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Caps Take Step In Right Direction With Convincing Victory

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Caps Take Step In Right Direction With Convincing Victory

Posted on 14 October 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals got a much needed 4-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night at the Verizon Center to push their overall record to 2-4. This was a game the Caps had to have to get things turned around in the right direction after three defeats in a row. Alexander Ovechkin notched the game winner scoring his sixth goal of the season and he added his third assist of the young campaign too, which gives him nine points in six contests.

Braden Holtby stopped 28 shots, many of which were key when this tilt was close for the first 30 minutes, and delivered the best goaltending game of the year for Washington. When a team is struggling, like the Caps have been in the early going, you need a goalie to step up and turn in a top notch performance, Holtbeast did just that on Monday night and he was a major reason the Capitals won the game.

The offense rose from the dead in this one against a weak Oilers team as Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, and Joel Ward all got their first tallies of the season, with Ward’s and Brouwer’s both coming on the power play. The Caps were 2 for 3 with the man advantage and were also 3 for 3 on the penalty kill. When you win the special teams battle by a +2 margin, you often win the game.

Still there are issues that need to be worked out. Edmonton really carried the play in the first period using their speed to put Washington back on their heels. The Caps seemed a step slow and they also were not moving the puck well at all. Too many passes were going east-west and in players skates. In addition, the Caps were not moving their feet and were caught reaching with their sticks in compromising positions. The Oilers were able to strike first after a neutral zone turnover and some poor coverage by the first line, once again. Down 1-0 and having trailed for most of the season, the Caps were in a sticky spot.

Fortunately, Steve Oleksy was skating well on the ice and paired with Nate Schmidt, they were arguably the best Caps d-pair in this affair. Shortly after Edmonton tallied, Oleksy alertly jumped on an Oiler turnover in the offensive zone and fed Laich for the game tying goal and that play seemed to get the giant piano off of the Capitals back. The team suddenly found their legs and started to exert more pressure on the Oilers defense.

With the Caps skating well in the middle frame, the Oilers got into penalty trouble and Washington sandwiched two man advantage tallies around Ovechkin’s sweet goal in the slot with Nicklas Backstrom screening (3 assists) goalie Jason Labarbera (16 saves). Marcus Johansson had his best shift of the game to help set that one up with some hard work on the boards and earned his 100th NHL career point in the process.

Coach Adam Oates and his team should feel some relief after getting this victory without having to sweat too much at the end. The offense came alive and that seemed to lead to an increased confidence level for Washington. Anyone who has ever played hockey, at any level, but especially in the NHL, will tell you that confidence is the most important part of a team’s game. The Caps seemed to finally get some confidence on the ice on Monday. The passing still needs to be crisper and the players have to realize that keeping their wheels moving is so important to their success. When they go back and watch the tape of this one, that should be evident.

Next up is an important affair against the Rangers at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night at 8 pm on the NBC Sports Network. The Caps need to start winning Eastern Conference games and especially those in their own division at home. They also would like to get some payback for losing to the Rags in the playoffs last spring.

Notes: Shot attempts were 48-45 in favor of Washington…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 28-26…Oates was able to spread the ice time around with the 3 goal third period lead. John Carlson led the team in ice time at 21:35 while Tom Wilson was the lowest at 8:02. Martin Erat had 11:50 and played well…Schmidt was very solid in 19:13 of ice time on the back end. #88 skates well and continues to improve.

 

 

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Caps Start 2013-14 With High Expectations Once Again

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Caps Start 2013-14 With High Expectations Once Again

Posted on 29 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It is awfully difficult to win a championship in professional sports but heading into 2013-14 that is once again the goal of the Washington Capitals, who have yet to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup since their inception in 1974. The Caps, who have made the playoffs the last six years, have another quality team as they prepare to open their season against the defending champs, the Chicago Blackhawks, in the Windy City on Tuesday night at 8pm on NBCSN.

On Sunday, Caps General Manager George McPhee made several moves to help put some clarity to the opening night roster culminating with a trade of center Matheiu Perreault to the Anaheim Ducks for a 4th round pick and AHLer John Mitchell. In addition, several players were sent to Hershey, including defenesemen Tyson Strachan and Dmitry Orlov. For now, here is what the Caps roster looks like:

Goalies (2): Braden Holtby, Michal Neuvirth

Defensemen (7): Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, John Erskine, Jack Hillen, Steve Oleksy, and Connor Carrick

Forwards (14): Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Mikhail Grabovski, Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, Martin Erat, Tom Wilson, Eric Fehr, Joel Ward, Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera, Aaron Volpatti, and Michael Latta

The move of Perreault was predicted here last week and makes sense from a hockey and salary cap standpoint. This Caps team needed to get bigger and more powerful up front and Wilson’s outstanding camp made keeping him up with the main club, rather than shipping him back to a weaker league (OHL), an easy decision. The 19 year old, who was the 16th overall pick in the 2012 NHL entry draft, brings a dimension that this Washington team needs more of in the post season: size and the ability to score the tough goals in close. Six months with Coach Adam Oates and some highly talented teammates is what is needed for Wilson to continue his development, the OHL is just not going to help him get any better.

As for the rest of the squad, the strengths appear to be in goal and up front. Braden Holtby has established himself as a number one goalie and has the chance to move into the elite category with a very strong season. As McPhee told the media last Tuesday, to win the Stanley Cup you have to have great goaltending. #70 is the guy being counted on to deliver that, but Neuvirth is a more than capable net minder and will be needed to play well so that Washington can qualify for the post season in a very competitive Metropolitan Division.

