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Washington Holds Off Carolina’s Late Charge to Win Again

Posted on 27 December 2018 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 22 December 2018 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Caps Defeat the Coyotes on Burakovsky’s Late Tally

Posted on 07 December 2018 by Ed Frankovic

For the first time in three games, the Washington Capitals entered period three without a lead. The Caps and the Arizona Coyotes were knotted at two with 20 minutes left, but Andre Burakovsky buried a snap shot past Adin Hill with 4:42 remaining and then Alexander Ovechkin hit the empty net for his 21st goal to give Washington a 4-2 triumph in the desert to halt a two game slide.

This was an important victory for the Caps coming off of the blown four goal lead against the Dirty Ducks on Sunday and then the penalty ridden loss to the Golden Knights on Tuesday night where Tom Wilson was cheap shotted by Ryan Reaves, leading to a concussion for Willy when his helmetless head hit the ice. That left the Capitals without their top two right wings in Glendale (no Willy plus T.J. Oshie is still out with a concussion).

Burakovsky was promoted to the first line for this affair with Ovechkin and All Star Nicklas Backstrom, a place Andre has had success in the past, and despite an early turnover that led to the Coyotes first tally, #65 played well. He moved his feet and worked hard. He will never be his big brother Top Line Tommy, but Andre has some serious ability and as in game 7 against Tampa in the post season, he scored a huge goal when his club really needed one. Kudos Burky!

This was Matt Niskanen’s 32nd birthday and he had a whale of a night with defensive partner Dmitry Orlov. Nisky scored the goal that tied this one at two late in period two after a nice feed from Travis Boyd, who received a sweater with all of the injuries up front. Matt’s point blast at the net hit the skate of Jakob Chychrun, who was tied up with Dmitrij Jaskin in front, and it went past Hill for a huge tally after the Yotes had dominated the majority of the first 36 minutes. Good things happen when you put pucks and bodies to the net. Arizona took the lead at 2-1 on one of those plays, a rebound goal by Lawson Crouse, and Washington paid them back with a good ole hard working tally. When some of your key players are out, those are the kind of goals you need to grind out a W.

For the evening, Niskanen and Orlov were both +3 logging 22:35 and 23:19 of ice time, respectively. It was really good to see that duo have a strong game given their recent struggles.

Jakub Vrana had the best night of any Washington skater scoring his ninth goal from the slot to tie this affair up at one in the opening frame and then he earned a penalty shot just 16 seconds into period three. Vrana toe picked on his attempt, but he was flying all game and opened up space with his speed. He had Arizona on their heels on each of his shifts. That’s three goals in two games on this road trip for the Czech forward and he has really blossomed into a weapon on the ice for Coach Todd Reirden.

In net, Pheonix Copley really stood tall and kept the Caps in this one for the first 40 minutes. He faced a penalty shot of his own after Brett Connolly shoved a dropped stick into an opponent possessing the puck in the defensive zone. Referees Dan O’Rourke and Kendrick Nicholson correctly called a penalty shot there, but Richard Panik shot high trying to pick the corner on the large Capitals net minder. For the night, Pheonix made 27 saves and ran his record to 6-2-1 this season. He’s really taken away any worries anyone had about the backup goaltending situation coming into this season. Losing Philipp Grubauer was not something to be taken lightly entering 2018-19, but Copley has really stepped up between the pipes.

As for Ovi, he was on the ice from the 1:57 mark until he hit the empty cage from the defensive zone with three seconds left. This was due to several icings against the Caps, but he, Backstrom, and Kuzentsov all gutted things out to seal the deal. Niskanen and Orlov were out there for the last 42 seconds of that 1:44 shift and were stellar, as well.

The win puts the Capitals back in first place in the Metropolitan Division at 16-9-3 (35 points). They will face second place Columbus on Saturday night in Cannonville without their top two right wings, once again. Oshie is skating at the practice rink in Arlington, while Wilson is still with the team, but I’d imagine the Caps want to take no chances with #43’s upper body injury. This will be the first time the Caps have faced the Blue Jackets since they eliminated them in the first round back in April, so you can bet John Tortorella’s team will be fired up for this one.

Every team that the Capitals play this season, however, will be fired up because Washington is the defending Stanley Cup Champions. It comes with the territory and the Caps will need to be ready to go from puck drop, once again. They had a rough start in Arizona, but found a way to avenge the ugly loss they had at home versus the Yotes on Veterans Day. Copley was strong in net and Washington had some luck to hang around. In the final frame, the Caps found their legs and carried the play, and that’s why they came out on top.

Notes: John Carlson led the Capitals in ice time with 24:27. He was +1 and had seven shots on goal…shots on goal were 29 each. Shot attempts were 63-60, for Arizona…the Yotes were 0 for 2 on the power play while the Caps were 0 for 1. Both teams missed a penalty shot. The zebras actually did a very good job on Thursday, it was the best officiated Capitals game in over a month…Clayton Keller, who has owned the Caps in his young career, was -2 in 20:51 of ice time. He was shut down on this night…the Capitals were creamed on faceoffs, 31-20. Backstrom was 3-13, but did win a key late draw. Derek Stepan went 16-4 for Arizona.

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Carlson’s 3 Primary Assists Lead the Caps Over the Rangers, 5-3

Posted on 24 November 2018 by Ed Frankovic

How do you spell Norris?

On Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden following a tremendous three assist, +4 performance in a team leading 24:40 of ice time, and the game’s first star in a Capitals, 5-3, triumph, it is really simple:

C-A-R-L-S-O-N.

John Carlson turned in a gem of an outing in the second half of a back to back situation for Washington and it came on game one of the mentors’ trip in New York. Carlson had the primary assist on three Caps tallies, the first as a result of a beautiful deflection of his point shot by Nic Dowd just 31 seconds after the Rangers took a 2-0 lead, the second on a sweet pass to Alexander Ovechkin on the door step for the Gr8’s 17th goal of the season that gave Washington a 3-2 late second period edge, and then a whale of a cross ice feed that Brett Connolly sweetly one-timed home for the game winning goal at 13:36 of the final frame. They were all stellar plays made by an elite NHL defenseman. Carlson would not be on the ice for any of the three New York tallies and he received his final plus for the day when Tom Wilson made a great defensive zone hit, grabbed the biscuit, and then rifled it the length of the ice into an empty cage from the left wing circle with 1:08 to go.

