Tag Archive | "Orpik"

Washington's power play goes 0 for 8 in a loss to the hot Florida Panthers.

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Ovechkin-Less Caps Fall to the Panthers

Posted on 02 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals have the best power play in the National Hockey League, but on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center, it was the single biggest reason they lost to the Florida Panthers, 5-2, in a game they dominated at even strength.

Coming out of the NHL All Star break the Caps looked strong early on putting lots of shots towards the Florida net, but either Al Montoya (36 saves) stopped the puck or Washington missed the net. Starting at 5:51 of that opening frame, the Panthers would take five penalties to three for the Capitals. That set up a special teams battle and a club that is typically excellent on those occasions was flat out awful in this one. The Caps, without Alexander Ovechkin, who was suspended by the clowns in New York who run the league because he took an All Star Game off due to injury, squandered two five on three opportunities by taking bad offensive zone penalties. Those infractions were both of the lazy and not moving your feet variety.

Just past the 10 minute mark of period one, the Caps turned the puck over in the offensive zone and Jaromir Jagr outworked Brooks Laich for the biscuit in the Washington defensive zone. The long haired freaky person then fed Jonathan Huberdeau, who was parked in the slot between Taylor Chorney and Dmitry Orlov, for an easy one in front of Philipp Grubauer (14 saves).

That goal was the first deflator as Washington had carried the play up to that point, but due to Montoya, some missed quality chances, and a bad back check and defensive zone coverage they trailed, 1-0.

Just over four minutes later, the Panthers would quickly cash in on their five on three power play in easy fashion. It took all of 14 seconds for Nick Bjugstad and Huberdeau to feed Alexsander Barkov for a simple back door goal to make it 2-0.

After 20 minutes, there was still some hope for Washington, but then Grubauer gave up the softest goal allowed by a Caps net minder all season on a bad angle, short side shot to Vincent Trocheck. That made it 3-0 and the air totally came out of the Capitals and the Verizon Center.

Washington would continue to get shots and man advantages, but at the end of 40 minutes, they had eight power plays and no goals. They clearly missed their captain as T.J. Oshie assumed the Ovi position and struggled, failing to get his shot off quickly. Simply put, #77 in that spot was a bad fit.

Huberdeau, who was easily the best player in the game, made it 4-0 on the power play with 4:50 to go in period two to pretty much decide the outcome of this tilt.

The Caps did get two quick early goals in period three with Evgeny Kuznetsov setting up both markers (Nicklas Backstrom and Andre Burakovsky), but they could get no closer. They have now lost two straight games for the just the second time this season (h/t to the Caps Mike Vogel), but each time one of those losses has been after regulation has ended.

Florida certainly has had the Caps number these last two games. They are big and do a good job of keeping the Capitals on the perimeter. If Washington is to face them in the playoffs, it would have to be in the Eastern Conference Finals, because I don’t see the Cats finishing lower than third in the Atlantic Division. Florida is just too good and with stud 19 year old defensemen Aaron Ekblad in the lineup they’ve won 16 straight games. If Ovechkin had played, the Capitals likely score with the man advantage early and this is probably a different game, but that’s hockey.

Overall for the Caps, there were things to like in this one. They dominated possession outshooting the Panthers 65-30 in shot attempts and 38-19 in shots on goal. But the Capitals have to do a better job of being more physical in front of the Cats goalie. They didn’t get bodies there enough to disrupt Montoya, who was in the zone against Washington, once again.

Andre Burakovsky had another strong outing and he had 10 shots on goal. He easily could have had more than 1 tally.

So the Caps fall to 35-9-4 and will face the New York Islanders on Thursday night at the Verizon Center. Ovechkin will be back and Braden Holtby will get the net. Unfortunately, Marcus Johansson, who was hurt in the Flyers game when suffering an upper body injury, did not practice on Monday so he is doubtful for the Isles game. Jojo is really needed back to fill that third line center role and help carry the puck in on the second power play unit.

But injuries are a part of the game and the Caps need to stop this two game slide and get going. They will now play nearly every other night over the next 68 days so there are no more “we were rusty” excuses.

The grind has begun and the Capitals need to find their rhythm again.

Notes: Brooks Orpik skated on Tuesday and announced that his bone injury, which forced him to stay off of the ice for 8 weeks, is healed up and now he just needs to get in hockey condition. You can expect #44 back in 7 to 14 days…Jay Beagle has been skating and is about two weeks away with his hand injury…John Carlson looked good in his second game back logging 24:17 of ice time…Matt Niskanen, who struggled with the puck and had four shots blocked, led the Caps in ice time with 28:07…Chorney (-1) left the game with the flu and only played 4:34…Washington won the face off battle, 36-33. Backstrom was 14-10…the Caps only had 25 hits in the game (just 5 in the first period, although they had six minutes of power play time)…final special teams totals: Caps 0-8 on the PP in 12:00 and Florida 2-4 in 2:57. There’s your game, folks!

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The Washington Capitals continue to improve as they dominate the NHL.

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Kuznetsov Shines as Caps Dominate the Canucks, 4-1

Posted on 14 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Another game, another Washington Capitals victory.

On Thursday night at the Verizon Center, it just didn’t seem fair as the Caps just thoroughly dominated a Canucks team that came in to town feeling pretty good about itself. As it turned out, if not for some stellar goaltending by Ryan Miller (36 saves), the Washington 4-1 triumph could’ve been more lopsided because the Caps played that well.

It’s getting scary how good Washington is, and they keep getting better.

The Caps out shot Vancouver, 40-30, out shot attempted them, 73-58, and would’ve blanked them on the scoreboard if not for a mid third period five on three power play goal by Radim Vrbata.

It was the men versus the boys for most of the night and Evgeny Kuznetsov (two goals, one assist) was the primary star, once again. #92 scored the opening tally on a two on one with Dmitry Orlov after #9 made a great play at the Capitals defensive blue line to turn things the other way. Karl Alzner would make it 2-0 on a long bomb heading into the final twenty minutes following a sequence where the Canucks lost their focus in the corner.

