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Holtby Oil

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Braden Holtby Steals A Win For the Caps

Posted on 12 November 2017 by Ed Frankovic

“Este es un robo!”

The Washington Capitals stole a hockey game on Sunday night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All hail the Holtbeast!

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

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Caps Over Pens Nov 2017

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Caps Get Total Team Effort in Victory Over Pittsburgh

Posted on 10 November 2017 by Ed Frankovic

When 20 men all row the boat in the same direction, good things happen.

On Friday night at Capital One Arena the Washington Capitals played, by far, their best game of the season to knock off the two time defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins, 4-1.

John Carlson, T.J. Oshie, Chandler Stephenson, and Jakub Vrana scored for the Caps and Braden Holtby stopped 27 of 28 shots to improve Washington to 9-7-1 (19 points).

Without further adieu, here are nine detailed thoughts and analysis on this huuuuugggggeeee victory.

  1. Nicklas Backstrom came into this game with a seven game scoreless streak and his linemate, T.J. Oshie, had not netted a goal in eight straight contests. In a smart attempt to shake the lines up, Coach Barry Trotz bumped Vrana down to the third line and added a player who works hard on every shift, Stephenson, to the mix. That trio was superb all evening and they spent a lot of time up against Sidney Crosby’s line. Nicky held Sid the Kid pointless and even broke his pointless drought with a great feed to Stephenson in the slot to make it 3-1 with 6:18 left. Crosby would play 18:58, have only three shot attempts, lose 14 of 22 draws, and ended up a minus two. It was a vintage two way game by Backstrom, one of the NHL’s best centers. Oshie also broke his slump with a sweet deflection of a Carlson point shot on the power play with 1:51 to go in period two. The Osh Babe also had great net presence on Carlson’s opening marker that hit Tom Kuhnackl’s stick and went in. #34 was trying to tie up Oshie and he was not successful.
  2. Speaking of Carlson, what a beast he was, once again! #74 had a goal and an assist in 28:43 of ice time. He has simply been sensational while Matt Niskanen has been out. The Caps have rode Carly and Brooks Orpik on the back end heavily and are 6-6 in Nisky’s absence. However, four of those six losses came on the tail end of back-to-back affairs. I attribute a lot of those losses to the lack of depth caused by the expansion draft, salary cap casualties, and key injuries. With #2 due back in the next week or so, that will alleviate a lot of pressure on Carlson and Orpik and really help get Dmitry Orlov back on track, too, since he’ll have his favorite d-pair partner again. Orlov has been very inconsistent and he tipped in the only Penguins goal in this one due to some bad defensive zone coverage.
  3. Sticking with the blue line, I thought this was Christian Djoos’ best game of his very young NHL career. His speed and ability to skate and move the puck provides a great match up against the Penguins and he was rock solid in 13:18 of ice time. Rookie Madison Bowey had a few giveaways in 15:44 of action, but he’s getting better and better. As I mentioned to Caps General Manager Brian MacLellan on Monday when we last chatted, the blessing in disguise of Niskanen’s injury will be the sped up development of both Djoos and Bowey. Those two kids have really improved and assistant coach Todd Reirden deserves credit for helping turn these guys into capable NHLers. Washington suddenly has more depth on the back end than they did on October 1st. I’d like to see Bowey stay up when Niskanen returns and Djoos, as well. Taylor Chorney should be the 7th defensemen and he’s been really good the last two weeks.
  4. The Andre Burakovksy injury (fractured thumb) was another big blow to the Capitals forward lines since he was expected to take over the production of Marcus Johansson this season. Vrana was gifted into the top six when #65 went out and he just hasn’t produced. His compete level and decision making was lacking and he deserved the demotion he received. Stephenson has taken full advantage of his opportunity and that has been a pleasant surprise. Any team could’ve had this guy right before the season for nothing and now he has five points in eight games. Washington really needed someone to step up with the Burakovsky, Brett Connolly, and Tyler Graovac injuries and he’s been one who has done that.
  5. After Thursday’s practice, Coach Trotz noted that with guys close to returning from injury he now has five lines of forwards and four defensive pairs practicing and he likes that because it brings competition. Well, I think it is no surprise that many players increased their compete level and were structured, strong on the walls, and won numerous one on one battles in this contest against the Penguins. When players are comfortable and aren’t pushed, they don’t do the hard work and little things necessary to win hockey games. Now that jobs are on the line, suddenly every guy with a Caps sweater on in Friday’s tilt was giving everything they had. There’s another example of socialism not working!
  6. I’ve been tough on Vrana and Alex Chiasson during the early part of this season. Both have had their on-ice issues and they have struggled to contribute in a substantial way. On this evening, both made a key play in an important situation that helped the Caps win. On Stephenson’s goal, Chiasson went to the net and created havoc in front of Matt Murray (27 saves). While he doesn’t have the best set of hands and his skating needs a lot of work, #39 at least knew to crash the cage there and what is likely keeping him in the lineup is his penalty killing. As for Vrana, he needs to compete harder and getting out there with Lars Eller and Tom Wilson is a good fit for him. #13 still can perform better and he needs to bury some of his chances, but his play on the empty net clincher was a combination smart decision and pure speed.
  7. Special teams have been a problem area for the Caps so far this season. The power play had become stagnant and the penalty kill was struggling having to kill too many opportunities. On Friday, both of those units were big reasons the Capitals were victorious. Caps assistant coach Blaine Forsythe added some new wrinkles to the power play and they connected twice in six opportunities (9:11 of man advantage time). Oshie gets a lot of credit for creating havoc in front of the net, but the passing was crisper and there was some good rotation. Alex Ovechkin (1 assist) had a great chance a couple of minutes before #77’s goal on the man advantage, but he shot wide. Perhaps the biggest story though, was the way Washington handled the Penguins power play, which is one of the deadliest in the league. The Caps did a great job of keeping the Pens on the perimeter and keeping the crease clear so that Holtby could see the puck. The Holtbeast was superb and was a major reason Pittsburgh went 0 for 4 with the man advantage.
  8. Liam O’Brien, who was called up a week ago, only played 4:36, but it was an important stretch. In the first period, one of the toughest guys in the league and lead agitator, Ryan Reaves, was trying to intimidate the Caps and help give the star players on the Penguins more room on the ice. Reaves was jawing at Tom Wilson from the get go in this one and he hit O’Brien on an early shift. #87, recognizing that Reaves was trying to set a tone and get Washington off of their game, took Ryan on and got beat quickly in a fight. However, he took Reaves off of the ice for five minutes and after that #75 was nowhere to be found and became a non factor in the contest. Well done, Liam, way to take one for the team.
  9. Finally, an immense amount of credit for the Capitals staying afloat during this early stretch with key injuries goes to Holtby. Braden is now 9-3 with a .924 save percentage this season. He’s been outstanding and the team’s MVP playing behind a much more inexperienced defense. The Holtbeast won his 200th career game on Friday and became the 2nd fastest goalie to 200 wins (319 games) since the legendary Ken Dryden did it with the Montreal Canadiens in 311 tilts (h/t Tarik El-Bashir of NBC Sports Washington).

