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Caps Suffocate Islanders in Home Opener, 2-1

Posted on 16 October 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Daniel Winnik scored twice and Braden Holtby stopped 21 of 22 shots as the Washington Capitals won their home opener over the New York Islanders, 2-1, on Saturday night at a sold out Verizon Center.

The Caps used their superior depth to suffocate New York in the final frame. Coach Jack Capuano’s crew only had five third period shots on net and one of those came from center ice. The line of Jay Beagle, Tom Wilson, and Winnik totally throttled the Islanders top unit, which is led by superstar John Tavares. #91 was held to only two shots on goal in 18:38 and he was minus one for the game. Beagle and company excelled in the head to head matchup and produced far more scoring chances for the Caps.

“We had a lot of good chances and we felt really good and all of our legs were kind of going,” started Wilson, who also nearly scored a goal late in the third period on a two on one with Beagle.

“I was licking my chops, thought I had a wide open net and whoever it was, the back checker made an amazing play just to get his stick in between my stick and the net, so I don’t know what else I can do, maybe dive head first and bury it in the net?” joked Wilson afterwards.

Coach Barry Trotz noted that line, which played sparingly in the opening game in Pittsburgh, came to him on Friday and wanted more ice time. The trio earned it quickly notching the contest’s first tally at 11:58 of period one. Overall, the line logged over 10 minutes of even strength.

“The first game was a little bit of a tough one playing only five to seven minutes. Tonight we just wanted to do whatever we could every shift to earn our ice time. If the coach isn’t comfortable playing us, that’s our fault,” commented Wilson on the increased ice time.

Tavares, who will be seeing Beagle in his upcoming nightmares, will be pleased to know that the Islanders don’t play the Caps again until December 1st.

The Caps carried the play for much of the contest. The shot attempts were 58-51, but like they did in Pittsburgh on Thursday, they passed up some good shooting opportunities. Coach Trotz stated afterwards that he would like more shots from his club.

Another piece of evidence showing the Caps domination of play was the special team situation statistics. Washington had five power plays to just two for New York. The problem was the Islanders scored on their first chance while the Caps were blanked. For the season the Caps are now 0 for 8 with the man advantage and they’ve allowed a power play goal in both games.

On offense, they’ve struggled to get set up as both the Penguins and Islanders have been very aggressive on the penalty kill. The pass to Alex Ovechkin is being defended, for the most part, so it’s imperative that the Caps get some point shots with traffic from the middle of the blue line. They did that a few times on Saturday, with Dmitry Orlov being the most notable, and it resulted in some juicy rebound chances that weren’t able to be finished.

On the penalty kill, Holtby noted that the Islanders employed a different tactic. In the past, their strategy was to set up one timers from the flank, but in this contest they focused on just throwing pucks at the cage with traffic in front. It was their best weapon on Saturday.

Overall though, the Caps have played two good hockey games and have three of a possible four points. The gimmick loss in Pittsburgh easily could have been a victory. They’ve also done this with the Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, and Ovechkin line nowhere near their best, so the team’s depth has been very evident.

“The special thing about this group is we can win a game in a variety of ways. We have four lines that can play, a good D, and a great goalie. So if it’s going to be a shootout we can do that, we can pump goals into their net, if it’s going to be a low scoring tight affair, we can suffocate them like we did tonight,” finished Wilson.

Notes: Beagle had an assist, was +2, and went 11-4 in faceoffs…Ovechkin had 10 shot attempts in 19:07 of ice time, but only three made it on goal; six were blocked…the Caps have allowed only one even strength goal in 125 minutes of hockey…the Islanders won the face off battle, 29-27…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time (22:06) and shots on goal (six)…next up for Washington are the Colorado Avalanche at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night.

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Are You Ready To Take A Chance Again With the Caps?

Posted on 11 October 2016 by Ed Frankovic

It’s been five months since the overtime goal that ended the Washington Capitals season in Pittsburgh. The Penguins would go on to win their fourth Stanley Cup and each time they have done so they have knocked off the Caps en route to hoisting Lord Stanley.

That was not supposed to happen last spring. No, everything shaped up to be the Capitals year from training camp to a Presidents’ Trophy and right up until a three-zip games lead on the Flyers in round one. Washington then had to work extra hard to send Philadelphia to the golf course in six games. Game one against Pittsburgh in round two saw Washington’s T.J. Oshie exploit Olli Maatta for a hat trick and the Caps were up 1-0. Things were still looking good, but then, to quote John Cougar Mellencamp, “The walls came crumbling down.”

An ill advised hit on Maatta led to a three game suspension for Brooks Orpik in game two (and knocked the Pens weak link on D out of the lineup) and an injury to Karl Alzner further weakened the Capitals blue line, allowing Pittsburgh to use their superior speed to take over a close series and crush, once again, any dreams of Washington winning the Cup.

It was a painful finish and the summer was long. Many Caps fans needed that duration to move past that devastating loss. Some may never get over that defeat, it was that stinging. Even Caps General Manager Brian MacLellan remarked to me during the Sweden-Team Europe preliminary game at the Verizon Center in September that he will never get over it. I get it, I’ve been watching this team find ways to not get it done for over 40 years, it is hard to take, at times.

But now it’s time for another Capitals hockey season.

The grieving is over, it’s done and finished. It’s time to look ahead once again, but by learning from the past.

So for Caps fans, the start of every hockey season since 1974 has to feel invariably like the lyrics from this old classic song from the legendary Barry Manilow:

And I’m ready to take a chance again
Ready to put my love on the line with you
Been livin’ with nothing to show for it
You get what you get when you go for it
And I’m ready to take a chance again with you


Yes, it’s time to take the chance again on this hockey club.

As for learning from defeat, General Manager Brian MacLellan once again did his job this summer and improved the Capitals roster by making it faster. He traded for center Lars Eller at the draft and added forward Brett Connolly as a low cost free agent. Gone are Mike Richards, Jason Chimera, and Michael Latta.

With the addition of Eller, Washington is as deep as it has ever been at center with Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Eller, and Jay Beagle, in that order. When you look at the wings the Capitals have, especially in the top six, with Alex Ovechkin, Oshie, Andrei Burakovsky, and Justin Williams, this club can be explosive. MacLellan brought in Eller to improve the “top 9” and the current plan is to have Eller center Marcus Johansson and likely Tom Wilson. “Willy” is in a pivotal season and it’s time for him to take a big step forward offensively. He’s shown flashes of potential, but he has to be consistent and he must find a way to put more pucks in the net.

In training camp, 21 year old Zach Sanford from Boston College had a marvelous few weeks and earned himself a spot on the opening night roster sending the likes of Stan Galiev and others, such as Chandler Stephenson, Travis Boyd, Christian Thomas, and Jakub Vrana to Hershey for more game time and development.

In goal, the Capitals are rock solid with reigning Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby between the pipes, backed up by Philipp Grubauer. Holtby admitted over the summer that he did suffer an injury in the opening round series against the Flyers, which explains some of the slight drop off in his play in that Penguins series.

As for the Capitals blue line, it is the same as last spring, but the club is counting on more from Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt to improve the overall back end, especially from Orlov, who aspires to top four minutes. The question is can he be consistent and learn to avoid the big mistakes he’s prone to make that lead to opposing goals? Orpik is now 36, and even though he’s in great shape and eager to get over his nightmare 2015-16 campaign, the league is faster at a time when he’s battling losing more foot speed. Bottom line, the blue line depth is Washington’s biggest question mark. Everyone knows what Alzner, top 12 NHL defensemen John Carlson, and the super solid Matt Niskanen can do, so it’s all about the growth of Orlov and Schmidt plus the ability of Orpik to stay relevant in an up tempo league.

Are the Capitals better than last year? On paper, I’d say yes with the addition of Eller and the experience gained by Kuznetsov, Burakovsky, Orlov, and Schmidt. Those four players had great to solid regular seasons, but then sputtered in the post season. Hopefully they’ve learned what it takes to follow up a strong regular season with an even better playoff performance, because ultimately that’s where you’re measured in the NHL.

