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Caps Keep Rolling with Win Over Florida

Posted on 04 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Roberto Luongo has historically given the Washington Capitals fits, going 15-1 in his last 16 starts against the Caps.

So Sunday’s tilt with the Panthers at the Verizon Center, against a pesky Florida squad that is big and had previously taken the Capitals to two shootouts, loomed like a tough one coming off of the big Winter Classic victory on Thursday.

Despite being shorthanded five times, including three times in the final period, the Capitals carried the play for much of this contest and garnered a well earned 4-3 victory over the Panthers to improve to 20-11-7 (47 points).

The Capitals are now 10-1-3 in their last 14 games.

Alexander Ovechkin (goal and an assist) had another stellar game and it was his open ice collision with Luongo in the first period that eventually drove the net minder from the cage after forty minutes. Luongo gave up three goals but because his club also tallied three times, he wasn’t saddled with the loss. Al Montoya, who played the third period, gave up a goal on five shots to take the defeat.

Braden Holtby was in net for Washington, his 15th straight start, and he stopped 29 of 32 shots en route to his 18th victory (18-8-6). His save percentage on the season is at .920 and he continues to play well. About the only goal you could fault him on was the third Florida tally, by Nick Bjugstad, which came from down low and beat #70 top shelf in the closing minutes.

After a strong opening period that was scoreless, the Caps struck first on the PP with Ovechkin’s 19th tally of the season off of a sweet pass from Nicklas Backstrom. That first goal is so important this year since the Capitals are now 19-1-2 in that situation against a 1-10-5 record when the opponent gets on the board first. Despite the early lead, the Capitals would play keystone cops at the offensive blue line which led to a two on zero Cats rush. Somehow Holtby managed to stop the first two shots on that sequence, but his defensive help didn’t come quickly or properly enough and the third shot found the back of the twine. Just 85 seconds later Florida took the lead.

In the past, the Caps might have wilted, but not this more resilient bunch under Coach Barry Trotz. The Capitals would storm back, thanks primarily to the line of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward to grab a 3-2 edge heading into period three. From there Ovechkin set up Andre Burakovsky for the fourth goal that ended up being the game winner.

Overall, the Capitals played well but they still have issues taking penalties. They were shorthanded for a total of 9:13 and as chronicled after the Winter Classic win, the number of infractions they are taking must decrease. Granted the call against Brooks Orpik that gave the Cats a 5 on 3 was downright ridiculous and Trotz called out Vincent Trocheck for diving on that play in his post game presser.

Florida is a big and physical team, but the Capitals outworked them on Sunday and that’s why they won the game and the Panthers coach, Gerard Gallant, made that clear afterwards.

“We weren’t good enough. I mean, we battled back and found a way to come close there at the end, but not good enough. We didn’t play hard enough. They were more physical than we were tonight. They wanted the puck battles and that’s why we ended up losing the game at the end,” said Gallant.

Burakovsky, who is only 19 and played in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) last season, received his first start on the first line with Ovechkin and Backstrom and he played well in 12:05 of even strength time. His skill, primarily his hands and shooting ability, is something sorely needed in that top line position and he delivered on Sunday. Trotz liked #65’s play and commended him afterwards.

“He was playing with two big stars, and he didn’t look intimidated. A couple times he shot the puck where sometimes you should make the extra pass, but he got the puck and he just made plays. I like that. Defensively he was pretty sound. We didn’t spend much time in our own end, but he was pretty sound in terms of his tracking and all that, so I was really happy for him. He’s such a great kid and he comes from a great family. He’s a really good hockey player…but I think in the scheme of things, looking at his whole career, he’s going to be a really good player for us,” said Trotz.

So the Capitals continue to keep finding ways to win hockey games and they get two days of practice at Kettler Ice Plex before facing the Maple Leafs in Toronto Wednesday and then they finally play the Flyers, for the first time this season, on Thursday, in Philadelphia. Those are two tough games in a back to back situation and the Caps last loss was on the 2nd night of one of those in New York right before Christmas. It will be interesting to see if Trotz goes with Holtby in net twice or turns to Justin Peters for a start for the first time since November 29th.