At forward, the Capitals have some serious depth on the wings but still aren’t sure who is going to be the third line center. Backstrom has the first line locked up with Grabovski manning the second unit. The club could go with Beagle as the 3rd line center and Latta pivoting the 4th to start the season, but that depends on the health of the others, primarily Laich, who has been battling a hip flexor issue. Right wing is just loaded up with Ovechkin, Brouwer, Fehr, Wilson, and Ward. Both Fehr and Erat were tried at center this preseason by Oates with some success, so the head coach has lots of options. Johansson could play 3rd line center at some point too. The Caps have not had as talented a crew of forwards to start the season in many years and with the players they have there is lots of room for flexibility.

On defense, the top three is awfully good with Green, Alzner, and Carlson. After that, it gets dicey. Erksine was super last spring in the regular season but is he really a top 4 d-man? #4 will have a chance to prove it starting this week. Oleksy came out of seemingly nowhere to take a 3rd pair spot in the spring and Hillen overcame an early season injury to play a lot of quality minutes last year. Carrick was the biggest surprise of training camp, has great offensive skills and his hockey IQ is high. Learning to play defense in the NHL is harder than any other position so Washington has to be careful to not put too much on the 19 year old, who has incredible potential. The organization still has high hopes for Orlov, but given his injury situation last season, starting him in Hershey made too much sense. The 2009 2nd round pick will play top pair minutes in the AHL and can hone his craft for what appears to be an inevitable jump back to the NHL at some point during the 82 game season.

Special teams will be an important component of Washington’s success. Last season the Caps were #1 in the NHL with the power play (26.8%). You can expect it to remain at least top 5 and Oates and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe will continually be tweaking things to counter opposition tactics. As for the penalty kill, Laich stated on Tuesday that is one of the areas this Capitals club will have to improve in if they want to do well in the regular season and playoffs. The PK has been one of the team’s weaknesses the last few years and it was 27th out of 30 in 2012-13 with a success rate of only 77.9%.

In summary, the expectations are high for this Capitals team. The playoffs are not a given, but if this club can stay relatively healthy, then they have the talent to compete for the division title. Every team in the Metropolitan Division has its issues. The Penguins are the pick of many but their goaltending and team defense certainly has its question marks. Will the Rangers respond positively to a new coach in Alain Vigneault? How will the Devils do with the departure of Ilya Kovalchuk? The Flyers added Vinny Lecavalier but will Ray Emery or Steve Mason step up and be a top goalie in a pressure packed Philly market? Are the Islanders ready to take the next step up the ladder or was their playoff run last spring a one time deal? Is Columbus going to play like the team that nearly qualified for the post season last spring or the cellar dweller crew that started 2013? Finally, will Cam Ward returning in net for Carolina propel them to a winning season? Nothing is set in stone heading into the season and in the salary cap era every team has holes and/or issues. What is important is that the Capitals get off to a good start since coming from behind in the standings is not going to be as achievable as it was in the Southeast Division.

 

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Handicapping the Caps Opening Night Roster

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Handicapping the Caps Opening Night Roster

Posted on 24 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals held their annual media day luncheon on Tuesday at Kettler IcePlex and both Owner Ted Leonsis and General Manager George McPhee made it clear that winning the Stanley Cup was once again their barometer of success.  The Caps, who have made the playoffs in six straight seasons, will not have the benefit of getting into the dance via a Southeast Division title in 2013-14. Instead they will be in the Metropolitan Division competing with the likes of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Carolina Hurricanes, and Columbus Blue Jackets. It is a tougher task, but Leonsis and McPhee both feel that this year’s club is deeper than they’ve had in several years.

As of today, the Caps have over 25 players in camp with just one week to go until the regular season opener in Chicago on October 1st. An NHL club can carry up to 23 players but they also have to be under the $64.3M salary cap. Coach Adam Oates noted that you have to factor in the dollars as well as who could get claimed for nothing via other teams on the waiver wire when finalizing the roster. Via Capgeek.com, Washington currently has 22 players at a total of $63.6M. That list of 22 players includes 13 forwards, 7 defensemen, and two goalies (Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth). So who is going to make it and who likely won’t? Here’s a look at where guys stand, from what I’ve seen in the games and gauging from comments made by Oates today:

Goalies:

In: Holtby, Neuvirth

Defensemen:

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

Likely In: Steve Oleksy, Jack Hillen

Bubble: Dmitry Orlov, Tomas Kundratek

Longshot: Connor Carrick

Forwards:

In: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich, Mikhail Grabovski, Troy Brouwer, Martin Erat, Joel Ward, Eric Fehr, Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera

Bubble: Mathieu Perreault, Aaron Volpatti, Tom Wilson

Basically, the club has some tough choices to make at defense and it gets even harder at forward. McPhee stated that they could keep 19 year old Wilson up and stay under the cap, but acknowledged he might have to move a player to do so. The GM stated that he doesn’t like to keep teenagers on the roster, but Wilson has shown he can play and is making the decision on the big right winger very difficult. Ideally, Wilson would start the season in Hershey but since he is an Ontario Hockey League draft pick, he cannot play in the AHL until he is 20 years old. It appears there isn’t much to gain for Wilson going back to his junior team (Plymouth). Sure he’d get power play time and could dominate, but he did that last season. To me, Wilson brings a dynamic this Caps team needs. The kid is big, can skate, hits, and he goes to the net. Six months under Adam Oates in preparation for the post season, in my book, is just too hard to pass up. The Capitals need another power forward who can wear opposition defenders down in the playoffs and Wilson is a player who can do that.