In the third period, Kuznetsov helped increase the Caps lead to 3-0 with one of his absolutely sick, no-look, behind the back passes to Tom Wilson in the slot and Willy one timed it home for his 4th goal of the season. It was a goal of beauty and Andre Burakovsky (two assists, +3) deserved applause as well for his work down low on the boards to get the puck to Kuzya. Kuznetsov would then close out the scoring with an empty net goal with one second left to make it 4-1.

Washington is now 33-7-3 (69 points) and they’ve won five games in a row and 11 straight at the Verizon Center. So how could they possibly still be getting better?

Well, let me explain. Remember how this Caps team often found itself having to chip the puck out of their own end last season? That strategy ultimately doomed them in game seven against the Rangers.

This season, with the additions of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, plus the emergence of Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, Wilson, and Burakovsky to go along with superstars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals have a high talent level that can make the proper passes to get the puck going into the offensive zone as quickly and efficiently as possible. Add in a speedy Jason Chimera plus a very mobile defense that has benefited from the addition of Orlov and the rapid ascension of Nate Schmidt and you’ve got yourself one heck of a puck moving hockey team.

In the last few weeks we’ve seen that ability to go from defense to offense take off and I asked Williams about the keys to the Washington breakout and its strategy after the victory over Ottawa on Sunday night.

“First of all, we want to play a quick game. And if we want to stretch it out, we’ll stretch it out. I think that everybody wants the puck on the ice and that’s great because when you want the puck you are calling for the puck. That makes it easier for the guy who has the puck if he can’t see you, to make a play….that happens all throughout the ice, communication,” stated the three time Stanley Cup winner on the secrets of the Caps success.

What Williams says sounds so simple, but it is not. It takes five guys on the ice working together and communicating to make the magic happen. In game 43 of 82, the Capitals sure seem to be getting better and better at this and they seemingly had the puck on a string all evening against the Canucks.

They can beat you with skill.

They can beat you with speed.

They can beat you with power.

Sure I read a lot of Dr. Seuss in the day, but the Caps seem to possess so many key facets to being able to win and they just keep iterating on their game and improving. It is really a scary sight for the rest of the league and they are doing this without John Carlson, Brooks Orpik, Jay Beagle, and newly acquired two time Stanley Cup Champion Mike Richards.

On Thursday, all four lines were going. The Gr8 was held pointless but he, Oshie, and Backstrom were dominant. Ovechkin had 11 shot attempts (five on net), and many were quality chances. Again, Miller is the reason this wasn’t a 7-1 affair, like on Sunday against Ottawa.

It seems that everyone on this team is playing “the system” as Coach Barry Trotz likes to call it. They skate, they push the pace, and they punish you. The Caps had 20 hits to Vancouver’s eight and Washington had the puck most of the game!

It is heavy hockey with talent and skill at a very fluid pace.

That’s one scary combination and the Capitals still feel like they can keep improving.

Right now I’m not sure there is a better group of top nine forwards in the league and the mobile defense continues to make plays that allows the forward group to excel.

It’s enjoyable hockey and tons of fun to watch.

Notes: Ovechkin was honored before the game with a lengthy video tribute from many other prominent NHL 500 goal scorers, including a wonderful closing sequence from The Great One, Wayne Gretzky. Caps owner Ted Leonsis and Team President Dick Patrick presented Ovi with a golden stick listing all of his goals up to 500…the Caps dominated face offs going 34-20. Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and Johansson all had five more wins than losses from the dot…the Caps were 0 for 2 on the power play while the Canucks were 1 for 3…Braden Holtby made 29 saves and played well. He’s now 20-0-2 in his last 23 starts…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time at 28:28. Alzner logged 24:59…the Capitals are in Buffalo on Saturday at 7 pm before coming home to take on the Rangers at 5 pm on Sunday.

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There is nothing Alexander Ovechkin can't do when it comes to hockey.

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Ovechkin Scores 499 to Win It in Overtime for the Caps

Posted on 09 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

It’s hard to see a hockey game end any more exciting than that one did.

Wow!

Alexander Ovechkin, after Braden Holtby made a big save on Rick Nash and Nate Schmidt followed it up with a game saving block of Derek Stepan’s empty net bid, took the puck in three on three overtime, went end-to-end down the left wing beating both Nash and Ryan McDonagh with blazing speed, and ripped the 499th goal of his career by King Henrik Lundqvist to give the Washington Capitals an amazing comeback 4-3 victory after they had surrendered a 2-0 third period lead.

Once again…Wow!

I’m practically out of breath after this amazing game.

Washington carried most of the play over New York for two periods and seemed to have things in control heading into the final frame. However the Caps looked a little lethargic and tired while the Rangers, off since Tuesday night, came storming back to seize the lead, 3-2, with three goals in less than 10 minutes of play. Washington made too many defensive zone mistakes during that stretch and with just over five minutes to go it looked like New York was headed to its fifth win in the last six games against the Capitals.

But this Caps team is just too proud, too determined, and too tight of a unit to allow their archrivals to stick it to them again in a dagger like fashion. The Capitals put on a furious assault on Lundqvist and nearly tied the game on an Andre Burakovsky shot that hit iron. During that stretch, with 3:50 to go, the Rangers did get a two on one break and Nash fed McDonagh for what looked like a layup, but he either shot it wide or the Holtbeast (23 saves) just got a piece of it as the biscuit slid wide.

Still, with less than 30 seconds left the Caps were on their last life, but Ovechkin did a great job to gather a puck in the left wing corner and instead of firing on net, he fed Matt Niskanen at the left point. #2 saw that there were several Blueshirts in his lane so he slid the disc over to Justin Williams. The super smart Williams saw all star Nicklas Backstrom in front of King Henrik and he fired a shot on net with #19 screening. Lundqvist made the first save, but he couldn’t corral what he couldn’t see, and then Nicky put the rebound home with just six seconds left!

The Caps bench went nuts and then overtime came. It was a wild three on three affair and the Rangers looked to win it off of an offensive zone faceoff, but Holtby made the huge stop on Nash in the slot and #88 made his magic stick block on game seven hero Stepan setting the stage for the Gr8.