As for the team itself, to include the coaches, well they need to be better prepared for games. The slow starts that plagued this team so often in the past, need to be eliminated. Too often this hockey club allows the other squad to dictate the game before they decide to start playing. You rarely see the elite Championship teams do that in pro sports (see Patriots, New England). Washington must learn from what the Penguins did to them last spring and play the same way, regardless of the score. They need to find the “killer instinct” — they have the skill. That’s why their “will over skill” training camp tee shirts are very appropriate. The Capitals MUST ditch their laissez-faire approach to games and learn to come out firing and take the will of their opponents.

Letting clubs hang around, like the Caps did with the Flyers last spring, leads to more injuries and subpar play. That must be a thing of the past.

It’s a mindset and Washington, who has as much; if not more, talent than any team in the NHL, needs to improve the mental part of their game.

Last season the Capitals earned 120 standings points. I’ve stated they are a better team heading into 2016-17, but will they surpass that point total again? Not likely, but I do believe they will once again win the Metropolitan Division.

As for the rest of the Metro, here’s a look at each team in order of predicted finish:

2nd: Pittsburgh – they are the defending champs and to win the Cup you still have to go through the Penguins. They have the same team from last year minus defensemen Ben Lovejoy so they should be right there in the spring. The recent concussion that Sidney Crosby incurred at practice last Friday will likely keep him out of action for at least a game, but that is a smart decision by those in Pittsburgh. Sid skated on Tuesday, but given that the Pens will make the post season and it’s only October why rush a guy back who has a history of concussions?

3rd: Rangers – Henrik Lundqvist will be 35 in March. He showed some signs of his old self in the World Cup of Hockey, but overall he’s slowing down and his consistency will be in question. New York is still paying for going for the Cup the last several years so they are in salary cup trouble. They lost Keith Yandle and Dan Boyle on the blue line and are left with some slow footed dudes back there (see Girardi, Dan). Up front, they traded Derek Brassard to Ottawa for Mika Zibanejad, primarily to save cap space, and added past Capital killers Nathan Gerbe and Micahel Grabner. They also signed NCAA free agent Jimmy Vesey.

4th: Flyers – Philadelphia brings back basically the same lineup they had against the Capitals in the first round last April so I expect them to continue to improve unless injuries hit one or more of their key players (Claude Giroux, Jakab Voracek, Sean Couturier, and Shayne Gostisbehere).

5th: Islanders – New York lost Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, and Matt Martin at forward. Those are some big losses. Their blue line is fairly strong and they added Dennis Seidenberg to it. In net they have Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss. Halak was superb in the World Cup of Hockey. He’s known to have hot streaks, but can be injury prone and inconsistent.

6th: Devils – New Jersey traded defensemen Adam Larsson to Edmonton for former NHL #1 draft pick, Taylor Hall, so New Jersey should have more offense. Cory Schneider is great in net, but this team has a questionable blue line and some young players cutting their teeth in the NHL at forward.

7th: Hurricanes – Justin Faulk and 19 year old Noah Hanifan are a nice start on defense and up front Jeff Skinner, Teuvo Teravainen, and Elias Lindholm are three talented players aged 24 and younger, but this club lacks the depth to earn a playoff spot. They’ll play hard every night though, so teams that take them lightly will be in trouble.

8th: Blue Jackets – If the World Cup of Hockey proved anything for USA Hockey, it’s that the game has passed Coach John Tortorella by. Why John Davidson and company hired this dinosaur to be their bench boss last October after firing Todd Richards is beyond me? They have two superb young defensemen in Seth Jones and Ryan Murray and up front they boast the talented Brandon Saad. After that, their forwards are a mix match of styles with too many slow plodders filtered in. They do have Sergei Bobrovsky in net, but can he stay healthy?

The NHL regular season slate opens on Wednesday with four games, but the Caps will begin their season in Pittsburgh on Thursday at 8 pm. I don’t expect Crosby to play, which is disappointing. On Saturday at 7 pm, Washington has its home opener against the Islanders.

Drop the puck!!!!

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World Cup of Hockey: Ranking the Goaltenders

Posted on 08 September 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Day one of the pretournament games for the World Cup of Hockey didn’t disappoint at all. In the first afternoon tilt, Finalnd’s Olli Maatta beat Sweden’s Jonas Enroth on a two on one rush in overtime to lead the Fins to a 3-2 victory over their archrivals. In the second matinee, Alex Ovechkin’s Russian squad took 3-1 and 4-2 leads and then hung on behind goalie Sergei Bobrovsky’s 29 saves to defeat the Czech Republic, 4-3. In the main event on Thursday night, Team North America, comprised of Canadian and American players all age 23 and under, smoked a slow looking Team Europe, which consists of all European players not from Russia, Sweden, Finland, or the Czech Republic, 4-0. North America was extremely fun to watch with their high speed game.

As for the Capitals who suited up and played on Thursday, the Gr8 and Evgeny Kuznetsov were both held pointless in 15:17 and 15:57 of ice time, respectively. Ovechkin did have three hits. Russia’s Dmitry Orlov had an assist and led his team in ice time, with 20:12. Nicklas Backstrom was also held without a point in 16:58 of ice time and he went 8-7 on face-offs.

Friday night has one game, and it is a big one: USA vs. Canada from Columbus, Ohio at 7 pm on ESPNU.

On Wednesday night, I provided my World Cup of Hockey blue line rankings. Now we take a look at the goalies from each squad. Keep in mind that this is a SHORT tournament and having a hot goalie is very important to win, so I give more weight to those teams who I believe have net minders who are prone to hot streaks. Depth is important too, because if one goalie is off of his game, it’s paramount that you have a quality backup.

So without further adieu, here’s my rankings of each team’s goaltending from worst to first:

Eighth – Team Czech Republic – Peter Mrazek (DET), Michal Neuvirth (PHI), and Ondrej Pavelec (WPG). Each of these goalies has the ability to steal a game or two, but there’s no long term success history for any of them at the NHL level, and especially in this big time type of a tournament.

Seventh – Team Europe – Jaroslav Halak (NYI), Tomas Greiss (NYI), and Philipp Grubauer (WAS). Halak looked pretty rusty in the game against North America. He battled injuries last spring and if he doesn’t recover quickly, Greiss or Neuvy will see the cage. Halak has gotten hot in the past, but that was many moons ago.

Sixth – Team Sweden – Henrik Lundqvist (NYR), Jacob Markstrom (VAN), and Jhonas Enroth (TOR). Markstrom and Enroth are not very good and King Henrik is now 34 years old. Sure Lundqvist has shown the ability to get in the zone and steal several games in a row, but we haven’t seen that since the spring of 2015 when he helped the Rangers rally from a 3-1 series deficit against the Caps. This is Sweden’s biggest weakness.

Fifth – Team North America – Matt Murray (PIT), John Gibson (ANA), and Connor Hellebuyck (WPG). Murray plays so big with his solid positioning and he looked to have not missed a beat in his debut against Team Europe on Thursday night. He’s won a Stanley Cup, which none of the Sweden, Europe, or Czech Republic goalies can claim. Gibson played very well in the World Championships a few years back, so he’ll be the backup.

Fourth – Team Russia – Semyon Varlamov (COL), Sergei Bobrovsky (CMB), and Andrei Vasilevskiy (TB). This is a really strong trio and all have big game experience. Each of them has the ability to get hot. I’m guessing “Bob” will be the starter. He battled injuries last season and Varlamov has a history of groin issues, as well.

Third – Team Finland – Pekka Rinne (NAS), Tuukka Rask (BOS), and Mikko Koskinen (KHL). It’ll be Rinne first and if he falters, Tuukka will take over. Both are goalies that can get extremely hot and dominate for several games, so that makes them dangerous. The good news for Rask is there are no games at the Verizon Center in actual tournament play, he’s never won in the phone booth.

