Tag Archive | "Oates"

Holtby Stones Devils in Caps 3-0 Win

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Holtby Stones Devils in Caps 3-0 Win

Posted on 09 February 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals played three games this week and allowed only three goals getting super net minding from Michal Neuvirth on Tuesday in a 1-0 loss to the Islanders and then Braden Holtby in a 4-2 victory on Thursday against Winnipeg and a shutout of the New Jersey Devils on Saturday in a 3-0 win.

In all three contests the goaltenders did their job and held the Capitals in the game. Unfortunately, Washington was only able to win two of those three contests.

Goaltending is not the major issue in Washington. Holtby, Neuvirth, and even Philip Grubauer have all played well for the Caps this season. If there is an issue on this team, it’s on inconsistent defensive zone play and up front, where scoring, outside of Alexander Ovechkin, has been tough to find.

But back to the goalies, and specifically, Holtby. The young netminder has been very good in his short career with Washington and #70 nearly carried his club to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2012. Last year, Braden had a tough game seven against the Rangers, but let’s be honest, the Capitals lost that series because they couldn’t put the biscuit in the basket, not due to the play of Holtby.

Fast forward to this season where Holtby came out of the gate playing well behind a very young and suspect defense. Then starting with a loss to Pittsburgh in late November, things kind of went off of the rails for the Saskatchewan native. There was talk of the coaching staff trying to change the way Holtby played with a focus on him not being so aggressive and his positioning being deeper in his cage. It was a big change for the goalie and he went into a tailspin. Suddenly longer range shots were getting by him and compounding the problem was a defense that gave up too many odd man rushes and often screened their goalie or deflected shots, making not playing the angles as much more of a liability.

But in some recent relief appearances and then the two games this week, #70 was back to his “original” self. After his third shutout of this season on Saturday, I asked Holtby what was going on and if the talk of changing his game was true.

“There’s been talk of it from the start of the year to try and change things. The last two games I’ve just played like what’s got me here. So Olie and I are really getting back to our basics and it’s working out,” said Holtby.

Clearly Holtby, in his response to me, was not comfortable with the different style. The coaches were trying to make adjustments, perhaps because the defense was so green, but they clearly weren’t working for a guy this team believes is their number one goalie long term. Basically, they traded away Semyon Varlamov, who just signed a five year $30M contract with Colorado and will be starting for Team Russia in next week’s Olympics, to give the cage to Holtby.

A coach’s job is to try and make a player perform at peak efficiency, but sometimes they can over think a situation. There aren’t many goalies that have the ability to play deep in their net and be successful like Henrik Lundqvist is able to do on a regular basis. In an interview on Sirius XM radio just this week, Calgary Flames Director of Amateur Scouting, Tod Button, stated what I just wrote about Lundqvist. Button basically said that Lundqvist is the exception to the rule when talking about what the Flames are doing with their young up and coming goalie, Joni Ortio. Button said that a lot of the European goalies play that “deeper in the net” style but in the NHL, the shooters are so good that they’ll eat you up, so you have to teach them to be more aggressive.

Holtby was always an aggressive goalie and the direction the Caps were going with him this year was to be less that way. It wasn’t working. But credit both Holtby and Olie Kolzig for working through this and getting #70 back to doing what is most comfortable for him. Based on the way Holtby played this week and has played in the past before the style changes, and given what Button stated (and it is a common thought around the league), letting Holtby be Holtby makes the most sense.

On Saturday, Holtby was the primary reason the Caps won. The Devils had 11 of the first 16 shots on goal and #70 made some big stops, including a two on one early on. I asked Braden what his toughest save of the night was and if it was that stop on the odd man rush. He said that was a good one but it wasn’t as difficult and you might think.

“Those look harder than they actually are if your d-man plays them right like they did and chooses to take away one, the shot or the pass. He chose the shot so I knew he was passing it, which makes it a lot easier on me,” stated Holtby on the sequence that led to a super left pad save.

Holtby did say that New Jersey did a good job of generating traffic and he did get some breaks. Patrick Elias had a golden chance in front in period two but somehow shot the puck wide.

“They put a lot of traffic in front, though, they are right on top of me all night, so a couple of lucky bounces and fighting through screens,” said Holtby describing the challenge he faced with the Devils on Saturday.

Holtby was certainly the number one star, but the other goalie, Cory Schneider, was good too. It took a shot from Julien Brouillette through traffic to beat a goalie many felt, including me, should be on Team USA next week. The goal was the young defensemen’s first in the NHL and it was all the Caps needed, although Martin Erat (1st goal of the year) and Troy Brouwer added empty net tallies.

