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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:


In: Holtby, Neuvirth


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

Likely In: Steve Oleksy, Jack Hillen

Bubble: Dmitry Orlov, Tomas Kundratek

Longshot: Connor Carrick


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

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

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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Ovechkin Notches 32nd Goal But Caps Lose in OT

Posted on 26 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Ottawa Senators defeated the Washington Capitals, 2-1, in overtime, in a game that meant nothing in terms of playoff seeding to the Caps but was ultra important for the Sens post season chances.

With one team being desperate while the other was hoping to win, but more importantly, not sustain any injuries, it was not a surprise that Ottawa was the club that had more net presence for the majority of the contest. With NHL goalies being as good as they are these days, it made sense that the Sens came out on top given their willingness to crash the crease.

Crash is the operative word there. The scrappy Senators, who are offensively challenged with number one forward Jason Spezza out due to a back injury, know that in order to score goals they have to get the puck to their star offensive defensemen, Sergei Gonchar and Erik Karlsson, and blast the biscuit away with traffic in front. They must try to get the opposing goalie off of his game by getting in his grill and initiating contact when they can. On Thursday night they were very good at doing that.

On the flip side, the Capitals knew this was coming and were prepared to do what they could to stand up for their goaltender, Michal Neuvirth. Unfortunately for Washington, their keeper protection tactics were not allowed on this night by referees Tim Peel and Kevin Pollock. Late in the first period in which the Caps carried the play and the scoring chances but only received one power play, Matt Hendricks was whistled for a very questionable roughing penalty while trying to protect Neuvy after one of his 41 saves on the evening. Hendricks shouldered Sens forward Erik Condra and he lost his balance and fell into the net. Nearly 100 times out of a 100, that is not a penalty, but Pollock and Peel felt otherwise.

Suddenly a precedence was set. Ottawa basically had the green light to poke or contact Neuvirth with the comfort of knowing they weren’t going to the box. Even Daniel Alfredsson, one of the cleanest players in the league, realized he could take some liberties so it seemed that whistle after whistle the Capitals were forced to push Ottawa players away from their net minder. Ottawa even had a goal disallowed for contacting Neuvirth before the puck went in (not sure why the Caps didn’t get a power play out of that considering there was physical contact with #30 by Ottawa?). Add in the fact that some ticky tack calls went against Alexander Ovechkin and Mike Green after similar things were let go on the Senators in the first period and the frustration started building on the Washington side. The result was a five to one power play discrepancy and for the second time in three games against each other, Paul Maclean’s team scored the game winner on a late power play tally.

Afterwards both Karl Alzner and Ovechkin, who scored his league leading 32nd goal on a sweet move after a nifty pass from Marcus Johansson, admitted that getting called for penalties when they were trying to protect Neuvirth was frustrating. Even Coach Adam Oates, who fielded several questions about the players losing their cool and retaliating, smartly took the fifth when asked about the curious call on Hendricks that set the tone for the remaining 40 minutes.

But in the NHL you are going to have nights where the game is not called in your favor, although it seems that tends to be the norm these days for Washington, so you have to rise above the frustration and play to the whistle. However, what is pleasing is how this club sticks up for one another, especially their goaltender. The Caps players should take pride in that despite how Peel and Pollock called the contest. Sticking together is how they overcame adversity this season and won the Southeast division title.

In the end, the Caps lost a game tonight, but given that they didn’t have much to play for and mostly avoided going to the net to prevent getting hit with their own shots, it isn’t something to be too concerned about. Ottawa is a potential first round matchup now (they are currently in the 6th spot) and even though the Sens were 3-0 against the Caps, they all were close games. The Senators were a desperate club on Thursday and still had to get some help from the guys in the stripes to win the contest.

But Washington still has momentum and they continue to play as a team. There is one more game to go against Boston on Saturday night before the real season begins next week.

Notes: The Caps still could play any of Ottawa, Toronto, the Islanders, or the Rangers in the first round…the Capitals won the faceoff battle heavily, 41-28, with Hendricks going 6-0…Ottawa had more shot attempts, 68-43, but they had five power plays while Washington only had one.