Washington started slowly in this affair despite two early power plays and it was at the end of the second one that the Blueshirts took the lead. The Caps had four guys pressing down low as Jimmy Vesey’s penalty for high sticking was expiring and Kevin Hayes took a great bank pass by Brady Skjei off of the defensive zone boards and went the other way, two on one on the Capitals. A back checking Jakub Vrana tried to catch Hayes, but went to the wrong side of him and Hayes alertly fed Jesper Fast trailing the play in the high slot. Fast had a chance to shoot from the primary scoring area, which froze Pheonix Copley (27 saves) and defenseman Matt Niskanen, then Jesper slid the puck to Vesey on his right, and Jimmy shot it into the yawning cage.

The Capitals were very careless with the biscuit in the first period and as a result they were outshot, 12-6, by the young and recently red hot Rangers. Washington was looking better in the second period, but then a Skjei rocket on the rebound of a Brendan Smith shot off of the backboards gave the home team a two puck lead. The local crowd was rocking to a goal song that certainly grates on the visitors and was feeling very good about their hockey team, at that point.

Everything then changed on the next shift as the line of Dowd, Connolly, and Vrana outworked New York in the offensive zone to get the puck back to #74, who fired on net setting the stage for Dowd’s second tally of the season. The Caps then evened this one up on the speed, determination, and amazing hands of Vrana, who blew by Brett Howden like he was an orange road cone with 3:33 left in period two and put a dazzling backhander past Alexander Georgiev (23 saves), top shelf, to the far post. Wow, what a goal that was!

After Ovechkin gave the Caps the lead with 30 seconds left in the middle stanza, the Capitals had some chances to make it a two puck game again early in period three, including Dmitri Jaskin, who had his best outing in weeks (11:25 of ice time, four shots on goal and two missed shots), hitting the post on a great chance in the slot. The Rangers would make those misses hurt when they outworked Washington’s top line and the duo of Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov on the wall to set up Ryan Strome’s second goal of the season on a sweet wraparound tally after Copley was caught cheating to his left, just 5:30 into period three.

It was anyone’s game in the final 15 minutes until Vrana made a super diving pass to Carlson in the neutral zone setting up Carly’s rush and beautiful cross ice feed to Connolly for the game winner with 6:24 to go. It was Brett’s 4th goal of the season and Conno is playing some quality hockey this season (13 points in 23 games).

For the Caps, this was their fifth win in a row and also the first time this season they’ve won both ends of a back to back game situation. It also moves them into first place in the Metropolitan Division at 13-7-3 (29 points) pending the result of the Blue Jackets-Penguins game in The Burgh on Saturday night. Columbus is 13-7-2 (28 points).

Ovechkin could’ve had his 18th goal of the season into another empty net late in the game, but he tried a toe drag move on the right wing offensive zone boards when a quick flick of the puck towards the cage probably would’ve sealed the deal. However, the outcome was decided at that juncture and the Gr8 had himself SEVEN HITS in 21:10 of ice time, including one on Vladislav Nemestnikov in the offensive zone corner that started the whole sequence for Alexander the Great’s net crashing tally. On that goal, the key was that Alex kept his stick on the ice as he went to the paint.

As for Wilson, well the team is now 6-1 since he returned from his suspension, with the last five triumphs coming without Evgeny Kuznetsov or T.J. Oshie in the lineup. Willy logged 20:24 of ice time and was +2 with four hits.

The Capitals definitely need both Kuzy and the Osh Babe back, they aren’t going to keep winning long term without them, and their five on four power play went 0 for 2 on Saturday and is really struggling, especially the top unit. Caps Coach Todd Reirden told the assembled media before the tilt at MSG that Kuznetsov is on the two game road trip and the closest to returning, while T.J. is still in DC recovering (you just wait until March 10th, Josh Morrisey!). Washington will now move on to Long Island to face their former bench boss, Stanley Cup Champion Barry Trotz, and the New York Islanders on Monday night at 7:00 pm. The Isles are 11-8-2 (24 points) heading into Saturday night’s contest against Carolina.

Washington will spend Sunday afternoon with their dads and other mentors in the Big Apple and then try to extend their winning streak to six in Brooklyn at a barn made for basketball.

Notes: Vrana’s goal and helper upped his point total to 14 in 23 games and he’s an impressive +9. When he moves his feet he is deadly on the ice…shots on goal were 30-28 for the Rags, but the Capitals had more shot attempts, 54-47…the Caps were creamed at the dot, 27-15…the Capitals were two for two on the penalty kill… Jonas Seigenthaler was inserted for Madison Bowey on the third defensive pairing and looked solid in 14:49 of ice time. Everyone plays at least one game on the Dad’s trip and Jonas made the most of his opportunity…Coach Reirden did a SUPER job of distributing ice time after the team played on early Friday evening. Only Andre Burakovsky (-2) played under 10 minutes (9:51)…I’d like to personally extend my condolences, as well as thoughts and prayers, to the McGeough family, who lost former NHL referee, Mick, this week after a fatal stroke at age 62. Just last spring I had a great conversation with Mick when he was in town as a supervisor of officials for the playoffs. He was a very nice and honest man. RIP, Mick.

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ARLINGTON, VA - SEPTEMBER 4:  Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals poses for his official headshot for the 2013-2014 season on September 4, 2013 at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Virginia.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Tom Wilson

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Caps Overcome Slow Start, Defeat Detroit, 3-1

Posted on 23 November 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The Detroit Red Wings, winners of 9 of their last 11 games, came into the District on Friday afternoon and early on jumped all over the Defending Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals. Detroit raced to a 14-1 shots on goal advantage and a 1-0 lead when Andreas Athanasiou buried a Evgeny Kuznetsov type twister pass from Thomas Vanek just after a Madison Bowey tripping penalty had expired.

That, however, would wind up being the high water mark for Detroit. The Capitals came out of their turkey induced coma and started to tilt the ice with just less than 5 minutes left in period one.

Missed opportunities and some very strong goaltending from Jonathan Bernier (17 saves) prevented Washington from getting the equalizer until Tom Wilson sniped one top shelf 12:13 into period two. Alex Ovechkin won a key board battle to get the puck to Nicklas Backstrom and All Star Nicky fed Top Line Tommy in the slot.

While the Caps carried the play, the Wings did get two breakaways in this affair, one in period one when it was 1-0 and another in period two with the game tied. Braden Holtby (31 saves) shut the door on both of them with huge and timely stops. All game long the Holtbeast was dialed in and he was a major reason the Caps won their fourth in a row. Holtby was named the game’s number one star, and rightly so.

Despite the Capitals domination in play in period three, it was still anyone’s game until the Caps struck for a pair of goals less than two minutes apart.

First, Andre Burakovsky made a super rush up the ice to get the puck to Travis Boyd, who found Michal Kempny alone on the left point. With Devante Smith-Pelly providing the perfect screen, Kempny beat Bernier top shelf for the eventual game winner.

