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Caps Not Focused in Loss To Pens

Posted on 26 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

There are some nights where a hockey team just looks out of sync.

On Wednesday night versus the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Washington Capitals were guilty as charged.

The Caps had another lackluster start to a game, provided the Pens with six power play opportunities, gave up a shorthanded tally, and struggled to make passes in a 4-3 loss to the Pens at the Verizon Center on Rivalry Night on NBCSN.

It was a poor performance in an ugly game in which Coach Barry Trotz said his team was not focused.

“I didn’t like our start. I thought Pittsburgh established their forecheck real early. We were sluggish out of the gate, and it showed…We actually drew three penalties and it showed on our power play. We weren’t sharp the way we needed to be. I thought we took all bad penalties, unnecessary penalties. I mean you can get momentum off the penalty kill, but we’d get momentum off a penalty kill and then we’d take another penalty. Those are just unacceptable for me. You’re not going to win hockey games,” said the Caps bench boss afterwards.

The Capitals were pretty bad on Wednesday while the Penguins came out trying to avenge their three losses by a combined score of 10-1 to the Caps in 2014-15. They clearly dominated the first 30 minutes and Evgeni Malkin (3 assists) was flying all night. Pittsburgh was the better team and deserved to win.

Even still, the Penguins Marc Andre-Fleury took a stupid and selfish penalty late allowing Alex Ovechkin to notch his NHL leading 39th goal and pull Washington to within a puck with 3:34 remaining. The Caps would surge, but it was too late.

Still, given the emphasis Pittsburgh put on this game and how poorly Washington looked, the Caps have to be encouraged that they still only lost by a goal.

“Well I think that we are a lot more relentless than we have been. We have a lot of great players, lot of skill, guys that are willing to battle to at least get it close, and we hate losing. So, that’s nice, but we just needed one more at the end,” added Karl Alzner when asked about why this Caps team is able to hang around in games when they don’t have anywhere close to their “A” game.

On the flip side, the Penguins should be concerned. Their defense is fairly soft and they have to rely heavily on their top players. On Wednesday Malkin and Sidney Crosby were better than Washington’s top players for the first time in four tries.

The Caps have not looked focused since going into a defensive shell in Saturday’s shootout win over the Islanders. Could it be that the NHL trade deadline, which is on Monday, March 2nd, is causing a distraction? Trotz didn’t think it should be a distraction for the Capitals players because in his words, the team is trying to “add players.” But each player deals with it differently, which defensemen Matt Niskanen pointed out to me following the defeat.

“I think it’s different for everyone, it depends on your situation…it can be a real nervous time. Some guys like to follow it on TSN, the internet, or whatever, stay up to date and be prepared. Some guys don’t even want to look or would rather not know,” said Niskanen.

The question then posed to Niskanen was could the NHL trade deadline cause players or a team to lose it’s focus?

“Yeah, potentially it could be, I think. I think inevitably there is a lot going on in some people’s minds and potentially could draw some of the energy right out of you, you’re worried about other things rather than just playing your best. You’re wondering if they’re shopping you, it could potentially weigh on some guys,” finished #2.

Whatever the case may be, and there are some players on the Caps who could potentially be moved out to bring players in given Washington’s salary cap situation, the Capitals have not played well over the last 120 minutes or so.

They lost as a team on Wednesday with a poor performance to a club that was out for some revenge and wanted it more.

They played lousy and still only lost 4-3.

There’s no use worrying about it now, it’s over and done with and time to look forward.

Washington drops to 33-19-10 (76 points) and trails the Islanders, Rangers, and Penguins by six, four and three points, respectively. Next up are the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday in Raleigh and then the Toronto Maple Leafs at home on Sunday night at 7pm. Both of those clubs are in tank mode so the Capitals should get two victories.

Notes: Both teams were 1 for 6 on the power play, but the Pens added a shorthanded goal…Shot attempts were 56-53 in favor of the Capitals…shots on goal favored the Pens, 26-24…Nicklas Backstrom led the Caps in ice time with 24:16 while Kris Letang logged 29:53 for Pittsburgh.

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Caps Lose Game & Season Series to the Flyers

Posted on 22 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

1-2-1.

That is the Capitals final 2014-15 record against the Philadelphia Flyers following Sunday’s 3-2 defeat in Filthy.

That is unacceptable to Capitals fans, plain and simple.

The good news is despite the lousy and very lackluster efforts the Caps exhibited versus their despised rivals from up I-95, Washington will return to the post season this spring while Claude Giroux and company will most likely start slapping Titleist’s around once the regular season ends.

Still, Sunday’s effort was terrible, especially the first period. Perhaps the fact that some crazy Flyers fan pulled the fire alarm at the team hotel at 1:30 am messed the Capitals up today and caused them to play a sleepy game? Or maybe the Flyers match up well with the Caps? Or perhaps the line up that Coach Barry Trotz iced today caused the team to be out of sync?

I’ll go with questions number one and number three from above.

The Flyers are not a good team and their defense is weak. The Capitals should cream these guys assuming they stay out of the box.

There’s one big problem from Sunday, the Caps took too many early penalties and as a result the Flyers scored their first two goals on the power play, the second of which was on a five on three, to take a 2-0 lead.

As for the Washington power play, well it stunk to high heaven on Sunday going 0 for 5 against the 28th ranked PK unit in the league.  Assistant coach Blaine Forsythe has some work to do with that group because too many pucks were being forced to Alex Ovechkin when there were other openings. The team also needs to learn to just simplify and shoot with traffic. The 6 on 4 at the end of the game was absolutely putrid.