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Holtby Leads Caps to 6th Straight Victory

Posted on 11 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

Well that definitely applies to Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby and his club on Thursday night. The Caps found themselves down 14-0 in shots on goal and 1-0 on the scoreboard midway through the opening period at the Verizon Center before rallying with two tallies in the middle frame then adding an empty net goal in the closing seconds to defeat a pesky Carolina Hurricanes team, 3-1.

The victory, their sixth in a row, pushes the Caps to 22-17-2 (46 points) and keeps them two points ahead of Winnipeg in the Southeast Division race. It was a win against a struggling team that Washington had to have and they delivered.

It was far from pretty though. The Caps were slow out of the gate and even when their passion and energy picked up, they were just a fraction off nearly all night. But that effort level is what carried the day and more importantly, Holtby was awesome in net (43 saves).

Alex Ovechkin was held without a point but he had 15 shot attempts, including one in the second period that seemed to dent the post. The Gr8’s line was very strong but Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson each had only one shot attempt. Both Nicky and JoJo probably should start looking for their shot a little more because teams are going to be focusing on a red hot Ovechkin. Still, Backstrom had an assist and was once again really strong on the puck. His hard work on the boards at the Caps blueline at the end of the game, along with John Carlson, allowed Troy Brouwer (2 goals) to hit the empty net and put the nail biter away. Johansson was super backchecking and using his speed and he gutted through getting banged up early on in this one. He forced the puck to Ovechkin a little too much for my liking but he was still really solid in this contest.

Several others had excellent outings including the 4th line of Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks, and Wojtek Wolski. Beagle set up a late charging Mike Green for the eventual game winner after Wolski made a super play on the offensive zone entry. I think Wolski earned himself some more minutes with his effort on Thursday night.

Mike Ribeiro, after a rough start, was also fairly dominant the last two frames as the second line center. He was playing agitated all night and his two way play was excellent. Brouwer, of course, had the two tallies to lead the offense. Aaron Volpatti played hard on that second line but he is offensively challenged.

But when it was all over, the man of the night was Holtby who made numerous quality saves and Carlson bailed him out on a puck lying in the crease early on. Holtbeast was a little erratic to start but he settled down quickly and won the game for Washington. It was nice to see the strong play in goal after teammate Michal Neuvirth had two straight super outings. Coach Adam Oates has to be really pleased with his goaltending tandem right now. Both guys are fierce competitors and the players recognize that.

So the Caps didn’t play close to their best game on Thursday night, but they did what they had to do to get a victory. At this point, that is what matters most. The Southeast Division title is in their control with just seven games to go. You can’t ask for more than that.

Notes: Both clubs notched a power play goal in a contest that got chippier as the evening went on. The Caps won the season series, 4-1, over Carolina and won the last three games after trailing, 2-0, 2-0, and 1-0, respectively…the Caps won the faceoff battle 32-31 with Backstrom going 13-8…next up for the Caps are the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7pm on Saturday night at the Verizon Center.

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Ovechkin, Neuvirth Carry Caps Past Habs

Posted on 10 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals and Alexander Ovechkin have been on a roll of late, but apparently, all of those goals the Gr8 has scored and all of the wins the Caps have reeled off to seize the Southeast Division lead don’t matter to some of the hockey pundits in North America because they haven’t come against the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

To them and anyone else who wants to listen, I have two things to say:

You can only beat the team that’s next on your schedule, and

On Tuesday night the Caps beat that next team on their schedule, and one of the top teams in the East at that, in the Montreal Canadiens, 3-2, at the Bell Centre.

And guess what? Ovechkin scored again notching his league leading 26th tally of the season (although Steven Stamkos also scored his 26th on Tuesday) after a nifty move around Michael Ryder gave him space to snipe one past Carey Price in the slot. It was another of those “Wow” goals from the Gr8 and it came with his club trailing 1-0. It was a big goal by the captain and it lifted his team, who grabbed the lead shortly thereafter on an Eric Fehr tap in. Jack Hillen would add a third period goal with Ovechkin screening Price and then Michal Neuvirth (27 saves) held off a furious late push from the Canadiens for the victory.

The Habs don’t have a roster that you look at and fear, but they are awfully fast and they play well as a team. But the Caps are doing the same thing now and despite having three of the their top nine forwards out of the lineup, they are still finding ways to win. What impressed me tonight about Washington’s play was how good the spacing was between the forwards and the defensemen. This allowed the Caps to jump on Montreal’s errant passes and get the play going the other way.

