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Holtby Oil

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Braden Holtby Steals A Win For the Caps

Posted on 12 November 2017 by Ed Frankovic

“Este es un robo!”

The Washington Capitals stole a hockey game on Sunday night.

Well, let me rephrase that, Braden Holtby stole a hockey game on Sunday night, so move over Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid!

The Edmonton Oilers, who played on Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, came into Capital One Arena on Sunday evening and after a sleepy first period, totally outworked the Caps in this affair, outshot attempting Washington, 64-35.

The Oilers top line of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Patrick Maroon absolutely destroyed the Caps top two lines in the matchup department, but primarily due to the Holtbeast (29 saves), they were held pointless.

This was a low energy game and Washington, after a strong first period, could not get the first goal. Edmonton goalie, Laurent Brossoit (18 saves), made a couple of quality stops on Devante Smith-Pelly from the right doorstep in the first two periods, but for the most part, he wasn’t tested much, especially during two early Caps power plays that looked nothing like the unit that went two for six against the Penguins on Friday night.

In fact, a lot of things didn’t look like the stellar Capitals win over the Pens on Sunday, except for Holtby.

Edmonton’s only marker of the night came after the Oilers “Household Name” line of Ryan Strome, Iiro Pakarinen, and Jujhar Khaira totally outworked the Caps fourth line of Jay Beagle, Brett Connolly, and Alex Chiasson plus the defensive pair of Brooks Orpik and John Carlson. That trio worked the puck behind the Capitals net and after Holtby stopped Pakarinen on a backhanded stuff attempt, Khaira put the biscuit in the basket on the rebound.

Washington then amped their game up and some good work by the Caps third line of Lars Eller, Tom Wilson, and Jakub Vrana plus the defensive pair of Madison Bowey and Dmitry Orlov led to the equalizer. That group of five skaters forced two turnovers before Bowey got the puck at the right point, alertly recognized that there were too many Oilers between him and the net, and slid the puck to #9 at the left point. Dmitry then worked a sweet give and go with Wilson with Willy providing a “Backstrom-like” behind the back pass to a streaking Orlov in the slot. Dima would notch his first goal of the season with a laser to the far right corner to even the contest up just less than four minutes after the “Household Name” line grabbed the lead for Edmonton.

From there, the Oilers carried a large majority of the play, but no one could score. On to overtime this one went and Holtby had the biggest save in three on three with a major portion of the extra session looking like a soccer overlap drill. McDavid did have a semi-breakaway in overtime, but he shot wide when the Holtbeast challenged him.

In the gimmick, T.J. Sochi scored on his first attempt and Holtby denied Draisaitl, McDavid, and Mark Letestu to complete what felt like a grand theft auto type of win for the Caps. The Osh Babe really owns the shootout and Oshie, along with Holtby, were the difference in who received the bonus point.

Overall, there was a lot to dislike in this contest. Washington had nowhere near the energy level they had against the Penguins. Orlov was one of the major bright spots not only for scoring the tying goal, but his play at both ends of the rink was outstanding all 65 minutes. Wilson brought it in this tilt, too, fighting Maroon, drawing a power play early on when the “The Nuge” hooked him, and then making a great pass to help get the game all squared up.

On the flip side of the coin, Alex Ovechkin had no shots on goal and eight shot attempts in 23:48 of ice time. His center, Evgeny Kuznetsov, had another off night at the office, primarily because he tries too hard to set guys up instead of shooting the puck. There were two very notable situations where he chose to pass from the high danger area of the offensive zone instead of shooting and in both instances, the Caps never ended up with a shot on goal during that sequence. Kuzy talked to Isabelle Khurshudyan of The Washington Post about his terrible decision to pass up a shot in overtime last Monday night against Arizona explaining that he shouldn’t shoot if he hasn’t done the work on the play. This explanation is preposterous. This is a shoot first league and not firing on net, especially when you have teammates who have worked their tails off and sacrificed their bodies to go to the cage, is disrespectful to them.

Bottom line, #92 passing up shots from the high danger area, a place where the two time defending Stanley Cup Champions had the biggest advantage during their championship runs, HURTS THE TEAM! Kuznetsov has to learn that a shot and a rebound is many times the best pass. Coach Barry Trotz and his staff need to nip this problem in the bud right now because we’ve seen it far too often in the playoffs when the chips are on the line.

In summary, this was a poor effort from the Capitals and they can thank their MVP goalie, who is now 10-3, for this win.

All hail the Holtbeast!

Notes: Shots on goal were 30-19 for the Oilers…Edmonton won the faceoff battle, 30-27, but Nicklas Backstrom was 10-2…Orlov led the Caps in shots on goal with four…Connolly returned to the lineup for the first time since suffering a concussion in Vancouver on October 26th…Bowey was very solid in 16:51 of ice time as was Christian Djoos, who played 14:40…Carlson logged 29:17 while Orpik played 23:57. The Capitals blue line was good in this matchup, so the forwards were the primary reason for the shot attempt disparity…the Caps, who are now 10-7-1 (21 points), will play in Nashville on Tuesday night at 8 pm.

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Willy Bruins

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Tom Wilson Helps the Caps Plow by Boston, 3-2

Posted on 04 November 2017 by Ed Frankovic

For the second straight game, the Washington Capitals got big performances from their third line and goalie Braden Holtby (31 saves) to win a hockey game by a single puck.

Tom Wilson scored twice and Alex Ovechkin notched his 11th goal of the season as the Caps defeated the Boston Bruins, 3-2, in Beantown on Saturday night.

Unlike their most recent win against the Islanders, Washington deserved this victory as a team where it was really the Holtbeast and subpar netminding from Jaroslav Halak that gifted the Capitals two points on Thursday.

The Caps were more physically engaged in this affair and they announced their presence with authority in the first period, jumping out to a 2-0 lead. One of the Capitals biggest problems is passing up shooting opportunities, but in this game they earned their early two puck advantage by putting the biscuit on net. Wilson would open the scoring after a shot resulted in an offensive zone faceoff. Lars Eller battled for the ensuing draw along with linemate Chandler Stephenson and the disc bounced free to Willy near the goal line and he alertly snapped it quickly on the cage. The shot eluded Tuukka Rask and just 7:01 into this one, the guys in white had an early lead.

Ovechkin would then nearly make it 2-0 on a clean breakaway. Evgeny Kuznetsov made a sweet feed out of the Washington zone to spring the Gr8. Rask, however, had other plans and thwarted Ovi’s attempt to go five hole. Alex was clearly ticked off at not finishing, but he channeled that frustration into some hard wall work and he seized the puck behind the Boston net. He then wheeled it around the boards back to the point and from there the puck made its way to Dmitry Orlov at the left point and he went cross ice nicely to Kuzy, who then found a seam to Ovechkin, who had moved all alone in the slot. The Gr8 then pounced like a shark in blood infested waters and rifled a one-timer by Rask to make it 2-0.

That first frame was a dominant one for the Capitals and things were looking good, but then the Bruins came to life in the middle stanza. David Pastrnak got behind the Capitals defense and scored five hole on the Holtbeast just 3:37 into the period. From there the Bruins stormed into the Washington end as if “the British were coming.” It was wave after wave of black and yellow jerseys but Holtby, as he usually is against the Bruins, was dialed in and held the fort.

Then with just 1:10 left in the period, Brooks Orpik made a huge keep in at the left point and he fired the puck towards the net. Wilson was in the high slot and he deflected it beautifully by Rask to give the Caps a two goal advantage heading into period three.

From there things got hairy as Coach Barry Trotz’ crew, who had been penalty free for the first 40 minutes, took four minors. Washington killed off the first three, but a late Wilson tripping infraction resulted in another goal for Pastrnak with 2:32 to go. The Caps would manage to hold off the Bruins with Orpik making a huge block just before the final buzzer.

It was a gritty victory in a tough place to play. The Caps do seem to have Boston’s number, much like the Penguins own the Capitals, and on this night Ovi and company earned a much needed triumph to improve their record to 7-6-1 (15 points).