It also helps if you have your line up in sync and the one Trotz put out there on Sunday smelled like the city they were playing in. Out was Andre Burakovsky and in went Michael Latta. A top line that dominated on Saturday against the Islanders until the coaches stopped playing them late in regulation was transformed into one that started with Jay Beagle on right wing, but he took a penalty on the opening shift. Marcus Johansson, who was subpar on line number two on Saturday, then moved to the top unit thereafter and didn’t play well there either.

In addition, Cameron Schilling was put in on the third defensive pairing while Jack Hillen was scratched. Trotz told the media afterwards that they are evaluating depth options on defense in preparation for next Monday’s trade deadline (March 2nd). So I’m okay with that one, but the Burakovsky move and subsequent domino effect is a head scratcher.

In the last seven games that #65 has played the Capitals are 7-0-0 and he is a +8, with no minus games. Burakovsky has been strong on the puck and has the high end talent to play with the highly skilled Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. The analytics seem to support the value Burakovsky provides to the team’s puck possession statistics, as well. On the contrary, when Jason Chimera has been in the lineup the last six times the Caps are 3-3 and he is -2 with no plus games. Still, there we were late in the Flyers game down a goal and Chimera is out on the power play while Burakovsky is up eating nachos in the press box. In addition, Chimera had 1:27 of man advantage time while Eric Fehr received none. Makes little sense to me.

Thankfully there are only eight days until the trade deadline and then after that the Capitals hopefully finalize their roster and stop with this revolving door of a lineup. Washington needs to build some continuity and confidence over the last month plus of the season so they are ready for the playoffs in a wide open Eastern Conference.

On Sunday, they did nothing of the sort and Michael Del Zotto, who was key in the Rangers playoffs series wins over the Caps in 2012 and 2013, scored the game winner to send Washington with their tails between their legs on the train back to DC.

Trotz has done a lot of good things with this team in bringing them together, getting them to commit to the new system, getting Braden Holtby back on track, and solidifying the blue line, but when it comes to lineup choices and stability as well as late game decision making, that’s where he and his staff need to improve if the Capitals want to go deep in the post season.

Make no mistake about this, the Capitals are an infinitely better team than they were a season ago under the horrible Adam Oates experiment that was made worse by some terrible personnel moves by the departed George McPhee. Trotz and GM Brian MacLellan have done a super job of turning things around. Kudos to them for what they’ve done and the high expectations the fan base has are a result of their immediate success.

However, everyone can improve and there are still no Stanley Cup banners hanging from the Verizon Center ceiling. This team has the potential to make a run at the Cup but they have to properly use their assets. The coaching staff has done a lot of good things, but they can still be better. Hopefully they are learning what doesn’t work when leading, like shortening the bench and not playing Mike Green and Alex Ovechkin, who are top puck possessors. In addition, icing the best possible lineup is something that can be improved upon, which means putting skill players like Burakovsky in the top six and slotting the bottom six guys where they belong.

1-2-1 against the Flyers. I don’t like it at all.

But Wednesday they have a chance to go 4-0 against the Penguins. Doing that would make the fan base feel a lot better about their despicable performance against the Flyers this season.

Still, it’s all about the playoffs and that’s where the coaches need to be focused and improve in the aforementioned areas.

Notes: The Caps fall to 33-18-10 and back to 4th place in the Metropolitan Division…Ovechkin led the Caps in ice time with 23:46, but he and Backstrom were held pointless…Holtby made 25 saves and appeared to be interfered with on the game winning goal, but that was set up by a terrible Capitals line change that gave Del Zotto far too much room…shot attempts were even at 54 for this one but the Flyers had more on net, 28-23.

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Caps Win Fourth Straight for 1st Time in 2014-15

Posted on 21 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

In a very well played hockey game, by both teams, the Washington Capitals won their fourth straight by besting the first place New York Islanders, 3-2, in the gimmick.

Both goaltenders, Braden Holtby (30 saves) and Chad Johnson (25 saves), had strong outings and it was the Islanders back up who made some big saves to keep his club in it in the middle frame.

Unlike the Penguins game on Tuesday, this was an extremely well officiated game and both teams only had one power play each. When Dave Jackson referees a contest, you usually get a good one, primarily because the players know what to expect and Jackson typically lets them decide the outcome. Kudos Dave and a hat tip to Steve Kozari, who fell in line and called one of his best games too.

With the limited power play time we were able to see two strong five on five teams duke it out. Washington had the edge for most of the contest and when Eric Fehr scored off of a sweet drop pass from Brooks Laich with 5:34 remaining it sure looked like the Capitals were going to win this one in regulation and pull to within three points of the Metro Division leading Islanders.

But then the Capitals coaching staff made some terrible player deployments and gifted New York a point by playing what football fans would call the prevent defense. From the 5:34 mark to the :48 time when Ryan Strome tied the game the Islanders had 14 straight shot attempts!

