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Ovechkin, Johansson Lead Caps Over Blue Jackets

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Ovechkin, Johansson Lead Caps Over Blue Jackets

Posted on 11 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

If you want to make the playoffs and compete for a division title in the NHL, you need to win the games you are supposed to win.

On Tuesday night the Washington Capitals were scheduled to play one of those games against an injury decimated Columbus Blue Jackets squad.

The Caps did just that getting two goals each from Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson and 24 saves from Braden Holtby en route to the club’s 3rd straight victory and just the second in regulation at home.

This one, however, was not pretty.

Washington played an outstanding first frame jumping all over Columbus and grabbing a 3-1 lead. In that opening period the Caps out worked the Blue Jackets getting strong plays from Troy Brouwer on Johansson’s first tally and neutral zone pressure that led to a beautiful Jay Beagle drop pass to Ovechkin for the third marker. The only blemish in those first 20 minutes was a face off goal that occurred after a bad icing by the Capitals. Had the Washington defender taken the single stride he had to get to the red line, there is not a defensive zone draw at all. Unfortunately, the Caps lost that one clean, and Holtby gave up another goal on a long shot that travels through a maze of bodies. Other than Jason Chimera’s interference penalty, there wasn’t much else to pick at in a period the Capitals totally dominated.

But then came the middle stanza where the Capitals looked nothing like the club from the first 20 minutes and Columbus amped their intensity and physical play up and found a way to crawl back into a contest they had no business being in. Holtby allowed a late goal on a shot he initially bobbled and later kicked in, but #70 did make some other strong saves in a period that saw the Blue Jackets out work the Caps.

The third period started the same as the second finished, and Washington was lucky Scott Hartnell hit the cross bar on a 2 on 0 rush after a bad neutral zone turnover by the Caps. For the next 12 minutes or so Columbus would dominate, but Holtby was excellent. Finally the Caps started working hard again and MJ90 took a sweet feed from Andre Burakovsky (two assists) and wrapped home the clincher.

Again, this was a game the Capitals were supposed to win, and they did that. They improve to 7-5-3 (17 points) and will next face the New Jersey Devils at the Verizon Center on Friday night.

On the positive side, it was good to see the Caps not give up a goal in the third period and it was nice that they finally scored to get a two goal cushion back. The Caps haven’t been able to close teams out until the buzzer since early in the season victories over the Devils and Bruins. Holtby, like he did on Friday in Chicago, clamped down when he had to, plus he caught a break on Hartnell’s cross bar shot. Johansson continues to be a major positive playing with Brouwer and Burakovsky too. MJ90 now has eight goals in just 15 games and he’s shooting more and getting to the cage more often. He’s clearly benefitting from the Barry Trotz regime so far.

On the down side, this team still has prolonged stretches where they are very sloppy and to me that’s a work ethic issue. This Caps team has lots of talent but it is almost like they get too proud of themselves at times and forget you have to consistently move your feet to be successful. When Washington works hard, they win the puck battles and dominate with their superior talent. They still haven’t figured out yet how to keep that up more consistently.

So on Tuesday the Caps got another win, but to me, there’s still lots of room for improvement and I’ll continue to call this team a work in progress. But that’s okay when there are still 67 games to play.

Notes: Columbus won the shot attempt battle, 59-56. The Caps dominated the first period but then it was mostly Blue Jackets over the final 40 minutes. Some of that is score effects but most of it is on Washington’s work ethic…the Caps dominated from the dot, 41-25, but they once again allowed a face off goal against. Coaches despise that!..Karl Alzner had two super blocked shots on the Blue Jackets third period power play when the score was 3-2…referees Tim Kowal and Steve Kozari called a very good game, about the only gripe you could have with them was the missed slash by David Savard on Brouwer in period two. Dirty play there by the Blue Jacket.

 

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Backstrom, Ovechkin Help Caps Survive Canes

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Backstrom, Ovechkin Help Caps Survive Canes

Posted on 09 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

After blowing a two goal third period lead as a result of a bad turnover and poor goaltending, the Washington Capitals needed their star players to step up and bail the team out.

Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom did just that with 14 seconds left in overtime as #19 fired home the long rebound of a rocket of a shot by the Gr8 that Carolina goalie Anton Khudobin (35 saves) had no chance to handle cleanly. The 4-3 victory was the second win in two nights for the Caps and they improve to 6-5-3 (15 points).

This was a game the Capitals could not afford to lose and they came out ultra strong, out shooting the Canes, 18-3, in the first frame. But Khudobin was pretty good in net and the Capitals gave up a late power play goal and only led 2-1. The second period went okay for the Caps and Eric Fehr scored to give Washington a 3-1 advantage heading into the final frame. But except for Washington’s second line, much of the play was spent in Washington’s own end and Carolina out shot the Caps 14-8 to scratch and claw their way to OT.

Still, if Fehr doesn’t get stripped by Jeff Skinner to lead to Eric Staal’s tally and Peters doesn’t allow a long goal off of a d-zone face off loss, Washington wins in regulation. But things have not been easy for the Capitals early this season. It seems that any little mistake they make results in a goal against right now.

