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Ovi Old School

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A Detailed Look at the Caps After 45 Games

Posted on 15 January 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Following Jay Beagle’s stunning game winning goal with just over a second left in Carolina on Friday night, the Washington Capitals players headed to Atlantis, Florida, the Caribbean, Colorado, and other mostly warmer destinations for five days of rest and recovery during the team’s now annual bye “week.”

The victory improved the Caps to 28-14-3 (59 points) and they will remain in first place in the Metropolitan Division until they take the ice again on Thursday, against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center.

With the downtime, I’ve put together some lengthy thoughts on a hockey team that has once again positioned itself near the top of the NHL standings and is among the league’s best squads.

Shortchanged It’s called the “bye week,” but the Caps are only getting five days between games while most other teams are getting a six or seven day gap. In addition, the Capitals went into the break playing back to back games and will come out of it in the same fashion facing the Devils on the road and then the Montreal Canadiens at home on Friday evening. The bye break was something the players clamored for in recent years so that they could get away during what is a very long season. The downside of this plan, however, combined with the three day Christmas shutdown and the All-Star Break is a schedule made up of numerous back to back tilts and many three games in four night scenarios. This leads to a poor product on several occasions and a case in point was Washington’s 3-1 loss to Carolina last Thursday when it appeared that many on the squad were already on the beach.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes The 2017 summer saw some very important key Capitals players depart due to the NHL expansion draft and the rising salary cap to include defensemen Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt plus forwards Marcus Johansson, Justin Williams, and Daniel Winnik. How General Manager Brian MacLellan and Coach Barry Trotz would handle those personnel losses would hold the key to the 2017-18 season. The Capitals were 30-9-6 (66 points) after 45 games in 2016-17, so they have only seven points less than they were at this point in a Presidents’ Trophy winning campaign. Last year’s team was experienced, stacked and averaged 28.4 years old. This year’s club has relied on contributions from several rookies, to include defensemen Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos as well as forwards Jakub Vrana (10 goals) and Chandler Stephenson (10 points). The average age of the team has dropped to 28.0, which is a significant change considering that each returning player is a year older. Plugging those rookies into the vacated spots alone clearly could not fill the void left by so many quality players. Therefore, Coach Trotz and his staff had to shift to a “rely on the returning players” philosophy while bringing along the young bucks. Comparing ice times in 2017-18 versus 2016-17 shows a very telling picture.

Player 2017-18 Avg TOI 2016-17 Avg TOI Delta
John Carlson 26:09 22:42 +3:42
Matt Niskanen 22:27 22:10 +:17
Dmitry Orlov 23:16 19:32 +3:44
Brooks Orpik 20:42 17:47 +2:55
Alex Ovechkin 19:42 18:21 +1:21
Nicklas Backstrom 19:40 18:15 +1:25
Evgeny Kuznetsov 18:54 16:57 +1:57
T.J. Oshie 18:40 17:51 +:49
Lars Eller 15:20 13:54 +1:26
Tom Wilson 15:29 12:55 +2:34
Brett Connolly 11:35 10:41 +:54
Jay Beagle 12:39 13:37 -:58
Andre Burakovsky 13:35 13:15 +:20

 

In a nutshell, the coaching staff is playing their key players more than last season when they could just roll four lines and wear teams down. There are some major changes in average time on ice on the back end, especially for Carlson, Orlov, and Orpik. Carlson, who is a Norris Trophy candidate despite two rocky games before the bye week break, has been outstanding, especially considering Niskanen has missed 14 games and has played less than 100% healthy in multiple others. As I’ve blogged on several occasions and GM MacLellan noted to The Washington Post last week, the unsung hero on the back end has been Orlov. Number nine has turned into such a strong two way defensemen and he continues to get better. The upside is still there, too, as he probably would have more points if he got more power play time. The concern is Orpik is playing nearly three minutes more than last season simply because he has to while Djoos comes up to speed. Without Brooks to carry a large load in the first 30 games while the rookies were learning and Niskanen was out, this team may have been sunk. Lately though, #44 has shown some wear on his wheels, so a January schedule that sees a lot of breaks should help him out. The improved play of Djoos and Bowey also will be critical in the second half of the season. I fully expect the Caps to add a defensemen at the trade deadline in late February.

Stars in the City There is no doubt that the “Coach’s Robot,” the Gr8, and “All Star” Nicklas Backstrom are a big reason why this team is still one of the best in the league. Ovechkin was overweight and not in ideal shape in 2016-17 and it showed during the regular season and the playoffs. He had only 33 regular season goals, most of which came on the power play, and he was slower and more prone to injury. Alex took management’s direction and trained totally differently this past summer and the results are blatantly obvious. He’s faster than he’s been since perhaps 2010, which has allowed him to generate better quality chances. He’s had several breakaway tallies and is leading the NHL in goals at 28 in 45 games (a 51 goals pace). 20 of those goals are at even strength this season, compared to just 16 in 2016-17. Backstrom had 86 points in 2016-17 and he’s on pace for 17 fewer this campaign, but most of that drop-off came when Trotz had the Gr8 on a different line. That experiment was smartly shelved and since the two have been Peaches and Herb’d, aka Reunited, the team has gone on a tear. There is no one on the planet who knows how to play better with Ovi than Nicky. Kuznetsov is a super talent, but he is so reliant on having the puck while Backstrom is such a strong two way guy that gets the biscuit from the opposition and allows Alex to get the touches he needs to score goals.

Carpe Diem With the departure of key forwards, several younger Capitals have seized the day and opportunity in 2017-18. Kuznetsov is playing nearly two minutes more a game (more on him in a minute), but looking at the average ice times for Eller and Wilson are very revealing. Willy is logging 2:34 more a night and at six goals and 18 points in 41 games he should shatter his career highs. Wherever Coach Trotz has put #43 this season he has produced and the nice thing is it’s been in a top nine role, no more fourth line Tommy. Eller, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer, has nine goals and 21 points in 44 games. He had 12 goals and 25 points in 81 total games in 2016-17. He’s playing 1:26 more a night and he’s become a better contributor, especially offensively, and that was sorely needed. The Washington third line, which was dominant last January when the Capitals were nearly unbeatable, has returned to play a big role in 2017-18. Eller and Connolly (10 goals) have been the staples there and there’s been a rotation of right wings to mostly include Oshie, Burakovsky, Vrana, and Wilson.

Not So Special In 2016-17 the Caps connected on 22.98% of their power plays and killed off 83.92% of their shorthanded situations. The league averages were 19.1% and 80.9%, respectively. In 2017-18, the power play has slowed to a 19.57% connection rate (NHL average is 19.4%) and is only thwarting 79.08% of their manpower disadvantages (NHL average is 80.6%). Simply put, the Capitals, unlike years past, have had to rely more on five on five goal differential to win games. This season they are +14 (91 to 77) in that category. There is lots of room for improvement on the special teams.

Dynamic Duo Looking at the team stats, the Caps have gone from outshooting opponents 30.4 to 27.8 per game in 2016-17 to being outshot 32.3 to 29 in 2017-18. That is a direct result of the change in personnel. Let’s be honest, the Capitals lost a lot of veteran players and are incorporating new blood into the squad. So why have they been able to still be successful? Well, outside of what has been mentioned already, the single biggest factor is the outstanding goaltending from Braden Holtby (24 wins) and Philipp Grubauer (7 quality starts in 12 games). The team save percentage has dropped from .925 to .917, but it’s clear that the quality of shots against has gone up a bit. These two continue to make the big save for Washington at the key time and goalie is the most important position in hockey.

Delivering the Overpass There’s a famous Bill Engvall “Here’s Your Sign” joke about a truck getting stuck with the punch line being, “Nope, I was delivering that overpass and my truck flat ran out of gas…Here’s Your Sign!” Perhaps the organization should bring the legendary comedian in to hand out “Here’s Your Sign” awards for all of those times the Capitals have tried to make an extra pass when they are in the high danger scoring areas? Guilty party number one on that list is Kuznetsov. When #92 plays the right way, and he’s had some nice stretches of that, the Caps dominate. He ranks second on the team in goals (13) and when he carries a shoot first mentality he is deadly on the ice because the defense has no idea what he is going to do, pass or shoot. Too often, though, he is in Harlem Globetrotters fancy pants mode, and that is much easier to defend. He needs to cut back on the circling pattern where he takes himself out of the high danger scoring area and eventually turns the puck over. That issue has crept into others on this team, to include Oshie, who I’d like to see shoot more. This is a shoot first league and with the goaltending being so good, rebounds or shots from high danger areas with traffic are the best way to beat them. Do the Caps think they have to make the pretty play so often because they practice against two of the best goalies in the league regularly? That could be a factor, but if they just looked at their recent tallies, many of them are just shots from the middle of the ice with players going to the net or using a defender to screen his own keeper. It’s not rocket science and it’s one of the big reasons the Caps are down in the shots on net and shots attempted statistics. They have the puck often, but many times they possess it for awhile and never generate a shot. They need to dump that habit and the cross ice pass at the offensive blue line if they want to go deep into the post season.