This was a win the Capitals had to have heading into the Olympic break. They trail the 3rd place Philadelphia Flyers by three points with 23 games to go. The Capitals won their first Metropolitan Division game in their last eight tries to keep pace. The schedule gets extremely tough in March so the Capitals had to get at least six of the eight points on this recent four game homestand. They did that, primarily due to good goaltending from Holtby and Neuvirth.

The Caps will need both, and especially Holtby, who Coach Adam Oates said would be the starter coming out of the Olympic break, to be on their respective games.

It looks like Holtby is back in top form and you can credit that to the mutual decision to allow him to go back to the style that’s made him most successful in his career.

Notes: Alex Oveckhin had an assist and was +2 in 20:48 of ice time…John Carlson led Washington in ice time with 25:11…the Caps killed off all three New Jersey power plays but went 0 for 4 in their man advantage situations. Oates blamed that lack of PP success on poor reads, although the bad ice surface, due to an early basketball game, was a factor also, in my opinion.

 

 

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Ovechkin’s 40th Goal of Season Wins it for Caps

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Ovechkin’s 40th Goal of Season Wins it for Caps

Posted on 06 February 2014 by Ed Frankovic

After 40 minutes, things were looking bleak for the Washington Capitals. They were trailing the Winnipeg Jets, 2-1, and were being outplayed and out shot, 30-18. A loss would surely do major damage to any playoff hopes they still had remaining.

Luckily for the Caps, Braden Holtby, who was a surprise starter after Michal Neuvirth came down with an illness, was excellent in the cage (34 saves) and kept Washington in it.

Then, in the final frame, Washington played one of its’ best 20 minutes of the season totally dominating the Jets on the shot clock, 12-6, and more importantly, 3-0 on the scoreboard to get a much needed 4-2 victory.

The win moves the Caps to 26-23-9 (61 points) and keeps them three points out of a playoff spot.

Tom Wilson, Alexander Ovechkin, and Troy Brouwer all scored in the third period because the Capitals started moving their feet and going to the net. All four Washington tallies (Brouwer had the first one, as well) were from the Caps crashing the cage. That’s the way you have to score in the NHL because the goalies are so good.

The effort in the last period was excellent and makes you wonder why this team can’t do that more often despite some holes in the lineup?

Going into the game, the Caps called up rookie defensemen Patrick Wey and Julien Brouillette to replace a demoted Tyson Strachan (sent to Hershey) and a struggling John Erskine. Both of those guys did okay in their almost 15 minutes of ice time together and finished +2. Brouillette made a nice play to set up Wilson’s goal with Wey getting an assist on the tally, too. Those two blue liners played a simple game.

Ovechkin’s tally was his 40th of the season after Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist) was decked in the crease. It was a gritty goal and was the game winner. The Gr8 had nine shot attempts and four hits in this tilt in 20:35 of ice time.

The first 40 minutes were maddening, though. On the first Jets goal, Karl Alzner misplayed John Carlson’s (25:26 of ice time) pass around the boards and Martin Erat was late in coverage on Bryan Little. That allowed Little to get credit for the tally after Holtby stopped the initial shot following a nice pass from Andrew Ladd. The goal actually went in off of Erat’s skate. The second goal, the only marker of the second period, was even worse as both Washington defensemen were in position with Marcus Johansson skating back as the third forward. For some reason, MJ90 failed to turn around and find the third Jet up the ice, Dustin Byfuglien, and #33 received a pass from Devon Setoguchi in the slot and buried it, top shelf. Johansson, who did have two assists including a sweet feed to Brouwer on the fourth goal, has to be more alert and bear down defensively on those plays. Overall, Washington was a victim of not moving their feet in those first two periods.

But somehow they managed to find another gear in the final 20 minutes and save their playoff push, for now. Falling five points back, at this point, might be too much to overcome. They still have a rough road ahead to climb back into a playoff spot, especially if they perform like they did on Tuesday against New York and in the first 40 minutes versus Winnipeg.

Bottom line, over the last 24 games the team needs to be much more consistent and skate like they did in the third period if they want to make it into a seventh straight post season.

Notes: Connor Carrick and Dmitry Orlov were paired together and played just under 20 minutes of ice time…the Caps won the face off battle, 33-24…Wilson played 8:07 and I’d love to see Coach Adam Oates get him out there on the struggling Caps power play. Washington was 0 for 4 with the man advantage and they could use Wilson’s size and hands to shake things up…the Caps only took one minor penalty, that is a huge step in the right direction given their recent propensity to end up in the sin bin…next up are the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night at 8pm at the Verizon Center.

 

 

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Ovechkin OT Goal Gives Caps Super Bowl Sunday Win

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Ovechkin OT Goal Gives Caps Super Bowl Sunday Win

Posted on 02 February 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin, who shanked a one timer near the end of the first period that would’ve given the Capitals a 4-1 lead, made no mistake when given a second chance in overtime. The Gr8 took John Carlson’s perfect pass on a 4 on 3 power play and lasered it by Wings goalie Jimmy Howard to give Washington a 6-5, OT victory on Super Bowl Sunday.