The Gr8 then unleashed the dagger on Detroit. Willy broke the puck out of the Caps zone on the left wing boards and moved the biscuit to Nic Dowd in the center of the ice at the Wings blue line. Ovechkin was flying down the right wing and Dowd’s feed to Ovi was right in stride for the greatest goal scorer in the history of hockey, in my opinion, and Alexander the Great snapped one far post on Bernier for his 16th goal in 22 games this season.

It was pretty much game over, at that point, as the Caps kept Detroit on the perimeter to close this one out.

This was not an easy victory, the Capitals were very sluggish early, something we hadn’t seen since Wilson returned from his suspension on November 13th. Wilson, though, never let up and his goal changed the complexion of the game. Once again, his teammates followed his lead and the effort was tremendous over the last 45 minutes. The Caps are now 5-1 with #43 in the lineup and the big guy logged 21:36 of ice time with a goal, an assist, and two hits.

I think it’s no coincidence that Burakovsky is playing so much better since his former roommate returned to the lineup and #65 followed up Wednesday’s stellar contest with another very good outing. In the last six games he has two goals, two assists and is +3 after starting with just 2 points and being -7 in his first 16 tilts.

Kempny scored for the second straight night and unfortunately, he had to leave for a few minutes to get fixed up after Boyd injured Michal in the celebration hug. Dmitry Orlov also was banged up and bloodied a bit late when he was punched in the head after a whistle, yet the officials failed to call a penalty. Sometimes I wonder what color the moon is on the planet where some of these zebras come from?

Washington’s fourth straight triumph improved their record to 12-7-3 (27 points) and they trail first place Columbus by a point in the Metropolitan Division. The Caps will take on the third place New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon at 2 pm.

Notes: John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 26:32…Ovi had a goal, an assist, and six hits in 22:00 of ice time…the Caps power play is struggling without Kuzy and T.J. Oshie. Washington was 0 for 3 with the man advantage. Detroit was officially 0 for 3, but their lone goal came right after a Caps penalty had expired…the Holtbeast is now 8-5-2 with a .913 save percentage…Pheonix Copley is the likely starter in goal on Saturday afternoon…former Capital Mike Green played 22:41, had five shots on goal, another that struck the post, and had four hits…the Caps dominated from the dot, going 34-25. Boyd was 8-2, Dowd was 5-1, and Lars Eller was 11-7…the Caps blocked 21 shots, five each by Kempny and Matt Niskanen…the Rangers, who have been red hot over the last 10+ games, lost to the Flyers, 4-0 on Friday, but the last two goals were empty netters.

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Caps Win 3 in a Row for the First Time this Season

Posted on 21 November 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Tom Wilson scored just 54 seconds into his first home game of the season off of a gorgeous feed from Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals built a 3-0 lead, then hung on for a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Thanksgiving Eve. The Caps, who are 4-1 since Willy returned from his suspension, have now won three straight for the first time this campaign and improved to 11-7-3 (25 points). They trail 1st place Columbus by just a single point in the Metropolitan Division.

Since there is lots of turkey to be eaten over the next several days, let’s get right to the highlights and analysis of this triumph.

Top Line Tommy’s return has led to a perfect five for five of quality efforts from the Capitals and it’s no surprise that the team has shown a huge uptick over that span. Wilson is physical, skates incredibly well for his size, and brings energy on and off of the ice. When he’s in the lineup, every player on the Caps seems to have more confidence. Willy has six points in five games and with Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie out due to upper body injuries (they were both hit in the head in Winnipeg), Tom has had to play more minutes. His total against Chicago was 22:42, which led all Capitals forwards. Wilson is playing a key role at even strength, on the penalty kill, and now on the power play with the Osh Babe on the shelf. He’s only 24 years old, too.

Andre Burakovsky played his best game of the season on Wednesday night notching a goal and employing an incredibly strong two way game. He was rewarded with late ice time with the Blackhawks net empty and when Chicago was throwing the kitchen sink at the Caps, #65 made a really strong play on the right wing boards to get a puck out of the zone against two Chicago players to help salt this one away. Andre was skating extremely confidently all game and he was excellent with his decisions with the biscuit. As Japers Rink reporter Jason Rogers mentioned afterwards, Wilson chimed in on Burky’s post game press conference by stating that Andre just needed his big brother back. That brought a sarcastic “You take credit for everything” reply from Burky, but it was all in good fun and shows just how close this squad is on and off of the ice. The bottom line is Wilson makes everyone in the lineup better because it puts the other players in the proper slots when it comes to the lines and matchups. Willy is one of the few guys on the team who can play with Ovechkin (1 assist). Finally, Burakovsky does deserve credit for turning his season around. He has 2 goals and an assist in the five games since Wilson returned while getting just one of each in the first 16 games. The Caps need #65 playing well if they want to go deep in the playoffs, like last season (yes, we all want the game 7 vs. Tampa version of Burakovsky).

Michal Kempny was moved by Chicago to the Caps before last season’s trade deadline. At the time, Caps GM Brian MacLellan, who some felt was the village idiot during the summer of 2017 (but not this guy!), thought that #6 could slot in as the Caps fourth defensemen. He was proven to be correct during the Stanley Cup run and then Michal signed a four year contract to come back to Washington this offseason. On Wednesday night, he really stuck it to his old club scoring the third goal with a point blast that Corey Crawford never saw because of an excellent double screen by Brett Connolly and Lars Eller. More importantly, after the Capitals went to sleep a bit and let Chicago back in the game, Michal made a great step up in the neutral zone to disrupt a Blackhawks potential game tying rush and stole the puck. Kempny swung it quickly to his right where John Carlson dumped it nicely down the boards to Travis Boyd, who then made a gorgeous pass to Devante Smith-Pelly at the back door for the game clinching tally. It was a very pretty play, but also the result of proper positioning, especially by Kempny.

Braden Holtby (37 saves) was a big reason the Capitals won this contest. After Washington raced out to a 2-0 lead in goals and eight to zip in shots, the Blackhawks found their legs. They are a very fast team that likes to rush the puck up the ice. They go to the cage fairly well, too. The Holtbeast was really dialed in and with Chicago trying to go low on him pretty much all game, Braden made sure to hit the ice to stop those attempts and smother the puck to prevent rebounds. The Holtbeast made a lot of big saves in this affair and he took some contact along the way. Jonathan Toews poked Holtby well after a whistle in the third period and the keeper whacked him back in the skates. Toews didn’t like that and shoved his glove in Braden’s face, but fortunately Wilson jumped in and pushed the Chicago captain out of there. Since returning from injury on Monday, the Holtbeast has stopped 59 of the 61 shots he’s faced. He is now 7-5-2 with a .909 save percentage.