Where’s the Six Million Dollar Man? If you had told me on October 1st that Burakovksy would only have three goals after the Caps have played 45 games, I would have said the Caps would not be in playoff position. Luckily, I would’ve been wrong. #65 has played only 21 games due to injuries and overall malaise, but the man who signed a two year deal for a total of $6M is a very key cog in the wheel if Washington wants to challenge for the Stanley Cup. If I was Andre, the first thing I’d do after getting home from the Bahamas would be to pull out the tape of game six against the Penguins last spring and watch it. That’s the way Andre needs to play to be successful, very physical on the opposing boards and puck so that he can score and generate goals. He can be that player if he puts his mind to it and works hard. A return to form by Burakovsky is a must from now until June.

In summary, even with the personnel losses from last season, the Capitals have still positioned themselves among the best teams in the league. Despite what some statistics, such as Corsi, try to tell you, this positive outcome is not just pure luck. As I’ve chronicled, there’s been a method to the team’s success, which also includes a unique ability, much like the Pittsburgh Penguins have done the last two seasons, to counter attack and be deadly on the rush. Speed is an important aspect of hockey and the Capitals have improved in that department. Their save percentage is slightly down, but their goalies have been stellar and they aren’t living off of a higher shooting percentage. They are connecting on 10.5% of their shots, just like they did last season. The league average is around 9%, but the Caps have high end talent, unlike a Corsi loved team like Carolina, who throw a lot of pucks on net from everywhere, but don’t have the Ovechkins, Kuznetsovs, Backstroms and Oshies of the world who have great shots. Looking at another favorite analytic stat, PDO, which measures shooting percentage plus save percentage at even strength, it shows the Caps were at 102.4 in 2016-17 and this season they have dropped to 101.6 (meaning they’ve been less lucky). I’ve stated this axiom in blogs and on the air on WNST many times; it’s great to look at statistics, but in the grand scheme of things, hockey is a game of high skill and talent, it is non-linear and is chaos theory. The Washington Capitals have high end talent and the organization has structured the team around that. Now the question is can they continue to improve down the stretch so that they can peak in the post season?

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Kuzy Canucks

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Caps Win 10th Straight At Home in 3-1 Triumph Over Vancouver

Posted on 09 January 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals scored three goals in a span of 10 minutes and Philipp Grubauer stopped 37 of 38 shots as the Caps reeled off their 10th straight victory at home to defeat the Vancouver Canucks, 3-1, at Capital One Arena on Tuesday night.

Washington, who will face Carolina in a home and home matchup on Thursday and Friday, have just those two tilts to play before their five day “bye” break begins on Saturday. With the triumph over Vancouver, the Capitals improve to 27-13-3 (57 points) and they lead the Metropolitan Division by a season high four points over the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have played one more game. New Jersey is five points behind the Caps, but they have two games in hand.

The Canucks destroyed the Capitals back in October, 6-2, when Washington wasn’t playing good hockey and were missing some top players (Matt Niskanen and Nicklas Backstrom). Since then, though, the Caps have been one of the league’s best squads while Vancouver has turned into the doormat I and many others expected them to be this season. Coach Travis Green’s club is now 16-21-6 (38 points) and only the Arizona Coyotes have fewer points than the Canucks in the Western Conference.

On paper, this looked like a mismatch, but the game started well for the visitors. Washington was sloppy with the puck giving the Canucks more shot opportunities. Grubauer didn’t have to make many big saves early, but a Devante Smith Pelly lazy offensive zone infraction put Vancouver on the power play. Coach Barry Trotz’ improving PK unit looked ready to kill it off, but when Chandler Stephenson jumped over the boards and battled for the puck before Tom Wilson could get to the bench, the Caps were boxed for too many dudes. That gave Vancouver a five on three and it was pretty much a five on two when Jay Beagle was hobbled after blocking a shot. The huge manpower difference for the Canucks resulted in a Daniel Sedin tip in of an Alex Edler point shot at 8:23.

With a 1-0 lead, Nikolay Goldobin nearly made it a two puck advantage, but Grubauer made a big save on #77 and then he hit the pipe with the rebound. It was one of those quality high danger stops at a key time that Washington has gotten a lot of this season from their stellar goaltending duo of #31 and Braden Holtby.

Just two minutes after that, John Carlson tied the game when he fired the puck on net from the right wing boards and it went five hole on Jacob Markstrom (33 saves). The big goalie was likely distracted by the net coming up in the air just beforehand along with Michael Del Zotto standing right in front of him messing with the cage. Green challenged the goal for goalie interference, but there was none of that and the tally stood.

Washington continued to press the play and less than three minutes later they took the lead when Madison Bowey gave Lars Eller a nice neutral zone feed. Eller then headed up the middle of the ice with speed and using the Vancouver defender as a screen, Lars shot from just inside the blue line and it beat the goalie, who was suffering from an obstructed view, top shelf. That goal, on a heck of a snipe, made it 2-1 with 2:08 left in the opening frame.

In the middle stanza, Washington was downright dominant controlling the puck for the majority of the period. Evgeny Kuznetsov increased the Capitals lead to 3-1 at the 4:57 mark when he took a feed from Niskanen just outside the offensive blue line and skated in with Erik Gudbranson charging towards him. Kuzy shot the puck and Markstrom batted the rebound in the air into the slot. Both Kuznetsov and Gudbranson swatted at the puck, but it was the stiff #44 who put it into his own net with his glove. The marker gives #92 13 goals for the season.

The Capitals were relentless in their pursuit of the puck and it was wave after wave of Washington players storming into the offensive end in period two, one in which the Caps have really struggled in this season. That was not the case on Tuesday and if not for a lot of over passing, this game should have gotten out of hand. Once again, the Capitals were trying for the perfect play, which was kind of silly considering the way they scored their first three goals, which were on pucks just directed at the net. As fun as it was to watch, the Caps skill and Harlem Globetrotters like play resulted in zero goals the remainder of the period. That was disappointing because Coach Trotz’ crew was really skating and working, but they again suffered from being too fancy.

The passing up of shots, especially from the high danger area of the ice, has to change if Washington wants to advance deep into the playoffs and reach their ultimate goal. This squad has a TON of skill and talent, but sometimes they out think themselves in trying to be too perfect and it allowed a crummy hockey team like Vancouver to stick around in this affair.

In the third period, the Canucks had 20 shots on net as they tried to come back, but 11 of those came in the last nine plus minutes and there weren’t many quality chances. Grubauer made some nice glove saves, but those were on shots he clearly had a great sight line on.

This was really a mismatch, but the Caps couldn’t finish. They often passed themselves out of a scoring chance or they waited too long to shoot and with Markstrom taking up so much cage with his size, they had trouble getting biscuits behind him. The NHL is a shoot first and shoot quick league, but the Caps seem to forget that, too often, and it takes away from their offense. Washington has the puck a lot, but based on shot attempts, you wouldn’t think so. The fact is this team is so focused on the perfect goal play that they decrease their chances of scoring. If they can get away from the extra cross ice pass in the offensive zone and focus on hard shots on net that either go in or produce rebounds, they will score even more.

Overall, this was a solid victory. Grubauer was very composed and poised in net. You never felt like he was going to give up a goal that would get Vancouver back in the contest. The Canucks didn’t have the puck a ton despite their 73-65 edge in shot attempts. Coach Green’s team often just throws the puck on net from everywhere, but the Capitals kept them on the perimeter quite a bit. On the flip side, the Caps got into the interior on offense, but they too often didn’t seize the right moment to fire on net. That’s why the scoreboard stayed close, despite the on ice domination that Washington displayed.

Notes: Jakub Vrana had a very active game with six shots on net. He was really moving his legs and opening up space on the ice…Brooks Oprik had a semi-breakaway in period three and was drilled by a Ben Hutton elbow to the head (no penalty was called) and sent flying to the ground. Smith-Pelly came in, immediately went after Hutton, and threw some good punches to let the Canuck know that the questionable hit was not well received by Washington. Orpik had a strong night going +1 in 20:49 and he had four shot attempts…Alex Ovechkin had six shot attempts and an assist in 19:25…the Caps were 0 for 2 on the power play while Vancouver was 1 for 3. I didn’t think Kevin Pollock and Kendrick Nicholson called a good game, they missed several infractions on the Canucks, but perhaps they were too busy focusing on offside since linesman Greg Devorski left after the first period due to an illness?…the Capitals won the faceoff battle, 33-28. Kuznetsov was 10-6…Wilson was very impressive with six shots on goal and seven hits…Bowey had an assist in 14:44 and he was much cleaner with his puck management…T.J. Oshie had 0 shots on goal in 17:39. His hands seemed to be betraying him in this affair…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 24:16.

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BAcky Blues

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Seven Detailed Thoughts on The Caps After Another Win

Posted on 07 January 2018 by Ed Frankovic

In the last few seasons under Coach Barry Trotz, the Washington Capitals have typically not fared well after several days off. With the Caps having not played since Tuesday’s OT victory in Carolina, a Sunday tilt against the St. Louis Blues would appear to be trouble for Washington. Coach Mike Yeo’s squad, however, had lost on Saturday in Philadelphia and was coming in playing their third game in four days. Basically, the scheduling gods had this one as an even affair, although the Caps, based on rest and playing at home, certainly seemed to have an advantage.