Second – Team USA – Jonathan Quick (LA), Ben Bishop (TB), and Corey Schneider (NJ). All three are very good goalies and can get super hot. Quick is the likely starter given his two Stanley Cup rings and experience in the Sochi Olympics, where he helped the USA to only fall 1-0 in a semi-final game against Canada, one in which they had no business being that close in.

First – Team Canada – Carey Price (MTL), Braden Holtby (WAS), and Corey Crawford (CHI). This is a no brainer. They have the last two Vezina Trophy winners, including the 2014-15 MVP in Price and a two time Stanley Cup Champion in Crawford. Yes, Price is returning from injury, so there’s questions surrounding him, but if he can’t play then either the Holtbeast or Crawford have plenty of talent and experience to do the job. Canada is flat out loaded at every position.

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Luck Not the Sole Reason for the Caps’ 2nd Round Exit

Posted on 13 May 2016 by Ed Frankovic

There have been 41 Washington Capitals seasons and zero Stanley Cup Championships.

Those are the facts, there is no denying them.

2015-16 was supposed to be different. It sure felt that way, from the general manager to the coaches to the players to the fans and even some in the media. Heck, I was front and center putting myself out there saying this team and this season would be different.

In many ways, it was, and we’ll touch on that later.

But in the end, as Justin Williams, John Carlson, and many other Capitals players proclaimed on breakdown day on May 12, 2016, the season was a “failure” following a devastating overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in game six that allowed the Pens to win a very closely contested series, four games to two.

Pittsburgh scored 16 goals and Washington tallied 15 times in the series. Each Penguins victory, two of which came in overtime, was achieved by a single goal. Both teams had stretches where they dominated the play, but ultimately it was the Penguins who prevailed.

Did the Capitals deserve a better fate from the Hockey Gods?

Maybe, I mean how often do you see a goal scored off of the back of a player? That happened in game three for Pittsburgh, a game in which the Caps carried the large majority of the play, but managed to lose. Numerous times in this series the Capitals had themselves in position to bury a puck at a key moment, and somehow it bounced over their players stick. Surely luck was not on their side, and as Matt Niskanen noted on breakdown day, you talk to guys around the league who have won championships and they’ll tell you need luck along the way to win.

There is truth to that, around these parts there is no denying that the two Super Bowls the Baltimore Ravens won included some luck. Al Del Greco hit the upright on a field goal right before halftime and then a blocked Del Greco field goal, in the fourth quarter, landed right in the hands of Anthony Mitchell and he then returned it for the game winning touchdown in 2000 against the Titans. Joe Flacco’s Hail Mary pass to Jacoby Jones in 2012 went over the head of a Broncos safety that mistimed his play on the ball for the tying touchdown to set up overtime and an eventual huge Ravens upset. All of those plays included luck, but the Ravens were also good enough to put themselves in position to get the breaks.

You certainly need some luck to win and the Capitals received some of that in series one when Jason Chimera’s innocent dump in deflection traveled 100 feet and through the wickets of Steve Mason into the cage in game two. The Caps took advantage and raced to a three to nothing series lead and eventually prevailed, four games to two over the Flyers.

In series two, Washington didn’t get the bounces and lost by a goal, but it wasn’t bad luck that did them in.

We’ll get that to what ultimately doomed them in a minute, but first, let’s put some perspective on where this team has come from over the last two years.

After a disastrous 2013-14 season, the Capitals were an absolute train wreck and a Stanley Cup seemed to be mostly an unobtainable goal in the near term. Following the conclusion of that season, I was full of piss and vinegar and rightfully called for the ultra-conservative and often panic stricken general manager to be let go, along with the divisive bench boss who seemed to insist on being the smartest guy in the room. I was furious that the blue line continually was not properly addressed by George McPhee for over 10 plus seasons. Fortunately, owner Ted Leonsis and team President Dick Patrick saw the same thing, when many in the national media were once again calling for the core of the team, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, to be shipped out instead.

Enter Coach Barry Trotz and promoted General Manager Brian MacLellan to commence a massive turnaround. They immediately went to work on two things the club desperately needed, a blue line fix and an identity as a team.

“Last year when I came here, that was the first thing we did, was fix the defense. We got two outstanding players in Brooks [Orpik] and Matt [Niskanen] and we started the process of building a culture and it started by fixing holes, by going out and getting the best people that we felt could do that and getting people who have won, then the next phase of that was to develop our own people,” said Caps coach Barry Trotz to Nestor Aparacio and I on February 29th, 2016 at a WNST radio event at Buffalo Wild Wings in Belair to continue the fight against leukemia and support the bone marrow registry.

Those moves laid the foundation for a very successful 2014-15 campaign that saw Washington return to the playoffs, defeat the New York Islanders in round one, and then lose in painful fashion, in overtime, in game seven against the New York Rangers. The Capitals only allowed 13 goals in seven games, but could only muster 12 goals themselves and lost twice in overtime in the final three contests.

It was an awful defeat, they lost a three games to one series lead, but everyone knew that the main problem was the Capitals didn’t have enough talent up front to score consistently. The loss was rough, but things were rapidly moving in the right direction after utter chaos just a year earlier. My end of the season blog focused on the need to improve the top six forwards and sure enough, MacLellan pulled it off dealing Troy Brouwer for T.J. Oshie and signing Justin Williams to a two year free agent deal. Unfortunately, adding those guys and the need to pay goalie Braden Holtby what he was rightfully worth, put the team up against the salary cap. With it not possible to move Brooks Laich’s boat anchor of a contract in the summer, the team was forced to part ways with grinding forward Joel Ward and defensemen Mike Green, both key players on the squad that fell just short against the Rags. They were tough personnel losses to a team that had become super close.

But Oshie and Williams fit in perfectly and the Ward and Green losses faded to the back of everyone’s mind as the Capitals stormed out of the gate and blew the league away in the regular season pretty much clinching the Presidents’ Trophy by Valentine’s Day. Holtby was legendary in the cage and he tied the NHL single season victory total for a goalie with 48 (tied with hall of famer, Martin Brodeur). It was so much fun and the team seemed to get tighter as a unit as the season moved on. This was surely setting up to be the year for a Cup parade, but quietly the Pittsburgh Penguins were addressing some serious issues they had themselves.

They fired their coach, Mike Johnston, and replaced him with former Rangers assistant Mike Sullivan. But more importantly, general manager Jimmy Rutherford made some great moves to transform his roster. In the summer, he traded high draft picks to Toronto to acquire scoring winger Phil Kessel and he dumped the slow and plodding Brandon Sutter for speedy Nick Bonino. After the season began, he also swapped David Perron for super-fast Cap killer Carl Hagelin. Suddenly he had a line that could skate like the wind, but he still had issues on the back end. Rob Scuderi was old and slower than molasses, but Rutherford somehow convinced Stan Bowman, who is considered an excellent GM, to deal mobile defensemen Trevor Daley for the past his prime Scuderi. It was a fleecing or highway robbery of a deal, whatever you want to call it. From there the Penguins were the best team in the league from January on and Washington knew they’d have their hands full with them, at some point. The Caps had become somewhat complacent given their huge standings lead while Pittsburgh pressed madly to move up the standings after wallowing out of playoff position for much of the first 40 games.

While the Penguins were making all of these moves, MacLellan not only added Oshie and Williams, but he brought in Mike Richards as a depth center. That move was excellent and if not for some of Richards outstanding penalty killing skills, the Flyers might have won game six, as well as game two. Richards ability to read back door passes and get his stick in lanes on defense and while shorthanded was very much needed. The Caps suddenly were not only super on the power play, but also on the penalty kill.