The win improved the Caps to 25-22-9 (59 points) and puts them just a point out of a playoff spot.

This was one of those games that fans love and coaches mostly despise. There was lots of end to end action and numerous mistakes, which drives coaches nuts. But from a viewing perspective, it was exciting.

From a Caps angle, this game had several things to like.

First, the effort was superb from the outset. Washington, after getting thoroughly dominated in puck possession on Friday in Motown, owned the biscuit for the first half of this contest in racing to a 4-2 lead. The Capitals are scoring goals again because they are moving their feet and paying the price to get to the front of the opposition net. They are finally owning that portion of the ice and they are getting the gritty and greasy goals necessary to win. Joel Ward (2 goals, 1 assist) and Jason Chimera (1 goal, 2 assists) were the kings of that on Sunday.

Second, Washington’s forecheck generated turnovers and Martin Erat and Nicklas Backstrom’s pressure in the offensive zone directly led to a nice top shelf goal by Troy Brouwer that put the Capitals up 5-4 early in period three.

Third, the power play is clicking again and making life miserable for the opposition. The Wings tried to take Ovechkin away on the 5 on 4 and all Coach Adam Oates and company did was adjust and get two power play markers in what pretty much became 4 on 3 situations with the Gr8 blanketed. Ward tallied from the slot and John Carlson scored with a bomb from the point. Ovechkin’s game winner was on a real 4 on 3, so the Caps were 3 for 6 with the man advantage on Sunday.

Fourth, puck possession is easier to gain when you win the face off battle. Washington was 46-30 on draws and that forced Detroit to chase the Caps to try to get the biscuit for much of the game. Jay Beagle went 14-5 from the dot.

Finally, Michal Neuvirth, despite giving up five goals, was really good in net again. His pad save on Henrik Zetterberg (3 assists) with the game tied in the third period allowed the Caps to win this contest. Neuvy is in a groove and he told me afterwards he’s playing the best he has been all season. He feels comfortable and focused in the cage and he stated that the coaches have only made minor changes to his game, which allows him to play the way he’s always played.

So why did the Capitals do so many good things and still need overtime to win?

Well, let’s start with untimely penalties. Connor Carrick’s cross check in the opening frame turned a 2-0 lead into a 2-1 contest in just nine seconds. Worse though was Brouwer’s neutral zone slash with the score 4-2 late in period two. That is a killer infraction and one that gave Detroit new life when the Capitals were close to putting a stranglehold on this tilt. Brouwer has to be smarter in that situation as his penalty was selfish and lazy. I imagine Troy would be the first to tell you he hosed up there (and he did score a big goal in period three to help make up for it).

Next, the Caps defensive zone continues to have issues, particularly in coverage. After the game I asked Oates why they are giving up so many goals when it appears they have players in position to defend. The bench boss said it is simply a case of not winning the “one on one battles.” He’s right about that and it is a pattern we’ve seen too often this season. So is it a question of a lack of focus or an ability issue in their own end? My take is it is a combination of both, but I put more of it on the talent side as Washington’s defense is very inexeperienced after Carlson and Karl Alzner (Mike Green missed his second straight game due to injury).

Bottom line is this team is going to have to work super hard at both ends to overcome the defensive zone issues they have in order to climb their way into post season position. They also need to be more self disciplined by staying out of the box.

Last year the Capitals went on an amazing run down the stretch to make the playoffs by bringing a great effort each night and cutting down on penalties. That run came after a tough loss in Pittsburgh last March where the Caps played well and fell, 2-1. The Capitals fed off of the positives of that difficult loss. But this season, Chimera admitted that the loss to the Penguins on January 15th, a game in which the Caps carried the play, but lost, 4-3, took some time to recover from. Their efforts after that loss were not good for a few games until they turned the corner with a 5-0 win in Montreal.

Since Montreal (outside of the Columbus loss), Washington has improved offensively by getting more bodies and pucks to the net, so that is encouraging and they’ll need to keep that up in order to win their last three games against the Islanders, Jets, and Devils before the Olympic break.

All three tilts are at the Verizon Center and if the Capitals bring the effort they brought on Sunday, then they should be able to gain some ground in the Eastern Conference this week.

 

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Embarrassing Weekend for Caps & NHL

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Embarrassing Weekend for Caps & NHL

Posted on 19 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

For those following along on this blog and in my recent radio session with Drew Forrester on WNST, the fact that the Capitals have lost five in a row is not a surprise to you. On Friday they were whipped 5-1 by the Columbus Blue Jackets and on Sunday night it was a 4-1 drubbing to the despised New York Rangers. Things are bad in Caps land, no doubt.