As expected, an angry Blues team put out a great effort against the Capitals and this contest went to overtime before Nicklas Backstrom notched his 9th goal of the season, after a long and super feed from T.J. Oshie, to give the Caps a 4-3 win and improve their record to 26-13-3 (55 points) on the campaign. Washington now leads the Metropolitan Division by three points over second place New Jersey, but the Devils have a game in hand.

Here are seven thoughts on the Caps following this come from behind victory.

Rollercoaster Ride The final score was 4-3, shots on goal were, 34-33, for the Blues, and my quality shot tracking had the Caps out on top, 24-23, for the game. So this match up was pretty much evenly played the whole way, right? This is in no way a plug for Hertz, but NOT EXACTLY! Washington came out and forged a really strong first period to take a 1-0 lead and the quality shot totals, by my count, were 8-3 for the good guys. In the middle frame, the Blues stormed the castle feasting off of one Capitals turnover after another to grab a 2-1 lead. The Blues held a commanding 14-6 advantage in quality shots in period two. The last full 20 minutes were another complete reversal as the Capitals dominated play with an 18-8 shots on goal advantage and an 8-4 margin in quality shots. In overtime, both teams had two quality opportunities, but it was the Super Swede who closed the deal with a sweet top shelf snipe.

Old Man Ovi Alex Ovechkin is 32 years old and father time should be starting to set in, that’s what all of the data compiled by the stats crowd will tell you should be happening. Well here’s a special note to the spreadsheet geeks, to quote the great Sundance Kid, “You figured wrong, Butch.” The Gr8 continues to skate as well as he has since his mid 20’s and he was a force again on Sunday afternoon. Ovi’s power play wrister was deflected home by Brett Connolly in the opening frame to give the Caps their first marker and then with his squad really needing a goal, he delivered with a laser to the top shelf eight minutes into period three to tie this one at two. In 22:50 of ice time, Alex had seven shot attempts, but because of a weird bounce off of his back late in the game, he was a minus one. Ovechkin now has 27 goals and 18 assists to lead Washington in both goals and points (45) in 42 games. The man voted by the fans to captain the Metropolitan Division All Star team in just over two weeks, once again is tied for the NHL lead in goals with Nikita Kucherov of Tampa.

Career Year Again for Conno? Connolly notched his ninth goal of the season on the aforementioned tip in and he’s now on pace for 18 tallies, after scoring 15 in 2016-17, which earned him a new two year deal at an annual average of $1.5 M. After a slow and injury riddled start, #10 is really amping up his play and this outing was his best of the season. Brett was all over the puck all game and he had five shots on net and seven overall attempts in 14:43. He led the Capitals in shot attempt percentage with 20 shots for and just five against when he was on the ice (80%). Playing with Lars Eller all game, plus Oshie from the middle of the second period on, the Washington third line was dominant. Connolly is no longer awkwardly reaching for pucks on the ice and he’s using his body to win the one on one battles. In addition, he has a very fast shot release and he goes to the high danger areas well to set himself up for quality chances. If #10 keeps doing that and shooting the biscuit, the goals will just keep coming.

Return of the Osh Babe It was pretty clear that the four days of no games did wonders for #77 (two assists). T.J. looked like his old self in this affair and he was dogging pucks like crazy. He didn’t score a goal, but he was a key factor in three of the Capitals four lamp lighters. On the Caps second goal, Ovechkin scored just three seconds into the power play. That doesn’t happen if Osh doesn’t win the draw cleanly to Backstrom, who quickly fed John Carlson (two assists in 26:30) at the point before #74 perfectly fed the Gr8 for his howitzer. Oshie started the game with Backstrom and Ovechkin, but then he was shifted to the Eller line after the Capitals looked worse than a really bad Mites team for the first eight minutes of period two. Oshie’s shot on net that Carter Hutton (29 saves) struggled with, led to Eller’s rebound tally that gave the Caps a 3-2 lead with just under 10 minutes left in regulation. Then, of course, the Osh Babe made a super long feed to Nicky on the game winning tally.

Second Period Woes What the heck was that to start period two for Washington? The Blues had the first eight quality chances of the frame and they all came in the first seven minutes. St. Louis scored twice during that stretch and it could’ve been more if not for Braden Holtby (31 saves). There were too many poor passes and bad decisions by the Capitals in their own end. Madison Bowey (1 assist) had another awful up the middle attempt and the rookie needs to stop making that same mistake, but even Matt Niskanen tried and failed on a similar play, and you know he knows better, right? I’m not sure what is happening to the Caps from period one to two this season, but it’s been a horror show on many occassions. They have too many turnovers and with the long change they end up getting hemmed in their own zone and on the ice for extra long stretches. This is a problem they must fix over the second half of the season. Perhaps they need to get some new tunes in the locker room because they’ve been coming out for period two like they’ve been listening to Air Supply and Barry Manilow records during the intermission?

Timely Saves Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, Holtby made some really key saves at very important times in this hockey game. You’re probably reading this thinking “No S—t Sherlock!” and you’d be right. The Holtbeast is so dialed in this season and let’s hope he keeps that up in the playoffs. The Blues could’ve won this game a few times, most notably, late in period two when #70 stopped Vladimir Sobotka with the Blues up a puck; a dynamite save on Magnus Paajarvi with just under two minutes to go in regulation and the game tied; and then a super stop on Patrick Berglund in overtime. Braden may not have the sexy save percentage he had the last three seasons, but he’s now 24-8 this year behind a much younger defense and team. The Holtbeast is the Capitals MVP through 42 games.

Well Isn’t That Special SNL’s church lady was definitely on the side of the Capitals in this affair. Washington was two for four on the man advantage while the Blues were one for two on their power plays. The most important penalty kill, though, came in the middle frame when St. Louis had a 2-1 lead and Evgeny Kuznetsov was in the sin bin for another lazy penalty. During that shorthanded situation, the Caps were just outstanding yielding no shots on goal or any quality chances. After that huge PK, the Capitals really took over the game.

Overall, this was a very up and down contest for the Caps. They were really strong in the first and third periods, but were a train wreck for most of the middle stanza. Their puck management still has moments where it is prone to disaster. However, the resolve of this club is amazing and they continue to find ways to win and different players have stepped up to help the team stay hot. On Sunday, the play of Connolly helped make the difference against a quality Blues team. The Caps have now reeled off nine straight victories at home. Their next two tilts are at Capital One Arena, as well (Vancouver on Tuesday and Carolina on Thursday).

Notes: Andre Burakovsky returned to the lineup after two games (healthy scratch) and did some good things in 10:52. His biggest problem, though, is his long shot release and it’s preventing him from scoring goals. The Caps need more from #65 so he has to find a way to more quickly shoot the puck, much like Connolly has been doing…Niskanen returned after missing the Carolina game due to an upper body injury and played 24:19…the Capitals lost the face off battle, 36-26, but Jay Beagle went 9-5…Barry Trotz will be coaching the Metropolitan Division players at the All Star Game in Tampa since the Caps owned 1st place at the halfway mark.

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Wilson NJ

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Ovechkin’s Three Apples Puts the Caps Back in First Place

Posted on 30 December 2017 by Ed Frankovic

It had been 11 games since the Washington Capitals came out and jumped on a team to tally the first two goals in the first period (December 6th vs. Chicago). On Saturday night the Caps did just that to take advantage of a Devils team that played on Friday night en route to a 5-2 win at Capital One Arena.

Alex Ovechkin (three apples), Nicklas Backstrom (goal, two assists), and John Carlson (goal, two assists) all had three points each as Washington received a very strong performance from their top line and top blue liner to improve their record to 24-13-3 (51 points) and put them back in first place in the Metropolitan Division by a point. New Jersey (22-1-6) has two games in hand.

Braden Holtby was super solid in net making 25 of 27 saves and the Capitals will close out December with a perfect eight wins in eight tries at Capital One Arena. There is no place like home for Coach Barry Trotz’ club and they have now won 15 of their last 17 in front of their very boisterous fan base.

Here are my thoughts and analysis of this win that came at the end of some brutal scheduling:

Schedule Craziness This was the third game in four nights for both teams and Washington also played back to back before the Christmas break. So that’s effectively five games in six possible nights for the Caps and despite a three game losing skid in there, they came out of it 2-1-2 (six points). So even with a bit of a rough patch with no practice time, Trotz and company managed to survive and reclaim 1st place heading into Tuesday’s tilt in Carolina.

Tom Wilson’s War This is a trick title to this bullet because based on it you’d think that number 43 was dropping the gloves to announce his presence with authority again. Nope, Willy is doing it with his stick. Just 2:26 into this affair, now third line Tom went to the net and finished off a beautiful pass from Christian Djoos with Brett Connolly parked at the top of the paint. Wilson slid in behind #10 and after the sweet feed from the rookie blue liner, he snapped it by Cory Schneider (30 saves). Wilson, who earlier in December seemed to help Ovi and Backy get out of their funks with his stint on the top line, was bumped down in Thursday’s rally over Boston to jump start Lars Eller and Connolly to get them motoring again. #43 did just that and he’s on pace to shatter his total for points in a season. Tom now has six goals and 12 assists in 36 games and he’s a staggering +11 this year. Wilson helped Lars Eller lead the team in shot attempt percentage on the night (15 for and six against, 71.43%).