Ovechkin, who definitely has a flair for the dramatic, made no mistake about this one and after scoring he slid on his knees and did a spin in front of the Washington bench as his teammates stood by ready to mug him in celebration. Schmidt and Holtby embraced, as well, and this close knit group clearly enjoyed getting a victory in amazing fashion when it looked like the curse of the Rangers might live on.

Have I said “Wow!” in this blog yet?

Wow!

That was some game and this team just keeps finding ways to get it done. Ovechkin opened the scoring on the power play with a layup after a Dan Girardi givewaway to move to 498 career goals. Williams pushed the lead to a pair in the middle frame on a breakaway after a big Gr8 hit on McDonagh allowed Schmidt to get the puck and send #14 in all alone on the King. Williams pin balled it in on a diving Lundqvist and it looked like from there the Caps would cruise to another win.

But New York, who has really struggled since the season’s quarter pole, didn’t quit either, so give them credit for racing back into the game and grabbing the lead.

The Rangers, however, have to feel decimated after this one. They couldn’t hold a late lead and Washington increased their Metropolitan lead over them to 16 points at the season’s halfway mark. New York is now tied with their cross town rival, the Islanders, for second place (Caps have a game in hand on the Isles).

With Marcus Johansson out due to suspension (he is eligible to return Thursday against Vancouver) and Jay Beagle, Brooks Orpik, and John Carlson all injured, the Caps knew they needed big games from their top two lines on Saturday afternoon and they received just that. The Gr8 had two goals and was +2, Backstrom had his tally and was +2 while Williams notched a goal and assist (+1).

On the back end, Schmidt was the star with two assists and the big shot block in 21:20 of ice time, but Niskanen had a big assist on the game tying tally in 28:34 while Karl Alzner blocked seven shots, including one with his head in period two. King Karl eats rocks for breakfast.

Wow!

So now on Sunday night at the Verizon Center, the Ovechkin 500th goal watch is in full effect. The Caps, who just finished a stretch of six road contests in seven games, went 5-1-1 to put a stranglehold on their division. They will now have to play for the third time in four nights against Ottawa, but at least it will be at home, which should be rocking with the Gr8, the man who saved hockey in this area, on the cusp of another major milestone.

Do. Not. Miss. It.

Notes: The Caps were 1 for 3 on the power play while New York went 0 for 3, but the Rangers tying goal came right after a Washington power play expired. The Capitals clearly missed Johansson’s ability to get clean zone entries with the man advantage which, at numerous times, made the PP look out of sync…several on the Caps bottom two lines had their struggles in this one in the last 20 minutes…Mike Richards skated on Friday but won’t play for awhile. He needs to get in hockey shape and a conditioning stint in Chocolatetown is not out of the question…Washington won the face off battle, 31-28, with Backstrom going a dominating, 15-7…see you for Ovie’s 500th on Sunday night, so be there or be square!

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Braden Holtby defeats Boston once again as Evgeny Kuznetsov turns in another stellar performance.

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Kuznetsov Dazzles as Holtby Stops the Bruins

Posted on 05 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Who own da Bruins?

Braden Holtby owwwwnnnnssss the Bruins.

The Holtbeast stopped 25 of 27 shots, including a big one on Zdeno Chara late in the game, to preserve a 3-2 victory for a banged up Capitals team at TD Garden in Boston. The Bruins, who are also dealing with an injury to star forward David Krejci and a suspension to knucklehead Brad Marchand, put on a strong third period push after falling behind, 3-1, but it wasn’t enough.

The star for the Caps on this night was, you guessed it, Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Russian wizard set up Andre Burakovsky for a sweet top shelf marker in period one and then when the Capitals finally abandoned forcing the puck to Alex Ovechkin on the power play, the slick stickhandling Kuzya skated in from the right wing circle and snapped one by Tuukka Rask to make it, 2-0. Rask, who probably desires a contract clause that prohibits him from playing against the Capitals, had a strong outing (26 saves) and kept his club in it through two periods.

The Caps were dominant, leading the shots on goal, 23-14, in those opening frames and their only big hiccup in the first 40 minutes was a bad coverage situation that allowed Lou Eriksson to cut the lead in half on a play that Holtby had no chance on.

Marcus Johansson, who was great centering Tom Wilson and Jason Chimera despite missing some time in the middle frame, had the game winner by going to the cage and putting home a rocket of a shot by Dmitry Orlov that hit the pipe and ricocheted in front with just over nine minutes remaining. Jojo only played 12:12, but that new line that Coach Barry Trotz put together in Columbus since Jay Beagle is out for six weeks looks really good.

Burakovsky has also taken advantage of the lineup change playing with Kuznetsov and “Mr. Stick” Justin Williams. That trio was super and Washington received stellar performances from their second and third units. Kuznetsov and Williams were both around 20 minutes of ice time and Burakovsky played 16:56 in one of his best games of the season. That’s important because the Capitals really need him to gain confidence in time for the playoffs.

As for the first unit, well they are in a bit of a funk right now, and it was an ill timed giveaway after it was 3-1 that led to a Matt Niskanen (27:19 TOI) penalty with 8:47 remaining. That bad shift and infraction just 32 sections after the Caps grabbed a two goal cushion proved costly when Patrice Bergeron tallied on the rush with 8:08 remaining.

But Washington would do a good job of not giving up any real quality chances down the stretch and despite the fact that the Caps looked a little gassed once again, they held on, with some solid netminding from #70 to boot.

With their top defensive pair out in John Carlson (day to day) and Brooks Orpik (week to week), Orlov (20:06) and Nate Schmidt (18:43) have really stepped up and done a nice job as the second duo. The third pair of Taylor Chorney and Aaron Ness were solid on Tuesday, as well. Coach Trotz didn’t have to hide anyone on the blue line with Ness logging 12:55 and Chorney at 15:46. Those are decent ice times for a third pairing and the injuries have helped Washington develop some back side depth.