With the Richards move, the Caps only real question marks appeared to be on defense. The loss of Green was a blow, no doubt, you don’t replace a player of that caliber easily, and the Caps plan, partly due to limited salary cap room, was to go with rookies Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt on the back end as a third pairing. When Orpik was injured in early November with a cracked femur, suddenly those guys were forced to play more minutes than originally planned. They played well, too, perhaps clouding the judgement of the Capitals brass as the trade deadline approached. MacLellan did add Mike Weber as a depth defensemen and he somehow masterfully moved Laich out for an upgrade in forward Daniel Winnik. The move also freed up money on the current salary cap, but more importantly for 2016-17 when dollars would be needed to retain Marcus Johansson, who was having a career year, and others like Tom Wilson. Some wanted the Capitals to use that extra dough to acquire another defensemen given Oprik’s health issues and the lack of experience on the back end. Dan Hamhuis, among other experienced defensemen, were still out there reportedly to be had, but Washington passed.

After the trade deadline, at the WNST event with Coach Trotz on February 29th, I specifically asked him about the decision to go with the two players who had zero playoff experience on the back end.

“We talk about that, the blessing this year with Brooks being out for a long period of time, Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt were in the lineup for 50 some games. We already know what they can do and it’s been really beneficial for us. I think by adding Mike Weber we’re eight deep at the NHL level,” explained Trotz on the rationale of where the organization stood on their blue line.

It seemed like a viable plan at the time and Weber certainly seemed like the type of guy who could fill in for an Orpik or even a Karl Alzner if there was an injury. But Oprik came back healthy down the stretch and despite the fact that Carlson missed 12 games with a cracked ankle/foot in March, the Caps only played Weber in 10 of the 21 contests that occurred before the post season began. Basically, the Capitals decided to ride Orlov, Schmidt and Taylor Chorney instead of Weber. #6 was a seven year veteran with more playoff experience (seven games) than the other three combined, but he spent most of the time in the press box becoming rusty. As anyone in hockey will tell you, performing in the regular season is one thing, but doing that in the playoffs is another story, so the Capitals were really taking a risk on the Orlov-Schmidt-Chorney trio.

When Orpik was concussed and injured his neck in game three against the Flyers, I remarked to MacLellan after that tilt that “this was the reason you went out and got Weber.” The GM seemed to nod his head in agreement, yet somehow it wasn’t until a series clinching victory in game six that Weber finally got a sweater for the Caps? The coaching staff went with Chorney over a more physical Weber against a chippy and dirty team like the Flyers. Weber, to that point, had never received the repetitions he really needed to play at a top four level that would be required when Orpik went down.

That leads me to where this season broke down. Yes, the Penguins were the faster team, but you can deter speed by keeping it to the outside and wearing it out with proper execution. The Bonino line, with seven goals, was the difference in the series and while they were fast, several of those goals came from right in front of the net following turnovers. Oprik’s terrible hit on Olli Maatta that took #3 out of three games and #44 too, as a result of a suspension, turned the entire series around, as well.  The Caps were flat the rest of game two and lost home ice. In game three, Schmidt made a costly turnover and then was manhandled in front by the small Hagelin for the eventual game winning goal. He would not play in two of the final three games. Orlov was benched for a game and the Caps only won once with Chorney in the lineup (game five of the Pens series). Weber did get a jersey for game four and played decently, but the game winning goal went off of his stick to Patrick Hornqvist and he was banished to the press box once again.

When Alzner’s groin, that he initially injured in the Flyers series, finally popped in game six, the Caps had little left on the back end other than Carlson and a tiring Niskanen, who played all 82 games and every playoff game with King Karl, to that point. After #27’s injury, Orpik took another awful penalty, a careless double minor for high sticking on Hornqvist with the puck 50 feet away in period two, and the Caps great penalty killing unit was suddenly forced to play both Chorney and Orlov in succession. Two goals in 29 seconds was the result and that put the Caps in a deep hole, 3-0. It was a terrible penalty that Orpik could not afford to take, once again, and it was especially bad knowing that Alzner was done for the game. In short, as much as I like Orpik and what he can bring to the Capitals, he had a nightmare 2015-16 season with his injuries and bad penalties. Simply put, the Penguins were faster, but they also were able to get to the front of the Capitals net, and most of those occasions came when members of the bottom half of the Washington defense were on the ice.

Now the encouraging part of the story is that this is where this Capitals teamed proved to be different.  Instead of folding tent like the 2009 Caps did in game seven against Pittsburgh when they went down 3-0, they fought back and forced overtime in game six showing tremendous fortitude and resolve. They probably should have won too, but failed to capitalize on a late power play that they received. At that juncture they seemed a little too comfortable at that moment at just being tied up, something that occurred too frequently during this season and in the Flyers series, as well.

On to overtime we went and the Capitals, who rode the top six forwards and Carlson and Niskanen on the back end heavily, were out of gas. Niskanen was forced to play with guys he wasn’t used to being paired with and miscommunication happened on the game winning tally, which was another goal that once again came from the doorstep on a rebound.

In a nutshell, the Capitals lost on their lack of defensive depth, something they thought they had, but really didn’t.  They put too much stock in the abilities of Orlov and Schmidt based on their regular season success and they failed to take advantage and develop or possibly misevaluated what Weber could bring to the lineup. It was a waste of a third round draft pick the way it all played out. The Penguins found their way through the Washington back end too easily and Holtby couldn’t prevent all of those second chance tallies.

In addition, their season long tendency to sit back and not take control of games cost them dearly. They didn’t attack in game two and show that killer instinct to seize a critical contest and the series. That lack of killer instinct also allowed a Kris Letang-less Penguins team to steal game four. The Pens gained confidence to win in those first 30 minutes when the Capitals needed to step on their throats and not allow them to believe they could prevail without their best defensemen. It was a major opportunity lost.

Finally, the Capitals loss of Ward took away a player who routinely went to the front of the net in the postseason to get ugly goals. Washington didn’t have much of that against the Penguins outside of a couple of Williams tallies (but one was with the goalie pulled). The Caps need their bottom six forwards to chip in with more greasy goals.

So where does that lead us heading in to 2016-17?

Obviously the team is extremely disappointed that they let a major chance to win a championship slip by once again. The lack of true defensive depth, killer instinct, and inability to add in some rebound goals was what ultimately cost them the series against what should become in June, the 2015-16 Stanley Cup winning Penguins.

Some will call for panic and to try to blow things up, like the San Jose Sharks nearly did following a loss to the Kings in 2014 after owning a 3-0 series lead. Two springs later, the Sharks are in the hunt for the Cup and credit for that goes to hanging on to their core, the addition of Ward up front, and bringing in Paul Martin on defense.

Washington needs to find a Paul Martin type on the back end because running out the same seven guys again, particularly the four after Carlson, Niskanen, and Alzner, carries significant risk.

Johansson will be the top offseason priority to sign to a long term deal. He’s a key piece to this team and had a remarkable regular and post season. He was one of the guys going to the net against the Flyers and scoring tough goals. He also brings a major element of speed.

Wilson is next on the priority list as a restricted free agent. #43 made significant contributions this year on the penalty kill and defensively. In some games, such as game five against the Penguins, he was a difference maker by drawing penalties and keeping the opponent out of the offensive zone. Still, he needs to develop his offensive skills so that he could possibly fill that Ward type of role in front of the net. His improvement is a must and the coaches need to aid that by playing him more. If they prefer not to do that or think he can’t do that, then a move is needed.

Orlov is a restricted free agent, as well, and he and Schmidt are similar players, along with Chorney. The Caps management team needs to determine if that is indeed the way to go to win a Stanley Cup on the back end. My recommendation would be to move at least one of them and upgrade the blue line, especially since Oprik is adding another year and he has an injury history.

Ovechkin is about to head into his 12th season and the Capitals need to win soon (Steve Yzerman’s first Cup came in his 14th season). The Gr8 was superb in these playoffs and downright dominant in several games, such as game five against the Penguins. Oshie, Williams, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Alzner are all free agents after next season and will require more dollars. Carlson has two more years to go at the deal of the century, a contract just under $4M per season. He was the Capitals best player in the post season and will command $7M plus in 2018-19.

Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky are two young players that had super regular seasons, but as a result of playing all 82 games, didn’t have the legs they had in 2015-16 when they were playoff difference makers. They need to learn from that and be better prepared physically next spring. They need to add strength and learn to get some ugly goals in front.

I typically wait several days before writing this blog to let the emotions of the playoff defeat die down, but I don’t think that will be possible this season. This was one tough loss and a major opportunity gone by the wayside. Everyone will feel the pain all summer and I certainly don’t want to be sitting here next season beginning my 2016-17 final blog with a 0 and 42 statistic.

I know the Capitals don’t want me to be doing so either.

Everything the Caps do between now and next April 15th has to be about the playoffs and winning the Cup. The team is tight and the culture is strong, but they need to develop that killer instinct. In addition, the management needs to address the personnel short comings on defense and the coaching staff needs to be quicker to adjust when things aren’t working.

The last thing management needs to do is panic and make radical changes, this team is ultra close, but more is necessary to get over the hump.

So the time is now for the Capitals to start getting at next year and doing everything in their power to make sure no stone is left unturned and no holes are left exposed when injuries or uncomfortable situations present themselves in the spring of 2017 playoffs.

There were a lot of things to like from this team this year, but the ultimate prize was not captured and the season was a major disappointment, or a failure, as many players called it.

The clock is ticking.

They must end this awful postseason losing cycle once and for all.

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Isles Beat Caps

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Caps Squander Lead and Lose to Islanders in Overtime

Posted on 05 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

There are good losses in sports and there are bad losses.

On Tuesday night at the Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals suffered one of the bad variety yielding a 3-1 lead with 12 minutes remaining and losing in overtime to the New York Islanders, 4-3.

The Caps kept their season long streak of not losing two games in a row in regulation alive, but for just the second time after a loss, they fell in overtime and are now 15-0-2 after a regulation defeat in 2015-16.

Washington has been in preseason-like mode in several games recently, due to the standings, but they played a decent first period and took the lead on Alex Ovechkin’s 46th goal of the season thanks to a great screen in front by T.J. Oshie. The Caps had the puck a lot in that first frame, but they didn’t get enough rubber on rookie goalie, Christopher Gibson, who was playing because starter Thomas Greiss manned the cage on Monday in a 5-2 win over Tampa. Jaroslav Halak is also out injured and third goalie, Jean-Francois Berube, is sick, so you’d think that Washington would want to rattle the youngster early? They failed to do so and Gibson got stronger as the game went on.

Period two was pretty bad hockey as Washington looked in “la-la” land repeatedly turning pucks over and let New York hang around to get the game tied after 40 minutes. Heading into this contest the Caps were 3-0 against the Islanders this season after defeating them in seven games in last spring’s first round. It was getting to the point where the Isles had to feel like beating the Caps might’ve been too tall a mountain to climb.

With New York having played the night before, common wisdom had the Capitals coming out and jumping on the Islanders in the third period, and they did just that. Oshie scored his 26th goal of the season when he took a fanned Marcus Johansson pass and snapped it by Gibson just 75 seconds into the period. Ovechkin would then score his 47th goal of the season at the 6:56 mark finishing a three on one break from Oshie and Johansson.

Game over, right?

In the past with Washington, that normally would’ve been the case, but not tonight. The Islanders more than climbed that mountain storming back quickly with two goals in 1:45 as the Capitals went to sleep in their own end. Braden Holtby, who was on the cusp of tying Martin Brodeur’s win record, seemed to buckle a bit under that pressure and had a mistake of his own on each of the two New York comeback tallies. On the second Islanders goal, by Kyle Okposo, he totally misplayed the puck as it came out from behind the net and on the game tying tally, he probably should’ve had the shot, although Dmitry Orlov made another mistake by failing to clear Anders Lee from the front of the net, which allowed Lee to tip the biscuit by the Holtbeast.

From there the game ramped up and both teams had chances. Holtby made a great glove save on Anders Lee with about three minutes left. Evgeny Kuznetsov was in position to shoot one on one with Gibson late, but he chose to force a pass to Ovechkin for the hat trick attempt and another great scoring opportunity was squandered.

In the overtime, Kuznetsov (nine shots on goal) had a breakaway after a John Tavares turnover, but instead of using one of his great deke moves, he shot early, perhaps sensing the opposing defensemen closing in on his right, and Gibson denied him. Ovechkin then had a great chance in the slot, yet somehow the young goalie got the shaft of his stick on it and made the save.

That was all of the help the Islanders needed and Tavares made a great play to set up Thomas Hickey for the game winner and Washington’s domination over New York was gone, along with Holtby’s chance to tie Brodeur on Tuesday night.

That will now have to wait until Thursday night against Pittsburgh at the Verizon Center. The Pens are red hot and the Capitals are not. They are simply going through the motions for too many long stretches so who knows how that game will play out?

One now has to wonder, does this slight downturn matter given that this is glorified preseason right now? I’d like to say, no, it doesn’t. However, some bad habits have crept into Washington’s play.

It’s fair to ask if the Capitals will be able to flip the switch next Thursday in game one.

The good news in all of this is Caps players are not getting hurt and if this contest really mattered, Nicklas Backstrom would’ve suited up. He’s correctly being nursed back to 100% health. Washington is also not really employing their preferred style of heavy hockey right now, likely because these games, despite the talk of records for Holtby and trophies for Ovechkin, just don’t matter.

You have to be fully invested physically and emotionally to dominate and win hockey games. You can’t do it on skill alone. Right now, the Caps are not invested enough to do so, and that is why the mistakes are happening. They aren’t hitting like they will next week and that’s a big factor in why they don’t look dominating, at this juncture.

So in the grand scheme of things, this “bad loss” did prevent Holtby from getting the record, but it may not really matter if Washington stays healthy and then can turn on their brand of hockey in the post season.

We are just nine days away from that starting and it can’t come soon enough for the Capitals.

Notes: The victory clinched a playoff berth for the Islanders and also means that Washington will likely face one of the Flyers, Red Wings, or Bruins in the first round. Boston lost in the shootout to Carolina on Tuesday so they are tied for 3rd place with Detroit in the Atlantic. The Wings have a game in hand…the Caps outshot the Islanders, 32-27, but New York had more shot attempts, 62-57…all three Capitals goals came from the top line. Ovechkin (two goals) and Johansson (three assists) were both +3 while Oshie (three points) was +2…Orlov and Andre Burakovsky were both -2. Orlov was on the ice for three Islanders goals and just one Caps tally (the first). He continues to have defensive zone lapses…Tavares had a goal and two assists and was the best player in the game.

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Evgeny Kuznetsov has three helpers and Daniel Winnik tallies twice in a dominating Caps win over Nashville.

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Kuznetsov, Winnik Lead Caps to a 4-1 Win on Craig Laughlin Night

Posted on 18 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

On Craig Laughlin night at the Verizon Center on Friday, it was fitting that a plumber notched two tallies for the Capitals in a 4-1 victory over the Nashville Predators.

Daniel Winnik scored twice, the first of which came on another spectacular pass by Evgeny Kuznetsov (three assists) to tie the contest up at one after former Cap Filip Forsberg had given the Preds a second period lead on a power play. It was Winnik’s first two goals as a Capital after coming over on February 29th in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Kuznetsov (three assists) was sensational in this game and it was another one of his vintage passes, this one behind his back, to T.J. Oshie on the goal line that #77 deposited over Carter Hutton at 12:22 of the middle frame to give Washington its’ first lead of the night.

With 18 ticks remaining in the second period, the Capitals really put Nashville behind the eight ball when Winnik scored his second tally of the night after a great rush and feed by Dmitry Orlov. The Caps then inserted the dagger on the Predators just 36 seconds into period three when, you guessed it, Kuznetsov stripped the puck from Ryan Johansen, who was horrible in this one, and fed Andre Burakovsky all alone in front of Hutton. #65 promptly roofed it for his 15th goal of the season to end the scoring.

