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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

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

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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Ovechkin’s Big Night Rallies Caps to Victory

Posted on 14 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bad Weekend Puts Caps Behind the 8 Ball

Posted on 10 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Just when it looked like the Caps had worked themselves back into the playoff discussion, they come out and lay a total egg on the weekend.

Back to back three goal defeats to the New York Islanders and New York Rangers drop Washington to 10-13-1 and in a major standings hole at the mid point of this lockout shortened 48 game season.

It was a disappointing pair of games at a time when they needed their star players to step up, but the Capitals got very poor performances from both Alex Ovechkin (-5) and Mike Ribeiro (-4). Neither player registered a single point in the two games and each took an untimely penalty (a double minor in Ribeiro’s case). They both received a lot of ice time but their hockey focus and effort were downright terrible. To sum it up, you can pretty much hang these two losses on those two players.

Washington continues to play without Brooks Laich up front and Mike Green’s groin injury forced him out of the lineup for both weekend tilts. As a result the Caps power play, which was on fire early on, is struggling big time. Not having #52 is a big part of that as he is the team’s best point passer. Yes, John Carlson has a good shot but time after time #74’s passes are off the mark, and he is getting good at putting the biscuit into the skates of Ovechkin for his patented one timer. In the skates is not the place those feeds need to be.

So now the Caps face a daunting task. They are eight points out of the division lead with 24 games to go, however, they get the Southeast leaders, the Carolina Hurricanes, in their next two contests. These are must wins for Washington on Tuesday and Thursday if they want to stay in the playoff hunt.

If they get swept by Carolina, then management has some hard decisions to make, none more important as keeping or trading unrestricted free agent Ribeiro by the April 3rd deadline. If #9 plays like he did this weekend, the decision is pretty easy.

Bottom line though, the Caps put their playoff chances behind the eight ball with their two listless performances against the Islanders and the Rangers.

Notes: Philip Grubauer made his NHL debut and received the loss on Saturday. He played okay but turnovers and bad penalties cost the Caps that game…the best lines in that contest were the 3rd and 4th units…on Sunday, the Caps played a solid first 10 minutes but Braden Holtby gave up a bad goal and then the Rangers took over. The Rags have a very good team and are Cup contenders, in my book…Nicklas Backstrom was 14-0 on faceoffs against the Rangers…Steve Oleksy scored his first NHL goal on Sunday. The 27 year old d-man was one of the few weekend positives.



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