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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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brian-maclellan

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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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Caps game 4 TO

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Caps Top Line & Wilson Deliver a Game 4 Victory

Posted on 19 April 2017 by Ed Frankovic

With their backs nearly up against the wall, the Washington Capitals came out in game four on Wednesday night with their best period of hockey of the post season to take a 4-1 lead after 20 minutes. Then they did what was necessary to win, 5-4, to even up this best of seven series with the young and pesky Toronto Maple Leafs at two games apiece. Game five is Friday night at the Verizon Center.

Like they did in game three, the Caps really came out flying and once again it was the top line leading the charge. Washington did a great job at getting pucks deep and to the net early and often. That led to an offensive zone faceoff and they cashed in with a T.J. Oshie tally at 2:58. Nicklas Backstrom fed the Osh Babe for a goal into a wide open cage after a smart point shot from Nate Schmidt came off of the backboards to #19, who won a battle in front.

On the faceoff right after the goal, Evgeny Kuznetsov had a partial breakaway and he just barely missed making it 2-0. But the third line, which saw Tom Wilson get added to it for this tilt, kept up the heat and Lars Eller drew a high stick on Toronto. The Caps power play then scored in just 36 seconds with Alex Ovechkin notching his 3rd goal in four games on a rocket of a shot. Backstrom forced a turnover on the right wing wall that ended up with Kevin Shattenkirk and Shatty set up the Gr8 perfectly for the one timer just 4:34 into this one to make it 2-0.

The prosperity didn’t last too long as Zach Hyman scored on a deflection in front at 5:16 and a track meet appeared to be on. With just over 13 minutes gone, the Leafs were pressuring and a shot trickled through Holtby and was rolling on edge heading for the goal line when Willy stretched out and knocked it away from the net, under Holtby and out of the crease. That was a major turning point because the Capitals Eller immediately got the puck from Dmitry Orlov thereafter and skated down the right wing boards. #20 then circled behind the net and when he got into the left wing circle he fired it on the cage. “Johnny on the spot” was #43 to the side of the goal and he deflected the puck home to make it 3-1.

Wilson would then add another huge tally on a two on one rush to make it 4-1 at 16:04. Brooks Orpik lifted a great high clear over the heavy Leafs forecheck to Andre Burakovsky and he gave Willy a great pass. Tom then looked like a 30 goal scorer the way he quickly elevated the biscuit over Frederik Andersen’s left pad and into the cage.

In the middle frame, the Leafs cut the margin to 4-2 on another deflected shot on a power play. Backstrom took a holding call and James Van Riemsdyk lasered one off of Orlov’s stick and past Holtby. From there the Capitals played a strong second period and appeared to be headed to period three with a safe 4-2 lead. They would maintain that two goal advantage, but Eller and Orpik both took undisciplined penalties within three seconds of each other and so the deadly Leafs power play would have 1:55 of two man advantage time to start the final frame.

The Caps managed to kill them both, thanks to some great goaltending by the Holtbeast and super individual battle victories by several players, including Matt Niskanen and John Carlson. Washington continued to press the attack after that and appeared to take a 5-2 lead at 8:11 on a Schmidt tally. Ovechkin was cross checked in front setting a screen while Jake Gardiner was tied up with Backstrom at the side of the net, outside of the crease. Andersen initiated contact with #19 with his glove and then Gardiner hit his own goalie in the head with his stick. Gardiner tried to take Backstrom into the crease, but Nicky put his arms straight up when shoved by #51 and Andersen moved to his right. The shot came in and went top corner, but bad zebra Chris Lee immediately waved it off for goalie interference. The Caps challenged and they still didn’t give Washington what should’ve been a goal, but that’s what happens when the inmates run the asylum and get to review the call themselves. It was pure rubbish and should’ve been a 5-2 game, at that point. It’s spin the wheel these days on goalie interference calls because there is NO consistency to the rulings.

That non goal would be a little costly as Auston Matthews then scored in front on the rebound off of a point shot that hit traffic on the way in and confused Holtby.  That marker came with eight minutes left and suddenly the Air Canada Centre was hopping. However, the Caps responded just 59 seconds later to restore a two puck lead.

Burakovsky carried the disc into the offensive zone and instead of getting it deep, mistakenly he turned into the middle just inside the blueline. The Leafs then knocked it away from him, but it bounced right to Backstrom, who was in stellar puck support position. Oshie alertly kept going towards the net on the play and #19 fed him the rubber. The Osh Babe buried it to make it 5-3.

Pay the Man!

Washington mostly played well from there on out, although they iced the puck a few too many times for my liking. One of those allowed the Leafs to cut it to 5-4 on a Tyler Bozak tally from the paint with 26 seconds left. Toronto got one more chance, then the horn sounded, and it’s now back to home ice for the Caps.

Whew, what a game!

The Caps rode their top guys in this one and they delivered. The Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie line was downright dominant and the newly formed third line of Burakovsky-Eller-Wilson performed exceptionally, as well. Wilson (2 goals in 13:40) was just outstanding and he is playing the best hockey of his career against his home town team.

