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Ovechkin, Caps Seek Commanding Series Lead on Monday

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Ovechkin, Caps Seek Commanding Series Lead on Monday

Posted on 05 May 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Fresh off of a huge 1-0 overtime victory on Saturday afternoon, the Washington Capitals take on the New York Rangers in game three of their best of seven first round playoff series on Monday night at 7:30 pm at Madison Square Garden (CSN, NBCSN). A win for the Caps and it is a 3-0 series lead, and for a Washington franchise that is 39 years old, it would be unchartered waters in a best of seven (the Caps did defeat the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders, three games to none, in best of five first round matchups in 1984 and 1986, respectively).

This Capitals team continues to get better each game under first year head coach Adam Oates. After winning 3-1 in the first tilt, the Capitals played another very good game but thanks to the superb play of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (37 saves), the Caps weren’t able to gain the victory until the extra session. But Washington carried much of the play in that contest and despite the Rags getting forwards Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett back into the lineup for the first time this series, the Caps still have more depth and as a result, have been able to win the first two games. A big difference has been special teams with the Caps going for 2 for 7 with the man advantage while New York is 0 for 7. But that still leaves a ton of even strength time and if you look at the ice times of both squads, it is pretty apparent that Oates has more confidence in all of his skaters while Rangers bench boss John Tortorella relies mostly on three lines and five defensemen. The fact that Tortorella’s skilled guys are playing more at even strength could be a factor in why their power play is not as effective.

But as a former Capitals assistant coach has told me repeatedly, the playoffs are all about adjustments, and you can bet that Torts will do whatever he can in his own barn to get the Rags back in the series. Madison Square Garden will be amped up and with home ice the fiery coach now has last change. Midway through game two he switched up his lines putting Rick Nash with Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan and that line was the Rangers best. The typical matchup had that unit against the Caps second line of Mike Ribeiro, Martin Erat, and Troy Brouwer. Does that matchup continue in New York? Will Ryan Clowe be back in for the Rangers giving them another top six forward? What can Tortorella do to fix his ailing power play? Those are the easiest things that seem changeable for a Rangers club that the Caps have on the ropes. The Rangers are struggling to generate offense so does New York, which is primarily a defensive team that is coached to mostly play dump and chase, change things up and open up the game? I have a hard time seeing them try that given they haven’t been practicing it all season and they would likely be playing with fire with the Capitals highly skilled top two lines.

As for Washington, even when winning, they make adjustments and that’s another reason why they continue to improve. Oates’ club was much better on their breakouts on Saturday and the number of giveaways and odd man rushes dropped drastically.  The Capitals also seem to have the Rangers tendencies down, especially in the offensive zone. A Rags team that relies heavily on diving to block shots was burnt on the game winner as Ribeiro faked Callahan to the ice before dishing to Mike “Game Over” Green for the winner. Oates might not have any lineup changes but given his penchant for video analysis and his technical savvy, you can bet that he’s given his club some things to help the team be even better.

After minimizing turnovers, which can lead to odd man rushes, another important thing for Washington to do to win in New York is to limit the ability of Rangers defensemen Michael Del Zotto to rush the puck up the ice. It was Del Zotto, along with the traded Marian Gaborik, who really hurt the Caps in last year’s series loss. After Del Zotto, New York really doesn’t have any guys on the blue line who are excellent puck rushers while the Capitals boast Green and John Carlson plus Jack Hillen and Steve Oleksy bring that capability, as well. It is an advantage for the Caps that their defense is more mobile.

Still, you have to play the games and it is critical that Washington doesn’t get overconfident or lose focus on playing one shift at a time. Based on what I’ve seen from Oates, he will have his club ready to go in a hostile environment.

So will this be the year that Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals finally take a 3-0 lead in a best of seven playoff series?

 

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Will Ovechkin & Caps Avenge 2012 Series Loss to Rangers?

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Will Ovechkin & Caps Avenge 2012 Series Loss to Rangers?

Posted on 28 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

For the Caps organization and their fans, the memory of last spring’s Eastern Conference semifinal game five overtime defeat to the Rangers that ultimately led to a series loss in seven games still stings. Washington was basically twenty five seconds away from a win on enemy ice with a chance to wrap the series up at the Verizon Center, but an unfortunate double minor for high sticking turned that whole storyline around. Instead of moving on to play the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals the Caps headed to the golf course.

But just one year later, Alexander Ovechkin and the Caps have a chance to avenge that crushing defeat against a Rangers team that many predicted to win the Stanley Cup before the season started. The addition of Rick Nash to the Rags lineup seemed to give them that big time gun they lacked and on paper they had two nice scoring lines in Nash, Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan, and Carl Hagelin. But the game isn’t played on paper and the war between Gaborik and stubborn head coach John Tortorella ultimately led to #10 being shipped to Columbus. GM Glen Sather went out and added left wing Ryane Clowe from San Jose at the trade deadline to give Torts a player that better fit his dump and chase, grinding style. New York, despite losing top four defensemen Marc Staal to an eye injury, played well down the stretch and moved up to the six seed to face Washington in a series that will begin on Thursday night at the Verizon Center. However, they lost Clowe to an injury last Thursday in Carolina and it is unclear if he will be able to go against the Caps. Thus it looks like the Rangers could possibly start the series without a top 4 D man in Staal, a top 6 forward in Clowe as well as a depth forward in injured Brian Boyle.

