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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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Oates Pleased Despite Caps Shootout Loss

Posted on 15 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”

That quote could not be more true about the Washington Capitals performance against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night.

The Caps only allowed one goal, out shot their opponents (36-29), out shot attempted San Jose (69-59), only took one minor penalty, and generated numerous quality chances and more of them than the Sharks.

Yet somehow, the Capitals did not win against the Sharks and lost for the 17th time in 18 tries against San Jose since the turn of the century.

But this is what you call a good loss. Yes, the final was 2-1, in a shootout, but if Washington gives that type of effort, plays that type of game with that focus, and gets that kind of quality in game coaching, then the Caps are going to be a team that makes the playoffs and with some talent upgrades in a few spots, can do some damage in the spring in the post season.

As it stands now, the Caps are 22-16-8 (52 points) and tied for 2nd place with the Flyers in the Metropolitan Division. The Capitals have a game in hand on Philly.

Now, after all of that, the next word out of my mouth is “Wow!”

That was some hockey game and if you were in the Verizon Center, you certainly got your money’s worth on this night. This was easily one of the best hockey game’s I have seen all season in the league. There was a great flow to the game with only 1 power play each. There was hitting, good hockey plays, a great fight, and some amazing skill.

Let’s start with the amazing skill. Alexander Ovechkin scored his NHL leading 33rd goal from a bad angle on the left wing boards in the second frame to tie this contest up. The Gr8 had very little room, but he lasered a pass from Karl Alzner top shelf on Antti Niemi. How good was the goal? Well, Hall of Fame defensemen Mark Howe, who scouts for the Detroit Red Wings, put his hands about four inches apart to describe the small space Ovechkin had to put the puck to score and then stated that the only guys he thought he’s seen play that could have pulled that shot off were Brett Hull, Brendan Shanahan, and Mario Lemieux. That’s rarified air there.

Ovechkin was outstanding in this game with 10 shot attempts and a strong two way effort. His last power rush in overtime was breathtaking and he just shot the puck wide of the far post. Had that gone in, they’d still be looking for the roof of the Verizon Center.

The Capitals did several things right in this game. Since allowing a lot of odd man rushes in Tampa last Thursday, they’ve clamped down and cut those to a minimum. Caps defensemen John Carlson gave credit to the forwards for that turnaround. In Coach Adam Oates’ system, if the defensemen holds the offensive blue line than it is the responsibility of one of the forwards to kick it into gear and cover for him. That hadn’t been the case on several occasions this season. In addition, the Capitals forwards are doing a much better job of getting the puck fully into the zone and limiting turnovers as they cross the blue line.

Washington’s overall puck support and gap control was excellent in this tilt and that is why they had the majority of puck possession. Sure there were some mistakes, like the fancy play Dmitry Orlov made that led to the Sharks tally, but Oates stated that there are “at least 20 mistakes in every game.” The important thing there was #81 didn’t allow that first period miscue to thwart his game going forward. Orlov kept playing the way he needs to and he and Mike Green had a very good night receiving 22:38 and 25:11 of ice time, respectively.

As for the Caps top defensive pair, Alzner and Carlson, they had the difficult task of trying to shut down Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and Brent Burns. They passed the test with flying colors as #27 and #74 prevented the trio from getting a single point. Oates did a super job of using his last change to get his top pair against that line and you got the feeling that if Thornton had left the bench to go to the men’s room that Alzner would have followed him in. Jumbo Joe played 22:55 and Alzner, not coincidentally, logged 22:49. Carlson commented that playing Thornton and company is not fun because the line is so big, but Carlzner did their job and also were on the ice for the Ovechkin goal. Great game for those two excellent Capitals players.

Philipp Grubauer turned in a solid effort in goal that was made easier by the great team defense. There wasn’t really anything he could do on the Sharks goal, that came off a turnover while Washington was changing personnel. That allowed Tyler Kennedy to deflect home a Jason Demers point shot with traffic in front.

Overall, this was a very good Capitals performance and it was an enjoyable game to watch. The Caps didn’t get two points, but that’s the way it goes in the gimmick. The Sharks have won 7 of 8 in the shootout. Washington could use some PDO or puck luck, as statistician and fancy stat guru Neil Greenberg (@ngreenberg) would tell you.