Ovechkin and company are also doing a lot of the little things right. They are getting pucks and bodies to the net and that’s how you beat a very good goalie in Price. They also are blocking shots, which has to make former coach Dale Hunter proud. Even the Gr8 was throwing his body in front of pucks tonight.

Simply put, this club is coming together and gelling as a team. The top line continues to play extremely well and they are getting super goaltending. Neuvirth followed up a superb performance on Sunday with another gem. Washington looks confident on the ice and usually wins are what comes from that.

A win in Montreal was doubly huge because Winnipeg won at home so the Caps keep a two point lead on the Jets with eight games remaining. Winnipeg only has seven.

Next up for the Caps are the Carolina Hurricanes, who are in a major freefall, at the Verizon Center on Thursday night.

But that’s who the NHL says they must play, and Washington will gladly take a win against the Canes if they earn it.

Notes: Martin Erat skated late in the pregame warmup on Tuesday so that was encouraging. #10 was slammed into the boards and injured last Saturday night…Joel Ward is day to day after getting hurt blocking a shot on Sunday against Tampa…LW Brooks Laich did not make the trip to Montreal and was seeing a groin specialist on Tuesday…Montreal had 76 shot attempts to the Caps 46, but that and a quarter won’t even get you a cup of coffee. Neuvirth was able to see almost all of the shots that came his way while Washington excelled at getting traffic in front of Price…Ovechkin had 8 hits…the Caps lost the faceoff battle pretty handily, 41-24.

Programming Note: I’ll be on talking Caps hockey with Nestor Aparacio on Wednesday morning at 7:50. Listen live via WNST.NET

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Ovechkin Scores Twice But Neuvirth the Caps Hero vs Tampa

Posted on 08 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

There are times in a sports season when a team needs a certain player to come up big and help carry their club to victory on a given night.

With the Washington Capitals facing a Tampa Bay Lightning squad that had its back to the wall, Coach Adam Oates really needed goalie Michal Neuvirth, who hadn’t played a game since March 16th, to be that guy on Sunday evening.

Number 30 delivered and the Caps might have been three or more goals down if not for some great saves the Czech net minder made in the opening frame, which saw Washington trail only 1-0 despite being out quality chanced by a two to one ratio. Bolts captain Vinny Lecavalier, who scored that big overtime goal in game two of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Caps in 2011 on Neuvirth that pretty much ended that series, was not able to beat Neuvy on this night and he had a couple of one on one chances in the first period. Simply put, #30 was the man on Sunday and was the game’s first star, in my book.

From Alexander Ovechkin to Nicklas Backstrom to John Carlson, they all praised the play of their goalie afterwards, for keeping Washington in the game until they could get their legs under them in the middle frame.

Hockey is a game that is so much based on good health and confidence. Right now, that combination is what has Washington’s top line of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson firing on all cylinders. They are as dominant as any line in the NHL at this juncture and Ovechkin notched two goals, including the clinching empty netter, to tie Steven Stamkos for the league goal scoring lead at 25 tallies. Alex is playing outstanding and he seems as happy as I’ve seen him in years. I can’t help but think his life off of the ice, which includes a recent engagement, is a part of the picture, but the coaching of Oates and more importantly, the play of his linemates is making it easier for him.

Backstrom, after a shoulder injury in 2010, a nasty concussion in 2011, and some type of neck injury in December of 2012 did not reach 100% health again until several games into this lockout shortened campaign but Oates told the media after the game that for the last month and a half he is playing outstanding. Nicky doesn’t get the accolades that the Gr8 gets, and let’s be honest, Ovi is a rock star, but he is as important to the Capitals hockey team as Ovechkin is. In past years I’ve talked about how strong Backstrom is on his skates and he has that back again this year. He is winning a large majority of the one on one battles on the boards and as a result he is dominating play.

As for Johansson, Oates acknowledges that the young Swede has the hardest role on that line. He has to feel the pressure to get the puck to the two superstars and yet he’s playing as well as he ever has. His confidence is sky high right now. If he can work on taking his shot more often, that would help keep the opposing defenders and goalie more honest, which would open things up even greater for the entire line.