Jakub Vrana had a gem of a game in just 12:46 of ice time. His no look behind the back pass to Burakovsky on the power play made it 2-0 and then it was #13 who pounced on the loose puck on an offensive zone faceoff, skated it out of traffic on the boards, and then fed Kempny for his rocket that made it 3-0. Vrana now has 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists) in 21 games.

The biggest thing I didn’t like was the way the Capitals played for the next 20 minutes after it was 3-0. Washington became careless with the puck, especially in the offensive zone and it cost them two goals. Brandon Saad made it 3-1 late in period two when Dmitry Orlov mistakenly overcommitted himself to #20 on the perimeter, blew a tire, and fell down. Saad then beat Holtby to the far post, a goal Braden won’t like. Chicago received a bunch of odd man rushes until DSP’s tally and they were the result of too many back passes from the corners to the high slot by Washington players. When you are up multiple goals, the best thing to do is keep the puck deep in your opponents end and cycle their defense. The Blackhawks have some young guys out there on the blue line, but their forwards are fast and experienced. So why the Caps players were putting blind and careless passes back to the points boggled my mind. Caps assistant coach Blaine Forsythe didn’t like it either and commented that the reason the Capitals finally were able to make it 4-2 was because they started making smarter decisions with the puck in the offensive zone. It’s not a hard concept, but with the high end skill the Caps have, the players sometimes forget that they have to change their approach to the game when they get a big lead. The low percentage plays need to be put on the shelf and the ones that make your trailing opponents have to go 200 feet to score through a wall of Capitals players is the way to proceed. Let’s hope they learned that lesson on Wednesday night.

Overall though, the Caps are doing many of the little things right again and as a result, they are winning games. They blocked 18 shots and after it was 4-2, they kept the Blackhawks on the perimeter the rest of the way. They just need to keep cleaning up their puck management, especially when they have the lead.

Next up for the Caps is a 4:00 pm tilt with the Detroit Red Wings on Friday afternoon. The Wings started horribly, but are playing much better hockey now. Former Capital Mike Green missed several games due to an illness, but he’s back and is a big factor in the Wings record sitting at 10-9-2 following Wednesday’s OT triumph over Boston. Detroit won a wild one at Capital One Arena back in February when the Capitals were really struggling. On Wednesday night, Washington paid back Chicago for the 7-1 beating they received last February at the United Center, now it’s time for some pay back on the Wings on Friday.

Notes: Matt Niskanen, who had a great stack the shin pads shot block in period three, logged 23:47 to lead the Capitals in ice time. Nisky had 7 of the 18 blocked shots by Washington, impressive!…the Caps lost the face off battle, 28-27, but they did have the only faceoff tally (Kempny’s blast). Travis Boyd went 6-3 and Chandler Stephenson was 4-0…Dmitri Jaskin logged just 7:30 and was -1. Chicago was not a good matchup for him…Brent Seabrook had 9 of the Blackhawks 39 shots, which is indicative of a lot of perimeter play. 18 of Chicago’s 39 shots came from blue liners while just 7 of the Capitals 27 shots were from defensemen…the Caps were 1 for 3 on the power play while Chicago went 0 for 3.

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Tom Wilson Wild

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Tom Wilson’s Return Sparks the Caps to Victory

Posted on 14 November 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Tom Wilson was signed to a six year, $5.17M annual salary by the Washington Capitals this past off-season for a reason.

As T.J. Oshie tweeted on Tuesday afternoon, it was “Free Willy 3, The Rescue” for the Caps once Tom and the team found out that the neutral and independent arbitrator, Shyam Das, reduced Wilson’s 20 game suspension to just 14 overall. Unfortunately for the Capitals, 16 games have already passed, but Das, who cited George Parros’ incorrect math as the biggest reason for the reduction, did allow Top Line Tommy to recoup over $375K in salary by slicing the length of the punishment.

The Osh Babe was spot on that this was “The Rescue,” because a lifeless and blah Capitals hockey team that lost to Arizona, 4-1, on Sunday at Capital One Arena was turned into a group of energizer bunnies in a 5-2 thumping of the Minnesota Wild on their home rink.

Caps sensational play by play man, Joe Beninati, stated after the game that you could feel the buzz around the Capitals in the morning once the great news on Wilson came to light. Anyone on Twitter on Tuesday morning also felt the vibe. Suddenly the fan base was energized with their young leader coming back into the fold.

Speaking of the lineup, Coach Todd Reirden immediately went back to the three forward units that the Caps used in the Stanley Cup Final to defeat Vegas and suddenly Washington looked more like that club that defeated the Golden Knights in five games. Andre Burakovsky (one goal, one assist), Brett Connolly (one assist, +2), and Lars Eller (two assists) were flying from the get go and that gave Wild Coach Bruce Boudreau matchup issues because the Capitals finally had a deadly top nine on the ice, once again.

Eller would make a great play to set up Dmitry Orlov for his first goal of the season 6:33 into this tilt. Orly has been pretty inconsistent for most of the campaign, but in this affair, he was outstanding. Dima was skating and carrying the puck with confidence. After scoring the opening marker, he made a super pass to Wilson late in period one for a net crashing goal by Willy. That tally came with 28 seconds left in the first frame and put the Caps up, 2-0. Somehow, though, the clowns in stripes called Wilson for goalie interference after the puck went in, but it was Ryan Suter who shoved #43 into Devan Dubnyk (28 saves) and the Wild defensemen compounded the damage by hitting his own keeper in the head with his skate, knocking the goalie’s helmet off. It was just flat out horrible officiating by Kyle Rehman and Tom Chmielewksi, who did not have a good night. In fact, I think Chim Chim from the old Speed Racer cartoon could’ve done a better job than either of those two zebras.

Fortunately for the Caps, the officials didn’t matter despite giving Minnesota six power plays, because Washington played such a strong game. With Pheonix Copley (26 saves) in net, the Capitals had a committed defensive outing and allowed their goalie to see the opponents shots. They also blocked 20 attempts and cleared away five or so (according to the great Craig Laughlin) rebounds. Rebound control is the one area that #1 needs to keep improving on, but he used his positioning and size to thwart several Wild quality chances in this contest. Pheonix’s steady net minding, especially in period two when Minnesota had a bit of a push, prevented the Capitals from coughing up a multiple goal lead.

Once it was 3-1 heading into period three, Washington used its speed and talent to score two rush goals and put this one out of reach, at 5-1. Orlov notched his second goal of the night off of a great feed from Alex Ovechkin on a three on two. That easy finish was all set up by Wilson driving to the net and taking the Wild defensemen with him. Jakub Vrana made a dazzling play using his speed through the neutral zone and into the offensive end to feed Nicklas Backstrom in the high slot, who then put one on a tee for the Osh Babe to deposit the biscuit into the practically empty cage with Dubnyk out high expecting a shot from Backy. That goal with 10:12 to go pushed the lead to four pucks and from there it was just a question of how many power plays the Wild would get down the stretch (the correct answer is three).