The victory halts a two game losing streak, although the second was in the gimmick so the Caps received a point, and pushes their overall record to an NHL leading 29-7-3 (61 points). They have a 12 point lead over the second place Islanders and a 13 point lead over the third place Rangers, in the Metropolitan Division. Those two teams are their next two opponents in New York on Thursday and Saturday, respectively. Washington has a game in hand on each team, as well.

It seems unlikely that #74 will be in the lineup on Thursday, and the Capitals have no need to rush him back with the lead they have overall in the standings (including a nine point cushion over the red hot Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference, who have won 10 in a row and lead the Atlantic Division). The Islanders recently lost top pair defensemen Johnny Boychuk for 4 to 6 weeks so they have no injury sympathy for the Caps. New York will be fired up for this one, given it is the first meeting since Washington defeated the Isles in game seven of last spring’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, this contest will take place in Brooklyn since the Islanders moved out of Nassau Coliseum over the summer.

As you recall, it was Kuznetsov who scored the series winner in dazzling fashion to send the Islanders to the links last April. On Tuesday in Beantown, #92 was the main reason the Capitals won once again, giving Holtby his 25th victory of the season.

Notes: Ovechkin had only six shot attempts, including two on net. He’s looked sluggish the last few games, but fortunately the Capitals have a deep lineup and can still win when he’s not scoring…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 27-26, and Jojo went 6-4…Wilson left for a bit in the middle period when Johansson was out too, but he still played 13:42. It was when those two were out that the 4th line gave up the Bruins first tally with some poor back checking and coverage…the Caps were 1 for 3 on the power play while Boston went 1 for 4…Zach Sill had five hits in 7:57, one of them was a missed boarding penalty, though…Stan Galiev only played 5:42 and was -1.

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Alex Ovechkin scores his 18th goal of the season and Braden Holtby shuts out the Sabres in the Caps 8th straight victory.

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Holtby, Ovechkin Lead Caps over Chippy Sabres, 2-0.

Posted on 29 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Buffalo Sabres thought they could play heavy hockey with the Washington Capitals on Monday night in the first meeting of the season between these two clubs.

Boy, were they wrong.

The Caps received an early second period goal from Alex Ovechkin and then Jay Beagle scored with just over seven minutes remaining in period two to notch the only two tallies in a physical, and at times, dirty effort on the part of Buffalo, in a Washington 2-0 victory.

This was a game in which there was the potential for a Capitals letdown. The Sabres are a mediocre team and the Caps are arguably the best squad in the NHL. Washington not only can beat you with skill, but they also have size and will punish you physically. If there is a style that doesn’t fit the Capitals, it is usually a high speed, end to end type of contest. On this night, for some reason Buffalo thought they could intimidate Washington. That wasn’t going to happen.

The Sabres, who seemed to get more and more frustrated with their inability to score on Braden Holtby (31 saves) as the game went on, routinely sent players into the crease area in an attempt to disrupt the Holtbeast (and possibly injure him). Yet somehow none of the sequences where the Sabres crashed into Holtby, to include Tyler Ennis late in period three and Johan Larson in period two, were whistled for goaltender interference penalties? Bylsma and company were basically playing cheap hockey to try and stay in the contest.

Speaking of cheap, Nicolas Deslauriers, who had only three goals and four assists heading into Monday’s tilt in 34 games, roughed Justin Williams in the face in the neutral zone in period two and then clipped #14 with his stick as Williams fell to the ice after the clear roughing infraction. Justin was bleeding heavily and had to go to the locker room for repairs. That was six penalty minutes that could have easily been called, but referee Dave Lewis, who was looking directly at the play, called nothing!

Michael Latta would rightly stick up for Williams and take on a bigger Deslaueries a few shifts later. The Sabre won the fight in a decision, but judging by his circus type reaction, you’d have thought he knocked out Muhammad Ali. What a clown and between the cheap hit on Williams and the fight, that rough stuff seemed to really galvanize the Capitals.

As a result, Washington picked up their intensity and threw the body around themselves, cleanly and effectively, rattling a young Buffalo squad.

The good news is despite the cheap stuff and the lack of Sabres penalties the Caps were easily able to defeat both the zebras and the dirty Sabres on this night. Buffalo rarely had quality scoring chances while the Caps had some grade A opportunities that they just couldn’t bury either shooting wide or due to pucks bouncing over their sticks. In addition, they tended to over pass themselves out of potential shot attempts on several occasions. That’s a recent trend that needs to be corrected.

But after the rough stuff really was initiated by Buffalo in period two, I knew the Caps would not back down nor be intimidated and intensity would not be an issue the rest of the way. I was right, this team sticks together, and the Capitals pretty much gave the Sabres nothing over the last 25+ minutes to win once again.

Buffalo’s best chance came with 1:01 left and the goalie pulled when Evander Kane appeared to have an easy back side goal with a seemingly open net only to see the Holtbeast snag the shot out of the air with his glove. It was vintage Holtby, who won his NHL leading 23rd game and completed his 2nd shutout of the season.

Washington’s winning streak now stands at eight games and they improved to 27-6-2 (56 points). The Capitals have a dozen point lead over the Rangers in the Metropolitan Division, with two games in hand. They were able to win on Monday in Buffalo without John Carlson, their #1 defensemen, who was unable to play due to a lower body injury.

Perhaps Bylsma felt that his club could play physical with Carlson and Brooks Oprik out and young Connor Carrick in the lineup? If so, he forgot that the Caps have their own forwards that can pound the opposition to include Ovechkin and Tom Wilson. Again, bad strategy by the Sabres.

Simply put, when it was all over and done, it was Barry Trotz’ men left standing vs. Disco Dan Bylsma’s boys when it came to who was the best at heavy hockey in this affair.

Now the two teams will get it on again on Wednesday at the Verizon Center. Coach Trotz will have last change and you can bet that Washington will be motivated to defeat the Sabres once again given the chippy nature at which Buffalo played on Monday.