In summary, this was a gritty and gutsy effort by the Caps on Friday night. They played structured and strong hockey and won a lot of little battles all over the ice. It was a team effort and they played the way they’ll need to in order to be successful this season.

It was their best game.

Notes: Pittsburgh is now 9-7-2 (20 points) and has a -17 goal differential. They’ve lost key depth, too, due to the salary cap and have yet to win on the tail end of back to back games, as well. They had not played since Tuesday, though, like the Capitals. Historical Cap killers Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, and Matt Cullen are no longer wearing the black and gold and Washington benefited from that…the Caps outhit the Penguins, 30-17…shot attempts were 59-56 for Pittsburgh, but the Caps got more on the cage, 31-28…the Caps won the face off battle, 34-26. Jay Beagle was 13-4 and Backstrom went 7-4…Orpik played 21:38 on the back end and had one of his best games of the season. He kept Patrick Hornqvist and company off of the Holtbeast all night long…next up for the Caps are the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday night at 7:00 pm at Capital One Arena.

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Willy Bruins

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

Posted on 04 November 2017 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eller Isles

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Eller and Holtby Lead the Caps over the Islanders

Posted on 02 November 2017 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

Here are eight thoughts on this ugly win.

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

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

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

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

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

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

All hail the Holtbeast!

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

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Backy Holts

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10 Thoughts After a Huge Caps Win in Edmonton

Posted on 29 October 2017 by Ed Frankovic

After Thursday’s debacle in Vancouver, Capitals Coach Barry Trotz talked about the Caps need to simplify their game and play smarter. They had gotten into a terrible pattern of turning pucks over in all zones and taking too many penalties.