The good news is this team overcame the errors and earned a much needed win. Overall they dominated Carolina over the 64+ minutes out shot attempting them 74-56. The Caps also won 38 of 69 draws, although they lost some key ones in their own zone in the final frame.

On the bad side of the ledger, Peters (24 saves) is not giving the team the solid backup goaltending it needs. His last two starts have been struggles and he was fortunate to get a victory tonight. Two of the three goals were of the long range variety. In addition, Tom Wilson left in the second period with an apparent lower body muscle injury. This news was not needed after it was learned that Brooks Laich was injured once again (upper body) Friday in Chicago and will need to be re-evaluated.

The Wilson loss hurts the rotation as he was fitting in nicely with Ovechkin and Backstrom. Coach Barry Trotz’ second line of Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky, and Troy Brouwer played extremely well on Saturday and the Gang Green line of Fehr, Joel Ward, and Jason Chimera has been really good too. So if Wilson is out for Tuesday’s game, Trotz has a tough dilemma on his line combinations against Columbus. Jay Beagle filled in for Wilson after the injury, but despite a goal on Saturday (before he was with 8 and 19), he’s not a top 6 forward. So to me, the best option is to put Beagle on the Gang Green line at center and move Fehr up with Backstrom and Ovechkin. The other option would be to slot Evgeny Kuznetsov somewhere in the top nine.

Injuries are a part of the game, so Trotz and company will just have to battle through up front and be happy they have some decent depth.

On the back end, the team continues to be really solid. Nate Schmidt is playing some excellent hockey so the top six defensemen have been very strong. Because all three pairs have been mostly consistent, Trotz can keep the ice time fairly close and not worry about performance drop offs in back to back contests. It’s a nice luxury to have a deep and quality blue line, something this club has not been able to accurately say for several years.

So the end result on Saturday was another dominating puck possession game for Washington. They haven’t been able to translate those into easy wins, though. On Saturday, a key turnover and some shaky goaltending prevented that. In addition, the Capitals are struggling to finish off their grade A chances. 3 of the 4 goals involved lucky bounces so that made up for not converting on the quality opportunities.

However, the Capitals got the key finish when they needed it by Backstrom. Ovechkin’s decision to shoot, and fire hard, was a great one. Good things happen when you put the puck and bodies on net. Washington is getting better in that department. So if they keep maintaining puck possession, they could reel off a nice winning streak if they limit turnovers, penalties, and get some consistent goaltending.

Notes: Oveckhin led the Caps in ice time with 23:39. John Carlson (two assists) was next with 23:35…Backstrom was 16-9 on draws and it looked like the linesman didn’t drop the puck fairly on the draw he lost that led to the tying goal (and Peters needed to make that save)…Kuznetsov only played 9:23, but because of his skating ability (OT is 4 on 4 play), he did receive a shift in overtime…the Caps will not practice on Sunday and they play Columbus at home on Tuesday at the Verizon Center.

 

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Return of Laich Helps Caps End Losing Streak

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Return of Laich Helps Caps End Losing Streak

Posted on 07 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

For the first 30 minutes of Friday night’s hockey game in Chicago, it looked like the men against the boys.

The Blackhawks were dominating the Capitals up and down the ice and they held a 2-0 lead, which could’ve been worse, if not for Braden Holtby (38 saves).

But somehow the Caps managed to fight through it and an Andre Burakovsky’s sweet top shelf goal on a Capitals 2 on 1 rush gave Washington life with just under five minutes left in period two. Washington would then tally two more times late in the second frame by getting bodies and pucks to the net to take a 3-2 lead into the third period.

From there, Coach Barry Trotz elected to clamp things down and go into a defensive posture for the final 20 minutes against one of the best teams in the NHL. Trotz put Jay Beagle on the top line with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin and relied heavily on the line of Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich, and Joel Ward. Despite the fact that Washington rarely possessed the biscuit in that third period, it worked. Chicago had very few quality chances over the last 20 minutes as Washington won a huge road game and improved to 5-5-3 overall (13 points). It was Laich’s first game back in the lineup since injuring his shoulder on October 18th versus Florida. The Caps are 4-0-2 with #21 in the lineup.

This was not a pretty win, but the Caps have been pretty lately and losing a lot. No, this is just what this team needed, a grinding, gritty victory against a super hockey team. They received a huge performance from their goaltender and they played excellent team defense once they got the lead.

As Mike Vogel, the Caps team beat writer, tweeted once it became 3-2, this was the 12th time in 13 games that the Capitals had led in a game this season. Recently they’ve fallen apart and lost after taking the lead in the middle frame. So to play the way they did defensively and close it out is huge. They didn’t make the big turnovers, instead opting to chip the puck out, and they kept the Hawks to the perimeter. Players were fighting for each other, blocking shots, and eliminating their man in the defensive zone from getting prime scoring chances.

They played the right way in their own zone once they had a lead against a stacked offensive club.

Sure it would have been nice to have some more offense in that final frame, but the way things have been going and the way Chicago is so stingy on defense, Trotz elected to go the smarter route in terms of winning the hockey game.

That decision paid off and Washington comes away with a very big victory and ends their five game losing streak.