Keeping Wilson though, likely means a move elsewhere has to be made. That brings us to Perreault. With McPhee and Oates announcing today that Erat is going to play center in these last few preseason games, after Fehr had his trial at center last week, it sure looks like the team is looking for options other than #85 to play the pivot position. So would Perreault, who counts just over $1M on the salary cap, be the player moved if Wilson is kept up with the big club? That’s certainly one viable option. McPhee noted that the trade chatter has picked up in recent days but did acknowledge again, that making trades in the salary cap era is very hard.

On defense, it’s hard to see the six guys who finished the season in the spring not being the top six starting on October 1st. The question then is who do you keep up as the 7th guy. Orlov is a player that has an immense amount of talent but he’s coming off a difficult year healthwise. When asked about #81 today and his performance against Chicago last Friday night, Oates stated that he’s mainly looking for Dmitry to get fully comfortable in games again. To me that spells a ticket to Hershey to start the season where Orlov can get in total hockey shape before making what seems to be the inevitable jump up to the big club at some point this season. Orlov can still go to Hershey without having to clear waivers while Kundratek cannot. Thus it appears that Kundratek is the likely choice for 7th D, but given that Erskine is coming off of surgery in the spring the GM and coach may opt to keep a left handed shot around. That would give Orlov an opening. As for Connor Carrick, the youngster has had an outstanding training camp and opened a lot of eyes. He has great hockey sense and possesses some “Mike Green” like skills. The future looks bright for Carrick, but I don’t see him on the big club this season.

Another issue that needs to be factored into the roster decisions are injuries. Laich made it clear that he was not 100% today and despite playing 20 minutes in Monday’s tilt against Boston and feeling fine afterwards, he woke up this morning not feeling right. #21 says he has October 1 circled on his calendar but as Oates stated, he’s a little snakebit right now with injuries after playing over 300 straight NHL games in a row. In addition to Laich, Ward is nicked up too, so that complicates the roster decisions.

While McPhee and Oates have some really hard choices, both acknowledged that this is a good thing for the hockey team. The Capitals have some depth in their organization and Laich feels like, when healthy, the Caps will have three lines that can score. That is something Washington has not had in several years and if you can generate balance, then it makes it harder to gear a defense towards stopping Ovechkin’s line and Green on the back end. The Rangers used that tactic this past spring, especially after Erat went down with an injury early in game four, so the Capitals have to be looking for ways to have a multi-dimensional attack.

Notes: Laich stated that he’s been working with a new stick for the last six weeks and is still learning to adjust to it. The stick has a different lie and curve than what he used for the past 12 years, so this is a big change. Oates played a factor in Laich’s decision to switch and #21 talked about how passionate the head coach was on the issue. Laich joked that when you see that type of passion than “the person is either really smart or crazy!” I’ll go with the former on Oates, after all, he did go to RPI…Oates had the Caps power play clicking on all cylinders last season and when asked if he expects adjustments from other teams, he said “absolutely.” The bench boss pointed out that video is used extensively in the NHL, as much as in the NFL, and that teams will adjust to what the Caps are doing and it is on him and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe, who runs the power play, to adjust back accordingly.

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Green scores

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Caps Knock Off Jets in Preparation for Baltimore Hockey Classic

Posted on 15 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Mike Green scored on a sweet, top shelf wrister in the shootout on Saturday night to give the Washington Capitals a 4-3 victory over the Winnipeg Jets in the Kraft Hockeyville game in Belleville, Ontario. This was the Caps pre-season opener and it was played in an Ontario Hockey League barn on Olympic sized ice.

Here are my thoughts and analysis on the opening contest in a slate of eight tune ups before the regular season starts on Tuesday, October 1st in Chicago:

- The first period was fast and furious! Washington carried the large majority of the play and the skill of the Caps really came out on the big ice. The Capitals had numerous scoring chances in a scoreless first frame but Winnipeg’s goaltender, Edward Pasquale, was the reason no red lights were turned on.

- Braden Holtby, outside of a second period turnover, was very aggressive and solid playing the puck. His stickhandling ability is a big advantage for the Caps and I expect Coach Adam Oates to make more use of it this season, especially since he has a full training camp to implement things.

- Speaking of Holtby, he made some good saves, but like many other NHL goalies, will have to adjust to the new net sizes. The Jets second tally came on a wraparound goal that is made easier by the changes made to the back of the cage (the shooting area in the front is still the same).

- 19 year old Tom Wilson is on a quest to make the Caps opening night roster and he did a lot of good things in this tilt. He continued to take the body but playing with Jay Beagle and Aaron Volpatti, he was a force on the ice. He showed solid speed and had some chances to score. In addition, he set up his teammates for scoring opportunities. Overall, #43 had a very positive first pre-season contest and he will challenge hard for a roster spot.

- Stanislav Galiev, Washington’s 3rd round choice in 2010, was involved in several quality scoring chances for Washington. The Russian winger, who didn’t tally in 17 games with Hershey last season and ended up playing 46 tilts in the ECHL with Reading, also scored a goal going to the net. #49 looks much improved and if he can play and contribute in Hershey this season, that would be a big step for his development.

- Alex Ovechkin took a nasty high stick that got lodged up under his visor in the opening frame, but after some stitches, the Gr8 returned to the game in the first frame and played his normal shift the rest of the night. Ovechkin continues to be a member of the “Eats Rocks for Breakfast” club.