Here are some thoughts and analysis on the Capitals second win in a row:

  • Wilson had a big donut hole in the goals column coming into this one, but he’s been playing well when slotted with Eller on the third line. In this affair he was the best player on the ice notching his first two tallies of the season and delivering some big time hits to the likes of Brad Marchand and others. He was just sensational on the penalty kill, as well, and nearly scored shorthanded to get the hat trick. I really like the way this Stephenson-Eller-Wilson line is playing. They are hard on the puck and skate well.
  • Getting a goal from Ovechkin was big because he had gone five games without one. What was even better was how it was scored. It was the result of hard work, especially by the captain. Winning the board battles is a big key to winning games, and that’s what Coach Trotz needs from his top lines.
  • Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie didn’t have any points in this affair, but both defended well against the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak. Jakub Vrana was their linemate for about half of their shifts (10:40 of ice time) and #13 just isn’t getting it done to help produce offensively. Vrana is playing too much of a perimeter game and needs to win more one on one battles so that Backy and the Osh Babe can start scoring again. Too many pucks are dying with Vrana right now.
  • The Caps power play was 0 for 2 and once again they moved the puck well around the perimeter, but didn’t shoot enough. The 1st unit was on the ice quite a bit for the second man advantage opportunity, but it was an offensive pass fest. Last season Marcus Johansson, along with Oshie, did a good job of getting to the front of the net for rebounds and tip in goals. With Jojo gone, no one is in there helping out #77 in front. That is something the coaching staff should probably look at. Do they want Backstrom and/or Kuznetsov getting to the front of the net to help Oshie? Seems like whoever is the low man on the power play on the opposite side of Ovechkin should be crashing that far post more often, much like Sidney Crosby does for the Penguins.
  • Holtby won’t be happy about the second goal he allowed, but he’s playing sensational. He not only made the first stops, but there were several rebound chances that he put himself in great position to thwart. There were numerous times in period two where the Bruins had a chance to equalize things and #70 said “No way, Jose.” The Caps knew they were going to have to rely on their goaltending this season with such a young defense, that has gotten even younger with Matt Niskanen out, and Braden has delivered. They don’t get these last two wins without outstanding goaltending.
  • Speaking of Niskanen, the Capitals are now 4-5 without #2 this campaign. Three of the five losses have come on the tail end of back to back game situations. On Saturday morning, Matt was skating with a stick and puck for the first time since his injury in New Jersey, so he’s getting closer to returning, but I think it’s a stretch to think he’ll be back for the game against Buffalo on Tuesday, the first one he’s eligible to play due to long term injured reserve. Even playing next Friday against the Penguins seems like a long shot right now. Madison Bowey has stepped up well in Niskanen’s absence and Christian Djoos was better defensively on Saturday night, so the young guys are handling the “baptism by fire” approach, so far.

Overall, this was a stronger performance from the Caps. They are doing a better job of defending in their own end and the younger players are gaining confidence. That should help when Niskanen returns to the lineup since the minutes being given to Carlson and Orpik right now are not sustainable long term.

Notes: the Caps now face Arizona at Capital One Arena on Monday night at 7 pm before immediately flying out to Buffalo for Tuesday’s date with the Sabres…Carlson played a team high 29:18 while the 37 year old Orpik was stellar in 25:08 of action. Orlov, who was much better in this affair, logged only 18:54, but they were very effective minutes. Coach Trotz needs consistency out of #9…Taylor Chorney had his best game of the season logging 15:23 on the back end. Bowey (+3) played 14:39 and Djoos was at 13:27…Backstrom led the forwards in ice time at 19:31…the Capitals lost the faceoff battle, 31-29. Eller (1 assist in 14:19) was 8-3…power plays were four to two for Boston. I have no gripe with the calls on the Capitals, but Ian Walsh and Chris Rooney missed several infractions on the Bruins, especially a high stick by Marchand on Orpik right before the second Bruins goal.

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Eller Isles

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Eller and Holtby Lead the Caps over the Islanders

Posted on 02 November 2017 by Ed Frankovic

They always say goaltending is the great equalizer in hockey, and Thursday night’s Caps-Islanders game proves that axiom.

Lars Eller scored two goals and added an assist as Washington’s third line was dominant all evening and Braden Holtby stopped 35 of 38 shots, many of them of the high danger variety, to give the Capitals a much needed 4-3 victory over the New York Islanders at Capital One Arena.

The Isles outplayed the Caps quite a bit in this one, outshot attempting the home squad, 72-48, including 38-19 in shots on goal for the game and 16-2 in the third period. Jaroslav Halak, however, was a sieve for New York in net while the Holtbeast bailed out numerous Caps turnovers and soft plays in this affair.

The triumph puts Washington back to .500 at 6-6-1 (13 points) and improves their home record to 2-3.

Here are eight thoughts on this ugly win.

  1. Chandler Stephenson, Eller, and Tom Wilson were the best line on the ice for the Caps. Not only did they score three times (Taylor Chorney scored the Caps 1st goal from the point with Willy parked in front of the net), they drew two penalties. Washington really needed some production from the bottom six and the third line delivered.
  2. Alex Chiasson hasn’t had much production in his short time with the Caps, but he did do something only a few guys were doing on Thursday night, he shot the puck. #39 had two of the Capitals 19 shots on goal (Eller had three) and his second period laser just 12 seconds after Anders Lee had knotted the game, gave Washington a one puck lead heading into the final frame. Chiasson still has a lot of work to do to deserve to stay in the lineup, most notably, he needs to be quicker and also do a better job of winning board battles. He’s basically playing right now due to injuries to Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky.
  3. Did I mention that Halak stunk tonight? I guess the Caps top six didn’t get that memo because they repeatedly over passed all game. This was not smart hockey. One time the Caps had a three on one break and didn’t even get off a shot on goal. This over passing pattern needs to cease and desist and it’s the top guys who are most guilty. Simplify your game and get the puck on net, especially when the opposing goalie doesn’t appear to be able to stop a beach ball! Halak gave up four goals on 19 shots. He was horrendous and cost his team the game.
  4. Speaking of not playing smart hockey, Washington was whistled for another too many men on the ice penalty and it took the Islanders just 21 seconds to tie the game at two. How does this keep happening this season? The coaches and players better figure out the line changes fast or people are going to lose their jobs over that type of brain dead hockey.
  5. In honor of Halloween, the Caps special teams should be featured on Count Floyd’s Monster Chiller Horror Theatre this week with Alan May filling in for the great Joe Flaherty. The power play was a train wreck with soft perimeter passing that the Islanders easily exploited with hard work. The best chance on the Capitals four power plays was a Casey Cizikas shorthanded breakaway that the Holtbeast fortunately gobbled up. Washington’s penalty killing unit continued to underwhelm going two for four. On the first Isles power play tally John Carlson doesn’t cover one of the hottest goal scorers in the league, John Tavares, off of the faceoff because he gets caught puck watching. #91 is initially denied by the great Holtby in close, but then he deposits the rebound since #74 is slow to arrive. “Scary stuff, Kids!!!” is the best way to sum up the Capitals special teams. Coach Barry Trotz and assistant Coach Blaine Forsythe better fix this mess quickly!
  6. If tomorrow was Christmas, I’d give Evgeny Kuznetsov a yo-yo because that’s the way his season has gone so far. One night he looks like the best player on the planet (see the Edmonton win) and then some nights he’s just invisible. I don’t think #92 won a single board battle against the Islanders. He looked out to lunch the whole game. It was a pitiful effort and inexcusable for a guy making $7.8M a season. It’s hard for Alex Ovechkin to do what he does best, score, when his center is continually making poor decisions or not working hard enough to get the puck for his team.
  7. Rookie Madison Bowey was really good again on the back end in 13:25 of ice time. His alert play and drive to the net on Eller’s first goal was just smart and talented hockey. Even though Lee scored the Islanders third goal with #22 covering him, he still played very well and was another reason the Caps had a chance in this affair. That Islanders third goal was primarily on the bad icing by Dmitry Orlov and then Kuznetsov losing a key defensive zone draw. When Matt Niskanen returns from injury, Bowey better not be the guy sent back to Hershey, he has proven to be a very solid right handed blue liner and he has four assists in eight games. I like a Niskanen-Carlson-Bowey right side of the ice on defense.
  8. A guy who takes a lot of abuse from the over Corsi focused crowd, but is playing some outstanding hockey is Brooks Orpik. With Niskanen out, #44 has really stepped up and he logged 24:33 of ice time and was +2 in this one. The 37 year old is in outstanding shape and is playing far more minutes than normal, but he’s getting it done. With the erratic play of Orlov since Niskanen went out injured and rookie Christian Djoos’ defensive zone weaknesses, Coach Trotz has turned to “Batya” to stabilize the back end and he’s done just that.

Overall, the Capitals should be thankful that Holtby was superb and Halak was a hunk of swiss cheese in this game because the Caps were outworked and probably deserved to lose.

There are a lot of things that need fixing in the Capitals game and it starts with effort from some of the top guys. Special teams are on the list shortly thereafter. They are 3-5 without Niskanen and it’s not clear, at this time, if he’ll be able to return next Tuesday in Buffalo when he’s eligible to come off of long term injured reserve. Matt’s absence is putting pressure on the team’s depleted depth that took a big hit with the expansion draft and the salary cap restrictions. They are 0-3 in back to back games and they will do that again next week when they face Arizona on Monday and then the Sabres in Buffalo on Tuesday. Before that happens, though, they’ll face Boston in Beantown on Saturday night.

Those three squads aren’t exactly world beaters, but neither are the Capitals the way they are playing right now. More guys need to get dialed in and work harder and smarter, otherwise the teams in their division will start pulling away in the standings.

There is definitely room for concern with this club right now, and it isn’t all due to a reduced level of talent, there is plenty of it there to win games.

They are very lucky, right now, to have an all world goalie in Holtby, because he was the difference on Thursday night.

All hail the Holtbeast!

Notes: Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 27:28…Ovechkin had only six shot attempts and just two shots on goal. A winger needs his center to get him the puck. Kuzy didn’t do that on Thursday…Chorney scored a goal, but took a bad penalty in the third period. He only played 12:16, lowest of all Caps defensemen…the Caps were at least good overall in face-offs going 32-20. Eller was 9-3. Kuznetsov was 8-3, but had the costly lost draw after an icing in the final frame that led to the Islanders third goal…Devante Smith-Pelly had four hits and Wilson had three, one of #43’s was a neutral zone doozy…Stephenson had two assists, including a “Backstrom-esque” feed on Eller’s first goal.