More importantly, they won this game as a total team, and that should be something they can build upon going forward.

Notes: Shot attempts were 66-32 in favor of Chicago and the Blackhawks won 35 of 60 faceoffs…Brooks Orpik led the Caps in ice time with 25:57. He and John Carlson were outstanding as a shut down defensive pair in this one against an elite club…the Caps are home against the suddenly surging Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night at 8 pm. The Canes have won four straight games after an 0-6-2 start.

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Fluke Goal Costs Caps in Overtime Loss

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Fluke Goal Costs Caps in Overtime Loss

Posted on 05 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The hockey gods are clearly testing the Washington Capitals.

Despite dominating a very hard working Calgary Flames team for nearly 55 minutes, the Caps found themselves in a tie game on a bizarre play I’m not sure I’ve seen since the Caps inception in 1974.

An errant Washington pass put the puck in the slot in front of Braden Holtby. Marcus Johansson, who was in perfect defensive position, did the smart thing and tried to quickly knock it out of harms way. In the process, the puck went off of Troy Brouwer’s skate and bounced back five feet or so into the net behind Holtby for the tying tally with 5:10 to go in regulation.

Are you kidding me?

After all of the hard work and effort the Capitals put into this contest surely they deserved better at that point, right?

They had played a text book 3rd period and all evening their puck support was excellent. Colossal defensive turnovers, like we’ve seen too much of recently, were not present in this game and the Caps generated lots of offensive zone time and chances.

Unfortunately the Caps struggled to bury many of those chances, totally missing the net on some that were of the grade A variety. That’s been a trend during their losing skid, which is now at five straight games (and they’ve lost six of their last seven). They did, however, manage to get a point in this loss when they were defeated, in overtime, 4-3.

Afterwards Coach Barry Trotz was not upset at all, except for the outcome. His team had come to play hard and stick to the system and for the most part, they did.

The players were clearly frustrated afterwards with Matt Niskanen telling me that “losing sucks.” But he also knew that the team had played the game the right way on Tuesday night.

Alex Ovechkin picked up two assists to seize the franchise all time points lead from Peter Bondra and he nearly set up the game winner late in regulation when he blocked a Dennis Wideman point shot, skated down the ice and found Nicklas Backstrom streaking towards the net. Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) would take a nice cross ice pass from Ovechkin and feed Tom Wilson on the door step, but “Willy” was unable to lift the puck and Jonas Hiller (31 saves) made the stop of the game to send the tilt to OT.

Looking at the stats, Washington was dominant. They out shot attempted the Flames 68-48 and they won the face off battle 42-30 with Michael Latta going 13-6. It was a very strong effort.

The glass half empty folks will point to Mike Green’s -4 and Holtby allowing 4 goals on only 23 shots. I didn’t think either one of them played a bad game. Green was tripped on the first Calgary goal and interfered with in the neutral zone on the second, but the zebras chose not to call a Flames penalty. I’m not sure how Holtby could possibly have saved the 3rd goal? Finally, on the Flames game winner, Niskanen lost an edge in the neutral zone and that allowed Calgary to set the winning play up.

But the naysayers will likely be out in full force and as Taylor Swift says, “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate..” and there will be many that pile on Green and Holtby.

Hopefully the players tune it out. In fact the whole team needs to do what they did after the third goal, show resolve and play harder. There was no moping or hanging of heads after that flukey third Flames goal, which is encouraging. Losing stinks and this team is probably wondering what they need to do to get a win.

To me, it’s pretty simple, just keep focusing on playing the right way and not try things out of your comfort zone, which they did too much of against Arizona on Sunday.

Trotz noted after the game that “usually the harder you work, the luckier you get.” Calgary has been working hard and Barry noted they are one of the hardest working teams in the league. Trotz felt that the Caps worked harder than Calgary on Tuesday night, but his club wasn’t rewarded.

That’s hockey. You hope during the course of 82 games that things will even out, especially if you are working hard and playing the right way.

So at this point all the Caps can do is keeping working harder within the framework of their system and as the main part of that songs says, just “Shake it Off.”

N0tes: Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:48. He and Karl Alzner had a very strong game. Wilson had an assist in 13:28 of ice time and was a physical presence. He did get juked badly by Mark Giordano, who is a top pair defensemen, on the Flames second goal…Joel Ward scored his sixth goal of the season on a 5 on 3 Caps power play in the middle frame. ..next up for the Caps are the Chicago Blackhawks in the windy city on Friday night. The Capitals then come home on Saturday against a Carolina squad that’s won three games in a row after a horrible start. The return of Eric Staal has helped get the Canes going.

 

 

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If the Caps Stay the Course, They’ll Be Fine

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If the Caps Stay the Course, They’ll Be Fine

Posted on 02 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The Capitals lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night, 4-3, their fourth loss in their last five games, to drop to 4-4-2 after 10 games.

If you go by the pulse on twitter from many Caps fans afterwards you’d think the sky is falling and the team is doomed.

I’ll admit this, I didn’t watch the Caps game in its entirety live, I had tickets to take my wife and kids to Frozen On Ice in Baltimore so I came home and watched the contest after the fact.

My first impression: how the heck did the Caps lose this one?

