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Caps Bury Flyers for 9th Straight Victory

Posted on 15 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals continue to put a beat down on their opponents.

Philipp Grubauer made 24 saves, 13 of which came in a sluggish Washington first period, and the Caps exploded for four tallies in the first seven minutes of period three to bury the despised Philadelphia Flyers, 5-0, at the Verizon Center on Sunday afternoon. Justin Williams and Matt Niskanen each scored twice in the final stanza. The Caps took a lead just before the midpoint of this tilt when Michael Del Zotto turned the puck over while shorthanded in his own zone. Andre Burakovsky pounced on the loose biscuit and snapped it over Steve Mason to give Washington the only goal they’d really need.

The victory was the Caps ninth straight and in their last six games they’ve won by a combined score of 26-3. They still haven’t allowed an even strength goal since January 3rd.

Wow, this team is really rolling and it’s scary that they were able to win convincingly when not looking particularly strong or motivated until the 3rd period. Grubauer earned his shutout and first star with a super opening frame, but after that he only faced 11 shots. That’s some great team defense there.

For long time Capitals fans, there’s nothing like throttling a team you’ve battled fiercely since 1974 with numerous of those tilts involving some ugliness. But let’s face it, Philadelphia is not an elite team anymore like Pittsburgh or Chicago, and with the Penguins on the docket from the Igloo II on Monday night, this looked like a trap game for Washington.

Grubauer prevented any Flyers scoreboard momentum from occurring before Washington eventually kicked their offense into high gear and started making some AMAZING passes. First was Marcus Johansson’s “Kuzy type” behind the net feed to Williams on the second goal, then came Alex Ovechkin’s amazing rocket shot fake and dish to Niskanen for a layup, and after Mason flubbed a Niskanen point shot to make it 4-0, Nicklas “Eyes in the back of his head” Backstrom fed Williams behind his back without looking for the final tally. 

It was an awesome display of firepower and the Caps took advantage of the fact that the Flyers had played on Saturday afternoon. Philly had energy and threw a lot of rubber at Grubauer early, but once it became 2-0, you could see the fatigue and resignation set in for the orange and black.

The only bad news of the day was that John Carlson suffered a lower body injury and logged only 6:38 (he will travel to Pittsburgh, though). That put a big load on Niskanen on Sunday, but #2 excelled with the two goals while being +4 in a team leading 25:26 of ice time. The rest of the Caps blue line stepped up, as well, and Nate Schmidt received 3:10 of penalty killing time. With Alzner jailed late, even Dmitry Orlov received some work shorthanded (53 seconds). That’s good preparation against a very good Flyers power play for the postseason.

Once again the Caps penalty killing was a key to victory stopping all five Flyers man advantages. Washington was 1 for 2 on the power play and they have now gone nine straight contests having fewer power plays than their opponents. The last time they had more man advantage situations in a game than the opposition was on December 17th against Montreal.

Despite the less than fair treatment from the zebras, the Capitals have managed to take over the top spot in the NHL with a 29-9-5 record (63 points), although the Blue Jackets are 29-9-4 (62 points) and have a game in hand. The Caps have opened up a six point cushion on the Penguins and Rangers, but Pittsburgh has a game in hand. Clearly Monday night’s tilt at the Consol Energy Center will be a game that the Pens will be very much motivated to win, but the Capitals still have bitter memories from last May, so they should be focused, as well.

As Holtby mentioned to the media on Friday after the triumph over Chicago, this Caps team is very hard to beat when motivated. They should be against the Penguins on Monday, but even when they seem to have a bit of a case of the blahs, like they did for the first half of Sunday’s game against the Flyers, they are still awfully good, just ask the guys from Philly.

Notes: shots on goal were 24-22 for the Flyers and they also had more shot attempts, 56-48…the Caps continue to get goals from the paint and that’s a big reason why they’ve won nine straight. They have amped their compete level up and stopped playing almost exclusively on the perimeter…Orlov was second in ice time at 22:15, but Brooks Orpik logged 21:43 and Schmidt played 21:37…Williams, after a slow start, now has 14 goals on the season…the Caps took three high sticking minors, they need to correct that…Washington won the faceoff battle, 21-20. Evgeny Kuznetsov was 5-2…Ovechkin had seven hits…Chandler Stephenson was recalled from Hershey, but did not dress. He is expected to accompany the Caps on their three game road trip.

Down on the Farm: On Sunday evening, I took in the Hershey Bears-Binghamton Senators tilt before 9,996 fans at the Giant Center. The Bears have been struggling recently, but they broke a long losing streak with a 6-4 win over Lehigh Valley (Flyers AHL team) on Saturday night in Chocolatetown. Hershey got off on the wrong foot in the game against the Senators with Christian Djoos taking a careless early high sticking double minor. Binghamton would tally on the second half of that four minute infraction and in period two they would increase their lead to two goals. Hershey, who only had five shots on goal through 30 minutes, finally awoke from their slumber and started playing hockey. Chris Bourque, who was the best Bears forward in this tilt, drew a tripping penalty and Jakub Vrana buried a shot shortly thereafter to make it a 2-1 game. Then in the third period, Bourque scored on another power play to even things up and with Hershey surging to a 24-18 lead in shots on goal, things were looking up for the home squad. But then the Bears committed a terrible offensive zone turnover and Bingo went in on a two on none break and easily beat Vitek Vanecek. Hershey would continue to press the play, but then another Bears defensive zone breakdown led to an easy marker for Binghamton with three minutes left and they won, 4-2. Overall this was a poor effort by Troy Mann’s squad and the line of Paul Carey-Zach Sanford-Stan Galiev was a disappointment. Hershey looked flat and the blue line, which sorely misses Madison Bowey, was rather unimpressive. The Bears are now 19-10-7-2 on the campaign.

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Ovi 1000

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Alex Ovechkin Hits 1,000 Points in Caps 5-2 Win Over Pittsburgh

Posted on 11 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin came into Wednesday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins needing just one point to reach 1,000 in his career.

It didn’t take him long to get it.

Just 35 seconds into this tilt on NBC Rivalry Night, the Gr8 received a breakout pass from Nicklas Backstrom, after T.J. Oshie made a great defensive zone hit and steal, and he carried the biscuit into the slot and zipped it by Marc Andre-Fleury to give the Capitals a lead they would never relinquish.