The optimists will point to some fancy stats, particularly the Caps 5v5 Close Fenwick percentage, and talk about how the Capitals puck possession statistics are at a season high. But that and a dollar might get you a cup of coffee these days. Washington is making far too many mistakes on the ice, to include the propensity to take terrible penalties.

They are like that NFL team that can pile up the yards on offense but turn the ball over several times a game, get flagged often, and have a weak defense. Yes, the Caps have the puck more than their opposition a lot lately, but when they lose it, the mishap is resulting in a biscuit in the back of their net far more often than the puck possession edge is leading to goals for them.

Outside of Alex Ovechkin and perhaps John Carlson, there aren’t many guys playing well right now on this club. The defense is a shambles as Washington just doesn’t have six legit NHL blue liners. After Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Mike Green, the quality takes a severe drop. Dmitry Orlov, who made the terrible turnover that started the loss to New York just 70 seconds into the game, is trying to do too much on a disastrous pairing with Green. Both 52 and 81 have the same styles but because Washington is so weak depth wise on defense, Coach Adam Oates is practically forced to play them together because the other options are far worse.

The goaltending has had its share of ups and downs and the latest casualty of a horse being ridden too hard and long appears to be Philipp Grubauer. The rookie goalie was bad on goals two and three against the Rangers and yanked for the second straight contest. He likely will be heading back to Hershey since logically the way to go right now is with Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth in goal. As for Neuvirth, with a limited goalie trade market, it makes little sense to just dump the young goalie because he wants out. Neuvy has played well in his two recent games so the smart move for the Caps is to just go with the duo they planned on having all season and then decide what to do in the off season. GM George McPhee likely can’t get a good enough return to make it worth his while to move Neuvirth. Goaltending is a precious commodity (see Edmonton and Philadelphia for examples of teams with weak net minding) so for the Caps to move a good goalie who has won a playoff series and has a salary cap friendly contract would be foolish.

As for the offense, it stinks after you get past the Gr8. Part of the problem is the defense is not good at getting the puck out of their own zone but this crew of forwards lacks chemistry and the intestinal fortitude to get the greasy goals needed to be a playoff team. They also don’t defend well either. There is an over abundance of right wings and a dearth of left wingers. Martin Erat, who asked to be traded back in November, took three minor penalties on Sunday in New York, one of which cost Green a goal. The 32 year old winger, who is on the downside of his career, is not helping his trade case, at this point.

Basically, it’s a train wreck for the Caps right now and the schedule doesn’t get any easier with a home game on Tuesday against a speedy Ottawa team (2-0 vs. Caps this season) followed by five straight games on the road.

The embarrassing weekend has dropped the Capitals out of a playoff spot and if they don’t find a way to turn things around quickly, they will be in even worse shape heading into the Olympic break in early February.

Speaking of embarrassing, the NHL should have its’ tail between its’ legs after the events of Saturday night, which was “Hockey Day” in Canada.

Let’s start with the debacle in Detroit. The Los Angeles Kings had a 2-1 lead late in regulation when a Wings point shot deflected off of the stick of a Kings defensemen up in the air and hit the netting behind the goal some 20 feet up. The puck then proceeded to ricochet off of the netting and off of the back of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick and in the cage for what the zebras called on the ice the tying goal. Kings D-man Drew Doughty immediately put his hand up to signal the puck went out of play but somehow all four officials MISSED the puck hitting the netting. Then a bigger issue comes into play. Because pucks off of the netting are not reviewable the league office in Toronto could not disallow the goal because it is not in the rule book. What a joke. If the league doesn’t immediately change that rule tomorrow then they are a disgrace. The shootout loss cost LA a critical point that could decide home ice advantage for them and the Wings got two points they desperately need, but did not deserve, in a very tight Eastern Conference playoff race. Shame on you NHL for not having this scenario covered and double shame on the blind referees who missed this obvious call.

Now for the big embarrassment of the weekend, and those of you who follow the game will be not be surprised that Vancouver Coach John Tortorella was the main culprit. The stubborn and fiery coach, who has already worn out his welcome in Tampa and New York, is currently coaching a struggling Canucks team that just went 0-3 on a road trip. Flames coach Bob Hartley, the Canucks opponent on Saturday night, put a starting lineup together that was ultra tough. Calgary has been a bad team all year but their early season strong work ethic had recently waned. So Hartley rewarded a fourth line that had scored in the previous game with a start in Vancouver. So naturally, the man who seems to look for fights, Tortorella, overreacted and put his tough guys out on the ice to start the game. The result, as many have seen, was an instant line brawl right out of Slap Shot. It was a disgrace and an embarrassment to hockey. What made things even worse was Torts, after the first period was over, was caught on Hockey Night in Canada cameras trying to get at Hartley in the entrance to the Flames locker room. A major dust up occurred with Flames goalie coach and former Washington Capital Clint Malarchuk having to be restrained from going after Torts. Tortorella’s actions after the period was over are far worse than anything else because the game should never be played off of the ice. Torts crossed the line there and should be suspended for several games and fined heavily.