Top Line Production After a rough first shift, the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Devante Smith-Pelly line really got it going. Djoos was the recipient of a great passing play to make it 2-0 at 11:09 of period one when he dropped the puck to Ovi coming across the blue line and then kept going to the net. The Gr8 then fed Backstrom with a sweet diagonal feed and Nicky went cross ice to #29, who snuck the puck behind Schneider into the yawning cage for a layup. That one was prettier than Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and it was the type of start the Caps needed against a tired opponent. The top line would also set up Matt Niskanen for another layup in the third frame, to make it 4-1 just 4:25 into that stanza. Nisky carried the puck across the offensive blue line and once again it was a drop pass to Ovechkin that was the key to the sequence. Ovi fed DSP with another gem and #25 went cross ice to #2 for the second tic-tac-toe tally of the night for a defensemen. The three forwards on the Caps top line had 23 of the 47 shot attempts from Caps centers or wingers. Ovi logged 20 minutes and had nine shot attempts (six on net), Backstrom played 19:48 and had four shot attempts, and DSP had 10 in 16:25 (but only four hit the net).

Blueline Hat Trick I mentioned the key Djoos and Niskanen tallies, but Carlson also scored for Washington to make it a trio of goals for Caps defensemen. This one came on a second period power play that generated several quality chances. Schneider made some big saves to keep it a 2-1 game, but Washington would not allow the Devils to clear and Backstrom fed a pinching in from the point #74 nicely and Johnny rocketed it by #35 to restore a Capitals two goal lead. That power play marker at 7:01 really took some life from the Devils and set the stage for a third period where Washington kept the hammer down. The Caps have now gotten a goal from their previously struggling power play in each of the last two tilts and it is looking better as there’s been crisper passing and more movement.

Two In, Two Out Coach Trotz made two interesting lineup changes on Saturday. He scratched Andre Burakovsky, who has been pretty much terrible since his great game in Dallas on December 19th, and he put Chandler Stephenson back in. #18 is fast and his speed is a good match for New Jersey. I don’t expect #65 to be out for more than a game as the organization really needs him if they want to go deep into the post season. The other change was to get an up and down Madison Bowey a view from the press box so he can course correct some of his recent turnover struggles. Inserted into his spot was Taylor Choreny, who had a relatively unimpressive 13:25 of action. #4 had no shot attempts, but he also had no official giveaways. He was on the ice for the Devils first tally and that was a result of one of his failed clears. I’d expect Bowey to be back in against the Canes on Tuesday.

Overall, this was a very tidy win for the Caps, who are really making home ice pay off for them. Coach Trotz gets the last change and the crowd definitely helps the energy level. For the first in time in over three weeks, they had more significantly more energy than their opponent in the early going and that fast start took a lot of hope from the Devils. Washington’s passing was much cleaner in this affair and that helped negate a New Jersey forecheck, as well as their speed. Djoos had a quality game, except for a turnover and poor coverage on Travis Zajac’s goal that made it 4-2 with 11 minutes left. Christian is definitely improving and that is another key to the Capitals potential post season success. #29 has the ability to step up with his speed and stop opposing rushes while creating offense the other way.

Notes: It was another post concussion quiet night from T.J. Oshie (+1), who logged only 12:10. The Osh Babe had one shot attempt (blocked) and it came after he passed up a great chance in the high slot…the Caps out shot attempted the Devils, 67-60…Carlson led the Caps in time on ice with 25:58. Dmitry Orlov continues to excel on the back end and he played 21:27, was +1, and had three hits…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 31-25. Jay Beagle was dominant, going 13-3. Backstrom (7-10) also had a couple of huge wins on draws in the last minute when the Devils pulled Schneider and it led to his empty net tally…the Caps gave former #90, Marcus Johansson, a warm reception in his first game back in DC and a nice video tribute to boot…with the win, Coach Trotz now sits fifth all time in NHL coaching victories with 737 (passed Lindy Ruff).

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Chiasson Scores Twice as Holtby and the Caps beat the Bruins Again

Posted on 14 December 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Chiasson scored two third period goals and Braden Holtby made 34 saves, many of them of the high quality variety, to give the Washington Capitals their 11th straight victory over the Boston Bruins, 5-3, at TD Garden in Beantown.

The win improves the Caps to 20-12-1 (41 points) and they remain tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for first place in the Metropolitan Division. CBus defeated the Islanders, 6-4, on Thursday night and they have a game in hand on Coach Barry Trotz’ crew.

Here’s my thoughts and analysis of a sleepy game that the Capitals were fortunate to win:

Boston played on Wednesday night late in Detroit and won in overtime. They then had to fly home, fighting a snowstorm to get out of Michigan, before getting into their beds early Thursday morning. So the Caps naturally took advantage of a tired hockey team and ran them out of the rink, right? WRONG! The Bruins were actually the better team in this game, in my opinion. They worked hard in the one on one battles and it resulted in a 74-45 shot attempt differential. Sure, some of that is score effects with the Caps having the lead most of the last 40 minutes, but Washington had too many passengers in this game and they rode some hot plays at the right times.

Who was dialed in for the Capitals? Well, let’s start where we pretty much always start these days, with their goaltender, the Holtbeast. In the second period, the Caps were outshot, 13-3, and the Bruins were all over Washington, but after a Patrice Bergeron snipe on the power play tied the game early in period two, #70 held the fort until the Caps scored on a power play of their own. Holtby’s save percentage for the night was .919, but it should’ve been better had the Capitals not given up two goals in the last five minutes, including another power play tally by Bergeron late where it looked like David Krejci may have tied up Holtby’s stick. But that didn’t matter, Boston lost primarily because Braden kept the door shut for the first 56 minutes while the Caps dialed up a 4-1 lead.

Hot plays at the right time were the difference makers for the Caps. First, Jakub Vrana used his blazing speed to split the Boston defense to give the Caps a 1-0 lead at 17:34 of period one. It was Jakub’s 10th goal of the season and he continues to shine since that healthy scratch back on November 16th. You really have to be impressed with how he’s played with Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 assist). He keeps going to the net like that and he’ll score a bunch of goals this season.

Going to the net was so important to this win, like it normally is in hockey. Lars Eller had what looked to be an early goal less than two minutes into this tilt when he put home the rebound of a Christian Djoos shot, but it was correctly overturned because the Caps were offside on the zone entry. That’s the type of early goal you like to see and had the Capitals kept going to the net and getting pucks there early and more often, this one may have gone much more smoothly.

Still, it was the net drive that would eventually give Washington the breathing it room it needed down the stretch. After Nicklas Backstrom’s power play goal off of a sweet Kuznetsov pass made it 2-1 in the middle frame, the Bruins really came hard at the Caps in period three. Holtby did his usual job to hold off the Bruins and then 7:52 into the final stanza, Djoos made another great play to beat the B’s defender and get the puck to the net. Parked in front was Chiasson and he put the biscuit in the basket.

Boston, who has to be sick and tired of losing to the Capitals, would not go away and they pressed the play and received a power play with 8:41 to go. Shortly after the faceoff, Chiasson blocked the point shot of Torrey Krug and then he pulled away from #47 on the shorthanded breakaway and buried the disc past Anton Khudobin (17 saves). The Bruins goalie had come into this one hot, having gone 7-1-2 this season with a .922 save percentage, but he had Capsitis, a disease that often impacts Boston goalies.

Boston cut it to 4-2 with 3:40 to go after some Washington turnovers, but then Ovechkin, who had an assist on Backstrom’s power play goal, received his 22nd goal of the season when his pass to Tom Wilson in the neutral zone did not connect and fortuitoulsy banked off of the boards and into the middle pocket at the other end to make it 5-2 with 1:29 to go. That NHL goal leading tally (he’s tied with Nikita Kucherov of Tampa as of this post) ultimately ended any suspense on the final outcome. The Bruins would get that 3rd goal with 27 seconds left, though, after Eller took a bad cross checking penalty.

There wasn’t a lot of things to like in this one for the Caps. They did do a good job of keeping Boston on the perimeter, but they were still sloppy with their passes and they just didn’t seem to have their legs. Yes, this was their third game in four nights, so they have a slight excuse. I did like some of the shifts the fourth line had in this one, especially the effort they put in to draw the power play that set up Backstrom’s tally which gave Washington the lead it would never relinquish. Chandler Stephenson used his speed to go by Chalire McAvoy on the left wing boards and he was forced to hook #18. Washington’s fourth line is playing well and if T.J. Oshie comes back for Saturday’s game, I would not break this trio up; they are doing too much good on the ice.

Chiasson should not be scratched either considering that he had two goals in this one and he’s been good on the PK (the Caps gave up two power play goals in five tries, but #39 added a HUGE shorty). You aren’t scratching anyone on the top line, although they did not have a good game in Boston, both Ovechkin and Wilson just didn’t seem to have their speed going, at all. So that leaves someone on the third line to go out of the lineup if the Osh Babe is ready and based on what I saw on Thursday, Andre Burakovsky is my pick to sit. #65 was totally weak on the wall in this affair and lost board battle after board battle. He also is taking too long to get his shot off, once again. Kuznetsov fed him nicely in period one for an open net opportunity, but instead of a quick release that would have had half of the twine to hit, he pulled the puck back with his long drawn out release and the shot was blocked en route to Khudobin. Simply put, Burakovsky needs a reset after just four games back in the lineup. You would have thought 20 games out injured would do that, but so far, outside of a play or two here or there, he’s been MIA. I’m not trying to be mean to the guy, but this is big boy hockey and Andre needs to get it going, this team is counting on him and he’s not playing near his potential. Fortunately, guys like Vrana and Chiasson are stepping up to deliver big tallies while the organization waits for the $3 Million man to get untracked. Washington isn’t going anywhere in the playoffs without Burakovsky, so now is the time to get him refocused and playing like #13 is doing. Burakovsky needs to use his legs to open up lanes on the ice and he must find a way to release the puck quicker on his shots.