On Saturday night in Edmonton, against the high flying Oilers, things started poorly once again for the Caps. Connor McDavid used his speed to generate a chance and Washington’s defense was exposed badly leading to a rebound tally 7:44 into the contest. Then with 2:05 left in the first frame Adam Larsson took advantage of some bad Capitals clears and beat Braden Holtby (38 saves) short side from the slot. Shortly thereafter, the Oilers nearly made it 3-0 and it was looking like the Canucks game all over again.

At that point, one had to wonder if the Caps had the resolve to fight through the adversity and turn the ship around.

Then they made a play that turned the game their way late in the period. John Carlson made a super rush up the ice beating the Edmonton defender in the neutral zone with a sweet chip off of the boards to himself and then #74 fed Devante Smith-Pelly, who was going to the net on the left wing side, with Alex Ovechkin charging down the middle of the ice drawing the Oilers D. DSP one timed Carlson’s feed past Cam Talbot and with just 18 seconds left in the period, the Caps were only down 2-1.

It was a huge momentum boost for Washington and that gave them the confidence they needed to stick to their game and grind their way back into this affair on Hockey Night in Canada.

The Capitals would score four more goals, with the fifth going into an empty net by Jay Beagle with 19 seconds left, to win, 5-2. Their record is now 5-5-1 as they head to Calgary for Sunday night’s tilt at the outdated Saddledome.

Here are 10 thoughts on this huge victory for Ovechkin and company:

  1. I was very critical of Evgeny Kuznetsov after his poor first period in Vancouver on Thursday night. He was not playing well in his own end and he took a very bad penalty when it was 1-0. On Saturday at Rogers Place, #92 was dominant. Centering Ovechkin and DSP, that line was really rolling and Kuzy notched the game winning goal by going to the net and deflecting home a feed from the Gr8 just 30 seconds into period three. Then with 4:04 left he made a dazzling move to split the Oilers defense and bank one in off of Talbot’s pads to seal the deal for the Caps. Kuznetsov, who has a major tendency to be a pass first, second, and third guy and become predictable, was anything but that in this affair. He had five shots on net in nine shot attempts and he nearly had a hat trick, hitting the cross bar after it was 4-2. He still needs to improve his defensive zone coverage, but that’s the Kuznetsov Brian MacLellan backed the Brinks truck up to pay long term.
  2. Carlson was another guy who has been playing very inconsistently and things looked to continue that way when he made a bad early offensive zone turnover that resulted in an odd man rush against. However, #74, who logged 28:51, most of it with the Capitals most reliable defensemen this season, Brooks Orpik (27:47), had arguably his best game of the campaign. He had six shot attempts and really was strong on the back end. When Carlson is paired with a defensive minded blue liner he seems to excel. Coach Trotz was smart to reunite 44-74 with Matt Niskanen out of the lineup due to his hand injury. Carlson and Orpik are still playing too many minutes, but that’s the way it has to be until #2 returns.
  3. Ovechkin was a big factor in this game in just 16:22 of ice time. The Gr8 had three assists, only one of which was the primary one, but his pass to Madison Bowey with the Caps on a delayed penalty advantage was simple, but very smart. Bowey, who is still learning but has the tools to be a really solid NHL professional, fed Lars Eller and #20 lasered it by Talbot to tie the game up just before the game’s halfway point. That whole sequence was set up by Tom Wilson drawing a penalty by going to the net and getting mugged. On the night, Alex was +4 and had nine shot attempts and four hits.
  4. Eller, outside of his penalties, turned in one of his best games as a Capital and it was really needed. He had a goal and an assist in only 13:30 of ice time. He had six shots on goal and his line (Chandler Stephenson and Wilson) put pressure on the Oilers defense allowing the Kuznetsov line to shine.
  5. It’s amazing what getting your best player back, Nicklas Backstrom, does to stabilize a lineup. With Nicky out on Thursday the Capitals looked like one of the worst teams in the league as Kuznetsov and Eller couldn’t step up to fill the void. With #19 back in, everyone was back in their proper slots and the Caps looked like a different squad. Backstrom had 0 points in 18:06, but he took on some of Edmonton’s top guys allowing the rest of the team to win their matchups and ultimately the game.
  6. This game is not won without the goaltending of the Holtbeast (38 saves). After a poor middle period in Vancouver, Braden was dialed in and made numerous big stops, which he often made look routine. Everything in hockey starts with the goalie and goes out and Washington needed a rebound performance from #70 and he delivered – big time!
  7. Some people got upset when Coach Trotz talked about the Capitals simplifying their game and playing smarter, but he’s right. This club does not have the talent it had the last two seasons to play a wide open game where you trade chances with the opposition. The Capitals were trying to do that too much and with some really green guys on the back end, that method was not going to work. There is nothing wrong with making the smarter plays coming out of your own end and in the neutral zone to result in getting more pucks on net and behind the other’s team’s defense. That type of hockey wears out the opponent. On Saturday the Caps, for the most part, dumped that stupid cross ice pass that had been getting them in trouble in all zones and took a more North-South approach. They stuck to their game plan and found a way not to panic after it was nearly 3-0 (a Holtby stop literally saved the game just before DSP scored). Patience paid off.
  8. Bowey had two assists in only 13:46 of ice time, but this kid has all of the tools to be a really strong NHL defensemen. I like the way he’s playing smart and making the simple plays, especially in his own end.
  9. Christian Djoos only played 13:53, but he was +2. He is very good in the offensive end, however, his defensive zone is a major work in progress. He needs to learn to not try and use the weak backhanded pass and instead hold on to the puck and take a hit along the wall. That way he isn’t putting the biscuit in a vulnerable spot and eventually he’ll get a teammate in to help him. Some of the plays he is making are why he gets called “soft,” at times. A solid blue liner knows he needs to sacrifice his body while waiting for reinforcements to arrive. Get rid of the backhand passes, eat the puck along the wall, and he’ll see better defensive results which should eventually lead to more minutes.
  10. The Caps had zero power plays in this game, although had Eller not scored on the delayed infraction, they would’ve gotten one. The zebras missed some calls on the Oilers, most notably a trip on Oveckhin and a too many men infraction. Edmonton went 0 for 4 with the man advantage. Washington was better at not taking bad penalties. They had two delay of game calls, an iffy interference on the Saturday recal from Hershey, Anthony Peluso, and a hold on Eller. Keeping it to three or less opponent power plays is the magic number to better success for the Capitals.