The story of the night, however, was the intensity from Washington. The last time they played with passion that translated into winning the majority of the puck battles and solid back checking was opening night against Boston. Since that game way back on October 3rd, there has been a lack of a spark from this club. That all changed with the return of Wilson – as I tweeted before the game, every guy in that Capitals locker room loves Tom because of the energy and effort he brings to the room. He’s a battler on and off of the ice and he’ll protect his teammates at any cost. You simply can’t quantify what he means to the team, but all you had to do was watch Tuesday’s victory and you certainly can understand it.

It was definitely fun watching the Capitals play hockey again, and you’d be hard pressed to not give Wilson the majority of the credit for the amazing and quick turnaround.

Notes: Shots on goal were 27-14 for Washington after two periods and 33-28 for the game…the Caps were 0 for 2 on the power play while Minnesota was 1 for 6…Orlov led the Capitals in ice time with 24:20. John Carlson (+3) logged 23:35 and Matt Niskanen played 22:47…Eller had the most ice time of any Caps forward with 19:23…the Wild only blocked nine shots to the Capitals 20…Washington won the face off battle, 30-29. Eller was 11-8…the Caps are in Winnipeg on Wednesday night at 8 pm EST and Braden Holtby will be in the cage.

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Caps defeat Edmonton

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Reirden’s Line Juggling Jump Starts a Capitals Win Over Edmonton

Posted on 06 November 2018 by Ed Frankovic

“Ooh, and it’s alright and it’s coming along
We gotta get right back to where we started from”

After several shoddy defensive efforts, the Washington Capitals buckled down in the third period of Monday’s game against Edmonton and grinded out a 4-2 victory. The triumph snapped a two game losing streak to improve the Caps record to 6-4-3 (15 points) and puts them in a tie with the Pittsburgh Penguins for second place in the Metropolitan Division, three points behind the division leading Islanders, who have played one more game than the Capitals and Pens. Sidney Crosby and company, losers of four straight games (0-3-1) are in town on Wednesday night (7:30 pm on NBC Sports Channel).

Following the win, I’ve put together eight thoughts on the Capitals.

Perhaps the biggest question of the offseason for Washington was how would Pheonix Copley perform as Braden Holtby’s backup with Philipp Grubauer being moved to Colorado? Well, Copley turned in his best outing of the young campaign with 31 saves against an Edmonton squad that had won five straight on the road. Pheonix made several big stops early on that gave the Capitals momentum, including a right pad gem on an all alone Milan Lucic in front and shortly thereafter a great chest save on a Jujhar Khaira deflection on the doorstep. All night the Caps goaltender made the key stops and rarely left any rebound opportunities. The only markers to beat him were essentially two power play goals. Connor MacDavid’s man advantage blast through traffic that beat Pheonix short side and then a Leon Draisaitl sweet deflection at even strength that came just three seconds after Devante Smith-Pelly left the penalty box (delay of game).

Coach Todd Rierden, looking for a spark after some really blah games from his squad, went all Reg Dunlop and shuffled up the forward lines for this rematch against the Oilers (Edmonton smoked the Caps, 4-1, on October 25th in Alberta). Dmitri Jaskin was put on the top unit with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin while Chandler Stephenson was shifted to the wing with T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom on the second line. The biggest move, however, was dropping Jakub Vrana to the fourth line with Travis Boyd and Smith-Pelly. Boyd, who was making his season debut after suffering a leg injury in a preseason game in St. Louis, was a spark plug using his speed and tenacity to set up goals on the line’s first two shifts, from Vrana and Devo, respectively. All game long that unit was a thorn in the side of Edmonton. It was easily DSP’s best game of the season after #25 had looked very slow through the first 12 games.

MacDavid is probably the fastest player in the NHL and his talent is legendary, but the Capitals did a very good job of shutting him down at even strength. Backstrom’s line had that task and they were outstanding. Credit should also go to the defensemen; I thought Dmitry Orlov had one of his best performances of the season on the back end. In addition to Nicky’s strong defense against McJesus, his pass to Oshie for the third goal was an absolute beauty. The Osh Babe’s top shelf cheese that hit the twine to convert the amazing pass was also a highly skilled shot.

Speaking of the D, with Brooks Orpik still out for the third straight affair with a lower body injury, Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos were paired together. Bowey had played well against Dallas in a 4-3 OT loss on Saturday night, but Djoos had been struggling recently. Both were on their game on Monday night and they were rewarded with more ice time. Bowey logged 15:05 and Djoos played 13:59. That allowed Coach Reirden to keep the minutes of his top four lower than in recent games. Both Matt Niskanen and Orlov were right around 21 minutes while John Carlson played 24:45 and Michal Kempny, who was +2 along with #74, logged 20:35. It’s very important that Reirden uses his third pair throughout the season; otherwise the top four will be wiped out for the playoffs.

Team defense had been pretty much nonexistent since the Vancouver victory, but on Monday, the Caps returned to the basics and their third period was very solid despite being outshot, 11-2. Of the 11 shots, it’s hard to remember any that were quality attempts from the high danger scoring area. The Capitals really did a nice job of keeping the Oilers on the perimeter. The forwards were committed to helping on defense and Washington was more physical in their own end than they’d been in the first 12 games. Simply put, that is how you lock things down in your own end with a two goal lead.

While the Capitals officially only had two shots on net in the final frame, they did have some other quality chances where they failed to shoot the puck from prime scoring areas. Evgeny Kuznetsov passed up a golden opportunity in the slot and instead elected to try and feed Brett Connolly at the side of the cage, who didn’t have much of an angle. In addition, on a two on one rush, Andre Burakovsky pulled up and curled back towards the blue line instead of making the smart play, which was to fire on Cam Talbot (19  saves) and either beat him clean or generate a rebound. Andre needs to be smarter on the ice. Quick shots are how you score goals at this level.

Ovechkin is the king of the quick shot and he notched his 11th goal of the season on a rebound of a Carlson power play blast. Good things happen when you shoot and Ovi took advantage of an open net when John’s point blast hit traffic on the way to the cage and bounced right to him in the Ovi spot. Alex would’ve had his 12th of the year had he not missed an open net (he hit the post) late in the contest. After the miss, the Gr8 found DSP all alone in front of the empty net and Devo hit the post, as well. Alex had a much more consistent game on Monday and a big part of that was Jaskin, who brought a physical presence and a strong defensive work ethic, something that top line has missed with Tom Wilson now up to serving 13 of the 20 games he was suspended for to start the season.