Toronto continues to do a great job of getting bodies and pucks to the net and they are getting good bounces. Washington did more of that in this one, too, and it paid off. Overall, the Capitals won the majority of the battles for 40 minutes and then the Leafs desperation took over in the final frame, at times.

The Capitals still need to be better in their breakouts when the Leafs are forechecking hard and the high lifter out of the zone is not a bad option (see the Caps fourth goal). Toronto has been doing that effectively, as well, in this very close series.

Owning the big moments has been a theme for Coach Barry Trotz and after not doing that with a 3-1 lead and a five on three power play in game three, they got some retribution by killing off the Leafs five on three to start period three. It was a huge shorthanded effort and it was done without some of their best PK guys. Orpik and Eller were in the box and Karl Alzner missed his second straight contest with an upper body injury.

After playing just over 15 minutes in game three, Coach Trotz said he needed to get Ovi more ice time in game four. The Gr8 logged 16:31, with only 36 seconds of it on the power play. There were a couple of times when the coach put the top line back out quickly after a previous shift, especially when the draw was in the offensive zone. That line is really going and I’d still like to see them play more because Toronto has no answer for them and that’s when the Capitals are dominating the game. It was Ovechkin’s line that had some of the few third period chances and they had the goal that should’ve made it 5-2. The best defense is a good offense, especially in this series, and it doesn’t appear that Toronto has an answer for Ovechkin and his linemates. So it’s imperative that the Capitals not sit those guys and sit back with a lead going forward.

Now, let’s discuss those guys in stripes. It was not a good night for them. In addition to fabricating the goalie interference call, they repeatedly let numerous Toronto holds and trips go throughout the tilt. Leo Komarov blatantly held Backstrom’s stick with the net empty late and it wasn’t called (yet Nicky was jailed for the same thing in period two). Outside of the no goal call, my biggest beef, though, is the way Coach Mike Babcock is just using the spineless zebras to gain more time for his club on icings by purposely putting the wrong players on the ice. He did this very effectively in overtime in game two, as well. From here on out in the series, if the Leafs don’t keep the right guys on the ice after an icing, it should be an automatic delay of game call against the Toronto bench. It’s a joke the way Babcock has been daring the referees to call him for doing that and they’ve backed down like chickens.

At the end of the night, the Caps played a strong game and won. They brought their best game of the series and can still improve on their performance. Toronto presses on all fronts and the Capitals have to make sure they are smart all 60 minutes by making quick and crisp breakouts and putting pucks and bodies to the net, like the Leafs are doing when they are in the Washington end.

After three games, Matthews said that the Leafs wanted it more and that’s why they were winning the series. Washington, however, showed their will in game four and grabbed back home ice advantage.

This is now a best of three affair.

Notes: Carlson was +3 in 21:49 of ice time and played his best game since his late season injury…Trotz rode Niskanen (25:38) and Orlov (23:31) on the back end. Shattenkirk (1 assist) only played 12:54. He took a hard hit in period three and seemed to be in some discomfort…the Caps were 1 for 1 on the power play while the Leafs went 1 for 4 in 5:08 of advantage time…shot attempts were 67-56 for Toronto. All of that margin, and then some, came after it was 4-1…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 32-29…the Leafs had 29 giveaways to the Caps nine. I’m not sure that stat is totally accurate (the Caps number seems low), but Washington did force a ton of first period turnovers with their strong forecheck and pressure…Gardiner played 25:38 for Toronto to lead their squad in time on ice.

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Willy GWG

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Wilson and Williams Lead Caps to 3-2 OT Victory in Game One

Posted on 14 April 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Tom Wilson picked a perfect time to score his first career NHL playoff goal. Willy batted down a poor clear up the boards by Leafs defenseman Martin Marincin with his glove and before Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen could get fully set, he fired the biscuit top shelf over the left shoulder of #31 as he went down into the butterfly position. The perfect shot gave the Washington Capitals a come from behind, 3-2, victory just 5:15 into overtime in the first game of their best of seven series.

The Caps are now up 1-0 and to quote the great Tom Hanks from Castaway.

Wilson! Wilson!!!! Wiiiilllllllllsssssooonnnnnn!!!

All season long the Capitals have had some issues when playing on more than a day’s rest and this game was no exception. Coach Barry Trotz did not like his teams first 30 minutes, at all, since Washington did not move their feet and they were extremely sloppy with their passes. It was bad hockey and as a result Toronto raced out to a 2-0 lead just 9:44 into the post season. Mitch Marner opened the scoring for the Leafs at 1:35 with a shot from the slot. Then with Nazem Kadri parked in the crease after cross checking Alex Ovechkin, Jake Gardiner’s shot from the slot went by Braden Holtby (35 saves). The zebras initially waved it off, but upon Coach Mike Babcock’s challenge they reversed the on ice call. Afterwards, the Holtbeast gave his take on how the Capitals should have handled that situation.