An already energized Verizon Center went nuts and when the Gr8 scored on a power play ROCKET at 8:06 of the second period, it was becoming clearer that Washington was going to win its seventh straight contest.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has really turned it on since we’ve started 2017, then fed Justin Williams for his 12th goal of the campaign on one of his patented behind the net passes just 4:31 into the final frame to make it 3-0.

At that point, the only thing that could thwart Washington was a parade to the penalty box and that began with a questionable call on Dmitry Orlov at 6:28 after it sure looked like Patrick Hornqvist should’ve been going off with him. This scrum resulted following a cheap swipe by Carl Hagelin on Braden Holtby (30 saves) after he had covered a puck.

The Penguins have a great power play and Evgeni Malkin scored to make it 3-1. Pittsburgh would push hard for another, but a Steven Oleksy knee on knee hit put him in the box for the second time in this one. Simply put, Oleksy is an AHLer and looked overmatched out there. Those hits weren’t intentional, he just isn’t fast enough to play at the top level.

On the ensuing power play, somehow the Caps messed up at their offensive blue line and Matt Cullen received a shorthanded breakaway, but the Holtbeast got a piece of the shot to calm things down. About 10 seconds later, Backstrom scored after another brilliant pass by Oshie to make it 4-1 with 6:49 remaining. Game pretty much over, well except for those guys in stripes, who just had to continue to make their mark in this one.

Oshie was jailed for his third minor penalty of the night and Sidney Crosby, who was held in check well by the Caps on Wednesday, fed Hornqvist perfectly on the door step for a tap in with 2:36 to go.

The Caps would keep the Penguins without any real chances from then on, though, and Lars Eller launched one off of the dome of Kris Letang and into the empty net to seal the deal.

Oshie, who missed Monday’s big win in Montreal, would notch three assists and Backstrom had a goal and three helpers. Holtby was outstanding again, but it was El Capitain, Ovechkin, who set the tone early in this one and staked his club to a two goal lead to make no doubt about whose night this was going to be.

Ovi only played 16:52, he’s being paced for the post season, but he had two goals, 11 shot attempts, seven shots on goal, and two hits. He even set up Backstrom when it was 2-0 for an open net shot, but the puck fluttered a bit on Nicky and he shot it high.

This was a vintage Ovechkin game and he rose to the occasion after Pierre McGuire threw all of Crosby and the Pens championships in the Gr8’s face in a pregame interview. Yes, Caps fans, it was another tough night of watching NBC and having to listen to some weird analysis, but when you come out on top over the defending Stanley Cup Champions, it seems worth it.

Once again, the Capitals were on the short end of the stick in power plays for the seventh straight game, but they’ve won all seven. They have not had more power plays than their opponents since December 17th against Montreal. By the rulebook, those were penalties on the Caps, no argument there, but what is ridiculous is the continual lack of calls against their opponents. It’s not being called fairly and I still don’t know how the heck both referees missed Ian Cole’s butt end to the face of Marcus Johansson? I could point out at least a half dozen or more infractions committed by the Penguins that weren’t called, but the league will continue to do nothing about improving their officiating to make it more consistent. It’s like they are trained to officiate the score.

Anyways, despite what Mike Milbury said after the game, the Capitals weren’t the only team trying their hardest out there. Washington was very sloppy tonight, but their back checking was outstanding and covered for several of their mistakes. When they didn’t have that support, the Holtbeast was there to shut the door. Braden is on fire and he continues to make the timely clutch save. If Cullen makes it 3-2, who knows what happens? That’s why you need a great goaltender, and Holtby is certainly that.

The win improves the Caps to 27-9-5 (59 points) and they take over 2nd place in the Metropolitan Division, just a point behind the Columbus Blue Jackets. At the halfway point of the season, Washington is looking like a Cup contender and the recent uptick in the play of Kuznetsov has made them a much more dangerous team because the opponents can’t put all of their focus on Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Oshie. Add in the strong recent play of the Brett Connolly-Eller-Andre Burakovsky line and Washington looks much more daunting than last spring.

But there’s still 41 games left and we are three months from the playoffs, so it’s not worth getting too high over. January has certainly been encouraging for the Capitals, but to quote the great Phil Collins, “still it would seem we’ve still got a long, long way to go.”

Notes: The Pens won the shot attempt battle, 64-51, but I thought the Capitals had more of the quality scoring chances. Washington did a great job of keeping Pittsburgh on the perimeter at even strength…Matt Niskanen was +3 and led the Caps in ice time at 23:11…John Carlson had two assists and five shots on net in 22:19…Orlov had an assist and was +2 in 20:18. Outside of getting beat one on one by Crosby in period one, he was really good…the Capitals cleaned up on draws, 43-26. Backstrom and Beagle were both 14-7…the Caps will face the Chicago Blackhawks at 7 pm on Friday night at the Verizon Center.

 

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Caps End Streak

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Braden Holtby and the Caps End Columbus’ 16 Game Win Streak

Posted on 05 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The streak is over while another one continues…

Braden Holtby, aka The Holtbeast, stopped 29 shots and the Washington Capitals went to the net with authority for the fourth straight game to bury Columbus, 5-0, and end the Blue Jackets winning streak at 16 games while increasing the Caps victory run to four.

#70, who was pulled after 20 minutes against the Leafs on Tuesday, was dynamite in this one and several of his best saves came in the opening frame. About the only mistake he made was an early big rebound that he left in the slot which Brandon Saad shot wide. For the rest of the game, it was downhill for the Blue Jackets.

Nate Schmidt, who was scratched for two games, came to play and around the five minute mark his point shot found Jay Beagle parked all alone in front of Sergei Bobrovsky (18 saves). “Bob” made the first save, but Daniel Winnik made a great play to corral the rebound and put it behind the goaltender for a one goal Caps lead just 5:06 into this affair.

Just 20 seconds after that tally, Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) would take a terrible offensive zone penalty and the NHL’s best power play, at 28.3%, was looking to even things up. But the Caps penalty killing has been stellar this year and the only shot on net that CBus got was a 45 footer from Saad.

