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Holtbeast Game 3

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The Holtbeast is Triumphant in Game 3 for the Caps

Posted on 18 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

For the third straight game, there was overtime between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Washington Capitals, but this time, the contest went to double overtime. With the Caps staring at a potential three to zero hole in the series, Braden Holtby (33 saves) made several big stops, especially in the first extra session to extend the tilt. Washington came out with a lot of jump in the fifth stanza of hockey, outshooting CBus, 8-2, and they won the game on a rebound tally by Lars Eller after exactly 89 minutes of hockey. Brett Connolly, who had an earlier rebound goal that would have given the Caps a 2-0 second period lead wiped out due to offside, made the play by quickly firing a puck on Sergei Bobrovsky (42 saves) before “Bob” could get set. The puck pin balled into the twine behind the Blue Jackets keeper and the guys in white celebrated a clutch victory.

Whew, what a game!

Alex Ovechkin (two assists) on Tuesday afternoon stated that the Caps would come back to Washington for game five with the series knotted up. Thanks to the Holtbeast and a superb team effort, there is still a chance that could happen. Columbus, however, leads the series two games to one and they have home ice on Thursday night at 7:30.

There were a lot of things to like in this game for the Caps, who played without injured forward Andre Burakovsky (upper body injury). As the Secretary of Defense, Rod Langway, used to tell me when I worked for the team back in the 80’s and 90’s, “It all starts from the goaltender and then works out to the defense and forwards.”

Truer words could never be spoken about the post season and Philipp Grubauer struggled in his first two outings giving up several goals to his glove side when the Caps were carrying the majority of the play. The Holtbeast came in for period three and overtime and ended up getting the loss in game two, but that tally was hard to pin on #70.

On Tuesday night, Braden gave up only two goals in 89:00 of action. The first, he’ll say he’d like back because it wasn’t a screened shot, but the goalie from Saskatchewan was forced to move to his left because the Washington defenders, to include the forwards, allowed another open lane for a diagonal pass that the Blue Jackets love to employ in the offensive zone. Artemi Panarin (1 goal, 1 assist) used his speed to create that alley way and Pierre Luc-Dubois rifled a perfect shot just under the bar. Columbus’ second goal came on a two on one after Ovechkin tried an east-west pass that Dmitry Orlov couldn’t handle cleanly in the offensive zone and then fumbled away. Cam Atkinson and Panarin compounded the blunder by executing the odd man rush beautifully. John Carlson failed on multiple occasions to block the pass and ultimately Panarin had an empty net to deposit the biscuit in and tie this affair up at two just 4:12 into the third period.

Goaltending is so important, and Bobrovksy has been stellar for Columbus. Washington had 45 shots on goal after firing 58 in game two, but it took two deflections and a two man advantage blast to dent him for three lamp lighters. The Caps are still working to get more bodies to the net, but in addition to Devante Smith-Pelly and Eller crashing the cage on the game winner, Tom Wilson notched his first playoff marker of 2018 with a sweet deflection of a Matt Niskanen laser from the point. That goal was all set up by some great corner work by the Gr8. If the Caps want to win on Thursday, they need to grind their way to the net to get traffic on “Bob” because he looks like he will stop everything he sees right now.

In the first two games, Columbus killed the Caps on the power play going four for eight. They repeatedly were able to make a cross ice pass from the high left wing circle side to the right side and beat Grubauer to his left up high. Niskanen stated after Sunday’s loss that “we have to fix our PK.” On Tuesday night, the Capitals penalty killing was much better and they kept their four man box tighter to not allow that pass, which when it’s successful forces the goalie to have to move laterally very quickly and make a tough save. In addition to good work by the four guys on the ice, the most important player on the PK is your goalie, and the Holtbeast was stellar. For the night, the Caps went four for four on the penalty kill.

Jakub Vrana was inserted into Burakovsky’s vacated slot on the second line and he played some strong hockey in 22:00 of ice time. #13 was engaged with the body, something he didn’t do well in game one, and he also used his speed to open up space. He, Nicklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie still have to get fully clicking, but Vrana drew both penalties just 67 seconds apart in the middle frame. That resulted in Carlson’s power play snipe that gave the Caps a 2-1 lead heading into period three. Backstrom made another of his awesome passes to set that tally up. Almost everyone thought he was going to Ovi at the top of the right point, but instead he went to the left point for #74, who buried it. Carlson now has seven points (1 goal, 6 assists) in the post season.

Washington’s forwards did a better job, especially Connolly and Vrana, of using their body in one on one board battles than they’d done in the two games played at Capital One Arena. That’s something both need to continue doing so that they can wear down a very deep Blue Jackets defense, led by Seth Jones. The playoffs are a different game so that style doesn’t exactly fit Connolly and Vrana’s skill set, but in game three, they didn’t shy away from the physical requirements of playoff hockey.

Columbus has scored almost all of their goals this series on the power play or on the rush, so in addition to being disciplined, the Caps have to stick to a north-south brand of hockey. The east-west style that features cross ice passes at the offensive blue line or even deep in the zone have led to at least two Blue Jackets tallies. It’s imperative that Coach Barry Trotz’ crew resist the impulse to try those plays and opt more for pucks on net or behind the cage.

As I’ve stated on WNST quite often the last couple of weeks, goaltending is so important in the playoffs. The Capitals finally received a quality performance from their starter on Tuesday night and now they are back in the series. Still, they have their work cut out for them and with John Tortorella getting the match up choices in Ohio, the Caps will need another huge outing from the Holtbeast.

Notes:  The officiating in this game was sketchy, but that’s no surprise since it featured Ranger Dan O’Halloran and Kyle Rehman. I’m not sure how they missed the high stick by David Savard on Oshie in overtime? They also allowed Columbus to cover the puck in the corner without signaling for delay of game or closing the hand on the biscuit…the Blue Jackets received the only power play of the overtimes…Columbus won the faceoff battle, 43-37, but Evgeny Kuznetsov went 12-8 and Jay Beagle was 9-6. Eller lost 14 of 19 draws while Backstrom split his 20 faceoffs…Trotz used all of his players, which may have been why Washington dominated the second OT. Alex Chiasson only logged 10:19, but Columbus had forwards Sonny Milano (5:55) and Oliver Bjorkstrand (8:09) barely see the ice. Christian Djoos made his NHL playoff debut taking a spot alongside Brooks Orpik (24:39) and acquitted himself very well in 17:17 of ice time…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 37:17 and Orlov was close behind with 36:00…Jones played 35:09 to lead all Blue Jacket players while Atkinson (31:51) and Panarin (31:39) played a ton at forward for Tortorella.

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Ovi CBus

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Ovechkin and the Caps Must Be Better in Game Two

Posted on 15 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals will take to the ice on Sunday night at 7:30 pm to try to even their best of seven series up with the Columbus Blue Jackets. On Thursday night, the Caps took three third period penalties and gifted the visitors the game. Several players were not very good in that affair, including Captain Alex Ovechkin, who didn’t register a point and looked slow and out of sorts, most of the evening.

On Sunday morning, the Gr8 told the assembled media that he has to be better and that his line needs to generate more chances at five on five (h/t Isabelle Khurshudyan of The Washington Post). Ovi had a remarkable regular season because his skating was much better than it’s arguably been in the past five years. Alex trimmed down and brought an element of speed back into his game and it led to 32 even strength goals, double his output in 2016-17 in those situations. In the series opener, he looked sluggish and David Savard did a very good job of neutralizing him most of the night. Simply put, this Capitals team isn’t going to go anywhere if Ovechkin is not playing well.

The biggest reason Washington lost on Thursday were the three bad penalties they took in period three that allowed Columbus to score two power play goals, evening the game up twice in the final frame of regulation. Discipline is paramount in the post season and the Caps didn’t have it that period. Once shorthanded, the Caps badly missed fourth line center, Jay Beagle, who is a penalty killing and faceoff specialist. It should be noted that the Capitals lost 17 of 21 defensive zone draws in game one.