“I don’t know. I think that’s the right call. It’s more, in the future, us kind of pushing him out more, myself too, creating that goalie interference to create more space throughout the rest of the game. It’s kind of what you need to do when they are going to put a guy in the crease like that and wait for you to hit him. It was a common theme throughout the night so you look for patterns like that and we’re going to adjust next game.”

Speaking of patterns, for most of the first 30 minutes the Capitals were “playing slow,” as Nicklas Backstrom called it afterwards. Their passing was not crisp and they were not getting enough shots on net. Defensively, they were out of sync and the Leafs had 27 shots on goal just past the game’s halfway mark. It was not the type of hockey we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from Washington, but Trotz pointed out “there was no panic.”

Kevin Shattenkirk, who had an assist and nine shots on net in this tilt, told me on Sunday that the team would have stretches in the post season where they would not play well, but the key was just to stay on an even keel. Coach Trotz’ crew did just that and fortunately Mr. Game Seven, Justin Williams, scored the first two goals for the Capitals to even things up. “Stick’s” first goal came just after a five on three power play ended. Shattenkirk was winding up to shoot, but as he did so his stick broke and the puck slid over to T.J. Oshie to the left of the net. Most players would shoot from that position, but Osh Babe saw #14 wide open in front of the net and he put the puck right on Stick’s tape for an easy marker. That goal, which came less than three minutes after the Leafs went up two pucks, settled the Caps down a bit, but they still couldn’t take control of the game.

In the middle frame, Washington went over eight minutes without a shot on net, mainly because they were trying too much for the perfect play and as a result they over passed themselves out of position. But on a rush up the ice late in period two, Evgeny Kuznetsov found Matt Niskanen alone in the slot and #2 fired the puck on net. As Nisky told me afterwards, it wasn’t a great shot, but Andersen didn’t know where it was and with the puck under him he got up. That allowed Williams, who alertly hit the brakes at the top of the crease, to poke it in past the Leafs net minder to even the game up with four minutes to go.

“It was kind of a weird one, I was playing the wing at first on the breakout and then I was the fourth guy on the rush, probably not much of a chance of that shot going in, but Stick was able to pounce on a loose rebound, so I was just the fourth guy in the middle there. I was able to find just enough ice, it was a nice play by Kuzy,” said Niskanen on how he got the puck to set up the rebound goal for Wiliams.

Washington then received a late power play when Matt Martin was jailed for cross checking, but the Leafs were aggressive on the PK and only gave up one good look, to Shattenkirk. After two periods the Leafs had a 46-44 edge in shot attempts, including 28-25 in shots on goal.

In the third period, the Caps depth started to take over and the ice tilted Washington’s way, but Toronto still had some good chances. Coach Trotz’ crew had a 24-12 advantage in shot attempts and a 13-7 margin in shots on goal. It was much better hockey, but the Leafs still did a good job at jamming the walls on the Caps breakout forcing Washington to make a difficult zone exit or simply dump the puck in the air over the Leafs D.

In the overtime, the Capitals dominated with their depth and eventually it was Washington’s fourth line that got the game winner. With the Caps top trio not having a real quality game, it was imperative that a goal come from the bottom six, and Wilson delivered.

Overall, the Caps have to be really happy that their second line kept them in the game early on. Williams is known for his leadership and his ability to score big goals. He did just that in this one by paying the price and going to the net.

“He knows what time of year it is. You can see he goes to where you score goals. He’s so good at board battles and making little plays that move the game along, but he knows where the money’s at and that’s in the crease, so he goes there and really got us going tonight, for sure,” stated Niskanen on #14.

“Big time plays out of Justin Williams, he’s no stranger to them and he was someone who we really rallied around tonight,” added Shattenkirk.

Goaltending, on both sides, was very good in this game. Holtby had some rebound issues early, but as the game went on, he shut the door and made several big stops. Andersen was under siege a great deal as time progressed and the Caps ended up with 44 shots on goal. He made many saves, and Shattenkirk praised him when asked afterwards.

“He was [very good], and I think my biggest mistake was I was taking too long to shoot. I was allowing him to set on me and really just take away all of the angles. I have to be a little bit quicker with how I’m shooting the puck. I’m happy that I was putting myself in the right positioning to get those chances,” started #22.

As for the lack of shots in that eight plus minute stretch in the middle frame, Shattenkirk had an answer for it, as well.

“They did a good job of boxing out and sometimes we were just waiting for guys to get to the net and when we do that, it’s hard, because he’s a big goalie and when he sets himself he’s hard to score on from outside the tight areas.”

So the message going forward is for the Caps to shoot the puck quicker. Wilson proved that method will work with his game winning tally.

The Capitals took a while to find their rhythm on Thursday night after three days off against a talented and speedy Leafs squad, but now they get back to a game every other day schedule, one that has worked well for them this season. Coach Trotz stated afterwards that this contest was a wake up call and finished with the following:

“I’m sure you’ll see a much different team next game.”

