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Embarrassing Weekend for Caps & NHL

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Embarrassing Weekend for Caps & NHL

Posted on 19 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

For those following along on this blog and in my recent radio session with Drew Forrester on WNST, the fact that the Capitals have lost five in a row is not a surprise to you. On Friday they were whipped 5-1 by the Columbus Blue Jackets and on Sunday night it was a 4-1 drubbing to the despised New York Rangers. Things are bad in Caps land, no doubt.

The optimists will point to some fancy stats, particularly the Caps 5v5 Close Fenwick percentage, and talk about how the Capitals puck possession statistics are at a season high. But that and a dollar might get you a cup of coffee these days. Washington is making far too many mistakes on the ice, to include the propensity to take terrible penalties.

They are like that NFL team that can pile up the yards on offense but turn the ball over several times a game, get flagged often, and have a weak defense. Yes, the Caps have the puck more than their opposition a lot lately, but when they lose it, the mishap is resulting in a biscuit in the back of their net far more often than the puck possession edge is leading to goals for them.

Outside of Alex Ovechkin and perhaps John Carlson, there aren’t many guys playing well right now on this club. The defense is a shambles as Washington just doesn’t have six legit NHL blue liners. After Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Mike Green, the quality takes a severe drop. Dmitry Orlov, who made the terrible turnover that started the loss to New York just 70 seconds into the game, is trying to do too much on a disastrous pairing with Green. Both 52 and 81 have the same styles but because Washington is so weak depth wise on defense, Coach Adam Oates is practically forced to play them together because the other options are far worse.

The goaltending has had its share of ups and downs and the latest casualty of a horse being ridden too hard and long appears to be Philipp Grubauer. The rookie goalie was bad on goals two and three against the Rangers and yanked for the second straight contest. He likely will be heading back to Hershey since logically the way to go right now is with Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth in goal. As for Neuvirth, with a limited goalie trade market, it makes little sense to just dump the young goalie because he wants out. Neuvy has played well in his two recent games so the smart move for the Caps is to just go with the duo they planned on having all season and then decide what to do in the off season. GM George McPhee likely can’t get a good enough return to make it worth his while to move Neuvirth. Goaltending is a precious commodity (see Edmonton and Philadelphia for examples of teams with weak net minding) so for the Caps to move a good goalie who has won a playoff series and has a salary cap friendly contract would be foolish.

As for the offense, it stinks after you get past the Gr8. Part of the problem is the defense is not good at getting the puck out of their own zone but this crew of forwards lacks chemistry and the intestinal fortitude to get the greasy goals needed to be a playoff team. They also don’t defend well either. There is an over abundance of right wings and a dearth of left wingers. Martin Erat, who asked to be traded back in November, took three minor penalties on Sunday in New York, one of which cost Green a goal. The 32 year old winger, who is on the downside of his career, is not helping his trade case, at this point.

Basically, it’s a train wreck for the Caps right now and the schedule doesn’t get any easier with a home game on Tuesday against a speedy Ottawa team (2-0 vs. Caps this season) followed by five straight games on the road.

The embarrassing weekend has dropped the Capitals out of a playoff spot and if they don’t find a way to turn things around quickly, they will be in even worse shape heading into the Olympic break in early February.

Speaking of embarrassing, the NHL should have its’ tail between its’ legs after the events of Saturday night, which was “Hockey Day” in Canada.

Let’s start with the debacle in Detroit. The Los Angeles Kings had a 2-1 lead late in regulation when a Wings point shot deflected off of the stick of a Kings defensemen up in the air and hit the netting behind the goal some 20 feet up. The puck then proceeded to ricochet off of the netting and off of the back of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick and in the cage for what the zebras called on the ice the tying goal. Kings D-man Drew Doughty immediately put his hand up to signal the puck went out of play but somehow all four officials MISSED the puck hitting the netting. Then a bigger issue comes into play. Because pucks off of the netting are not reviewable the league office in Toronto could not disallow the goal because it is not in the rule book. What a joke. If the league doesn’t immediately change that rule tomorrow then they are a disgrace. The shootout loss cost LA a critical point that could decide home ice advantage for them and the Wings got two points they desperately need, but did not deserve, in a very tight Eastern Conference playoff race. Shame on you NHL for not having this scenario covered and double shame on the blind referees who missed this obvious call.

Now for the big embarrassment of the weekend, and those of you who follow the game will be not be surprised that Vancouver Coach John Tortorella was the main culprit. The stubborn and fiery coach, who has already worn out his welcome in Tampa and New York, is currently coaching a struggling Canucks team that just went 0-3 on a road trip. Flames coach Bob Hartley, the Canucks opponent on Saturday night, put a starting lineup together that was ultra tough. Calgary has been a bad team all year but their early season strong work ethic had recently waned. So Hartley rewarded a fourth line that had scored in the previous game with a start in Vancouver. So naturally, the man who seems to look for fights, Tortorella, overreacted and put his tough guys out on the ice to start the game. The result, as many have seen, was an instant line brawl right out of Slap Shot. It was a disgrace and an embarrassment to hockey. What made things even worse was Torts, after the first period was over, was caught on Hockey Night in Canada cameras trying to get at Hartley in the entrance to the Flames locker room. A major dust up occurred with Flames goalie coach and former Washington Capital Clint Malarchuk having to be restrained from going after Torts. Tortorella’s actions after the period was over are far worse than anything else because the game should never be played off of the ice. Torts crossed the line there and should be suspended for several games and fined heavily.

