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Caps Blowout Win Helps Weekend Cause

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Caps Blowout Win Helps Weekend Cause

Posted on 07 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Florida Panthers rolled into Washington DC and were promptly blown out of the Nation’s Capital again by a 7-1 score. The Cats have real poor goaltending right now and are experiencing injuries galore, so it was no surprise that the Capitals ran them out of the Verizon Center on Thursday night. It was 4-0 just over eight minutes into this one so it really wasn’t much of a contest, at all.

Simply put, the Capitals are a streaking team right now and are playing with confidence. This victory makes it eight wins in the last 11 games and improves their record to 10-11-1 overall. They are 6-0 against the Southeast Division over this run and they trail division leading Carolina by six points, but have a game in hand. There are 26 games left for Washington to play this season and they have really righted the ship after a 2-8-1 start.

This club is coming together under Adam Oates and I will once again blog about the plusses of his great hockey mind. Oates knows that the Caps have a critical stretch coming up starting Saturday where they will face the Islanders, then the Rangers on Sunday, followed by a home and home with Carolina on Tuesday and Thursday of next week. A 2-1-1 or better stretch and the Caps can start thinking about playoff possibilities and becoming buyers before the NHL trade deadline set for April 3rd.

So what did the old #77 do when his team got up by four pucks early? He started resting some of his key players. Check the ice times out, Karl Alzner played just under 18 minutes and John Carlson didn’t even hit the 17 minute mark. Both of those guys have been logging 22 plus minutes lately. In addition, the bench boss was able to roll his forward lines the rest of the contest as Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Ribeiro were also in the 16 to 17 minute range, below their season averages by quite a bit. The Gr8 still managed to get a goal and two assists with the limited ice time.

Braden Holtby made 29 saves, some of the key variety, but you can expect him to go back to back this weekend the way he is going. Only a late defensive breakdown cost #70 a fourth shutout this season. Holtby is in a groove and seems to know where the shots are coming from as Washington is playing their system well. His ability to play the puck also aids the Caps breakout and takes pressure off of their defensemen. Oates watched how New Jersey used Martin Brodeur’s stickhandling prowess and now he is using Holtby’s similar skills to his advantage.

The Caps can enjoy this win for the night but they won’t face crummy goaltending on Long Island on Saturday where they’ll likely go up against Evgeny Nabokov. Then they probably face “King Henrik” Lundqvist at the Verizon Center on Sunday. Both of those guys are huge upgrades over what they shot against on Thursday.

So it’s a good thing Oates got an early lead and alertly planned accordingly, because the Caps will need to be firing on all cylinders for a tough weekend set with the teams from the Big Apple.

Notes: Wojtek Wolski had his second straight quality game after his benching last Saturday in Winnipeg. #17 had a goal and two assists. He is winning the one on one battles, as evidenced by Washington’s second goal where he won the puck on the backboards and came out in front of the cage and jammed the biscuit home…Steve Oleksy played his 2nd NHL game and led the team with 22+ minutes of ice time. The 27 year old D-man had two assists, as well…Troy Brouwer returned after missing Tuesday’s tilt vs Boston due to illness and had two assists in 16:29 of action.

 

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Caps Have The Right Coach in Adam Oates

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Caps Have The Right Coach in Adam Oates

Posted on 06 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Wow, now that was an entertaining hockey game.

The Washington Capitals spotted the Boston Bruins three first period goals then roared back with two in the middle frame, the tying tally with 6:05 to go in regulation, before winning the game, 4-3, with Eric Fehr’s top shelf wrister just 37 seconds into overtime. It was a contest that saw exciting plays and odd man rushes at both sides of the rink. There also was lots of physical play and some huge saves at both ends. No doubt anyone who paid to watch it received their money’s worth.

In addition, it was a win the Caps needed to keep their Southeast Division title hopes alive and they have won seven of their last 10 games to improve their record to 9-11-1 (19 points). It also was their most impressive victory of the season because it came against the team that likely is the best and most complete club in the Eastern Conference. Boston is 14-3-3. They have four good lines, three solid defensive pairs, and a good goalie (Tuukka Rask). Just two springs ago they won the Stanley Cup and are serious contenders once again in 2013.