- Washington’s power play was a mixed bag on the night. They failed to score on the four minute minor doled out after Ovechkin was mauled and had a four on three in overtime that they didn’t connect on, as well. However, they tied the game midway through the third period on a nifty passing play between Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, and Troy Brouwer. #20 got the tally from his normal spot, in the slot and in the middle of the opposition’s penalty killing box configuration.

- As one would expect, after the high tempo first period, the pace started to slow and the lack of game conditioning brought on a sloppier brand of hockey.

- Pasquale was the reason this contest went to the extra frame and gimmick, but Philipp Grubauer certainly showed he still has NHL ability. #31 didn’t allow a Jet to score in the shootout and he earned the victory in a barn he used to play in regularly.

- While the Caps owned the Jets last season, it will be nice to not have to face Evander Kane on a regular basis. #9 is a Caps killer and he had two tallies on Saturday night. Kane is a stud at wing and if he ever gets some decent line mates, look out!

- Jack Hillen got Washington on the board with a quick shot from the left side and he was paired with Steven Oleksy on defense. The other d-pairs were Green with Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt with Connor Carrick. Schmidt wore #88 and is a free agent signed out of the University of Minnesota that played in Hershey last spring. He had a decent game and showed some serious potential.

On Monday night, the Capitals will take on the Flyers in Philadelphia. Per Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps), Washington will field a lineup that will not include any players from Saturday’s game against Winnipeg. On Tuesday, the Capitals host the Eastern Conference Champion Boston Bruins at the Baltimore Arena in the 2nd Annual Baltimore Hockey Classic. The last one was a great event except for the ice conditions, but that issue has been addressed and there should be some quality hockey played. Game time is 7pm in Charm City.

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Ribeiro OT Tally Gives Caps a 3-2 Series Lead

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Ribeiro OT Tally Gives Caps a 3-2 Series Lead

Posted on 11 May 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The New York Rangers had the Washington Capitals on the ropes early on in game five on Friday night.

Brian Boyle scored after a vicious forecheck just 53 seconds into the contest and then for the next 10 or so minutes New York was all over Washington. The Blueshirts received two power plays and were dominating play. But Braden Holtby (24 saves) made some big stops and the Caps rode the energy from the crowd at the Verizon Center until they could find their legs.

Then Coach Adam Oates, aided by his assistant coaches, made an adjustment that helped change the course of the game. Oates switched his defensive pairs moving a more mobile Jack Hillen with John Carlson on the second defensive duo while John Erskine slid down and skated with Steve Oleksy to start period two. The move, which Oates credited to assistant coach Calle Johansson, gave the Capitals some better matchups on the ice and they slowly started to take over the game. After trailing in shots late in the first period, 10-5, they would out shoot the Rangers 30-15 over the remainder of contest but it took Mike Ribeiro to tally in overtime to win, 2-1.

After game four I blogged about the importance of home ice, adjustments, and the influence of last change in the matchups. All three were a factor on Friday night. In addition to the defensive pair adjustment personnel wise, the Caps made a minor move on their power play that allowed Joel Ward to score just 14 seconds into their first man advantage and tie the game. Alex Ovechkin (9 shots on goal) was moved closer to the net and that seemed to confuse the Rangers, who were all set to once again deny both Mike Green and the Gr8 shots from higher up in the offensive zone. The shift created a 4 on 3 down low and opened up the passing lanes in the high slot, which is where Ward shot from to score.

Home ice was also critical, not just because the fantastic Verizon Center faithful were extremely loud and provided energy, but the Washington forwards could put their stick down second on faceoffs and Oates could work the matchups in his favor. In game four the Capitals were beaten soundly, 34-19, on draws but in game five Washington held a 42-30 advantage from the dot. Ribeiro was a super 19-8 and that was a big difference in the hockey game. That second line with #9, Troy Brouwer, and Eric Fehr was very strong for the Caps and they received right around 21 minutes of ice time each. Given that the Caps top line had its issues with getting out of their own zone for parts of the game, it was critical that Oates get production from his other lines. The Ribeiro line as well as the third unit of Mathieu Perreault, Ward, and Jason Chimera played well. Chimera used his speed, was a physical presence, and his hit on Ryan Clowe in the first period knocked the big winger out of the contest.

Speaking of physical, Tom Wilson made his NHL debut and looked very good in 6:24 of ice time. The rookie right wing, who was Washington’s 1st round pick (16th overall) last June, had four hits and helped wear down a Rangers defense that looked gassed in the third period and overtime. Oates and Ovechkin both praised #43 afterwards for his play and the Gr8 noted that with Wilson the Caps have four really big and powerful right wings in the lineup.

So home ice is 5 for 5 now in this very close series. Washington was able to withstand the early punches from New York and then wear the Rangers out and get a victory. The Caps fans were a big part of this game as they kept their energy up despite an early Rangers lead.  But you can bet that at Madison Square Garden the Rags will get big time support from their fans, as well. Oates feels that the Capitals will need to survive the first 10 minutes on Sunday in game 6 (faceoff at 4:30 pm).

If Washington wins, it is on to the second round with home ice. If not, game 7 is on Monday night at the Verizon Center.

Home ice has been a big key in this series and the Caps held serve on Friday night.

Now the pressure is on a Rangers team that many picked to go to the Stanley Cup Finals before the season started.

Notes: The Rangers had four power plays to just two for the Caps and the overall series tally is now at 21-14…shot attempts were 71-67  in favor of Washington…Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh both played over 29 minutes for the Rangers while Green played 29:16 to lead the Caps in ice time. Green’s partner, Karl Alzner, played 28:27.