Those who try to say that Tortorella’s hand was forced aren’t going to get any agreement from me. If Torts had remained calm and thought his way through things he would have put out his 2nd or 3rd line to start the game. The line brawl would not have occurred and you can bet that the referees would have been watching closely at the Flames fourth unit and whistled any penalties had they come close to crossing the line. It was an avoidable situation for Tortorella but he was too busy being hard headed and trying to “man up” that he missed a chance to teach his team the right lesson about showing self discipline. Now he’s going to sit for awhile and his ability to get his club to show restraint seems to have been diminished greatly.

What an embarrassment for hockey from Tortorella, there is no other way to put it.

 

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Oates Pleased Despite Caps Shootout Loss

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Oates Pleased Despite Caps Shootout Loss

Posted on 15 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ovechkin, Neuvirth Rally Caps Past Leafs, 3-2

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Ovechkin, Neuvirth Rally Caps Past Leafs, 3-2

Posted on 10 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fehr Propels Caps Over Bolts to Halt 4 Game Skid

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Fehr Propels Caps Over Bolts to Halt 4 Game Skid

Posted on 10 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals, losers of their last four games, desperately needed a win on Thursday night in Tampa.

After blowing a 3-1 lead, Eric Fehr deflected home a Mike Green point shot with 51 seconds left to break a 3-3 tie and end the Capitals losing skid. It was a hard earned victory and the Caps move back into 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division at 21-16-6 (48 points).

There were a lot of things to like in this game, starting with the play of goalie Philipp Grubauer (33 saves). The young netminder made one of the best saves of the year in the final frame with Washington clinging to a 3-2 lead on a two on one Tampa rush. Grubauer went to the splits and somehow managed to deny what seemed to be a sure goal for the Bolts. Yes, the Caps would yield the tying goal after that, but if that one goes in, on a shorthanded rush mind you, Washington likely doesn’t recover. The young German goalie is playing extremely well and right now is the #1 guy. Now I would rest him on Friday night when the Caps take on the Leafs at the Verizon Center (7 pm) and give Braden Holtby a start after a long flight home from Florida, but then I’d go back with Grubauer on Sunday afternoon against the Sabres.

Up front, the line of Alex Ovechkin (1 assist), Mikhail Grabovski (1 goal), and Fehr (2 goals) was outstanding generating 21 of the 57 shot attempts the Capitals had in this contest (Tampa had 58 shot attempts). On the three tallies that members of the line were involved in, they did a great job of getting traffic on the opposing net. Grabovski provided the screen on Fehr’s first tally off of a sweet pass from the Gr8. By the way, if you are one of those people who think Ovechkin is selfish with the puck and can’t pass, then I suggest you put down the dope you’re smoking and check yourself in to the next rehab center. Alex’s passing is underrated and he moved the biscuit extremely well, once again, in this one. It was his steal in the defensive zone, quick up ice rush, and good pass that set the whole winning goal sequence up.

I also liked the strong defensive play of John Carlson and Karl Alzner. That duo is as solid as it gets and neither was on the ice for a goal against. Each picked up an assist and were +1 in 26:08 and 21:52 of ice time, respectively. Carlson’s volleyball swat of a Grubauer rebound in the third period likely saved a goal.

Washington’s power play was once again a thing of beauty and they continue to find different ways to score. Grabovski got the first PPG by going to the cage and then with the Bolts over playing Ovechkin, Marcus Johansson did his best Julius Erving imitation and stuffed one home late in the opening frame to make it 3-1. The Caps also killed off the only Lightning power play so the special teams were a big factor in the victory.

Now to the things I did not like, and some of them are disturbing trends.

First, and foremost, the Capitals are allowing FAR TOO MANY odd man rushes. Two of the three Bolts goals were off of them, a first period breakaway after Troy Brouwer made a bad pass with both Dmitry Orlov and Green in poor position and a two on one in the second period when John Erskine got caught too far up the ice. On that two on one, Connor Carrick did not do a good job of letting Grubauer know the pass was going to be cut off and as a result, B.J. Crombeen beat him short side for his first goal in over 50 games. Goalies need to know where the shots are coming from to stop them and the Caps defenders are doing a lousy job of helping that occur. Washington defenders are getting caught up ice too often and the other defender is too many times doing a lousy job of playing the odd man rush. Coach Adam Oates and assistant coach Calle Johansson have got to get this team to first minimize the number of odd man breaks against, and then better prepare their defenders to play them when they do happen.