Notes: Wilson had an assist on Beagle’s goal, his third in two games. #43 retrieved a loose puck in the offensive zone and fired it at the cage. It struck a Sabre defender en route and ricocheted off of the back boards right to #83, who deposited it into the empty cage behind Linus Ullmark (24 saves)…the Caps first goal by Ovechkin came after a furious forecheck from the Gr8 and his linemates, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. Both #19 and #77 earned an assist on the goal…Lewis and the other official, Chris Rooney (aka, Rooney Tunes), were clearly not watching the same contest I was viewing and at the end of the night, the power plays were three to one for the Sabres; that’s pathetic…officially, shot attempts were 56-50 for Buffalo, but the Caps had 9 giveaways and Buffalo had 9 takeaways…Latta didn’t return after his fight due to injury (upper body, but not the head, per @VogsCaps)… Carrick played less than 10 minutes while Matt Niskanen logged a game high 27:25. Karl Alzner played 26:23, Nate Schmidt 23:07, and Dmitry Orlov had 19:45. Taylor Chorney’s ice time was just 12:14.

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Braden Holtby continues to own Saturday's. Caps hang on to win in Tampa, 2-1.

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Holtby Excels Again in Win Over Bolts

Posted on 12 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

“Feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’ And we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive”- Barry Gibb

Braden Holtby has Saturday Night Fever.

In a game that was dominated in the third period by the Tampa Bay Lightning, with some assistance from referees Tim Peel and Francois “Send Him Back to Quebec” Charron, the Holtbeast saved 14 of 15 shots in the final frame to preserve a 2-1 victory for the Caps. Overall, Holtby made 35 saves and is 10-0-1 in his last 11 starts.

He’s practically unbeatable, at least in regulation, on Saturday nights and the Saskatchewan native clearly loves being in the spotlight when it’s Hockey Night in Canada.

For the season, Holtby is now 18-4-1 with a .930 save percentage and a 1.90 goals against average.

If not for his play in recent weeks, the Caps don’t improve to 20-6-2 and claim first place in the Metropolitan Division, especially with Brooks Orpik out on the back end since early November with a lingering lower body injury.

Luckily, in Orpik’s absence, Nate Schmidt has really stepped up and filled in nicely in the top 4 on D. On Saturday, Schmidt was fabulous (+1 in 21:20 of ice time), despite getting jumped by JT Brown in the middle stanza and being forced to fight when Peel and Charron ignored the roughing penalty from Brown that started it all by the Caps net. Peel and Charron were especially bad the last 40 minutes by failing to give the Caps a power play over that duration despite numerous Tampa infractions, including a high stick by Brown on Tom Wilson and a few clutch and grab hooks on potential Washington scoring chances. I thought that those were supposed to be out of the game??!!

But the Caps didn’t help themselves in the final period, either. A team that had really been successful at putting games away when leading this season reverted to how they looked, at times, last year. They were not skating and they struggled to string passes together. That was unacceptable against a Bolts squad that was down to 10 forwards once Ondrej Palat left the contest with an injury. I’m sure Coach Barry Trotz will focus on that on Sunday, especially after Thursday night’s poor effort, 4-1, loss in Florida.

On the positive side, Jay Beagle played a strong game with his hustle and he chipped in a goal to open the scoring by going to the net and putting home the rebound of a Stan Galiev shot from the corner. Beagle also had a great cycling shift, along with Wilson, late in regulation that bought the Caps a good minute or so when the previous several shifts they were really on their heels in their own zone. That forced the Bolts to wait until later to pull their goalie, Ben Bishop (18 saves). Beagle is a total bargain at $1.75M a year for his hustle, hard work, face off skills, PK ability, and the occasional timely goals.

Wilson was excellent in this one too (including drawing a penalty after a clean hit on Mike “Total Stiff” Blunden) and Evgeny Kuznetsov had a sensational tally that made it 2-0. That sweet goal eventually became the game winner. The Caps hit some posts early, most notably Alex Ovechkin and Andre Burakosky, but they just didn’t get enough pucks to the net; the shots on goal were 36-20 and shot attempts were a lopsided 77-49. That’s not good, at all.

Holtby was great not only late, but early too, robbing Valteri Filppula (4 shots on goal) on a couple of occasions in the first frame.

This was not one of Washington’s better efforts and they owe the win to a few skaters who excelled, but primarily the Holtbeast. You could pretty much crank the legendary BeeGees “Stayin’ Alive” track the entire third period because that’s what the Caps did as they relied on the man between the pipes to grab a victory.

Yes, Holtby clearly has Saturday Night Fever and thanks to him, Washington won for the 8th straight time after they’ve lost a game this season.

Notes: Matt Niskanen led the Caps with 24:28 of ice time…Justin Williams had five shots on goal, many of which were quality chances…Ovechkin (19:18) had an off night generating only six shot attempts and one on net…TJ Oshie led the Caps in hits with four…Washington was 0 for 2 with the man advantage while Tampa went 1 for 4…the Caps lost the face off battle, 38-32, but Beagle went 12-6…next up for the Capitals are the Penguins on Monday night at the Consol Energy Center. The Pens fired coach Mike Johnston on Saturday and replaced him with former New York Rangers assistant, Mike Sullivan. Pittsburgh will be without top offensive defensemen Kris Letang, as well.

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Braden Holtby, the NHL's 2nd star of the month for November, starts December off just as hot.

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Holtby Steals a Victory for the Caps at the Bell Centre

Posted on 03 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

You’ll often hear hockey experts state the following: “goaltending is the great equalizer.”

No truer words could be spoken about Thursday night’s Caps-Habs tilt in Montreal where Braden Holtby was stellar once again making 33 saves to lead Washington to a 3-2 win at the Bell Centre. At the other end of the rink, the Canadiens Mike Condon only stopped 16 of 19 shots and looked tired as the game went on to let his club down in a contest they very much should have won, if not for the Holtbeast.

Montreal was speedy and on the loose pucks all night, while the Capitals looked rusty, sloppy, and downright lazy, at times, in the first two plus periods, especially the middle frame. At one point, the shots on goal were 24-7 for the Habs before a late second period Caps flurry, which included T.J. Oshie’s first goal of the game that Condon misplayed off of his arm and into the cage. Oshie would also get the game winner deflecting home a Karl Alzner point shot with 11:43 remaining. T.J. now has eight goals on the season.