They out shot attempted the Bolts, 57-46, and more importantly, they had close to double the number of chances Tampa had.

Some of the pulse on twitter was to blame Braden Holtby.

Seriously? If not for some ten bell saves by #70 at crucial times, the Caps could’ve been down two pucks on several occasions.

Watching the four goals against closely, he was not the primary player at fault on ANY of them. The first goal was a defensive turnover that led to poor coverage. Note that noone is on Ryan Callahan as he deflects that shot home. On the second tally, the Caps blow coverage and the Tampa player has an empty net. The third goal was a deflection in front where the Caps defense fails to box out or at least tie up the stick of the Bolts forward. Finally, on the game winner, the Capitals cleanly lose a d-zone draw and the puck hits a Caps player on the way into the net.

That’s three deflections and an empty net goal. I counted at least six huge stops by Holtby in this game so blaming him is just wrong, in my book.

If there is anything to criticize, it is the Capitals inability to protect their own net well and they also have been prone to the deadly turnover in their own zone.

At the other end of the ice, Washington basically stormed the castle. If not for missed shots and some fortuitous saves by Ben Bishop, the Caps could’ve had AT LEAST six goals. They hit four posts in this one and missed the cage on some great open looks.

Bottom line is the Caps dominated this game and should’ve won. They lost because of bad PDO as ace analytics man Neil Greenberg would call it, or crummy puck luck, in layman’s terms.

This 2014-15 Capitals club is a way better puck possession team than those from the last several years, the statistics bear that out. Unfortunately they are struggling to finish their chances right now. But that should change and the number of critical turnovers will likely decrease. If there is something Coach Barry Trotz may want to rethink, it’s how the defense plays opposing forwards around their own net. The Capitals need to be stronger on the opponent there and not give them free reign to the cage for deflections or rebound chances. It’s harder to achieve in the modern NHL because of the rules, but it is doable.

Overall, they’ve been in every game but from a points standpoint are a .500 club. The schedule has been tough, Tampa has the most regulation or overtime wins in the conference and Detroit is rolling right now. The Caps carried the play against both of them this week, and lost.

Tough stretches happen and good teams work their way out of it and become great teams (see the 2000 Baltimore Ravens who went five weeks without a TD but ended up winning the Super Bowl). The Capitals have a lot of talent on their roster, some of it extremely young. But they have a super blue line and that is why you are seeing the strong puck possession numbers.

So to me, the key for Coach Trotz, Alex Ovechkin, and the rest of the team is to stay the course. Just because you lost four of five games don’t go crazy and make drastic changes. Keep the overall plan and make some minor tweaks.

If they do that and keep dominating possession, then the biscuit will start bouncing their way and the wins will come, in bunches.

I predicted this team would win the Metropolitan Division and I still believe in that, if they stick with the game plan and keep working hard to get better.

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

We are 10 games in and this team has been right there in every tilt. That hasn’t been the case in the last few years.

It’s a long season and the best team in October rarely wins the Stanley Cup.

Patience everyone, patience!

Notes: The Caps are home against the Arizona Coyotes at 7 pm on Sunday night…Ovechkin had his first point in six games when Marcus Johansson buried the Gr8′s rebound in the first period…Washington was 1 for 2 on the power play and they killed off both Tampa man advantage situations.

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Caps Give Game Away to Wings

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Caps Give Game Away to Wings

Posted on 30 October 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals did several good things on Wednesday night against the Detroit Red Wings.

They dominated the Wings for nearly two periods and won the puck possession battle, out shot attempting Detroit, 58-42, overall.

But the Caps made some glaring mistakes, including some awful turnovers, and as a result they lost, 4-2, and now fall to 4-3-2 through nine games.

The stat of the night was the 10-3 deficit in the giveaway column and three of those 10 led to quality scoring chances and goals for the Wings.

Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky, and John Carlson had the misplays that did the most damage, but give Detroit credit, especially on the 2nd and 3rd goals as the talented Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk were instrumental in those markers. In addition, Datsyuk ended any chance of a Capitals comeback notching the fourth Detroit tally on the power play by taking advantage of Washington having Evgeny Kuzentsov out on the penalty kill (he got stuck on at the end of a 4 on 4 situation). Bottom line is Datsyuk and Zetterberg are elite NHL players and if you don’t play properly against them, they will defeat you.

Alexander Ovechkin was held without a point for the fifth straight game. That’s concerning and the Gr8 could help his cause by going to the front of the net and using his size and strength for some gritty type goals. Ovi did have 13 shot attempts, 7 of which were on net, so he had chances.

Still, the way the Caps are dominating puck possession is a good sign. The upgrades to the Caps blue line hasn’t gone unnoticed, at least by Wings Coach Mike Babcock.

“I didn’t think we were very good early. I thought they skated way better than us. [Washington] spent a lot of money in the off season to improve their back-end, and they’ve done that,” stated Babcock after the contest (it is believed that Detroit was in both the Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen sweepstakes, only to lose them to the Caps).

Burakovsky, who is only 19, made some super plays in spite of his mistake on Detroit’s second goal. He is big and plays fast. His speed and ability to carry the puck led to the Capitals second goal by Troy Brouwer, who buried a sweet no look pass from Carlson after Burakovsky had the entire Detroit crew chasing him.