Overall, this was a well earned victory for the Caps and has to give them confidence that if they play a more structured and simple game, they have a much better chance of winning, especially with the goaltending they have and the quick strike firepower they possess in Ovechkin and company on the high end. It’s the gambling passes and penalties that have been killing this team early on. On Saturday night, they got back to the basics and scored five goals. That’s how it’s done!

Notes: Shot attempts were 76-57 for the Oilers. Shots on goal were 40-30 for Edmonton…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 37-24, but Beagle was 9-4…Eller took three minor penalties, two of which were pucks shot over the glass.

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Caps Thoughts After the Season Opening Victory in Ottawa

Posted on 06 October 2017 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Burkie Game 6

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Caps Dominate Game Six To Even Up The Series

Posted on 09 May 2017 by Ed Frankovic

With their season on the line in a must win game six in Pittsburgh, the Washington Capitals needed their best performance of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and they delivered it. The Caps were relentless for the first 56 minutes building a 5-0 lead en route to a 5-2 victory over the Penguins in Steeltown on Monday night.

This was one heck of an effort by the Caps. The Penguins had a few good early shifts, as expected, but the Capitals withstood the pressure and then started finding their game.

Washington would get the first power play of this tilt, when Jake Guentzel lost his mind and hit Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) in the head. The Caps would not score on that man advantage, but they built momentum off of it and kept pushing the play. Early on they had nine of the first 10 shots on goal. Shortly thereafter, with Tom Wilson breaking to the net on a two on one, Sidney Crosby had no choice but to put his stick in Willy’s gloves to prevent a great scoring chance and the Caps were back on the man advantage with 11:56 gone in the opening frame.

The Capitals would not waste this power play and a great feed by Kuznetsov to T.J. Oshie allowed the Osh Babe to bury the biscuit in the slot and give the Caps a very important one goal lead. Kuznetsov then took an undisciplined slashing penalty following that tally, but Washington killed it off and they maintained their one puck edge after 20 minutes. It was a very strong frame for Coach Barry Trotz’ crew as they outshot the Penguins, 11-3.