 

 

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Ovechkin, Caps Seek Commanding Series Lead on Monday

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Ovechkin, Caps Seek Commanding Series Lead on Monday

Posted on 05 May 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Fresh off of a huge 1-0 overtime victory on Saturday afternoon, the Washington Capitals take on the New York Rangers in game three of their best of seven first round playoff series on Monday night at 7:30 pm at Madison Square Garden (CSN, NBCSN). A win for the Caps and it is a 3-0 series lead, and for a Washington franchise that is 39 years old, it would be unchartered waters in a best of seven (the Caps did defeat the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders, three games to none, in best of five first round matchups in 1984 and 1986, respectively).

This Capitals team continues to get better each game under first year head coach Adam Oates. After winning 3-1 in the first tilt, the Capitals played another very good game but thanks to the superb play of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (37 saves), the Caps weren’t able to gain the victory until the extra session. But Washington carried much of the play in that contest and despite the Rags getting forwards Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett back into the lineup for the first time this series, the Caps still have more depth and as a result, have been able to win the first two games. A big difference has been special teams with the Caps going for 2 for 7 with the man advantage while New York is 0 for 7. But that still leaves a ton of even strength time and if you look at the ice times of both squads, it is pretty apparent that Oates has more confidence in all of his skaters while Rangers bench boss John Tortorella relies mostly on three lines and five defensemen. The fact that Tortorella’s skilled guys are playing more at even strength could be a factor in why their power play is not as effective.

But as a former Capitals assistant coach has told me repeatedly, the playoffs are all about adjustments, and you can bet that Torts will do whatever he can in his own barn to get the Rags back in the series. Madison Square Garden will be amped up and with home ice the fiery coach now has last change. Midway through game two he switched up his lines putting Rick Nash with Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan and that line was the Rangers best. The typical matchup had that unit against the Caps second line of Mike Ribeiro, Martin Erat, and Troy Brouwer. Does that matchup continue in New York? Will Ryan Clowe be back in for the Rangers giving them another top six forward? What can Tortorella do to fix his ailing power play? Those are the easiest things that seem changeable for a Rangers club that the Caps have on the ropes. The Rangers are struggling to generate offense so does New York, which is primarily a defensive team that is coached to mostly play dump and chase, change things up and open up the game? I have a hard time seeing them try that given they haven’t been practicing it all season and they would likely be playing with fire with the Capitals highly skilled top two lines.

As for Washington, even when winning, they make adjustments and that’s another reason why they continue to improve. Oates’ club was much better on their breakouts on Saturday and the number of giveaways and odd man rushes dropped drastically.  The Capitals also seem to have the Rangers tendencies down, especially in the offensive zone. A Rags team that relies heavily on diving to block shots was burnt on the game winner as Ribeiro faked Callahan to the ice before dishing to Mike “Game Over” Green for the winner. Oates might not have any lineup changes but given his penchant for video analysis and his technical savvy, you can bet that he’s given his club some things to help the team be even better.

After minimizing turnovers, which can lead to odd man rushes, another important thing for Washington to do to win in New York is to limit the ability of Rangers defensemen Michael Del Zotto to rush the puck up the ice. It was Del Zotto, along with the traded Marian Gaborik, who really hurt the Caps in last year’s series loss. After Del Zotto, New York really doesn’t have any guys on the blue line who are excellent puck rushers while the Capitals boast Green and John Carlson plus Jack Hillen and Steve Oleksy bring that capability, as well. It is an advantage for the Caps that their defense is more mobile.

Still, you have to play the games and it is critical that Washington doesn’t get overconfident or lose focus on playing one shift at a time. Based on what I’ve seen from Oates, he will have his club ready to go in a hostile environment.

So will this be the year that Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals finally take a 3-0 lead in a best of seven playoff series?

 

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps in Game 1 Victory

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps in Game 1 Victory

Posted on 03 May 2013 by Ed Frankovic

All season long the Capitals have ridden Alexander Ovechkin’s offense and Braden Holtby’s goaltending. So it was no surprise that with the New York Rangers up 1-0 in the second period despite being outplayed, that a Holtby save on a Carl Hagelin breakaway and then a Gr8 power play tally on the rebound of a Mike Green point shot, helped even things up for Washington. From there the Caps killed off a critical five on three Rangers power play and riding the boisterous Verizon Center crowd, the Caps got a sweet goal from Marcus Johansson on a breakaway after a pretty feed from Steve Oleksy and then a tally from Jason Chimera with Mathieu Perreault running traffic in front of Henrik Lundqvist just 46 seconds later.

That second period sequence would pretty much end up deciding this contest and the Capitals were victorious, 3-1, and lead the best of seven game series, 1-0. Game two is Saturday at 12:30 pm at the Verizon Center (NBC telecast).

There was a lot to like in this win:

  • Holtby (35 saves) was very good and despite giving up a fluky first goal to Carl Hagelin, he buckled down and shut the door on New York. #70 was excellent with his rebound control and he looked poised in the cage.
  • The Caps won the special teams battle as they went 1 for 5 with the man advantage while killing all four Ranger power plays.
  • Washington received solid efforts from all four lines with the third unit of Perreault, Chimera, and Eric Fehr being big difference makers
  • Coach Adam Oates’ crew did a good job of moving the puck out of their own zone to thwart, for the most part, a very strong New York forecheck. Karl Alzner pointed out that the Rangers clog the boards so it was important for Washington to not turn the puck over to their waiting opponents and overall the Caps were successful doing that.
  • Caps fans were extremely loud and helped provide the team with energy. Troy Brouwer mentioned that at least three times in his post game media scrum and was very appreciative of the home crowd.