Notes: Dmitry Orlov led the Caps in ice time with 25:22. Niskanen logged 24:36…The Leafs rode their top four D hard. Gardiner played 26:27, Matt Hunwick logged 26:04, Morgan Reilly was in at 24:24, and Roman Polak had 23:52. Connor Carrick and Marincin, the third pair, were right around 14 minutes…Washington’s third line had 17 shifts together for a total of 10:39 of ice time. Like most of the team, they were at their best in the third period…the Caps lost the face off battle, 38-33. Kuznetsov was 8-2, but Lars Eller was 3-11…game two is at the Verizon Center on Saturday at 7 pm.

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Caps Win TO

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Caps Move Closer to Home Ice for the Playoffs With Win in Toronto

Posted on 04 April 2017 by Ed Frankovic

With three road wins in four tries on a season long five game trip, the Washington Capitals kept the hammer down in the Big Smoke on Tuesday night with a dominating 4-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Philipp Grubauer made 27 saves in the triumph and the Caps are now 53-18-8 (114 points). They are just a Capitals point gained or a point lost by the Pittsburgh Penguins during the last three games from clinching the Metropolitan Division title and their third Presidents’ Trophy.

With the Leafs playing in Buffalo on Monday night, it was imperative that Washington get up on Toronto to make a weary team expend a lot of energy playing catch up. The Caps game plan was pretty simple early and throughout the contest, get pucks deep on the Leafs D and forecheck them. Alex Ovechkin (1 assist) was really bringing the hammer on Coach Mike Babcock’s players and his four hits definitely opened up the ice for Washington while wearing out Toronto.

From the get go, the Capitals third line of Brett Connolly (two assists), Lars Eller (goal), and Andre Burakovsky (assist) were superior to any Toronto line they faced, which was predominantly the James Van Riemsdyk, Mitch Marner, and Tyler Bozak trio. Eller would break the ice for the Caps at 14:34 of period one when Burakovsky made a great play to negate an icing call and then the triumvirate cycled the puck beautifully until #65 found Eller in the slot and #20 buried it by Curtis McElhinney for his 12th goal of the season.

Washington would dominate that opening frame with a 13-3 lead in shots on goal and a 22-14 margin in shot attempts. Toronto had very few scoring chances on Grubauer because the Caps had the puck a lot and they defended the front of their own net very well.

Speaking of beautiful, that is a goal that really broke this game open, a bit. Eller drew a holding the stick call on Marner and that put the Caps on the man advantage 8:34 into period two. Boy did the Caps power play look daunting, too. With Nicklas Backstrom and Kevin Shattenkirk running the show at the half wall and top of the point, respectively, and the other three guys moving around well, the Leafs had no clue what to defend. It all broke down for Toronto when Ovechkin rotated to the top of the point and #22 went into Ovi’s office. With the Leafs so focused on the Gr8, the cross ice lane from Backstrom to Shattenkirk across the top of the circles was wide open. Backstrom’s feed to Shattenkirk was perfect and Kevin one-timed it home for his first goal as a Capital. That made it 2-0 at the game’s halfway point.

From there, Washington really played smart and forced Toronto to have to go into their own end and retrieve pucks often. While the Leafs closed the gap by one in shot attempts after two periods, to 41-34, the shots on goal were 26-13.

In the third period, the Caps didn’t sit back and they upped their lead to 3-0 when Nate Schmidt tallied off of a great feed from Connolly at 8:11. #88 was in the game because John Carlson was a late scratch due to a lower body injury (He is day to day and will not play against the Rangers on Wednesday night). Schmidty was excellent in this affair and he was paired for the first time in recent memory with Karl Alzner. They were the lowest pair in terms of time on ice, but with Coach Trotz playing the matchups against Babcock, Washington’s depth took over and those guys were +3, with two of those goals coming with the Eller line.

The last goal for Washington was tallied by Tom Wilson on a breakaway. Daniel Winnik and Jay Beagle made great plays inside the Caps defensive zone to get the puck out and then #26 flipped it high in the air over the Leafs defensemen and #43 flew in and beat McElhinney on the backhand. It was a well deserved goal for Wilson, who protected his goalies and teammates all night from some Toronto cheap stuff (Matt Martin’s push of Matt Niskanen into the net and Marner’s ice spray face wash of Grubauer).

The Leafs would get a very late PP goal from Marner to avoid being shut out.

Overall, this was a very solid game by the Capitals. Their defensive posture has really improved over the last two contests and what I really liked against Toronto was that I’m having a hard time remembering if the Leafs even had an odd man rush in this affair. Recently the Caps have been breaking down and giving those up en masse. That was not the case in the Big Smoke and as everyone knows, “Defense Wins Championships.”

The defense was certainly there on Tuesday night and the Capitals used their size and depth up front to dominate a Toronto team that is on the verge of clinching a playoff berth. It was a confidence building win for Washington against a club they very well could face in the first round of the playoffs.