As for Washington, well they are a much different team than the one they had in last year’s series. The Caps were offensively challenged from a system and player standpoint last spring but General Manager George McPhee brought in new coach Adam Oates, who plays the up tempo style that better fits Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. In addition, the GM has assembled a true second scoring line, something Washington hasn’t had in the post season since 2009. Center Mike Ribeiro was added in a deal with Dallas and then at the trade deadline McPhee brought in speedy left winger Martin Erat from Nashville. With the emergence of Marcus Johansson and the improvement in the Caps power play in Oates’ system, Washington is a very dangerous offensive team once again.

In the bottom six forwards department, the Caps have a super crew that has gotten a big boost from a healthy Eric Fehr. At some point the Caps will also get Joel Ward back too. Washington has a chance to win this series if their bottom six forwards can outplay the respective crew from New York.

On defense, the Caps have Mike Green playing as well as ever and paired with Karl Alzner he is not getting run in the corners as often. That will be something that Oates must continue to avoid, the big hits on his defense because that is the way the Rangers like to play, dump the puck below the goal line and wear you out down low. The Caps may have lost Dennis Wideman on the back end to free agency last summer but from one to six, they are a more improved club from last spring. John Erskine is playing super with John Carlson and the third defensive pair of Jack Hillen and Steve Oleksy is solid and mobile. Washington has more depth on the back end than New York, who prefer to give their top four of Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan McDonagh, and Anton Stralman a ton of minutes. John Moore and former Capital Steve Eminger are the third pairing.

In net, you’ve got a super battle between Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby. Last spring was #70′s first NHL playoffs and he performed extremely well. Outside of game one in New York, Holtby was outstanding. Holtby is a year more experienced and his puck handling still makes a big difference for Washington. Oates has used #70′s skills in that area even more than former coach Dale Hunter did and they will need it to combat the Rangers dump and forecheck style.

Behind the bench you’ve got the abrasive but very experienced Tortorella versus the technically savvy Oates. Oates knows the Rags very well from his coaching days with the Devils last spring, so he is very familiar with what Torts wants his players to do. Torts will try to work the referees and manipulate the New York media to put the pressure on him, instead of his players. But both teams are under pressure to win now, so those tactics are just a waste of time and energy. Oates seems to be the type that doesn’t bother getting caught up in that stuff.

In the special teams department, the Caps have the best power play in the league (26.8%) while New York has struggled (15.7%), but in a seven game series, anything can happen. But this Washington team can play well at five on five too and my take is that the more five on five action there is, the more it favors the Caps given their superior depth. The Rangers have some very skilled players so staying out of the box is paramount. The Caps penalty killing finished 27th in the NHL at 77.9% during the regular season.

This is the fourth post season meeting between these clubs in five years. It is the tightest Eastern Conference matchup and a battle of two surging clubs with different styles of play.

The complete series schedule is listed below:

Thursday, May 2 7:30 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington  TV: CSN, NBC Sports Network, TSN

Saturday, May 4 12:30 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington  TV: NBC, TSN

Monday, May 6 7:30 p.m. Washington at NY Rangers  TV: CSN, NBC Sports Network, TSN

Wednesday, May 8 7:30 p.m. Washington at NY Rangers  TV: CSN, NBC Sports Network, TSN

*Friday, May 10 7:30 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington  TV: CSN, TSN

*Sunday, May 12 TBD Washington at NY Rangers  TV: TBD

*Monday, May 13 TBD NY Rangers at Washington TV: TBD

* – if necessary

Notes and Assorted Musings: The Caps ended the regular season with 164 power plays to 163 for their opponents. Why is this important? Well for the first time in 16 seasons Washington finally had more power plays than their opposition in a season. Overall they are down 471 power plays over the course of the streak, which coincides with McPhee’s tenure as GM. People always say that “the calls even out” so given that, shouldn’t we see more balance in the power play totals? Clearly it is not the case here and to give you an idea of the odds of this happening, it is akin to flipping a coin 15 straight times and getting heads for each result. The odds of that happening are 1 in 32,768! (s/t to Mike Vogel of the Caps for pointing out the power play stats in his blog last night)…it has been reported that Brooks Laich did indeed undergo surgery this spring and he is targeting a return in the second round of the playoffs, if the Caps can advance that far…down on the farm, the Hershey Bears won both games 1 and 2 versus the Providence Bruins over the weekend and can win their best of five opening round series with a victory at the Giant Center this weekend in either game three or four.

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Caps Holes Evident in Loss to Rangers

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Caps Holes Evident in Loss to Rangers

Posted on 17 February 2013 by Ed Frankovic

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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