Overall, this was a very good win for Washington after some really poor outings. The Capitals didn’t dominate the entire game, but they worked hard for 60 minutes, which hadn’t been the case since the Canucks game on October 22nd. They need to keep that energy and focus at that level if they want to be successful, especially with Pittsburgh, Columbus, and Arizona in town for the next three tilts.

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Ovi Cup Screenshot

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Caps Breakdown Day News, Nuggets, and Analysis

Posted on 13 June 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals held breakdown day on Wednesday afternoon and it was obviously the best one ever, given that this year’s session followed the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup victory. The players were clearly tired from two grueling months of hockey and then the post triumph celebrations, but were extremely happy.

Here are some of the major takeaways from the day at Kettler IcePlex:

Alexander Ovechkin, now clean cut thanks to his Gillette sponsorship, is a very happy man, and rightly so. The victory has clearly brought back the old Ovi that we saw when he was younger before some of the angry and hating national and even local media constantly crushed him forcing him to withdraw some of the best sides of his personality from public view. On Wednesday, the Gr8 answered questions for 30 minutes going above and beyond the call of duty. Ovi started by stating “I still can’t believe we won, I still can’t believe we did it. Right now we are realizing how special this win was.” He also added that “We lost some key guys last year, but all of the new guys played unbelievable.” Ovi noted that this was the best team he ever played on and whenever someone got hurt, felt bad, or were suspended, people stepped up. “It was a special group.” He also praised former General Manager George McPhee for “drafting half of the group” and ended with a very classy “Thanks George for what you did here.”

Nicklas Backstrom suffered two fractures in his right index finger in game five against Pittsburgh. He said he will not need surgery. Clearly Nicky was still hurting when he came back in the lineup after missing four games and to perform the way he did with that injury – shutting down the other team’s top center in each of the Tampa and Vegas series – is the stuff of legends. Backy will have his Cup celebration in his hometown in Sweden.

Brooks Orpik injured his hand in game two of the Columbus series and also had the tip of his right pinky finger detached when Erik Haula violently slashed him at the end of game two in the Stanley Cup final. Despite the injuries, Orpik played some of his best hockey in this postseason. When asked about the improvement in his skating this past season, Brooks noted that he is always tweaking his off season training regimen to seek improvement, but he also pointed out this was the first season in a few years where he did not have any ailments that impacted his wheels. Orpik told me he’d find out on Friday if he needed surgery on his hand.

Coach Barry Trotz had initial new contract discussions with General Manager Brian MacLellan on Wednesday morning. The Stanley Cup winning coach says he wants to be back because he likes this group while also stating that the area and setup has been good for his family situation. When asked if the rest of the entire coaching staff would be back next year, he said that is unknown, at this time.

John “Big Game” Carlson has not had any contract talks with the Caps yet, but said he loves this team and would love to be back, but there are a lot of factors involved. He will be having his Stanley Cup celebration in the DC area (his wife is from the DMV). The Capitals have an advantage in negotiations since they can sign number 74 for eight years, while others can only offer seven campaigns. There is no doubt that “Big Game” is the number one offseason unrestricted free agent priority for MacLellan and the Caps. The salary cap number for 2018-19 will be out from the league on Monday, June 18th and the higher it goes, the better it is for Washington ($82M would be really nice). Backstrom, when asked about Carlson stated, “John Carlson just keeps getting better and better. It’s impressive. Hopefully he stays here.” I’ll say this now, just like I did about T.J. Oshie last year, Pay the Man! He’s a legitimate number one defenseman and easily in the top ten in the NHL, in my opinion. You don’t let stud blue liners like “Big Game” Carlson leave. Losing him would be close to the magnitude of the Scott Stevens departure back in 1990.

Defensemen Michal Kempny and Dmitry Orlov gave a lot of credit to assistant coach Todd Rierden for helping them improve their respective games. Kempny noted that he had little confidence when he came over in February in a trade from Chicago and that Rierden immediately helped him regain it. The Czech defensemen stated that he had some bad games in the postseason, but that Rierden was always there to give him some keys to turning things around in the next contest. Kempny, who was very vocal about coming back because the Caps have “a great group of players, coaches, and trainers,” is an unrestricted free agent and given that he played as the number four defensemen in the postseason, he’s high up on the contract pecking order for MacLellan and the Caps. He only has 103 games of NHL experience, so that could help keep his price lower (he made $900, 000 in 2017-18 and will get a decent raise). Orlov, who had his hand badly injured in the World Championships in the spring of 2014 and missed the entire first season of the Trotz era (2014-15), said he was unsure he’d ever be able to play again at a high level. Rierden has certainly helped Dima out, but I also give Orlov a ton of credit for constantly working and striving to be better. It’s amazing how far he’s come since the 2016 playoffs where he struggled against the Flyers and Penguins. He’s a quality blue liner that breaks the puck out of his own zone incredibly well.

Oshie said he hasn’t won much since he was younger, so this Stanley Cup victory has been very exciting. Courtesy of the great Tarik El-Bashir, T.J. said he was healthiest at the start of the Stanley Cup Final. He won’t require any procedures this offseason. The Osh Babe, who is one of the most positive people you’ll ever meet, told Tarik that “I didn’t even need Advil” as the SCF started.

Tom “Future Captain” Wilson noted that he played up and down the lineup this season, but said when he played 10 games straight with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, instead of just one or two, his game really took off. Willy talked at length about how close this team was (is), but credited former Cap Justin Williams for encouraging the team to have fun and said it helped loosen the team up and bond them. Top line Tommy says he’s loved his five years here, stated he’s always done whatever he can to help the team, but also said there will be an element of business this summer for him (he’s a restricted free agent). Like Orlov and Evgeny Kuznetsov and some others on this squad, it’s amazing how much they have improved in the four years this coaching staff has been in place. The players clearly get the majority of the credit, but you can’t discount the way the coaches have enabled these players to blossom.

On the netminding front, courtesy of Isabelle Khurshudyan of The Washington Post, MacLellan said Philipp Grubauer wants to be a number one goaltender, but he’d like to keep both Grubi and Braden Holtby, be he’s going to explore a trade for Grubauer so he can do his thing. There is no doubt that the Capitals don’t win the Metropolitan Division without the stellar play of number 31 this past season. You need two good goalies in this day and age in the NHL to make it to the postseason. If Grubauer, who is a restricted free agent departs via trade, there could be a big dropoff to third string, Phoenix Copley. 2015 1st round pick Ilya Samsonov will be coming over to North America to play this fall, but he’ll need time in Hershey to become acclimated to the smaller rink. Bottom line, the best scenario for the Caps is to keep Grubauer, but potential salary cap room and a good trade return will likely be too hard to pass up. Goaltending coach Scott Murray and his staff, to include Olie Kolzig, will need to really get the other goalies in the system ready quickly should the German keeper move on.