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Ovi Detroit

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Ovechkin’s OT Tally Helps Caps Right the Ship

Posted on 20 October 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals were less than three minutes away from losing their fifth game in their last six tries and falling below .500 for the first time in forever, and then everything changed.

Detroit’s Dylan Larkin took a careless delay of game penalty and T.J. Oshie scored on the power play, with Braden Holtby on the bench for the extra attacker, with just 1:01 remaining to send this tilt to overtime.

In the Caps first ever visit to the new Little Caesar’s Arena, Alexander Ovechkin drew a tripping penalty and then scored his first career goal on Wings goalie, Petr Mrazek, to win the game for Washington, 4-3. The Capitals are now 4-3-1 on the season and more importantly, they halted a two game slide. Had they lost this one, they would’ve been 0-3 without the injured Matt Niskanen in the lineup.

For most of this game, the Capitals played well, especially at five on five, but they took too many penalties, once again (five). Detroit used the last one, a terrible delay of game penalty on John Carlson, to grab a 3-2 lead with 6:15 left in regulation. The goal by Tomas Tatar, which came just over seven minutes after he scored his first of the night on an unbelievable deflection to tie the game up at deuces, came on a power play rush. Good things happen when you get pucks to the net and that’s what the Red Wings did on their first 3rd period tally that came just under four minutes after Jay Beagle’s shorthanded breakaway gave Washington a 2-1 lead just 84 seconds into the final frame.

Things were looking bad for the Caps trailing by a puck with just six minutes left and they didn’t help themselves by trying too many East-West passes when they were coming across the Detroit blue line. Washington tends to get into this habit too often. Good things happen when you get pucks and bodies to the net, the Tatar first tally was proof of that, so why the Capitals keep forcing cross ice feeds just inside the opposing blue line is a head scratcher?

Larkin’s mistake allowed the Caps to finally realize what they needed to do to succeed – go North-South and get to the net. Coach Barry Trotz pulled the Holtbeast (34 saves) and put Ovechkin, Oshie, Carlson, Evgeny Kuznesov, Nicklas Backstrom, and Andre Burakovsky on the ice. Burakovksy, who has been really struggling, had more jump in this one, especially after he tied the game up late in period two with a sweet snipe off of a great feed from Dmitry Orlov. #65’s laser was able to elude Mrazek thanks to a beauty of a screen by Backstrom.

It would take the Capitals 102 seconds to tie the game with Larkin in the box. Backstrom made a great play along the wall to carry in the puck and fight off two defenders before getting the puck to Kuznetsov down low. With Burakovsky and Oshie crashing the net, #92 found #65 all alone in front of Mrazek. When the Wings goalie totally committed to Burkie’s shot, Andre slid the puck over to the Osh Babe, who made no mistake about depositing it into the open cage for his sixth goal in eight games. It was text book hockey – get pucks and bodies to the net and you drastically increase your chances to score.

The goal then set the stage for the Gr8. Backstrom made a SUPER zone entry using his body, or big fat ass as Mike Babcock calls it, to shield the biscuit from two Wings defenders. The Caps then got set up four on three. With Oshie in front, Backstrom, Carlson, and Ovechkin all rotated around and confused the Detroit PK trio. #19, moving to his right, then slid an all world pass back across the ice to Ovi, and the league’s best goal scorer buried it far post for his 10th goal in just eight games.

Game over!

Wow, what a comeback!

This was a huge win because the Capitals finally received some balance in the goal scoring department. They had two goals from players in their bottom six in Beagle and Burakovsky (dropped down to the third line for this tilt) and when the chips were down and things looked lost, the Osh Babe and Ovi showed up to save the day.

It was a much needed victory in a season that will see the Eastern Conference very tightly bunched for most of the campaign. Giving points away now makes things harder to overcome later in the season, so this was a monumental triumph.

Here are some other random thoughts on Friday’s big OT win:

  • Orlov was just stellar in this game and he led the Capitals in ice time at 27:37. When #9 has the puck he really is able to drive possession and he did just that in Motown.
  • I liked the move of Tom Wilson up with Backstrom and Oshie. #43 is a big physical presence who can really skate. He caused havoc for the Wings most of the night. If Tom can get his hands to cooperate this line could really take off because Backy and Osh are playing so well. It really is unbelievable just how good #19 is at both ends of the ice.
  • Ovi had a terrible giveaway on the Wings first tally, a shorthanded goal by Darren Helm on a two on one rush. Holtby was hung out to dry a bit, but I bet #70 would like to have that shot back. He won’t like being beat short side there.
  • Burakovksy had three shots on net, all of which were very good chances. He still needs to work on adding a very quick snap shot to his arsenal. Too often he has to cradle the puck before firing and that gives the goalie and opponents time to adjust.
  • Madison Bowey played the fourth highest minutes for Caps defenders and he performed very well. #22 logged 15:50 and was +1. He is very sound positionally and he has the size, speed, and skill to be a top four defensemen in this league in due time. As much as it hurts to have Nisky injured, being able to bring Bowey up now will end up being a blessing in disguise for Washington later in the season. This kid can play.
  • Carlson had 10 shots on net in 27:07. He’s playing a ton of hockey and his subpar third period was likely the result of too many minutes. Coach Trotz is going to have to try and find a way to keep him under 25 minutes overall going forward until Niskanen returns.
  • Shot attempts for the game were 69-65 for Washington, but at even strength shots on goal were 29-23 for the Capitals. The Caps can still do better in the offensive zone with the puck. Did I mention there were a lot of offensive zone giveaways on bad decisions?
  • The Holtbeast is now 4-2 this season with a save percentage right around .93. Once again, the Capitals will need their star players to shine this season, and so far Holtby, Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Oshie are doing just that.
  • Alex Chiasson hasn’t done much for the Caps in seven games, but his play to set up Beagle’s shorthanded tally was some good ole fashioned hard work and sacrificing of his body on the penalty kill.

Next up for the Caps are the Florida Panthers at Capital One Arena in DC on Saturday night at 7:30. Both teams played on Friday night with the Cats losing at home to the Penguins, 4-3.

Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle, 33-27. All Star Backstrom was 10-5…Taylor Chorney had the fewest minutes on the blue line with just 11:53 of ice time. Forward Devante Smith-Pelly only played 6:02 and Chiasson saw just 9:56 of action…Philipp Grubauer will get the start for the Capitals on Saturday night. Florida will likely go with James Reimer since Roberto Luongo injured his right thumb against the two time defending Stanley Cup Champions on Friday night.

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Caps over Devils Burkie

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Burakovsky’s Bout Spurs the Caps to a 5-2 Win in New Jersey

Posted on 13 October 2017 by Ed Frankovic

“You mess with the bull, you get the horns.”

That was the message the New Jersey Devils received from the Washington Capitals on Friday night at the Prudential Center.

Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and three helpers, T.J. Oshie had two goals and an assist, Alex Ovechkin had his league leading 9th goal of the season and a gorgeous assist on Backstrom’s tally, and Evgeny Kuznetzov had two assists in a 5-2 Capitals victory that improved their record to 3-1-1 (7 points) and put them in sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Braden Holtby made 21 saves in the cage in a solid performance and overall Washington played their most complete game of the season.

Tom Wilson returned from a bogus George Parros imposed four game suspension to bring physicality and energy to the lineup and that jump started the third line allowing the Washington stars to take over the contest. Jakub Vrana tipped in a shot from Devante Smith-Pelly late in period two for a critical tally that made it 3-1, which was big because the Caps needed some strong contributions from their bottom six forwards (Vrana is in the top six, but DSP is on the fourth line).

Perhaps the biggest development of the night, though, was Andre Burakovsky’s first fight that came 2:33 into the final frame with the Capitals clinging to a one goal lead. Blake Coleman dangerously took out Dmitry Orlov’s legs and sent him slamming hard into the boards. A penalty was being called, but #65 wasn’t about to just walk away without letting Coleman know he crossed the line. Burkie dropped his mitts and went after the bigger Devil and lost the fight, although he didn’t take any hard shots to the head. Instantly the Capitals bench stood up and applauded the “good ole fashioned guts” from Andre “Killer” Burakovsky. It was a moment of team toughness and togetherness that this club displayed and you can bet that Andre will get a lot of “ataboys” from his teammates on the way to Philadelphia for Saturday night’s tilt against the despised Flyers.

Shortly after the Burakovsky bout, Lars Eller took a high stick to the face and that’s when Osh Babe, Ovi, Backy, and Kuzy made sure that young Andre’s first NHL fight wouldn’t go for naught. The Caps scored two pretty power play goals on the double minor to salt this one away.

Then it was payback time.

With 7:29 remaining, Coleman manned up and fought Wilson. Blake was whipped so badly that “Rag Doll” by Aerosmith would’ve been a fitting song to pipe through the public address system at that moment. Simply put, Willy let it be known that Coleman wasn’t walking out of the arena nearly injuring Orlov and beating up on the previously undefeated prize pupil, Burakovsky.