But the key is the rolling 10 game average on Washington’s puck possession numbers has reached it’s highest point this season. The game is more than just 5 vs 5 puck possession, though. You have to limit penalties, minimize turnovers and play well on special teams. You also need good goaltending. The Capitals had most of those covered on Tuesday but just couldn’t finish off the Sharks, who are among the top teams in the NHL.

It was a good contest to measure where the Caps are right now. The way they played is encouraging, outside of a 10 minute lapse in period one that started with a rough shift by the Capitals 3rd defensive pair. Oates decision to switch Eric Fehr and Brooks Laich to start the 2nd period was a great coaching move and as a result, Washington carried much of the play in the final 45 minutes.

Tuesday was a step in the right direction for the Capitals and Oates was pleased in his post game presser.

“It was a good game. Good hockey game. I thought the whole team played very well. Hard fought game; great pace to it. Obviously, didn’t come through in the shootout, but it was a good hockey game.”

Now the Caps go into Pittsburgh on Wednesday night (8pm on NBCSN) to take on the first place Penguins, a team they have yet to defeat under Oates.

Will they be able to parlay their solid play Tuesday into another strong performance and a victory on Wednesday at Mellon Arena?

If they play like they did against San Jose, than they have a decent chance to do so against one of the NHL’s elite clubs.

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Ovechkin, Neuvirth Rally Caps Past Leafs, 3-2

Posted on 10 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Michal Neuvirth, playing his first game since late November, had every right to be upset after Karl Alzner’s stick deflected a Phil Kessel shot from a weak angle by him to give Toronto a 2-1 lead just 54 seconds into the third period.  But #30 didn’t sulk, and in more important fashion, Neuvy made a game changing save on Mason Raymond, who was wide open in the slot, just 65 ticks later. If Raymond’s shot goes in, the game is pretty much over as Washington would’ve gone down 3-1. But Neuvirth made a great glove save.

Shortly thereafter, the Capitals started to take the play after slightly being outplayed by the visitors, to that point. Nicklas Backstrom would tie it at the 4:36 mark after strong work in the offensive zone and then Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal, 1 assist) made a great pass to Marcus Johansson, who then fed Joel Ward in the slot, and #42 buried the game winner just after David “Overpaid” Clarkson’s penalty expired.

Washington then closed out the final 8:09 of time and won their second straight contest in regulation to improve to 22-16-6 (50 points), which puts them in a second place tie with the Flyers in the Metropolitan Division.

With both teams having played the previous night, the first period had a sleepy feel to it and neither club dented the twine. But that changed in the middle frame and boy did the intensity pick up after Dion Phaneuf and John Erskine had a roughing match with the linesman sandwiched between them. #4 would end up getting the extra minor, a call that had Coach Adam Oates as mad as I’ve ever seen him on the bench. The Caps killed the extra minor and then Ovechkin scored his 32nd of the season after great work by Mike Green in the corner and a super pass by Mikhail Grabovski.

But, as usual, the Caps couldn’t stand prosperity and the Leafs’ James van Riemsdyk scored on the power play just 2:29 later. Then the intensity went to an even higher level, fueled by the Phaneuf-Erksine spat and likely also by a shaky hit from behind by Nazem Kadri on Alzner along the Caps bench. For some reason Toronto’s Carter Ashton then decided it would be a good idea to fight rookie Tom Wilson and talk about a bad plan, #43 pummeled the son of former NHLer, Brent.

That undercard bout would lead to the main event, Colton Orr vs. Erskine and Big John pounded Orr in a decisive victory. Unfortunately the fight wins didn’t translate into goals on the ice as the Leafs carried more of the play from then until the Kessel tally early in the third period.

But Neuvirth (32 saves) came through with the huge stop on Raymond when this game was in question and saved his club.

It was a big victory, granted it was over a struggling Leafs squad, but Washington needs wins now and Neuvy allowed his club to finally wake up and grab the contest.

So that is two strong goaltending performances in a row for the Caps. Philipp Grubauer was super in Tampa on Thursday and Neuvirth was excellent on Friday against Toronto. #30 still wants to be traded, but with a grueling stretch coming up, Oates is gonna need his keepers to play well.