On the flip side, here are some of the things Oates will want to see improved for game two:

  • Washington allowed too many odd man rushes. Hagelin’s breakaway, had he converted, would’ve made it 2-0. In addition, a Johansson giveaway led to a New York two on one in period three but the Rangers somehow hit the crossbar and didn’t score. There were some other poor passes that led to Rags chances that need to be avoided going forward.
  • Green took some big hits from Mats Zuccarello late in the game. Washington does not want #52 getting run and they did well at this until the end of the game. Green (1 assist, 26:38 of ice time) is so critical to this team and there is no doubt the Rangers are targeting him.

Overall it was a physical game and the Caps held up extremely well. They battled against a gritty club but used their skill and desire to gain the victory. The Caps went hard to the net and were rewarded. There were several post whistle scrums and Brouwer made a point to praise the NHL officials for communicating with the players. #20 said the refs talked to the players, let them know where the line was, and backed it up with calls when the line was crossed. Troy noted that in the playoffs that everything is a battle and the referees did a good job of not overreacting to the scrums. Brouwer also praised his teammates for not getting caught up in the emotion of the moment and taking unnecessary penalties.

The keys for Washington going forward, first and foremost, is to realize this is just a single game and be ready to battle again on Saturday and beyond. The Rangers are a team that scraps, like their head coach, so it will be hard to take their will completely. Oates talked about holding serve at home and if the Caps clean up some of the turnovers and minimize odd man rush issues, then they should carry the play again.

Notes: The Rangers rely heavily on their key players. D man Dan Girardi logged 29:00 and the Hagelin, Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan line saw a lot of minutes…Washington won the faceoff battle, 32-30. Backstrom went 14-11…Ovechkin had five shots on net and five hits…Rangers forward Rick Nash logged 23:04.

 

 

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Will Ovechkin & Caps Avenge 2012 Series Loss to Rangers?

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Will Ovechkin & Caps Avenge 2012 Series Loss to Rangers?

Posted on 28 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

For the Caps organization and their fans, the memory of last spring’s Eastern Conference semifinal game five overtime defeat to the Rangers that ultimately led to a series loss in seven games still stings. Washington was basically twenty five seconds away from a win on enemy ice with a chance to wrap the series up at the Verizon Center, but an unfortunate double minor for high sticking turned that whole storyline around. Instead of moving on to play the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals the Caps headed to the golf course.

But just one year later, Alexander Ovechkin and the Caps have a chance to avenge that crushing defeat against a Rangers team that many predicted to win the Stanley Cup before the season started. The addition of Rick Nash to the Rags lineup seemed to give them that big time gun they lacked and on paper they had two nice scoring lines in Nash, Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan, and Carl Hagelin. But the game isn’t played on paper and the war between Gaborik and stubborn head coach John Tortorella ultimately led to #10 being shipped to Columbus. GM Glen Sather went out and added left wing Ryane Clowe from San Jose at the trade deadline to give Torts a player that better fit his dump and chase, grinding style. New York, despite losing top four defensemen Marc Staal to an eye injury, played well down the stretch and moved up to the six seed to face Washington in a series that will begin on Thursday night at the Verizon Center. However, they lost Clowe to an injury last Thursday in Carolina and it is unclear if he will be able to go against the Caps. Thus it looks like the Rangers could possibly start the series without a top 4 D man in Staal, a top 6 forward in Clowe as well as a depth forward in injured Brian Boyle.

As for Washington, well they are a much different team than the one they had in last year’s series. The Caps were offensively challenged from a system and player standpoint last spring but General Manager George McPhee brought in new coach Adam Oates, who plays the up tempo style that better fits Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. In addition, the GM has assembled a true second scoring line, something Washington hasn’t had in the post season since 2009. Center Mike Ribeiro was added in a deal with Dallas and then at the trade deadline McPhee brought in speedy left winger Martin Erat from Nashville. With the emergence of Marcus Johansson and the improvement in the Caps power play in Oates’ system, Washington is a very dangerous offensive team once again.

In the bottom six forwards department, the Caps have a super crew that has gotten a big boost from a healthy Eric Fehr. At some point the Caps will also get Joel Ward back too. Washington has a chance to win this series if their bottom six forwards can outplay the respective crew from New York.

On defense, the Caps have Mike Green playing as well as ever and paired with Karl Alzner he is not getting run in the corners as often. That will be something that Oates must continue to avoid, the big hits on his defense because that is the way the Rangers like to play, dump the puck below the goal line and wear you out down low. The Caps may have lost Dennis Wideman on the back end to free agency last summer but from one to six, they are a more improved club from last spring. John Erskine is playing super with John Carlson and the third defensive pair of Jack Hillen and Steve Oleksy is solid and mobile. Washington has more depth on the back end than New York, who prefer to give their top four of Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan McDonagh, and Anton Stralman a ton of minutes. John Moore and former Capital Steve Eminger are the third pairing.

In net, you’ve got a super battle between Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby. Last spring was #70′s first NHL playoffs and he performed extremely well. Outside of game one in New York, Holtby was outstanding. Holtby is a year more experienced and his puck handling still makes a big difference for Washington. Oates has used #70′s skills in that area even more than former coach Dale Hunter did and they will need it to combat the Rangers dump and forecheck style.

Behind the bench you’ve got the abrasive but very experienced Tortorella versus the technically savvy Oates. Oates knows the Rags very well from his coaching days with the Devils last spring, so he is very familiar with what Torts wants his players to do. Torts will try to work the referees and manipulate the New York media to put the pressure on him, instead of his players. But both teams are under pressure to win now, so those tactics are just a waste of time and energy. Oates seems to be the type that doesn’t bother getting caught up in that stuff.