Notes: final shots on goal were 38-28 and shot attempts were 58-55 for the Caps…Eller and Connolly were both +2 and Burakovsky was +1. Eller drew two penalties…the only mistake that line really made all night was #65’s penalty with 2:15 remaining which ultimately cost Gruabuer the shutout…the Caps lost the face off battle, 30-28, but Eller was 8-4…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:34 and his partner, Dmitry Orlov logged 22:10…Schmidt played 14:11 while Alzner had 16:00 of time on ice…the Caps-Rangers game is at 8 pm on Wednesday night on NBC Sports Channel. It will likely be Braden Holtby against Henrik Lundqvist in net.

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Ovi Wild Hat trick

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Ovechkin and Oshie Carry the Caps Over the Wild in OT

Posted on 29 March 2017 by Ed Frankovic

T.J. Oshie scored 1:52 into overtime after a great feed from Marcus Johansson to give the Washington Capitals a 5-4 victory over the Minnesota Wild. The triumph starts the Caps off on the right foot on their five game, eight day road trip.

On the last Capitals extended road trip, to California just over two weeks ago, Coach Barry Trotz stated that Washington’s star players were repeatedly not their star players in three straight losses.

At the Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday night, that would not be the case.

Washington’s first line and power play was simply on fire in this one. It all started in period one when Alex Ovechkin did a great job of fore checking and stole the biscuit from the Wild in the offensive zone. The Gr8 then fed Nicklas Backstrom behind him and #19 quickly fired on net. Devan Dubnyk (15 saves) made the initial stop but the Osh Babe was there for the rebound to make it 1-0.

Pay the Man!

After the Wild tied the game as a result of the Minnesota third line outworking the Caps third line in the middle frame, Washington scored two straight power play goals to take a 3-1 lead. Both of the tallies came from the Gr8 in his favorite spot, the left wing circle.

But the Wild, who would go 0 for 5 on the evening on the power play in 9:33 of extra man time, were carrying the play at even strength, primarily against the Caps bottom two lines. Martin Hanzal, who set up the first goal for Jason Pominville, crashed the net and put home the rebound of a Pominville shot to make it 3-2 with 4:47 left in period two.

In the third period, the Capitals were doing a decent job of keeping the Wild on the perimeter and when Evgeny Kuznetsov made a super move to go by two Minnesota defenders on a rush and draw a slashing call, the Washington top unit took the ice again with 7:39 remaining with a chance to give the Caps a two goal cushion.

It took all of eight seconds for them to do that and the Gr8 got the hat trick after Jojo made a great play in the right wing corner to get the puck to Backstrom. Nicky then slid a beautiful cross ice pass to Ovechkin and he made no mistake about abusing Dubnyk, once again. For the second straight year, Ovi notched a hat trick in this building and it looked like this one was pretty much over, right?

Not so fast. A Dmitry Orlov clear was missed by Lars Eller on the right wing boards and Jared Spurgeon fired the loose puck at the net. It looked to me that Pominville tipped it by Braden Holtby (26 saves) from right in front, but the puck may have hit #9 instead. Either way, it was 4-3 with 4:57 left and the Wild suddenly had a lot of life.

The Caps would prevent the Wild from getting more pressure for the next few shifts, especially the Caps top line, which nearly scored again to get the two goal cushion back. However, with Dubnyk pulled, the Wild tied the game with 26.6 seconds left when Eric Staal put home a shot from the back door that Holtby had no chance on. The goal was reviewed for offside from the Toronto situation room, but even though it appeared to be offside, the league was consistent in claiming that the puck was not touched before the tag up, as they have done in two other exact situations recently, the Chicago-Colorado game on Sunday, March 12th and the Wild-Blackhawks game in this same barn back in February.

Whether you liked the call or not, and it is open to interpretation, the bottom line is that the Capitals blew a two goal lead, primarily because their bottom six had a very bad night. The third line, in particular, was on the wrong side of things in this one. Eller was -4, Andre Burakovsky was -3, and Brett Connolly was -2. Not a good night for those guys, who only had three shot attempts from their line (all from #20). They usually carry the play, but Hanzal, Pominville, and Jason Zucker had their number on Tuesday night.

Overall, the Caps won because of their star players. Ovechkin had the three power play goals and an assist, Oshie had two goals, Johansson had four assists, and Backstrom had three helpers, as well. In addition, the Capitals received good goaltending from the Holtbeast despite the fact that he allowed four goals on 30 shots. #70 made several numerous big saves throughout this contest as Washington struggled at even strength.

For Holtby, this was his 40th win of the campaign for the 3rd straight season and he joins Martin Brodeur and Evgeny Nabokov as the only two other NHL goalies to achieve that feat. Well done, Braden!

The victory improves the Caps to 50-17-8 (108 points) and they lead the Columbus Blue Jackets by three points and the Pittsburgh Penguins by five points with seven games remaining. Home ice is very important for the playoffs, especially since Washington has won a club record 31 of 38 contests at the Verizon Center this season.

Recently the Capitals have struggled on the road, especially the botched California trip. Washington was clearly focused on getting off to a better start on this extended stint away from home and thanks to their star players they found a way to get a “W.” Special teams were the big difference maker in this one as the Caps went three for four on the power play and a perfect five for five on the PK. But at even strength, Washington was deficient, especially the Eller line. That will need to change if the rest of this trip is going to be successful.