On Sunday night, Beagle is back in the lineup as it’s been determined by the Caps medical staff that he’s sufficiently recovered from an upper body injury. Per the morning skate, the Washington lineup is as follows:

Forwards

Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Tom Wilson

Andre Burakovsky – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie

Brett Connolly – Lars Eller – Devante Smith-Pelly

Chandler Stephenson – Jay Beagle – Alex Chiasson

Defense

Michal Kempny – John Carlson

Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen

Brooks Orpik – Jakub Jerabek

Goaltender

Philipp Grubauer

Braden Holtby (Backup)

There are several things to note above. The biggest are obviously the return of Beagle and the fact that Kempny, who was rammed from behind into the boards by Josh Anderson in period one and did not return, is back on defense (Kempny did fully practice on Saturday and has cuts on his face from the injury he suffered). The Capitals are very thin on the back end and need #6 in the lineup against a big and mobile Columbus forward group. Grubauer was deemed to have done enough to earn the net, once again, despite giving up a savable shot on the game winner and not stopping Seth Jones’ game tying power play tally, which was another marker that came over his glove hand.

Finally, the scratch of Jakub Vrana, who logged only 6:58 of ice time ignited the Caps Twitterverse, once again, on Sunday morning. Vrana did use his speed to draw a first period hooking penalty on Ian Cole and also set up what should have been the game winning goal before Burakovsky’s terrible tripping penalty negated it. However, the rookie who played in his first ever playoff game, made several mistakes that likely took him out of the lineup, in addition to the fact that he does not kill penalties and is not on either power play unit. On the Blue Jackets first tally, Vrana is positioned in the middle of the ice when Boone Jenner comes across the Caps blue line. #13 tries to stick check to get the biscuit from #38, but fails miserably and this leads to a two on one down low and an easy goal. Jakub has to either get the puck or the man there, he got neither. Then, before his great play to set up DSP, he made a terrible defensive zone turnover that allowed Cole to get a quality chance on Grubauer from just over 20 feet out. Fortunately for Vrana, Grubi made his biggest save of the night on that sequence. In overtime, Vrana had two shifts and on his second one, he gets beaten badly by one of Columbus’ smaller forwards, Pierre Luc-Dubois, on a board battle in the offensive zone. Cole picked up the puck after Jakub couldn’t hold it in the zone against Dubois and he fed Artemi Panarin, who went around Orlov on his offside and then roofed another tally over Grubauer’s glove hand for the win.

Sure, Vrana set up a goal and drew a penalty, but he contributed to the only two Blue Jackets even strength goals against. So when Coach Barry Trotz talked on Sunday morning about resetting #13 to clean up some things in his game, the plays described above are exactly what he’s talking about. As for the two guys who are in instead of Vrana, Brett Connolly and Alex Chiasson, both must play a strong two way game against a hard working physical team. Connolly lost several one on one battles on Thursday, but none were as bad as the individual battles lost by Vrana. This is a “what have you done for me lately” time of year, so if Connolly and Chiasson want to stay in for game three, they need to play well.

This is a must win for Washington on Sunday night. They need everyone going in this tilt to even this series up. It all starts with Ovechkin up front and the defense doing a better job of getting pucks out of their own end. On Thursday, they did that well early, but once Kempny went out and they were forced to go with five defensemen, the mistakes started coming more often. Grubauer also needs to turn in a strong performance in net, he was solid, but was outplayed by Sergei Bobrovsky, who faced more rubber. The Caps would be wise to get more bodies to the front of the net on Sunday, “Bob” is most vulnerable when the puck is bouncing around him and Washington did little of that in game one.

 

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CBus wins

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Undisciplined Penalties Cost the Caps Game One

Posted on 13 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

“You mess with the bull, you get the horns.”

The Washington Capitals certainly did that on Thursday night taking three ill advised penalties in the third period to gift the Columbus Blue Jackets two power play goals. CBus would need both of those tallies to force overtime and from there Artemi Panarin went around Dmitry Orlov, who was playing on his off side, and roofed one past a crouching Philipp Grubauer (23 saves) to give Columbus a 4-3 victory 6:02 into overtime.

This was a bad opening game loss by the Caps, there are no two ways about it. They came out strong and took a 2-0 lead on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s two power play tallies, which they received due to a dirty and stupid hit from behind by Josh Anderson. The play ended Michal Kempny’s night when his head hit the glass forcefully causing #6 to bleed and then have to deal with concussion-like symptoms. It is a play that the league has been trying to get out of the game for 30 plus years, but there are still players who don’t back off on a hit when they can clearly see their opponents number. I’m also shocked at some of the out of town comments on Twitter from those who allegedly know the game. That hit was awful, just like Drew Doughty’s on William Carrier on Wednesday night in Vegas, there is no defending it. I’m sure the league will look into the play and with Kempny’s status up in the air for game two and beyond, Anderson could face more supplementary discipline.

Washington dominated that first period to generate the two puck lead and things seemed to be going their way with 2:23 of power play time left to start period two. The Caps, however, could not get anything going again with the man advantage and the Blue Jackets grabbed momentum. A weird and fortunate bounce for the visitors in the neutral zone then led to a two on one rush for Alex Wennberg and Boone Jenner. Niskanen was back, but it was Jenner’s pass that just eluded a hard charging Orlov and gave Wennberg a back door tap in 4:48 into period two. Suddenly Columbus had life and the Capitals struggled, but they eventually stabilized things to take a 2-1 lead into period three. Washington had a 25-16 edge in shots on goal after 40 minutes, but Columbus’ goalie held his team in the game.

Tom Wilson, Kuznetsov, and Andre Burakovsky all took terrible penalties in the final frame to help Washington fritter away a game they should’ve won. Willy was correctly boxed for charging, Kuznetsov was whistled for a retaliatory slashing infraction on Panarin, who escaped justice, and then the most egregious penalty of all came with 5:05 remaining in regulation. Burakovsky mistakenly chased Columbus all star defensemen Seth Jones behind his own net and tripped #3 nearly 200 feet from the opposing cage as he came out the other side. It was a stupid penalty to take with a one goal lead late in a playoff game. Columbus had also scored on Wilson’s penalty to tie the game up at two, just 1:31 into period three. In between the power play goals, Jakub Vrana made a great end to end rush to set up Devante Smith-Pelly for a beautiful far post tally that looked to be the game winner until Burakovsky made a low hockey IQ play that ultimately sent the tilt to the extra session.

This was a very weird game and Washington was not helped by having to go with just five defensemen once Kempny was rammed into the boards. Orlov (26:09), John Carlson (26:16), and Niskanen (25:02) played a lot of minutes and the whole defense looked exhausted in the extra session. The Caps had zero shots on net in that six plus minutes of hockey. Overall, there were several Capitals that didn’t play well and looked sluggish. You can put Alex Ovechkin (seven shot attempts in 23:25) and T.J. Oshie (two shot attempts in 19:41) in that category. The Gr8 did not have his legs in this one and his hands were off, as well. If Washington is going to come back and win this series, then they need a lot more from their captain.

In goal, Grubauer made some good saves, but Sergei Bobrovsky (27 saves) was better since he faced more quality chances. It is hard to fault #31 on the first three goals, perhaps he could’ve had his stick down on the second goal to stop the pass from Pierre Luc-Dubios to Thomas Vanek, but Brooks Orpik was badly boxed out in front after Niskanen was caught up way too high on the penalty kill to lead to a two on one down low. Grubauer’s biggest save came right before Vrana set up DSP for the third goal when #13 made a terrible defensive zone giveaway. On the game winner, it looked like Philipp went down too early in a crouch and that was how Panarin sealed the deal for Columbus.

In addition to the penalties, there were too many turnovers by Washington. In period three they tried numerous cross ice passes in the neutral zone when pucks should be going deep. The Caps also didn’t put enough traffic on Bob in this affair. That needs to change in game two. Speaking of changes, Braden Holtby is 14-4-2 with a .914 save percentage in 21 games against the Blue Jackets so I’d like to see him get the game two start on Sunday night at 7:30. Grubauer wasn’t the main reason the Capitals lost on Thursday night, but again, he has to make that save on Panarin.