Kuznetsov scored Washington’s first tally following a great breakout pass by Braden Holtby to Joel Ward. Kuzy is getting better each game with the North American rink. As for Holtby, he was hung out to dry a few times but Trotz would’ve liked to have seen him stop the winning tally. Holtby was super at moving the puck and #70 told me that there isn’t more emphasis on moving the puck from past regimes, however, he did say the team was more aware of that play and are on the same page. So that’s a good sign going forward because having a goalie that can play the puck so well is like having a third defensemen on the ice.

At the end of the night, the Capitals new look and style is being recognized by their opponents.

“In the first period, I thought, [Washington] took it to us there. They played a good period. They’re playing really hard, they’re playing a little different style than they’re used to playing. Before it was more wide open but you see that Trotz came in and really has them playing hard,” said Justin Abdelkader, who scored twice for Detroit.

Still, puck possession only takes you so far if you don’t finish your chances, and the Capitals missed several good looks. Jimmy Howard (25 saves) made some timely stops, as well. In addition, you cannot have the glaring mistakes that Washington has been making lately. The team has to play hard, but also smart.

The Caps are struggling right now, having dropped three of their last four games, but Trotz sees this as a chance to overcome some adversity and be better for it in the long run.

“When [things] are not coming easy, the thing is to keep guys focused on not trying to cheat and trying to look for the easy way out of things. You’ve just got to put your nose to the grindstone and plow through it. If you can get everybody on the same page plowing through a bit of adversity, when you get through that adversity you become a better group,” finished Trotz.

It sounds simple, but looking for the quick fix is human nature, so it will be very important for this talented team to stay the course and pay extra attention to Coach Trotz so they can build on the good things they are doing and minimize the mistakes.

It’s a work in progress.

Notes: Detroit had a clear goal wiped out to start the game when the referees called a phantom interference penalty on Luke Glendening. That zebra miscue led to a very weird first period. Bottom line is the referees must be better. I’ve seen several games around the league this season where the officiating has been subpar…there were only 40 faceoffs in the contest and the teams split them. Burakovsky was 5-1 for Washington…Ovechkin, Brooks Orpik, and Nicklas Backstrom were all -2. Ovi and Backstrom were not on the same line until the 3rd period…Tom Wilson made his season debut and only played 8:14. His timing was noticeably and understandably off…next up for the Caps is the Lightning in Tampa on Saturday night.

 

 

 

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps Over Devils, 6-2

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps Over Devils, 6-2

Posted on 16 October 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Barry Trotz frequently calls the NHL a “Shoot First” league.

On Thursday night at the Verizon Center, his players took his advice and were rewarded with six biscuits in the basket in what became a 6-2 rout of the previously undefeated New Jersey Devils (3-1). Alex Ovechkin, Chris Brown, Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom, Joel Ward, and Andre Burakovsky all notched goals and Braden Holtby was outstanding stopping 26 of 28 shots.

Seriously, if Holtby is not dead on his game in the first frame, this contest could have easily gone differently. The only two markers #70 allowed were through traffic and he routinely made the big save in the first 30 minutes until the Capitals wore out the oldest team in the league over the last half of the game. Holtby’s arm save on Jaromir Jagr was highlight reel material and it came with the game tied at two (special thanks to my friends at Russian Machine Never Breaks for the picture of that save). Jagr was in total disbelief after that stop.

After being out shot attempted 29-13 in period one, the Capitals turned the tables on New Jersey going 43-27 over the last two frames. Washington is well on their way to being a puck possession team again, especially if they keep heeding the wisdom of Trotz.

Johansson, who has been known mostly as a passer since he came into the league in 2010, unleashed a filthy snap shot by Cory Schneider in the middle frame to notch the game winner. In the past, MJ90 may have tried to make a move or looked to dish the puck, but instead, under the prodding of his coach, he is firing away. Good things happen when you shoot.

Positive things also happen from winning the board battles and the Capitals are doing much better there this season. Brooks Laich’s hard work on the wall allowed Johansson to receive the puck in a prime scoring position. It’s the little things that win hockey games and this club is doing more of that so far.

So the Caps are now 2-0-2 with the only two losses coming in the gimmick. They trail the New York Islanders (4-0) by two points in the Metropolitan Division.

But it is too early to be checking the standings. It’s a time to build on an early strong work ethic and continue to listen to an experienced coach who has this Capitals team playing as a unit unlike we’ve seen in several seasons. A strong blue line is making a huge difference and the Caps now are a team that can break the puck out of their own end smoothly and generate quick offense. Sure, there are still moments where they get hemmed in, like we saw in the first frame, but they are learning that if they keep playing the system they will eventually win out.

Things are looking up and the vibe around the team and players is so much more positive than it has been in several years.

The key now is to keep working hard and stay the course.

Notes: John Carlson led the Caps in ice time at 21:23. That’s a low total and it is a product of the depth on defense and the fact that the Capitals pulled away in the 3rd period…12 Caps had points in this one…Andre Burakovsky scored his 2nd goal of the season in the 3rd period with an amazing wrist shot and Chris Brown’s goal in the first frame was a laser over the shoulder of Schneider…next up for the Caps are the Florida Panthers at the Verizon Center on Saturday night at 7pm.