Notes: Shot attempts were 51-35 for the Wild (SOG were 30-20)…the Caps were creamed on faceoffs, 33-18. That stat is a good reason why they were dominated in puck possession in this one…Zach Parise took a high stick in the face from Tom Wilson in the first period and didn’t return. #43 received a double minor and then he was bloodied in a fight with Chris Stewart later in the frame…Ovechkin now has 33 goals and the Osh Babe has 32. What a duo they are with Backstrom feeding them the biscuit. To quote the Great Count Floyd, “That’s scary stuff, kids!”…the Caps are right back at it on Wednesday night in Colorado against the Avalanche at 10 pm. Expect Philipp Grubauer to get his first start since March 11th (at Los Angeles).

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Winnik Bench Yotes

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Winnik’s Hard Work Leads Caps to a 4-1 Win Over Arizona

Posted on 26 March 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Daniel Winnik scored with 4:39 remaining on a rush goal to break a 1-1 tie and Braden Holtby made 28 saves to lead the Washington Capitals to a 4-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes at the Verizon Center on Saturday night. The triumph improves the Caps record to 49-17-8 (106 points) and they lead both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets in the Metropolitan Division by three points with eight games remaining.

The Caps got off to a very good start in this affair dominating the entire first frame. Alex Ovechkin scored his 30th goal of the season just 8:31 in after a great feed from Nicklas Backstrom from below the goal line. T.J. Oshie and Marcus Johansson made a couple of good passes on that power play to set it all up, with Jojo getting the 2nd assist. For the Gr8, this was his 12th straight season with over 30 goals and he becomes just the third player in NHL history to do that (former Capital Mike Gartner and some guy named Gretzky, you might’ve have heard of him). It was fitting that the goal came from his patented spot in the left wing circle on the power play, but this was not a one-timer, it was just a top shelf snap shot that Mike Smith (29 saves) had no chance on because he had to be deep in his net with #19 holding the puck behind the cage just before the great feed to Ovi.

Washington would lead the shot attempt board, 28-8, after period one, but mainly because of Smith and the Capitals inability to get any rebounds or a lot of traffic, it was only 1-0.

In the second period, the Capitals continued their domination and with 7:47 gone, Arizona’s Connor Murphy (-3) took a double minor for high sticking. The Caps would have possession in the offensive zone for nearly the entire four minutes, but once again Smith stood tall. That PK seemed to energize the Coyotes and like the Empire in Star Wars, they began striking back. Arizona’s Alex Goligoski had a glorious chance in the 38th minute to even things up for his club, but he missed the ocean from the beach on a shot just above the crease. Washington was VERY LUCKY there that #33 shot wide, but the Yotes did earn a power play on that sequence (Justin Williams for hooking). The Caps PK was very strong in that instance and Jay Beagle had a shorthanded breakaway right before the close of the period that he didn’t connect on, so this one went to the third frame with just one puck separating the two teams.

Shot attempts were still 56-27 for the Caps, but late in that second period Arizona began to close the gap.

Just like on Thursday against Columbus, the Capitals struggled to start the third period after dominating the first 40 minutes. Arizona would get a power play after a Beagle holding the stick penalty to prevent a scoring chance at 5:40, but Washington would kill it off. Still, Coach Barry Trotz’ squad was playing mostly perimeter hockey looking for the perfect play to extend their lead and that allowed the Coyotes to hang around. Luke Schenn, who is slow and one of the more chippier players in the league, took a roughing call midway through the period and Washington had their fourth power play of the night and a chance to give themselves a two goal cushion. That didn’t happen and they failed to generate many good looks, only an Ovechkin blast that missed the cage. In fact, the Caps didn’t have a single shot on net on that man advantage. That’s inexcusable with a one goal lead. You have to simplify, at that point, and get bodies and pucks to the net.

After the power play expired, the Capitals were caught flat flooted in the offensive zone and Anthony Duclair and Peter Holland raced by the entire Washington skating five for a breakaway on Holtby. Braden naturally did his job to stop the initial shot, but the Caps lollygagged their way back and allowed Duclair to pot the rebound to tie the game up. 29 seconds later the Coyotes had a chance to take the lead when Tom Wilson was given an extra roughing penalty for a scrum with Holland.

Arizona would get five shot attempts on that power play, including four on net. Their best chance came after a terrible turnover by Nicklas Backstrom, who instead of just clearing the puck on the right wing boards, tried to get fancy with a breakout pass up the middle of the ice and he was stripped of the biscuit by rookie Jakob Chychrun (son of former Flyer, Jeff). It was a lost focused moment by #19, something we don’t typically see from him. Luckily, the Holtbeast made a big save to bail out Nicky and keep things tied up.

The whole first 15 minutes of period three was pretty much a lack of focus stretch for Washington since they were outshot attempted, 17-8, by one of the worst teams in the league. That’s unacceptable in such an important game from a standings perspective!