The line of Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, and Brouwer was not good. They only generated 10 shot attempts and were on the ice for two goals against, one of them the tying goal off of a defensive zone face off. Brouwer was the worst of the three with his awful turnover and then screening Grubauer on the tying goal. Either block the shot there or get out of the way. Overall, Washington’s forwards are not doing a good enough job of blocking shots this season and that needs to change. More often than not, they are screens instead of a goalie assistant in their own zone.

Erskine and whomever he is paired with continues to be a struggling duo. #4′s lack of speed is hurting him and he was woefully out of a position on the Crombeen tally.

Despite the things that still must be cleaned up, this team needed a victory and they got one against a very good Tampa team. Yes, the Bolts are without Steven Stamkos and they were just returning from a grueling road trip, but they are a quality hockey club so a win for the Caps, in regulation, is a good step in the right direction.

We’ll see if they can parlay that into a winning streak with the struggling Leafs and woeful Sabres coming to DC this weekend.

 

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Untimely Mistakes Cost Caps Again in Overtime Loss

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Untimely Mistakes Cost Caps Again in Overtime Loss

Posted on 02 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

For the third time in three games, the Washington Capitals did a lot of good things, and lost for the third straight time.

On Thursday at the Verizon Center, the Caps scored three times in the first four minutes of period two but over the other 57+ minutes they mustered 0 goals. Washington threw 41 shots at the net to just 33 for Carolina, but once again mistakes cost them a hockey game.

The early miscues were bad penalties. After a sloppy line change led to a too many men on the ice infraction, Brooks Laich tried to decapitate Alex Semin and it put Carolina, who were being totally outplayed to that point, on a 5 on 3 advantage. Jeff Skinner, who would notch a hat trick in this one after a two goal performance here back on December 3rd, would beat Philipp Grubauer as the rookie goalie over committed and flopped to the ice.

After Alex Ovechkin scored his 31st goal of the season just 49 seconds into the middle frame, John Erskine got caught pinching at the offensive blue line and the Canes scored on a two on one. The shot was short side by Manny Malhotra and it sure looked like it was a stoppable one. Troy Brouwer and Steve Oleksy would tally just 52 seconds apart and the Capitals seemed to have righted the ship to take a 3-2 lead.

However just 40 seconds later, Grubauer, who was not very good in this one, gave up a bad rebound and when Martin Erat misplayed the puck in the slot Skinner was there to make Washington pay.

In overtime, the Capitals went for the gusto and Ovechkin’s bad pass to Dmitry Orlov resulted in a three on one break against Mike Green and #52 once again failed to cut off the pass and #53 got the hattie to end this one with a victory for Carolina.

So after 41 games the Capitals are 20-15-6 (46 points) and are clinging to second place in the Metropolitan Division over a streaking Flyers club who are playing in Colorado late Thursday night.

At this point, I certainly have more questions than answers about this hockey team.

First off, is this group of defensemen the right mix to keep this club in a playoff spot, and more importantly go anywhere in the spring if they do qualify? After John Carlson and Karl Alzner you’ve a got a pairing of Green and Orlov that have the puck a lot but are also prone to disastrous mistakes. As for the third duo, Oleksy and John Erskine have not been good. I put most of that on #4 who just doesn’t seem to have the wheels to handle Oates’ pressure the puck system.

Second, what is the plan on goaltending? Coach Adam Oates has used three different goalies this season with Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer sharing much of the load over long stretches. #31 is starting to show the signs of fatigue that Holtby was displaying after he was ridden hard by the bench boss for two plus months. Both seem to be NHL calibre goalies, but the way one is being ridden into the ground while the other sits seems to be a plan that needs rethinking. Grubauer was not as good in Ottawa and got worse on Thursday at the Verizon Center. Michal Neuvirth wants out and at this point, if they could get a legitimate third pair defensemen for him, then I’d do that deal.

Finally, is this the right mix of forwards once everyone is fully healthy? Up front the Caps go long stretches without scoring. Ovechkin is getting his shots and scoring goals but there isn’t a lot of balance after that. To top it off, the forwards have been very prone to big mistakes in their own end too. Washington’s inability to play well from their goal line out isn’t all on the defense. The forwards have struggled mightily with back checking (see Canes third goal tonight) and it is hurting the Caps ability to prevent odd man breaks and quality scoring chances.

To sum it all up, what we’ve seen in 41 games is pretty much what this team appears to be made of. They have great stretches and then make horrible mistakes on some of the simplest facets of the game. Their record displays what they basically are, a mediocre hockey team. In Oates’ post game pressers he frequently refers to “the same mistakes being made over and over.” That needs fixing.

The mediocrity can’t be good enough for anyone in the Capitals organization, at this stage.

So what should they do?