 

 

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Ovechkin and Caps Off to a Fast Start

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Ovechkin and Caps Off to a Fast Start

Posted on 15 October 2014 by Ed Frankovic

On Tuesday night at the Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals rallied from a 3-0 first period deficit to force a 5-5 tie before ultimately losing in the gimmick to one of the best teams in the NHL, the San Jose Sharks. It was a thrilling game in which Alexander Ovechkin was the best player on the ice notching two goals and an assist. After three tilts the Capitals are 1-0-2, losing both games in the shootout, and the Gr8 has four goals and an assist over that span.

If you’ve watched the first three games of the Washington Capitals season, then you’ve seen the night and day difference in this hockey club from Caps teams in recent years. The blue line depth is something this organization has not seen in the Ovechkin era and Coach Barry Trotz has the personnel playing to their strengths and easily allowing elite players like the Gr8 and Mike Green to buy in, something that numerous people in the hockey media questioned prior to the season. Ovechkin went down to block a shot in the first period, added another block later on, had 14 shot attempts (including 8 on Antti Niemi), and five hits to go with his offensive output. He was more than worth the price of admission on Tuesday night.

After Ovechkin, in the game against the Sharks, the next best player on the rink was Green. #52 was absolutely fabulous with a goal, an assist, and it was his pass to Jason Chimera down the left wing boards that sprung #25 allowing him to draw a key penalty that led to Ovechkin’s goal that brought this one to 5-4 with just under six minutes left. Green would then feed Troy Brouwer less than two minutes later down the left wing boards for the game tying tally prompting the Verizon Center to erupt.

Simply put, if Green continues to play like he’s done in his first two games this Capitals club is going to be very, very good.

Why do I see Green continuing to play at the top of his game?

First, he’s being afforded the freedom to play to his strengths, which is carrying the puck and creating offense and space for his teammates.

“I think he doesn’t limit you, you obviously have to play within the system but he wants you to create and do the things you do well as a player and he encourages that,” said Green when asked about Trotz allowing creativity in contrast to the “five foot rule” that Adam Oates preferred the past two seasons.

Second, he’s in a system that will bring out the best in his defensive side of the ice.

“I feel good, the system and the way we play is very detailed and yet very easy to play. Although there is a lot of thinking, it’s great for the defensemen what they’re asking of us, and I feel very comfortable. There’s a plan for every situation on the ice and it’s just a matter of executing,” added Green.

Third, with the addition of Matt Niskanen, along with 2014 Team USA Olympian John Carlson, the Capitals are loaded on the right side of the blue line. Therefore, Game Over Greenie doesn’t have to log all of the hard minutes like he’s had to do in the past. Green only played 22:08 of the 65 minutes, but because of that, he was super fresh down the stretch and he was a major difference maker in the Capitals comeback.

“It’s great, I felt like I played a lot, I’m not sure how much, but I still had my legs at the end of the game, even in overtime, so when in the past maybe you’re playing a little bit more and there is more responsibility on yourself, but there’s three guys that can play, so it’s great,” said Green about the ability of the team to spread the ice time on defense.

Overall, Green looks to be as happy as I’ve seen him in several years thanks to the deep blue line that GM Brian MacLellan has assembled for 2014-15.

“Absolutely, the depth we have is incredible. It’s just a matter of being consistent every night,” finished Green.

Consistency is always an issue in hockey. The Capitals had some problems there on Tuesday, falling behind 3-0 in the first 10 minutes. Braden Holtby, who had thwarted 52 of 53 shots in the first two games, was unable to come up with a big save after some Capitals turnovers and was replaced by Justin Peters. Peters allowed two goals on 16 shots but he yielded juicy rebounds on both tallies against him. In addition, there were missed passes and mistakes by different players. Evgeny Kuznetsov, who overall had a strong game (1 assist), missed a breakout pass from Brooks Orpik that was right on his stick and that directly led to John Scott’s tally that made it 3-0. Those mistakes should get cleaned up over time, especially ones by younger players like Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky (1 assist).

Still, you have to be pleased with the way this team held together mentally and didn’t pack it in when it was 3-0, 4-1, and even 5-3 early in period three. The club is talented and believes in the system they are playing which aids their ability to rally.

So it’s three games in and the Capitals have yet to be defeated prior to the gimmick. The four points in the three games have all come against 2013-14 playoff teams so it’s fair to say Washington is off to a fast start.

This club has a lot of skill and a talented blue line. The depth on defense is something this organization has lacked in recent years and is a major reason why I see the team continuing to improve.

Notes: Despite Carlson (two assists) having a rough first 50+ minutes, #74 didn’t let that bother him and he was pretty much a one man penalty killing unit at the end of regulation and early in overtime as Washington survived a Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) high stick…the Caps were smoked at the dot, 13-5, in the first frame but rallied to finish 32-33 for the night…shot attempts were 71-56 in favor of the Capitals, who dominated puck possession for much of the last 55 minutes…Niskanen led the Capitals and Sharks in ice time with 26:47 and he was superb at both ends of the rink…the Caps next game is Thursday night at 7 pm against the New Jersey Devils at the Verizon Center.