Fortunately for the Caps, Dmitry Orlov made a great play coming out of the defensive zone and he sprung #26 down the right wing boards for a clear lane to Smith with just under five minutes left in regulation. Winnik skated in and made no mistake about hitting the twine to notch his 10th goal of the season. That tally shook the young Dave Tippett coached squad and just 32 seconds later Williams put a sweet shot over Smith’s shoulder and under the bar for a 3-1 lead.

Arizona then pulled the goalie and who else, Winnik, scored the empty net goal on a Smith Barney type of effort. Daniel tallied that ENG the old fashioned way, he earned it! It was a hard fought and gritty goal from the red line to the crease from a player who brings it every night. He’s been a great teammate and tireless worker since coming over at the trade deadline last season and that second tally ties his career high for goals in a season at 11. He was the well deserved number one star in this tilt, which included him getting interfered with chasing a loose puck that caused him to crash into the end boards and get shaken up. But #26, who eats rocks for breakfast, shook that off and kept working. He, along with Holtby, were the difference in the game.

Overall, the Caps out shot attempted Arizona, 69-46, but there wasn’t a ton of traffic on Smith in this one and as a result, there weren’t many rebound attempts. I especially didn’t like the first 15 minutes of period three. There was a lack of focus from Washington and there weren’t enough guys willing to lay it on the line and stick their nose into the thick of the Coyotes defense to get a dirty or greasy goal. In the playoffs, that is how you will have to score, the perimeter way leads to the golf course. So while the Caps were winning the statistic battle, from a hockey eye perspective, they weren’t playing the right way.

However, a guy like Winnik pretty much always plays the right way and he was the man on Saturday night in a much needed victory for the Caps. Fancy wasn’t going to get the Caps a win, it was going to take some hard work and honest hockey, and that’s what Daniel did to help turn a close game into a late laugher.

Pay that Man, too??!!

Notes: Shots on goal were 33-29 for Washington. Arizona had a 15-7 third period advantage…Holtby now has 39 wins and one more will give him three straight seasons with 40 victories, making him the 3rd goalie in NHL history to do so (Martin Brodeur and Evgeni Nabokov)…Orlov’s assist on Winnik’s GWG gives him a career high in assists (26) and points (32) in a season…Kevin Shattenkirk played well once again and had two assists…the Caps are 5-0-1 in their last six games…Washington lost the faceoff battle, 31-24, but #83 was 13-5…the Caps were 1 for 4 on the power play and four for four on the PK…the Capitals set a club record for home wins in a season (31). They only have two home games left (Rangers on 4/5 and Florida on 4/9). Washington hits the road for five straight tilts over eight days, starting in Minnesota on Tuesday, then Colorado on Wednesday, Arizona on Friday, Columbus on Sunday, and then ending in Toronto on Tuesday, April 4th.

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oshie Hat trick 2

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Caps Top Line Dominates in 5-3 Win Over Tampa

Posted on 18 March 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Heading into Saturday night’s contest against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals Coach Barry Trotz had seen enough of the Caps mediocre recent play and called the game a “Must Win.”

His players delivered with a tremendous effort, and once again, the Capitals top players were their top players.

Alex Ovechkin (two assists) came out firing the biscuit on net and that opened things up for linemates Nicklas Backstrom (four assists) and T.J. Oshie (3 goals and 1 assist). Washington’s top trio was sensational and they had 23 of the Capitals 65 shot attempts in this affair. The Osh Babe notched his 27th, 28th, and 29th goals of the season to set a career high. He was fantastic and he is so good at both ends of the ice winning board battle after board battle.

Pay The Man!

Washington really came out flying in this one and scored a beauty of a power play goal just 3:44 in. Marcus Johansson, who only played 2:53 due to an illness, made a sweet feed to Oshie in the slot and he went top shelf to beat Andrei Vasilevskiy (30 saves). That last pass was just one of many excellent ones on that man advantage that went for 71 seconds. Kevin Shattenkirk made some super passes as did Backstrom. The Bolts, as most teams do, were looking for Ovi to get the puck for his patented one-timer and that opened up #77 right in front.

Oshie then made it 2-0 at the 11:44 mark after Backstrom sprung the Gr8 and Osh Babe on a two on one. With the Bolts defender thinking Ovechkin was going to shoot, Alex made a sweet feed right on Oshie’s tape and he fired it into an open net. It was a tremendous dish by an underrated passer. Much has been made of Oshie’s high shooting percentage this season, but when you keep getting looks like he’s receiving from two ELITE, future Hall of Fame linemates, your numbers are going to be sky high. So to all of those spreadsheet geeks, like that Sporting News guy who blathered on about Oshie (and Brett Connolly) being all luck yesterday, I say get your head out of your computer and watch the stinking game!

To quote a very funny movie from the 1980’s…

NERDS!!!!!

[Note: This blogger has a Masters Degree in Applied and Computational Mathematics from Johns Hopkins University, so I know all about statistics. This is a sporting event. Yes, you can post quantify things with numbers, but at the end of the day this is a game that requires high skill, effort, and intensity to be successful.]