Coming into this contest David Poile’s team was one of the hottest clubs in the NHL, going 11-1-5 over their last 17 games, including a 4-2 win over the Islanders on Thursday night.

After arriving into the District around 2 am on Friday morning, the Capitals pretty much made sure that the Predators had no chance in this tilt.

Sure they scored the first goal early in period two, but the Predators were held to just four first period shots and zero quality chances. The Capitals turned in a strong first frame, but for the 14th time in the last 17 games they failed to grab the initial lead. Coach Barry Trotz is all about the process so he had to like that opening period even though it was scoreless.

Despite giving up the power play tally that occurred after a Taylor Chorney trip, Washington did not lose momentum in the second period. On Winnik’s first goal, which came right as the Preds penalty expired (Johansen), Braden Holtby (20 saves) made a great long feed to Kuznetsov to catch Nashville in a change. Kuznetsov then worked his magic to totally fake out the entire Nashville team and slide the biscuit through a seam to Winnik, who merely had to deposit it into the yawning cage. It was the Holtbeast’s first assist of the year and it sucked pretty much any life left out of the Predators, who thought they might be able to steal a game in which they were getting heavily outplayed, to that point.

The Caps onslaught would continue from there and it wasn’t until it was 4-1 that Nashville really got any type of consistent pressure. But by then it was just score effects and overall the Capitals held the Predators to just 21 shots on net.

Orlov was outstanding on the back end and in addition to his assist, he was +4 on this night. You could go up and down the Capitals lineup and cite contributions from nearly every player and even Tom Wilson, who had been struggling a bit lately, did a nice job of going to the net and causing traffic on Hutton.

Washington’s impressive victory pushes their record to an astounding 51-14-5 (107 points) and even if the Los Angeles Kings go 13-0 the rest of the way, the Caps would just need nine points in 12 games to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy. Like I’ve said before, that’s a done deal.

This was two straight quality efforts by the Capitals and it was their first win by as many as three goals since January 19th against Columbus (h/t to Mike Vogel). Holtby earned his 43rd victory of the season and is now just five wins shy of Martin Brodeur’s all-time record. Washington also improved to 21-12-5 when allowing the first goal of the game. They are 30-2-0 when scoring first.

So now it is on to Pittsburgh on Sunday night to take on the Penguins at the Consol Energy Center. The Pens are in a dogfight of their own to make the postseason and they’ll face the red hot and despised Flyers on Saturday afternoon at 1 pm. Here’s to hoping there’s a whole new rash of penalty minutes in that one!

For the Caps, though, the beat just keeps marching on. Washington took advantage of a team who played the night before by out skating them all evening.

It was a thorough whipping of Nashville by Coach Trotz’ crew and it came on a night where everyone was in a celebratory mood given that it was “Locker’s” silver anniversary. Ole #18 delivered once again with another excellent performance in the booth with his partner in crime, Joe Beninati.

Thanks for all of the great work, analysis, and laughs over the last 25 years, Craig!

Notes: Kuznetsov earned the game’s number one star. In addition to his three helpers in 17:30 of ice time, he went 13-5 from the dot as the Capitals won the face off battle, 34-24…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:21 while Roman Josi and Shea Weber both played over 27 minutes each for Nashville. Those numbers display the difference in depth between these two bluelines as the Caps next highest defenders in time on ice were Karl Alzner at 21:34 and Brooks Orpik at 20:22…Oshie and Alex Ovechkin led the Caps in shots on goal with five. The Gr8 had 13 shot attempts, but zero points…Oshie, who set a career high with his 22nd goal, led the Caps with five hits…the Caps have 28 victories at home this season.

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In a thrilling late night game in Cali, the Capitals emerge victorious in the shootout, 2-1.

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Braden Holtby Ends the Ducks’ 11 Game Winning Streak

Posted on 08 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby allowed a goal to Ryan Getzlaf that he probably wanted back just one minute into the game on a delayed penalty call on Alex Ovechkin, but that was all the Ducks would get the rest of the night. Washington’s Andre Burakovsky tied the contest just 41 seconds into the third period and after overtime solved nothing, the Caps won in the shootout to halt Anaheim’s 11 game winning streak, 2-1.

Wow. Wow. Wow!

That was one incredible hockey game that was well worth staying up for!

It was physical; there were great end to end rushes, quality scoring chances, and some outstanding goaltending at both ends of the rink. John Gibson made 31 saves, robbing Justin Williams at least four times in this one, to carry the Ducks to the gimmick. Holtby held up his end of the bargain, as well, stopping 27 shots and he looked like early season Holtbeast. He made several huge stops, at key times, and he didn’t give up many rebounds. It was easily his best game since at least the all star break.

Williams, who was Comcast’s player of the game, did get an assist on the tying goal by Burakovsky. That second unit was all over the Ducks the entire evening and their only flaw was failing to pull the trigger when they had some great looks. Both Evgeny Kuznetsov and Burakovsky were guilty of overpassing on several occasions.

Each team played well and it is easy to see why the Ducks had been on a tear. They are extremely good and play a style that is conducive to lower scoring games. They have speed and size, just like Washington, so this was really an even matchup.

Mike Richards and his linemates, Daniel Winnik and Jay Beagle had another strong contest, especially in the third period when the Caps carried most of the play. #10 picked off a “D to D” pass with a minute to go and nearly won the game on a sweet backhander. Gibson, once again, kept his club in it.

The overtime saw the Caps carry the majority of the possession as they worked their three man cycle and overlap style very well. Matt Niskanen nearly won the game again for Washington with a sweet move to the net, but Gibson stopped his backhander in tight. The Capitals received a power play in OT when the Ducks were called for too many dudes, but just 16 seconds into that T.J. Oshie was called for closing his hand on the puck. Three on three continued without a decision, although the pace was frantic and heart pumping.

In the shootout, Holtby had two snazzy glove saves while Oshie made one of his sick head fake, then backhand roof job moves to give the Caps the edge early. Kuznetsov then had a chance to win the game, but despite beating Gibson, he shot wide. Corey Perry would deliver for Anaheim with a sweet backhand move of his own with the game on the line. Enter Nicklas Backstrom, who skated in calmly and coolly, faked going blocker side to open up the Ducks goaltender like a can of beans, and then #19 slid the puck on the ice between Gibson’s legs to silence the Honda Center. The Swedish assassin was quiet and deadly with his work and Washington earned another big victory against one of the NHL’s elite.

The exhilarating triumph improves the Caps to a 49-13-4 record, good for 102 points. That is just out of this world and even more impressive is that this was the Capitals fifth game in seven nights and they navigated that stretch at 4-1, including flying cross country on Sunday.

This group is clearly special and they once again shook off a rocky start to improve as the game went on. They were emotionally involved in the contest after the opening shift and they were winning many of the loose puck battles against a super hockey club.

There was just a ton to like about this victory, and perhaps, most importantly, was the way their goalie rallied after allowing an early goal to close the door with numerous ten bell saves.

Yes, the Holtbeast was back on the prowl on Monday night in a huge Capitals victory in Anaheim.

Notes: Burakovsky now has 23 points in his last 25 games…both teams went 0 for 4 on the power play in 6:16 of time. Washington’s PK was outstanding holding Anaheim to just 1 power play shot! The Caps man advantage efforts in regulation were superb and generated seven shots on goal, but Gibson was the difference…the Ducks won the faceoff battle, 29-22, although Kuznetsov went 8-6…Ovechkin had 0 shots on goal through 40 minutes but had four in the third period and one great chance in overtime that was denied by Gibson…Williams also had five shots on net…Niskanen played 27:05 to lead all skaters…Mike Weber had eight hits for the Caps. Brooks Orpik and Dmitry Orlov also had five each. The Ducks were credited with 43 hits to 33 for Washington…next up for the Caps are the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center at 10:30 on Wednesday night.

 

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Brooks Orpik is no wood man, and he proves it by scoring the game winning goal for the Caps.