Washington opened the scoring at 2:26 after Holtby made a big early save and the Caps Brooks Laich worked hard on the boards and fed Tom Wilson with the puck in the slot. “Willy” fired it short side with a sweet wrister. Wilson continues to improve and he now has his only two goals this season in the last two games. #43 is doing a super job killing penalties and other parts of the 21 year olds game continue to develop. He is becoming more and more of a factor for Washington and that is very important. He’s a big body that can skate and hit and that is something many teams simply do not have.

Overall though, the Capitals did not play well. They turned the puck over repeatedly and much of that had to do with their positioning and effort. Their gaps between the forwards and the defensemen were too large making the passing lanes longer and tougher to navigate. In addition, they far too often tried diagonal and sometimes blind passes, which is a big no-no coming out of your own zone. Repeatedly, offensive zone shots were passed up for low percentage passes. That was disappointing given that the Caps caught a break facing Condon instead of 2014-15 Hart Trophy winner, Carey Price, who is out for six weeks with a knee injury. The Caps should have been shooting more and even with Oshie’s fluky up in the air and off of the goalies arm tally, Washington still didn’t realize that more pucks to the net were needed.

Overall the shot attempts were 73-43 for Montreal and shots on goal were 35-19. The Habs were far superior in this one in terms of chances and puck possession.

Fortunately Holtby was in the zone again and the only tallies he allowed were a Lars Eller stuff in front right after the Habs power play expired and a shorthanded breakaway goal by Brian Flynn. Max Pacioretty, the Habs captain and best forward, had nine shots on goal, many of them quality, but the Holtbeast had his number on this night.

On the positive side, the Capitals did play a super final seven plus minutes once again with a third period lead. They dominated that final portion and drew a power play with 1:53 remaining. That might have been trouble given that the Habs third period game tying tally came while the Caps were with the man advantage, but Coach Barry Trotz made sure to have two defensemen on the points and Washington outworked the Canadiens along the walls to close this one out. In fact, the only shot on goal Montreal had over the last 6:30 was an 81 footer from Pacioretty with 2:28 remaining. The Caps were like sharks in blood infested waters, they sensed they were on the verge of stealing a win and they did all of the right things down the stretch to close it out.

This was the Capitals sixth straight victory and Holtby’s career high eighth consecutive win. The Caps are now a stunning 18-5-1 and have retaken over first place in the Metropolitan Division. The New York Rangers also have 37 points, but the Caps have three games in hand and one more regulation or overtime win (ROW).

So in this streak, two of the victories have been total Holtby highway robberies, the Edmonton shutout on November 23rd and this one in hallowed Montreal on December 3rd. #70’s numbers over his eight game winning streak are amazing, a 1.88 goals against average and a .936 save percentage (h/t to Ben Raby). Those are some super figures and Holtby is clearly in the upper echelon of NHL goalies.

He won this game tonight and once again his teammates owe him dinner. Perhaps they oblige on Friday night in Winnipeg, where the Caps will take on the Jets on Saturday afternoon in a 3 pm matinee?

Notes: Alex Ovechkin had an assist on the game winning tally and was also on for the second Caps tally. However, he was one of the guilty parties on the Habs shorthanded game tying goal. Ovi only had 1 shot on goal and four overall shot attempts. That is way down for the Gr8…Montreal won the faceoff battle, 32-24. Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist) was 10-10…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:59. P.K. Subban led the Habs with 26:44…Brooks Orpik missed his 10th straight game with a lower body injury, although he has been skating and is along for this two game Canadian road trip.

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The dynamic duo, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, find a way to get the Caps another victory.

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Ovechkin Ties Fedorov in Caps 3-2 Shootout Victory

Posted on 07 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin scored three times, yet only one counted as an official goal, but the third was the game winning shootout tally on a sweet move by the Gr8 to give Washington a 3-2 victory over the Leafs.

After an apparent late game tying and record breaking tally (Ovechkin had earlier tied Sergei Fedorov for most goals as a Russian NHLer at 483 in the second period), the zebras, who called good goal on the ice, took out the iPad the NHL bought from Target, watched several replays, and ruled no goal on a coach’s challenge because Justin Williams nicked Reimer when pushed into the crease by a Leafs defender. This happened a good second or two before the Leafs goalie was able to get set and the Gr8 roofed a backhander over his shoulder.

At that point, it looked like the Leafs were going to go home with a 2-1 victory. They had worked hard in this contest and killed off a minute long Caps five on three in the third period. They then scored on their own power play with 10:33 left, which was set up by a garbage sequence by the zebras where Tom Wilson received four minutes when he deserved only two for roughing and Nazem Kadri only got two minutes when he deserved four for hooking and holding.

But the Caps, who out shot attempted the Leafs, 61-44, despite having multiple sequences where they were outworked on the boards, finally won some puck battles with the goalie pulled and tied the game with one second left on Nicklas Backstrom’s side of the cage tally. All six Caps on the ice contributed. Evgeny Kuznetsov made a great soccer play to keep the puck in the zone on the right wing boards, then Justin Williams and Backstrom worked hard on those boards to get the puck into the slot. John Carlson kept it in and fed T.J. Oshie on the left wing boards. Oshie fed Williams in the left wing corner and #14 fired it across the cage and it appeared to hit Ovechkin or the skate of the Toronto defender in front, before hitting #19 in the chest. Backstrom didn’t get all of the shot, but he was finally able to get the second biscuit of the game by James Reimer (29 saves), who was super for Toronto in net in this game.

In the shootout, both Oshie and Kuznetsov hit the post before Reimer stopped Backstrom. Braden Holtby, who gave up a soft first tally to Toronto on the short side, was spectacular stopping all four Leafs, including a stretched pad save on Kadri to seal the deal after Ovechkin’s forehand roof job.

It was a win that you could say the Caps may or may not have deserved, I think they did, and they now move to 10-3 and tie the best start in franchise history, once again, with the 1991-92 Capitals team.