 

 

 

 

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Caps Should Win the Metro This Year

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Caps Should Win the Metro This Year

Posted on 08 October 2014 by Ed Frankovic

On Thursday night the Washington Capitals open up their regular season against the Montreal Canadiens at 7 pm at the Verizon Center celebrating 40 years as a franchise. As a nine year old kid who didn’t know a whole lot about hockey, my father, who had a sports radio show on WLMD at the time, started taking me to Caps games that first season. Boy were the Capitals bad and there were many nights when simply icing the puck could be considered a good play. To me, it’s fitting that the Caps are opening this 40 year anniversary season against Montreal, a team that thoroughly dominated the Capitals in the 1970′s. But Montreal, who had the great Guy Lafleur and Ken Dryden, manhandled everyone back then winning four straight Stanley Cups from 1976 to 1979.

Fast forward to 2014 and that nine year old kid is now a nearly 50 year old man who has watched this Capitals franchise go through it’s peaks and valleys. There were the seemingly hopeless 70′s followed by Stanley Cup aspirations in the 80′s and 90′s before things came crashing down in the early 2000′s. But then along came Alexander Ovechkin in 2005 and things started to turn around so much so that the term “Stanley Cup contender” was uttered by Capitals hockey fans once again in 2008 through 2010.

However, the failings of the previous GM to address a decaying blue line and his inability to bring in an experienced coach led to major changes after four straight seasons of mediocre hockey, at best. Clearly a new direction was sorely needed.

Enter new coach Barry Trotz, who cut his teeth in the Caps organization in the early 90′s, plus promoted GM Brian MacLellan and 2014-15 takes on a whole new outlook. It is one that I’m very optimistic about for several reasons, as outlined in this blog two weeks ago.

The saying that “Defense Wins Championship” is thrown around for a reason and simply put, the Caps haven’t had the talent nor the will or wherewithal to play defense for a long time. It was a side of the ice that this franchise, which has a proud history of great blue liners from Rod Langway to Scott Stevens to Kevin Hatcher, neglected terribly during the George McPhee era. But those days are over and with MacLellan and Trotz running the ship, you can bet that things will be different this year.

They’ve brought in top four defensive talent in Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik to go with Trotz’ ability to devise systems to minimize the amount of times the red light goes on behind it’s goaltender. Floating and gliding in the defensive zone should be a thing of the past in Washington. Those great Caps teams from the 80′s and 90′s that featured super blue lines didn’t lose due to defense, it was often the result of a weak offensive punch and/or subpar goaltending.

With Ovechkin, the Caps will always have a player who can put the biscuit in the basket and pre-season has shown us that there is some serious talent developing to help him in Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky. The 2010 and 2013 first round picks, respectively, are highly skilled players that should blossom into top six forwards. How quickly that happens will help determine how successful the Capitals are in 2014-15.

Nicklas Backstrom returns for his 8th season and he is an outstanding center that doesn’t get the credit he deserves from the media around the league. Ask Trotz about Backstrom and he almost becomes like a kid in a candy store. #19 is a super two way player that should take another step forward under this new regime.

So what should we expect from the Caps this year and what did we learn from the eight pre-season games?

Let’s start with the pre-season. Niskanen showed exactly why the Capitals opened up the bank to sign him. He’s a strong two way defensemen who knows when to pinch at the point and also when to take the body in the defensive zone. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with him and think he’ll have a monster season. Burakovsky was the surprise of camp for how quickly he’s adapted to the pro game. He is big, is an excellent skater, and has some of the best hands I’ve ever seen. If this kid is coached properly and has the right attitude the sky is the limit for him. As for Kuznetsov, he took some heat in pre-season but I liked the way he stood up against the big and physical teams like Boston and Philly. Kuzy is not easy to move off of the puck. The key for #92 will be learning how to play in his own zone, but that’s something this whole team needs to improve on. I’ve seen signs of this team being better away from the puck under Trotz and I’m hopeful that we’ll see more progression in that department right away. In years past, the Caps lack of ability to play away from the puck is a big factor in why they’ve been in the bottom half of the league in puck possession.

Other things that stood out in pre-season were fourth liners Chris Brown and Liam O’Brien. These two guys are big and have some offensive skill, which is what you need from your fourth line. Last season the Capitals did not have a good fourth unit but that should change in 2014-15. On the disappointing end of things, I did not like that Mike Green was injured again. #52 took a huge hit behind the net in the 3rd period against Boston and hasn’t played since that tilt. Green is now in his ninth pro season and if he keeps taking hits like that he’ll end up spending long stretches of time on injured reserve. Assistant coach Todd Rierden and Trotz need to get #52 to learn how to avoid those crushing blows. If they can do that, the Capitals will have a daunting right side of their blue line in Niskanen, Green, and John Carlson.

So how will the Capitals do in 2014-15?