Second periods have not been kind to the Capitals in this series, but they managed to extend their lead at 6:36 of the middle stanza. Oshie made a great play to bat down a Conor Sheary clear on the right wing boards and when the Penguins tried to wheel the biscuit around the left wing side, Andre Burakovsky hit and stole the puck from Ron Hainsey. #65 then broke in two on one on Marc-Andre Fleury (21 saves) and with the Flower leaning to his left thinking a pass was going to go to the Osh Babe, Burkie beat him short side to give the Capitals a huge two puck lead.

Burakovsky would then take a pretty careless offensive zone hooking penalty on Olli Maatta, he needed to keep his stick down there and just play the body, but his teammates picked him up and killed off the man advantage very easily. The remainder of the middle frame was very tight checking and the Pens mustered six shots on net to just five for Washington.

That set up a critical third period. Would the Capitals be able to hold onto their two goal lead and force a game seven? Nicklas Backstrom gave us a pretty good idea of the answer just 16 seconds in when he took a puck down the left side of the ice and with the Pittsburgh defender going down to block the shot, Nicky rifled it over Fleury’s glove to make it 3-0.

Lars Eller was whistled for holding at 1:34 and the Penguins had a chance to get back in it, but the Capitals penalty killing unit was stellar, once again, allowing only one shot attempt, a 56 footer by Maatta that Braden Holtby (16 saves) stopped cleanly.

Pittsburgh started to get a little frustrated with their lack of offense and that was evident when Bryan Rust crashed into the Holtbeast at 4:31 and headed off for goalie interference. The Caps best chance on their third power play was an Alex Ovechkin wrister from in close, but Fleury came up big.

Washington was smart, though, and didn’t sit back. They knew the Penguins would have to gamble and they were patient with their opportunities. After Matt Cullen and Jay Beagle collided in the neutral zone, Cullen slashed Beags in the gut and that set the Capitals up for their fourth power play of the evening. John Carlson would get two shots on net during the first part of the sequence and they were stopped by #29, but then the third one was the charm. His slapper through traffic beat Fleury to make it 4-0 with 8:43 remaining. Things were looking extremely good for the Caps, and then, just 72 seconds later, Burakovsky made a steal at the defensive zone blue line. Burkie carried the puck down the right wing side, faked Chad Rudwehel, who was making his NHL playoff debut, to the ice and cut to the slot to beat the Penguins keeper rather easily from in tight to the glove side. At that point, the Penguins fans exited the arena en masse.

The Capitals would keep up the heat, but Pittsburgh scored twice in four on four after two Washington giveaways. The Caps let up and those late goals should be a good reminder that they cannot ease off of the throttle on the speedy and highly skilled Penguins for even a moment.

Overall, this was a dominant win by Washington. They were very sound defensively allowing only 18 shots on goal. They controlled the puck, as evidenced by the 51-38 edge in shot attempts. This is the sixth straight game in the series that the Caps have outshot the Penguins and they also outhit them, 38-32.

The move to put Burakovsky with Backstrom and Oshie has paid huge dividends and Penguins Coach Mike Sullivan tried to counter the successful game five move by Coach Trotz by reuniting his HBK line (Carl Hagelin-Nick Bonino-Phil Kessel). It did not work as the Eller, Ovechkin and Wilson line gave them fits all night. Wilson had five hits and Ovechkin added three. The Gr8 only had five shot attempts, but that line wore down the Pens defense, which opened things up for the Backstrom unit. Nicky’s trio was outstanding on Monday night and with the way Kuznetsov and the second line is going, the Caps have three groups of forwards that can score. Add in some great hard working guys in Beagle and Daniel Winnik, who had an under the radar great game, including some super PK work, and Coach Trotz is getting big contributions from his forwards.

On the back end, Matt Niskanen, who had a team leading 23:43 in ice time, and Carlson (22:49) were excellent. #74’s game has been building all playoffs and like last spring, he excels when facing Crosby and company. The Kevin Shattenkirk and Nate Schmidt duo continues to move the puck up the ice quickly, which is a big change from last spring’s series, where the Capitals looked slow and intimidated on the back end. Dmitry Orlov also turned in a solid effort with an assist in 18:06. Karl Alzner and Brooks Orpik were each in the 11 to 12 minutes range in ice time and did well to win defensive zone board battles.