This is the kind of stuff that brings an already tight team even closer together. You can see that this Caps club is in it for each other. Everyone around the league and even many in town are already writing these guys off and foolishly trying to tie the local DC baseball teams post season failures to this hockey franchise. It’s pathetic, if you ask me. Baseball has nothing to do with hockey, period.

Anyone who really knows hockey sees the immense talent on this team despite the off season subtractions due to the salary cap. Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and Oshie are all top NHL players. Combined they have 37 points in just five games. To quote a famous movie from the mid-90’s, yes, “37!” These guys are good and they are still a work in progress with Vrana as a new piece in the top six and Burakovsky moving up as well for the departed Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson. Many are convinced that Oshie can’t score 33 goals again this year because of his high 2016-17 shooting percentage, but as I pointed out all summer, that shooting percentage didn’t including shots that missed the net. Oshie gets a lot of in close chances because of the guys he’s playing with and with the Gr8 on absolute fire, he’s getting more room and hitting the corners with his attempts so far. He’s notched five goals in five games, which is amazing, but when Alexander the Great already has nine, yes nine goals, it’s easy to overlook #77’s production. Last year I often wrote, “Pay the Man!” Boy am I glad the man got paid. Thanks Brian MacLellan.

Getting Wilson back reignited the third line and Brett Connolly and Eller had one of their best games of the season. When you have at least three lines going, it makes it very difficult for the opponents to match up. The Caps needed a presence from the bottom six forwards and they delivered on Friday.

On defense, things got tough with Matt Niskanen exiting the game on what appeared to be a missed slashing call by the inconsistent zebras. It was the second critical missed opponent slash in two tilts. On Wednesday night the referees failed to call a Carter Rowney slash on Kuznetsov on a rush late in that contest that would’ve given Washington a power play and a chance to tie the game.

Nisky will be reevaluated tomorrow, according to Coach Barry Trotz. That slash, with the Caps shorthanded, allowed the Devils to score on the power play and get within one goal with 3:32 to go in period two.

After Smith-Pelly’s key goal made it 3-1, things got close again in the first minute of period three when Kyle Palmieri took a great pass from Damon Severson and split Christian Djoos and Orlov for a breakaway marker.

When Orlov got dumped into the boards and stayed down on the next shift, things were looking bad for Washington, but then “Killer” Burkakovsky stepped in and took one for the team and the Capitals star players made sure to make the Devils pay the price on the scoreboard the rest of the way.

This was a feel good victory against a division opponent that was 3-0 and had just defeated the talented Toronto Maple Leafs earlier in the week.

Impressive messages were sent this night by the Capitals on the scoreboard, with their fists, and with their hearts.

On to the “City of Brotherly Love.”

Notes: Given the Capitals salary cap situation, if Niskanen can’t play on Saturday night in Filthy, it’s likely that Taylor Chorney will get a sweater because calling up Madison Bowey, a deserving right handed shooting blue liner, would require someone else to be sent to Hershey, unless #2 has to go on long term injury (which would be a bad scene)…the Caps were for 3 for 5 on the power play while New Jersey went 1 for 4…John Carlson led the Capitals in ice time with 27:26.  Niskanen only played 12:18 before exiting the contest so the other four guys played extra minutes than in a normal situation. Brooks Orpik logged 22:04, Orlov 21:12, Djoos 16:47 and Aaron Ness played 13:38…shot attempts were 52-46 in favor of the Caps…New Jersey won the faceoff battle, 39-27.  Jay Beagle went 8-5…Backstrom got hit with a puck in warmups and then notched four points…expect Philipp Grubauer to get the start in net against the Flyers on Saturday night.

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Caps Thoughts After the Season Opening Victory in Ottawa

Posted on 06 October 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin’s hat trick and shootout tally allowed the Washington Capitals to overcome 3-1 and 4-3 third period deficits to win, 5-4, in Ottawa on Thursday night in the Caps season opener. Evgeny Kuznetsov had three helpers and Braden Holtby made 28 saves, several of which came at key junctures in the hockey game.

Simply put, when your star players are your star players, you often win.

With that, here are nine thoughts on the Caps victory over a very good Senators team that was missing its best player in defensemen Erik Karlsson.

I predicted 50 goals for Ovi this year after he changed his offseason training and slimmed down. The Gr8 was super in this affair with 11 shot attempts, 3 goals plus a shootout tally. He also hit the post in period two. The Gr8, Kuzy, and Jakub Vrana were a very good line and when #13 keeps his legs pumping he opens up space on the ice for his teammates.

Brett Connolly has a good shot and he buried his 1st of the season from the high danger area. It was a great keep in and pass by Matt Niskanen at the offensive blue line and Lars Eller made a great feed to #10 on that goal. I really liked the way Eller went to the net and created space for Connolly to score.

It’s not often your goalie plays well giving up four goals, but the Holtbeast was strong in the cage. The 1st Sens marker was eerily reminiscent of the weird lamp lighters Toronto scored in the playoffs last season. Braden made several big stops, including a gem on Johnny Oduya early on. His best of the night was likely the shoulder save when Ottawa was on the power play in overtime.

Ottawa had five power plays to just one for the Caps, yet Washington out shot attempted them 62-56. Nine of the Senators 32 shots on goal came on the power play. Simply put, the Capitals were very good at even strength and the season opening performance in terms of puck possession is encouraging.

Washington won this game thanks to four even strength goals and a perfect 5 for 5 on the penalty kill. Holts was stellar in net while the team was shorthanded and the Caps did well with their clears. Brooks Orpik and John Carlson were super in shorthanded situations. Devante Smith-Pelly also did well on the PK stepping in for the suspended Tom Wilson (out for the first four games).

Three of the four Ottawa goals were off of bad turnovers (Carlson, Niskanen, and Smith-Pelly). Better puck management is paramount going forward. There were forced passes in the neutral zone and pucks sent up the middle of the ice in the defensive end. Both of those are no no’s. In the words of famed Charlestown Chiefs goalie Dennis Lemieux, “You don’t do that, never, never…”

Coach Barry Trotz rode his top players in the season opener. The top two lines each played right around 20 minutes. On the back end, Trotzy rode his top 4D hard. Orpik played 24:47 while Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen were each over 25 minutes. Carlson logged 27:45 to lead the club in ice time. I thought Orlov was fabulous in this contest and it’s amazing how much his game has progressed since he has been paired with Minnesota Matt. The third pairing of Aaron Ness and Taylor Chorney were right around 11 to 12 minutes of ice time.

The referees were Chris Lee and Frederick L’Ecuyer and the power plays were 5 to 1 for Ottawa. The league is supposed to be cracking down on certain things (slashing) yet Washington’s only man advantage was the result of Ottawa having too many dudes on the ice. Those are the facts. It was a bit of a head scratching game from a zebras perspective. Anyone seen Oliver Stone lately??!!

Tyler Graovac only logged 6:22, a team low, and was a minus one. He didn’t get any PK time either. I’d expect that Nathan Walker goes into the lineup on Saturday night for the 7 pm home opener against Montreal. Congrats to Nathan on being the 1st Australian hockey player to make it to “The Show!”

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Caps Smartly Lock Up T.J. Oshie Long Term

Posted on 25 June 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Pay The Man!

All last season as T.J. Oshie racked up key goal after key goal for the Washington Capitals from in the paint that was the phrase I used over and over about #77, whether it was in a tweet, a blog, or on the air on WNST.

Well, the Caps have now “Paid The Man!”

On Friday, Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan announced an eight year, $46M deal between the club and the “Osh Babe.”

Yes, T.J. and his whole family, who are must follows for their enthusiasm and passion on Instagram and Twitter will be Capitals for life.

Well done, Caps, well done.

Oshie, who will be 31 on December 30th of this year, has been the missing piece the Capitals have been searching for at right wing since Alexander Ovechkin entered the league in 2005-06. The closest they’ve come to having a true number one right wing was Alexander Semin back in the 2008 to 2010 period. But #28 was just too inconsistent, too soft on the boards, and took too many bad penalties to be counted on long term. Bottom line, that guy had all of the talent in the world, but he really didn’t have the interest or drive to put in the time or effort to be great at hockey. He was and still is one of the most maddening Capitals players to watch in club history.

Fast forward five years and Washington, under Coach Barry Trotz in his first season (2014-15), squeaked into second place in the Metropolitan Division on the last day of the regular season and parlayed that into a trip to the second round against the New York Rangers. The Caps would lose a three to one series lead and immediately afterwards in the summer of 2015, MacLellan stated that the Capitals needed to add to their top six up front to compete for the Stanley Cup. Specifically, he was looking for players who would go to the net and score, but also be able to compliment the skill they had up front in Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, and Andre Burakovsky. Enter Oshie in a trade for Troy Brouwer and Justin Williams via free agency and the Caps had players that knew how to win the one on one battles and keep pucks alive on the wall where previously they struggled to do so. Washington went on to win back to back Presidents’ Trophies before losing the Stanley Cup Final each spring in the second round to the eventual repeat Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Yes, they were devastating defeats, but let’s be honest, the Capitals were the second best team in hockey both seasons, but they had to face the best in round two because of the playoff format. As I wrote in my end of season blog, the biggest reason the Caps lost to the Penguins this spring was because they didn’t have enough players willing to go to the net and pay the price for the ugly goals. Oshie, Williams, and Johansson were the three Washington players who did that much better than any of the others on the club this past season.