Washington really played well as a team from the second period on and their strong play in their own end led to numerous odd man rushes in this contest. In fact the winning tally by Joel Ward came on a 3 on 2 rush and #42 beat Bolts goalie Ben Bishop short side because the goaltender was cheating to his left thinking pass. It was a big goal and seemed to deflate the Bolts.

Carlson’s blast to tie the game up, also took some wind out of Tampa’s sails and it was a downright rocket. I am not sure I’ve seen a slap shot that hard in a game in a long time. To quote Crash Davis from Bull Durham, “Well, he really hit the <bleep> out of that one!” #74 is playing some good hockey paired with Jack Hillen (two assists).

Another player so key to the Capitals success, and they’ve now won four in a row and have a two point lead on Winnipeg in the Southeast Division, is Mike Green. #52 is the club’s number one defensemen and although he had 0 points in the game, he was outstanding at both ends of the rink. Mike’s health is good and as a result, he is very confident on the ice and playing as well as he has in his career. Another thing that helps out Green is the play of his partner, Karl Alzner. King Karl is hard to notice but all you have to do is look at Stamkos’ stat line tonight: three shots on net, 0 points, and -1. #27’s job was to shut down the league’s other premier goal scorer and he did it. Green and Alzner are the team’s top defensive pair and both logged over over 23 minutes at even strength to lead all players in that department. Overall Green played 26:37 while Alzner logged 25:34.

Unfortunately, as good as Ward was tonight in scoring the game winner and adding a helper, plus making a great back check to thwart a tying goal in period three, #42 had to leave the game after blocking a shot late in the contest. With Brooks Laich down for the count and slated to see a specialist on Tuesday plus Martin Erat still out day to day after being cheap shotted by Erik Gudbranson on Saturday, the Caps are likely going to be down three wingers when they face Montreal at the Bell Centre on Tuesday. Just when the Caps were finally getting healthy, the injury bug has struck again over the last three tilts, but that’s hockey.

Still, the team is on a roll and if the top line and defensive pair keep playing at the elite level while the goalies and other skaters do their respective jobs, then the Southeast Division is the Caps to seize. There are nine games to go, with six at the Verizon Center. After a very rough start and numerous injuries, their first goal, a division title, is very much there for the taking.

Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green, and Braden Holtby have all been carrying this team in recent weeks, as they need to be doing. But on Sunday night, Washington needed a big game from their other goalie, and Michal Neuvirth more than delivered as the catalyst in a critical victory over Tampa.

It was a game that wasn’t built up to be ultra important by Washington, but had Tampa been victorious, the whole Southeast Division race dynamic changes. Neuvirth would not let that happen on Sunday and so the Caps continue to control how this playoff race will play out.

Kudos, Michal.

Notes: Tampa is now eight points in back of the Caps. They have 10 games left, including another at the Verizon Center on Saturday…Backstrom was also dominant from the dot tonight going 13-7. The Caps won the face off battle, 35-32…Washington out shot Tampa 38-30 and shot attempts were 60-56 in favor of the Caps.


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Caps GM McPhee faces very critical week

Posted on 27 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee is arguably facing his most critical week in his 16 year tenure.

His Caps sit at 15-17-1, 11th place in the Eastern Conference and 23rd overall in the NHL, with the trade deadline just one week away on April 3rd at 3pm.

It is waters they have not chartered since 2006-07 and a team that won four straight Southeast Division titles from 2008 to 2011 with 94, 108, 121, and 107 points, respectively, and had 92 points and finished eighth in the East last season, is currently moving towards a location often called “No Man’s Land.”

No Man’s Land is a spot in the NHL where you aren’t good enough to contend for the Stanley Cup, likely won’t make the playoffs, but also aren’t bad enough to land one of the top three spots in the draft. It is a position where it is very difficult to get better quickly, just ask the Calgary Flames or the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have been the President and Vice President of No Man’s Land in the NHL the last several years. Those teams, who have rabid and demanding fan bases, have recently routinely gone with the mind set that they are only a player or two away from the playoffs or contending in them. Both have been reluctant to take a critical step back in order to possibly move two or three steps forward (that might finally be changing in Calgary this spring, but is it too late?).