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Orpik Leads the Caps Over the Devils

Posted on 20 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

“He’s not like a wood man.” – Evgeny Kuznetsov, on Brooks Orpik, from his article in The Players’ Tribune

No, Brooks Orpik is not a wood man. #44, just three contests back into the lineup after missing 40 games, helped set up the game tying goal and then scored the game winner through traffic on Cory Schneider (28 saves) to give the Washington Capitals a come from behind, 4-3, victory over a hard working Devils squad.

Orpik, who’s been paired with Russian defensemen Dmitry Orlov since he’s returned, took another awesome Kuznetsov feed and alertly fired it on net. With Alex Ovechkin and a host of Devils in front, Schneider never saw it and it hit him in the shoulder and into the top corner of the cage with 3:58 remaining.

From there the Capitals gave the Devils nothing. In fact, after the Devils took the lead with 8:56 left they had only four shot attempts (two on net) the rest of the way.

Washington was very streaky in this contest. In the first period they played the wrong way with careless cross ice turnovers that led to several New Jersey quality chances. Coach Barry Trotz was not happy with that first frame and stated afterwards that the Capitals gave up eight or nine scoring chances, which was more than the Islanders had in the whole game on Thursday in Brooklyn.

Braden Holtby (21 saves) was strong early, stopping two Devils breakaways as well as the first six shots of the game, which all came from New Jersey. But #70 struggled a bit after that giving up questionable tallies on goals two and three. On both of the first Devils goals the Caps skaters looked like orange road cones and didn’t help their goaltender out. On the third one, it was from long range, but it might have deflected partially off of a Capitals stick. Still, Braden would tell you he must have those, especially in the last 10 minutes.

For the second straight contest the Capitals destroyed the opponent in terms of shots and possession in the middle frame. The Caps out shot the Devils 12-4 and scored the only goal, a Kuznetsov tally, after some great work by Michael Latta and Brooks Laich. Washington was physical and they were getting the pucks down below the goal line on New Jersey and that’s the heavy hockey style that Coach Trotz wants because the Caps are so good at that type of play. In fact, when they play that way, they are unbeatable.

With the score 2-2 heading into the third period, you’d think the Caps would continue that roll, and for the most part they did as New Jersey had only six shots on goal. When Holtby let in the softie, though, his teammates responded, to quote the great Nuke Laloosh, by “announcing their presence with authority” the remainder of the game. The heavy hockey style was amped up and Washington just manhandled a tired Devils club, who had lost to the Islanders at home the night before, over the last 8:56.

Orpik and Orlov were the stars on the backend as they continually made plays at the blueline and on the wall to keep pucks in the offensive zone. They were simply outstanding and earned their +4 individual totals on Saturday night.

Other Capitals were stellar, as well, including Ovechkin (38th goal and an assist), T.J. Oshie (17th goal), Kuznetsov (17th goal and 43rd assist), and Mike Richards. Yes, that’s fourth liner and 0 points in 14 games, Mike Richards. But there is more to the game than points and #10’s last two games have been his best. He’s winning key draws while controlling the play with his great stick and hockey sense. He’s also been very close to getting a point with his effort and strong positioning. This guy was a great pickup and he will keep getting better and the points will come, eventually. The organization has to be really happy with what they’ve seen from him so far, especially his “team first” mentality.

Orpik, or “Batya” as Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky call him, is another “team first” guy. He means so much to this club on the ice with his physical play, and he rocked several Devils players in this one, and off the ice with his leadership. Guys like Orpik, Richards, and Justin Williams are super leaders and respected voices in the room. They’ve won six Stanley Cups between them for a reason.

This victory gives the Capitals another three game winning streak and they are 43-10-4 overall (90 points). I don’t even look at the standings or reference them anymore because Washington is so far ahead of the league. They will win the Metropolitan Division, the Eastern Conference, and the Presidents’ Trophy. But who cares, right?

Every Capitals fan has heard this from other fan bases all season, and, at times, even from within the fan base, “The Caps have 0 Stanley Cups.”

Yes, we all get it. If Taylor Swift was a Caps fan (and who knows, she could be?), she’d probably respond with “Why you gotta be so mean?”

But, in reality, there is nothing anyone can do to shut them up right now. You can say this team is different, and I believe it is because of the quality acquisitions GM Brian MacLellan has made along with the outstanding coaching staff, led by Trotz. However, until they run the gauntlet in April, May, and June and deliver that silver beauty of a trophy, all you can do is just enjoy the show and focus on the process they are going through.

It’s all about building their game up to deliver when the good weather arrives. This team finally has the players to do it and the blue print is there from the best coaching staff this organization has ever had. Now they just need to stay healthy and be focused.

Notes: Hat tip to referees Kelly Sutherland and Wes McCauley on their job of officiating this one. It’s among the best zebra performances I’ve seen all season…the Caps were 0 for 3 on the power play while the Devils went 0 for 1…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 21:33, but Oprik had 21:02…Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner were -3 in this one. It was not one of their better nights, but those two, like Holtby, have carried this club on many other occasions, so they get a pass…Kuznetsov was +3…Nate Schmidt was the low blueliner in terms of ice time, but he still played 15:02. Great balance of ice time on the backend again by Coach Trotz and assistant coach Todd Rierden…the Devils won the face off battle, 29-24…Tom Wilson, who was also very good in this game, had eight hits while Orpik had five…Ovechkin had six shots on net, almost all from in close, which is a good thing. Schneider robbed him a couple of times…next up are the pesky Arizona Coyotes on Monday night at 7 pm at the Verizon Center.

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The Caps play a terrible 2nd period that ultimately dooms them in Dallas.

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Caps Third Period Rally Falls Short Against Dallas

Posted on 13 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals played, by far, their worst period of the season in the second frame on Saturday night in Dallas, giving up 17 shots on net and four goals to fall behind 4-0 after 40 minutes.

The Caps went totally against what makes them successful in that middle frame. They tried soft, cross ice passes instead of getting pucks deep. As a result, they could not take advantage of their size and skill down low which provided the super fast Stars with several odd man rushes that they capitalized on.

Braden Holtby did all he could to keep Dallas at bay, but he could not be faulted on all four of the goals against since two were on three on one breaks, one came from in front by one of the best scorers in the NHL in Jamie Benn when he was not covered properly, and the fourth tally was on a two man advantage power play where one of the Capitals penalty killers also lost his stick.

It was as ugly a period as the Caps have played all season long. It all started with a bad decision by the Caps inside their offensive blue line. Instead of dumping a puck down low and creating a two on one advantage situation, the Washington forward chose to go cross ice and Dallas was off to the races. That sequence started what seemed like wave after wave of Capitals turnovers leading to Stars chances.

Shortly after it was 2-0, the Caps Andre Burakovsky had a seemingly open cage to cut the lead to one and the shot was somehow stopped. Moments later the Stars were gifted another three on one when a Caps defenseman tried to carry the puck into the offensive zone and was pick pocketed. That made it 3-0, and then when Washington took two bad offensive zone penalties, the Stars cashed in late to make it 4-0.

Holtby, who deserved much better than the garbage play in front of him to that point, was relieved for the final frame to get Philipp Grubauer some work.

The reaction on twitter from several skeptics within and outside the Caps fan base was somewhat predictable during the second intermission. People were spouting off about how the Caps losing to Dallas, for the second time this season, showed they couldn’t beat the best teams in the NHL and that they weren’t for real.

Are you kidding me?

We can check the ledger with the court reporter, but if I’m not mistaken the team that has won three of the last six Stanley Cups, the Chicago Blackhawks, were defeated by the Caps in their only meeting back in October. But narratives rarely focus on the facts on twitter, especially from the haters and non-believers, so my message after 40 minutes to those who were bailing on the team after one bad period was: “Good riddance and don’t come back.” Washington, win or lose in Dallas, was still going to be the best team in the NHL.