In summary, this game started great for Washington and then went downhill. The Caps made too many mistakes and once again found a way to lose a playoff game on home ice. That’s four of the last five home playoff games that they’ve dropped. If this team doesn’t play smarter, harder, and faster on Sunday night, this series could be over fast. The Blue Jackets work hard and Bobrovsky surely gained quite a bit of confidence in the victory.

Notes: The Caps are 10-7 all time when they lose game one…the Caps have lost home ice advantage. They failed to capitalize on the matchup advantage, but surely Kempny’s injury impacted that. Coach Barry Trotz stated afterwards that Christian Djoos would be the next man up on D if Michal can’t play…there is no practice on Friday…the Blue Jackets won the face-off battle, 33-27, but Nicklas Backstrom was 14-10…the Capitals were two for six on the power play in 11:00 of man advantage time while the Blue Jackets went two for four in 4:52 of power play time…Columbus had never led a playoff series until Thursday night’s victory…Jones led the Blue Jackets in ice time with 30:59. Cam Atkinson led all Columbus forwards with 25:10.

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Ovi 49

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Ovechkin Scores Twice But Can’t Get To 50 in a Caps Win

Posted on 08 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin put on a show on Saturday night at Capital One Arena, but despite 18 shot attempts, the Gr8 notched only two goals in a 5-3 win over the New Jersey Devils to finish the season with 49 tallies. Braden Holtby stopped 23 of 26 shots, although there was some very loose defense by his club, at times, to earn the victory.

The Caps finish the season at 49-26-7 (105 points) and will face the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which could start as early as Wednesday. Coach John Tortorella’s team rested several key players, such as Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno, and Sergei Bobrovsky in their season finale against the Predators in Nashville. It is pretty apparent that CBus much preferred facing the Caps than the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins and now they have their wish.

As for the Devils, they fall to the second wild card spot and will face the winner of the Atlantic Division (either Boston or Tampa). New Jersey rested some key players on Saturday, as well; including star forward Taylor Hall and former Cap Marcus Johansson. The other Metropolitan Division matchup will be the battle of Pennsylvania.

Nicklas Backstrom, Michal Kempny, and Andre Burakovsky scored Washington’s other three goals, while rookie forward Shane Gersich notched his first ever NHL point, assisting on Kempny’s point blast that made it 3-1.

The following are my thoughts and analysis of the triumph on Fan Appreciation Night.

So Close – Ovi had a breakaway in period three that would have given him 50 for the season, but he shot high on Cory Schneider. The last 10 minutes or so were basically all about trying to get Alexander the Great his 50th tally, but with New Jersey covering him closely and not pulling their goalie, it was a tough task. Still, Alex got off some good shots and came oh so close to getting the big 5-0, once again, but Ovechkin still locked up his seventh Rocket Richard Trophy. Simply put, the Russian Machine is an amazing player that had the fans on the edge of their seats or standing. This was a meaningless hockey game for the Caps, but Ovi delivered for those in attendance. For the night, he logged 21:00, had eight shots on goal and was +1. For the campaign, Ovechkin had 355 shots on net and his shooting percentage was 13.8%, but that stat should really count all shot attempts, not just those on net. His 32 even strength goals at age 32 is remarkable. Ovechkin became just the second player since the 1967-68 expansion era to lead the NHL in goals at the age of 32 or older (Phil Esposito).

Pond Hockey – Since Washington clinched the Metro division in Pittsburgh on Sunday night, Washington has played three meaningless affairs. The Caps have done some good things in those tilts, they’ve won 2 of 3, but the games have been nothing like we’ll see next week in the post season. These contests these past six days have been wide open with very little hitting (hits were 15 to 10 for Washington against New Jersey). It’s clear that the Capitals players were saving their bodies, and rightly so, for the grind that starts on Wednesday. The first period against New Jersey was really loose, but again, the game just didn’t matter.

Holtbeast – As mentioned in the opening paragraph, defense appeared optional, at times, on Saturday night. All three Devils goals were converted due to poor Washington coverage. Holtby had to make some tough stops in this affair and he looks ready for the post season. Whether Coach Barry Trotz and Goaltending Coach Scott Murray go with #70 or Philipp Grubauer in game one remains to be seen, but given Holtby’s record against Columbus, I’m thinking he’ll get the nod in the cage. Holtby went 34-16-4 behind a blue line that featured two rookies for the first 50 or so games.

Backy Got Back – Backstrom went 21 games without a goal during one stretch this season so it’s incredible that he finished with 21 tallies along with his 50 assists. #19 is such a good two way player and you know he’s going to bring it every night. Over the last eight games, he’s had two goals and 14 assists. Nicky logged 19:14 centering Burakovsky and Brett Connolly since the Osh Babe was given the night off to get closer to 100% health.

New Kid in Town – Kempny has been mostly paired with John Carlson since he came over at the trade deadline from Chicago for a draft choice. Against the Devils, #6 had his best game yet with a goal and a helper while going +4. Kempny brings speed and puck moving ability that was needed on the blue line. Michal has only 3 points in 22 games with the Caps and two of them came on Saturday night.

Pay The Man 2 – Carlson earned his 68th point with his assist on Backstrom’s goal and he leads all NHL defensemen in points. He was also +4 and brought his plus/minus back to even steven. #74 is an unrestricted free agent this summer and he’s going to get paid well. There are reports the salary cap could go as high as $82 Million and if that’s the case, Washington has a better chance of keeping him. But that is a story for the summer and right now the Caps need John, who is a big game player, to perform well at both ends of the rink. Carly is an ice time eater and he plays in all situations. There aren’t many blue liners around the league that can do the things he does.

For Whom the Bell Tolls – Evgeny Kuznetsov finished with a career high 83 points in 79 games and he has really become a dominant player. Kuzy scored 27 goals this season and when he is unpredictable from a pass vs. shoot perspective, he is very difficult to stop. #92 went 11-7 in draws on Saturday in 19:19 of ice time. If he continues to take shots when he is in the high danger areas, especially between the circles, the Capitals will be a hard team to defeat. The dynamic Russian forward is really the key guy who must be on each night for the Caps to be successful in the post season.

Facing the Cannon – I’ll have more on the Blue Jackets as we move into the week, but this is going to be a very physical and tough matchup. Coach Tortorella’s team is a system squad that blocks shots and likes to throw pucks and bodies at the opposing team’s goalie. Washington’s blue line and forwards are really going to have to amp their game up to deal with all of the traffic they will try to apply on the Caps goalie. Every matchup is tough in the post season and as Coach Barry Trotz often states, the difference between two teams in the standings is often the result of one team having a bad week or short stretch. Columbus totaled just eight points less than the Caps. This is going to be a hard series and Assistant Coach Todd Reirden’s d-men will have to play well against some big guys such as Brandon Dubinsky and Foligno.

Closing Time – The triumph over the Devils slams the regular season book shut for a Caps team that many predicted would not win the division or even make the playoffs. That was not the case from this Capitals historian, blogger, and radio man. Despite the personnel losses, I still predicted a 100 to 105 point season. General Manager Brian MacLellan built this team up the middle of the ice with strong goaltending and Coach Trotz and his staff did a GREAT job of getting several players to really improve. Eight players had career years offensively and this team took first place despite having four rookies regularly in the lineup for the first 50 games. Tom Wilson had his best season as a pro and he’s now a first line beast. He will be a real key in the post season because he opens up space for the Caps up front.

Notes: The full playoff schedule will be announced on Sunday…T.J. Oshie, Jay Beagle, and Travis Boyd didn’t play on Saturday due to injury or illness…the Caps were 32-22 on draws. In addition to #92’s success, Backstrom was 9-7 and Lars Eller was 6-3…Dmitry Orlov led the Capitals in ice time with 23:48.

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Preds beat Caps

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Grubauer’s Skate Fails in a 4-3 Loss to Nashville

Posted on 06 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

“It’s a game of inches, and sometimes it’s a game of nuts and bolts, too” said Caps Coach Barry Trotz following Washington’s 4-3 loss to Nashville on Thursday night at Capital One Arena.

Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer had a bolt come loose in the third period and that caused him to lose his skate blade on Roman Josi’s game tying tally 8:19 into period three. The equipment issue prevented him from pushing off and making that save. Then with 5:27 remaining, Viktor Arvidsson ripped a shot that #31 couldn’t handle and Ryan Johansen got just enough of the puck, which trickled over the goal line for the game winner. Some fans wanted Coach Trotz to challenge for goaltender interference on Johansen’s marker, but on replay there didn’t appear to be anything of the sort and #31 confirmed to me afterwards that there was no contact with him by anyone.

The victory for Nashville gave them the Central Division title, the first seed in the Western Conference playoffs, and the Presidents’ Trophy. For the Caps, this was pretty much a meaningless affair since they cannot change their playoff position. They’ve already clinched the Metropolitan Division title and will not top the point total of the Atlantic Division winner (Boston or Tampa). Therefore, they will face the 1st Wildcard team in the Eastern Conference.

The Washington Capitals celebrated Alexander Ovechkin’s 1,000th game before Thursday’s tilt against the Predators and the Gr8 delivered for the fans by notching his NHL leading 47th marker of the season. That goal, which was a far post top shelf peanut butter shot, came on the power play 4:29 into period two and tied the game up at one.

Evgeny Kuznetsov was the star of the show for Washington in this affair via his three points. He set up Ovi’s goal with a great pass and also scored twice himself. The first marker for #92, which gave the Caps a 2-1 lead just over two minutes after they tied the game up, came on the power play when he tried to pass back door to Alexander the Great. Preds defensemen, Ryan Ellis, dove to the ice to try and block the pass, but in the process he knocked the puck into his own net. Kuzy’s second goal, an unassisted lamp lighter that gave Washington an early third period 3-2 lead, was set up by a superb one on one move that he topped off with a gorgeous backhander over Juuse Saros (29 saves). Kuznetsov is playing some incredible hockey and he now has 27 goals and 55 assists (82 points) in 78 games played this season. He is the key to the Capitals on most nights.

Nicklas Backstrom added his 49th assist of the season on Evgeny’s first goal but his line, with Andre Burakovksy and T.J. Oshie didn’t have the best of nights. They controlled the puck, for stretches, but none of the three forwards had a single shot on net. There were a couple of times where they over passed the disc or made wrong decisions.

In the first 10 minutes, the Capitals made a lot of mistakes turning the puck over with errant drop or cross ice passes. That allowed the Preds to get the early lead. Once Washington got back to playing the right way, they took over the game for a lengthy amount of time. To start period two they had a 17-2 advantage in shots on goal, but couldn’t get a two puck lead. Saros was good, and when John Carlson (14 shots attempts, including eight on goal) couldn’t bury a great chance in tight, the game turned the visitor’s way.

The Caps would get the lead back in period three on Kuzy’s dazzling backhander, but a penalty on Matt Niskanen set up Josi’s tying marker. Johansen scored shortly after Filip Forsberg went around Dmitry Orlov, who hit the post while in all alone on Grubauer. The Predators got to the loose puck following that miss and an Ellis point shot was saved by #31, but bounced right to Arvidsson in the left wing circle. He fired on net and Johansen outworked Orlov to tap the biscuit home over the outstretched Caps goalie.

Overall, the Caps did numerous good things in this game. They matched the Predators speed and had lots of quality chances, but Saros was the difference. Afterwards Ovechkin said he was mostly pleased with the way the team played, but said next week the game changes. Ovi pointed out that there weren’t many hits in Thursday’s tilt because both teams are saving themselves for the playoffs.

As for Coach Trotz, he liked a lot about the game and felt that the team managed the puck better, especially in the middle frame. When asked about the team’s ability to play the right way, he noted that he allows his players to use their talents at the blue lines, but he demands that they make good decisions with the puck. After a shaky start on Thursday, the Caps did that, for the most part. If they adhere to the “get pucks on net or behind the opposing defenders” mantra in the post season, then this team can compete with anyone.

Notes: Nashville was two for two on the power play. The Caps were two for five, but the last one was a whole half of a second long because the game ended…Ovechkin had 13 shot attempts; only four made it on net…shot attempts were 67-63 for the Caps…the Predators won the faceoff battle, 36-29. Oshie went 4-1…Tom Wilson had five of the Caps 24 hits. Ovi had 0 hits, which backs up what he said about saving himself for the playoffs…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 26:45. Osh Babe led all Capitals forwards with 22:49…Burakovsky broke his stick then was injured blocking a shot in period one. #65 returned to the game to play 12:54…Alex Chiasson started the game, but became ill and couldn’t finish after seven shifts and 4:10 of ice time…Cal Ripken attended the game and said he spoke to the Capitals before the contest…the Caps face the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night. It looks like the Capitals will play either New Jersey, Philadelphia, or Columbus in the first round of the playoffs since the Pens will likely finish second in the division.

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Burra Blues

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Holtby Shuts the Door On The Blues in a Caps 4-2 Triumph

Posted on 03 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The St. Louis Blues had everything to play for on Monday night at the Scottrade Center and the Washington Capitals had pretty much nothing to play for except trying to stay healthy and honing their game for the Stanley Cup Playoffs that start next week. The Caps also played in Pittsburgh on Sunday night while Coach Mike Yeo’s crew was idle. That sure sets up for a big victory for the home team, right?

Not exactly!

Braden Holtby turned in a gem of a performance in net stopping 34 of 36 shots to earn his 33rd victory of the season and Washington won, 4-2, on the banks of the Mighty Mississipp. Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Chiasson, Andre Burakovsky, and Alex Ovechkin scored for Washington while Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Berglund tallied for the Blues.

The Caps, who already clinched the Metropolitan Division on Sunday night in Pittsburgh, now sit at 48-25-7 (103 points) and they have two relatively meaningless games left at Capital One Arena against Nashville and New Jersey on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

Let’s get right into the analysis of this one.

Medic! – The number one priority in Monday’s tilt was for Washington to come out of the game healthy. T.J. Oshie, who left Friday’s contest against the Hurricanes with 10 minutes to go in period three, but played a full 60 against the Pens on Sunday, was wisely scratched along with the injured Jay Beagle (upper body). That put Shane Gersich and Chiasson back in the lineup at forward. Things got very scary on the banged up list in period one. Devante Smith-Pelly went into the boards hard, but seemed to be okay. The entire Capitals Nation then nearly had a heart attack as the Gr8 lost an edge and appeared to jam his skate into the rear boards behind the Blues net. Alex stayed down for several seconds, but then skated to the bench. Ovi would not miss a shift; however, he had to keep trying out his leg during timeouts the rest of the opening frame. Tom Wilson was shaken up later in period one, too. Fortunately all of those guys would return on their next shift and finish the game. Willy even took a shot off of his leg as the horn sounded on this huge win. Thankfully, it appears that the Caps survived this contest without any major injuries, but they do take back some bumps and bruises that need to heal up in DC.

Quick Strike– The Blues took the lead on a Washington defensive breakdown in period one and carried that edge to the locker room after 20 minutes. The Caps, however, stormed the castle in the first eight minutes of period two putting up a three spot on Jake Allen (30 saves). Backstrom scored in front of the net after a nice feed from Brett Connolly, then just under two minutes later Jakub Jerabek sprung Chiasson on a breakaway at the offensive blue line with a beautiful long feed that split the St. Louis D. Alex skated in and roofed one on Allen. At 7:54, the lead was 3-1, Caps. Andre Burakovsky scored a gorgeous goal on the rush that was similar to Dmitry Orlov’s puck through his skates tally that he notched in Dallas back in December. Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) had the primary assist and Brooks Orpik picked up the second helper on the third tally. The trio of red lights stunned the Blues, who were suddenly in deep trouble.

He Own Da Blues – Holtby, after a rough February, has been working his game back into form and he was the vintage Holtbeast in this one. There were several strong saves with traffic in front of him and he flashed his sassy glove to snag pucks at the Blues on a few other occasions. #70 was dialed in and looked very confident in the cage. The win runs Braden’s record against St. Louis to a perfect seven and zero, lifetime! The Caps now have both of their goalies playing well and it could not come at a better time. When it comes to the Blues, the Holtbeast OWWWWNNNNSSS them!