Those who try to say that Tortorella’s hand was forced aren’t going to get any agreement from me. If Torts had remained calm and thought his way through things he would have put out his 2nd or 3rd line to start the game. The line brawl would not have occurred and you can bet that the referees would have been watching closely at the Flames fourth unit and whistled any penalties had they come close to crossing the line. It was an avoidable situation for Tortorella but he was too busy being hard headed and trying to “man up” that he missed a chance to teach his team the right lesson about showing self discipline. Now he’s going to sit for awhile and his ability to get his club to show restraint seems to have been diminished greatly.

What an embarrassment for hockey from Tortorella, there is no other way to put it.

 

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Untimely Mistakes Cost Caps Again in Overtime Loss

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Untimely Mistakes Cost Caps Again in Overtime Loss

Posted on 02 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

For the third time in three games, the Washington Capitals did a lot of good things, and lost for the third straight time.

On Thursday at the Verizon Center, the Caps scored three times in the first four minutes of period two but over the other 57+ minutes they mustered 0 goals. Washington threw 41 shots at the net to just 33 for Carolina, but once again mistakes cost them a hockey game.

The early miscues were bad penalties. After a sloppy line change led to a too many men on the ice infraction, Brooks Laich tried to decapitate Alex Semin and it put Carolina, who were being totally outplayed to that point, on a 5 on 3 advantage. Jeff Skinner, who would notch a hat trick in this one after a two goal performance here back on December 3rd, would beat Philipp Grubauer as the rookie goalie over committed and flopped to the ice.

After Alex Ovechkin scored his 31st goal of the season just 49 seconds into the middle frame, John Erskine got caught pinching at the offensive blue line and the Canes scored on a two on one. The shot was short side by Manny Malhotra and it sure looked like it was a stoppable one. Troy Brouwer and Steve Oleksy would tally just 52 seconds apart and the Capitals seemed to have righted the ship to take a 3-2 lead.

However just 40 seconds later, Grubauer, who was not very good in this one, gave up a bad rebound and when Martin Erat misplayed the puck in the slot Skinner was there to make Washington pay.

In overtime, the Capitals went for the gusto and Ovechkin’s bad pass to Dmitry Orlov resulted in a three on one break against Mike Green and #52 once again failed to cut off the pass and #53 got the hattie to end this one with a victory for Carolina.

So after 41 games the Capitals are 20-15-6 (46 points) and are clinging to second place in the Metropolitan Division over a streaking Flyers club who are playing in Colorado late Thursday night.

At this point, I certainly have more questions than answers about this hockey team.

First off, is this group of defensemen the right mix to keep this club in a playoff spot, and more importantly go anywhere in the spring if they do qualify? After John Carlson and Karl Alzner you’ve a got a pairing of Green and Orlov that have the puck a lot but are also prone to disastrous mistakes. As for the third duo, Oleksy and John Erskine have not been good. I put most of that on #4 who just doesn’t seem to have the wheels to handle Oates’ pressure the puck system.

Second, what is the plan on goaltending? Coach Adam Oates has used three different goalies this season with Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer sharing much of the load over long stretches. #31 is starting to show the signs of fatigue that Holtby was displaying after he was ridden hard by the bench boss for two plus months. Both seem to be NHL calibre goalies, but the way one is being ridden into the ground while the other sits seems to be a plan that needs rethinking. Grubauer was not as good in Ottawa and got worse on Thursday at the Verizon Center. Michal Neuvirth wants out and at this point, if they could get a legitimate third pair defensemen for him, then I’d do that deal.

Finally, is this the right mix of forwards once everyone is fully healthy? Up front the Caps go long stretches without scoring. Ovechkin is getting his shots and scoring goals but there isn’t a lot of balance after that. To top it off, the forwards have been very prone to big mistakes in their own end too. Washington’s inability to play well from their goal line out isn’t all on the defense. The forwards have struggled mightily with back checking (see Canes third goal tonight) and it is hurting the Caps ability to prevent odd man breaks and quality scoring chances.

To sum it all up, what we’ve seen in 41 games is pretty much what this team appears to be made of. They have great stretches and then make horrible mistakes on some of the simplest facets of the game. Their record displays what they basically are, a mediocre hockey team. In Oates’ post game pressers he frequently refers to “the same mistakes being made over and over.” That needs fixing.

The mediocrity can’t be good enough for anyone in the Capitals organization, at this stage.

So what should they do?

With three guys requesting trades and an abundance of players in certain areas (right wing, goalie, and offensive defensemen) and major weaknesses in other areas (left wing and solid skating two way defensemen), it appears that the only way to improve this club and make them a post season threat is via the trade route. You’ve got to give up something decent to get something in return. There is nothing wrong with trading a top player from a position of strength to get a top player to fill a position of weakness. Jack Johnson from LA to Columbus for Jeff Carter in 2012 comes to mind quickly. That move was the final piece of the puzzle to a Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup run. It was the culmination of several aggressive moves by Kings GM Dean Lombardi and those changes turned a middle of the pack club into a Stanley Cup winner.