Washington then put the Blue Jackets down by two goals for the first time all season, according to Joe Beninati, as John Carlson scored off of his skate going to the net after both Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson made nice passes.

Despite the Capitals lead, Columbus carried the play and led in shots on goal, 11-6, after one period, but the Holtbeast was the big difference.

From there, the Capitals took over the game. Schmidt, who looked recharged after sitting out, received a great pass from Alex Ovechkin (1 assist) in the right wing circle a third of the way through period two. Two Blue Jackets went to the ice to block #88’s initial shot, they both missed, and then they went sliding by as the rebound went right back to Schmidt. Nate then fired it again as a third Columbus defender tried to block the shot and that player ended up deflecting it past Bobrovsky to make it 3-0. I’ve talked often about not leaving your feet on defense and Columbus, who thrives on blocking shots, did just that and it cost them.

At that point, you could see the Columbus energy start to diminish and Washington’s just getting stronger. It takes a ton of effort to maintain a long winning streak and with their hopes of tying the Pittsburgh Penguins NHL record dying, you could see the stress of it starting to zap the Blue Jackets.

The Caps third line then ended all doubt as Lars Eller and Brett Connolly put on a great forecheck/backcheck combination and that forced a Blue Jackets turnover. Carlson gathered up the errant pass just inside the offensive blue line and fed Andre Burakovsky in the slot, who snapped the biscuit by Bob at 16:27 of period two. At that point, the game was pretty much over.

Burakovksy backed up his “it will be fun to end the streak” talk from the AM skate with that goal and he and his linemates continue to look like the answer Coach Barry Trotz and GM Brian MacLellan have been trying to find with that third unit for several years.

The last nail in the coffin was then added by Justin Williams just 5:36 into the third period when Kuznetsov won a puck battle on the left wing boards and fed #14 in the left wing corner. Williams skated in on Bobrovsky, and roofed it to make it 5-0. That prompted Columbus coach John Tortorella to take out his #1 goalie and insert Curtis McElhinney.

The only question for the last 15 minutes was would the Holtbeast get a shutout? The zebras once again tried to help the Blue Jackets giving them a 76 second five on three with Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen in the sin bin. Washington, however, was fantastic on the kill with Holtby making three saves, including two in tight on Cam Atkinson. Tom Wilson, who had one of his best games of the season, then drew a tripping infraction on a two on one with Eller, who had just blocked a shot to spring it and any real scare was over with 5:30 remaining.

Columbus received one more power play, but the Holtbeast gobbled three shots up and he easily earned his number one star of the game award.

This was quite an effort from Washington and in arguably their two biggest games this season, home against the Penguins and on Thursday against the Blue Jackets, they have won by a combined 12-1. There is no doubt that this club, when focused and motivated, can play with any team in the NHL.

The bottom six forwards were outstanding in this affair and the Caps gap control was sensational all game. They throttled the Blue Jackets ability to generate quick scoring chances and after a rough first period, they dominated the boards and loose puck battles.

It was a huge victory to knock off the first place Blue Jackets, who had a very impressive 16 game run. Washington is now 24-9-5 (53 points) and is just five points behind Columbus, who have a game in hand.

For the Caps, this was an encouraging and dominating victory, especially from the second period until it was 5-0.

Everyone in hockey says that the NHL season really doesn’t begin until January.

So far in the first month of 2017 the Caps are 3-0.

Notes: Shots on goal were 29-27 for CBus and shot attempts were 51-50 for the Caps…Washington was a perfect 5 for 5 on the penalty kill, but were 0 for 4 with the man advantage…Carlson was the second star and Schmidt was the third star. Both were really good on the back end, as was Dmitry Orlov (22:42)…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:18…Williams now has 11 goals on the season, he’s on fire right now…Orpik and Schmidt were both +3…Kuznetsov had four shots on goal…Brandon Dubinsky was -4 for the Blue Jackets.

 

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Ovi over leafs

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Ovechkin’s OT Winner Completes Caps Comeback Victory Over Toronto

Posted on 03 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

2016 NHL number one overall draft pick, Auston Matthews, and his Toronto Maple Leafs steamed into the District on Tuesday night carrying a five game winning streak. The Leafs, who are eerily reminiscent of the 2006-07 Capitals, can really put the puck in the net, and they did.

Coach Mike Babcock’s team took advantage of several Washington mistakes and penalties, including a shaky call or two from the zebras, plus some missed calls on the Leafs, to race to a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes. Matthews was brilliant with his play, especially his second assist of the night that really put the Caps behind the eight ball.

Remember though, that I mentioned that this Leafs club is like the 06-07 Caps? So that means they are weak on the blue line and have issues in their own zone. That proved to be the case on Tuesday night.

Washington, once they stopped being ushered to the sin bin, finally stabilized things and rallied to tie the game with two quick goals early in period three, which forced Babcock to use his timeout to settle his young squad. Tom Wilson then took a bad hooking penalty, but the Caps PK unit, which was uncharacteristically dented for two goals in six shorthanded situations on the night, killed this one off.

However, Matt Niskanen missed a takeaway in the neutral zone, then Mitch Marner got by Lars Eller to score on Philipp Grubauer on a breakaway with 8:52 remaining and the Leafs looked poised for their sixth straight victory.

But the Caps circled the wagons and stormed the net like crazy and finally tied it on John Carlson’s goal from the paint with 6:05 remaining after Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 goal, 3 assists) set it all up with a behind the back pass after an initial breakaway. Justin Wiliams (1 goal, 2 assists) and Marcus Johansson (2 assists) were crashing the net, as well. In the last three games the Capitals have now scored 14 goals, and almost all of them have been due to net presence, which has been a point of emphasis since the 44 shot, one goal shootout loss to New Jersey last Thursday.

After the referees let some more clear infractions on the Leafs go, Matthews nearly won the game late on a dandy of a backhander that somehow hit Grubauer in the head and went over the net. What a player this kid from Arizona is now and will be in the future, wow!

Off to overtime the game went and Kuznetsov carried the puck in the offensive zone then took it around the net and passed to Carlson at the top of the right wing circle along the boards. The puck was tipped en route so #74 had to make a great play to keep it in, otherwise the Leafs are off to the races. The 2010 Team USA World Juniors hero then made a super cross ice pass to the Gr8, Alex Ovechkin, and he made no mistake about burying it for his 18th goal of the season to give the Capitals a wild 6-5 victory.