Jay Beagle, when asked why the Caps won this year, pointed out that the Capitals “built their game all year and peaked at the right time. In past years we peaked in December and Janaury and then tried to hold onto it.” When questioned about Ovechkin not letting go of the Cup very much since they won, he stated that Ovi is invited to his Cup celebration, but he doubted the Gr8 would come to the Beagle farm. On Trotz, number 83 said “He’s always been a great coach since he’s been here, has brought in great people around him, and I feel like we have been the most prepared team in the league.” The unrestricted free agent, who has now won championships at the ECHL, AHL, and NHL level, hasn’t had any contract discussions yet and stated “obviously, I have to wait until the big guys get settled first” before receiving an offer. The hard working total team guy stated he could wait until after July 1st and that he’d leave things up to MacLellan. When I asked him if he’d leave if some team came along and threw money at him, said he’d have to see what was best for his family. The fourth line center who is great on faceoffs and the PK made $1.75M in each of the last three seasons.

As I wrote in my Cup winning blog, players such as Brett Connolly, Jakub Vrana, and Andre Burakovsky really upped their compete level, especially on the physical side of the house, and were important factors in the Caps playoff run. Burakovsky told El-Bashir that after three hand injuries over the past couple of years that he plans to have a conversation with CCM this summer about getting more substantial gloves. He told Tarik that two of the injuries could’ve been avoided with more protection. Washington will need each of these three guys to continue to progress, as they’ve done so far under Lane Lambert’s tutelage, if they are going to have a chance to repeat. Connolly, who for two years has confidently told me that the Caps have a very good team, summed up why this Championship ultimately happened for this squad.

“It was amazing, such a good group, such a committed group, such a highly skilled group. We really just came together at the right time, especially after that Pittsburgh series where we first really said we could win this. It’s such a big moment for all of us, we’re all just so happy that we could ultimately get this done for all of our fans, for our families, it was such a special moment.”

That quote from Connolly really summed up this team, who will forever be legends around this area, in a nutshell.

Notes: Matt Niskanen, when asked about all of the celebrations, said “It was great to see Brooks Orpik let his hair down.” So many players mentioned how business like number 44 is and that they don’t often get to see that side of one of the biggest leaders on the Caps…Alex Chiasson, who scored a huge goal to open the scoring in the game six triumph that closed out the Penguins, was hoping to come back to the Caps next season, especially given his close friendship that he has developed with Ovechkin, which apparently started from playing cards on the plane together…Beagle is leaving town on Thursday and noted it would be good to get back to reality…I’ll post a full transcript of my exclusive one on one session with Connolly out at WNST.NET on Thursday night…Backstrom, when asked about the team possibly breaking up, “It sucks, but when you look back on this 10, 15 years from now, we’ll always have this special group.”

Photo credit to Jacquelyn Martin of the Associated Press.

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Caps win Cup

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Caps End 44-Year Drought With Stanley Cup Win

Posted on 08 June 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals have won the Stanley Cup!!!

Pardon my French, but 44 years of futility is freaking over!

There will be no more doubting Conn Smythe Trophy Award winner Alexander Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom or Braden Holtby or General Manager Brian MacLellan or Coach Barry Trotz or Brooks Orpik and on and on down the list of Washington Capitals players, coaches, and managers. This is truly an incredible group of people who bonded together and showed that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. They have made a long suffering fan base very proud and the Baltimore-Washington area will NEVER EVER forget this cast of champions!

As for the Stanley Cup clinching game itself, WOW!

The Caps jumped out to 1-0 and 2-1 leads, saw Vegas tie the game on a tally that sure looked like goalie interference and then surge ahead very late in period two with a power play goal. The Golden Knights had a 3-2 advantage after 40 minutes in a very hotly contested physical affair and had their eyes on sending things back to Capital One Arena down just three games to two.

Previous Washington teams might’ve folded, at that point, and started contemplating that game six in DC on Sunday night, but not the 2018 Washington Capitals. This club came out with a passion in period three and fought tooth and nail to get the equalizer, which came from an incredible individual effort by Devante Smith-Pelly to notch his 7th goal of the postseason after Orpik made an outstanding keep in at the offensive blue line to set the tally up. That marker came with 10:08 remaining and the Caps kept the hammer down.

With 7:37 to go, Luca Sbisa turned the puck over to Andre Burakovsky behind his own net and Burkie fed Brett Connolly alone in the slot. Conno fired on net and the puck squeezed through Marc-Andre Fleury’s pads and Lars Eller, who applied the fore check pressure to set up the turnover after a smart dump in by Michal Kempny, grabbed the disc and deposited it into the cage for what would be the first ever Stanley Cup clinching goal for the Capitals and his seventh of the post season, as well.

Imagine that, sevens were wild in the third period, in Vegas??!!

Washington had 13 of the first 18 shots on goal in period three to storm the castle and take a 4-3 lead.

From there, the Capitals went into their 1-1-3 defensive posture and really didn’t give Vegas any quality chances, despite six Golden Knights shots on goal. Any attempts that made it through were gobbled up by Holtby (28 saves), who kept this a one goal game early in period three by gloving a top shelf wrister from David Perron in the slot. It was a big stop and nearly as important as “The Save” in game two, because if the Caps go down two pucks there, then a game six would very likely have occurred.

Backstrom (1 assist) had a chance to end the series with an empty net tally with under a minute to go, but somehow missed the cage invoking memories of Esa Tikkanen not scoring in game two of the 1998 Stanley Cup Final. But Nicky’s teammates wouldn’t allow the miss to bite the team in the rear and the Caps killed off the remainder of the clock and celebrated wildly when it was over, led by their very emotional captain.

This team won the Cup because it learned to play defense better than any other Capitals squad in the Ovechkin era. Washington listened to the coaching staff and walled off the front of their net regularly in the post season. They received outstanding goaltending from the Holtbeast, who along with Evgeny Kuznetsov (32 playoff points), could’ve won the Conn Smythe Trophy, based on their on ice production.

But the Gr8 (power play goal, his NHL leading 15th tally of the 2018 playoffs) definitely deserved the MVP trophy for his incredible leadership. Who can forget the Ovechkin line, “We’re going to Columbus to win two games and bring this series tied back to DC” in the first round? Time after time he scored the big goal (first goal in game 7 in Tampa) or made a great back check and pass to win a series (Pittsburgh, game 6) or blocked a shot and dove to clear a puck at an important juncture (SCF game two). Ovi led by example on and off of the ice. He made it clear before game five that the team shouldn’t be talking about celebrations or any of the stuff that comes with winning because they hadn’t won anything yet. Simply put, all playoffs long, Alex talked the talk and then backed it up by walking the walk.

