made 26 saves for the Caps and he was only dented once in four tries in the gimmick.

The Sabres had the schedule advantage in this contest, but it was the Defending Stanley Cup Champions coming off of Friday’s shootout win in Raleigh who dominated this affair at even strength. Buffalo essentially scored three power play goals, their first marker by Jack Eichel came right as Michal Kempny’s high sticking penalty expired and the other two, one by Eichel and the other by rookie standout Rasmus Dahlin, also came with the man advantage. Washington, meanwhile, had four power plays, and didn’t convert on any of them. Coach Todd Reirden needs to get the special teams back under control, especially the PK, which badly misses Brooks Orpik.

Carter Hutton (35 saves) was the biggest reason, along with a leaky Capitals penalty killing unit, that this affair wasn’t ended by the Champs in regulation. Washington totally out quality chanced the Sabres at even strength, but the big goalie was the difference. At the other end, Copley played well, although he probably wants the third goal back. Still, the biggest question mark coming into this season for Washington was backup goalie, yet the man born in North Pole, Alaska is now 7-1 in his last nine starts. Caps fans can thank Copley for a Merry Christmas in 2018, because he’s been stellar as Philipp Grubauer’s replacement, at a much lower price.

Brett Connolly and Jakub Vrana notched their 7th and 10th goals of the season, respectively, as Washington received contributions on the scoresheet from each of their top three lines. Devante Smith-Pelly made a key steal from Hutton less than a minute after the Sabres took a 1-0 lead to feed Conno all alone in front for a layup. That was a critical goal given that the Capitals played on Friday night and Buffalo was sitting waiting to knock off the Cup winners in their first try of 2018-19. The Sabres had early momentum and DSP’s hustle and heads up play completely took that off of the table.

Vrana’s tally, which came on a rocket from the slot, was all set up by a great fore check by Tom Wilson. Willy’s pressure and speed forced the Sabres Matt Tennyson to turn the puck over up the left wing wall right to Evgeny Kuzentsov and Kuzy slid the disc cross ice to Jakub, who blasted it past Hutton to make it 2-1 less than 10 minutes into this affair.

The Sabres would notch two power play goals in the first 7:21 of period two to take a 3-2 lead, although Craig Laughlin thought both of the calls by the Quebec “not so dynamic” duo of Francois St. Laurent and Pierre Lambert weren’t penalties. He was right, but there were a couple of phantom calls on Buffalo, as well, especially the delay of game penalty on Marco Sandella in period three. That was pure rubbish, but enough on the incompetent zebras, you just have to play well enough to overcome them these days and Washington did, but Hutton held the fort for as long as he could for the visitors.

Sam Reinhart had a super chance to win this contest in the last minute after a Capitals turnover and then poor defensive work by Kuzy, but he hit the left pipe from the slot. In overtime, Kuznetsov had a late breakaway, only to be stoned by Hutton trying to go five hole.

But Evgeny would get revenge in the gimmick and he forced Casey Middlestadt to score on the third shot to keep this one going. Mighty Casey did tally, but then the Gr8 beat Hutton through the wickets on his shootout attempt and Copley stopped Jason Pominville to send Caps fans home happy and the many Buffalo supporters in attendance, out into the rainy night with a defeat, but also a standings point.

The Sabres are certainly a rising club and they play with pace, but the Capitals are still Kings of the Castle and improved to 20-9-3 (43 points). They lead the Metropolitan Division by six points over second place Columbus and the third place Penguins by seven points. It certainly looks like that trio should be your three playoff teams coming out of the Metro, barring major injuries to star players, while the Atlantic Division places five teams in the postseason with Tampa, Toronto, Buffalo, and Boston looking like locks for four of those slots. There are still 50 games to play, though, and the game changes on January 1st when things get more physical and buckled down defensively. The good news for Washington is they can play that style of hockey, too.

This triumph over the Sabres closes the book on a seven goal and one shootout tally winner for the Gr8 in the three games played this week. It’s pretty much a no-brainer that he’ll capture NHL Player of the Week when it is announced on Monday. The Caps will be off on Sunday, and they earned it. Next up are the Penguins at Capital One Arena on Wednesday night. The Pens have recently overcome a rough patch and are starting to play better hockey, so this next one should be a dandy.

But for now, the Capitals can sit back and enjoy their five game winning streak and take a few days to catch their breath. I’m sure that the coaching staff will also work on their penalty killing because the Pens have perhaps the most deadly power play in the league.

In addition to the five game run, the Capitals have now won 12 of their last 14 games, so it’s time to cue up the Steven Tyler again.

“Train kept a-rolling all night long, Train kept a-rolling all night long.”

Notes: The Caps had a 38-29 shots on goal and a 77-54 shot attempts advantage. They certainly didn’t look like a team that was supposed to be tired and you have to like the professionalism of this squad. They are getting excellent coaching and more importantly, great leadership, starting with Ovechkin and then All Star Nicklas Backstrom (who made a whale of a pass to set the Gr8 up for his game tying goal in period two)…the Capitals won the faceoff battle, 31-27. Backstrom went 11-5 and Kuznetsov was 9-6…Wilson had eight hits as the Caps won the body battle, 32-16…John “Norris Trophy Leading Candidate” Carlson logged 29:11 and was +3. The guy is a total stud on the back end…Michal Kempny had a trio of penalties, but as mentioned earlier, Locker didn’t think the second infraction was worthy of a call…Tennyson was -3 for Buffalo, who are back in town to face the Caps again on Friday, December 21st…Andre Burakovsky and Dmitrij Jaskin were the forward scratches. Tyler Lewington was recalled earlier on Saturday from Hershey to serve as the seventh defensemen.

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