Unfortunately for MacLellan, there is only so much money to go around and with the salary cap rising to just $75M and Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, and some others due for big raises, including Oshie, he was in a bind and could not keep this entire team intact for 2017-18.

In addition, they knew they were going to lose a decent player in the expansion draft to Vegas and it turned out to be defensemen Nate Schmidt. The 88 car, after being the sixth or seventh defensemen much of the regular season, really stepped up in the playoffs and was slated by MacLellan to be a top four blue liner with the Caps in 2017-18, despite having never done that at the NHL level for a full 82 games plus playoffs. Since the Golden Knights opted to draft Nate instead of goalie Philipp Grubauer (also a restricted free agent), Schmidt will likely play top four minutes for a full 82 games next season, but he won’t be going to the playoffs with the roster former Caps GM George McPhee has assembled for its inaugural season.

But back to Oshie, on the open market he could’ve easily grabbed a contract for four or five years at or above $7M a season. However, the Osh Babe made it clear he enjoyed playing in Washington and wanted to stay. Therefore, he opted for much longer term and lower money in the out years, which essentially results in a discount for the Capitals in the first five years of this deal. Oshie will get $32.5M ($6.5M AAV) yet only count $5.75M each year ($28.75M) against the salary cap in season’s one through five.

Again, looking more closely at the way this deal is structured, Oshie receives $22M of the $46M in the first three years. However, the Capitals could not afford a salary cap hit of $7.333M in the near term nor could they handle a five year deal where the cap hit was $6.5M.

Without T.J. though, they are simply not Stanley Cup contenders. There is no one on this club that dogs the puck like he does. He is a true number one right wing and they have no one in the pipeline in the organization that fits that role. I repeat, there is no top line right wing anywhere else in the organization. So the trade off to keep Oshie, which was a must do, was adding in years six through eight, where the Caps are on the hook for another $13.5M, for a player who will start the season at ages 35, 36, and 37, respectively.

Some are making this out to be a bad contract, but it really isn’t when you factor in salary cap growth and also the discount they receive for the player in years one through five.

Upon inception in 2005-06, the NHL salary cap was set at $39M and has grown over 13 seasons to the $75M figure it will be in 2017-18. Using linear regression of those 13 data points and extrapolating that into the future, the salary cap projects to be as follows: $79.4M in 2018-19, $82.13M in 2019-20, $84.87M in 2020-21, $87.60M in 2021-22, $90.33M in 2022-23, $93.07M in 2023-24, and $95.81 in 2024-25. Simply put, if the NHL continues to grow the game at the same rate it’s done since 2006, and that’s certainly achievable given that they overcame a lengthy lockout in 2012-13 that resulted in a flat salary cap from 2011-12 to 2013-14, then that $95.81M number is certainly achievable.

This is important because as Oshie ages it is natural to expect his production to decrease, especially in years six through eight. In year six he will be 35 years old to start the season, yet Williams just proved, that with quality players around him, you can still produce at a high level at that age and you’d have to expect that in those out years T.J. will have either Backstrom or Kuznetsov feeding him the puck.

Some will also point out that T.J.’s high shooting percentage in 2016-17 is not sustainable. Sure, based strictly on those numbers that’s likely true, but looking at where Oshie gets his shots from, it’s easy to see why he had 33 goals in just 68 games. Keep in mind that the 2016-17 shooting percentage figure does not take into account all of the shots he had in close that he missed the net on, either. Bottom line, #77 was the player who was likely to score the most goals as a Capital based on where his shots are coming from. All shots are not created equal and on this club, Oshie has gotten much better scoring chances than he ever did in St. Louis for some big reasons. First, he plays the right way by going to the net and secondly, you have to credit the highly skilled forwards on this club, primarily Backstrom and Ovechkin, his usual linemates, for helping open up the ice for T.J. Let’s not forget that many of those chances for all three of them often came as a result of Oshie’s ability to keep pucks alive in the offensive zone as well as get them out of his own end. He’s an elite player and he deserved to get paid that way.

The past two years Oshie’s salary cap hit was $4.5M which accounted for 6.3% (2016) and 6.16% (2017) of the Washington total. He was a super bargain at $4.5M, no doubt. There are no bargains out there for MacLellan to snag now for a number one right wing. Adding in the cap hits for Ovechkin and Backstrom, the trio combined for 25.25% and 24.44% of the total, in 2016 and 2017, respectively. In 2018, Oshie will account for 7.67% of the Capitals total yet the trio will be at 25.1% of the team total, which is lower than in 2016. As the salary cap increases, Oshie’s individual total drops and based on my league salary cap total projections, is only 6.36%, 6.18%, and 6.0% in years six, seven, and eight of the deal, respectively. Those percentages are certainly not horrible, and keep in mind that Ovechkin’s current salary cap figure will be off of the books starting in year five of Oshie’s deal.

Bottom line, if MacLellan doesn’t offer the eight year deal, there is no deal that keeps Oshie with the Capitals and that top line right wing hole becomes a much bigger one to fill than the fourth defensemen slot they vacated due to the losses of Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk to free agency and Schmidt to the Golden Knights.

Washington does have some very promising up and coming young defensemen in the system in Madison Bowey, Tyler Lewington, Christian Djoos, Jonas Siegenthaler, and Lucas Johansen, who should be able to step up at the NHL level in the near future, especially given how well Trotz and assistant coach Todd Reirden have done in developing both Orlov and Schmidt. So keeping Oshie in the top right wing slot instead of allocating the money for a fourth defensemen to be named later at an over market price is another reason why the Capitals got this one right.

Notes: Washington drafted four players in the 2017 NHL Draft. Defensemen Tobias Geisser, Sebastian Walfridsson, and Benton Maas were selected with the 120th, 151st, and 182nd picks, respectively. With the 213th pick of the draft (7th round), they took left wing Kristian Marthisen who was born in Norway but played in Sweden this past season…the Caps will host their annual development camp at Kettler Ice Plex this week from Monday to Saturday. Practices are open to the public.

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Should the Caps Blow it Up or Stay the Course?

Posted on 29 May 2017 by Ed Frankovic

After the Capitals added Kevin Shattenkirk at this season’s NHL trade deadline, I certainly thought I’d be writing a much happier ending to this recent Washington hockey season.

Alas, once again, that is not the case.

You already know the story; the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Washington Capitals in the playoffs for the second straight season, this time in a seven game series. In fact, it is now the ninth time in 10 playoff meetings that the Pens have knocked out the Caps. Jim Schoenfeld remains the only Capitals bench boss to defeat Mario Lemieux’s franchise in the post season (1994).

Let’s start with giving credit to the Penguins, because they certainly deserve that. Despite being outshot, 232-161, and outshot attempted, 484-317, in the series, they managed to hold the Caps to two goals or less in four of the seven tilts and as result, they won each of those games. There’s your series.

You don’t do that without outstanding play from your goaltender. Cleary, Marc Andre-Fleury’s performance against the Capitals was the biggest reason why the Penguins will likely be winning their fifth Stanley Cup this spring.

Next, you have to credit Sidney Crosby. Despite being injured in game three and missing game four, #87 was the difference maker for Pittsburgh. It was his two goals early in the second period of game one that staked the Pens to a two puck lead which gave his club the confidence it could win at the Verizon Center after being smoked there in the regular season. Then in a crucial game seven, Sid made the key pass on the winning goal after a Washington defensive zone turnover.

Finally, tip your hat to the entire Penguins team and coaching staff because they overcame a ton of injuries to defeat the Caps. Washington had injuries, as well, namely Alex Ovechkin’s knee and hamstring and Marcus Johansson’s fractured finger, but that’s a part of the game and the Pens found a way to persevere through all of their health issues.

The biggest reason the Pens won is because of their resolve. They certainly were outplayed by Washington for long stretches in this series, but they stuck to their system and when they received a break via a Caps turnover or mental mistake, they typically buried the biscuit. They were an opportunistic bunch who believed they could win. They also were able to plug guys into the lineup when some of their top guys were out. Without Crosby in game four, they jumped on the Caps early and held on for a win that ultimately gave the Caps no margin of error for a series comeback. So the Penguins deserve kudos for the depth they’ve created via strong drafting and development.

Congratulations Penguins, you clearly know how to win when the chips are down.

Now, were they the better team like they were in 2016 when they knocked off the Capitals in six games? The statistics say no, but the scoreboard says otherwise, and that is all that matters.

As for the Capitals, the roster assembled by General Manager Brian MacLellan, on paper, appeared to have no holes. Washington certainly did a lot of things correctly in the series. You don’t dominate the numbers as heavily as they did without doing many things right. Unfortunately, they did some big things wrong at inopportune times.

Washington carried the play in several periods in this series, didn’t score, and then tried to change their style of play. That is when they got into trouble and ended up losing. It was pretty obvious that the best Capitals game plan was to put pucks deep in the Penguins zone to try and further weaken a defense that was suffering from multiple injuries. Kris Letang was already out for the season and Trevor Daley was playing on bad wheels. But too often, the Capitals forgot that this is a shoot first league and they went into overpass mode. They were caught up far too easily in playing a pretty game and that is not the way you defeat a team as structured and as mentally tough as the Penguins.