As for the Leafs, well everyone, including me, thought the Caps would have an easy time with a squad that doesn’t have much talent and is bound for the Auston Matthews sweepstakes. It seemed the Capitals players thought that way too for much of the game. But shame on all of us, especially the players, because a Mike Babcock coached team is never going to just show up and roll over. He’s a super coach and he had his team ready to play on no rest and he made the adjustments necessary to nearly steal a victory.

But the Caps have to learn from this one too, they simply didn’t work hard enough in the trenches and allowed a game against a vastly inferior opponent nearly be decided by the referees. You just can’t do that because as the data shows, the calls will typically go against Washington when it comes to goalie interference.

Speaking of goalie interference and replay, the Caps are now one for and three against in this young season. Like the NFL and receptions, I have no Earthly idea what is and isn’t goalie interference. Add the delay the replay causes to the games and I’m ready to throw those cheap iPads from Target out in the street and just go with the original on ice judgement calls. Hey, everyone is human. I’m perfectly fine with having replay for something definitive like offsides, pucks across the goal line, and in the netting, but when it comes to goalie interference, it makes little sense, there’s just too much interpretation involved. The NHL is not helping their referees with this system and it slows the game to a crawl. Get rid of it!

As for the Caps, they can blame their power play for not being able to salt this one away earlier. Washington was one for six with the extra skater (or two) and their zone entries and ability to support the puck handler was atrocious. They also made terrible decisions. It was ugly and their only success was on a play where Ovechkin went to the net and scored on the door step via a sweet backhander. It was a goal scorer’s goal and a simple one. Washington went to the net and got pucks there on that play. They simply did not do enough of that on the power play in this contest, it was far too motionless and fancy. That needs to change going forward.

Despite all of the issues, good teams find ways to win games and this club did it once again. They are a good team. They have 69 more games remaining and they should continue to get better. Right now it’s about getting points and securing a playoff spot. A 10-3 start puts you in great position to do that.

Notes: Ovi had eight shots on goal and 13 overall shot attempts in 23:35 of ice time. He was the well deserved #1 star of the game…Backstrom had a goal and an assist in 23:12 and earned the second star…the Caps won the face off battle, 34-22. Jay Beagle was 11-6 and Kuznetsov was 9-5…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:12. He had another strong game with Brooks Orpik, who only played 17:53 due to all of the power plays and the fact that the Caps trailed for good portions of the game…next up for the Caps are the Detroit Red Wings in Motown on Tuesday at 7:30 pm. Former Caps defensemen Mike Green will not play due to injury [Sunday Update: Green is playing against the Stars and picked up a power play assist in the first period. He is now expected to face the Caps, assuming he doesn’t get re-injured.]

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Alex Ovechkin scores his 7th goal of the season to help lead the Caps over Boston.

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Ovechkin Goal Jump Starts Caps in 4-1 Win Over Boston

Posted on 06 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After playing too loose, falling behind early, and ultimately losing, 5-2, to the Rangers on Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals really hoped to have a strong start against the Boston Bruins at the Verizon Center on Thursday night.

They did not get one.

The Bruins repeatedly put pucks deep on Washington early and throttled the Capitals in their own end with a vicious forecheck over the first 10 minutes. Luckily for the Caps, goalie Braden Holtby (28 saves) was razor sharp and the Caps were able to keep things scoreless.

Shortly after the 12 minute mark though, Justin Williams turned a puck over in the neutral zone while shorthanded and that gave the Bruins a three on two rush that they converted off of a fluky bounce. Suddenly Boston had scored for the first time since the spring of 2014 on Holtby (the Caps shut the B’s out three times in 2014-15) and they had a 1-0 lead.

But that’s all the Bruins would get as the Caps made some adjustments to get the puck out of their own end and from there things started to go their way.

“We just started doing what we were supposed to do from the start, we were too slow. We weren’t getting close enough to their high guy for their shots. We know they like to play a triangle game. We weren’t winning the races to the pucks and then it seemed like we got our legs a little bit,” said defensemen Karl Alzner.

That they did and with four minutes left in the opening frame, the line of Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom, and Williams had a dominant offensive zone shift. Then the Caps top line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and T.J. Oshie built off of that momentum and buried one with the Gr8 scoring a greasy goal in front. Ovechkin would take a couple of cross checks in the back and slide one past Tuukka Rask (27 saves) to tie the game up. The Tim Kerr/Dino Ciccarelli type of goal absolutely lifted the spirits of the Capitals and those in attendance at the Verizon Center.

“Ovi [Alex Ovechkin] scores those highlight reel goals all the time. We talk about this is a team [Boston] that has a good goaltender. Their physical [defensive] core and you got to go to those hard areas to score goals against them. When one of your top scorers is known for his one-on-one and great shot, goes to the hard areas and gets one of those grinder, blue paint goals, it’s great,” said Coach Barry Trotz about the turning point in the hockey game, Ovechkin’s seventh goal of the season.

The Caps took the lead just 4:10 into period two when Brooks Laich scored his 1st goal of the season by doing what Ovechkin had done earlier, going to the front of the net. Dmitry Orlov’s point blast hit Laich en route and got by Rask. Washington increased the lead to 3-1 on a five on three power play with Backstrom saucering a sweet pass to John Carlson for a one timer. It was Carlson’s third goal of the season to go with nine assists and the way the Capitals players rotated to confuse Boston was a nice, new power play wrinkle.

From there on in, the Capitals clamped things down and gave the Bruins pretty much nothing the rest of the way. The Caps improved to 6-0-0 this season when leading after two periods by playing a nearly flawless final stanza. They held Boston to just one quality shot, which is impressive.

“I was really happy with the way we handled the third… We understood that they [Boston] were going to come with their d [defense] getting active, and we just stayed to the game plan, and just making sure we were making them come 200 feet and being on the right side of pucks when they got jammed up, and we protected the slot,” added Coach Trotz on the third period success.

“I think we were responsible, we changed our system a little bit, I think maybe gave them a different look and threw a wrench in their plans and we just played smart with the puck,” added Alzner, who sealed this one with an empty net goal with 1:50 remaining to close it out at 4-1.