Overall though, the Caps have won three of their last four games despite some really ugly stretches where they turn the puck over or don’t move their feet. They are living off of their all world goalie and some timely offense. You’d like to see them dominate more of the play, but it’s hard to be really upset when they’ve won nine of their last 11 games. Boston had done that coming into Thursday’s game against Washington, but once again the Bruins lost to the red, white, and blue.

Notes: Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:20…Matt Niskanen was good in this game and he was +3 with two assists in 22:58. He and Dmitry Orlov (+2 in 21:33) continue to be a super top defensive pairing. Orlov does so many things well, even though he’s not piling up points…Chiasson now has six goals, he logged 12:49 in this affair…Vrana only received 9:09 of ice time. The Caps taking five penalties didn’t help his ability to get more opportunity…next up for the Caps are the Anaheim Ducks at Capital One Arena at 8 pm on Saturday night. Corey Perry will not play for the Ducks due to injury…if Oshie practices on Friday, then there’s a good chance he will return against Anaheim. The Caps need his tenacity on the ice, they aren’t winning the board battles like they typically do when fireplug #77 is in the lineup.

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Holtby Holds the Fort Until the Caps Offense Arrives

Posted on 12 December 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Coming off a dud of a performance on Long Island on Monday night, a 3-1 loss to New York at the Barclay Center, the Capitals came home on Tuesday to face a team, the Colorado Avalanche, which flat out smoked them in their last meeting back on November 16th, 6-2.

The young Avs, led by Nathan MacKinnon’s five points, used their speed and desire to totally destroy the Caps in the Mile High City on that Thursday night. On Monday evening, the surging Avalanche knocked off the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins in the Steel City, 2-1, and looked to improve on their surprising 14-13-2 record at Capital One Arena.

Coach Barry Trotz’ squad, however, had other ideas and they played a smart game structurally to slow the young Colorado team down to grind out a 5-2 victory that improves the Capitals to 19-12-1 (39 points) and back into a first place tie with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who were blitzed by the Edmonton Oilers, 7-2, in CBus on Tuesday. [Note: anyone have the 10 second clip of John Tortorella’s post game presser? LOL!]

This was not a pretty win, but it was a needed one, and several players stepped up to help deliver a well deserved two points and give Washington their eighth triumph in their last 10 games.

With that let’s get right to my thoughts, highlights, and analysis of this tilt:

Braden Holtby (22 saves) continues to be the Caps MVP. The team’s biggest problem lately has been puck management as NBC Sports Washington analyst, Alan May, calls it. There are just too many poor passes and bad decisions going on out on the ice for this club right now. Case in point, in the second period in a 1-1 game, Brooks Orpik possesses the puck at his own blue line with a defender barreling down on him and #44 has no real passing option because all four of the other Capital players are on the other side of the ice, and most of them are up the rink. There’s no left wing in sight and the center is floating on the far boards. Instead of eating the puck there and waiting for help, Orpik goes cross ice with it and the result is a Colin Wilson breakaway. Fortunately for every one of the Caps out there, the Holtbeast made a right arm/body save on Wilson to keep the game tied. It was a HUGE stop at a key time in a game that the Capitals were very sloppy in up until that point. Braden made several other big saves in this contest, but none bigger than that one and once again you can point to his play as a major reason the Capitals were victorious. For the season, Holtby is now 17-7-0. His .918 save percentage is also pretty darned good considering he’s playing behind a very young defense after several key personnel losses in the off season due to the expansion draft (Nate Schmidt) and the tight salary cap (Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk). All hail the Holtbeast, once again! If you don’t think he’s playing well, then you should go watch another sport, this guy is one of the top goaltenders in the NHL and is performing better than his Vezina trophy winning season, in my opinion, as well as a couple of other guys who know their puck that cover this hockey club.

Speaking of performing really well, on the back end the Caps received superb outings from both John Carlson (1 goal and +2 in 21:10) and Dmitry Orlov (+1 in 23:39). Carlson’s hammer of a shot (3rd goal of the season) late in the second period after he came off of the bench on a change gave the Caps the 2-1 lead they would take to period three and expand on. Carly took two penalties in this affair, but overall, he’s been dominant on the back end no matter who he has been paired with this season. #74 is due a nice long term contract extension with the Caps for his play, especially since number one defensemen aren’t easy to find. As for Orlov, this guy is really playing sensational at both ends of the rink. He’s physical when needed on the boards and his breakouts are such a key to Washington’s offense. He had no points on Tuesday night, but if you go back and break his shifts down, he was a major reason that MacKinnon was nowhere to be found in this game. #9’s progression over the last 12 months has been amazing and big credit goes to Dima and assistant coach Todd Rierden.

Continuing on the back end, Madison Bowey had his second two assist game in 14:36 of ice time. His feed to Brett Connolly on a delayed penalty call on the Avalanche allowed #10 to get off his great shot, a one-timer, that he rifled into the cage for a 3-1 advantage with 14:45 remaining. #22 continues to mature at the NHL level. His game is ascending and that will be very important to the Caps in the second half of the season and hopefully into the playoffs. Christian Djoos is also on the uptick, especially in his own end. The kid played 16:25 and was +1 in this affair. #29 is a very good puck mover, but what has really impressed me lately is his defensive zone positioning. Again, credit the player and the coaching staff, who have proven that they can properly develop young defensemen.

Up front, let’s start with the grinders, the fourth line. I loved the game that Devante Smith-Pelly brought to the rink. He was physical and moving his feet. He also made smart decisions with the puck by getting it deep over and over and making Colorado struggle to get the puck out of their end. His linemates, Jay Beagle and Chandler Stephenson, also worked hard in this affair, something we saw from very few Capitals against the Islanders in Monday night’s debacle. That line all played at least 14 minutes each and it was fitting that DSP scored his fifth goal of the season into the empty net with 45 seconds left, after a nice pass from Stephenson. Beagle and Smith-Pelly combined for seven of the Capitals 27 shots on net in the victory. Those guys were skating hard and Coach Trotz rightly rewarded them with additional ice time.

Holtby, Carlson, and Orlov have been big drivers in the Caps hot streak, along with the first line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Tom Wilson, but if Evgeny Kuznetsov (three assists) and Jakub Vrana (goal) don’t completely turn their games around after the earlier Colorado loss (Vrana was a healthy scratch) and abysmal effort against the Flames, the Capitals don’t have multiple lines that can score. The Kuznetsov and Vrana duo has been red hot and with the top line playing well on most nights (although they were just okay against the Avs), that second line needs to produce and they’ve done so, even without T.J. Oshie for the last four tilts. Vrana’s speed really opens things up on the ice, especially because he’s driving towards the net, and Kuzy continues to make the right pass versus shoot decisions, something he was not doing consistently well for the first six weeks of the season. #92’s play to set up #13 for the first goal was just pure confidence with the puck and he drew both Avs to him so that he could feed Jakub for the top shelf peanut butter shot past former Capital Semyon Varlamov (22 saves). His last helper at 16:19 of the 3rd frame to make it 4-1, to Matt Niskanen, was a thing of beauty. After Andre Burakovsky knocked Erik Johnson off of the puck in a four on four situation, Kuzy grabbed the disc and drove the net. He then froze the Avs defender by faking like he was going to pull the biscuit back and then he slid it behind the defensemen to a wide open Nisky, who buried it for his second goal of the season (and second in three games).

Finally, another thing that really helped the Capitals win this one was their penalty killing. The Caps were a perfect four for four in 6:25 of shorthanded time and they DID NOT ALLOW A SHOT ON GOAL. Those kills were huge because Colorado, on their first three power plays, either had a chance to tie the game or take the lead. Wilson was excellent with his skating on the PK as were the other three forwards, Lars Eller, Alex Chiasson, and Beagle. Orpik was also really good keeping Colorado on the perimeter in his team leading 4:35 of shorthanded time.

In summary, this was not a win with style points, there are none in hockey, but the Caps did what they needed to prevail. Their goaltender and grinding fourth line prevented Colorado from gaining any momentum until the superior skill of the Capitals took over in the third period.

Notes: Connolly’s goal was his fourth in the last six games. He is going to the right places on the rink to receive great feeds and burying the biscuit with his excellent shot. He’s up to six goals now and with Burakovsky back, he and Eller will hopefully take off like that same 3rd line did last January…Oshie skated again on Tuesday for the 3rd straight day and will likely practice on Friday (the Caps are off on Wednesday and head to Beantown to face the Bruins on Thursday night). If the Osh Babe does well out at that practice, then there is a good chance he’ll be in the lineup against the Ducks on Saturday night at 8 pm (who will be without the injured Corey Perry)….the Caps won the face-off battle, 27-24. Eller was 8-4…shot attempts were 56-55 for Colorado…the Capitals had 16 giveaways to just six for Colorado. Puck management needs to improve going forward! There are too many bad passes by Washington players, especially in their own end…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:05…the Caps had 24 hits and Smith-Pelly led the team with four. He was a work horse on Tuesday.