With three guys requesting trades and an abundance of players in certain areas (right wing, goalie, and offensive defensemen) and major weaknesses in other areas (left wing and solid skating two way defensemen), it appears that the only way to improve this club and make them a post season threat is via the trade route. You’ve got to give up something decent to get something in return. There is nothing wrong with trading a top player from a position of strength to get a top player to fill a position of weakness. Jack Johnson from LA to Columbus for Jeff Carter in 2012 comes to mind quickly. That move was the final piece of the puzzle to a Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup run. It was the culmination of several aggressive moves by Kings GM Dean Lombardi and those changes turned a middle of the pack club into a Stanley Cup winner.

Yes, that team had Jonathan Quick in net and were good defensively, but that was primarily due to Lombardi getting the right mix of players via excellent asset management.

Your move(s) Mr. McPhee.

Notes: Shot attemps were 72-58 in favor of the Caps despite the Canes holding a 4 to 1 edge in power plays…the Caps were 41-33 from the face off dot…Ovechkin was hauled down by Justin Faulk early in the middle frame and awarded a penalty shot but the Gr8 fumbled the puck on the way in.

 

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Backstrom, Grubauer Lead Caps Over Rangers

Posted on 28 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

So much of sports can be described as a “Game of Inches.”

On Friday night at the Verizon Center, that was definitely the case as the Washington Capitals received a late goal from Eric Fehr to defeat the New York Rangers, 3-2. Fehr’s tally, his 6th of the season, was on a snap shot down the right side after a nice feed from Nicklas Backstrom (1G, 1A). Immediately before that goal, which came in a four on four situation, Dan Girardi hit the far post behind Philipp Grubauer (38 saves) after a Washington giveaway. If that puck is an inch to the right, it’s a 3-2 Rangers lead. But that’s the way it goes, and remember on Monday, if Alex Ovechkin’s shot from the slot is an inch lower than the Caps tie the Ducks late in regulation. As they say, “That’s Hockey.”

This victory improves the Caps to 20-14-4 (44 points) and puts them six points ahead of the Rangers, who they will only face one more time again this season, at Madison Square Garden.

The biggest difference in this game tonight was between the pipes. Grubauer was excellent for the Caps while Cam Talbot gave up some questionable goals. I know Talbot has been hot, but Henrik Lundqvist owns the Caps, and for some reason Alain Vigneault chose to go more with recent form than historical stats in his net minding decision. I can tell you I was certainly thrilled to not see King Henrik manning the cage for New York, so one would think the Capitals players were happy too?

The shot attempts in this contest ended up 71-55 for New York, but it was a fairly even game when it comes to quality chances. The Rangers shot attempts in the opening frame were primarily from the perimeter and it was really only the second period where they dominated play, and most of that was when the Caps had either their 4th line on the ice or their 3rd defensive pair on the blue line.

In the final period, after the Rangers got a quick tying tally on Carl Hagelin’s shorthanded goal, the Capitals carried more of the play. Coach Adam Oates did a nice job of shifting the ice time to his top two defensive pairs and limited the 3rd pair to just three and a half minutes. The difference was clearly noticeable and with the Rangers short a defensemen due to Anton Stralman’s in game injury, the Capitals seemed to wear the Rangers out more in that final frame.

Another positive was that the Caps did a better job on the back check on Friday after misreading two situations on Monday and allowing the tying and winning goal to the Ducks. Oates said that his team was better, but he also said the Rangers are a different type of team than Anaheim, which indicated it was an easier chore for his club against New York. However, Karl Alzner told me that Oates showed some video clips on back checking and King Karl said that the breakdowns on Monday were more of an individual thing. Whatever the case, Washington did a much better job in defensive zone coverage when the Rangers came up the ice on the rush.

Alzner said the team has been working more on their “end zone.” #27 said that the key to a solid back check and defensive zone is that when the puck is in the offensive zone there is always a third guy high. Some coaches require their center to always be that third guy (this is how Bryan Murray ran things for the Caps in the mid 1980′s) but many just let each shift play itself out and have the third guy be a read by the forwards themselves. From what I can gather, Oates’ system looks to be a “read and react accordingly” on the back check. So any of the three forwards could be the first player back. One thing the team is working on, according to Alzner, is more than just the third guy coming back strong because he said the coaches have pointed out it usually has been the third or even the fourth guy on the opposition that have been getting the quality chances against Washington this year.

It’s encouraging to see the focus of the team on these things and there is no doubt that practice time helps the reads and the communication, which is vital, on the ice.

As for Backstrom, he continues to dominate and any smart hockey person will tell you just how good #19 is compared to others in the league. The media may not be all over him from a publicity standpoint, but those in the game know just how good the center is and he is arguably as important to the Caps as any other player. On Friday night, Backstrom, along with Grubauer, were the primary reasons the Capitals stopped their two game losing streak.