What also helped Neuvirth tonight was the Caps clamped down in the neutral zone and avoided offensive zone turnovers. As a result the Leafs did not get any two on ones or breakaways. At best, they may have had one or two three on two’s. That is real progress for Washington, granted it was against a team that struggles to own the puck. The Capitals still allowed 34 shots on net and 66 attempts to the Leafs against 35 and 68 for the Caps, respectively, so they did not totally dominate puck possession.

Overall, it was a pretty even game but Neuvirth made some big stops when needed and the Capitals top players, Ovechkin and Backstrom, delivered down the stretch to help Washington eke out a victory.

Notes: Washington was 0 for 4 on the power play and afterwards Oates blamed much of that on the Verizon Center ice, calling it “terrible tonight”…the Leafs went 1 for 3 with the man advantage…the Caps lost the faceoff battle 39-34 and Toronto’s first goal came right after a defensive zone loss by Brooks Laich on the PK…next up for the Caps are the Buffalo Sabres at 3pm at the Verizon Center on Sunday. Ryan Miller made 49 saves last time these two teams met in Buffalo.

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Caps Make a Statement By Whipping the Rangers

Posted on 08 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The King is Dead.

Well not exactly, but after 200+ minutes of failing to score a goal on Henrik Lundqvist, dating back to game 5 of last season’s playoffs, the Washington Capitals erupted for four goals to beat the $59.5M goaltender and his Rangers squad, 4-1, at Madison Square Garden.

This game was not close after the first 10 minutes as Washington continued it’s improved play and dominated the Rags from the mid point of the first period on. The Caps moved the puck really well from the back end and it resulted in several good chances on King Henrik. Washington totally outworked New York in this one, something that the Blueshirts typically pride themselves on doing. But the Caps had too much speed for a slow Rangers D that is now without Marc Staal and add in the hard work of guys like Jason Chimera and Joel Ward and it was the perfect recipe for a butt whipping of New York.

Chimera, Steve Oleksy, Mikhail Grabovski (penalty shot), and Nate Schmidt all tallied before Benoit Pouliot finally deflected the biscuit by Philipp Grubauer with 1:53 to go. Grubauer, who got the nod from Coach Adam Oates to give Braden Holtby a rest (Michal Neuvirth is injured), was excellent in gaining his first NHL win. He made a big save on Ryan Callahan’s backhander early in the contest then did his job as the Caps repeatedly owned the puck and kept any Rangers pressure to the outside.

It was a thorough team win and the Capitals dominated the Rangers, showing that they are improving as a puck possession club. To me that all starts from the back end and the addition of Dmitry Orlov to the defensive rotation has certainly made a difference. Oleksy fared well in his first game in several weeks too.

Credit Oates for inserting Grubauer and Oleksy after a win on Saturday. Both the Rangers and Capitals were in action Saturday with Washington having to travel to the Big Apple after they defeated the Predators while the Rangers played at their barn again. But the Caps had more energy and they used that along with their speed to put New York on its heels. Washington could have been up 6 or 7 pucks if not for some stellar glove saves by Lundqvist along with some assistance from the post.

The Caps were that good in this one in an important Metropolitan Division matchup. They improve to 16-12-2 (34 points) and now own a three point lead in second place over the Rangers and Carolina, who each have 31 points.

It was a win on the road against a club they’ve struggled with in recent times.

To me, that’s a statement victory.

Notes: John Carlson led the Caps in ice time at 23:57…the Caps out shot New York 36-31…both teams went 0 for 2 on the power play…Next up for the Caps are the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday at the Verizon Center.



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Fehr, Grabovski Help Caps End Losing Skid

Posted on 29 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

In pro sports, talent is a nice thing to have, but effort is every bit as important. On Friday night against Montreal, the Caps started slowly again but fortunately Coach Adam Oates made some big in game adjustments, primarily going with players who were giving him maximum effort after a horrible first period by Washington.

The decisions paid off as the Capitals rallied to tie Montreal in the third period on Mikhail Grabovski’s goal after some great work by Eric Fehr (1 goal, 1 assist and a shootout tally) and then they won the game in the shootout, 3-2. The victory halts the Caps four game winless streak (0-3-1) and improves their record to 13-11-2, good for sole possession of second place in the Metropolitan Division.