Whew!

What a hockey game. It was a crazy one and the Caps turned in one of their worst defensive first periods all season. They only gave up eight shots, but too many were of the high quality variety and the Capitals defenders were too intent on trying to go to the ice to block shots when they have an all world goalie behind them in Braden Holtby. This made things difficult for the Holtbeast and he didn’t have his best stuff either, so Coach Barry Trotz pulled him after 20 minutes. I put the yanking mostly on the shoddy play by Washington in their own end, though. That needs to be cleaned up before Thursday’s big game against Columbus, but we’ll get to that one in a few paragraphs.

Dmitry Orlov (1 goal, 1 assist) was fantastic in this game on the blue line and as Alan May mentioned on Comcast in the post game, he is at his best when he’s in the offensive zone and going forward. His rocket tied the game at four and his first period power play blast hit Williams on the way in to give the Caps an initial early lead in this contest, one that they would not regain until Ovi buried the game winner.

As for the penalties, the Caps took too many, yet the Leafs were doing several similar things, but referees Chris Lee and Chris Schlenker chose not to call it evenly. Particularly bad was a sequence when Nazem Kadri cross checked Ovechkin hard and then Ovi roughed #43 back. While that was going on Leafs defensemen Jake Gardiner punched the Gr8 in the back of the head. It was a cheap shot, but somehow he avoided jail time and Ovechkin received a double minor for roughing. Ridiculous! Over the last the three games the Capitals have now been shorthanded 19 times and have received just seven power plays, that’s ludicrous! Where’s Oliver Stone when you really need him?

Overall, this was a big comeback win for the Caps because they haven’t really had a game where they were able to go all out offensively to rally. They were fortunate that this young Leafs team is fairly clueless too often in their own zone, but give President Mike Shanahan and GM Lou Lamoriello time to get some defensemen and this Toronto team could be a contender in a few years.

The victory is the Capitals third straight and they improve to 23-9-5 (51 points). They are in fourth place in the Metropolitan division; however, they are just two points behind the Rangers and have three games in hand. In first place though, are those Blue Jackets who have now won 16 games in a row! They are 27-5-4 and are one win away from tying the NHL record for victories in succession, which was set by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992-93.

Next up for Columbus are the Caps at the Verizon Center on Thursday night. The Blue Jackets defeated Washington in both games earlier this season, once in overtime and the other time on a zebra aided late power play goal at the Verizon Center on November 20th. So Coach Trotz’ crew should be very motivated to stop this streak by John Tortorella’s squad.

The Blue Jackets have a bunch of guys having career years and they are very physical and structured. Nick Foligno is a notorious Cap killer and he scored his 13th goal of the season in a 3-1 CBus win over Edmonton on Tuesday night. They don’t have the pure skill of the Leafs, but they are extremely hard on the puck and are getting great play from their blue line as well as their goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky. Washington will have to be much better in all phases of the game if they want to defeat a Columbus team that has all of the confidence in the world right now. This will be a good test for the Caps, who are doing a much better job at going to the net and creating havoc for opposing goalies over the last three tilts. They’ll need to do a lot of that to get the puck by Bob.

Notes: The Caps won the faceoff battle, 36-28. Jay Beagle was 9-5…T.J. Oshie scored his 12th goal of the season and continues to bring his A game each night. Pay the man!…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:59…Andre Burakovsky had no points, but he played hard on the puck and it was his net presence that allowed Orlov to tie the game at four early in period three.

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Osh Beags Buf

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Caps Play Textbook Road Game in Win Over Buffalo

Posted on 10 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

After Wednesday’s OT victory against the Boston Bruins, one in which the Capitals lost a three goal lead, Washington held a post game players only meeting to clear the air and get everyone on the same page.

It worked.

For the first time in several weeks, the Caps played a complete hockey game in a 4-1 victory in Buffalo that allowed the Capitals to sweep the Sabres, 3-0, this season.

Sure there were mistakes out there, the other team gets paid to play too, but Washington played a textbook road game. They were hustling and making smart decisions. They were also very positionally sound such that when someone made a mistake, there was a teammate there to make a play in support. After getting exposed by the Bruins badly after defensemen Matt Niskanen left the game on Wednesday in the first period, no one was hung out to dry against the Sabres on Friday night. In fact, they only gave up one odd man rush the entire night, a three on two late in period two.

Philipp Grubauer (27 saves) was stellar in net. He didn’t make any spectacular stops, but he was rock steady between the pipes, especially in the first 25 minutes when the game was scoreless. He and Braden Holtby have now formed the league’s best goalie tandem this season.

With Niskanen out of the lineup and day to day with an upper body injury, Taylor Chorney was put into action and paired with Nate Schmidt. Brooks Oprik and Dmitry Orlov linked up while John Carlson and Karl Alzner were the top duo. Those pairs provided balance and Orlov (2 assists in 16:52) had his best game of the season. He didn’t get out of position, he was tenacious on the puck, and he showed excellent hockey sense.

As for Carlson, well he was outstanding too and he finally broke his 25 game scoring drought with a key power play tally to make it 3-1 with 5:40 remaining and pretty much end this tilt. When Carlson and Orlov are paired with a partner who is strong defensively and knows how to support an offensive defensemen, they each are able to bring out the best side of their respective games.

The big key to this contest, once again, was getting the first goal. Jay Beagle and T.J. Oshie, who are both great at winning the one on one puck battles, each won one along the offensive boards. As a result, they were able to get the puck to an open Nicklas Backstrom (two assists, +2) at the left point and he fired it back to Beagle in the left wing corner. When both Sabres defenders converged on #83, that left Oshie all alone streaking to the net and Beags put a behind the back pass right to #77 who went skate to stick with the puck and buried it top shelf at 6:43 of period two. Washington is now 14-3-2 this season when scoring first.