Yes, that team had Jonathan Quick in net and were good defensively, but that was primarily due to Lombardi getting the right mix of players via excellent asset management.

Your move(s) Mr. McPhee.

Notes: Shot attemps were 72-58 in favor of the Caps despite the Canes holding a 4 to 1 edge in power plays…the Caps were 41-33 from the face off dot…Ovechkin was hauled down by Justin Faulk early in the middle frame and awarded a penalty shot but the Gr8 fumbled the puck on the way in.

 

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Caps Need Changes After Gift Wrapped Loss to Devils

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Caps Need Changes After Gift Wrapped Loss to Devils

Posted on 21 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals were in a holiday giving mood on Saturday night. The Caps had a 3-1 lead heading into the third period and a 4-2 lead after Alexander Ovechkin’s 30th goal of the season with 11 minutes left but were unable to close the game out.

The Devils Andy Greene scored on a rebound early into overtime to complete the comeback for New Jersey as they went on to win 5-4.

It was a bad defeat for the Capitals and they fall to 19-13-4 (42 points) this season.

What bugs me the most about this loss isn’t the third period collapse, no this is a trend that has been building for most of the season. The Capitals are not a good puck possession team and it starts with the problems they have in their own zone with bad coverage and turnovers. They struggle to complete passes coming out of their end and the players look lost on their reads on whether to pass the puck forward or to skate it out.

86-42 and 72-37.

You know what those numbers represent? The attempted shot totals for the last two games, which were heavily one sided against Washington. This is very alarming and the fancy stats community can easily produce the data to show that the Capitals are not a strong puck possession team. They’ve given up over 30 shots on net a game far too often and if not for some timely goaltending from their net minders plus several shootout victories, they don’t have 19 wins. They simply are leaving their goalies out to dry with poor defensive play for long periods of games.

It is a minor miracle that the Capitals gained three standings points going 1-0-1 with those lopsided shot attempt totals. But that won’t continue when you play so badly in long stretches. For me the questions have to start being asked by GM George McPhee and head coach Adam Oates about whether it is the system or the players. Oates said after Friday night’s win that the numerous Canes scoring chances were primarily due to bad reads by his players. We are now 36 games into the season, shouldn’t these guys know what the coaching staff wants them to do and be able to execute it?

Bottom line is this is either a system issue or they don’t have the right players to execute it.

36 games is a large enough sample size to evaluate your team.

My evaluation, at this point, is the Capitals have a middle of the pack team that has enough talent to qualify for the post season but doesn’t look to advance past the first round or second round the way they’ve shown to be deficient in their own end.

You aren’t going to win a Stanley Cup or even contend for one playing that way.

It’s up to McPhee and Oates to figure it out and fix it.

Either modify the system to fit the players or make some trades to find players who can execute what the coaching staff desires.

Notes: Braden Holtby took the loss giving up five goals on 37 shots. His biggest mistake was the 4th goal when he had miscommunication with his defensemen and turned the puck over up the boards…the Devils were 2 for 2 on the power play while the Caps went 0 for 1…next up for the Caps are the Anaheim Ducks, coached by Bruce Boudreau, on Monday at the Verizon Center. Bruce’s squad has won 8 games in a row.

 

 

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Caps Won’t Go Anywhere with Efforts Like Last Night

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Caps Won’t Go Anywhere with Efforts Like Last Night

Posted on 16 October 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals season is seven games old and after Wednesday night’s shutout loss to the Rangers their record is a putrid 2-5. Their two wins were at home against two of what will end up being the worst teams in the league in Calgary and Edmonton. Of their five losses, three have been at the Verizon Center.

It is not a pretty sight right now for Coach Adam Oates and his crew.

So what’s the problem?

To me, it is ultra simple: EFFORT!

Anyone who watched the game against the Rangers or several of the other contests should clearly see that this hockey team just isn’t skating. The passion appears to be lacking and only in the opener against Chicago was the club really moving their feet. This is a talented club, but in the NHL, there are lots of team with talent and if you don’t show up with passion and energy you will lose almost every time.

The Capitals have no passion right now. Overall, they don’t look like they want or enjoy playing hockey. Oates is not a guy who is prone to yelling and I am not a fan of that tactic either. Yelling isn’t going to solve this team’s problems. That has to come from within. Hockey is as intense a game as there is and if you don’t want to play or are not engaged, you won’t win. It’s plain and simple.

The Caps are not engaged and lack energy, and as a result, they glide around the ice and are getting totally outworked. The Rangers were a downward sliding team coming into Wednesday’s game and they trounced the Caps in overall play. If not for Braden Holtby, they lose by four or five pucks.

So how do they fix it? Oates could call a Friday “no pucks” practice to get the guys to realize that their lack of skating is what is costing them. The coach could show video after video of how gliding along the boards or into the offensive zone is leading to turnover after turnover. Those types of things certainly might help, but let’s be real, until the players decide they want to be the best they can be, they aren’t going to turn it around.