This was the Caps sixth shootout win of the season against two losses in the gimmick.

So why did the Capitals finally win?

It starts with guys working hard and Fehr and Grabovski were two of the players who were at or near the top of the list in that department. Add Jay Beagle to that list too, as #83 got his first game since early in the season with Brooks Laich sitting out due to a lower body injury. Fehr and Grabovski helped Troy Brouwer have one of his better nights and #20 had several golden chances that he just couldn’t finish. The fourth line of Michael Latta, Tom Wilson, and Aaron Volpatti provided sparks when they were on the ice, as well. On the back end, John Carlson was super again and Mike Green and Karl Alzner chipped in with strong efforts too.

In net, Braden Holtby (35 saves) received a surprise start when Michal Neuvirth stepped on a puck in warmups and injured himself. #30 will not travel with the team to Long Island tonight meaning Philip Grubauer or David Leggio will backup Holtby on Saturday. #70 was outstanding and his two stops on Andrei Markov in the 3rd period with the game 2-1 in favor of the Habs allowed his club to tie it and eventually win. It was two big saves at a critical moment, just what you need from your goalie. Holts stopped two of the four shootout attempts while Fehr, Alex Ovechkin, and Grabovski scored in the gimmick for the Caps.

The Caps went 0 for 4 on the power play, and that downward trend continues to be discouraging. They just aren’t getting enough pucks and bodies to the net. On the positive side, they killed off both of Montreal’s man advantage situations, primarily due to the stellar play of Holtby. By the way, this was easily the best officiated Capitals game of the season, so a hat tip to Kelly Sutherland and Mark Lemelin for a job well done. Any chance we can see more of you two guys?

Even with the better effort, the Caps struggled to win this one. There are still issues on defense and Alex Urbom, who along with Tyson Strachan allowed Daniel Breire to score an easy wraparound goal in the first period, was benched after that miscue and only played 2:15 forcing the other five defensemen to log a ton of time in a back to back game situation. Carlson played a beastly 31:10, Green logged 26:42, and Alzner was at 25:23. Even Nate Schmidt, who made the offensive blue line mistake that led to the second Montreal goal, played 23:00. Strachan only received 14:30 of time. It’s pretty clear that Urbom needs to sit and it will be interesting to see what Oates does tomorrow in Long Island. Does Dmitry Orlov finally get the call up and play or will Steve Oleksy get a game? Frankly, I’d like to see both #’s 61 & 81 in for Urbom and Strachan. Schmidt is also playing too much for my liking too but until a trade is made, the Caps don’t have a lot of options back there.

But at the end of the night, the Caps found a way to get two points and that is vital right now. Several players brought a better effort after a putrid first frame. Grabovksi, Brouwer, and Green were three guys who the Capitals needed to be much better after the Senators game and each was on Friday, especially #84, who really gelled with Fehr.

Players like Fehr and Beagle are hard working team guys who don’t rock the boat. You never heard either one whining while they were sitting out. I chatted with both of them multiple times during their lengthy scratch situations and just reminded them that their chance would come. It did, and it’s nice to see two good guys hang in there and get rewarded. They were a big reason the Caps ended their losing skid tonight, along with Holtby, Grabovski, and some others.

It’s a step in the right direction, but can Washington keep it going against a struggling Islanders team on Saturday?

For me, it all comes down to effort.

Notes: Shot attempts were 61-54 in favor of Montreal. Most of the Habs advantage was in the first period…the Caps lost the face off battle, 36-33…Beagle played 12:32 and was 9-6 from the dot…video coach Brett Leonhardt became the back up goalie after Neuvy was injured.





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Oates Frustrated After Caps Comeback Falls Short

Posted on 23 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Coach Adam Oates was notably upset after this one, and that is highly unusual.

The normally calm bench boss who does a great job of answering post game questions, win or lose, was frustrated and he said as much as he closed down his presser.

He was frustrated at his team, particularly some of the “veterans” who aren’t helping the younger guys.

My take is he was also frustrated with an officiating crew that somehow had the power plays five to two in favor of Montreal despite the fact that the Caps carried the large majority of the play for the last 44 minutes.