In the special teams department, the Caps have the best power play in the league (26.8%) while New York has struggled (15.7%), but in a seven game series, anything can happen. But this Washington team can play well at five on five too and my take is that the more five on five action there is, the more it favors the Caps given their superior depth. The Rangers have some very skilled players so staying out of the box is paramount. The Caps penalty killing finished 27th in the NHL at 77.9% during the regular season.

This is the fourth post season meeting between these clubs in five years. It is the tightest Eastern Conference matchup and a battle of two surging clubs with different styles of play.

The complete series schedule is listed below:

Thursday, May 2 7:30 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington  TV: CSN, NBC Sports Network, TSN

Saturday, May 4 12:30 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington  TV: NBC, TSN

Monday, May 6 7:30 p.m. Washington at NY Rangers  TV: CSN, NBC Sports Network, TSN

Wednesday, May 8 7:30 p.m. Washington at NY Rangers  TV: CSN, NBC Sports Network, TSN

*Friday, May 10 7:30 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington  TV: CSN, TSN

*Sunday, May 12 TBD Washington at NY Rangers  TV: TBD

*Monday, May 13 TBD NY Rangers at Washington TV: TBD

* – if necessary

Notes and Assorted Musings: The Caps ended the regular season with 164 power plays to 163 for their opponents. Why is this important? Well for the first time in 16 seasons Washington finally had more power plays than their opposition in a season. Overall they are down 471 power plays over the course of the streak, which coincides with McPhee’s tenure as GM. People always say that “the calls even out” so given that, shouldn’t we see more balance in the power play totals? Clearly it is not the case here and to give you an idea of the odds of this happening, it is akin to flipping a coin 15 straight times and getting heads for each result. The odds of that happening are 1 in 32,768! (s/t to Mike Vogel of the Caps for pointing out the power play stats in his blog last night)…it has been reported that Brooks Laich did indeed undergo surgery this spring and he is targeting a return in the second round of the playoffs, if the Caps can advance that far…down on the farm, the Hershey Bears won both games 1 and 2 versus the Providence Bruins over the weekend and can win their best of five opening round series with a victory at the Giant Center this weekend in either game three or four.

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Caps Lose Late 2 Goal Lead & Fall to Flyers in OT

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Caps Lose Late 2 Goal Lead & Fall to Flyers in OT

Posted on 31 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

After heroics in Buffalo on Saturday night garnered them two huge points, the Washington Capitals turned right around on Sunday night and blew a late two goal lead to the Flyers and ended up losing in overtime, 5-4, in Philadelphia.

It was a gut wrenching defeat given that the tying tally came with 10 seconds left after the Caps were called for an iffy icing call. Nonetheless, Washington failed to win a late defensive zone draw and Philadelphia’s Kimmo Timonen bombed one in through traffic before Ruslan Fedotenko won it in overtime on a Caps defensive breakdown.

Defensive breakdown. Those are two big words for this Capitals team and it has been something that has plagued them all season long. No matter how good things are going or if they have the momentum, they somehow seem to find a way to make a mistake in their own end that allows the puck to eventually end up in the back of their own net. It is a maddening event that continues to occur with this 2013 Caps club.

You can call it bad luck, but I label it lack of attention to detail. This Caps team did a good job of learning to play in their own side of the rink last season under coach Dale Hunter, but somewhere along the way in their quest for more offense under Coach Adam Oates they’ve lost that ability this season. Maybe it’s the departures of a solid two way player in Alex Semin and Dennis Wideman on the back end, but whatever the case, this team seems to have forgotten how to cover their opponents inside their own blue line? And doing that leads to bad results in hockey, for the most part, thus the 16-17-2 record Washington now posseses with just 13 games remaining.

What is even more discouraging is that this poor defensive zone play isn’t coming against the better clubs in the league. In their last four games the Caps have no regulation wins against Eastern Conference squads that are in the bottom eight of the conference in the Rangers, the Islanders, the Sabres, and Philadelphia. This at a time when Washington is trying to put together a late surge to make it into the post season.

It is frustrating because at times this Capitals team really looks good, poised to click and go on a run. After a clean hit by Steve Oleksy on Claude Giroux resulted in the Flyers Jakub Voracek acting like an idiot and jumping #61, the Caps received a four minute power play early in period three. Despite struggling on their first four power plays of the game, including a nearly full two minute five on three, the Caps finally made Philadelphia pay for its thuggery and buffoonery by scoring two times (Marcus Johansson and Alex Ovechkin) to take what appeared to be a commanding 4-2 lead. Even though there were still 13 minutes left, it should have been game over.

But Washington couldn’t close, they failed on another power play attempt and then Troy Brouwer took a bad penalty. Giroux scored on the power play and the Caps were on their heels most of the last seven minutes before the dam finally gave way.

It was a crushing loss on a night they should have had two points, yet they pick up only one.

What makes it even worse is it came against the hated Flyers, and that does not make Capitals fans feel good at all.

Notes: Washington’s last game before Wednesday’s trade deadline is Tuesday in Carolina. The Caps need to win that game if they want to win the division and make the playoffs…Defensemen Jeff Schultz played for the second straight game while Dmitry Orlov curiously sat in back to back tilts…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 32-25 with Jay Beagle going 6-0. Unfortunately due to the apparently erroneous icing call, Oates couldn’t put Beagle on for the critical late draw that the Caps lost just before the tying tally…Ovechkin now has points in eight straight games and he has 18 goals in 35 games, putting him at a 40+ goal pace in a normal season…the Capitals were 2 for 7 on the power play while the Flyers went 1 for 4.