Finally, the Holtbeast was rock solid in net. He didn’t have to face a lot of rubber, but when he had shots he stopped them without allowing any rebounds until the late goal by Evgeni Malkin, who was uncovered. #70 looked calm and collected in the cage.

Washington played assertively and confidently in game six and seems to be wearing down the banged up Penguins.

So now it’s a one game, winner take all affair, in Washington on Wednesday night at 7:30 pm.

The Caps have done well to climb back into this series with some strong efforts, but none of that will matter if they don’t close the deal at the Verizon Center. The Penguins are 3-0 in game seven’s against the Capitals, including 2-0 on Washington’s home ice. This team now has a chance to change the history and do something they haven’t done since 1998, advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

It will take another outstanding effort and require extreme discipline to defeat the defending Stanley Cup Champions, who you know will bring their best to DC.

Bring on Game Seven!

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Ovi Pens

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12 Thoughts on the Caps Following an Inexcusable Game 4 Defeat

Posted on 04 May 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Once again the Washington Capitals are on the brink of being eliminated in the second round of the postseason with Wednesday night’s 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in game four of the Stanley Cup Quarter Finals. The Pens lead the Caps three to one with game five set for Saturday night at the Verizon Center at 7:15 pm, a post Kentucky Derby start time.

Here are 12 thoughts on the Capitals following game four:

It was a huge game, Sidney Crosby was out of the lineup injured due to a concussion, yet the Caps came out as flat as a pancake in period one. Before 15 minutes were gone, the Pens had a 21-13 edge in shot attempts and a 1-0 lead on the scoreboard courtesy of Patric Hornqvist’s breakaway tally that he notched after he split Karl Alzner and Brooks Orpik. It was an awful defensive breakdown and miscommunication by two veteran defensemen you would normally expect to be tactically sound.

Offensive zone penalties were a big problem for Washington on Wednesday night, they took five of them that led to Penguins power plays. You can argue about the iffy calls on John Carlson and T.J. Oshie and perhaps the slashing on Alex Ovechkin in period three, but the bottom line is that four of the five were the result of laziness and not playing the right way. The first two penalties, by Ovechkin and Lars Eller, were in the first period when Washington seemed to be in sleep walking mode.

The Caps stabilized things in the last five minutes of period one, but the start to period two was another bad one. After failing to score on their carry over power play, shortly thereafter they lost several loose puck battles, which was a major problem in the first frame and a sign that they weren’t mentally or emotionally ready to play this contest. Jake Guentzel won one of those one on one battles and threw a puck to the middle of the ice and with Dmitry Orlov rushing to get back in position defensively, the puck hit his leg and went into the cage behind Braden Holtby.

After that goal, it was all Caps for the next several minutes and they tied the game up with two goals just 72 seconds apart. Marcus Johansson won a board battle, even after losing his stick, to keep a puck alive and Justin Williams grabbed it on the left wing wall and fed Evgeny Kuznetsov in the slot. Kuzy, for a change, was thinking shoot first, and his quick shot beat Marc-Andre Fleury to give the Capitals life. It was a smart play and by shooting right away, it caught Fleury off guard. Nate Schmidt would then tie the game by one-timing a missed Kevin Shattenkirk shot off of the backboards. Again, it was a fast shot like #92’s and it found the twine. Quicker shots are a must for Washington going forward. Waiting to fire away gives Fleury time to set up and it also allows the Penguins defensemen to get in the lanes to block shots.

Washington finally started to carry the play, like they should have been doing from the start, but then a bad penalty call on Carlson combined with a not so smart play by Andre Burakovsky on an extended zone time shift turned the game around. #65 caused the “so-called” penalty by being soft and carrying the puck up high in the offensive zone instead of keeping it low on the wall, where the Caps had just put reinforcements on the ice while the Pens were hemmed in due to the long change. Carlson tried to rotate down to give Burakovsky room and he and Scott Wilson collided and the bad zebras whistled a penalty. Penalty or not (and it really wasn’t a rough, which was listed as the call), Andre had already made the wrong decision and had lost the puck to the neutral zone.

Pittsburgh’s power play had been struggling in the series, but it finally connected to swing momentum big time. You’d like to see your goalie make a save there, though. Justin Schultz’s rocket was slated for the top shelf, but there was no screen and if the Holtbeast is in his usual mode he is out at the top of the crease and makes that stop. Instead he was deep in the cage and was beaten badly over the shoulder when he went down in the butterfly.