I’m predicting a Metropolitan Division title. The additions on defense, combined with the young offensive skill and new coach should make the Capitals a lot better. Pittsburgh and the Rangers have lost players and gotten worse this summer while Columbus could very well be derailed by the Ryan Johansen holdout that was finally resolved on Tuesday. The Flyers overachieved last season and I’m not buying on the Islanders. I do think the Devils will be better than people think but Carolina is very likely to finish in 8th place.

But just because the Caps have upgraded their talent significantly and they have a new bench boss doesn’t mean they will win the division. This club has to learn to become a team and work hard. They need to be accountable and focused. That has been missing for several years.

The division and a super season are there for the taking for the Caps, but they need to be dedicated to their craft and show a sense of urgency.

To quote George Allen: “The Future is Now.”

Your move Ovechkin and company.

 

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How Are the Caps Evolving Under Barry Trotz?

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How Are the Caps Evolving Under Barry Trotz?

Posted on 27 September 2014 by Ed Frankovic

After only eight days and four pre-season games, it’s too early to tangibly see the impact new Coach Barry Trotz is having on the Washington Capitals, but rest assured, “change” is occurring. In the fourth installment of an eight game exhibition set, the Caps knocked off the Boston Bruins, 5-4, on Troy Brouwer’s overtime marker. The win included two Alex Ovechkin power play goals.

Neither squad fielded their full regular season lineup in an entertaining tilt that saw Washington rally from a 4-2 deficit, something Trotz was very pleased about afterwards.

“One thing I liked about our team tonight, we had mud in our faces; sand kicked in our faces there. We were down by two goals. It’s easy to go, ‘Oh, it’s preseason. Let’s play this out.’ We didn’t do that. We stayed on it, we chipped away and we got ourselves… if this was a regular season win that would have been a real big win. Those are the learning things that we have to learn. Let’s make it easy on ourselves. If we don’t turn those pucks over, then we’ve got a chance to get points every night.”

Turnovers were certainly an issue for the Caps in the first two periods combined with some poor defensive coverage, at times. The new bench boss attributed the miscues to individual play and poor decisions, citing that it’s just a matter of not trying the low percentage play. Matt Niskanen had a bad giveaway on the Bruins second goal but overall, #2 was excellent on the blue line for Washington. He kept pucks in the offensive zone at the point on several occasions, including one on the game tying goal by Liam O’Brien. With Niskanen, John Carlson, and Mike Green the Caps have a set of right handed d-men that arguably are as good as any other team in the NHL.

So how is the team adapting to Coach Trotz and what is different from previous regimes?

WNST chatted with Steve Olesky following the game to get his take on that.

WNST: What are your thoughts on the big transition and what can be done in just eight days, including four preseason games?

Oleksy: It’s hard, I think they’ve done a great job of taking the time through video and on-ice teaching us the systems, but with the number of guys that came into camp, the start of camp you’ve got three teams, it’s hard for everybody to get the reps they need to feel comfortable with the new systems. I think through the four exhibition games now, we’ve gotten stronger and more comfortable with the new systems.

WNST: What do you think is the biggest change?

Oleksy: I think one of the biggest changes is how aggressive we play and it’s more defensive minded, which I think in the long run is going to be really successful for us. Obviously everybody talks we have great offense and we’re going to get our chances and we’re going to score, but limiting their chances. As we do feel more comfortable with the systems I think we will cut those chances down even more.

WNST: As defensemen, what’s different? What strategy does Barry prefer you do in front of the net, front shots or box out?

Oleksy: He wants us fronting shots, which I think is going to play to our advantage as well. We’ve got a lot of fast guys up front and as defensemen, if we can step in front of a shot and knock it down and spring them with their speed that’s going to create chances. That’s a new change for us and then obviously taking care of the house, protecting the net and playing hard there will limit a lot of those rebound goals, those second and third chance goals that I think we’ve given up in the past.

WNST: Is there anything different on the break out?

Oleksy: It’s pretty similar, he wants us to feel comfortable. At this level, I think everybody thinks the game well enough to make hockey decisions. He puts that in our hands, which is nice, that way you are giving teams different looks and it’s not so robotic. I think that’s a good thing for us, especially with the skill there on the back end between guys like Niskanen, Green, Carlson and over on the left hand side with Alzner and Hillen. I think when you let those guys get creative I think they are going to create a lot of offense too.

What’s most interesting in those quotes from Oleksy is the “not so robotic” statement. Some thought that a guy like Trotz would come in and employ a rigid system that was not flexible, yet clearly he is adapting things to fit his talent. The Capitals have a lot of skill and Trotz realizes he has to maximize it.

So with just 12 days until the season opener on October 9th, the Capitals are evolving, but they have a lot of work left to do to make sure they come out of the gate quickly and put a terrible 2013-14 campaign behind them.

Notes: Brouwer had the game winner but Trotz noted he had heavy legs on Friday night. That was obvious as Evgeny Kuznetsov looked pretty good as second line center but with #20 being fatigued and Brooks Laich still trying to get his timing back, the line just didn’t work well for 40 minutes and Trotz took Laich off of the line and inserted Chris Conner…the Caps were 27-31 on faceoffs but outshot Boston 29-23. Total shot attempts were 55-45 in favor of the Caps.

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