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Holtby and Kuznetsov Help Caps Squeak by Columbus

Posted on 03 December 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Jeff Spicoli: Woah, you’re gonna flunk me?

Mr. Hand: Don’t worry Spicoli. You’ll probably squeak by.

On Saturday night against the young and hard working Columbus Blue Jackets, the Washington Capitals played a Jeff Spicoli-like hockey game. They squeaked by with two points, primarily due to their all world goaltender, Braden Holtby.

The Caps stormed out of the gate, against a CBus squad that had played and won the night before, thanks to some great forechecking and smart hockey. Brett Connolly and Alex Chiasson scored two markers from the slot before the game was 130 seconds old and it looked as if Coach Barry Trotz’ crew was going to lay a woodshed beating on the Blue Jackets.

That would not be the case.

Columbus outworked Washington over the last 15 minutes of the opening frame, but couldn’t dent the Holtbeast (32 saves) despite several quality chances. Coach John Tortorella’s squad carried that momentum into the middle frame and cut the deficit to one after a brutal Capitals turnover gave Artemi Panarin an easy back door tally. The Blue Jackets kept churning and the Caps kept giving the puck away, but #70 held the fort.

At about the game’s midpoint, the guys in red starting playing again and they nearly extended their lead. They looked poised to do that when they received a power play with less than five minutes to go in period two. After a face off win, John Carlson (two assists) blasted one from the point that may have been tipped by T.J. Oshie, but it hit the post. Columbus then went the other way and Mike Foligno was robbed by Holtby in a one on one sequence. Soon thereafter, Oshie made a poor pass to Nicklas Backstrom in his own end and Brandon Dubinsky gathered in the loose change and fed Matt Calvert in the slot. Calvert quickly deposited it by a screened Holtby with 3:32 left before the second intermission.

Suddenly the game was tied and Columbus had all of the momentum. Dmitry Orlov then drew a blatant holding call on Boone Jenner with 48 ticks left in period two. Washington needed just all of 10 seconds to regain the lead. Evgeny Kuznetsov made a great read and steal of a Columbus pass behind their net after a Jackets face off win and fed Backstrom on the right wing half wall. #19 moved it to #74 at the top of the point, who slid it to Alex Ovechkin in his office, and the Gr8 beat Sergei Bobrovsky (19 saves) short side for a key goal. That marker was Ovi’s 19th of the season (tied for the league lead with Nikita Kucherov of Tampa).

The Caps came out in period three and put the early pedal to the medal. Oshie had a nice zone entry and after stopping inside the blue line, he fed a charging Kuznetsov coming into the offensive zone. Carlson jumped up in the play and was heading to the net. Somehow #92 got the puck to Carlson and he tapped it back to Kuzy, who then put it into the vacant cage to make it 4-2 with 18:52 left in the contest.

With Columbus having played on Friday and then traveling to DC, one would think they’d be tired and go away, right? Not so fast. Coach Tortorella’s crew kept coming in waves into the Caps end, but somehow Braden made some amazing stops, including an all world glove save on Cam Atkinson, and then he got a great goal line clear from Jay Beagle to preserve a 4-3 victory.

The win improves Washington’s record to 15-11-1 (31 points) and puts them just four points in back of first place Columbus in the Metropolitan Division.

Here’s my thoughts and analysis of an important Caps victory.

The Holtbeast was the reason Washington won this game, plain and simple. The Capitals, while scoring four goals, were largely inept with the puck in this affair. It was turnover city in their own end and Oshie, Backstrom, Orlov, and Ovechkin were all guilty of terrible giveaways. Ovechkin (cross ice from his own end) and Oshie had especially bad ones in period three that need cleaning up going forward. For most of the game, the Caps were soft on their breakouts and the weak bump backs to the defensemen or soft chips from the winger to the center of the ice were time after time stolen by a young, hungry, well coached, and talented Columbus team. For some reason, the Capitals didn’t adjust and it resulted in numerous quality chances for the Blue Jackets. In the final frame it was all CBus as they outshot the Caps, 17-3. Tortorella’s well conditioned and youthful squad looked like the more rested club despite the actual schedule. Washington continually made poor decisions with the puck as they came across the blue line and they are lucky that Holtby flat out saved their asses.

That start, though, was totally awesome. Coach Trotz juggled his bottom six and it paid off. Connolly, who had been scratched for two games, was put back in. Tyler Graovac was sent to the press box and Nathan Walker, who only played seven games all season, was lost to Edmonton for minimal cash via the waiver wire (the Caps hoped to sneak him through to Hershey to get some playing time). Lars Eller, who had been struggling, was put with Connolly and Chandler Stephenson on the third line and they got the ball rolling early. Orlov made his best play of the night, a nice carry in to the offensive zone, enabling the Caps to set up a cycle situation. Eller received the puck on the right wing boards from Brooks Orpik and #20 found Connolly alone in the slot. With Stephenson in front of Bob, #10 one timed the biscuit home. It was a goal very reminiscent of Connolly’s tallies last season. This game was easily Brett’s best of the 2017-18 campaign. Gone were the lunging and reaching plays he’d been making most of the year and instead he was moving his feet and using his body to win puck battles. If he keeps that up, he will be successful like he was in 2016-17.

Washington’s second goal was just another case of getting pucks and bodies to the net. Matt Niskanen made a nice pinch in on the right wing boards and he fired a hard, low shot on Bobrovsky that bounced into the slot. Chiasson gathered the rebound in the high danger area and whipped it by #72 at the 2:06 mark. Those two goals were textbook smart hockey. Good things happen when you shoot and had Washington stuck to that recipe, it might have been “Just a walk in the park, Kazansky,” but the Caps reverted to bad form shortly afterwards.

On the good side, Kuznetsov continues to play well. He was Coach Trotz’s best forward in this one and since the Calgary game that’s been the case, consistently. Kuzy is not over passing and he’s shooting the puck. He’s now up to nine goals and his line, with Jakub Vrana and Oshie, is playing well. The Osh Babe needs to start shooting more, though. #13 has been using his speed to get to the net and open up lanes for his line mates. Jakub and Kuzy are a major reason the Caps have won four of their last five games. Orpik (assist, +2 in 22:40) was the Capitals best blue liner in this one, although Carlson had a good game, as well.

Many others on this club were flat out inconsistent on Saturday night. Niskanen, who has been mostly struggling all season, primarily due to missing 13 games with a hand injury, still does not look 100% healthy on the ice and the Capitals need their best blue liner from last season back in top form. Hopefully whatever is ailing him is taken care of here in the short term.

Washington has to lose the cross ice passes, especially when up two pucks in the third period. Aside from the many defensive zone blunders, there were too many times that the Capitals tried that fancy pass inside the offensive blue line instead of putting the puck on or behind the net. It was just bad hockey and you rarely see Columbus make those mistakes. They are a very impressive team and, at this point, I have to make them the favorites to win the Metro division because they are structured and play hard. Columbus certainly deserved a better fate on Saturday, but goaltending was the difference.

On Monday night the Caps will take on the San Jose Sharks, a team who routinely whips their butts. If the Caps play like they did on Saturday against Columbus, it will be another blowout by the guys in teal and black. Holtby can’t keep nearly single handedly winning games for the Caps, this team has to get back to consistently playing the right way, like they did in the three affairs sandwiched around Thanksgiving.

Sneaking by may have cut it for Spicoli at Ridgemont High and for the Caps on Saturday night against Columbus, but that method is a long term recipe for failure.

Coach Trotz’s crew needs to say “Aloha” to the turnovers and poor decisions and get back to playing hard, intelligent hockey.

Notes: Washington won the face off battle, 37-23. Beagle, who lifted Panarin’s stick to stave off the tying goal, was 10-2. Backstrom was 13-8…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:55, but Carlson logged 24:42…Madison Bowey, who struggled in Thursday’s bad loss to the Kings, only played 10:21. Rookie Christian Djoos only received 12:41 of time. It’s a learning process for both young blue liners…Stephenson was rocked by a Seth Jones hit in period one. He played in the first 40 minutes, but left before the 3rd period with an upper body injury and is day to day…Ovechkin and Backstrom were both -2…once again, Holtby’s glove save on Cam Atkinson late in the game was unbelievable. Braden made a ton of Ten Bell saves in this affair. All hail the Holtbeast!

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Ovi TB

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Grubauer Stops Tampa to Earn his 1st Victory of 2017-18

Posted on 25 November 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Anyone who follows my blogs or twitter feed (@EdFrankovic), which is all about hockey, knows that I’ve been staunch in defending the talent level of the Washington Capitals despite their recent off season personnel losses due to expansion and the salary cap. My main question, however, so far in this 2017-18 season, has been about their work ethic and attention to detail.

On Wednesday night against the Ottawa Senators, much like their recent wins over the Penguins and Wild, the Capitals brought the effort and focus and succeeded with a big victory.