Many Capitals players talked about the defeat being a mental thing on Caps Breakdown Day, and they are correct. Pittsburgh, no matter what the score or the situation, pretty much continued to play the same way. The Caps on the other hand, were not patient enough or mentally disciplined to stick with the game plan. As three time Stanley Cup Champion Justin Williams told me after game two, its okay to dominate a period and not score a goal, it happens in hockey. The problem for Washington though, is they wouldn’t maintain what they were doing and that’s when the fancy game and turnovers appeared on the ice. That’s a mental issue all the way.

While the Caps had a lot of shot attempts, they weren’t getting enough with traffic on Fleury and the players were rarely in position for rebounds. It’s a shoot first league and there were too many times, especially in the third period of game seven, when the Caps would cross the blue line and force the puck to the middle when getting it deep and wearing down the Penguins defense was the right play.

Again, that is a mental toughness issue, in my book. You have to be willing to pay the physical price in the playoffs by making the correct play. Taking a hit in the neutral zone and ensuring the puck gets deep in the offensive zone is a critical part of post season hockey. That applies inside both blue lines, as well. A number of the Penguins goals came as a result of lazy or careless turnovers. That’s a letdown on the mental side of the game. You can also attribute all of the terrible penalties the Capitals took in game four as a mental issue. Washington had a tendency to not come out strong in some contests, most notably games one and four. There is no reason why the Penguins should’ve had a 21-13 shot attempt advantage in the first 15 minutes of game four with Crosby out of the lineup in a must win for Washington. That’s inexcusable and both players and coaches need to answer for that.

Breaking things down by team component, let’s start with the coaching staff. All season long the Caps relied heavily on rolling four lines, but once Karl Alzner was deemed able to play with his hand injury and Brett Connolly struggled in his first post season appearance, Coach Barry Trotz went to seven defensemen and 11 forwards despite it being counter to what they’d done all season. Yes, the seven defensemen and 11 forwards strategy worked in game three, but it might have only been successful because Matt Niskanen was kicked out very early in the contest and the other six d-men were able to rotate normally. In game four, that configuration backfired badly as Alzner and Brooks Orpik, the two slowest Washington blue liners, were out on the ice together early in the game. Patrick Hornqvist, who isn’t exactly fast, split them like Moses parting the Red Sea to tally on a breakaway and it was 1-0 just over four minutes in. Pittsburgh gained a ton of confidence that they could win that contest without Crosby from that goal.

Following the game four loss, which was also heavily impacted by a very injured Ovechkin, who probably shouldn’t have played, Coach Trotz shook up his forward lines. He moved Andre Burakovsky with T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom and bumped the Gr8 down with Lars Eller and Tom Wilson. Those moves worked and Washington came storming back to tie up the series. They seemed poised for a big game seven, but Pens Coach Mike Sullivan adjusted and the Capitals didn’t play with the passion and urgency they had in the third period of game five and all of game six. Simply put, they cracked under the pressure. It’s apparent that the weight of being the #1 seed plus all of the past history of Washington recent playoff failures was heavily on the minds of these players.

Coach Barry Trotz has a track record of being tough on players who don’t follow the rules or the system as evidenced by the Ovechkin suspension in October of 2015 and Andre Burakovsky being benched in December of 2016. He even questionably pulled Braden Holtby after the second period in game two for what he thought was subpar goaltending. However, he and his staff let his skaters get away from the system too often in this series. Any deviation from the structure against a disciplined team like the Penguins can lead to a quality scoring chance, and that is what happened at key times in the series. If guys start playing the wrong way, they need to be benched for a shift or two so they get the message.

Johansson, Oshie, and Williams scored a lot of goals in the regular season going to the net. Jojo even won the Toronto series in OT of game six by doing just that. In the Penguins series, we didn’t see enough net presence and it was on the coaches to drill that into the players heads and enforce the strategy of getting pucks deep to set that up.

Again, I wasn’t a fan of the 7/11 configuration because it got the Caps away from the four line forward group that worked so well from late December until mid February. I understand why Brett Connolly was pulled out of the lineup for maybe a game or so to observe, but he also scored 15 goals in the regular season, many of which were tallied via going to the net. With some guys severely banged up and unable to shoot, like Johansson, why wasn’t he put back in for another chance? It was a mistake, in my opinion, to totally give up on a guy who could’ve been a better performer than the guys who were playing hurt. Case in point, Conor Sheary was performing poorly while being nicked up, so Sullivan benched him for games five and six of the Senators series. Yet in a crucial game seven, #43 was back in the lineup and played a major role in the first two Pittsburgh goals.

So did the Caps lose totally because of coaching? No, the coaching wasn’t great, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water here. This coaching staff has done a great job of building this team from the ruins of 2014. The two Presidents’ Trophies are evidence of that. Look at how far Dmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt, and Tom Wilson have come in just a year. Each one of those players was a big part of why the Caps knocked off the Maple Leafs and dominated the possession statistics against the Penguins.

The playoff coaching certainly needed some improvements, but in totality, this is a very good coaching staff. Trotz and company will certainly take their share of the heat for the loss, but the biggest blame for the defeat is on the players themselves. They have to be stronger mentally and physically to do the correct things on the ice.

Let’s start right at the top of the players with Ovechkin. There’s no nice way to put this, it was a subpar season for Ovi and it all began last summer. How you handle off of the ice issues and life changing events is a big part of professional sports and with Alex getting married last summer it clearly impacted his ability to prepare for and play in 2016-17. After scoring 50 goals in 2015-16 and having a super 2016 post season, Alex looked slow and overweight for the large majority of the season. Clearly his conditioning wasn’t where it needed to be and then missing training camp due to the World Cup of Hockey didn’t help either. At age 31 and not in peak shape, the Gr8 lost some speed and that allowed defensemen to play him tighter so that he couldn’t get his shot off quickly at even strength. Ovechkin lived off of the power play in 2016-17 to score goals as he struggled in five on five situations.

In the playoffs, the hit from Nazem Kadri was low and the Russian Machine didn’t break, but it certainly slowed him down further and probably contributed to suffering the hamstring injury, as well. However, had Ovi been in better condition and had his speed from the previous year, it’s quite possible he could have avoided the Kadri hit altogether.

Ovechkin has made great strides under this coaching staff with his back checking ability, something he rarely did prior to the Trotz era. He deserves a lot of credit for that. However, his ability to play in his own zone has regressed. Standing on the left wing boards straight legged with your stick at your hips parallel to the ice is bad defensive posture. He needs to get rid of that and work on being a better player in his own end. If he gets back in peak shape and works at it, there’s no reason he can’t turn proper defensive zone play into several rush goals in 2017-18. Again, it’s a focus on conditioning and hockey.

That gets us to Backstrom. #19 had a very good season, but game seven was nowhere near his best. MacLellan’s goal in adding Eller and Connolly was to improve the bottom six and allow Washington to play a faster game. The thought was that having four lines would allow Coach Trotz to play everyone more evenly so that they could maintain a high pace and be fresher in the postseason. At times, the Capitals were able to do that, but they were not consistent. Ovechkin and Backstrom both played lower average minutes than they had in past regular seasons, by design, and in the end, it was likely the wrong move as both looked tired, at times, in the post season. Nicky, in his twenties, has been able to survive playing with extra weight, but as he moves into his thirties, like Ovechkin, he needs to shed any extra pounds he has to play faster.

When Washington lost to the Penguins in 2015-16, you could not blame either Ovechkin or Backstrom because they dominated Crosby and Malkin in that series. It was the Nick Bonino line that won for the Pens in the spring of 2016. In 2016-17, you can’t say the same thing. Both Crosby and Malkin elevated their games while Ovechkin and Backstrom weren’t as good as they were the previous May. Sure the Caps only received one goal in the series from their bottom six, but they rarely played the fourth line due to the 7/11 strategy.

Crosby is the best player in the game for a reason; he works harder than anyone at his craft. Orpik was quoted recently as saying that #87 is always the first player on the ice and the last player off of it for the Penguins at practice. That needs to be Ovechkin and Backstrom going forward. We’ve heard from other players that both have made strides, especially Nicky, in speaking up in the locker room. Speeches are great, but actions speak louder and doing the proper things on and off of the ice is so much more critical to winning championships. Those two guys are the Capitals leaders and have been the core for 10 years so they must be setting the tempo that everything is hockey first in 2017-18. We should not have to hear from Orpik that the team needs to get focused on hockey, like we did after the disastrous California trip in March. There were several post game players only meetings this season, including one after game two against the Penguins, and while it’s good to clear the air, they aren’t as necessary if everyone is focused on hockey.

Ovechkin and Backstrom are clearly the core of the Capitals and the goaltender is the third critical piece to the triumvirate. Braden Holtby, who has been stellar in past post seasons, had his worst playoffs from a statistics standpoint. Now how much of that is on #70 and how much of it is on the team giving up too many golden chances? I’d lean more on the side of the team breakdowns, but this was not Braden’s spring. This series was likely over in five games if he doesn’t make some big stops early in period three before the Washington three goal explosion that led to a victory and a two game winning streak. In game seven, he had no chance on the winning goal. However, I still didn’t like the Justin Schultz winning tally in game four. If there was a goal he’d want back in the series, I’d bet it would be that one.