It isn’t just skating hard going up the ice, it is having the will to take the puck from your opponent in your own end too. It’s moving your legs to cover the opposition and not give him time and space. Washington is not doing any of this on a consistent basis. They are playing “hope” hockey. Hoping the puck comes to them or hoping the opponent makes a mistake and they can get an odd man rush the other way. It is absolutely the wrong way to play hockey.

They lollygag in their own zone, they lollygag in the neutral zone, and they lollygag along the offensive boards. To quote Robert Wuhl from Bull Durham, right now the Caps are “Lollygaggers.”

Overall the talent is there with Washington, despite some of the injuries on defense. 3rd pair guys Steve Oleksy and Nate Schimdt have shown they have the drive and desire to compete while not having the talent of the Greens and Carlsons of the world. Guys like 61 & 88 aren’t the problem, they are working hard and making a contribution. The issue is with the guys who have the talent on this roster. Those guys have to work hard in all zones on the ice and they are not doing it thus far this season.

There are lots of talented guys that wore red last night who can play at the highest level. But they’ve got to want to do it. So far through seven games, we’ve only seen it in small bursts.

So to me, this isn’t a George McPhee or Adam Oates issue right now, it’s a players situation.

The 20+ guys on the roster need to decide to start playing harder and smarter. It’s up to them to turn it around. They’ve got to start skating hard and working as a five man unit on the ice.

If they don’t catch on to that fast, then they’ll go nowhere this season and have nothing to play for this spring.

It’s that simple.

 

 

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Caps Start 2013-14 With High Expectations Once Again

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Caps Start 2013-14 With High Expectations Once Again

Posted on 29 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It is awfully difficult to win a championship in professional sports but heading into 2013-14 that is once again the goal of the Washington Capitals, who have yet to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup since their inception in 1974. The Caps, who have made the playoffs the last six years, have another quality team as they prepare to open their season against the defending champs, the Chicago Blackhawks, in the Windy City on Tuesday night at 8pm on NBCSN.

On Sunday, Caps General Manager George McPhee made several moves to help put some clarity to the opening night roster culminating with a trade of center Matheiu Perreault to the Anaheim Ducks for a 4th round pick and AHLer John Mitchell. In addition, several players were sent to Hershey, including defenesemen Tyson Strachan and Dmitry Orlov. For now, here is what the Caps roster looks like:

Goalies (2): Braden Holtby, Michal Neuvirth

Defensemen (7): Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, John Erskine, Jack Hillen, Steve Oleksy, and Connor Carrick

Forwards (14): Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Mikhail Grabovski, Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, Martin Erat, Tom Wilson, Eric Fehr, Joel Ward, Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera, Aaron Volpatti, and Michael Latta

The move of Perreault was predicted here last week and makes sense from a hockey and salary cap standpoint. This Caps team needed to get bigger and more powerful up front and Wilson’s outstanding camp made keeping him up with the main club, rather than shipping him back to a weaker league (OHL), an easy decision. The 19 year old, who was the 16th overall pick in the 2012 NHL entry draft, brings a dimension that this Washington team needs more of in the post season: size and the ability to score the tough goals in close. Six months with Coach Adam Oates and some highly talented teammates is what is needed for Wilson to continue his development, the OHL is just not going to help him get any better.

As for the rest of the squad, the strengths appear to be in goal and up front. Braden Holtby has established himself as a number one goalie and has the chance to move into the elite category with a very strong season. As McPhee told the media last Tuesday, to win the Stanley Cup you have to have great goaltending. #70 is the guy being counted on to deliver that, but Neuvirth is a more than capable net minder and will be needed to play well so that Washington can qualify for the post season in a very competitive Metropolitan Division.

At forward, the Capitals have some serious depth on the wings but still aren’t sure who is going to be the third line center. Backstrom has the first line locked up with Grabovski manning the second unit. The club could go with Beagle as the 3rd line center and Latta pivoting the 4th to start the season, but that depends on the health of the others, primarily Laich, who has been battling a hip flexor issue. Right wing is just loaded up with Ovechkin, Brouwer, Fehr, Wilson, and Ward. Both Fehr and Erat were tried at center this preseason by Oates with some success, so the head coach has lots of options. Johansson could play 3rd line center at some point too. The Caps have not had as talented a crew of forwards to start the season in many years and with the players they have there is lots of room for flexibility.

On defense, the top three is awfully good with Green, Alzner, and Carlson. After that, it gets dicey. Erksine was super last spring in the regular season but is he really a top 4 d-man? #4 will have a chance to prove it starting this week. Oleksy came out of seemingly nowhere to take a 3rd pair spot in the spring and Hillen overcame an early season injury to play a lot of quality minutes last year. Carrick was the biggest surprise of training camp, has great offensive skills and his hockey IQ is high. Learning to play defense in the NHL is harder than any other position so Washington has to be careful to not put too much on the 19 year old, who has incredible potential. The organization still has high hopes for Orlov, but given his injury situation last season, starting him in Hershey made too much sense. The 2009 2nd round pick will play top pair minutes in the AHL and can hone his craft for what appears to be an inevitable jump back to the NHL at some point during the 82 game season.