Seeing his emotions as he was given the Cup from Commissioner Gary Bettman was incredible, then watching him skate around with Lord Stanley and pass it to Backstrom is a memory that Capitals fans will remember forever. Two players who former General Manager George McPhee drafted and built the franchise around finally made it to the promised land after 11 years of failures.

As Ovi and Nicky will tell you, this wasn’t about them, though, this was about a team that picked each other up through injuries, suspensions, mistakes, adversity, and questionable officiating along the way. You can go up and down the lineup and point to contributions each player made.

  • Kuznetsov dominated with his skating and became a superstar this spring. He took his game to a whole new level and backed up the big contract he received last summer.
  • T. J. Oshie did just about everything you could ask for from scoring big goals (see game six vs. Tampa), winning the vast majority of board battles, and playing great defense to close out games. The Caps don’t win the Cup without the Osh Babe. There’s a reason I blogged and tweeted “Pay the Man” throughout 2016-17.
  • Tom Wilson evolved into a complete player this campaign and “Top Line Willy” was just a wrecking ball and force all post season. He’s built for the playoffs.
  • John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmity Orlov, and trade deadline bargain Kempny played a lot of minutes on the blue line in four grueling series. “Big Game” Carlson showed how a number one defensemen should perform in the playoffs and I’ll say this again about him, “Pay the Man!” Niskanen was so solid and took the heat for he and Orlov’s rough game five in Tampa. That’s leadership, right there, and it took the pressure off of Dmitry, allowing Dima to get back on track quickly in game six.
  • Orpik was a team leading +17 in the post season and “Batya” had the key game winning goal in game two that turned the Stanley Cup Final around. For all of the grief the Corsi crew gives him, he thrived in the post season on defense, the PK, and he even chipped in offensively with five points.
  • Eller stepped up, especially when Backstrom broke his hand. He played second and third line center doing whatever was asked of him. The Capitals also don’t win the Cup without “Tiger.”
  • Jay Beagle was a beast on faceoffs all post season and a dominant force in all three zones. Nobody works harder than “Beags.”
  • Connolly (6 goals, 3 assists in the playoffs) was a totally different player from the guy who was scratched in the 2017 postseason by using his speed, great shot, and more importantly, his body to win puck and board battles.
  • Jakub Vrana and Andre Burakovsky used their skill and speed to score or set up huge goals. Vrana had the critical game winner in game five against the Pens and Andre notched two huge breakaway tallies in game seven to defeat the Bolts. Those two guys learned to win board battles by adding a physical element to their game and that was critical to the team’s success. They became excellent playoff style hockey players, something this squad badly needed after the off season losses of forwards Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson to the top six.
  • Chandler Stephenson (7 playoff points) played up and down the lineup and used his superior speed to set up goals and make opposing defensemen lose confidence. He was also a key cog on the penalty kill.
  • Smith-Pelly notched big goal after big goal, with his game going to an incredible level in the Cup Final after a rough game one.
  • Christian Djoos took advantage of the downtime down the regular season stretch he endured due to Jakub Jerabek’s strong play to jump back in against Columbus in game three and become part of a quality third pair duo with Orpik.
  • Even forwards such as Alex Chiasson (goal in game six against Pittsburgh), Nathan Walker (assist in game six against Pittsburgh), and Travis Boyd contributed when the injury bug and suspension to Wilson hit against the Pens.

Yes, this was a special crew of players because of how they united and after two very shaky games against Columbus, bought in to what the outstanding coaching staff was selling to go on a remarkable run. Washington was 16-6 beginning with game three of the first round. The switch to Holtbeast was a game or two late for me, but perhaps it was meant to be so that the rest of the club could finally understand the way they needed to play to have the ultimate success?

Yes, it’s true, Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals are really Stanley Cup Champions!!

When is the parade??!!

Addendum

The ride was absolutely amazing and for me, this championship is extra special. As a nine year old boy in 1974, my father was in the sports journalism business at WLMD in Laurel and dragged me time and time again to Capital Centre to watch a terrible expansion team play a sport that quickly got my attention. It wasn’t until I was a senior in high school in 1983 that the Capitals finally made the playoffs thanks to David Poile, Rod Langway, Scott Stevens, and Bryan Murray. That’s when hockey became my favorite sport. From there I covered the team for the PG Post-Sentinel for a few years, meeting current WNST owner Nestor Aparacio in the process. That press box stint led to a Capitals team statistician position with Dr. Mike Herr and several other great people for 11 years. From 1986 to 1997 I traveled to games in Philly and everywhere in the playoffs with the team enjoying really great times while learning so much about hockey from great players such as Langway and Dale Hunter, and hockey personnel Jack Button, although I learned even more from his son, Tod. But there were so many heartbreaks along the way and several times it was to the Penguins, who won five Stanley Cups, defeating the Caps each time. In 2007, Nestor reached out to me and told me he was starting a WNST website and he wanted me to blog on it, doing whatever I wanted since I was someone he trusted and had inside access given my time with the Caps. Naturally I’ve turned that into this Caps blog and regular radio show sessions with Nestor. We’ve chronicled the highs and even more heartbreak since 2008 during the Ovechkin era. I was able to be on the ice in Hershey when Carlson, Beagle, and Holtby won the Calder Cup in 2010 (thanks John Walton!). But in 2014, I had seen enough of a bad culture and the lack of a cohesive team that led to me calling for the firing of Coach Adam Oates and GM McPhee, and the hiring of Trotz. Three years of crushing playoff defeats followed in the Trotz and GM Brian MacLellan era, but on July 3, 2017, I penned a “Caps are still a contender blog” despite the fact that many had written the GM, coach, and players off. Thankfully the GM, the coaches, and the guys on the ice delivered in a way that many hockey fans around this area will appreciate for the rest of their lives. I know I will, but most of all, I really appreciate my father, Ed, who will turn 80 on July 7th, for introducing me to the Capitals and the sport of hockey. Exchanging texts with him after the Capitals won the Cup was a very special moment for me and many of the people who reached out to me afterwards are great people that I’ve met along the way watching, working, covering, and just being around this great sport. I’ve made so many lifelong and life changing friends and people through hockey. I’d need numerous blogs to list all of them, you know who you are! I owe all of it to my father, so thanks Dad! I know you predicted back in 1974 that the Caps would sell out every game some day and they’d win a Stanley Cup. You are now correct on both counts!

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