Yup, you got it, the Capitals didn’t fire a single biscuit towards the Isles cage. The main reason for that was some poor decisions by the coaches. Instead of playing Alexander Ovechkin’s line, he put out the possession black hole unit of Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Troy Brouwer the second shift after Fehr’s tally. That unit would get stuck on the ice for nearly two minutes. Somehow the Caps survived, but then Trotz chose not to use Ovechkin and Mike Green (was on for seven seconds) for the final three minutes until the Islanders scored. Ovechkin and Green are two of the top puck possession players on the Capitals roster, but for some reason the bench crew used others over them down the stretch. Even Jason Chimera logged 70 seconds in two shifts once it was 2-1 Caps instead of the Gr8 or Game Over Greenie. So that’s 0:00 ice time for Ovechkin and 0:07 of ice time for #52 once the Capitals led.

That’s unthinkable and I’ve blogged about the misuse of Green before, back in January, when the Caps get a lead.

My simple message to Coach Barry Trotz and the Capitals coaches is this: Play your best players late in the game!

Going all defense is just that, you’ll be playing defense and just giving the other club more chances to tie things up. At least if you put your best players out there you have a better chance of being in the offensive zone and increasing your lead.

Oh well, that’s my rant on this victory, which should have come in regulation.

Still, it was a solid performance by the Caps, even though the Isles went with their backup goalie (but he was super) and are still missing Kyle Okposo and Mikhail Grabovski up front. With the two points the Capitals move to 33-17-10 (76 points). The Caps ended up going 2-0-2 against the Islanders this season while New York was 2-1-1 with their two victories coming in OT on 4 on 3 power plays. If these two teams meet in the post season, it should be a razor close series.

A win is a win is a win, and Caps fans, coaches and players will be happy with it, but let’s be honest, playing the prevent defense late in the game is a recipe for disaster that needs to be shredded by the coaching staff before the playoffs begin.

Washington will travel to Philadelphia through the snow to take on the Flyers at 12:30 on NBC on Sunday. The Flyers have been hot lately and have pulled within four points of a playoff spot (Boston is in 8th with 65 points) while the Caps are firmly entrenched in a spot for the Stanley Cup battle this spring. The Caps are 1-1-1 versus the Broad Street Bullies this season.

Notes: Shot attempts favored the Islanders 75-67, but that was because of the 14-0 late run that New York was given to tie the game…the Caps won the face off battle 38-34 but they lost three straight defensive zone key ones when New York had the goalie pulled…Matt Niskanen, who scored the Caps first goal, was the ice time leader with 25:37…Travis Hamonic, who opened the scoring, led the Isles in ice time with 25:17.

 

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Backstrom and Ovechkin Keep Caps Rolling in Win Over Jets

Posted on 19 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

For the first time since February 8th, the Nation’s Capital had their Dynamic Duo back in town at the Verizon Center, and boy did those two put on a hockey clinic.

Nicklas Backstrom scored twice and added an assist while Alexander Ovechkin had a goal and an assist as the Washington Capitals trounced the Winnipeg Jets, 5-1, on Thursday night.

Backstrom is now tied for the NHL lead in points (Patrick Kane) with 63 while leading the league in assists with 45. Ovechkin now has 38 goals to lead the NHL and he has 61 points, 3rd best in the NHL.

This had the makings of a classic trap game since it was Washington’s first home game after a cross country four game road trip.

But Coach Barry Trotz’ crew displayed some good mental fortitude and showed up to play from the opening drop of the puck. The Caps tallied 14 minutes in on a John Carlson power play blast that looked to be deflected along the way. Then Ovechkin made an amazing play on the left wing to make it 2-0 with 1:25 to go in the opening frame.

Those two first period markers were ultra important because it brought the Verizon Center to life and the Caps were 18-1-2 when leading after 20 minutes (h/t Mike Vogel). Winnipeg would get a fluky goal to cut it to 2-1 but then the Jets, who are the most penalized team in the NHL, did what they do best, started a parade to the penalty box to feel shame. Winnipeg took four penalties in a row and the Caps scored twice, both times with a delayed penalty being signaled. Backstrom made it 3-1 when he was simply trying to get the puck to the goalie to start a five on three (good things happen when you shoot) and then Marcus Johansson and Ovechkin fed #19 beautifully for the 4th goal with the Jets about to be whistled for too many dudes on the ice.

Troy Brouwer would add a shorthanded empty net goal with 6:27 remaining to seal the deal for Washington.

Braden Holtby was strong, when needed, in the cage again yielding only one tally on 20 shots. The Caps puck support was outstanding in this game and thus the Jets really didn’t get many good looks. They had the occasional strong cycle shift, but overall the Capitals kept the Jets speed and size in check. It was another impressive performance by the Caps in all zones.

“I thought we managed the game really well. In the third period, you’re up 4-1, you could easily forget detail, and you could forget a lot of stuff. We managed the game. We just kept playing, and it gets really frustrating for the other team. Everybody was doing their job, and when you’re doing your job and there’s no cheat in your game you get a lot done as a group of 20 every night,” said Trotz on a night his team once again maintained their focus.

With a near perfect night by the Caps over and done with, the Caps focus now moves to their last regular season meetings with the first place Islanders, the punks from Philly (Flyers), and the Penguins that will take place Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday, respectively.

“It’s a fun, interesting division right now. Everyone seems to be playing pretty good. The only way to really make up any ground is to beat those teams that are right in front of us. It’s a massive challenge. We are excited about it. We haven’t seen them (the Islanders) in quite a while. It’s a big week for us. We need to string some winning streaks together, not just two or three, so it’s important,” said Karl Alzner, who is quietly having his best season as a Capital, on the upcoming slate of games.