More importantly, he knew that all of the energy his club spent trying to come back from a 3-0 deficit was mostly wasted and could potentially hurt them for their game on Saturday night in Toronto. The Caps will face the Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Hockey Night in Canada and they will not be getting in to the Big Smoke until early Saturday morning after having to clear customs.

The problem in Friday’s game was Washington came out sluggish, looking like the team that was dominated by Pittsburgh on Wednesday, and they dug themselves a 3-0 hole. Oates called the errors some of the same ones his team has been making over and over. There were wrong reads on passes (Alex Urbom’s pass to Mikhail Grabovski that led to the first goal), bad icing penalties which caused his club to give up a face-off goal due to bad coverage by some inexperienced defensemen (Tyson Strachan and Nate Schmidt), and poor penalty killing technique (Strachan and Urbom) that allowed the Habs to get a tap in goal from Daniel Briere, which was the eventual game winner.

The veterans Oates was likely upset with on the face off goal were the team’s first line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson. Those guys needed to be better with the puck in that situation and not get whistled for icing with a weaker defensive pairing on the ice.

Still, despite the early ugliness, there were lots of good things that occurred. Perhaps it was because Montreal relaxed or maybe because Washington simply played better?

I’m going with the latter. It was clear that Mike Green, who returned after missing three games, was rusty in period one. Oates called him “shaky” in that period but after the first frame, suddenly the Caps were coming out of their zone much better. A lot of that has to do with #52’s ability to move the puck. John Carlson (two assists) continued to be his dominant self so Oates was back to having a strong right side defense and those two players were on the ice for a combined 45+ minutes. It’s no surprise to me that the Capitals are a much better club and have the puck more often when both Green and Carlson are in the lineup.

The Caps had a ton of scoring chances the last 40 minutes but this game was won by one person, Peter Budaj. The former Colorado goalie stopped both Aaron Volpatti and Backstrom on breakaways in the middle frame and he came up large on several other situations where the Capitals were putting on extreme pressure. Only two Ovechkin goals got by him, one that hit the leg of Josh Gorges and changed direction and the other on a Gr8 deflection of a Carlson blast. Ovechkin now has 19 goals in 21 games played this season.

In the NHL though, playing well doesn’t ensure you get any standing points and the Caps fall to 12-10-1 after this defeat. It stings because a strong final two stanzas is negated by a bad start, once again. It’s hard to determine why this team struggles out of the gate because they are a good skating team. Somehow they are too sloppy early and that seems to be a mental thing.

Still, despite the loss, the way Washington dominated the last two thirds of the game, except when they had to kill off some silly penalty calls (i.e, Brooks Laich hold, Martin Erat roughing), is encouraging. After being outshot heavily at even strength in the three games Green was out, the Caps found themselves dead even in even strength shots on goal at 21 each with the Habs. Shot attempts for the game were 66-57 in favor of Washington and that is pretty significant when you consider that Rob Martell and Dan O’Halloran gifted Montreal with three extra man advantage situations. How does that Peter Laviolette line about the refs and the Canadiens from 24/7 go again?!

But enough on that, the zebras make mistakes, as Ovechkin told me afterwards. The Gr8 stated it was okay and everyone makes mistakes, he just would have liked to have seen his club get a call late like it sure seemed they deserved.

But that’s hockey and sports, in general. Some nights you have to play good enough to overcome the opposition and the guys in the stripes.

The Caps nearly pulled that off, but a hot Habs goalie and a bad first 16 minutes were the recipe for defeat.

Notes: Carlson’s chances of making Team USA for the Olympics continues to go up. I chatted with Team USA scout and former Thrashers GM Don Waddell on Friday and he was lavish in his praise of #74. Judging by our conversation, if Waddell was picking the team, Carlson would be on it. But David Poile is the GM of Team USA so he has the final say. Still, the way Carlson is going, he seems like a lock to me…The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, was in the house for this one and in typical #99 fashion, he signed lots of autographs while sitting in owner Ted Leonsis’ box…Washington dominated from the faceoff dot, 45-32. Backstrom was 14-7…the Caps second line of Laich, Martin Erat, and Troy Brouwer struggled for the first 40 minutes but they looked a little more cohesive in the third period. Erat played center and Laich moved to left wing. Those guys could really use a goal to get some confidence back.