Special teams will be an important component of Washington’s success. Last season the Caps were #1 in the NHL with the power play (26.8%). You can expect it to remain at least top 5 and Oates and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe will continually be tweaking things to counter opposition tactics. As for the penalty kill, Laich stated on Tuesday that is one of the areas this Capitals club will have to improve in if they want to do well in the regular season and playoffs. The PK has been one of the team’s weaknesses the last few years and it was 27th out of 30 in 2012-13 with a success rate of only 77.9%.

In summary, the expectations are high for this Capitals team. The playoffs are not a given, but if this club can stay relatively healthy, then they have the talent to compete for the division title. Every team in the Metropolitan Division has its issues. The Penguins are the pick of many but their goaltending and team defense certainly has its question marks. Will the Rangers respond positively to a new coach in Alain Vigneault? How will the Devils do with the departure of Ilya Kovalchuk? The Flyers added Vinny Lecavalier but will Ray Emery or Steve Mason step up and be a top goalie in a pressure packed Philly market? Are the Islanders ready to take the next step up the ladder or was their playoff run last spring a one time deal? Is Columbus going to play like the team that nearly qualified for the post season last spring or the cellar dweller crew that started 2013? Finally, will Cam Ward returning in net for Carolina propel them to a winning season? Nothing is set in stone heading into the season and in the salary cap era every team has holes and/or issues. What is important is that the Capitals get off to a good start since coming from behind in the standings is not going to be as achievable as it was in the Southeast Division.

 

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Caps Pound Flyers in Preparation for Season Opener

Posted on 27 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The revamped Philadelphia Flyers came to the Verizon Center on Friday night to take on a Washington Capitals team that didn’t dress four of its’ top five defensemen. In a preseason tilt filled with numerous fights, the Caps smoked the Flyers, 6-3, to run their September record to 4-0-3 as they head into Saturday’s exhibition season finale in Chicago. The season then opens on Tuesday, October 1st with Washington taking on the defending Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks, again in the Windy City.

Here are some thoughts and observations on the Caps last home tune-up:

- Alex Ovechkin notched two sweet power play goals from the slot. The first was a laser off of a nice feed from Connor Carrick (3 assists) and the second came on a rebound that was aided by Ray Emery’s mishandling of the puck. The Gr8 looks to be in great form for the regular season but in between he’ll depart on Friday night for Greece where he’ll be the first Russian to carry the Olympic torch for the Sochi games after it is lit in Olympia. Ovechkin will return to DC on Sunday night and will practice on Monday before the season opener.

- There is not much more Tom Wilson can do to show he belongs on the team. He scored another goal going to the net (sweet pass by Mikhail Grabovski), got into a fight with Brayden Schenn and he beat the young Flyer to a pulp, drew a penalty that led to Ovie’s 2nd PPG, and doled out several hits. The 19 year old is an NHLer now and brings an added dimension of size and toughness to a Capitals team that will need it in the new Metropolitan Division. Some Flyers, to include Scott Hartnell, got knocked off of their game mentally by Wilson in Friday’s contest.

- Eric Fehr tallied two more times to run his preseason goal total to five. #16 looks great and the hope is that he can stay healthy for a full season to see what he can do. Washington is loaded at right wing with Ovechkin, Wilson, Fehr, Troy Brouwer, and Joel Ward.

- With Mike Green, John Carlson, John Erskine, and Jack Hillen all resting on Friday night, Coach Adam Oates and GM George McPhee got a chance to look at several players vying for the 6th and 7th defensemen spots on the roster. Noone really stood out among the three guys with the best chance to get those slots in Steve Oleksy, Tyson Strachan, and Dmitry Orlov. Each had some solid plays, especially in the opening frame when the Caps jumped to a 2-0 lead. But when the Flyers scored three straight in the middle stanza to tie the game up, each of the three had their share of mistakes. Carrick probably had the best game on D other than Karl Alzner, but with two right handed offensive guys already on the squad in Green and Carlson, it doesn’t make sense to keep Carrick up. Michal Cajkovski did once again show off his heavy left handed shot on the blue line but he needs more seasoning. Right now, the odds seem to favor Oleksy and Strachan to get the last two D spots while Orlov goes down to Hershey to play lots of minutes and get his confidence back.

- Michal Neuvirth had a good night in net stopping 32 of 35 shots. His stick handling is improved and that will be important in the regular season. Both goalies will play lots of games but Braden Holtby is the clear #1 now. Holtby’s ability to move the puck really helps the defense and adds another dimension from the back line.

 - Playing goalie in Philadelphia might be the toughest position in the NHL and Emery may not be the answer the Flyers are hoping for in goal. The net minder already had one problematic stint in the city of Brotherly Love and he looked weak on Friday night. Is Steve Mason the guy for the job in Philly? One thing Peter Laviolette should be concerned about is the fact that his team has struggled in the preseason and they also couldn’t beat a Caps team that didn’t dress many of their top D. Yes the Flyers inked Vinny Lecavlier this summer but there are still lots of holes on that Philly team. Claude Giroux is still a super player, though, and will have to carry that club.