The latest question, though, is would they be able to duplicate that type of great effort in their next game against a very good opponent?

Friday evening against the best team in the NHL, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Caps proved that they could do just that. Washington gave up an early power play tally just 82 seconds into the contest after a very weak and bogus hooking call on Brooks Orpik. Yanni Gourde should probably be nominated for an Academy award after his dive gave his club a man advantage opportunity. The best player in the NHL, Nikita Kucherov, shot the puck on the ensuing power play and it bounced off of the pants of Vladislav Nemestnikov and past Philipp Grubauer for an early lead for the Bolts.

At that point, you had to wonder how the Capitals would react. Grubaeur, whose 26th birthday is on Saturday, had yet to win a game this season despite some strong efforts, including a 4-3 overtime loss to Tampa back on October 9th. In many of those affairs, which were the latter of half of back to back contests, the team in front of him had little energy and didn’t provide much offensive support.

But this game was a different circumstance and Washington was undeterred after the early Bolts tally and brought a maximum effort for the full 60 minutes. The result was a very impressive 3-1 win over Tampa and gave Grubi his first triumph of the season. Grubauer made several quality stops in this tilt and his teammates played like there was no way they were going to let Tampa take this contest.

Simply put, it was great hockey by the Capitals and shows that when they decide to work and stick to the system, they can play with anyone in the NHL.

Alex Ovechkin (15th goal), Devante Smith-Pelly, and Jay Beagle (empty net) all scored for Washington in this game, one in which the Capitals never let up and dominated the majority of the play. The Caps outshot the Bolts, 38-26, and they had a lot of quality scoring chances. After it was 1-0, the Capitals generated several great opportunities to tie the game, but as has been their issue for several years now, they over passed the puck and failed to capitalize on those chances. T.J. Oshie had a couple of golden opportunities, but the Osh Babe uncharacteristically passed when he should’ve shot.

The Caps finally evened things up with 1:24 remaining in the opening frame when they converted on a three on two rush. The great Nicklas Backstrom carried the puck up the middle of the ice and he dished it to his right as they crossed the offensive blue line. Tom Wilson received that pass and with #19 heading straight to the net, the passing lane to Ovechkin opened up and Willy put it perfectly on the Gr8’s stick. Ovi then made no mistake about depositing the puck into the cage.

Washington would keep pressing the play getting the better of the scoring chances, but Tampa had their share, as well, only to be thwarted by Grubauer.

What happened next was karma for the hard work displayed by all 18 Caps skaters in this contest. Dmitry Orlov spotted Smith-Pelly open up the middle of the ice and he fed #25 just before the Tampa blue line. Smith-Pelly carried the puck into the offensive zone and quickly dished it to his left to Beagle. DSP then made a bee line to the front of the net and the very smart Beagle shot the biscuit. The puck hit Bolts goalie Andrei Vasilevksiy in the pads and bounced right to Johnny on the spot, Smith-Pelly, for a sweet rebound goal with 5:24 to go in the middle frame. It was simple and solid hockey and it was exactly what the Capitals needed to seize the lead against a very good Tampa squad.

In the third period, Washington kept the pressure up and didn’t sit back. They finally were able to clinch the victory when Beagle hit the empty net with 2:08 remaining.

This hard earned victory improved the Caps record to 13-10-1 (27 points) and they’ll head to the Big Smoke on Saturday for a date at the Air Canada Centre against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It wasn’t a fancy or pretty win, but it was a very good one as the Caps worked hard for 60 minutes and didn’t let Tampa seize any real momentum. Sure the Bolts scored first, but Washington played great hockey and deserved this victory, the Capitals second one in a row and their third in four games.

Now they have to head to Toronto to try and sweep their first set of back to back games this season. If they put in the effort they displayed on Friday evening, they should finally get the job done.

Notes: Grubauer stopped 25 of the 26 shots he faced…Braden Holtby will get the start on Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada…the Caps destroyed Tampa at the dot going 40-18. Beagle was 14-3…Tampa had the shot attempt advantage at 68-64…Ovechkin had 14 shot attempts, including nine on net. He now has 15 goals in 24 games (51 goal pace). He looks much more comfortable playing with Backstrom (cue Reunited by Peaches and Herb)…Matt Niskanen played his best game of the season logging a team leading 24:30 and he was a +3…Lars Eller had five shots on goal and was 9-2 in draws…Tampa was 1 for 3 on the power play while the Capitals went 0 for 3.

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Eller Isles

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Eller and Holtby Lead the Caps over the Islanders

Posted on 02 November 2017 by Ed Frankovic

They always say goaltending is the great equalizer in hockey, and Thursday night’s Caps-Islanders game proves that axiom.

Lars Eller scored two goals and added an assist as Washington’s third line was dominant all evening and Braden Holtby stopped 35 of 38 shots, many of them of the high danger variety, to give the Capitals a much needed 4-3 victory over the New York Islanders at Capital One Arena.

The Isles outplayed the Caps quite a bit in this one, outshot attempting the home squad, 72-48, including 38-19 in shots on goal for the game and 16-2 in the third period. Jaroslav Halak, however, was a sieve for New York in net while the Holtbeast bailed out numerous Caps turnovers and soft plays in this affair.

The triumph puts Washington back to .500 at 6-6-1 (13 points) and improves their home record to 2-3.

Here are eight thoughts on this ugly win.

  1. Chandler Stephenson, Eller, and Tom Wilson were the best line on the ice for the Caps. Not only did they score three times (Taylor Chorney scored the Caps 1st goal from the point with Willy parked in front of the net), they drew two penalties. Washington really needed some production from the bottom six and the third line delivered.
  2. Alex Chiasson hasn’t had much production in his short time with the Caps, but he did do something only a few guys were doing on Thursday night, he shot the puck. #39 had two of the Capitals 19 shots on goal (Eller had three) and his second period laser just 12 seconds after Anders Lee had knotted the game, gave Washington a one puck lead heading into the final frame. Chiasson still has a lot of work to do to deserve to stay in the lineup, most notably, he needs to be quicker and also do a better job of winning board battles. He’s basically playing right now due to injuries to Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky.
  3. Did I mention that Halak stunk tonight? I guess the Caps top six didn’t get that memo because they repeatedly over passed all game. This was not smart hockey. One time the Caps had a three on one break and didn’t even get off a shot on goal. This over passing pattern needs to cease and desist and it’s the top guys who are most guilty. Simplify your game and get the puck on net, especially when the opposing goalie doesn’t appear to be able to stop a beach ball! Halak gave up four goals on 19 shots. He was horrendous and cost his team the game.
  4. Speaking of not playing smart hockey, Washington was whistled for another too many men on the ice penalty and it took the Islanders just 21 seconds to tie the game at two. How does this keep happening this season? The coaches and players better figure out the line changes fast or people are going to lose their jobs over that type of brain dead hockey.
  5. In honor of Halloween, the Caps special teams should be featured on Count Floyd’s Monster Chiller Horror Theatre this week with Alan May filling in for the great Joe Flaherty. The power play was a train wreck with soft perimeter passing that the Islanders easily exploited with hard work. The best chance on the Capitals four power plays was a Casey Cizikas shorthanded breakaway that the Holtbeast fortunately gobbled up. Washington’s penalty killing unit continued to underwhelm going two for four. On the first Isles power play tally John Carlson doesn’t cover one of the hottest goal scorers in the league, John Tavares, off of the faceoff because he gets caught puck watching. #91 is initially denied by the great Holtby in close, but then he deposits the rebound since #74 is slow to arrive. “Scary stuff, Kids!!!” is the best way to sum up the Capitals special teams. Coach Barry Trotz and assistant Coach Blaine Forsythe better fix this mess quickly!
  6. If tomorrow was Christmas, I’d give Evgeny Kuznetsov a yo-yo because that’s the way his season has gone so far. One night he looks like the best player on the planet (see the Edmonton win) and then some nights he’s just invisible. I don’t think #92 won a single board battle against the Islanders. He looked out to lunch the whole game. It was a pitiful effort and inexcusable for a guy making $7.8M a season. It’s hard for Alex Ovechkin to do what he does best, score, when his center is continually making poor decisions or not working hard enough to get the puck for his team.
  7. Rookie Madison Bowey was really good again on the back end in 13:25 of ice time. His alert play and drive to the net on Eller’s first goal was just smart and talented hockey. Even though Lee scored the Islanders third goal with #22 covering him, he still played very well and was another reason the Caps had a chance in this affair. That Islanders third goal was primarily on the bad icing by Dmitry Orlov and then Kuznetsov losing a key defensive zone draw. When Matt Niskanen returns from injury, Bowey better not be the guy sent back to Hershey, he has proven to be a very solid right handed blue liner and he has four assists in eight games. I like a Niskanen-Carlson-Bowey right side of the ice on defense.
  8. A guy who takes a lot of abuse from the over Corsi focused crowd, but is playing some outstanding hockey is Brooks Orpik. With Niskanen out, #44 has really stepped up and he logged 24:33 of ice time and was +2 in this one. The 37 year old is in outstanding shape and is playing far more minutes than normal, but he’s getting it done. With the erratic play of Orlov since Niskanen went out injured and rookie Christian Djoos’ defensive zone weaknesses, Coach Trotz has turned to “Batya” to stabilize the back end and he’s done just that.