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Backstrom, Neuvirth Get Caps Back to .500

Posted on 02 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Coming off of a huge and emotional win in Filthadelphia on Friday night, the Caps were back at home to take on the Florida Panthers at the Verizon Center on Saturday evening. As one might expect, Washington had a bit of a letdown and didn’t play a very good game overall. However, thanks to a super performance from Michal Neuvirth (31 saves) and a dominating effort from Nicklas Backstrom, the Caps somehow managed to get two points by beating the Cats, 3-2, in a shootout.

The victory, while pretty ugly, is an important one this early in the season. It moves the Capitals to 7-7 overall and they managed to win again without injured captain Alexander Ovechkin (upper body injury).

The biggest problem for the Caps on this night was something they’ve struggled with most of the season: effort. Simply put, the Capitals are not skating hard enough throughout games. There is too much puck watching and gliding going on and as a result the other team is owning the puck more. In addition, by not skating well, the Caps have opened themselves up to taking more penalties. Florida had six power plays on the night and it wasn’t until they scored on a 4 on 3 with just over two minutes left that they were finally able to beat a Capitals PK unit that had killed 30+ straight man advantages situations. Washington’s penalty killing has been outstanding, but six minors is far too many and the last one was just a terrible retaliation move by Steve Oleksy so late in a one goal game. #61 has to learn you have to keep your head when points are on the line.

Washington’s power play also struggled without Ovechkin, going 0 for 3 on the night. Playing against a below average goalie in Scott Clemmensen the Caps should have simplified things and focused on getting pucks and bodies to the cage, instead there was far too much perimeter passing. The Caps were minus one on the evening in the special teams department and when you aren’t playing well, that is difficult to overcome.

But the Caps did do enough good things to prevail. Backstrom was by far the best player on the ice and he has such a good shot that he needs to keep using, even when the Gr8 returns to the lineup. Eric Fehr played well again with Martin Erat on that top unit. I also liked, despite only getting about six minutes of ice time, the way the fourth line of Michael Latta, Tom Wilson, and Aaron Volpatti played. Latta earned his first NHL point with a sweet cross ice feed to John Carlson in the second period that Captain America buried with a nice shot. Carlson was also one of Washington’s better players, along with Karl Alzner.

The Caps red hot trio of Mikhail Grabovski, Joel Ward, and Jason Chimera struggled, primarily because those guys didn’t move their feet. Grabovski did have a nice goal in the shootout, along with Brooks Laich (scored despite fanning on his move) and Backstrom in the gimmick. Laich does not look himself on five on five right now. He’s been super on the PK but he hasn’t developed any chemistry with any linemates this season so far. Brooksie needs to get his legs churning too, I see too much hesitation from him, especially coming out of his own zone.

On the back end, Mike Green still isn’t playing near peak performance. He’s making far too many turnovers in his own end and in the neutral zone. Washington will need #52 performing at a high level when they play the better teams in the league.

On Saturday the Caps showed up and managed to just do enough to win against a weak Florida team. There was far too much lollygagging for my liking again, but a bit understandable given Friday night’s events. The team got the victory and now have a day off on Sunday to rest.

Coming up though, the schedule will get tougher so it’s important that the Caps get their effort up, especially on Tuesday against a New York Islanders club that gave them fits last season.

Notes: Shots were 33-23 in favor of Florida…Washington won the faceoff battle, 35-31…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 26:15. Green played 25:47…Fehr had four shots on net and led all forwards in that department.



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Ovechkin Leads Caps Rally Past Flames

Posted on 04 October 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Caps spotted the young and rebuilding Calgary Flames 3-0 and 4-1 leads on Thursday night in Washington’s home opener at the Verizon Center, but thanks to three points from Alexander Ovechkin (2 goals, 1 assist) the Capitals were able to rally and defeat their opponents, 5-4, in a shootout. As in Tuesday’s contest against Chicago, there was lots of good and bad to Washington’s play, but the most important thing is that the Caps were able to even their record at 1-1 and gain two standings points.

So what went right for the Capitals on Thursday night?