So we are just four days from the regular season opener and the Caps roster is still up in the air. McPhee and Oates have a lot of work to do over the next 48+ hours to finalize things and the decisions are not easy, especially when the salary cap gets factored in. Washington has 14 NHL forwards, so do they keep them all and only 7 defensemen? Or do they go 13 forwards and 8 defensemen or possibly just 13 and 7 to be one spot under the 23 man limit? We’ll find out very soon.

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Handicapping the Caps Opening Night Roster

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Handicapping the Caps Opening Night Roster

Posted on 24 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals held their annual media day luncheon on Tuesday at Kettler IcePlex and both Owner Ted Leonsis and General Manager George McPhee made it clear that winning the Stanley Cup was once again their barometer of success.  The Caps, who have made the playoffs in six straight seasons, will not have the benefit of getting into the dance via a Southeast Division title in 2013-14. Instead they will be in the Metropolitan Division competing with the likes of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Carolina Hurricanes, and Columbus Blue Jackets. It is a tougher task, but Leonsis and McPhee both feel that this year’s club is deeper than they’ve had in several years.

As of today, the Caps have over 25 players in camp with just one week to go until the regular season opener in Chicago on October 1st. An NHL club can carry up to 23 players but they also have to be under the $64.3M salary cap. Coach Adam Oates noted that you have to factor in the dollars as well as who could get claimed for nothing via other teams on the waiver wire when finalizing the roster. Via Capgeek.com, Washington currently has 22 players at a total of $63.6M. That list of 22 players includes 13 forwards, 7 defensemen, and two goalies (Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth). So who is going to make it and who likely won’t? Here’s a look at where guys stand, from what I’ve seen in the games and gauging from comments made by Oates today:

Goalies:

In: Holtby, Neuvirth

Defensemen:

In: Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, John Erskine

Likely In: Steve Oleksy, Jack Hillen

Bubble: Dmitry Orlov, Tomas Kundratek

Longshot: Connor Carrick

Forwards:

In: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich, Mikhail Grabovski, Troy Brouwer, Martin Erat, Joel Ward, Eric Fehr, Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera

Bubble: Mathieu Perreault, Aaron Volpatti, Tom Wilson

Basically, the club has some tough choices to make at defense and it gets even harder at forward. McPhee stated that they could keep 19 year old Wilson up and stay under the cap, but acknowledged he might have to move a player to do so. The GM stated that he doesn’t like to keep teenagers on the roster, but Wilson has shown he can play and is making the decision on the big right winger very difficult. Ideally, Wilson would start the season in Hershey but since he is an Ontario Hockey League draft pick, he cannot play in the AHL until he is 20 years old. It appears there isn’t much to gain for Wilson going back to his junior team (Plymouth). Sure he’d get power play time and could dominate, but he did that last season. To me, Wilson brings a dynamic this Caps team needs. The kid is big, can skate, hits, and he goes to the net. Six months under Adam Oates in preparation for the post season, in my book, is just too hard to pass up. The Capitals need another power forward who can wear opposition defenders down in the playoffs and Wilson is a player who can do that.

Keeping Wilson though, likely means a move elsewhere has to be made. That brings us to Perreault. With McPhee and Oates announcing today that Erat is going to play center in these last few preseason games, after Fehr had his trial at center last week, it sure looks like the team is looking for options other than #85 to play the pivot position. So would Perreault, who counts just over $1M on the salary cap, be the player moved if Wilson is kept up with the big club? That’s certainly one viable option. McPhee noted that the trade chatter has picked up in recent days but did acknowledge again, that making trades in the salary cap era is very hard.

On defense, it’s hard to see the six guys who finished the season in the spring not being the top six starting on October 1st. The question then is who do you keep up as the 7th guy. Orlov is a player that has an immense amount of talent but he’s coming off a difficult year healthwise. When asked about #81 today and his performance against Chicago last Friday night, Oates stated that he’s mainly looking for Dmitry to get fully comfortable in games again. To me that spells a ticket to Hershey to start the season where Orlov can get in total hockey shape before making what seems to be the inevitable jump up to the big club at some point this season. Orlov can still go to Hershey without having to clear waivers while Kundratek cannot. Thus it appears that Kundratek is the likely choice for 7th D, but given that Erskine is coming off of surgery in the spring the GM and coach may opt to keep a left handed shot around. That would give Orlov an opening. As for Connor Carrick, the youngster has had an outstanding training camp and opened a lot of eyes. He has great hockey sense and possesses some “Mike Green” like skills. The future looks bright for Carrick, but I don’t see him on the big club this season.

Another issue that needs to be factored into the roster decisions are injuries. Laich made it clear that he was not 100% today and despite playing 20 minutes in Monday’s tilt against Boston and feeling fine afterwards, he woke up this morning not feeling right. #21 says he has October 1 circled on his calendar but as Oates stated, he’s a little snakebit right now with injuries after playing over 300 straight NHL games in a row. In addition to Laich, Ward is nicked up too, so that complicates the roster decisions.