Overall, the Capitals should be thankful that Holtby was superb and Halak was a hunk of swiss cheese in this game because the Caps were outworked and probably deserved to lose.

There are a lot of things that need fixing in the Capitals game and it starts with effort from some of the top guys. Special teams are on the list shortly thereafter. They are 3-5 without Niskanen and it’s not clear, at this time, if he’ll be able to return next Tuesday in Buffalo when he’s eligible to come off of long term injured reserve. Matt’s absence is putting pressure on the team’s depleted depth that took a big hit with the expansion draft and the salary cap restrictions. They are 0-3 in back to back games and they will do that again next week when they face Arizona on Monday and then the Sabres in Buffalo on Tuesday. Before that happens, though, they’ll face Boston in Beantown on Saturday night.

Those three squads aren’t exactly world beaters, but neither are the Capitals the way they are playing right now. More guys need to get dialed in and work harder and smarter, otherwise the teams in their division will start pulling away in the standings.

There is definitely room for concern with this club right now, and it isn’t all due to a reduced level of talent, there is plenty of it there to win games.

They are very lucky, right now, to have an all world goalie in Holtby, because he was the difference on Thursday night.

All hail the Holtbeast!

Notes: Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 27:28…Ovechkin had only six shot attempts and just two shots on goal. A winger needs his center to get him the puck. Kuzy didn’t do that on Thursday…Chorney scored a goal, but took a bad penalty in the third period. He only played 12:16, lowest of all Caps defensemen…the Caps were at least good overall in face-offs going 32-20. Eller was 9-3. Kuznetsov was 8-3, but had the costly lost draw after an icing in the final frame that led to the Islanders third goal…Devante Smith-Pelly had four hits and Wilson had three, one of #43’s was a neutral zone doozy…Stephenson had two assists, including a “Backstrom-esque” feed on Eller’s first goal.

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Backy Holts

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10 Thoughts After a Huge Caps Win in Edmonton

Posted on 29 October 2017 by Ed Frankovic

After Thursday’s debacle in Vancouver, Capitals Coach Barry Trotz talked about the Caps need to simplify their game and play smarter. They had gotten into a terrible pattern of turning pucks over in all zones and taking too many penalties.

On Saturday night in Edmonton, against the high flying Oilers, things started poorly once again for the Caps. Connor McDavid used his speed to generate a chance and Washington’s defense was exposed badly leading to a rebound tally 7:44 into the contest. Then with 2:05 left in the first frame Adam Larsson took advantage of some bad Capitals clears and beat Braden Holtby (38 saves) short side from the slot. Shortly thereafter, the Oilers nearly made it 3-0 and it was looking like the Canucks game all over again.

At that point, one had to wonder if the Caps had the resolve to fight through the adversity and turn the ship around.

Then they made a play that turned the game their way late in the period. John Carlson made a super rush up the ice beating the Edmonton defender in the neutral zone with a sweet chip off of the boards to himself and then #74 fed Devante Smith-Pelly, who was going to the net on the left wing side, with Alex Ovechkin charging down the middle of the ice drawing the Oilers D. DSP one timed Carlson’s feed past Cam Talbot and with just 18 seconds left in the period, the Caps were only down 2-1.

It was a huge momentum boost for Washington and that gave them the confidence they needed to stick to their game and grind their way back into this affair on Hockey Night in Canada.

The Capitals would score four more goals, with the fifth going into an empty net by Jay Beagle with 19 seconds left, to win, 5-2. Their record is now 5-5-1 as they head to Calgary for Sunday night’s tilt at the outdated Saddledome.

Here are 10 thoughts on this huge victory for Ovechkin and company:

  1. I was very critical of Evgeny Kuznetsov after his poor first period in Vancouver on Thursday night. He was not playing well in his own end and he took a very bad penalty when it was 1-0. On Saturday at Rogers Place, #92 was dominant. Centering Ovechkin and DSP, that line was really rolling and Kuzy notched the game winning goal by going to the net and deflecting home a feed from the Gr8 just 30 seconds into period three. Then with 4:04 left he made a dazzling move to split the Oilers defense and bank one in off of Talbot’s pads to seal the deal for the Caps. Kuznetsov, who has a major tendency to be a pass first, second, and third guy and become predictable, was anything but that in this affair. He had five shots on net in nine shot attempts and he nearly had a hat trick, hitting the cross bar after it was 4-2. He still needs to improve his defensive zone coverage, but that’s the Kuznetsov Brian MacLellan backed the Brinks truck up to pay long term.
  2. Carlson was another guy who has been playing very inconsistently and things looked to continue that way when he made a bad early offensive zone turnover that resulted in an odd man rush against. However, #74, who logged 28:51, most of it with the Capitals most reliable defensemen this season, Brooks Orpik (27:47), had arguably his best game of the campaign. He had six shot attempts and really was strong on the back end. When Carlson is paired with a defensive minded blue liner he seems to excel. Coach Trotz was smart to reunite 44-74 with Matt Niskanen out of the lineup due to his hand injury. Carlson and Orpik are still playing too many minutes, but that’s the way it has to be until #2 returns.
  3. Ovechkin was a big factor in this game in just 16:22 of ice time. The Gr8 had three assists, only one of which was the primary one, but his pass to Madison Bowey with the Caps on a delayed penalty advantage was simple, but very smart. Bowey, who is still learning but has the tools to be a really solid NHL professional, fed Lars Eller and #20 lasered it by Talbot to tie the game up just before the game’s halfway point. That whole sequence was set up by Tom Wilson drawing a penalty by going to the net and getting mugged. On the night, Alex was +4 and had nine shot attempts and four hits.
  4. Eller, outside of his penalties, turned in one of his best games as a Capital and it was really needed. He had a goal and an assist in only 13:30 of ice time. He had six shots on goal and his line (Chandler Stephenson and Wilson) put pressure on the Oilers defense allowing the Kuznetsov line to shine.
  5. It’s amazing what getting your best player back, Nicklas Backstrom, does to stabilize a lineup. With Nicky out on Thursday the Capitals looked like one of the worst teams in the league as Kuznetsov and Eller couldn’t step up to fill the void. With #19 back in, everyone was back in their proper slots and the Caps looked like a different squad. Backstrom had 0 points in 18:06, but he took on some of Edmonton’s top guys allowing the rest of the team to win their matchups and ultimately the game.
  6. This game is not won without the goaltending of the Holtbeast (38 saves). After a poor middle period in Vancouver, Braden was dialed in and made numerous big stops, which he often made look routine. Everything in hockey starts with the goalie and goes out and Washington needed a rebound performance from #70 and he delivered – big time!
  7. Some people got upset when Coach Trotz talked about the Capitals simplifying their game and playing smarter, but he’s right. This club does not have the talent it had the last two seasons to play a wide open game where you trade chances with the opposition. The Capitals were trying to do that too much and with some really green guys on the back end, that method was not going to work. There is nothing wrong with making the smarter plays coming out of your own end and in the neutral zone to result in getting more pucks on net and behind the other’s team’s defense. That type of hockey wears out the opponent. On Saturday the Caps, for the most part, dumped that stupid cross ice pass that had been getting them in trouble in all zones and took a more North-South approach. They stuck to their game plan and found a way not to panic after it was nearly 3-0 (a Holtby stop literally saved the game just before DSP scored). Patience paid off.
  8. Bowey had two assists in only 13:46 of ice time, but this kid has all of the tools to be a really strong NHL defensemen. I like the way he’s playing smart and making the simple plays, especially in his own end.
  9. Christian Djoos only played 13:53, but he was +2. He is very good in the offensive end, however, his defensive zone is a major work in progress. He needs to learn to not try and use the weak backhanded pass and instead hold on to the puck and take a hit along the wall. That way he isn’t putting the biscuit in a vulnerable spot and eventually he’ll get a teammate in to help him. Some of the plays he is making are why he gets called “soft,” at times. A solid blue liner knows he needs to sacrifice his body while waiting for reinforcements to arrive. Get rid of the backhand passes, eat the puck along the wall, and he’ll see better defensive results which should eventually lead to more minutes.
  10. The Caps had zero power plays in this game, although had Eller not scored on the delayed infraction, they would’ve gotten one. The zebras missed some calls on the Oilers, most notably a trip on Oveckhin and a too many men infraction. Edmonton went 0 for 4 with the man advantage. Washington was better at not taking bad penalties. They had two delay of game calls, an iffy interference on the Saturday recal from Hershey, Anthony Peluso, and a hold on Eller. Keeping it to three or less opponent power plays is the magic number to better success for the Capitals.

Overall, this was a well earned victory for the Caps and has to give them confidence that if they play a more structured and simple game, they have a much better chance of winning, especially with the goaltending they have and the quick strike firepower they possess in Ovechkin and company on the high end. It’s the gambling passes and penalties that have been killing this team early on. On Saturday night, they got back to the basics and scored five goals. That’s how it’s done!

Notes: Shot attempts were 76-57 for the Oilers. Shots on goal were 40-30 for Edmonton…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 37-24, but Beagle was 9-4…Eller took three minor penalties, two of which were pucks shot over the glass.

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