That goal came with 28 plus minutes remaining, lots of time left to recover, but the Caps couldn’t connect, including wasting a four minute power play that started in period two and carried over to the final stanza. The power play needs serious adjustments before Saturday. Ovechkin is not getting his looks and the Pens are being very aggressive on Nicklas Backstrom on the half wall making Washington’s usual plays ineffective. The Gr8 is at his best when he’s getting shots early and being physical. He only had four shot attempts in game four. Washington must figure out a way to get the power play going again and get Ovechkin more looks. Your move Caps coaching staff as well as Alex, who must work harder to create space for himself.

On the positive side of things, the Capitals second line was really good with 20 shot attempts out of the 46 the 11 Caps forwards had in this tilt. The third line had 17 shot attempts, including Eller’s great chance on Fleury in the third period where he waited too long to fire away. A quick shot there by #20 in front and perhaps he gets the puck by #29 or a rebound comes back to him and he’s in control of the situation? Waiting on Fleury has proven to be deadly except in one instance, Kuznetsov’s goal in game three where he had all day to get the goalie out of position. Tom Wilson was very much involved on that third line and was probably the only player that matched the Penguins intensity in the first period. He, along with Jojo, have been superb in this post season.

On the bad side of the ledger, you can start with the leaders of this team, Ovechkin and Backstrom. They were pretty much no shows for this affair and played with a lack of urgency in a critical contest. That first line, adding in Oshie, had only eight shot attempts! I’ll say that again, eight shot attempts in an almost must win playoff contest. That’s just unacceptable for the Captain and one of the Alternates to perform that way. They did not do their respective jobs and if the Caps do not come back, they deserve the brunt of the criticism given their play in game four and their inability, yet again, to get out of the second round with their fourth different playoff coach.

The final shot attempts were 72-38, but who cares? The start is what matters in these games and the team that has scored first has won every contest. Fleury is in the Caps heads and Holtby is fighting the puck. Meanwhile anyone Coach Mike Sullivan puts on the ice brings a maximum effort while Coach Barry Trotz’ crew has too many passengers.

Simply put, the Capitals were not ready to play this game. Without Crosby in the lineup they had an opportunity to seize the game and the series and let Pittsburgh know that it was the Caps time to shine. Instead they totally shunned the saying on their “Will Over Skill” t-shirts and acted like all they had to do was show up to win. It was a lack of leadership and a total lack of focus. It is maddening that this core group of players still doesn’t fathom what it takes to win in the postseason and you can’t put a lot of it on the coaches or General Manager, this is their fourth playoff coach while it has been the same core in charge on the ice.

As Justin Williams told me after game two, the playoffs are all about doing the little things and winning the one on one battles to put yourself in position to score or defend and ultimately win the game. Washington has not been committed to doing that and as a result they are a game away from the golf course, once again. There is no excuse for the effort from Ovechkin and the top line in game four. It is disturbing and if the Caps don’t come back, the blame starts with the Gr8 for failing to appear in this contest. Washington had to come out on the offensive and not take their foot off of the gas to tie the series up. Instead, they never found the throttle and played scared, which allowed the Penguins to dictate what type of game this would be. It’s inexcusable from a group that knows this is the last time this crew will be together. We’ll find out what these guys are really made of over the next week.

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Jojo Rebound

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10 Thoughts on the Caps As They Head into Game Two

Posted on 28 April 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals lost game one to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night by a 3-2 count. The Pens lead the second round best of seven series with game two slated for Saturday night at 8 pm at the Verizon Center.

Here are 10 thoughts on this series after 60 minutes of hockey.

1. Before anyone goes jumping off of the ledge, the Caps, who are 1-8 in all time playoff series’ against Pittsburgh, were 8-1 in game one action in those nine previous encounters. So the Penguins have certainly proven that it’s not how you start the series, it’s how you finish it.

2. Speaking of starts, the Capitals did not have a strong start, especially the beginning of the second period where Sidney Crosby scored twice in 64 seconds after terrible turnovers by Washington. As I blogged before this series began, the Pens love to generate chances off of the rush and get odd man breaks. They did that well enough in the first game to overcome an 83-41 Caps advantage in shot attempts. The Capitals were very good for stretches of this contest, but their start was weak and they made too many “big mistakes.”