While McPhee and Oates have some really hard choices, both acknowledged that this is a good thing for the hockey team. The Capitals have some depth in their organization and Laich feels like, when healthy, the Caps will have three lines that can score. That is something Washington has not had in several years and if you can generate balance, then it makes it harder to gear a defense towards stopping Ovechkin’s line and Green on the back end. The Rangers used that tactic this past spring, especially after Erat went down with an injury early in game four, so the Capitals have to be looking for ways to have a multi-dimensional attack.

Notes: Laich stated that he’s been working with a new stick for the last six weeks and is still learning to adjust to it. The stick has a different lie and curve than what he used for the past 12 years, so this is a big change. Oates played a factor in Laich’s decision to switch and #21 talked about how passionate the head coach was on the issue. Laich joked that when you see that type of passion than “the person is either really smart or crazy!” I’ll go with the former on Oates, after all, he did go to RPI…Oates had the Caps power play clicking on all cylinders last season and when asked if he expects adjustments from other teams, he said “absolutely.” The bench boss pointed out that video is used extensively in the NHL, as much as in the NFL, and that teams will adjust to what the Caps are doing and it is on him and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe, who runs the power play, to adjust back accordingly.

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Bruins Best Caps in Shootout in Baltimore Hockey Classic

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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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Caps 2013-14 Roster Pretty Much Set with Alzner Signing

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Caps 2013-14 Roster Pretty Much Set with Alzner Signing

Posted on 10 July 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It’s July 10th, but the Washington Capitals lineup, barring any trades, is mostly set for training camp in September with GM George McPhee announcing Wednesday that defensemen Karl Alzner has been signed for four years at $2.8M per season. Now McPhee only has restricted free agent LW Marcus Johansson to ink to complete the roster, and given that MJ90 doesn’t have much leverage, this one shouldn’t take too long. Following that signing, and using data from capgeek.com, the Caps will have 21 or so players with about $4M or so remaining against a salary cap of $64.3M for 2013-14.

Alzner, who is one of the best interviews going, seemed extremely happy with the new contract on his media conference call (full audio available here). The four year term for a player who is only 24 is a good deal for both sides at this price given Alzner’s significant ice time and strong two way play. Karl played much of last season with Mike Green and the duo formed an outstanding first d-pair that should get even better next season.

With that, here are my thoughts on the team going forward:

- Before game 5 against the Rangers, I chatted with New York assistant coach Jim Schoenfeld about the series and the Blueshirts strategy, at that point. Having worked for the former Caps bench boss, I put him on the spot and said, “It’s pretty obvious you guys are doing whatever you can to keep [Alex] Ovechkin and Green from beating you.” Now normally you’d expect a statement like that to be dodged by the opposition, but Schoeney didn’t hesitate, telling me, “I hope it keeps working!” With Brooks Laich out and the early game four injury to Martin Erat, Washington become a team that was much easier to shut down. You need balance in the NHL to win in the post season and not having those two players really hurt the Caps chances to advance. With Mike Ribeiro departing in free agency, the return of Laich and a fully integrated Erat are going to be key to Washington’s success next year. You can bet that the opponents will focus on Ovechkin and Green again, after all it worked for the Rangers, so the other guys in the lineup must step up.

- Free agency is pretty much over, and given the prices and term attached to many of the signings, it was a smart move by the Caps to sit this one out. Doing one of those deals would likely come back to bite the team down the road. Having a healthy Laich will be like a free agent signing for Washington. Also, there is hope that defensemen Dmitry Orlov will return to his 2011-12 form and crack the second pairing. In addition, there is a possibility that Evgeny Kuznetsov will come over to DC following his KHL season next spring.

- On Monday, McPhee stated once again that ”he likes his team.”  Why wouldn’t he make that statement given the six straight playoff appearances? But that doesn’t mean he isn’t on the look out for ways to improve his club. So if the right trade option came along, you can bet the Washington GM would make the move. It’s a fluid business and there are lots of games to play between October and the trade deadline. It’s a constant process of evaluating and analyzing. April and the playoffs are nine months away.

- Injuries are a big factor so a healthy Mike Green is going to be vital to Washington’s success in 2013-14. Once paired with Alzner, combined with the new system/style employed by Coach Adam Oates and assistant coach Calle Johansson, it appeared that #52 was not taking the big hits he used to sustain in previous seasons. Certainly Green is maturing as a player, but Alzner confirmed on Wednesday’s conference call that the coaching staff is focused on minimizing the shots his blue liners take in their own zone. That type of attention to detail from this coaching staff is something that could be a huge difference maker for the Capitals this upcoming season.

- The new division Washington will be in 2013-14 is going to be more fun, but much more competitive. Sure the Flyers did some big things, but right now I am not sure how much better they really are? And how will the signings they make impact them long term? The Rangers have a new coach, the Devils have a new goalie, the Blue Jackets signed Nathan Horton (but he’s out until December with a shoulder injury), and Carolina will get Cam Ward back. So you can say those teams are improving but to imply the Caps won’t be improved because they weren’t active in free agency doesn’t add up for me. As Alzner stated on Wednesday, another year of experience has to help. In addition, the better travel schedule should reduce some wear and tear on the Caps.

- Finally, I know it’s July, but if you want to catch some free hockey, the Caps Development Camp continues through Saturday with a live scrimmage each day down at Kettler IcePlex. Go check it out!