With the score 1-0, the Caps earned a second period power play and then they really put a stranglehold on this contest. Evgeny Kuznetsov made a great late power play rush up the right wing boards squeezing by a Sabres defender en route. #92 then took the puck to the net instead of trying a drop pass or spinning away from any contact. As Kuzy did this, Jakub Vrana very smartly made a bee line for the paint. #13 stopped on the door step, something Comcast analyst Alan May pointed out is critical if you want to score goals, and he buried the great pass from Kuznetsov past Robin Lehner. It was Vrana’s first NHL goal and the game winning tally. Afterwards, he received a shaving cream pie in the face from Tom Wilson in celebration of his milestone.

If there was any gripe about the Capitals in this one, it came in the third period when they took three straight penalties. After holding the Sabres power play at bay on the first two, Kyle Okposo put a puck home from the doorstep with 7:57 to make this a one goal affair.

But as Oshie pointed out afterwards, the Capitals didn’t sit back and they immediately went on the forecheck, which is a real strength of this team when they put their mind and effort into it. As a result of that pressure, Brian Gionta took a bad interference penalty on Kuznetsov, which set the stage for Carlson’s first goal of the season.

Overall, the Caps effort was excellent across the board; there were mistakes, but because they were working as a unit, they minimized any damage, even when Buffalo was able to get a quality scoring chance. Grubauer was solid in net and the defense didn’t allow many second chances for the Sabres.

Coach Barry Trotz and the Capitals have to be pleased with this Friday night performance.

Notes: The win moves the Caps record to 16-7-3 (35 points)…Alex Ovechkin didn’t have any points, but he had six shots on net and four hits. He was working hard on the ice and didn’t make any mistakes or take any penalties. If he keeps playing like that, then the goals will start coming again…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:40…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 33-24. Beagle was an astounding 16-4…Marcus Johansson scored his 12th goal of the season into the empty net after Oshie (1G, 1A) won another puck battle to spring Jojo for an easy marker…the Caps were 2 for 3 on the power play and both tallies came at key junctures in the game and provided Washington with a two goal cushion…Buffalo went 1 for 5 with the man advantage…Andre Burakovsky had one shot on goal in 9:58. He was good in the first two periods, but in the final frame he made some bad plays and looked timid with the puck…next up for the Caps are the Vancouver Canucks at the Verizon Center at 5 pm on Sunday. Vancouver defeated the Lightning, 5-1, on Thursday and will visit Florida at 7 pm on Saturday and then take a late night flight to DC.

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backy-bruins

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Backstrom Saves the Day for the Caps in OT

Posted on 07 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

And then Nicklas Backstrom saved the day for the Capitals.

Nicky’s tally through the legs of Tuukka Rask 1:36 into overtime allowed to Caps to survive, 4-3, after they blew a three goal advantage.

Washington looked like gangbusters for the first 25 minutes building that 3-0 lead on the backs of two Justin Williams goals from the paint and then a sweet shot by Daniel Winnik on a two on one break after a superb feed from Jay Beagle. But with Matt Niskanen getting hurt on a dirty hit from Patrice Bergeron late in the first period and not returning, the Bruins took over the game physically and worked their way back into it. That hit by Bergeron only landed #37 in the sin bin for two minutes when it easily could’ve been called a major.

After Winnik’s marker, the Caps would then go 26 minutes and 27 seconds without a shot on goal. By then it was 3-3 with only 7:42 remaining in regulation.

Boston’s first goal was fluky. After Alex Ovechkin was picked off of the faceoff, the Bruins threw the puck on net. Brooks Orpik was pushing his man, Anton Blidh, away from the net while Holtby tried to clear the biscuit. Unfortunately he put it right on #81’s stick and he fired it off of the Holtbeast and Dmitry Orlov failed to tie up notorious Cap killer, Dominic Moore, and he deposited the puck into the open cage.

Then things got really hairy when Evgeny Kuznetsov, who set up the first two goals for Washington and played a super first period, made a terrible turnover at the offensive blue line with just over a minute left in the middle frame, and it led to a David Pastrnak breakaway. #88 beat Holtby through the five hole on the backhand and suddenly two goals in two minutes and 25 seconds late in period two made this a one puck hockey game.

With one of their top three defensemen out in Niskanen, the Caps were getting exposed badly. Boston simply amped up their game and physical play and the Capitals couldn’t match the push. That continued into the final frame and after an iffy penalty to Tom Wilson, Brad Marchand and Autin Czarnik set up Colin Miller in the slot and he lasered one by #70 late in the power play to even things up with 11:41 left.

About four minutes or so later, the Capitals finally started getting their legs going again and stabilized the ship, setting the stage for Backstrom’s OT heroics.

For the game, the Caps were outshot 34-20 and they allowed Boston to have too many easy outs from their own end. The forecheck and heavy hockey that earned them the 2-0 lead in the first frame disappeared. It was almost like the Capitals thought that they could just go back to the perimeter game and still win.

Luckily for them, they did, because they needed these two points. However, they cannot be happy about what happened after the first period. They once again forgot what makes them successful; winning one on one puck battles and using their size. The Caps typically handle the Bruins because the B’s employ a physical style that fits Washington’s lineup perfectly. But Coach Barry Trotz’s team quit playing and it was the Bruins who were doing the manhandling.

Holtby, who made 31 saves, was a big reason, once again, why this team was able to get a victory when they were outplayed badly for two periods.

And Backstrom delivered another key goal, like he did in Tampa last Saturday night when he got the Caps to overtime, but this time he potted the game winner.

So on Wednesday night, which was NBC Rivalry Night, we saw the good from the Caps in the first period, the bad in the second period and parts of the third, but thanks to Holtby and Backstrom, we didn’t have to deal with the ugly, which would’ve been a loss after a great start.

Notes: Rask has still never won a game at the Verizon Center…Williams doubled his goal output of the year just 7:57 into the contest. The first goal came at the 23 second mark. Kuznetsov assisted on both goals. Ovechkin assisted on the first one, and likely deserves a helper on the second, as well…Niskanen was +2 in only 6:44 and his short night due to injury showed how thin the Washington back end is when it loses either he, Karl Alzner, or John Carlson. I have to think GM Brian MacLellan will be trying hard to add a top 4 D before the trade deadline…the Caps only had seven shots total after they went up 3-0. They scored on the only shot in OT for either team…Marcus Johansson and Nate Schmidt both made nice plays to set up the winning goal and each earned an assist for their effort…T.J. Oshie returned to the lineup after missing seven games with an upper body injury (shoulder). He got banged up in the lower body area early, but he eats rocks for breakfast and stayed in the game. He only played 15:11, though…Carlson played 25:04 to lead the Caps in ice time and Alzner was close behind with 24:04…final shot attempts were 62-44 for Boston. It was ugly after Niskanen left the game…next up for the Caps are the Sabres in Buffalo on Friday. There is no practice on Thursday, so we won’t know about the status of #2 until Friday. He has an upper body injury.