So to give a quality team like the Bruins a three spot in the opening frame and come back and win says a lot about the Caps and their progress since their 2-8-1 start. This club, weak in talent in some key areas, is starting to play some good and inspired hockey.

In my book, the credit for that goes to Coach Adam Oates.

In Tuesday night’s victory, Washington actually came out and played a decent first period despite the early hole on the scoreboard. They were working hard and generating chances with a ferocious forecheck. But their special teams let them down in the first 20 minutes yielding a shorthanded goal on a penalty shot and a power play marker. Many teams might have packed it in and some coaches might have yelled at their club and likely ended any chances of a comeback.

But Oates didn’t do that. The Caps I talked to after the game, Fehr (1G, 2A), Steve Oleksy (1A), and Braden Holtby (30 saves), all to a man said it was the coach’s message between periods that allowed the Capitals to stay focused on the task at hand.

The Hall of Famer told the team that they did a lot of good things in the first period and to stick to their system. Oates’ troops did exactly that and Washington was able to chip away at the Bruins lead.

Much has been made of the Caps coaching system over the last 18 months. The popular and gregarious Bruce Boudreau did a lot of super things for the Caps but was let go in November of 2011. Bruce is a very good coach, as evidenced by what his Anaheim Ducks are doing so far this season, but his time had run its course in Washington. In came Dale Hunter and while he earned the players respect and nearly produced a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, the organization didn’t like his defensive system. So all last spring the talk around the team was that owner Ted Leonsis and GM George McPhee needed to hire a hybrid of the two coaches. One who had an aggressive system like Boudreau but also one who had a calm demeanor and would command respect, like Hunter.

Guess what? Oates is exactly a combination of the good of both Boudreau and Hunter. He REALLY knows hockey from a technical and tactical standpoint. But he also knows people and players too. He is calm and doesn’t get too high or low. When Washington was struggling early on he preached patience and adherence to the system. He cautioned it would take time but he was not afraid to point out individual or team shortcomings. He’s a straight shooter.

So when Oates came in to talk to the media after a thrilling victory, it was no surprise that he conducted his press conference in the same fashion as he did after a loss or during the early season struggles. He was honest, forthcoming, and it is clear he wasn’t too high about things even though his team is on a roll right now. He talked about continuing to work hard and about going over some of the things they were doing wrong that led to too many chances for Boston, which fortunately did not come back to haunt them on this night. He talked about players keeping their emotions in check. He talked about the thought process in deciding to keep Holtby in the game after allowing three early goals. Basically he said all of the things you’d expect from a good coach.

And that is what the Capitals have right now, a good hockey coach, who will only get better.

Management definitely needs to make some player moves to get this team back to the elite level, and making trades during a winning run certainly puts an organization in a stronger position to do that. So McPhee and Leonsis have that going for them, which is nice.

But one thing they don’t have to worry about is looking for a head coach again. The way this club works and reacts to their bench boss certainly justifies one thing for me:

They got the coaching decision absolutely right in choosing Adam Oates.

Notes: Washington lost the face off battle 36-32, primarily because Mike Ribeiro went 1-9 from the dot. However, the Caps second goal, scored by Tomas Kundratek, came directly off of a Nicklas Backstrom (3 assists) win from the dot…Alex Ovechkin had a wild night with an assist, two penalties, 13 attempted shots, three takeaways, three hits, and two blocked shots in 23:19 of ice time. He also crashed into the Bruins goal three times. He was up and down the ice on both offense and defense and it was clear he was on a mission to get a Caps victory…Defensemen Roman Hamrlik was put on waivers on Tuesday…Mike Green (groin) and Troy Brouwer (illness) both missed the game…Oleksy played just over 10 minutes in his NHL debut and had an assist and was +2. He was paired with Tom Poti on defense.

 PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on WNST 1570 AM at 7:45 am on Wednesday morning talking Caps hockey with Drew Forrester. Listen Live via WNST.NET

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