First, their power play continues to scorch the opposition. Ovechkin and company were 2 for 3 with the man advantage and Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) scored the game tying tally with 5:50 remaining after a super feed from Mikhail Grabovski. Last year the Caps were first in the NHL with the power play at 26.8%. In two games, they are 5 for 9 for a 55.6% success rate. That is amazing, but when you watch this team work with the puck in five on four situations it is a thing of beauty and that is why the results are so good. The Caps are extremely difficult to defend and Grabovski has actually been an upgrade over a very good Mike Ribeiro on the first unit so far.

Second, Oates’ decision to switch goaltenders in the first period paid off. Braden Holtby (3 goals on 11 shots) wasn’t getting much support in front of him so at 16:22 of the first frame Michal Neuvirth came in and he stopped 27 of 28 shots as well as two shootout attempts in the gimmick. Neuvy’s only blemish was on his giveaway behind the net that led to Lance Bouma’s tally that made it 4-1 Calgary 29:05 into the contest.

Finally, the Capitals generated a lot of chances and despite giving up four goals, the Flames Karri Ramo played solidly in net (4 goals on 39 shots).

So what went wrong and why?

After too many turnovers in Chicago on Tuesday and some coverage lapses against a super Blackhawks team, one would hope that the Caps would be able to shut down a much less talented Calgary forward group. That did not come close to happening. Time after time the Flames came into Washington’s zone with speed and they created lanes to the net that made goaltending difficult. In the overtime Calgary carried the four on four play as Washington struggled to move the Flames off of the puck in their own zone.

The early season struggles on defense is a bit of a concern and the injury to Jack Hillen isn’t going to help. Hillen was rammed into the left wing boards by Bouma on a hit that looked a little late and too low. #38 went to the ice in pain and was helped off. It was reported afterwards that he suffered a lower body injury and was at the hospital. We’ll know more tomorrow but it looks to be a long term injury which will necessitate the need for a call up. A left handed defensemen is needed and Nate Schmidt is in the mix for the potential call up. Based on NHL experience, Dmitry Orlov seems like a logical choice but #81 continues to struggle with his game after suffering a concussion last December.

As for the poor defensive performance, Oates felt that the Capitals came out flat after an emotionally charged game on Tuesday in the Windy City. As a result, the Flames got a couple of early goals and that juiced their energy. Calgary was really flying, at times, and the Caps had some trouble keeping up. Brooks Laich thought Washington was outworked in the first period. Karl Alzner was not happy with the performance on defense and stated that the team could not win consistently giving up four or more goals. Alzner said that Calgary is quick and they did have more jump early. He mentioned that he spoke with some of the Flames prior to the game and they had a hard working training camp, which helped their conditioning. In addition, King Karl says that the Capitals D may be focusing too much on getting the puck up the ice quickly and it is leading to turnovers and poor positioning. Alzner stated that rather than trying for the fast outlet pass that the defense consider the option of just chipping it out off of the glass when the pass completion percentage is not great.

Overall, the Flames generated far too many scoring chances and Neuvirth had to make some tough stops in the third period and overtime to give his team a chance to get the victory. The offense did their part to cover up some shoddy play in Washington’s end. Through two games defense is the major area of concern, but there are 80 more contests to go and as stated after Tuesday’s loss, this is a work in progress on the back end.

The intensity and focus was not there for Washington for stretches of play, but the Capitals did manage to earn a much needed two points.

Notes: Marcus Johansson had three assists…Connor Carrick scored his first NHL goal on a breakaway after coming out of the penalty box. He logged 17:26 of ice time on defense…Tom Wilson pounded Bouma in a fight after the Flame took out Hillen. Wilson only played 5:52 but he was effective in that time with a couple of shots on goal and a pair of hits…Martin Erat only played 6:30 and is probably not a happy camper…the Eric Fehr line (Jason Chimera and Joel Ward) logged about six minutes more at even strength than the Erat, Wilson, and Jay Beagle unit…Mike Green had an assist in 31:01 of ice time (led all players in TOI)…the Caps claimed defensemen Alexander Urbom off waivers from the Devils and sent center Michael Latta to Hershey to make room for the left handed defensive defensemen from Sweden…next up for the Caps are the Dallas Stars at Reunion Arena on Saturday night at 8pm.

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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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