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Caps Blanked At Home by the Islanders, 3-0

Posted on 02 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

There are bad losses and then there are really bad losses.

Thursday night’s Capitals 3-0 defeat to the New York Islanders falls into the latter category.

New York was playing their third game in four nights and arrived in the wee hours of Thursday morning, except for goalie Jarolsav Halak (38 saves), who was smartly sent in a day early since GM Garth Snow continues to carry three goalies.

So this should have been a game where the Caps could take advantage of a tired opponent and get two points, right?

Well, for 40 minutes, it looked like Washington was poised to do just that. The Caps carried much of the play through those first two periods and had four power play chances to just two for the Islanders. Coach Barry Trotz’ crew would build a 52-36 advantage in shot attempts, but the problem was that none of them got by Halak and into the cage.

Through 40 minutes, Justin Williams alone had six shots on goal and that didn’t count the one he came 1/10th of a second from scoring right as the first period horn sounded. #14 is playing some good hockey and getting more than his share of chances, but if you look up “snakebit” in the dictionary right now, you’ll see a picture of Mr. Crazy Hair.

During those first two frames New York did have several quality chances themselves, including a shorthanded breakaway by Casey Cizikas in the middle period after he blocked an Alex Ovechkin shot. However, Braden Holtby (25 saves) would stop #53 and that was just one of many the Holtbeast made to keep his club even.

As the final period began, the prevailing thought was that the Caps would use the rest to their advantage while the Islanders would wilt from fatigued wheels.

That was not the case.

Just over three minutes into the final stanza, Dmitry Orlov turned the puck over at the offensive blue line giving Shane Prince a breakaway and he was the first to solve Holtby on this night.

Okay, no biggie, right? Orlov made a mistake and his partner wasn’t able to cover for him either, but it’s only one goal and there’s still nearly 17 minutes left.

Move on from it and get it back.

That’s where the game and this defensive pair once again went off of the rails. Nearly three and half minutes later, John Carlson went behind his net to play a puck and he backhanded it to Orlov to the left of Holtby below the goal line. Both Islanders forwards were coming at Dmitry on an aggressive forecheck. At that point, #9 had two options, eat the puck and take a hit and wait for reinforcements, or even better, he could wheel the puck hard around the boards and give the Capitals an odd man rush situation with two opponents trapped in the offensive zone. Instead Orlov panicked and chose the third option, which even five year old mite players know not to do; he tried a blind, backhanded pass up the middle of the ice, which was quickly gathered up by the Islanders. Following another great initial save by Holtby, New York potted the rebound to go up 2-0.

That mental mistake was the dagger for Washington on this night and Jason Chimera then threw salt in the wound going right around Nate Schmidt after an Ovechkin neutral zone turnover to close out the scoring.

It was a swift and stunning three goals in less than five minutes for the Islanders and they were able to win their third straight tilt, all in four nights.

Wait a minute; aren’t you supposed to run out of gas on that third game in four nights, like the Capitals did in Toronto last Saturday? Well, someone forgot to tell New York that because they never let down and kept skating while Washington mentally wilted over the last 20 minutes.

It was red flag city for the Capitals, who are now 2-3 without T.J. Oshie in the lineup (speaking of which, let’s lock #77 up long term, okay?). The power play was a disaster giving up multiple shorthanded chances and for the night it went 0 for 6 in 12 minutes of time! That’s downright awful. There is not enough movement, shots aren’t coming frequently or quick enough, and the right point shot is not getting through and opening things up for the flanks. Bottom line, had the power play clicked earlier then we likely aren’t all over Orlov for this one.

But let’s be real on the Orlov-Carlson defensive pair and I’ve said this multiple times this season: it is not working. 22 games in and #74 has 0 goals. Both of these guys like to rush the puck up the ice and create offense. To do that properly, they need a defensive partner that will hang back a bit and cover for them. Carlson has had that for the last several years, first with Karl Alzner and then with Brooks Orpik. Orlov benefitted from playing with Orpik in the latter half of last season when #44 returned from injury.

Simply put, Coach Trotz needs to make some changes on the back end. The first thing he should do is sit #9 for a game to let him watch and get his head clear. Taylor Chorney, who played extremely well last Friday against Buffalo, deserves a sweater on Saturday in Tampa.

With the loss the Capitals fall to 13-7-2 and are now in fourth place in a very competitive Metropolitan Division. Things are not good in Caps land right now, they are getting strong goaltending, but they aren’t burying enough of their chances and they are also not working hard enough or smart enough to generate some gritty goals. In addition, defensive breakdowns and bad chemistry, primarily with the Orlov-Carlson pairing, are allowing too many easy opportunities for the opponents.

This was a really bad loss on Thursday. No two ways about it.

Notes: The Caps out shot attempted the Islanders 87-47…Washington won the faceoff battle, 29-28. Jay Beagle was 8-5…Orlov was benched after the second goal…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 26:41 and he had six shots on net, second only to Williams, who had seven…Ovechkin had 13 shot attempts in 24:47, but only four made it on net. The Gr8 took the Caps only two penalties…Jakub Vrana made his NHL debut for the Caps and logged 10:10. He had four shots on net and looked more comfortable as the game went on…Andre Burakovsky had 0 shots on net in 15:57 of ice time.

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Ovechkin Hat Trick Carries the Caps Over the Blues

Posted on 24 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin notched his 16th career hat trick to lead the Washington Capitals to a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night. The Gr8 scored his 10th, 11th, and 12th goals of the season in three different periods to once again prove that he’s the greatest goal scorer in the game today and among the best of all time.