The Capitals are certainly playing well. They are playing solid defense, getting good goaltending, and their checking line of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward is stopping the opponents top line.

Most importantly, though, the Dynamic Duo of Ovechkin and Backstrom are playing at an ultra elite level and that is making Washington a very tough team to defeat.

Notes: Ovechkin had six shots on goal while Backstrom had five…shot attempt game totals were 62-59 in favor of the Jets… the Caps were 3 for 6 on the power play while Winnipeg was 0 for 3…the Caps won the face off battle, 28-27…Washington is now 32-17-10 (74 points)…Jason Chimera was scratched for the 2nd straight game.

 

 

 

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Disciplined Caps Defeat Pens for 3rd Straight Time

Posted on 17 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Wow, that was some hockey game between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night.

In a contest that was poorly officiated, both ways, the Caps were the more disciplined team while the Pens lost their minds and took stupid penalties to basically gift wrap two points to Washington.

Joel Ward, who was cheaply hit with just under five minutes left by long time dirty man Chris Kunitz, scored the game winning tally on a five on three power play with 4:13 remaining. The goal was set up by an out of this world feed from Nicklas Backstrom, who leads the NHL in assists with 44. Then after the Pens received a late power play, John Carlson stole the puck and fired the biscuit from inside his blue line into the empty cage to give the Caps a big, 3-1, victory.

It was the third straight Capitals win over Pittsburgh this year and the Caps have outscored the Pens, 10-1, in those three games. Braden Holtby was excellent in net making 32 saves and he’s knocked off the Pens each time this season. At the other end of the rink, Marc-Andre Fleury was darned good as well (30 saves) while taking the loss.

Pittsburgh’s inability to score on Holtby this season resulted in the Pens displaying a game long mindset of crashing the net at all costs. The Caps were likely upset at the lack of goalie interference being called in this one, and rightly so, but that’s hockey. However, it was that aggression and focus on being physical that led to the Pens crossing the line, which ultimately cost them the game.

Coach Barry Trotz should be extremely proud of the way his club went into a hostile environment and maintained their poise and composure. This is a side of the Capitals we haven’t really seen in recent years and the maturity has been brought by the coaching staff as well as the additions of Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen.

Orpik was dynamite in this contest as he and Carlson totally shut down Sidney Crosby, once again.

Alexander Ovechkin continued his MVP calibre season scoring the first goal on the power play on a breakaway and he also had an assist on the game winning goal by Ward.

The play you’ll likely see and hear a lot about, however, was one where Ovechkin came into the zone and was battling with Kris Letang for the puck. The Gr8 whacked at the biscuit but #58 blocked the puck with his right skate. Ovi’s shot attempt took out Letang’s feet and he went awkwardly crashing into the boards. Could a penalty have been called on Ovechkin? Probably, but the zebras didn’t do so (and they had already made many poor calls and non-calls, both ways, in this one up to that point). With Letang off to the locker room, the Penguins fans went nuts, as did their players. On the ensuing face off, Kunitz and David Perron took turns cross checking the Gr8 in the mid section while Ovi just laughed at the two (and no penalties were called on Pittsburgh either).

Letang would return shortly thereafter so it was good he wasn’t injured. But it was Letang who took an undisciplined slashing penalty on Marcus Johansson that gave Washington the five on three that allowed the Capitals to move to 31-17-10 (72 points).

With the victory, Washington completes an impressive 3-1 road trip against some of the top clubs in the league. They are now just a point behind the Pens in the standings. The Caps are still five points in back of the Metropolitan Division leading New York Islanders.

This was a high intensity and physical contest so the Caps have to be extremely pleased with the way they played and conducted themselves. They put the game above cheap shots and settling scores. They played with passion and structure and carried the play for extended periods, particularly in period one. But Pittsburgh brought their game too, so it was quite the even contest. Holtby was particularly sharp in the middle frame when the Penguins were at their best.

Overall, this felt like a playoff game and a Capitals club that flew cross country on Monday and was playing their third game in four nights turned in a stellar performance. It was hard to find a Caps player that didn’t bring it on Tuesday. There was no back down and no instances of someone putting the individual above the team, unlike what Kunitz and Letang did to cost their squad at least a point.

Notes: Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 23:43, but Orpik played 23:23 while Backstrom logged 23:03. Trotz did a nice job of spreading the ice time around and that helps the Caps play fast and reduces the chance of injury…Ovechkin’s goal was his NHL leading 37th tally. He also has 59 points in 58 games (4th in NHL, right behind Backstrom, who has 60 points)…face offs were 26 all and shot attempts were 58-55 for Pittsburgh…Washington was 2 for 5 on the power play while the Pens were 0 for 3…The Caps face the Winnipeg Jets at the Verizon Center at home on Thursday…

 

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Ovechkin Sizzles in Caps Win Over Ducks

Posted on 16 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After a listless effort in Los Angeles on Saturday night, the Washington Capitals had one more chance to impress their fathers on the clubs annual Dad’s trip.

Captain Alexander Ovechkin made sure the team didn’t hose it up.

The Gr8 took over Sunday’s contest scoring two goals and setting up Andre Burakovsky for two more as Washington won a big road game in Anaheim over the Ducks, 5-3.

Justin Peters overcame a shaky beginning to stop 30 shots and win his first start since November 8th. #35 made several big saves once this one got to 4-3 and it was nice to see the team play well in front of him.

Washington needed to find another gear against a big and fast Ducks team and they did that on Sunday.