 

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Caps Draft Burakovsky as Big Trades Fail to Materialize

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Caps Draft Burakovsky as Big Trades Fail to Materialize

Posted on 30 June 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The days leading up to the 2013 NHL Draft generated a lot of hype for the extremely talented players slated to be taken at the top of the draft as well as for the possibility of some blockbuster trades given the NHL’s salary cap dropping from $70M in 2013 to just over $64M in 2013-14. Well the first several selections lived up to the billing but as far as deals went, outside of the Cory Schneider to New Jersey trade for the 9th overall pick, there wasn’t much that was done to impact the rosters of many clubs.

Center Nathan MacKinnon, as expected, went first overall to the Colorado Avalanche, but surprisingly the Florida Panthers chose forward Aleksander Barkov with the second pick and Tampa took winger Jonathan Drouin with the 3rd choice sending defensemen Seth Jones, who many had rated as the top player in the draft, to the Nashville Predators with the 4th pick. So former Capitals GM David Poile was the winner in this draft, in my opinion. Jones, who is big, can skate, and has offensive talents, gives the Preds another great right handed defensemen to go with the powerful Shea Weber down in Music City.

As for the the Caps, General Manager George McPhee stated that he tried hard to trade up into the top third of the first round but was unsuccessful. Thus Washington selected Austrian born/Swedish left winger Andre Burakovsky with the 23rd pick in the draft. The early line on the Swedish forward who reportedly has excellent offensive skills is mixed. TSN’s Bob MacKenzie listed him 24th on his board while Craig Button had Burakovsky as far down as 58th on his final list. McPhee and Director of Amatuer Scouting, Ross Mahoney, have not had a first round bust since Anton Gustafsson in 2008. Over the period of 2008-12, they’ve picked up John Carlson, Marcus Johansson, Evgeni Kuznetsov, Filip Forsberg, and Tom Wilson in the first round. Certainly one would hope that Burakovsky fits in with that last group but one scout I talked to, who called the 2012 1st round picks “home runs” for Washington, had him more in the Gustafsson camp. Guess we’ll find out over the next few years who is correct on that front? McPhee did state that he believes Burakovsky will take time to develop, so he is likely several years from the NHL, at this point.

In the second round, the Capitals took right handed shooting defensemen Madison Bowey from the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League with the 53rd pick and then traded their 3rd (84), 4th (114), and 5th (127) round selections to move up to the 61st spot to take forward Zach Sanford from Derry, New Hampshire. Sanford will play in the USHL this year and then is currently committed to Boston College in 2014-15. Bottom line, the NHL draft is a crap shoot since you are choosing 17 and 18 year olds and many selections take years to develop.

Going back to the trade front, it’s pretty easy to figure out that Washington wants to upgrade the left side of its defense. Specifically, they need a left handed shooting d-man to play with John Carlson on the second d-pair. In addition, with center Mike Ribeiro slated to test the free agent waters, the Caps will likely need to add a number two center once again. There was hope that perhaps one or both of those voids could be filled with trades in New Jersey but despite the buildup, there were no big deals for top 6 forwards or top 4 defensemen at Sunday’s draft. But there are still four more full days until free agency begins on Friday, July 5th.

The biggest news of the weekend was Tampa Bay using its’ compliance buyout on 1998 1st overall pick Vinny Lecavalier. Naturally there is interest galore in the 2004 Stanley Cup winning center and he’d be a nice fit in Washington. But he’d be great for a lot of teams. McPhee noted that Adam Oates met with Lecavlier, facilitated by the fact that Oates was an assistant with the Bolts back in 2009-10, and that the Caps coach thinks highly of him. At the end of the day though, this is likely to come down to money and Washington just might not have enough salary cap room to land Lecavalier.

The next two weeks will do a lot towards shaping the Capitals roster for 2013-14. The GM has not decided if he will use a compliance buyout or not, routinely scratched Jeff Schultz is slated to count $2.75M against the Capitals salary cap, but he says he has ownership’s support to use that mechanism, if necessary. McPhee still has to sign restricted free agents Karl Alzner and Marcus Johansson but the only questions there are pretty much the dollars. It will be interesting to see what the GM does to fill what look to be two holes heading into a season in which they move into an extremely competitive new division. Is Dmitry Orlov ready to be an NHL second pair defensemen? The Devils improved themselves by adding Schneider in goal while the Flyers have lost Ilya Bryzgalov and Danny Briere to costly compliance buyouts. In addition, Philly signed 35 year old defensemen Mark Streit to a long term deal for four years at $21M. So Paul Holmgren and company continue to do some crazy things and don’t appear to be any better, at this point.

But there are a couple of more weeks where the big action still looks to take place via trades and free agency, so stay tuned!

Notes: The Caps will hold development camp at Kettler Iceplex from July 8-13…Team USA will holds its Olympic orientation camp at Kettler as well from August 25-29 in preparation for the 2014 Olympic Games that will be played in Sochi, Russia. Poile is USA’s GM while the Penguins Dan Bylsma will coach the squad. This is a big deal for the area to host this type of event.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on the Morning Reaction with Drew Forrester talking NHL and Caps draft at 7:25 am Monday morning.

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