3. Washington did a great job of containing Crosby in last spring’s playoffs, but along with Marc-Andre Fleury (33 saves), he was the biggest reason it’s 1-0 Penguins. The Capitals cannot afford to turn pucks over carelessly when he’s on the ice and on the second goal, nobody on the Caps finds #87 and covers him. As a result he scored on an easy rebound goal. You simply cannot not know where Crosby is on the ice, so the Capitals must be more attentive to where the best player in the NHL is, at all times!

4. That was one great hit by John Carlson on Evgeni Malkin that led to the Caps first goal by Alex Ovechkin. Carlson is playing the best hockey of his season. He was dynamite last spring and Washington needs him to be dominant on the back end if they are going to win this series. #74 seems to really raise his game against Pittsburgh.

5. Turnovers are certainly something that has plagued the Capitals when they don’t win and game one was no exception. Without Kris Letang on defense, the Pens are not as fast, so Coach Mike Sullivan really has his two defensemen focused on cutting off the middle of the ice at the their own blue line and on back to Fleury. In the series opener, the Caps had their highest success on zone entries carrying the puck wide on the Penguins defense across the blue line. When they tried to cut to the middle too soon, it resulted in turnovers and that opens up Pittsburgh’s massive rush offense. So zone entries wide and carrying the puck deep needs to be the modus operandi going forward.

6. There is a lot of talk in hockey about luck deciding outcomes in a contest, or bad luck, as Washington suffered in game one. Jake Guentzel saved a sure goal by T.J. Oshie in the crease in period one and there were pucks around Fleury all night that the Capitals just couldn’t get to and bury. Fleury was good, but he was also fortunate. Washington just needs to keep doing what they are doing with pucks and bodies to the cage and it will pay off. They don’t need to get frustrated and change the game plan. Getting pucks deep on the Pittsburgh defense is so important.

7. After the Capitals called timeout with 26 seconds remaining with the Holtbeast pulled, Ovechkin found himself at the point and Kevin Shattenkirk was in the “Ovi spot” in the left wing circle. The Gr8 passed the puck to #22, but he missed the net on a great look. The Penguins had to be very happy to have Shattenkirk shooting from there instead of Ovechkin. I’m not sure if that configuration was planned coming out of the timeout or not, but it would seem that going forward that the Capitals coaching staff needs to find a way to get the Gr8 more of the critical looks? Alex only had eight shot attempts in game one and just three of them made it on net.

8. Given the intensity of game one and Washington’s domination in terms of puck possession, it was pretty upsetting to see the only two power plays go to Pittsburgh. Surely zebras Dan O’Halloran and Kevin Pollock could’ve called at least one infraction on the Pens, who were masters of the clutch, grab, and hold in this modern day style of game? It sure looked like there was delay of game on Bryan Rust in the slot on that loose puck late in the third period. I also didn’t like either call on the Caps, especially the late third period slashing penalty on Matt Niskanen when he was just going for the rebound of a loose puck off of Fleury’s pads. There were a lot of rebounds allowed by Fleury in this tilt and that play happens hundreds of times during games in the regular season and playoffs with a penalty very rarely called. The fact that it came at that point in the game and it was on Washington sure is fishy. Coach Barry Trotz labeled it “a pretty light call” afterwards, especially given everything else that was let go during the contest. Be better and more consistent zebras (although I’ve long given up on the arrogant O’Halloran)!

9. The Caps are at their best when they press the play on the Penguins and force their defense to have to make plays and work. Unfortunately, that strategy sometimes opens the Capitals up to the possibility of the Pens getting some quick offense on a stretch pass, if Washington does not stay structured. Somehow Pittsburgh was able to connect on one in the last 10 minutes to win the game. That cannot happen going forward. There were several mistakes made on that play by Washington. Shattenkirk needs to keep Scott Wilson wide at the defensive blue line and prevent a cross ice pass while Brooks Orpik was too far to his left and up the ice, and Nick Bonino exploited the gap with his superior speed. The Caps forwards also need to make sure someone is in position to stop that long pass or at least ensure that they are with any opposing forwards charging up the ice. As Coach Trotz said afterwards, all three Penguins goals were very preventable.

10. With the Capitals having lost the last six games they’ve played in Pittsburgh, it is imperative that Washington plays their best game on Saturday night to even this series up. It won’t be easy, but if they minimize their mistakes and bring the effort they brought the last 25 plus minutes of game one (they had the puck way more and also out hit the Penguins, 41-17), then they should be in good shape.

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