In Los Angeles, Coach Barry Trotz did not go with the same lineup and player combinations that he employed in Washington’s 4-0 white washing of the Kings on February 3rd at the Verizon Center. Instead he inserted Steve Oleksy on defense and scratched Burakovsky, who had played a factor in the first Caps goal in their previous three wins. It was a curious set of 20 and for those of you who follow me on twitter (@EdFrankovic), you knew I was not happy that 65 was getting scratched versus LA. The 3-1 loss, which really wasn’t as close as the score indicates, likely left Caps fans in a foul mood.

On Sunday, Trotz switched things up again putting Burakovsky with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) and placing Marcus Johansson on the third line with Eric Fehr and Joel Ward. Brooks Laich, who has been struggling mightily, was dropped to the 4th line, and Tom Wilson was scratched. In addition, Jack Hillen was back on D playing with Mike Green. The results were excellent and it was what the Capitals needed to win on the road in the latter half of a back to back situation, something they hadn’t done all season.

The only black mark in this one was the second line of Jason Chimera, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Troy Brouwer, who were -2. I’m not a fan of 25 in the top six, but those of you who read my blogs and follow me on twitter already know that.

So this victory pushes the Caps to 30-17-10 (70 points) with 25 games remaining. Washington has a 10 point lead on the Panthers, who are in the 9th playoff spot (the Cats have two games in hand). The Capitals are going to return to the playoffs this spring so these last 25 games now become about preparing for the post season and seeding. Right now, the Caps would face the 1st place New York Islanders in round one, but the Metropolitan Division race is ultra tight.

More important than seeding though, is finding the right lineup. Trotz and GM Brian MacLellan have both talked about adding a piece or two for the stretch run, and likely at forward. But given the Capitals salary cap situation and the high prices that will be on the market, that may be tough to pull off between now and the March 2nd NHL trade deadline. So the next best option would be for the Caps to maximize the skill sets of Kuznetsov and Burakovsky. These two kids have immense talent and should be strong performers in years to come. But the future is now, so Trotz needs to do what he can to get these guys battle tested. Burakovsky stepped up on Sunday and it was nice to see Trotz still using him with three minutes left in a two goal game.

As the great Jim Ignatowksi of Taxi lore once said, “There is no substitute for experience!”

So Trotz needs to heed that advice and get these kids that exposure and prepare them for April and beyond.

As for Ovechkin, well he is just carrying this team and turning in another MVP calibre season. The Gr8 leads the NHL in goals with 36 and now has 57 points in 57 games. He’s also +11 after being a -35 in 2013-14. He’s playing the best two way game of his career and that defensive zone improvement is leading to transition goals for the Caps, as evidenced by the fifth Washington tally. On Sunday, much like many other games this season, Ovechkin was unstoppable leaving Ducks captain Ryan “Crying” Getzlaf whining in his post game presser despite the dirty slash #15 put on the Gr8, not to mention Corey Perry’s two handed whack to Karl Alzner’s neck.

So now it time for the Caps to thank their dad’s and then fly back to Pittsburgh and take on Sidney Crosby and company. The Penguins will have both Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on Tuesday. Pittsburgh is playing some good hockey and they took the Blackhawks to a shootout on Sunday before falling to some wonderful feats of skill from Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharp. Washington is 2-0 against the Pens this season and have beaten them 3-0 and 4-0, so Tuesday should be a doozy.

Notes: Washington won the face off battle, 31-25 with Backstrom going 10-6 (one of those wins led to Ovi’s first tally)…the Ducks were 0-4 with the man advantage while the Caps were 1 for 5…this is the 2nd time this season that Ovechkin has had four points in a game…Brooks Orpik picked up an assist, his 14th of the season and the Capitals are undefeated when he does that…Alzner had 5 hits in 18:55 of ice time. #27 has really been improving under this coaching staff.

 

 

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Ward Bangs Home Game-Winner in OT for Caps

Posted on 12 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

In a game that was far from pretty or well played, the Washington Capitals rallied from a 3-2 third period deficit to win on Joel Ward’s rebound tally off of a Mike Green shot in overtime. The goal, Ward’s first in over a month, gave the Caps a 5-4 victory over the Sharks in San Jose and improves the team to 29-16-10 (68 points).

They say the mark of a good team is when they can win when they don’t have their “A” game.

If so, the Capitals are a good team because they were very sloppy, particularly in their own zone, yet found a way to prevail. In addition, they did a poor job of allowing Braden Holtby (26 saves) to the see the puck, at times, and that alone allowed the Sharks to erase a 1-0 deficit and score twice in 22 seconds in period two, on shots from Brent Burns. Holtby himself, did not have a stellar outing, yielding the last two goals on shots he’d like to have back. Matt Niskanen, who has had a very good season, struggled on the back end, as well, but fortunately Green was superb and John Carlson overcame a rough start to dominate in the third period with a nice assist followed by a goal.

The hero of the night, however, was one Jay Beagle and #83 was a tireless worker once again. He scored the game’s opening marker by going to the cage, and Andre Burakovsky was a big factor on that one too by taking his man to the net (and the puck bounced to Beags off of the skate of the Shark covering #65). Beagle also tallied to tie this game up at three with 8:43 remaining when he took a long lead pass from Carlson and got some help from the linesmen, who knocked the San Jose d-man down, allowing Jay to go in one on one and school Antti Niemi.