On defense, John Carlson played his best hockey of the season against the Penguins, but he did not have a consistent year. He needs to amp his conditioning up so that he can play faster, as well. The standouts of this postseason on the blue line were Orlov and Schmidt and that’s encouraging given where we were just a year ago with both of them. Bringing in Shattenkirk for Zach Sanford and a first round pick seemed like the right move at the time, but in the end, with no Stanley Cup, it’s a lost trade. #22 has enormous potential and talent, but he was slow in the playoffs. Again, I think that might be a conditioning issue, but he didn’t come over until March with Washington. Hindsight is 20/20 and the deal now is another one that weakens the Capitals reach back for young players. Sanford has a lot of promise and first round picks are valuable. I can’t fault Mac for making that move, but coming up Cup empty now makes it an overall organizational defeat.

So where do the Caps go from here? There are calls for firing the coach, trading Ovechkin, or “blowing it up” from many in the fan base and some around the club. Even a couple of players said “major changes” were needed just two days after losing to the Penguins. It’s a natural reaction when a team loses again after being the favorite.

Let’s be honest, this is a team that is largely based on European talent and it hasn’t produced a trip to the Eastern Conference finals yet. This club improved greatly with the additions of North American players Oshie and Williams in the summer of 2015. They are guys who have a high “dog the puck” type of work effort. Both are unrestricted free agents and the team needs more of that style. Word over the Memorial Day weekend is that the Capitals and the Osh Babe have verbally agreed to an extension so that is great news, this team is not a Cup contender without #77 going forward. It would be nice if they could find a way to get Williams back, as well, but that will be tougher given the salary cap situation. Per the Caps great team reporter, Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps), we’ve heard that the salary cap is going to be in the $76 to $77 Million range. That is a big help to Washington, who also have to deal with Burakovsky as a restricted free agent. There are some who think #65 deserves a big pay raise, but given his inconsistent output, I’m not sure Washington can commit to longer term and/or high dollars on him, just yet.

I just don’t see moving Ovechkin or Backstrom as feasible given the likely low return and to be honest, #19’s contract is a great one for the Caps. Evgeny Kuznetsov, who also improved significantly in the post season outside of a poor game seven, is up for a new contract. He’s a restricted free agent, but somewhere around $6M per season seems likely for him. As for Orlov and Schmidt, it’s apparent they’ve moved up big time on the depth chart of this defensive roster and deserve decent longer term contracts. I’m speculating that Orlov will be come in at around $4M and Schmidt in the $2 to $2.5M range. Both play with speed and drive possession, which is so important in today’s NHL. Unfortunately, there will have to be other changes on the blue line. Shattenkirk will get paid big bucks elsewhere and I’d expect the same for Alzner, who really had a rough campaign. King Karl admittedly had a hard time regaining his speed after offseason groin surgery and then he broke his hand in the first playoff tilt against Toronto.  As for Orpik, as much as he’s a strong leader and a fitness freak, which was a big help in starting to turn the culture of this team around in 2014-15, his on ice value compared to his salary cap hit is not equitable anymore. He’s a third pair defenseman and you can’t afford $5.5M annually for that type of player when you want to win a Cup. MacLellan will have to look at either working a deal to move him, getting Vegas to pick him in the expansion draft, or buying him out to clear some needed salary cap space.

If the Caps had players ready to make the leap from Hershey or the college ranks to the NHL, like the Penguins have been blessed with the last two seasons, the overall situation could be better. Perhaps the bottom six will see a player such as Travis Boyd or Riley Barber come up and help out? Jakub Vrana has shown glimpses of being able to handle the NHL, but after his demotion this year he dropped so far off of the map that he was scratched for some games by Bears Coach Troy Mann in the AHL playoffs. Vrana is streaky and inconsistent, much like Burakovsky has been, so do you want to rely on another guy who doesn’t go to the net or high traffic areas consistently to finally help get you past the Pittsburgh problem? Seems awfully risky to me.

Clearly MacLellan has a lot to address in this offseason given the number of contracts that are expiring, NHL expansion to Vegas, and salary cap constraints. He also has a head coach reportedly heading into the last year of his contract. Add in that the two core players on the roster will both be in their thirties in 2017-18 and it’s clear that the GM has a lot to consider when charting the course for next season.

It’s not an easy job and there are very hard decisions to make, but in this case, I think it’s worth staying the course for at least one more year with the head coach and core players. In regards to a coaching change, is there somebody out there better than this head coach and staff worth pursuing? After all, there are several young players who have really improved during the Trotz regime and they’ve won two straight Presidents’ Trophies. They will likely have lost to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions in the second round yet again (yes, I see the Penguins defeating the Predators in the Stanley Cup Final) and that’s simply a function of the current division and playoff setup. In reality, they are the second best team in hockey, so does making drastic changes make sense? I don’t think so.

Brian, however, has to put pressure on the coaches and players to improve and be in better condition so they can make the playoffs and then deliver next spring. In hindsight, the World Cup of Hockey, which included participation from Coach Trotz and several top players, put the Capitals behind the eight ball from a readiness standpoint heading into 2016-17. The lack of preparation, based on what I’ve seen and heard, is a big reason they weren’t able to knock off the Penguins in the second round, once again.

So it’s incumbent upon Coach Trotz, Ovechkin, Backstrom, and everyone else in line after them to start getting ready for 2017-18 as soon as possible. Ovi, Nicky, and all of the players need to put in the hard work this July, August, and September so that they are in the best condition to play at a maximum pace in April, May, and hopefully June. If they can’t do that over the next 12 months, then certainly it will be time to “blow it up.”

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Jojo SWG

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Johansson’s OT Tally Wins the Series for the Caps

Posted on 24 April 2017 by Ed Frankovic

It took six close games, five of them decided in overtime, for the Washington Capitals to finally extinguish the Toronto Maple Leafs with Marcus Johansson tallying his second goal of the night to give the Caps a 2-1 victory 6:31 into the extra session. The Caps will now move on to face the Pittsburgh Penguins in round two, starting on Thursday night at the Verizon Center, in what is a rematch of last spring’s second round battle.

Like game five, this was another tight defensive battle with strong goaltending. Neither team scored through 40 minutes, with the Leafs owning the lead in the shot attempt totals, at 47-38, but the Caps had the better of the scoring chances, especially their second line.

In the third period, it was anyone’s game, but Washington started to take over with their depth. The Capitals had several good scoring chances, but then a weird bounce and a missed defensive assignment cost them the first goal.

Morgan Reilly dumped the puck in to the Caps end and it took a crazy carom off of the glass into the slot. Auston Matthews, who is already a star in this league at age 19, jumped on the puck and went in alone on Braden Holtby (37 saves). The kid from the desert went top shelf on the Holtbeast to make it 1-0 just 7:45 into the final frame. It was a fortuitous break for Toronto, but the goal was preventable. Had Evgeny Kuznetsov kept skating instead of gliding at the Caps defesnsive blue line, he could have beaten Matthews to the puck. It’s a good lesson for #92 and the whole team to learn in the playoffs – a single missed stride can cost your team a goal.

In the past, the Matthews tally might have devastated the Caps bench, but not this year. No, this team amped their game up and started taking the play to the Maple Leafs and just over five minutes after #34 had all of Yonge Street thinking there was going to be a game seven, the Caps tied it up.

Lars Eller made a strong offensive zone entry on the left wing boards and he fed a streaking Johansson in the slot. Marcus pushed the puck ahead to escape the Leaf defender and then he pinballed one in off of Frederik Andersen (34 saves) into the net with just 7:09 remaining. It was a monstrous tally and it came because the Capitals started to push the play.

Washington would continue to do that and then in the overtime, they took their game to 11.

The Caps had no thoughts of sitting back on Coach Mike Babcock’s squad and they thoroughly outworked and dominated a young Leafs team in the overtime. They had several scoring chances, Comcast’s Alan May had it 7 to 1, with Jojo getting his second of the night and the series winner on a play where he simply did what he had done all season long to score a career high in goals (24), he went to the front of the net.

A Leafs icing forced Babcock to leave a tired crew on the ice, which included game one goat, Martin Marincin, as well as his fourth line (Kasperi Kapanen-Brian Boyle-Matt Martin). Coach Barry Trotz took his third line off and inserted Johansson, Kuznetsov, and Mr. Clutch, Justin Williams. Kuznetsov, who like many other Caps centers struggled on draws all game, won a huge face off against Boyle. When Stick received the puck from John Carlson on the right wing half wall, he smartly fired it on net. Jojo was parked in the slot above the paint and he appeared to tip the initial shot into Andersen’s pads and then fought off Marincin to bury the game and series clincher.

Wow, what a game and what a performance by the Caps once they were down, 1-0! They pushed the play and looked like the team that won the Presidents’ Trophy this season. It’s the way they’ll need to play in the second round if they want to defeat the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

Winning the first round is always the toughest; ask any hockey player, coach or executive and they’ll back me up. It was even harder for Washington because everyone picked them to win quickly and the Leafs had nothing to lose. Simply put, there was a TON OF PRESSURE on the Capitals to win this series and move on to face the Penguins for the rematch from last spring.