Notes: John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 26:38. Mike Green (1G) played 19:10…the Rangers wore their top three d out with Girardi logging 27:35, Ryan McDonagh getting a game leading 29:53 and Michael Del Zotto playing 24:37…next up for the Caps are the Buffalo Sabres on the road on Sunday at 5pm.

 

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Defensive Zone Breakdowns Cost Caps in Loss to Ducks

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Defensive Zone Breakdowns Cost Caps in Loss to Ducks

Posted on 24 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

After back to back dismal efforts against mediocore teams that saw the Caps fortuitously pull out three of a possible four points last weekend, Washington was back in action on Monday night against the number one team in the NHL: Bruce Boudreau’s Anaheim Ducks, who came in with an eight game winning streak.

The Capitals played much harder in this one and actually had a 2-0 early lead, but defensive mistakes at critical times ultimately did them in once again, and they were defeated, 3-2, to drop their record to 19-14-4 heading into the Christmas break.

This was a very close game, as evidenced by the shot attempt totals, which were 57-54 in favor of the Ducks. Washington was much better than last weekend in the puck possession department but Anaheim did a superior job of getting their attempts on net, winning that battle 29-19. The Caps did a lot of good things in this game and both Marcus Johansson and Alex Ovechkin hit iron in the third frame in what is a tough loss to a very good hockey team.

After Saturday’s overtime loss to the Devils I blogged that things needed to change and it was on Coach Adam Oates and GM George McPhee to figure out whether it was the players or the system that were causing the issues. Following tonight’s game, it appears to me that effort and also focus, on the part of the players, and not the system, is the major problem. Washington was motivated on Monday and brought a passion to get and own the puck. But the Ducks are a veteran and skilled team, and going against number one isn’t all about effort and passion, it’s about playing the right way and paying attention to detail.

That is where this Capitals team is falling down, attention to detail, especially in their own end. The Caps gave up the tying tally with just 27 seconds remaining in period two. Then they gave up the game winner with 5:36 left in regulation. Both goals were the result of poor reads that led to bad defensive zone coverage. Oates confirmed that after the game. On the game winner, the forwards all got caught too low on the back check allowing defenseman Hampus Lindholm to fire a shot through a maze of bodies past Philipp Grubauer. There was a lack of communication on the part of the Washington forwards on the ice and it resulted in a lot of space and time for the Ducks defenseman to shoot and score.

Anaheim’s second tally, however, is the one that is the most upsetting and disappointing. The five guys on the ice were out for a long shift and each one can shoulder their share of the blame. We won’t point out the names, but let’s just say there were a lot of contract dollars on the ice for the home club. The initial rush by Ben Lovejoy wasn’t played properly by the Capitals defensemen, who simply stopped moving his feet. But even still, Lovejoy was just looking to center the puck and if the other defenseman and the three forwards don’t puck watch and instead cover Anaheim players, there is no quality chance or goal. That did not happen as the Caps d-man went to the wrong post and the forwards allowed Saku Koivu and Andrew Cogliano to have a clear and uncovered path to the front of the cage. The result was an easy goal for Koivu that Grubauer had no chance on.

Simply put, it was a lack of effort at the end of a long shift and poor communication, as well. In his post game presser Oates said that communication should be going on at all times on the ice and he also said that at this point in the season, the reads and positioning should be automatic. It was not on the tying tally, as well as the game winner.

Those type of mistakes not only cost a squad points in the standings, but in the bigger picture, those are the type of errors that prevent a hockey team from being one of the better clubs in the league. Washington is in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference for this exact reason, they have too many breakdowns in their own end that are costing them hockey games.

Reading Oates’ answers, expression and demeanor afterwards, I got the feeling that he’s been pointing out these things over and over to his players. These aren’t hard hockey concepts but they require a mental toughness to continue to execute when you are tired or not in a position to score a goal. Everyone loves offense, but playing proper defense is the key to winning hockey games and a Stanley Cup. The Cup winner each season knows how to do the things that allow a club to transition from offense to defense. They play their positions well, they communicate on defense, and they focus even when they are tired at the end of a shift.

It’s the things you need to do to win hockey games and ultimately a championship.

Until this Caps team is ready to commit to that, they’ll do exactly what I said after Saturday’s loss to New Jersey: they will qualify for the playoffs and then find themselves out in either round one or two.

The talent is mostly there for the Caps to go where the players say they want to go, but saying it and then doing it requires a whole different level of focus and commitment.

Right now, I question that level of commitment from several of the players on this team.

Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle, 43-25…the Caps were 1 for 5 on the power play while the Ducks went 0 for 4 with the man advantage…Brooks Laich returned to the lineup and played 13:23…Mikhail Grabovski and Nicklas Backstrom had the two goals for Washington…next up, on Friday night at the Verizon Center, for the Caps is an improving Rangers team that has won two games in a row.

 

 

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