The Capitals were headed to No Man’s Land once before, in the days of Jaromir Jagr, but owner Ted Leonsis and McPhee went the “blow it up” route and started over. For the most part, especially from a business standpoint, they had success and it landed them Alexander Oveckhin, who is worth the price of admission on most nights, all by himself. It is important to note that hockey is first and foremost a business to many owners. So the bottom line is vital. Thus the push to just get into the playoffs can often be the difference between being in the red or black. The bottom line can drive an approach that constantly looks at the short term solution instead of the bigger picture.

This is a danger I see for the Caps right now. They are a team that has an incredible home sellout streak of 169 games and the marketable product in Ovechkin. But everyone knows in the Baltimore/DC area that winning is your most marketable item. This region demands a winner and when a club can’t consistently do that, the fan base erodes exponentially (see the Baltimore Orioles for 14 years). So owner Ted Leonsis surely is leery of what the impacts of a losing season or missing the playoffs would do to his club that generates full building after full building these days. So it can be a risk to have a losing season.

Clearly the Caps would love to make a run and reach the postseason this year but after last night’s loss to New York Islanders, they are seven points out of first place in the Southeast Division and four points behind the Rangers for eighth place overall in the Eastern Conference. With no Western Conference matchups, it is very difficult to make up ground. To reach the post season, the Capitals will likely need to go 11-4 or something along those lines. Is that really doable with this team, one that is finally healthy and still couldn’t beat John Tavares and company, at home, in a very important game?

That is a question that McPhee needs to ask himself because the way I see it right now he has three options over the next week:

1. Stand pat and do nothing

2. Become a buyer and try to make the post season

3. Sell off some assets ensuring a post season miss but put yourself in position to snag one of the elite players in what appears to be a draft with some impact players at the top.

In option one it will be difficult to make the postseason and the Caps likely end up 9th or 10th in the East. They would have low odds to win the new draft lottery to pick first overall and probably would draft around the 10th to 14th spot in New Jersey in June. In addition, unless they sign Mike Ribeiro, they likely lose him to unrestricted free agency after the season.

In the second choice, McPhee would really need to add an impact player to get this team to go 11-4 down the stretch. It would have to be a top line winger and to do that they have to give something up, likely their first round pick this year or perhaps one of their recent first round picks (Evgeny Kuznetsov, Filip Forsberg, or Tom Wilson). It is a mortgage the future type of move that might get them in the postseason but likely doesn’t put them in a real position to contend for the Stanley Cup given what the Pittsburgh Penguins roster looks like now after acquiring Brenden Morrow and Doug Murray. Making the playoffs would help the bottom line but would the price be too great? Then they’d still have the issue of trying to sign Ribeiro along with the asset they acquired at the deadline. The Caps currently have only $15M of salary cap space for 2013-14 with just 15 players under contract. Two top six forwards would eat up much of that and McPhee still has to sign defensemen Karl Alzner who is a restricted free agent, as well as some other players. Sure the competitor in me would like to give it a shot but depending on what you have to give up this season for a top six forward asset, doesn’t appear to make a lot of sense.

Therefore, option three seems to be the smart move. Signing Ribeiro is going to be awfully tough to do and with number 9 at 33 years old and wanting a five year deal, it just doesn’t seem like a wise option on his terms. Remember Michal Nylander? That signing in 2007 arguably cost McPhee the salary cap space he needed in 2009 to shore up a Washington defense that was likely the biggest thing holding them back from beating the Penguins in 2009 and going on to win the Stanley Cup. So why hamstring yourself with a big contract to an aging player and risk that scenario all over again when you are planning on contending again?

But if you can get a number one draft pick or more this year for Ribeiro, then you should deal him. Sure you will definitely miss the playoffs but you also now have two first round picks and could package them to possibly move up to number one, two, or three and get one of Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, or Jonathan Drouin. Jones, according to my sources, is the best player in the draft and NHL ready now. He very likely will be a number one defensemen on a team in the NHL in a couple of years. He’s a team changer. Snag him and you suddenly have options to possibly move some of your other defensemen, like Mike Green, who you are paying $6M a season now.

In addition to Ribeiro or Green, there are other guys on this roster that teams might be interested in such as Marcus Johansson or Joel Ward or one of the three goalies (Braden Holtby, Michal Neuvirth, or Philip Grubauer) at the trade deadline.