Spinning Wheel Must Come Down – Last month I praised the work of Trevor Hanson when he officiated back to back Cap games in California. Paired with the horribly inconsistent Gord Dwyer, Hanson sunk to his partner’s level in this affair. All night the players had no idea what was or wasn’t a penalty. Evgeny Kuznetsov was held on the opening shift on a potential breakaway with no call and from there things just deteriorated. On the night the Blues had four power plays to just two for Washington, although the Capitals received a man advantage with 2:07 left that put St. Louis way behind the eight ball. Ovi finished the deal with 1:31 left with an empty net power play marker, which is his 46th goal of the season with two games remaining. I’ll give Hanson a pass on this one, but once the playoffs start next week the teams need to have some consistency from the zebras!

Getting to the Cage – Shots on goal for the game were 36-34 for St. Louis, but by Comcast’s tracking the quality chances were pretty close (they had it 14-13, Capitals, late in period three). What I liked about Washington’s opportunities was they were coming from in front of the net on Allen. If the Caps continue to put bodies and pucks to the blue paint area their probability of winning post season hockey games goes up dramatically. There were still some occasions where they over passed, a play by Kuzy between the circles late in period three when it was 3-2 sticks out, but the team is starting to play the right way with more shots and more pucks being put behind the opposing D. That’s a recipe the Penguins used to win back to back Stanley Cups.

Crucial Giveaways –Jerabek had the great outlet pass to Chiasson for his goal, but he made another terrible defensive zone pass that nearly led to a goal for the second straight night. In Pittsburgh, he turned the puck over up the middle in period three instead of feeding the biscuit up the boards to two wide open Caps. Sidney Crosby should’ve buried that one, but he didn’t get full power on it and Philipp Grubauer robbed him. #28, in period two with a one goal lead, somehow thought that a cross ice pass from Holtby’s right across the front of the net to the left wing boards was a good idea for a breakout attempt. It wasn’t and even my two mites know you don’t do that, never, never! Berglund picked the puck off, but fortunately Holtby made another big save. I like Jakub, but he’s got to manage the disc better in the defensive zone. Throw it up the boards or eat it below the goal line if you don’t have a sure fire breakout pass from deep in your own end.

Special PK – Orpik had another super night on the penalty kill logging 4:16 of the 7:57 that Washington was shorthanded. John Carlson was right behind him in that department with 3:39 of time. The Caps, after holding Pittsburgh to a zero for five night on Sunday on the power play, blanked the Blues in four tries and St. Louis only had four shots on goal in those instances. It was nice to see defensemen Michal Kempny contribute on those units, too, logging 3:06 of PK time. If #6 can effectively kill penalties, then that frees up the very offensively dangerous Orlov to play more at even strength.

Roadies – As Caps excellent beat writer, Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) pointed out, the Capitals, with Sunday’s victory in Pittsburgh, won their 20th game away from home for the fourth straight season. On Monday night, they improved to 21-15-5 to close out their road slate for the campaign. The only other Metropolitan Division team to win over half of their road games in 2017-18 is the New Jersey Devils.

Notes: the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 37-29. Chandler Stephenson went 4-2…Ovi had nine shot attempts (5 on net) and was -2 in only 16:56 of ice time. He had some quality chances that he didn’t finish, but he did close this one out with the empty netter…Backstrom was the best skater on the ice for either team. He had three shots on goal and two points in 18:10 of action. His tally got Washington going in period two…Orlov led the Caps in ice time with 22:58. Coach Barry Trotz did a good job of spreading the minutes around in a meaningless game. Nobody on the team played less than 10 minutes and not a single player went over 23 minutes.

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Oshie Pens

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Caps Defeat the Pens, 3-1, to Clinch the Metro Division Title

Posted on 02 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin played in his 1,000th NHL game on Sunday night and his teammates made it a special one for him defeating the two time defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins in Pittsburgh, 3-1, to wrap up their third consecutive Metropolitan Division title. Philipp Grubauer made his first ever start against the Pens and he was outstanding making 36 saves. T.J. Oshie, Dmitry Orlov, and Tom Wilson scored for the Caps before Patrick Hornqvist tallied on a rebound with 3:45 remaining to end #31’s shutout bid.

The Caps final three games, at St. Louis on Monday night and then home against the Predators and Devils on Thursday and Saturday, respectively, are essentially meaningless from a standings perspective. Washington’s first round playoff opponent will be the first wildcard team and right now that situation is as clear as mud.

The triumph improves Coach Barry Trotz’ team to 47-25-7 (101 points), which is right in the 100 to 105 point range that I predicted before the season when many were losing their collective minds over General Manager Brian MacLellan’s offseason decisions. BMac knew what he was doing by focusing up the middle of the ice and the Capitals will now go into the post season for the fourth straight year in his tenure after the final disastrous season of the George McPhee era ended with Adam Oates as head coach back in 2014.

The following bullets are my thoughts and analysis on the win in Pittsburgh as we head into the final week of the NHL season (hey, it’s Masters week, too, so FORE!).

Stone Cold – There’s no doubt that the biggest reason the Penguins defeated the Caps in last season’s playoffs was due to the stellar play of Marc Andre-Fleury in net. On Sunday night, Grubauer took advantage of the start and seemed to really have the Penguins number. Granted the Pens played on Saturday night against Montreal, but Philipp was exceptional and earned the game’s number one star. Grubi stopped all 12 shots on goal the Penguins fired on their five power plays and he also got a nice break when Evgeni Malkin’s laser on a five on three advantage in period two hit iron. Luck is a part of the game and Washington had its share in this one. Crosby fanned on a shot in the third period that the German goaltender was able to glove. However, the Capitals had some great looks, too, that they didn’t get good wood on, including a couple of Ovechkin shots that he just couldn’t put up and over a prone Matt Murray (31 saves). The most important position in the post season is goalie and with Grubauer playing outstanding and Holtby rebounding into form, Washington has to feel strong about that spot for next week and beyond.

Starting Fast – The Capitals have not had many great starts this calendar year, but on Sunday on NBC Sports Channel, they came out well. Ovi nearly scored early in front, but Murray was able to stop it when Alex couldn’t get full control of the pass for one of his patented Gr8 shots. Washington kept pushing the pace though, and they gave the Pens a dose of their own medicine scoring on the rush. John Carlson got the puck up to Andre Burakovsky to give the Caps a three on two entering the offensive zone. Burkie then put a sweet pass on Oshie’s stick on the right wing side of the ice and the Osh Babe beat Murray five hole, like a rented mule, just 6:25 into the game. Getting the first goal was really important in this one because the Pens had played the night before and would need momentum plus the crowd for adrenaline. They would not receive that, pretty much all night.

Tactic Change – When Washington was in Pittsburgh on February 2nd, they found themselves in a track meet affair and lost, 7-4. Trying to play run and gun hockey with the Penguins is a recipe for disaster and the Caps proved it that night. This time, however, the Capitals made some adjustments to throttle the Pens rush game. Once they got ahead, instead of trying to chase the black and gold in the offensive zone, they backed out and clogged up the neutral zone passing lanes. It was a very 1990’s New Jersey Devils neutral zone trap style of hockey. As a result, the Pens were unable to utilize their stretch or flip passes once Coach Trotz’ team went into that configuration. The few odd man opportunities the Penguins received were the result of offensive zone turnovers. The Caps need to continue to clean those up, but they were certainly better structurally against Pittsburgh than they’ve been in the previous three 2017-18 regular season matchups.

Feeling Too Much Shame – If there was one thing to not like about Sunday’s game, it was the five penalties the Capitals took that put the Pens on man advantage situations. Pittsburgh has the best power play in the league and to gift them four of those opportunities was playing with fire. I didn’t like Chandler Stephenson’s hold, the too many men infraction, Matt Niskanen’s delay of game, and Ovechkin’s slash, they were unnecessary. The only penalty that occurred to negate a scoring chance was Tom Wilson’s on Malkin. #71 is a beast and he’s been on fire, so sometimes you have to break the rules to stop him. Fortunately Grubauer, Brooks Orpik (team high 5:57 of shorthanded time), Carlson, Niskanen, Lars Eller (4:04 of PK time) and the other forwards deployed while shorthanded did a great job. Hornqvist is an absolute force in front of the net and you need size to battle him to allow your goalies to see the shots. Orpik and Carlson had the lion share of that duty on Sunday.