“Best team in the NHL” is what showed up in the third period as the Capitals stormed back like Miracle Max had given them all magic healing pills. Alex Ovechkin started it with a laser from the Ovi spot on the power play to record his league leading 35th tally and get the ball rolling for Washington.

Justin Williams then atoned for his poor play on the first goal and made it 4-2 from in tight with just over 12 minutes to go. Then, after Ovechkin was flat out robbed by Kari Lehtonen (20 saves), Andre Burakovsky buried a sweet feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) to cut the deficit to just one puck with 6:06 left.

For the final six minutes the Caps had numerous chances and it took fortunate stops from “LUCK-onen” on Burakovsky, John Carlson, and Williams to maintain the Stars lead. Finally, with Grubauer pulled for the extra attacker, it took the right goal post on a Tom Wilson shot in the slot and then the linesman getting in the way after a face off win to take Ovechkin off of the puck with 30 seconds left for Dallas to escape with a 4-3 win.

The loss, just Washington’s 10th of the season in regulation, drops them to 40-10-4 (84 points). They still lead the NHL in points and are the best team in the NHL. The Stars have 15 regulation losses and no other club is closer in that department.

Losing was tough for the Caps and the critics will likely be out, especially those who despise Ovechkin and this franchise, but I don’t really care. Washington proved to all watching, and hopefully most importantly to themselves, that when they play their brand of hockey, which is getting pucks in deep on the opponent via proper zone entries, solid puck support, and strong, hard passes, that they are unbeatable.

That’s right; I said the Caps are unbeatable when they play the right way. In the second period, they played the wrong way. They tried the “easy game” where you don’t pay the price physically and mentally that’s necessary to win hockey games. You can’t play that way and beat anyone, let alone one of the top clubs in the Western Conference.

So on Saturday night, the Caps hopefully learned a good lesson or were simply reminded (after all, they’ve won 40 times this season in 54 games) about what is needed to be successful. Sure they received zero points, but when Coach Barry Trotz and his assistants show the team the tape of this one and point out the good and the bad, it will be clear as day as to how they need to play if they want to win the trophy I know they badly want in June.

In February, you can try the “easy game,” it probably won’t work, but when you have a big standings lead and are two months from the playoffs, it doesn’t hurt you in the near term. But playing the way they did in the 3rd period was a great reminder to Ovechkin and company that there is one recipe for success in the NHL and that is for a team to play to their strengths. For the final 20 minutes, it was “heavy hockey” city for Washington and that allowed their skill to take over the game. That’s the way Coach Trotz wants it drawn up and executed. When they do that, they win.

Yes, losing stinks, but on Saturday, the way this one went down might just be a really good thing, long term, for the best team in the NHL.

Notes: the loss halted the Capitals five game winning streak…Washington won the face off battle, 31-27. Mike Richards was 6-0 from the dot…the Caps were only credited with 15 hits, four by Ovechkin. Most of the physical play from Washington came in the final 20 minutes…Dallas was 1 for 4 on the power play while the Caps were 1 for 3…the Caps took their fourth “too many men on the ice” penalty in the last four games. That trend needs to stop, immediately…next up for the Capitals are the Pacific Division leading Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center. The Kings will be without forward Marian Gaborik (knee) and goalie Jonathan Quick’s status is up in the air, too. #32 was injured in a win over Boston earlier in the week. There is a very good chance that Brooks Orpik will be back in the lineup  for the Caps which likely means that Taylor Chorney will be scratched. Chorney was -2 in this contest and he and Dmitry Orlov were the defensive pair on the ice on both three on one rush goals by Dallas.

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Marcus Johansson returns after missing 4 games to spark the Caps in a big win in Nashville.

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Johansson Return Plus Holtby Key a Caps Win in Smashville

Posted on 09 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Marcus Johansson returned after missing four games and boy did he deliver on Tuesday night in Nashville. Jojo was absolutely brilliant scoring the game winning goal, adding two helpers, and going +3 on the evening in a Capitals 5-3 victory over the Predators.

Washington once again had a slow start and Braden Holtby (23 saves) was the key early as the Preds fired 14 first period shots on goal. The Holtbeast was outstanding keeping his club afloat while they tried to find their legs. Thanks to a Jason Chimera tally, his 14th of the year, on a great feed from Tom Wilson after Willy forced a Predators neutral zone turnover, the Capitals led 1-0 after the first frame despite only getting six shots on Pekka Rinne (18 saves).

The Caps took three penalties in the opening frame and then after taking a 2-0 lead on Wilson’s fifth goal of the season after a sweet feed from Johansson on an odd man rush, Washington made some bad mental mistakes. Coach Barry Trotz’ crew took two consecutive too many dudes on the ice penalties, overlapping by four seconds. Some excellent penalty killing almost got the Caps out of those brain cramps, but Filip Forsberg (two goals) scored late on the last power play on a wicked top shelf snipe over Holtby’s glove that may have nicked John Carlson’s stick.

Through 40 minutes the Caps would lead, but they had yet to really play their best hockey.

In the third frame, Washington amped up their intensity and started winning more of the board battles and using their size to negate the Predators speed. Dmitry Orlov marvelously outworked a couple of Nashville skaters on the wall in the offensive zone and that allowed Evgeny Kuznetsov to find Justin Williams in front of the cage and he batted the biscuit home to give the Capitals a 3-1 lead.

Three minutes later the Capitals third line struck again as Jojo buried one into a vacant cage as Rinne furiously flopped back and forth in his net to stop Karl Alzner and then Williams (1 goal, 1 assist) before #90 made it 4-1 with 11:57 remaining.

Game over, right?

Well, not so fast. The Predators, who only had five shots on goal in the third period, would get two markers just two minutes and eleven seconds apart to cut it to 4-3 with eight minutes to go. Both goals were on weird deflections in front of the Holtbeast.

But Trotz’ crew settled down and started playing smarter hockey by getting pucks in deep and forechecking with their heavy style. Nashville didn’t get many good looks and the Capitals had several shots at making it a two goal cushion again. With just under three minutes to go, the line of Wilson, Jojo, and Chimera then put on a cycling clinic and really took the Predators last bit of energy away. This forced Coach Peter Laviolette to keep his goalie in longer than he wanted and then Alex Ovechkin drew a penalty with the keeper pulled to put Washington on the power play.

After a Nashville clear, they pulled Rinne again, but the Caps worked the puck around and the Gr8 deposited it into the vacant cage for his 31st goal of the season to close this one out. That ended a long Capitals power play drought at 19.

Over those last eight minutes, the Predators had only four shot attempts, and two came after the Ovechkin empty net tally. None of the four shots made it on goal, either. Now that is the way to protect a one goal lead!

Andre Burakovsky, on his 21st birthday, extended his point scoring streak to eight consecutive games with his 14th assist of the season on the Williams goal that was totally set up by Orlov. #9 had a really strong third period when the Caps seized this contest.

But this night belonged to the third line, particularly Johansson, who has really made the Capitals extra dangerous with a unit that can skate, hit, check, and score. This allows Mike Richards to lead a fourth line that is effective as well, and should get even stronger once Jay Beagle returns. Overall, the Caps have lots of players they can shift around up front and be effective. That’s a nice luxury to have.

The win improves the Capitals record to 39-9-4 (82 points) and per Matt Williams of the Caps PR staff, Washington is the first team in NHL history to achieve 39 wins through 52 regular season games. Wow!

I’ve been saying since the summer this is the best Caps team ever, but we all know when they really have to prove it.

Notes: The Predators were 1 for 6 on the power play while Washington was 1 for 3…5v5 shot attempts favored the Caps, 41-36. It was 17-13, for the good guys in the final 20 minutes…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in time on ice with 26:11 and he was +2…the Capitals blocked 18 shots and won the faceoff battle, 35-29. Richards was 7-2 from the dot…next up for the Caps are the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night. That will be the second game on a three tilt road trip before it ends Saturday in Dallas against the Stars.

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