What McPhee and his staff need to do is work to the Baltimore Ravens model of “Right Player, Right Price.” You have to know the value you place on every player on your team and in the league and make moves accordingly. Washington’s pro scouts will really need to be doing their jobs well and feeding the GM the info he requires to make some hard decisions. If you do it right you don’t overpay for your own guys and can end up with better players at or below that price (see the Ravens getting Elvis Dumervil, Chris Canty, and Marcus Spears for the same overall amount the Cleveland Browns paid for Paul Kruger).

McPhee has made some very smart decisions on players before, such as Semyon Varlamov, who he traded for a 1st and 2nd round pick. The 1st rounder is now Forsberg while the Capitals haven’t taken any hit at all in the goaltending department. Sergei Fedorov for Theo Ruth was another blue ribbon deal by the GM that made the Caps a legit Stanley Cup contender for two straight springs. But he’s also had some not so good decisions (re-signing an aging Tom Poti for two years, the four year deal for Jeff Schultz, and the two years given to an aging Roman Hamrlik). Those contracts have impacted Washington’s salary cap while not yielding quality results on the ice.

With Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, and John Carlson having long term deals clearly they are the guys for McPhee to build around going forward. Everyone else should be up grabs. It is Asset Management 101 at this point for Washington. They need to do what they can to transform a team that was one of the best in the league from 2008 to 2010, but has steadily declined, back into a Cup contender.

Sure its a risk from a marketing standpoint, but the fans in this area recognize when you are going in the right direction and will have the patience to endure a reshaping of the roster, especially if they believe it will eventually lead to Washington’s first Stanley Cup. So it’s a low risk play and if the moves are done right and there is a championship in the next few years or so, then you have people locked into your team long term (see the Philadelphia Flyers, who still sell out despite not winning a Cup since 1975).

So this is a huge week for McPhee and one he has three roads he can possibly take. They aren’t easy decisions and only he and his staff really know what options are going to be available to him in return for his current assets.

The path he ultimately chooses will likely make or break his and the Capitals future.

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Ovechkin’s Big Night Rallies Caps to Victory

Posted on 14 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

After 20 minutes on Thursday night, with the Capitals trailing 2-0 to division leading Carolina, you can bet the season obituaries on the Caps 2013 season were in draft form just waiting to be published.

But Alexander Ovechkin, Michal Neuvirth, and the rest of the Washington Capitals had other plans.

Playing yet another game with just five defensemen due to a first period injury to Tomas Kundratek, Adam Oates’ team showed guts and stuck together for a huge win in Raleigh. Joey Crabb scored from in front in the middle frame to make it 2-1 before Ovechkin scored on the power play on a sweet Troy Brouwer feed to tie it up just over a minute into period three. With time ticking away, Ovechkin then took a great John Carlson pass to break in alone on Canes goalie Dan Ellis. The Gr8 beat the goalie but managed to hit the near post and then the puck laid on the goal line just inside the far post. Luckily Mike Ribeiro came charging home to push the puck barely across the line with the winning tally with 2:16 left in regulation.

It was a must win and keeps the Capitals slim playoff hopes alive with 22 games to go. But the playoff talk and the discussion about buying or selling can wait for another time because tonight the Caps have something to be really pleased about and it isn’t about statistics or some tactical thing that took place on the ice. 

For those who follow Ovechkin on twitter, the captain posted a photo of him, Troy Brouwer, Brooks Laich, Mike Green, Marcus Johansson, Wojtek Wolski and Nicklas Backstrom after a sushi dinner on Wednesday evening. The Gr8 noted that the crew was then taking in a movie afterwards. This team bonding was great to see because it is clear that these guys still like each other and can have some fun together despite all of the losing and external talk of their impending doom.

There is no doubt this has been a trying and tough season for the Caps organization and their fans. Things have gone nearly as bad as possible on many fronts. The result has been an “over the top” amount of criticism on Ovechkin. The Gr8 was once the league’s top player as he was the MVP in 2008 and 2009. When you get to the top in ANY profession it is extremely hard to stay there and after the honeymoon is over, like it or not, people start getting jealous and look to take shots at you. Likeable people and players suddenly are under the microscope 24/7 and things get very intense making it difficult to continue to be everyone’s darling. You make a little mistake and the dirty laundry crew is there ready to pounce. For the Gr8, this started in Vancouver in 2010 and has continued for three years. The toll it has taken on Ovechkin, who was such a jovial and carefree guy earlier in his career, has to be great, one would think.