Fly By Night – It’s no secret the highly skilled and talent Penguins love to RUSH the puck with their speed to create chances and as stated earlier, the Capitals throttled that primarily with a tactic change. In addition, however, they used the RUSH to their advantage, too. Washington’s second goal came eight seconds after a great penalty kill as Orlov skated up the middle of the ice and used the Pens defensemen as a screen. Dima shot from the slot and it beat Murray to make it 2-0 with 6:14 left in the middle frame. That goal seemed to really deflate the Penguins and their fans. It was a simple play by the Russian defensemen and the Caps continued to pour shots on Murray as they went up the ice once they had the lead. Too often the Capitals get into trouble by trying to be fancy at the offensive blue line, but on Sunday night they did what their coaches have asked of them, they put the puck on net or behind the opposing defensemen instead of trying to beat guys one on one. It was smart hockey, they generated 34 shots on net doing so, and the Penguins typically use that style as well as any team in the league. Hopefully Washington continues to play smart as they did on Sunday in the post season. The cross ice plays in April and beyond often end up getting you earlier tee times.

Bad Blood – Nobody likes to lose, but the Penguins got downright dirty at the end of this one. Hornqvist slashed Carlson and Orpik in frustration and the latter infraction earned him a late penalty that all but ended this contest. Malkin then went totally mental and interfered with Oshie in the neutral zone and sent his stick flying into the Caps bench. The Osh Babe took exception and got into it with Geno. With the linesman trying to send Malkin to the showers, #71 then went crazy trying to go after Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 assist). I’m sure #92 was giving him the business in their native Russian tongue, too. It was pretty clear the Pens were trying to set the tone for the next time these two teams could meet, which would likely be in round two. Even Mark “Hot Plate” Recchi found himself heading to the locker room early when the zebras kicked him out of the game for verbal abuse. It was a bad look for Mike Sullivan’s team and he’s no choir boy either.

The End – Officially, the game ended after the Penguins late hissy fit, but when Wilson deflected Niskanen’s shot past Murray just 23 seconds into period three to increase the score to 3-0, this game was pretty much over. Again, putting pucks at or towards the net with bodies going there is the way you win big hockey games. If Washington employs that style more often, the end of this season could be something special.

Notes: Jay Beagle suffered an upper body injury in period one and didn’t return. He only played 3:22 and Coach Trotz stated afterwards he’s probably not playing against the Blues…I’d like to see Oshie and Orpik get the night off, too. Those guys play a hard style so they need to be physically ready for next week. Both have missed games recently due to minor injuries, so it would be best to get both healthy…shot attempts were 59-57 for the Pens, but their edge primarily came from the power play. Washington was very good at five on five…both teams went 0 for 5 on the power play…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:58. Kris Letang played the most for Pittsburgh with 25:08…the Capitals lost the faceoff battle, 35-34, which wasn’t bad since Beagle was done in period one. Eller was 9-6 while Sidney Crosby went 16-9 for the home team…Devante Smith-Pelly led the Caps in hits with seven. He also logged 2:41 of shorthanded time with Beags out of the game…Ovechkin had eight shot attempts, including four on net, and four hits in 22:47 of ice time…Hits were 33-30 for the Caps.

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Kuzy Rags

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Kuznetsov’s Magic Gives the Caps a 3-2 OT Win Over the Rangers

Posted on 29 March 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the game winning goal 38 seconds into overtime after Lars Eller had tied this tilt up with 1:05 remaining in regulation to give the Caps a hard fought, 3-2, triumph over Henrik Lundqvist and the young and fast New York Rangers. Braden Holtby returned to the cage after missing several games due to a minor injury and stopped 35 of 37 shots to earn his 32nd victory of the season.

The rally, after the Rangers took the lead on Ryan Spooner’s goal with 9:25 left, pushes the Capitals record to 46-24-7 (99 points) and they just need four more points to clinch their third straight Metropolitan Division title.

The following are my thoughts and analysis on the Capitals ninth win in their last 10 games.

Doing the Bird – From the opening shift, Kuzy was flying in this tilt. The Rangers are a very good skating team, but all night #92 was moving around the ice with speed and precision. It took some big stops by Lundqvist (30 saves) to keep this game tied, especially in the second period when the Caps dominated the majority of the frame. Evgeny worked hard on the boards, too, and his wall work helped set up Eller’s game tying goal. That’s now 77 points in 74 games for the Russian center. The winning goal was a thing of brilliance. The Capitals caught a break with the puck hitting the linesmen in the neutral zone and Kuzy grabbed it and went the other way with Alex Ovechkin to his right. With all three guys in white expecting a pass to Ovechkin, Evgeny skated back out towards the blue line, circled, turned on the jets as he headed towards the net, and then fired a laser just inside the far post to end this affair. What a game by Kuznetsov and when he plays like that, Washington is hard to defeat. Whawk! Hallelujah! Whoa. Whawk! Hallelujah! Whoa.

Givin’ the Dog a Bone – Over the last several weeks, T.J. Oshie has looked a lot more like himself. He’s started scoring goals and putting up points, but his hustle and ability to win the loose puck and board battles is likely his best attribute. On Wednesday night against the Rags, #77 was everywhere with his will and determination. After the Rangers took a first period lead on a power play goal, a neutral zone steal by the Osh Babe, following a great step up by defensemen Brooks Orpik, led to a rush goal by Andre Burakovsky with 33 seconds left in the opening frame. Oshie corralled the puck in the neutral zone and skated down the left wing boards. He immediately noticed that he had a three on two so he alertly zipped the puck to Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) in the middle of the ice. Nicky probably should’ve shot, but he quickly passed to Burkie to his right and #65 got enough of the shot to beat King Henrik. Oshie’s tenacity and ability to dog puck after puck and come up with them is a major reason why this team had to bring him back if they wanted to contend for a Stanley Cup this season and beyond.

Boxed Too Often – The Rangers had 37 shots on net because the Capitals took five penalties. You can argue about one or two of them, and Steve Kozari and Ghislain Hebert aren’t exactly your top zebras, but the Michal Kempny four minute high stick and Jay Beagle hold were absolutely the correct calls. On those five power plays New York generated a whopping 14 shots on goal and one tally. Believe it or not, the Capitals actually did some good penalty killing work, especially Tom Wilson, who on numerous occasions, dropped down to gather in a rebound and skate the biscuit out of harm’s way. Willy logged 16:39 of ice time and 3:18 of it was on the PK. Orpik (6:28) and Matt Niskanen (6:42) were the top blue liners Coach Barry Trotz deployed to hold a very good New York power play, at bay, for the most part. Washington must stay out of the box in the postseason, especially against the Penguins and Flyers, who have deadly man advantage units.

Meet the Rookie – Nathan Gersich made his Capitals debut on Wednesday night and he handled himself quite well in 8:52 of action with three shots on goal and five total shot attempts. #63 was a puck magnet out there and he gives the Caps another forward they can throw into the mix for the bottom six. Gersich isn’t big, but he’s a good skater. In the post season things get clamped down fairly well so as impressive as he was in his first game, let’s not get carried away. He played on adrenaline in his first NHL game and that’s hard to maintain. Still, there is a lot of promise shown by this kid and that bodes well for him going forward into next season.

Return of the Holtbeast – Holtby was very good in this contest, as was his counterpart at the other end. #70 looked solid in net, despite having to cover for several defensive zone breakdowns by his teammates. Washington was too nonchalant with the puck in period one when New York fired 18 shots on goal. If not for Braden, the Caps could’ve been in a big hole after 20 minutes. He stopped 13 of 14 power play shots and the one that beat him took a fortuitous bounce. Holts was hung out to dry on the second Rangers goal. John Carlson passed up a great shot opportunity in the slot due to Lundqvistitis and New York pounced on the puck and went the other way. Kempny turned the wrong way while trying to cut off the pass on a two on one and that allowed Spooner to skate in all alone. The forward acquired in the Rick Nash trade with Boston, sniped one by Braden that he’ll likely say he should’ve had, even though it was a very high quality chance. With Philipp Grubauer now nursing a “tweak,” the Caps needed the Holtbeast to rise again and play well. He did just that on Rivalry Night.