After Carlson gave the Caps a 4-3 lead on a Sharks turnover, Washington returned the favor by promptly turning the biscuit over too. That allowed Jumbo Joe Thornton to tie things up at four with 5:31 to go. From there both teams played for their valuable standings point.

In overtime, the Caps scored on a 3 on 1 rush after former Capital Scott Hannan blew a tire in the neutral zone. The Sharks yelled at the zebras, but on replay it looks like the old and “Tin Man” like Hannan simply lost an edge. That’s hockey.

Overall, I’d give the Capitals a B- grade in this game. They weren’t sharp and looked lazy, at times, especially in period two when they were outscored 3-1. Washington’s second line of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Troy Brouwer, and Jason Chimera was pretty bad on this night in terms of puck possession. Chimera just doesn’t belong in the top 6. Brouwer did get a power play goal tipping home an Alex Ovechkin pass in period two and he did TKO Brenden Dillon in a first period bout, so it wasn’t all bad for #20.

A win is a win is a win, and the Caps needed that after a poor game on Sunday against the Flyers.

There are no style points in the NHL, which was good on Wednesday night. Now it is on to LA to face the Kings on Saturday followed by the Ducks in Anaheim on Sunday.

Notes: Shot attempts favored San Jose, 62-57…Ovechkin had six shots on goal…the Caps lost the face off battle, 30-23…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 23:41…Burns played 26:06 for the Sharks to lead all skaters in ice time.

 

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Kuznetsov Shines in Caps Shootout Victory

Posted on 06 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Caps fans have been waiting a long time for Evgeny Kuznetsov to deliver on the promise that so many hockey fans saw when he carried Team Russia on his back to win the 2012 Gold Medal at the World Junior Championships. Lately, that skill, ability, and desire to dominate has begun to show up on a more regular basis.

On Friday, against the team with the best record in the NHL, the Anaheim Ducks, #92 set up both Capitals goals with amazing passes and he also notched a marker in the shootout to lead his squad to a 3-2 win over Bruce Boudreau’s boys. It was a big win for Washington after playing in Ottawa on Thursday night and they improve to 28-15-10 (66 points). For the Capitals this was their third win in a row and they take on “you know who” on Sunday to try and gain a four game winning streak for the first time this season. But more on those punks from up I-95 in a few paragraphs.

Philip Grubauer was recalled to face the Ducks after the Caps had to travel from the Great White North late last night. #31 was very solid in net and the team played well in front of him. Sure, the 2nd goal he allowed was weak, but overall Gru did what this squad needed, stop enough pucks so they could finally win a game without Braden Holtby in net. Grubauer has been excellent in Hershey this year playing lots of minutes and Coach Barry Trotz stated that he’ll head back there tonight. The rationale for waiting so long to give Gru a game appears to be that Washington is trying to save as many recalls as possible for after the trade deadline, at least that is what Trotzy alluded to after the game.

Anyways, the schedule gets better going forward for Washington and as Caps ace beat writer Mike Vogel pointed out, the Caps played two recent stretches of 7 games in 11 nights and went 4-2-1 in each set. That is some very good hockey there.

Speaking of good hockey, Troy Brouwer had another outstanding game making the diving keep in of the night to allow Kuznetsov to set up Jason Chimera for an easy 1st goal. Then #20’s screen in front on Ilya “Humongous” Bryzgalov allowed John Carlson to score what should’ve been the game winner in regulation.

But Corey Perry got a cheapie on Grubauer, he’s a great goal scorer so you expect #10 to get the bounces, and he did on that play (Grubauer needed to have the post covered better too). That forced overtime and then “the gimmick.”

The Caps were 1-4 in the shootout and the Ducks 7-4 coming in so, go figure, Washington won this one.

Overall, this was a slower than normal game as both teams showed the wear and tear of playing Thursday. Both were missing superstars as the Ducks were without Ryan Getzlaf and the Capitals scratched Mike Green very late, presumably due to complications from the ugly knee-to-knee hit he took from Chris Phillips the night before. The referees didn’t call that one and they only whistled the clubs for three infractions on Friday, and you probably can guess who had fewer power plays (starts with C and rhymes with Saps).

Speaking of saps, the Philadelphia Flyers come to town on Sunday afternoon. The club formerly known as the Broad Street Bullies is on a recent hot streak, going 6-3-1 over their last 10 tilts. Their best players are Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and both give the Capitals fits. Wayne Simmonds is the Flyers chief punk these days and Philadelphia may be looking for retribution after Matt Niskanen put Flyers forward Scott Laughton into March with a clean, open ice hit back on January 14th. It’s no secret that the Flyers are the Capitals longest and most despised rival so these games, no matter the records of the teams, always carry a little extra meaning. Most Caps fans, in a voice like Newman from Seinfeld lore, would say, “I deeespise the Flyers!” Who can forget those old brawls at the Capital Centre where the arena had to call in extra security to police all of the drunken fights in the stands? Ah, memories.

Anyways, this is a chance for Washington to really bury their long time rivals in the standings. Philly lost last time in Washington, 1-0, but the Capitals hung on for dear life in that one. You can bet there will be a buzz in the air on Sunday and hopefully there won’t be too much orange in the crowd. There’s a good chance they’ll be some scraps on the ice too, particularly since the Flyers tend to play dirty, especially when they are losing.