Now let’s get back to your regularly scheduled programming.

The Bolts are fighting for their playoff lives so you know they weren’t going to shrivel up and go away. After an Oshie high sticking infraction, Nikita “All World” Kucherov buried one top shelf on Braden Holtby just 28 seconds into that power play. The puck hit Karl Alzner’s skate in the slot and ricocheted right to #86, who was well positioned, and he made no mistake about finishing the fortuitous bounce.

16 seconds later this game was all tied up. Dmitry Orlov turned the puck over in his own zone, but to his defense, the Caps forward line had vacated the zone too quickly and gave him no help. Orlov and Matt Niskanen were then stuck facing a three on two and Alex Killorn made a great shot to beat the Holtbeast (26 saves).

There were some end to end rushes after that for both teams, and Oshie nearly got his hat trick in the first frame, but he just missed the net.

The second period was more of a playoff type of style with both teams exhibiting tight checking and trying to limit odd man rushes. The Capitals were the better team at that and they carried the play. Tampa didn’t have a whole lot of good looks in that middle frame. Andre Burakovsky (seven shots on goal) was the big story in that stanza and he, Lars Eller, and Connolly were really flying like they were before #65 fractured his hand on February 9th. Burkie was really skating and firing the biscuit. He’s not 100% with that appendage yet, but once he gets there, look out! That triumvirate was a great compliment to the Washington top line and really kept the Bolts on their heels.

In the third period, the Caps really kept coming in waves at Tampa and just after a Bolts penalty expired, Burakovsky found Niskanen coming off of the bench and fed one that #2 blasted from just inside the blue line. Justin Williams was smartly parked in front and he tipped the shot home for his 20th goal of the season. That was a big tally to seize the lead at 3:14 and then just over two minutes later, on a delayed penalty (Backstrom was hauled down in the neutral zone), John Carlson “Ripken’d” one past #88 from the slot after a great feed from Ovechkin in the corner, who had just received a good pass from Backstrom, to generate a quality chance while the zebras had their right arms in the “hair,” as the great Denis Lemieux would say.

Those were two big goals that heavily involved the Caps defense, which played extremely well across the board in this game.

From there, the Capitals didn’t sit back and they kept the pressure on Tampa. The Lightning really didn’t have any quality scoring chances until finally getting one after pulling their goalie late. Kucherov, of course, scored off of a faceoff to make it 4-3 and put a little bit of a scare into this one.

But after a neutral zone draw, the Caps fought hard for the puck and Backstrom, naturally, made a great play to get the disc to Oshie between the red line and blue line and the Osh Babe lifted it over the Tampa defenders and into the empty cage for the 5-3 final score.

Hat Trick and Mission Accomplished for their bench boss!

The victory allowed the Caps to stay two points ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who won again on Saturday and still have a game in hand. Washington is now 46-17-8 for 100 points and to quote the late, great Reg Dunlop, “Peterborough lost tonight, so as of right now, we’re in the playoffs!”

Actually, it was the Islanders who lost Saturday to CBus, so the Capitals victory officially clinched a Washington playoff berth.

Playoffs?!! Playoffs?!! Are you talking Playoffs??!!

Yes, I am. The Caps are in, but what they really want now is home ice advantage for the post season. There are 11 games left to try and lock that up, but most important is to stay healthy and get their game peaking at the right time.

Saturday night was a big step in putting their overall play in the proper direction. They dominated this affair and the top line was a big reason for that.

Pay The Man!

Notes: The Caps won the shot attempt battle, 65-52…Burakovksy had 11 shot attempts, he was fabulous, and he tied Ovechkin with a team leading 7 shots on goal. Burkie played 15:12 and had the assist on the game winning goal…with Jojo leaving early, Coach Trotz had to re-distribute his forward ice time, but the top trio stepped up and grabbed the extra minutes, despite just two power plays. Oshie played 21:26, Ovi logged 21:07, and Backstrom was at 21:05…Connolly had a first period breakaway, but the puck rolled on him badly and he couldn’t get a shot off…Karl Alzner led the Caps in ice time at a very low 22:02 because Washington has three extremely good defensive pairs that Assistant Coach Todd Rierden can simply rotate one after another…the Caps were 1 for 2 on the power play, but also scored on a delayed penalty. Tampa was 1 for 1 with the man advantage. Did I mention that that Kucherov guy is good?…the Caps won the face off battle, 36-33. Backstrom was 15-10…The Caps next game is Tuesday at the Verizon Center against the red hot Calgary Flames.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Coach Barry Trotz will be joining WNST at Greenmount Station in Hampstead, Maryland on Monday night at 7 pm for a charity event. Nestor Aparacio will be your host (I’ll be there, too) and he’ll be leading the charge to get people to sign up for the Bone Marrow Registry. So please come out to have some food and drinks, help a great cause to fight blood cancer, and listen to some great hockey talk from Washington’s bench boss, who happens to be a great person, as well.

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