Ovi Denied – Ovechkin had a slow start to this affair, much like the Caps. He had trouble handling the puck and getting off his lethal shot in period one, but in the middle frame he got it cranked up. With the score 1-1 in period two, the Gr8 hit the far post on the power play denying him of his 46th goal and preventing Washington from getting a lead on the young Rangers. For the game, Alex had 13 shot attempts in 20:22 of ice time. Only five of them were on goal, however. Ovi had zero points, but he did manage to be +2 since he was on the ice for the game tying and winning tallies. Alexander the Great will need five goals in his last five games to hit the Big 5-0.

A New York Minute – This was a pretty even game and it looked like the hungry Rangers were going to steal it and upset the Capitals apple cart. To quote the great Don Henley, however, “In a New York minute, everything changed.” Washington caught a break when Eller came on just before the Holtbeast left the ice as the Caps were dispensing of their keeper. The zebras chose not to penalize the Caps there and then after winning a neutral zone draw they got the puck in deep and Kuznetsov’s hard work allowed Backy to find Eller on the doorstep and tie things up late. Then less than a minute into overtime, Kuzy worked his magic to give the Capitals two more standings points. New York played hard and they are fast, but they also received stellar goaltending from Lundqvist, who always seems to give Washington fits. Wednesday was no exception and there were multiple occasions where the Caps allowed #30 to get into their heads and as a result, they passed up some good looks. There is nothing wrong with a shot, had Carlson done that midway through the 3rd period, the game stays tied. That’s a good lesson to learn for the post season.

Notes: The Caps will face Carolina on Friday at Capital One Arena before traveling to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins on Sunday night. A Washington win against the Canes along with the Pens only getting two points total against the Devils and Canadiens, on Thursday and Saturday, respectively, would render Sunday’s affair meaningless from a seeding standpoint for the Capitals…the Caps have now won seven games in a row at home…Washington won the face off battle, 33-29. Kuzy was 11-5…Burakovsky scored his 10th goal of the season and led the Caps with three hits…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:03. Oshie and Backstrom were the forward leaders in that department with 21:02…Eller’s goal was his 18th of this year and it’s a career high for him…the Caps were 0 for 3 on the power play.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Come on out to Michael’s Café in Timonium on Thursday night as WNST will be hosting Caps Coach Barry Trotz for several hours of hockey talk starting at 7:30 pm. Nestor Aparacio and yours truly will be talking hockey and other stories with the bench boss who is close to winning his third straight Metropolitan Division title. You can meet the coach, get his autograph and also get swabbed for the Bone Marrow Registry to help in the fight against cancer.

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Ovi Rags Rooks

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Ovechkin and Grubauer lead the Caps Over the Rangers

Posted on 26 March 2018 by Ed Frankovic

It had been over three weeks since the Washington Capitals came out and dominated a first period. Specifically, the outdoor game at the Naval Academy was the last time the Caps did that racing to a 3-1 lead en route to a 5-2 triumph over the Leafs on March 3rd.

On Monday night, the shaky start streak ended as the Capitals blitzed the rebuilding and young New York Rangers with four tallies in the first 17 minutes and then they closed things down for a 4-2 win at Madison Square Garden. The victory, the team’s fourth consecutive and the eighth in the last nine games, improves the Caps record to 45-24-7 (97 points) and they lead second place Pittsburgh by five points with six games remaining. Washington needs just three points now to clinch a playoff spot.

The Rangers and Capitals will meet again on Wednesday at 8 pm at Capital One Arena, but before that contest commences, below are my thoughts and analysis on Monday’s tilt.

Hart to Hart – Alexander Ovechkin has already won three Hart Trophies as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player. A case could easily be made for him winning his fourth this season, too, but Alex is more focused on another trophy that he doesn’t have yet. The Gr8 came out with that look in his eye in this affair and he made a super play at the offensive blue line to help set up Matt Niskanen’s goal that made it 2-0 just 5:13 into the game. After the Rangers took their first penalty of the night, Ovi then notched his 45th goal of the season from his office after a super feed from John Carlson to increase the lead to three pucks before the game was even nine minutes old. On the evening, Alex had nine shots attempts, including eight on net. If not for some great glove work by goalie Ondrej Pavelec (26 stops on 27 shots), who came on in relief for Alexandar Georgiev (3 saves in 6 shots) after Ovechkin’s goal, Alex would not still need five goals in six games to hit 50 for the season. Ovi played 17:41 and now has 83 points this season. He was named the game’s number one star. MVP! MVP! MVP!

Dynamic Duo – When Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom play well, the Caps typically win. That was once again the case on Monday night. Nicky got the offense rolling with a sweet pass as he crossed the offensive blue line, when surrounded by four Ranger players, to a streaking T.J. Oshie on the right wing. The Osh Babe, who said he didn’t touch Jakub Jerabek’s shot on Saturday night and as a result had the tally taken away, rifled one just inside the far post past Georgiev for a 1-0 lead just 2:50 into the game. This was #77’s 5th goal in his last seven games and his 17th of the season. Announcer Joe Micheletti commented on NBC that the Osh Babe recently changed sticks to one with more of a stiff shaft to help his accuracy and it seems to be paying off. Back to the centers, Backstrom had the primary helper on Oshie’s tally and the second apple on Ovi’s game winning goal. As for Kuzy, he made a great pass to Niskanen for his goal and also scored a shorthanded tally when Dmitry Orlov made an alert defensive zone flip up of the puck that Alex Chiasson corralled in the offensive zone and then fed to #92 trailing the play for a layup. That’s now 75 points on the season for Kuzy and Backy is up to 63 points. Backstrom and Kuznetsov logged 19:02 and 17:36 of ice time, respectively, so that’s nearly 37 minutes of game time that the opponents have to match up against elite center ice men. About the only thing I didn’t like from Kuznetsov in this one was his lacrosse shot attempt when it was 4-0. That’s a bit of a hot dog play that can humiliate your opponents and the Rangers certainly woke up after that circus type move. Kuzy is supremely talented enough to pull that shot off, but the Capitals likely go up 5-0 if he just makes the simple pass to Backstrom waiting on the door step. The coaching staff will hopefully turn that Harlem Globetrotters unnecessary hockey into a learning opportunity for #92. Coach Barry Trotz should also probably paraphrase the old bench boss, Lou Brown, for the Indians in Major League and say, “Nice try Kuzy, but don’t ever $%@$ing do that again!”

Career Year – Philipp Grubauer manned the pipes for Washington and he notched his 14th victory of the season making 28 saves on 30 shots. #31 was stellar, once again, and he is playing with a lot of confidence. There were too many quality stops to name, but he also received a bit of a break late when Vladislav Namestnikov missed an open net in period three after the Rags had cut the deficit in half. Grubauer was out challenging there following another defensive zone breakdown by the Capitals. Grubauer is now 14-9-3 with a .923 save percentage. The restricted free agent is having a monster year and with Braden Holtby ailing, but finally able to back up again on Monday, he has taken advantage of an opening and ran with it. You need multiple good goalies in this league, as evidenced by the Penguins last two Stanley Cup runs, and it is quite fortuitous that Vegas GM George McPhee opted to not take Philipp in the expansion draft. Without his play this season, the Capitals are likely struggling to make the playoffs. Goaltending is the most important position in hockey and the performances by the Holtbeast from October until the end of January and then Grubauer since February have put the Capitals just eight points away from clinching their third straight division title.

Push Back – In hockey, many fans assume that one team should totally dominate all 60 minutes, but this is the best league in the world and the vast majority of the time, that doesn’t happen, even when one team on paper looks far inferior to the other. The Rangers are rebuilding and are looking at many of their young players, including Lias Andersson, who scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game. Making it even more special for Lias was having his parents in attendance. The Capitals pretty much ended any chance the Rangers could win his debut with a blitzkreig of an opening 20 minutes. However, New York has players that are fighting for jobs for next season and they get paid to play, too, so you knew they’d have a push back, especially when Washington seemed to ease up a bit and get a little cocky with their decision making. New York scored two thirds of the way into period two and then in the first five minutes of the final stanza, but that was all they would get. In the second period the Rangers outshot the Caps, 16-10.