It should be a great game and it’s also a celebration on television for long time Caps announcer Smokin’ Al Koken. Smokin’ is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet and I’ve known him since he came to town 30 years ago. Koken will spend a period in each of the different broadcasting roles on Sunday: play by play, analyst, and rink reporter. Al is a super guy and I know he’d like nothing more than for Washington to defeat their biggest rival on his special day.

Game time is 3 pm on Sunday, so go ahead and start your tailgating right away.

Notes: Washington dominated the shot attempt battle, 64-51…the Caps also out shot the Ducks, 34-25…Kuznetsov had two assists and was +2 in 18:30 of ice time…Niskanen played 28:51 to lead all players in ice time…Washington won the face off battle, 34-30. Eric Fehr went 9-3…Nicklas Backstrom didn’t have one of his better games but he notched the shootout winner…after starting 1-14-6, the Caps have now won two games in a row when allowing the first goal of the game…Andre Burakovsky was sent to Hershey due to the Grubauer recall since he is able to go down to the AHL without requiring waivers. #65 will return on Saturday and play on Sunday against the Flyers..Cam Schilling played on D for Green and was +1 in 13:42 of ice time.

 

 

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps in Solid Road Victory

Posted on 06 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals were 1-14-6 this season in games played this season when the opponents score first.

So when Kyle Turris broke a scoreless contest just past the midway point of period two to put Ottawa up 1-0, how many Caps fans turned off their televisions?

Well, hopefully it wasn’t many of you because shortly thereafter Evgeny Kuznetsov scored to tie it before Alexander Ovechkin did his best Cal Ripken impersonation by batting one home on the following shift to give the Caps a 2-1 lead.

From there, Braden Holtby and the Capitals would shut the door and win their first game when allowing the first tally since November 7th (h/t to Adam Vingan).

This was a very solid road win by the Caps. They were a little sluggish at times over the first 30 minutes and they made things tough on themselves in period three by taking three straight penalties. But Holtby (25 saves) was there to make the stops and any rebounds were cleared by the defense, who had a very strong game, especially Brooks Orpik (1 assist, +1, in 22:32 of ice time). During those three key penalty kills at the beginning of the third frame, Ottawa did not get many quality chances.

Killing off six of seven minutes via penalties to start the final stanza is not usually a recipe for success, but after those kills, the Capitals took over the rest of the way. Over the last 10 minutes the Capitals carried the play by not sitting back and still attacking. In fact, I counted only 1 scoring chance for Ottawa after the 10:00 mark, a wide shot by Mika Zibanejad. Coach Barry Trotz did not shorten his bench on defense with the lead and that strategy paid off.

The Caps would pretty much seal the deal with this victory when Eric Fehr drew a late interference call on Milan Michalek and Ovechkin nearly had his 33rd goal of the season after a sweet feed from Marcus Johansson, but somehow the Gr8’s shot went high.

Trotz maintained the same top three lines as he rolled out in the win over Los Angeles and the first two lines were very impressive. Johansson was just fabulous with Ovechkin and Backstrom and his play on the right wing boards and subsequent pass to a streaking Jay Beagle set up the game winning goal by Ovechkin, who outbattled Erik Karlsson in front.

The second line was very good again and Andre Burakovsky was very noticeable, in a positive way. Once again, he won’t get an assist, but his strong play on the right wing boards set up the Kuznetsov tally. On that one, #65 got the puck to Tom Wilson who carried the biscuit behind the net and fed Orpik for a point blast. Sens goalie Robin Lehner couldn’t control the rebound and #92 deposited it into the empty net. Bottom line, if that second line of Burakovsky, Kuznetsov, and Troy Brouwer can continue to contribute the sky is the limit for this Capitals team.

As for Holtby, well he set the tone for the game with a huge early stop on Bobby Ryan on a Senators three on one. #70 made several other big stops in the game that normal goalies don’t make, yet Braden is making them look so easy. It was another outstanding goaltending performance and it still makes me wonder what Adam Oates was smoking last season by trying to change his game and why former GM George McPhee had three goalies up most of the season and then traded for Jaroslav Halak at the deadline? Boy am I glad those two guys are gone.

So the Capitals get a strong win on the road against a fast Ottawa team that typically gives them fits. This was an impressive finish by Washington. They did not sit back and hang on, they kept the pressure up and as a result, they protected their one goal lead rather easily. The team moves to 27-15-10 (64 points) and are just three points behind the first place Islanders in a very tight Metropolitan Division race.

On Friday, they have a tough task at hand as they take on the NHL standings leading Anaheim Ducks at the Verizon Center. The Ducks smoked the Predators, 5-2, in Smashville on Thursday so both teams will not be rested for this tilt.

The big decision now for Trotz is to decide who to play in goal, Holtby or Justin Peters? With the Flyers in on Sunday afternoon, it seems to make sense to give Peters another shot, but then again, the way the Capitals played the last 10 minutes, Braden should be fairly rested if Trotz calls his number again.

Notes: Jason Chimera was reinserted into the lineup after being scratched on Tuesday and had a strong game (11:33 of ice time)…Wilson wasn’t very noticeable the first 30 minutes but he got involved physically and had a big assist on the game tying goal. It’s time for #43 to step his game up…Washington won the shot attempt battle, 59-50, despite the fact that Ottawa had four power plays to just one for the Caps…the Capitals won the face off battle, 25-20. Jay Beagle went 7-2…Mike Green was hit knee on knee in period one but didn’t miss a shift. Greenie had a super game and earned a stint in the “Eats Rocks for Breakfast” club…Michael Latta and Aaron Volpatti were the forward scratches.