As Coach Barry Trotz told me, Nestor Aparacio, and the great crowd at Greenmount Station back on March 20th, every series takes a piece out of you. Toronto took some pieces out of the Caps. Karl Alzner didn’t play after game two due to an upper body injury, Nazem Kadri put a cheap shot on Alex Ovechkin and knocked Ovi out for two plus minutes of game five (but the Russian Machine Never Breaks), and Leo Komarov put a dirty hit on Nate Schmidt late in game six (but the 88 car also returned to play four shifts after the hit, including being on the ice for the game winner).

Luckily the Gr8 and Schmidt, plus T.J. Oshie, who I could see mouth “I’m all right” to Caps trainer Greg “Smitty” Smith after blocking a shot right before the winning goal, should be ready for Thursday night’s game one against the Penguins at the Verizon Center. The Leafs may have taken some pieces out of the Caps, that’s still to be determined how much, but in my book, Washington was able to ramp their game up to a tempo they’ll need to be at against Pittsburgh. I’m not sure they get to that pace level in a series against the Bruins or Ottawa. So I’m still glad the Capitals faced the Leafs. It was a very hard series, but they overcame an inordinate amount of pressure and persevered.

Anyways, the Penguins series should be one heck of a rematch. The Caps have waited a whole year for it, but we’ll talk more about it as the week progresses, but let’s hope there’s a Rocky 2 type of ending this spring.

Notes: Final shot attempts were 70-67, for Washington. It was all Caps after the Leafs marker…Ovechkin had 12 shot attempts, including seven on goal, in 22:45…the Caps lost the face off battle, 39-22, but they won some key ones, including right before the series winning tally. Kuznetsov was 6-8 (best Caps percentage)…Oshie had another strong game with five shots on goal in 19:35…the Caps were shorthanded for just 22 seconds and they had 2:22 of power play time…the Holtbeast was outstanding in this tilt, which included a huge save on Komarov, who was all alone after he took his run at Schmidt and #88 limped to the bench…Dmitry Orlov led the Caps in ice time with 25:38 and his partner, Matt Niskanen, logged 25:15. They played the hard minutes and that allowed Carlson and Schmidt to help the Capitals drive the play when they were on the ice…the Caps won the last three games of this series, which came after Coach Trotz tweaked his forward lines right before game four (bumped Tom Wilson up to the third line).

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Williams Game 5

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Williams’ OT Tally Gives the Caps the Series Lead

Posted on 22 April 2017 by Ed Frankovic

In a very evenly played hockey game, Mr. Game Seven, Justin Williams, scored a massively huge goal for the Washington Capitals just 64 seconds into overtime to propel the Caps to a 2-1 game five victory, and more importantly, a three games to two series lead over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Game six is Sunday at 7 pm in the Big Smoke.

After several wide open and high scoring affairs in this series, the Capitals got back to playing better defensively in this one, although they had a very shaky start. On the game’s first shift Washington gave up a two on one break and Braden Holtby (24 saves) made a marvelous glove save on Leo Komarov. The Caps were extremely sloppy over the first five minutes, but then they settled down and dominated period one.

Washington’s game amped up as the period progressed and they received their first power play of the game when Lars Eller drew a hook at 14:18 on Brian Boyle, who seemingly takes a penalty on every shift (whether it is called or not is another story). The Caps struggled to get set up until the last 30 seconds or so of the man advantage, but that is when they had three or four really good looks. Unfortunately either Frederik Andersen (26 saves) made the stop or they missed the net.

A minute or so after the power play ended, a potential season ending play and a scary moment for the Capitals ensued. As Alex Ovechkin was exiting the defensive zone, Nazem Kadri came in and hit the Gr8 with his hip into Ovi’s knees a good second or two after the puck was gone. It was dirty and with Jake Gardiner landing on Ovechkin as he was falling, Alex stayed down on the ice. He was then helped to the locker room at 17:32 of the first frame.

Smartly the Capitals didn’t retaliate immediately, instead they dented the Leafs on the scoreboard. 43 seconds into the man advantage on Kadri for tripping, T.J. Oshie buried the biscuit on the backhand following a rebound of a super shot from Nick Backstrom that hit the cross bar. That snap shot laser was set up by a sweet pass from Kevin Shattenkirk to #19. It was a great way to pay back Toronto for their illegal play.

“There’s only one Ovi. When you see him down like that you get a little nervous and you get a little upset. I thought we responded the right way with the goal right away,” said Oshie after the contest on how the team felt when the Gr8 was initially injured.

Pay the Man!

Fortunately for the Capitals, who outshot attempted the Leafs in period one, 19-11, the Gr8 returned to play in the second period and looked no worse for the wear. Kadri would definitely be a marked man, though, for the rest of the contest.

Toronto, who all series long have tried to put as many bodies and pucks as they can on the Washington net, tied the contest up on that type of play. Zach Hyman was once again integral to traffic in front of Holtby and after William Nylander threw the biscuit on #70, it bounced around in the paint. With Hyman taking two defenders with him, Auston Matthews was wide open for the back door layup at the six minute mark of the middle frame.

The Leafs then carried the play for much of the rest of the period primarily due to three minor penalties on Washington. Matt Niskanen lost his head a bit late in the period and put a nice Paul Bunyan slash on Kadri after #43 was hitting and interfering with the Gr8 as he was entering the offensive zone. With the zebras not calling it, #2 took matters into his own hands, but in the playoffs, you can’t do that, you need to wait for the right opportunity to get retribution with a clean and monstrous check.

Washington survived that man advantage and as the final stanza progressed, the Caps had the better of the chances with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Williams having opportunities to win it. But there was no sale in regulation and off to the extra period we went.

On a defensive zone draw in the first minute of OT, Coach Barry Trotz put Jay Beagle out to take it and he won it cleanly to Niskanen. Nisky saw open ice ahead of him with the Leafs backing up and he wisely skated quickly to the red line and dumped the puck beautifully into the left wing corner where Marcus Johansson was able to use his superior speed and retrieve it below the goal line. Jojo then fed Kuzy in the right wing circle. With Beagle going off on a change for Williams as the dump in occurred, #14 came into the slot uncovered and once #92 passed it right on his tape, Stick put it five hole past Andersen for the victory.

Here’s my thoughts and analysis after the big victory, including some quotes from the players.

The Leafs still tried to get bodies and puck to the net as much as possible, but the Capitals adjusted their structure well, for the most part, and walled Toronto and lots of pucks from the crease out before they could hit something crazily and go in. When pucks did get through, the Holtbeast was really on his game.

“Holts was outstanding. They did a really good job of getting tips and traffic on him, but he was able to find the shots,” added Oshie after the Holtbeast’s best performance of the post season.

John Carlson and Nate Schmidt were really good for the third straight contest. The duo, alone, had 12 of the 58 Washington shot attempts in this game. The 88 car, who played 17:22, really brings energy and speed to the Capitals backend and he’s been a perfect fit in this matchup against Toronto.

Ovechkin played 19:29 despite the cheap shot he took from Kadri. He had only five shot attempts, but his line was the second best one for Washington on this evening and made things tough for Coach Mike Babcock’s squad.

The Caps best line was the Johansson-Kuznetsov-Williams trio. They were all over the Leafs all night and it was fitting that they notched the game winning tally. The three of them had 15 shot attempts and Kuzy had six shots on goal, himself. But it was Stick who really stabilizes that line with his tenacious play and ability to win board battles and keep pucks alive. Justin now has three goals in this series and he thrives in the post season.

“He’s one of those guys that when everyone gets tense and grab their sticks a little tight, he gets more focused and finds a way to pull off the big play,” finished Oshie.

Pay that Man (Williams), too!

It was a big play alright, and now the Caps can close the series out in Toronto on Sunday with a win. That will not be an easy task as the Leafs are playing well and with intensity. They’ve forced Washington to raise their level of play and if the Capitals can survive this series, they should be very prepared for you know who.

But first things first, there is still another game to win and what Coach Trotz’ crew needs to do is play in their own zone solidly like they did most of game five. They also need to press the play and attack the Leafs defense. Pucks must go on net or deep and the forwards need to fight for the rebounds and loose discs. It’s simple hockey, but it takes commitment and determination in order to be successful.

Notes: Power plays were four to three for Toronto. I thought the zebras missed several calls on the Leafs. The game was even and yet the visitors ended up with 8:00 of man advantage time to just 4:43 for Ovi and company. That’s awfully fishy!…final shot attempts were 63-58 for Toronto…the Caps were 36-30 on draws and Beagle was 9-4, including the big d zone one in OT that led to the winning goal…Carlson led the Capitals in ice time with 23:17. He was outstanding once again and appears to finally be recovered from his late season injury…Wilson took four minor penalties and only played 10:16. He needs to stay out of the box…Brett Connolly only played 6:12, but he was much better in game five. He was more physical; he just needs to look for his shot more often. A quick release in the slot could net him a tally…Ovi had six of the Caps 34 hits. The Leafs had 23 hits…there was another four on four instance and Washington carried the play. Schmidt was a definite factor in that domination.

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