As good as Ovechkin was in this one, the biggest development in this tilt was the return of Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuzy came to play on Wednesday and he was driving the net and shooting the puck. He played with confidence and that seemed to open up the ice for him. It was Kuznetsov’s great power play feed that allowed Ovi to score the game’s first goal and then he made it 3-1 for Washington by going to the net on a rush and banging home a sweet Dmitry Orlov feed in the third period. Part of the reason #92 was so open for that goal was because all of the Blues seemed to be focused on Ovechkin in the high slot.

Just 22 seconds after Kuznetsov’s third goal of the season, the Gr8 had a two on one rush and he buried the biscuit top shelf over the glove of Blues goalie Carter Hutton (21 saves) with 13:07 left in the contest. That completed the hat trick and a several minute delay ensued while the ice crew picked up the tons of hats that were thrown onto the ice.

Washington seemed poised to cruise to an easy win, but St. Louis scored on the power play and with the goalie pulled at 18:45 to make it 4-2. Then with just 28 ticks left, Vladimir Tarasenko scored his second goal of the game to pull the Blues within one. But the Caps won the ensuing face-off and Washington didn’t allow St. Louis any chances to tie it.

In addition to the superb play from Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky put up two assists and seemed to finally get some deserved production in the points department. #65 has been playing “bigger” this season, but he hasn’t been in on a lot of goals lately as he and Kuznetsov have been in scoring slumps. Both broke out on Wednesday night against one of, if not the best, blue lines in the NHL. The 8-92-65 trio was +3 for Washington and Coach Barry Trotz has to be pleased to see that, especially with Nicklas Backstrom’s line playing well also.

The Blues played on Tuesday night in Boston and won 4-2, so the Capitals were catching a scheduling break taking on a sure to be tired squad. You can only play the games as they are lined up and Washington took advantage of it, holding St. Louis to only 21 shots in the game and just 10 in the first 40 minutes. Most of St. Louis’ chances came late in the game with the outcome already decided. Afterwards, Coach Trotz was happy with the victory, but not pleased about the way the contest finished up and he remarked that the team would be more focused on how to close out games when they have a lead.

This win comes after the referees gifted the Blue Jackets a late game victory over Washington on Sunday. That present for Columbus included a terrible high sticking call on Backstrom and then a missed hooking infraction on Cam Atkinson, who put his stick into the mid section of Tom Wilson to prevent a clear, right before the game winning power play tally with under two minutes remaining. It was a bad zebra sequence and it cost the Capitals at least a point in the standings.

But the Blues are not the boring Blue Jackets, so it was expected that Ovechkin and company would be motivated and ready for St. Louis. The Caps are a very good team when they are focused, as evidenced by the 7-1 rout of the Penguins last week, and on Wednesday they played with a purpose.

The Capitals were not as good as they were against Pittsburgh the week before, but they were very dominant, at times, and they took it to a solid St. Louis team.

Washington is now 12-5-2 (26 points) and they’ll take on the Buffalo Sabres at 5 pm on Friday at the Verizon Center. This will be one of those games where the Caps are likely to have a hard time getting up for the opposition.

Notes: The Gr8 only logged 15:29 of ice time. He had five shots on goal in eight attempts. Coach Trotz is clearly managing Ovi’s minutes to keep him healthy and fresh for the post season…the Caps won the face off battle, 29-27. Jay Beagle was 9-4…Matt Niskanen led the Capitals in ice time with a low total of 22:51. Coach Trotz continues to spread the minutes around the lineup…Lars Eller returned to the lineup after missing Sunday’s game and he logged 14:49…only T.J. Oshie is hurt now and he’s battling an upper body injury (week to week)…Kuznetsov had a goal and an assist in 15:53 and he had four shots on net…the Caps were 1 for 4 on the power play in 4:35 of advantage time while the Blues went 1 for 5 in 7:30…Braden Holtby made 18 saves for the Caps.

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Holtby Helps the Depleted Caps Blank Detroit, 1-0

Posted on 18 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby made 25 saves and Jay Beagle scored on a rebound with 5:11 left to break a scoreless tie as a depleted Washington Capitals squad knocked off the Detroit Red Wings, 1-0, at the Verizon Center on Friday night.

Lars Eller, T.J. Oshie, and Andre Burakovsky all suffered upper body injuries in the first period and did not return. Eller played one shift, Oshie three, and Burakovsky just seven, meaning that Coach Barry Trotz’ crew had to go with just three lines for over 40 minutes of action. Oshie was clearly the biggest loss since he is the team’s number one right wing and is not replaceable in the organization. T.J. appeared to hurt his left shoulder on a neutral zone hit he was putting on Detroit’s Riley Sheahan. Oshie stuck his tongue out after the hit and then skated to the bench. He then went down the tunnel favoring his left arm. He, Eller, and Burakovsky will be re-evaluated on Saturday, but it sure looks like a call up or perhaps two from an injury riddled Hershey Bears team will be needed. Daniel Winnik, the lone forward scratch on Friday, will be back in the lineup on Sunday against Columbus, and there’s a chance we could see the NHL debut of Jakub Vrana? RW Christian Thomas, who had a strong preseason, LW Paul Carey (previous NHL experience), or center Chandler Stephenson (three assists on Friday for the Bears) are also possibilities to be in the show against John Tortorella’s squad at the Verizon Center (12:30 pm start), depending on the extent of the injuries.

Back to Friday’s game, it was a physical affair from the get go. Burakovsky hit the post early and then the Capitals received a five minute power play when Danny DeKeyser received five minutes for boarding Tom Wilson at the 8:29 mark. Willy went awkwardly into the boards, but luckily avoided a head, neck or shoulder injury.

Without Oshie, the Caps power play at five on four continued to sputter and they really didn’t get many good looks over the first four plus minutes. Justin Williams took a hooking minor with just 30 seconds left in the major and that put the Wings on the man advantage. Washington would kill off that penalty, with the Holtbeast being the primary reason. Detroit would have three morer power plays on this night for a total of 7:02 of man advantage time, but Braden was a wall in net for the Caps.

The Caps, down three forwards, played a smart game the rest of the way by doing what assistant coach Lane Lambert asked of them, which was to get pucks deep and make the Red Wings do the work in their own zone. Washington did a nice job of forechecking and brought a strong effort, but Jimmy Howard was solid in the cage for Detroit and this game took on the “first goal wins” mantra.