It isn’t easy being #1 in your sport. Just ask golfers like David Duval, Tiger Woods, or Rory McIlroy. The sharks are circling everywhere. Being #1 destroyed Duval’s game and it takes a special mentality to hold onto to the top for a long time, as Woods displayed for many years. But to do that you almost have to shut people out and change your ways. Already McIlroy is starting to experience that, as the loveable Irishmen took massive heat for walking off of the course in Florida just a couple of weeks ago. In Oveckhin’s case, he had the #1 mantle for over two years, which is a remarkable feat. But unfortunately with that came the higher standards and when his team didn’t win a Stanley Cup, he took the brunt of the heat. It is the nature of sports.

So now is a critical stage for Ovechkin and his career. He can go one of two ways. He can internalize the criticism and drive himself crazy trying to prove the critics all wrong, which will likely lead to a decrease in production and total unhappiness, or he can try and forget about the pressure and the ambulance chasers and just go out and have fun and play the game.

On Wednesday night Ovechkin went out and had fun with his teammates at a restaurant and then a movie. The next night he played a super game and his team rallied for a big victory. That had to be fun for the Gr8 and his teammates.

Sure the Caps still are in a big hole in the standings and the playoffs are a bit of a long shot this season. But there is still time to generate plenty of positives from this season. Having fun and playing as a team might be more important than any statistics or tactical strategy, at this point. To me, that was the big thing to take away from Thursday’s victory in Carolina for Ovechkin and the Caps.

So Alex, what do you say to some sushi and a movie on Friday night with your teammates in Beantown?

Notes: Neuvirth had a big night stopping 36 shots…Backstrom and Ovechkin were reunited and the Gr8 had 6 shots on goal, two points (1G, 1A), and three hits…Steve Oleksy, in just his sixth NHL game, logged 27:55 to lead his club in ice time. Amazing stuff by #61…Kundratek only played 3:14…the Caps next game is Saturday afternoon at 1pm in Boston.

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Caps Nightmare Season Continues With Debacle In Pittsburgh

Posted on 07 February 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Well, for 20 minutes it looked like the Caps were going to be able to hang with their archrival Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night.

But then bad penalties, lack of effort, and poor goaltending resurfaced and before you knew it, Sidney Crosby and company pumped in five second period goals to turn the contest into a laugher. Pittsburgh would finish with a 5-2 victory over the Caps at Consol Energy Center.

The Capitals are now 2-8-1. That is five points in nearly 25% of this shortened hockey season. The record is abysmal and it appears things aren’t going to get better any time soon because this team is just not very good. As I chronicled earlier in the season, they lack talent on offense and defense.

Now, in the last week or so, the goaltending has imploded. Michal Neuvirth got the start in the cage in this contest but after two soft second period goals, Coach Adam Oates had seen enough. In came Braden Holtby, who was promptly hung out to dry by some poor Capitals play and a lack of discipline. Washington took three penalties in the middle frame and the Penguins scored on each of those power plays. You will not win hockey games, at all, when you pile up penalties and fail to kill them off. The propensity to be whistled for infractions and weak penalty killing have been a factor in almost every Capitals loss through 11 games.

So what can the Capitals do going forward? Well, they need to play like they did in the opening frame for a full 60 minutes. In the first period the Caps were physical and worked hard. Alexander Ovechkin’s club was pressing the play and taking the body early on and Pittsburgh seemed to want no part of that. In addition, they also stayed out of the box, except for a very marginal holding call on Karl Alzner. It was an encouraging period, as the Pens only had five shots on goal.

However, in the middle stanza, it was clear the Penguins amped their game up and Washington just couldn’t compete with them. Pittsburgh’s talent level is far superior to the Capitals and once the guys in black started working hard, this one was over quickly.

So now a fierce rivalry that once existed and was one of the NHL’s best, seems to be fading away. The Penguins have Stanley Cup aspirations while Washington is falling apart.

It is extremely difficult to rebound from this start and still make the playoffs in a 48 game season. The NHL’s Eastern Conference is weak from top to bottom so there is still some hope, but right now the Caps are showing with their terrible play that they are more destined for the lottery and perhaps one of the top picks in the 2013 NHL draft, than a spot in the playoffs.

It has turned into a nightmare season very quickly, and there are still 37 games to go.






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