Special Sauce – Washington’s power play went 1 for 3 and generated seven shots on net, but more importantly, they were a perfect four for four on the penalty kill and also tallied shorthanded (Kuznetsov). New York only generated four shots on goal on those four man advantage situations. When Brooks Orpik was boxed for interference with 3:40 remaining, the Rangers had a chance to cut the margin to a single tally and give themselves some hope of forcing overtime. Even when pulling the goalie halfway through the power play, the Blueshirts were throttled by the Caps and really never had a good look at scoring. John Carlson, who probably wasn’t happy with himself on the two Rangers goals, was rock solid while shorthanded and had multiple good clears to close the win out for Washington.

No Sit Back – Despite the rocky second period, Washington played a very strong third period. The Rangers did score, but overall the Caps didn’t sit back and they tried to increase their lead while not risking giving up any odd man rushes, which is the right strategy. As a result, they outshot New York, 8-7, over the last 20 minutes. Washington is at its best when getting pucks towards the net or behind it with a lead. In addition, they kept the Rangers to the perimeter when defending, for the most part, and that was why they were able to earn another key two points after their super fast start.

Notes: Goalie Pheonix Copley was sent to Hershey with Holtby healthy enough to back up. The way Grubauer is going, especially against the Rangers, I’d imagine he plays again on Wednesday in the rematch…Orpik led the Capitals in hits with five and Tom Wilson had three. I’d like to see the Capitals play with more physicality on Wednesday. Too many forwards are going in for pucks by reaching. They need to put their shoulder into the scrums and win the puck battles more often…the Caps outshot the Rangers, 32-30, but shot attempts were 62-47, for New York. A lot of that is score effects…Orlov was superb on Monday and led the Caps in ice time with 24:39. Niskanen, who scored his seventh goal of the season top shelf with a beautiful shot and supreme patience, logged 22:49. That defensive pair was excellent…the Capitals won the face-off battle, 27-26. Chandler Stephenson went 5-0.

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Carlson Beats Stars

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Carlson’s Late Tally Gives the Caps a 4-3 Win Over Dallas

Posted on 21 March 2018 by Ed Frankovic

John Carlson rifled a puck past Kari Lehtonen with 4:59 remaining in regulation to give the Washington Capitals a huge 4-3 victory over the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night at Capital One Arena. Alexander Ovechkin scored his league leading 44th goal in the middle frame and Braden Holtby stopped 24 of 27 pucks in the triumph.

The win improves Washington’s record to 42-24-7 (91 points) and puts them four points clear of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who lost to the Islanders on Tuesday, for first place in the Metropolitan Division with nine games remaining in the regular season. Columbus has tied the Pens in points at 87 by virtue of their 5-3 defeat of the Rangers, but Coach John Tortorella’s streaking squad only has eight games left to play.

For the Caps, this was their first triumph over the Stars in DC since November 30, 2006 (h/t to the great Mike Vogel). In addition, Lehtonen had pretty much owned the Capitals in his career coming into this tilt with a 18-6-3 record and a .921 save percentage in 27 career appearances (thanks again, @VogsCaps).

On a snowy and icy night in DC, Washington finally turned the tables on the Stars.

How did they do it?

First off, at even strength, the Capitals outplayed Dallas and out shot them, 26-18. The Caps were missing star center Evgeny Kuznetsov for the second straight game due to an upper body injury, but they still generated the majority of the chances. T.J. Oshie scored his 16th goal of the season, and his fourth tally in his last four games, on a rebound to tie this affair at one early in period two. Just over a minute later, Matt Niskanen notched his sixth marker of the year on a point shot that hit a Dallas stick on the way in. Brett Connolly provided some good traffic in the high slot on that one.

Next, with the game tied at two just past the midpoint of the contest, Oshie won a faceoff cleanly back to Carlson, who then put the disc on a tee for the Gr8 and he rocketed the biscuit by Lehtonen (28 saves) on the power play to give the Caps a 3-2 lead.

Around those three Washington tallies, the Stars scored a trio of goals. The first two were directly attributable to Capitals penalties. Nicklas Backstrom took a bad offensive zone tripping infraction that led to Tyler Seguin’s 39th of the season in the first frame and then just five seconds after Michal Kempny came out of the box following an offensive blue line interference penalty, Alexander Radulov tipped home a John Klingberg shot from the point to tie the game at two.

After Ovechkin’s laser to reclaim the lead on the power play, the Gr8 nearly had his 45th of the season after a fine play by top line Tom Wilson. Willy fired on net, got his own rebound, went around the cage, and fed a wide open Ovi at the top of the paint, but Alex was unable to lift the puck past Lehtonen. That inability to finish would prove costly when Jamie Benn skated past Dmitry Orlov to beat Holtby with 1:45 left in the middle frame. Benn never sees that one on one rush, where he had initial speed on his side, if Lars Eller makes a smarter play in the neutral zone and gets the puck deep. Instead #20 tried a play that will be a recipe for death in the playoffs, he slowed down and tried to cut to the middle of the ice before the offensive blue line and Benn stripped him clean like he was working the streets as a pick-pocket specialist back in the day on the south side of Chicago.

With the game tied at three heading into period three, things were very tight and the Stars really needed this one to keep pace in the Western Conference playoff race. The Capitals, however, are in a tight race of their own and they more than matched the Stars desperation and found a way to nudge ahead in a four on four situation. Brooks Orpik, who missed Sunday’s debacle in Filthy against the Flyers along with #92, returned to the lineup after a lower body injury and brought the physicality needed on the back end to keep the paint clear for the Holtbeast. While doing that job in the final frame, Radek Faska thought it would be cute if he poked at #70 after he covered the puck. The man called “Batya” (father) by his teammates then put Radek in a headlock as the duo wrestled to the ice. Both were sent to the box for two minutes to feel shame. This put the game in a four on four speed situation with 6:12 remaining.

73 seconds later, Coach Barry Trotz’ team took the lead for the final time shortly after Carlson smartly fired the puck on net from center ice to start the goal sequence. Rookie blue liner Christian Djoos won a race to the puck in the left wing corner and fed Eller for a great chance in front. Lars hit the post and then had another shot blocked. Ovechkin won a battle, then Eller passed the disc back to #74 at the right point and with Ovi causing havoc in front of Lehtonen, Carlson’s shot hit the twine for the game winning goal.

Overall, this was a solid victory for the Capitals. They made some bad decisions with the puck, at times, and the four power plays they allowed before the game was 30 minutes old is something that can’t happen in April and beyond. However, they played well, especially at even strength, to outwork and earn two very important points against a team that had everything to lose. Washington overcame their early penalty problems and finally found a way to knock off the team from the Lone Star State in the Nation’s Capital. This contest didn’t set up well for the Caps, especially with Kuzy out, but they found a way to get it done and the Metropolitan Division title is within their grasp as we head into the home stretch.

Notes: Kuznetsov skated on Monday and is traveling to Detroit (Thursday), Montreal (Saturday), and Madison Square Garden (vs. Rangers on Monday) for the Caps upcoming three game road trip…the Caps have won five of their last six games. The loss to Philadelphia on Sunday was a real poor effort and with #44 out of the lineup, the Flyers crashed the cage relentlessly with no fear of real retaliation. The Caps have won five in a row with Orpik in the lineup (but, Corsi!)…the Capitals won the faceoff battle, 35-26. Jay Beagle was 13-4…shots on goal were 32-27 for the Caps. The Stars had eight shots on goal on their four power plays…Wilson was dominant in this one and he really hit Dallas’ D all night (9 total hits!). #43 is skating well and he was back to carrying the play after having a few tough games after suffering a broken nose in California. Willy had six shots on net in 21:06 of ice time…Ovi had eight shot attempts and a goal and two assists in 22:13. He now has 81 points on the season (44 goals, 37 assists).  12 of Washington’s 32 shots came from their two power forwards, Ovi and Willy…Holtby looked good in net. He made some key saves when the game was in doubt, especially when Dallas had the man advantage due to bad penalties by the Caps.

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