Fortunately for the Capitals, they found a way to manufacture a goal. Zach Sanford and Wilson did some great work down low and forced a Detroit turnover. As a result of the strong forward work, Dmitry Orlov was able to slide up to the top of the left wing circle and he one timed a shot on Howard. Jay Beagle and Sanford were in front and the rebound fell prone in the slot where #83 pounced on it and put the biscuit in the basket. From there the Caps kept the Wings to the outside and any rubber that made its way through was snatched or thwarted by Holtby.

Marcus Johansson drew a late penalty and the Caps skated away with a gritty victory after their thrashing of the Pens on Wednesday night.

This was going to be a tough one for the Caps after an intense affair with the despised Penguins on Wednesday. A let down was a possibility, but give credit to the coaching staff and team leadership since there was none of that. The bad news was the injuries up front, but the rest of the crew stepped up and played a solid game. Detroit didn’t have a ton of chances, but there were a few grade “A” ones and the Holtbeast was a major reason the Capitals were able to scrape out a victory.

The victory improves the Caps to 11-4-2 and they are now just two points behind the first place Rangers, who lost to Columbus on Friday night, with a game in hand. Pittsburgh is also tied with Washington. The Blue Jackets, who defeated the Capitals on Tuesday, are just four points behind Alex Ovechkin and company and they have two games in hand. Somehow Coach Trotz’ club needs to find a way to get themselves up for that game and they’ll likely need to do it with a player or so from Chocolatetown in the lineup.

Notes: Shots on goal were 28-25 for the Caps, who also led in shot attempts, 56-48…Ovechkin had four shots on goal and nine shot attempts. He also had four hits…the Caps had 31 hits in this contest while Detroit had just 18. Sneaky Nicklas Backstrom led the way with five. Brett Connolly, who has been strong on the fore check when in the lineup, had four hits…Washington plays better when they are physical since they are a big team and can wear their opponents out more effectively…the Caps lost the face-off battle, 31-23, but Beagle was 11-7…Beagle logged a season high 20:01…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:29…former Capital Mike Green led all skaters with 26:10 of ice time.

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Caps Destroy the Penguins, 7-1

Posted on 16 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Motivation and effort were not an issue on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center as the Washington Capitals totally destroyed the Pittsburgh Penguins, 7-1. Nicklas Backstrom had two goals and three assists while T.J. Oshie also scored twice and added two helpers to lead the Caps offense out of its recent slumber. Braden Holtby made 25 saves in net against the defending Stanley Cup Champions as Washington improved to 10-4-2.

There were so many positives to take out of this game, starting with the effort and passion. The Caps, who played in Columbus and lost in OT on Tuesday, then flew home afterwards while the Penguins rested in DC, were all over the ice for the full 60 minutes. They were skating, hitting, and putting pucks in the correct places on the rink. They played a north-south game that gave the Penguins fits and this one was over quickly.

Washington tallied three times in the first frame with Oshie opening the scoring shorthanded on a rebound goal after a Jay Beagle breakaway was stopped by Matt Murray. Backstrom then made it 2-0 with 2:30 left in period one on a goal similar to his marker in Columbus on Tuesday, a shot from the slot while using the defender as a screen. Then with eight seconds remaining and the Caps on a four on three advantage, Oshie buried the rebound of a John Carlson blast.

The Caps then gave Pittsburgh little hope of getting back in the game with a dominant second period. They outshot the Pens, 13-6, in those middle 20 minutes, but somehow only potted one puck (Dmitry Orlov’s first goal of the season on a three on two rush set up by Backstrom and Marcus Johansson) past Marc Andre-Fleury. Fleury entered this affair late in period one when starter Murray was hit in the head twice by Evgeni Malkin and was forced to leave the contest.

What was most pleasing was the way the Capitals didn’t take their foot off of the gas in the third period. Washington came out flying and they kept the pressure on Pittsburgh. There was no sitting back like they did recently against Columbus and Chicago, or when they blew a 3-0 lead against Winnipeg a couple of weeks ago. No, on this night, the Caps displayed a killer instinct that they’ve been talking about developing for years.

They stomped on the Penguins throats in this one with Justin Williams finally scoring just over five minutes into the last frame, albeit on a 5 on 3, and then Alex Ovechkin made it 6-0 on a sweet breakaway goal just after the 10 minute mark. Phil Kessel would break the Holtbeast shutout with 3:32 left when Orlov didn’t tie him up at the side of the net, but Backstrom erased that marker with a goal just 30 seconds later to close out the scoring.

It was a win the Capitals badly needed after scoring just five goals in their previous four games. They played with a purpose and got back to the things that make them successful; coming into the offensive zone with speed, getting pucks on net or below the goal line so they can use their size, and crashing the cage for rebounds. There was maximum effort and attention to detail. Gone from their game were the sloppy east-west passes they had been employing at the opponents blue line and it made a huge difference in the outcome. The Penguins defense repeatedly had to go back and get pucks deep in their own zone and the Caps took over that part of the ice, which is one of their strengths.

Bottom line on NBC Rivalry night, there was an ass-kicking that took place and the Capitals delivered it to their arch rivals on Wednesday evening.

So see ya Penguins and take your arrogant banner tweet home with you.

Notes: The Caps won the face-off battle, 45-35 and out shot attempted the Penguins, 68-46. That’s all about the effort as Washington totally manhandled Mike Sullivan’s club…in addition to his five points, Backstrom was 18-9 on face-offs.  Most of those draws came against Sidney Crosby, who went 8-18 and was a -3 on the evening. His biggest contribution in this affair was yelling at the referees…the Caps were rewarded for their effort with seven power plays and scored on two of them, a 4 on 3 and a 5 on 3. The only area you could complain about for the Capitals was the 5 on 4 man advantage which went 0 for 5 in this tilt and needs work…Ovechkin left the game briefly in period two after Kris Letang tripped him, but the Russian Machine that Never Breaks returned to get a breakaway tally and end his four game goalless streak in the third period…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 24:14. Ovechkin played 18:38…Letang led the Pens with 23:50, but he was -5 (on the ice for every Washington even strength goal)…final shots on goal were 39-26 in favor of the good guys.

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