 

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Caps Follow Ovechkin’s Lead to Victory

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Caps Follow Ovechkin’s Lead to Victory

Posted on 18 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

After a subpar effort in Boston on Saturday, the Washington Capitals needed a fast start to get back on track Sunday night against the Buffalo Sabres. They got just that as Alexander Ovechkin lasered home the biscuit 19 seconds into the contest after Nicklas Backstrom won an offensive zone draw and Marcus Johansson tapped the puck to the Gr8. The Caps would go on to grab a 4-1 lead, see it shrink to 4-3, before Mathieu Perreault put this one away with 4:55 to go. The victory improves Washington to 12-15-1 and seven points out of first place in the Southeast Division with 20 games remaining.

There were lots of good and some not so good in Washington’s play Sunday evening but one thing is for certain, the Sabres are a bad team and appear headed to battling Florida for the bottom spot in the Eastern Conference and perhaps the NHL standings.

The fact that Buffalo is bad was my primary takeaway of the night but there are several things worth pointing out in this contest as it relates to the Capitals:

- Ovechkin’s night included the early goal and he could have had several more. In 20:11 of ice time he had 16 shot attempts, five of which found the cage. He hit the post in the first period and had numerous scoring chances. He also doled out three hits and very importantly, he came to the aid of teammate Backstrom in the middle frame. The Sabres are not a physical team on the back end but their primary pest and chief punk, forward Steve Ott, is someone you have to watch out for at all times on the ice. Ott was up to no good most of the evening and after a whistle he reached for Backstrom’s throat area. Ovechkin quickly grabbed Ott from behind and took him to the ice. This was especially good to see given that many were questioning the ability of the Caps to come to the aid of their teammates after Matt Hendricks was jumped in Beantown on Saturday. The team captain was having none of the pesky Ott trying to take out the Capitals #1 center. Good to see there Ovi, great toughness and leadership.

- Washington’s power play is a thing of beauty at times and I credit much of that to Mike Ribeiro and Backstrom. The two of them are creative magicians with the puck and the Troy Brouwer tally that made it 2-1 is one you could watch over and over because of the work of numbers 9 and 19. Brouwer has been very good at being the guy in the middle of the ice who finds space for the in close quick shot or for screening the opposing goalie. Oates has done a good job with the power play and if Mike Green were back healthy, it would likely be even better. John Carlson has a great shot but his passing skills are not at 52′s level and once again on Sunday #74 had a hard time of putting the puck in the correct area for Ovechkin to get off his patented one timer. The Caps went 1 for 4 with the man advantage but if they could get the Gr8 the puck in his wheelhouse the damage could be far greater.

- Speaking of the power play, the Caps received one late when Ott was sent to the dressing room for basically being a horse’s rear. The score was 5-3 and I’m sure many players were thinking about the post game, at that point. I’ve blogged about Oates’ atttention to detail in the past and I noticed that old #77 was quite animated talking to his club before the start of that power play with 1:20 to go. Brouwer said afterwards that Oates was explaining he was going with two defensemen and for his team to be careful and not take chances. He also warned his club that the Sabres would pull Ryan Miller and make it a 5 on 5 situation. Buffalo did just that and the Caps were prepared.

- Once again Washington lost a defensemen in the game and were forced to play with five rearguards. Tom Poti took a cross check from Ott in the second period and didn’t return (played only 7:38 total). Oates said that #3 already had a bad back so the injury wasn’t all on Ott. As a result, Carlson logged 30:15 while Jack Hillen played a season high 23:03. Steve Oleksy played 21:09 but it wasn’t his best game as he screened Braden Holtby (27 saves) on the Sabres first goal and he got suckered into a penalty by Ott in the third period. In fairness to #61, Ott did ask him to go then when Oleksy dropped his mitts the Buffalo forward turtled. In his post game presser, Oates didn’t seem too happy with what Ott did and noted the pre penalty verbal exchange was clear on the video. With the injury to Poti it is unclear who will suit up in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Tomas Kundratek, who was injured in Carolina on Thursday skated minimally on Sunday morning. Green is close to returning while John Erskine is on IR and did not skate on Sunday. In addition, Dmitry Orlov played for Hershey on Sunday night, notched two assists, and was the game’s third star so perhaps #81 could make his Caps season debut in the Steel City or sometime in the near future? One thing is for sure, the Caps have to be tired of losing defensemen in game and having to play short.

Overall, the Capitals got a much needed win on Sunday night. It came against one of the weaker teams in the league. Washington was sloppy, at times, and will need to play a much better game on Tuesday, when they face the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road. The Pens have won nine straight and have really clamped down in their own end. The Caps will have to be close to perfect to beat Sidney Crosby and company.

Notes: Brooks Laich told me he will be back in the lineup “very soon.” Let’s hope that means Tuesday in Pittsburgh or at worst, Thursday in Winnipeg…the Caps destroyed the Sabres from the face off dot, 41-23. Brouwer was 10-2, Perreault was 8-3, and Ribeiro was 5-1…Johansson had a goal and an assist in 18:57 of ice time. It was his best game of the season and he played on the top line with Ovechkin and Backstrom. Ribeiro (two assists) centered Brouwer and Eric Fehr to form a solid second unit…Perreault and Joel Ward had two points on the third line and Jason Chimera scored his first goal of the season, a big relief for #25.

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