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Caps Slay The Defending Champion Kings, 4-0

Posted on 04 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

“I’m shuffling lines around, guys. I’ll let you know when I get it straightened out.” – Reg Dunlop, Charleston Chiefs

For 50 games, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz has been juggling his forward line combinations trying to find the right fits.

In game number 51, which turned out to be a Caps 4-0 rout of the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings, he just may have found his best forward line up yet.

Trotz moved Marcus Johansson, who is having his best pro season, up into the top right wing spot, and inserted rookie forward Andre Burakovsky into Jojo’s spot on the second line giving the Caps a very offensively talented top six crew of forwards. In addition, the bench boss took Jason Chimera and Michael Latta out of the lineup and went with a fourth unit of Aaron Volpatti, Jay Beagle, and Tom Wilson. The third line, Washington’s checking trio of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward, went unchanged.

The result was a thing of beauty as the Capitals gap control was as good as it has been all season.

Taking the strong blue line play that the Caps have enjoyed all season combined with elite goaltending from Braden Holtby plus a very motivated hockey club this was a thorough whipping of a Kings team that still has Norris Trophy leading candidate Drew Doughty, all world goalie Jonathan Quick, and super forward Anze Kopitar. But Los Angeles is really not a Cup contender this season since they’re playing with a much weaker blue line due to the loss of Willie Mitchell (salary cap) and Slava Voynov (domestic abuse charges). As I’ve been saying for years, it is tough to be consistent and win in the post season without a good blue line. Fortunately with the departure of former GM George McPhee, the Capitals finally figured it out in the offseason and brought in some talent that gives Washington a very deep crew on the back end.

But the key to becoming a really top team is to have not only strong goaltending and defense, but depth at forward. That has been the challenge for Trotz and his job has been tougher by having to work in two rookies in Evgeny Kuznetsov and Burakovsky, along with second year man Wilson. It’s not an easy task and being a rookie in the NHL is very difficult. But Trotz has brought each of them along differently given their age and history. Kuznetsov is starting to blossom into the second line center role and his behind the back pass to Troy Brouwer is one that you usually only see from the Nicklas Backstrom’s of the world. That 1st goal was so huge because the Caps were 24-1-4 when tallying first and 1-14-6 this season when yielding the first marker. That is quite a telling statistic.

On that Brouwer goal, of note was the forechecking pressure that Burakovsky put on Robyn Regehr. The heat from #65 forced Regehr to put Alec Martinez in bad position with the biscuit and the man who scored the Cup clinching tally against the Rangers made an errant pass to Karl Alzner on the left wing boards. Alzner found Kuznetsov below the goal line and a sweet pass later it was 1-0. Trotz praised Burakovsky afterwards and stated that pretty soon everyone will all know the kids name.

Not only did the super gap control lead to production, but it also kept Washington out of the penalty box. This Caps team has had a recent propensity of taking tripping, high sticking, interference, and hooking penalties that are often the result of poor positioning and a lack of structure. The Capitals only had to kill one penalty on Tuesday night, which was their lowest total since December 4th against Carolina (h/t to Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post). You can add in discipline to that equation as Washington did not retaliate against a big Kings club. John Carlson took a couple of cheap shots from Kyle Clifford late in period two that somehow didn’t garner a penalty call from Paul Devorski and Tom Kowal (imagine that!). #74 could have easily gotten upset and attacked Clifford but Carlson kept his head and didn’t take an unnecessary penalty at a time when the game was still in question. Big kudos to Carlson there, that’s putting your team first, something we’ve seen more and more of this club this season than any other in the recent past.

Overall, it was a dominant performance by the Caps and Holtby came up big when he needed to be in stopping 27 shots. He made some key saves, with perhaps his best one coming on Jeff Carter in period two when it was still 1-0. Carter, who is a true sniper, appeared to have the top right corner picked but #70 managed to get most of his glove on the biscuit and knock it to the corner. Holtby also stoned Marian Gaborik on a semi-breakaway in period two. Holtby has now gone three straight games without allowing a goal in regulation and the only tally he yielded came in OT against the Habs and league MVP Carey Price on Saturday.

So the Caps end up going 1-1-1 against some of the better teams in the league with the lone regulation blemish coming against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday. The Blues are my current pick to win the Stanley Cup so a one goal defeat to them, after Washington played the day before while St. Louis rested, is not a black mark at all.

Washington is now 26-15-10 (62 points) and 9-1-1 in their last 11 home games (h/t to @ThePeerless). But the upcoming schedule doesn’t get any easier. After a day off on Wednesday, the Caps travel to take on a speedy Ottawa team on Thursday night, then come right home on Friday to play one of top teams in the NHL standings in the Anaheim Ducks. Finally, on Sunday at 3 pm they get a hot Flyers team at the Verizon Center. We all know what I think of Philadelphia, but that’s a story for another day.

Notes: Brouwer had two goals in his 500th NHL game…Backstrom had a goal and an assist while Alex Ovechkin had an assist. The Gr8 had 11 shot attempts…Washington led the shot attempt totals after 40 minutes, 40-21, that’s pretty impressive over one of the best puck possession teams in the NHL. Game total shot attempts were 52-44 for the Caps…the Kings won the face off battle, 26-23, but Backstrom was 12-6 from the dot.

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