One thing the coaching staff did for the third period that really worked was a juggling of the lines. Coach Trotz moved Andre Burakovsky up with fellow Swedes, Backstrom and Johansson, and he bumped Williams over with Jay Beagle and Jason Chimera. As a result, Boston was stymied getting only seven shots on the cage over the last 20 minutes. During the offseason Washington talked about developing a killer instinct and this third period performance was a big step in that direction.

Overall, this was an important bounce back victory after a disappointing result in New York on Tuesday. The Caps improved to 9-3 and matched the 1991-92 and 2011-12 teams for the best Washington starts to a season. That 91-92 squad I talk about often because I believe it was one of the Capitals all time best teams. The problem was the team that won the Cup in 1992, the Pittsburgh Penguins, were just a bit better, primarily due to their goaltending. Goaltending is a strength for the Caps these days and if they keep improving their overall play and stay healthy, this season should continue to be a fun and special one.

Notes: All three Caps defensive pairs played well with Carlson and Brooks Orpik leading the way in time on ice with 25:20 and 22:19, respectively. It was a super game for both and Carlson rightfully earned the first star…Orlov and Nate Schmidt both were excellent after being the best D pair against the Rangers. They logged 14:52 and 15:21, respectively. Each skates well and moves the puck out of the defensive zone quickly. The Caps have to be very pleased at the level of play they are getting from that pair so early in the season…Washington outshot Boston, 31-29, but were outshot attempted, 63-53. The Caps blocked 19 shots and did a good job of keeping the Bruins on the perimeter; especially in period three…Boston won the face off battle, 39-29. David Krejci was 11-3 for the B’s while Kuznetsov went 6-14 for the Caps…next up for the Capitals are the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7 pm on Saturday night at the Verizon Center. The Leafs are not good and are clearly one of the front runners in the Auston Matthews sweepstakes.

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Philipp Grubauer makes 26 saves to give the Capitals a chance to win the game in overtime.

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Grubauer Leads Caps in OT Victory Over Florida

Posted on 31 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored 3:44 into overtime and the Capitals rode the stellar goaltending of back up Philipp Grubauer to snatch a 2-1 victory against the Florida Panthers on Saturday night in Sunrise.

For the first time in 10 games this NHL season, the Caps found themselves in the extra session. With the rules modified in the off season to make the game three on three, vice four on four, it would be interesting to see how Coach Barry Trotz would play things. So instead of being immediately aggressive, Trotz started with two defensemen, Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner, and forward Nicklas Backstrom. That strategy paid off for the first shift before the Caps skill took over and the winning tally occurred with Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, and Dmitry Orlov on the ice. On that game winner Kuzya adeptly broke to the net after both Florida defenders thought he’d drop the puck to the Gr8. #92 beat Cats goalie Al Montoya (25 saves) down low and Washington will now leave town on Monday afternoon, after a day off on the beach on Sunday, with a record of 8-2.

Let’s be honest, if this was last season and Justin Peters is in net, the Caps lose this game.

Grubauer (26 saves) was that good and if he doesn’t make several key stops throughout the game, including a breakaway in the second period when it was 1-0, Florida, the Caps lose in regulation. The German goalie was excellent against the Panthers and the Washington players have to feel really good to know that they can play that poorly and sloppily in stretches and still sneak out a victory.

It was far from a pretty win and the Panthers size and tenacity frustrated Washington most of the night. The Caps struggled to break out of their own zone effectively, often making poor decisions and bad passes. The best break outs were on skate outs, and Orlov was one of the better ones at doing that (RIP Adam Oates and his “get rid of the puck in five feet” mandate). It was so ugly that early in the second period, after Grubauer saved the Caps bacon once again, Coach Barry Trotz chewed his team a new one on the bench.

The Capitals would be better, at times, after that, but there were several guys who just didn’t have it on this night.

One player who brought his game in the third period and overtime was Ovechkin. The Gr8 was one of the few Capitals who was winning board battles and moving his feet. Ovi set up Jay Beagle’s game tying tally and his mere presence opened up a lane for Kuznetsov on the winning goal.

Beagle, despite two offensive zone penalties, was good too and earned extra ice time. In fact, it was Kuznetsov who saw his time cut in the third frame for #83. If not for Beagle, Ovechkin, and of course, Grubauer, Kuzya doesn’t get the chance to redeem himself for one of his poorer performances of the season, up until that point. But as they say, there is no substitute for skill, especially with the new regular season overtime rules!

Overall, the Caps went two and one this week despite playing very uneven hockey. But the mark of a good team is one that finds a way to win when it doesn’t have anywhere close to its “A” game. The Capitals brought their “C” game on Saturday, but thanks to Grubauer, they were able to endure and win in overtime.

After practice in Florida on Monday, it’s on to New York for a rematch with the Rangers. I’m sure the players haven’t forgotten the game seven overtime loss last spring. Washington had a series of bad clears and icings in that overtime which led to Derek Stepan’s series winner. Bad clears have crept back in to Washington’s game lately, hopefully they get that corrected in time for Tuesday, otherwise a New York team that is off to a 7-2-2 start will run the Capitals out of Madison Square Garden.

Notes: As bad as the Caps were on their breakouts, the Panthers only had 19 of their 27 shots on net at even strength (the Caps were 3 for 3 on the penalty kill allowing eight SOG). Washington turned the puck over a lot, but they did do a good job of limiting Panthers opportunities, especially rebounds. Brooks Orpik and the Caps blue liners were able to clear away any loose pucks around Grubauer. Most importantly, #31 didn’t allow many of those. He was razor sharp…the Caps out shot attempted the Cats, 48-44. 92 shot attempts in a game is not a lot and it shows how sloppy both teams were…the Capitals won the face off battle, 30-25. Backstrom was 13-9… John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 28:19 and Orpik was second with 24:37… Brooks Laich, Andre Burakovsky, and Chandler Stephenson all played less than 10 minutes…Orlov only logged 12:50 and Nate Schmidt played 10:39 as the third defensive pair. Basically, Coach Trotz rode three lines and two defensive pairs for most of this contest.

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