Notes: Washington won the face off battle 43-29 with Backstrom going 18-8 from the dot…shot attempts favored the Caps, 63-60…the Panthers were 0 for 5 on the power play while the Caps went 1 for 2 in only 3:16 of man advantage time. Yes, the Caps have been taking too many penalties lately, but some of the calls recently have been beyond bad. Bottom line, the officiating needs to improve too and they need to start penalizing the divers, like Trocheck, and not the players with integrity, such as Orpik.

 

 

 

 

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Caps Win A Perfect Winter Classic

Posted on 01 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis was smiling and beaming in the locker room following the Caps 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Bridgestone Winter Classic and he had every right to be doing so.

Leonsis, who fought long and hard for the outdoor game in the DC area, watched his club pull out a late victory over the best team in the NHL in the Blackhawks on an amazing stage.

The temperature was perfect, the ice was as good as it could be (kudos to Dan Craig of the NHL) and the venue, Nationals Park, was spectacularly laid out, including the replica of the Nation’s Capitol building with a copy of the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pond out in front of it that led to the ice rink.

Washington’s star player, Alexander Ovechkin, had an outstanding game with a goal and an assist while goalie Braden Holtby was excellent in the cage again stopping 33 shots. Troy Brouwer scored the winner on the power play with just 12 seconds to go leading to a wild celebration and flying seat cushions at Nats Park.

The victory, the Caps 9th in a very difficult December schedule, moves them to 19-11-7 and back into 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division. Washington is now 18-1-2 when scoring first this season (they scored the first two tallies in this one).

It was a magical day for Washington and Leonsis, who believed that the greater Maryland and Virginia area could make a large hockey event work, and he was proven right.

Now for some analysis of this one.

Washington was extremely solid in periods one and three but they really struggled in the middle frame when they took three minor penalties. Two of those overlapped for 91 seconds so that meant the Caps had to survive a five on three situation against a talented Hawks team. Somehow the Capitals managed to do that, thanks to good goaltending, solid PK work, and over passing by Chicago. Afterwards Blackhawks coach Joel Quennville noted that when you don’t score on a five on three you often lose the game. He also wasn’t happy about his team’s lack of shots on goal during that situation. The two time Stanley Cup Champion was correct on both counts.

Part of the reason the Capitals were able to hold off a talented power play was Washington’s “Honest Abe” player of the game, Brooks Orpik. When last seen on Monday night, #44 was writhing in pain on the ice in Long Island clutching his right knee. Somehow what looked to be a potentially season ending injury was only a minor tweak and Coach Barry Trotz was able to field his best left handed defensemen against Chicago. Not only did Orpik suit up, but he logged a Washington game leading 24:44 of ice time, including 5:43 of the 7:26 the Caps were shorthanded! You just can’t over state what Orpik has meant to this team and both Eric Fehr (breakaway goal) and Ovechkin called him a “warrior” afterwards.

When Orpik was handed the Abe Lincoln gear that goes with being named, by his teammates, the Honest Abe player of the game, in #44 style he provided a quick and simple speech that closed with “I thought everybody was fully committed, so let’s keep it going.”

Trotz noted that Orpik is a guy that doesn’t lead by talk, but by showing up every day and doing things properly. He’s been a great example for his teammates and he’s been an invaluable player on the back end.

“You can only admire what he does and brings to the group. He just makes everybody better. He doesn’t say a whole lot in the room, he says everything with how he plays and how he lives and his actions and his commitment to the game. So, it really is an important piece to what we’re trying to do here in Washington,” said Trotz on Orpik.

The down side is that the Caps had to kill off so many penalties, whether you agree with the officiating or not (and it was not a good day for the guys in stripes, especially the last two calls by Francois St. Laurent on Matt Niskanen and Jonathan Toews). Washington too frequently is chirping at the referees and taking bad penalties. John Carlson’s cross check to the face that put the Caps down two men was a retaliation and unnecessary one. Too often the Caps are losing their focus and some of the penalties are just not smart, like Jason Chimera’s holding infraction and Brouwer’s board in the first period that took the Capitals off of the power play. Despite the issues, Trotz did point out a positive that has come from these mental lapses.

“The thing that we have been really good at this year is, when we get off what I call the rails a little bit and we lose our focus, we’re able to get back and find ways to win.”

That was certainly true on New Year’s Day, but the players I spoke with afterwards, including Orpik, Niskanen and Mike Green (two assists) all said the team needs to limit the number of infractions.

“Yeah we talked about [penalties] before and obviously the 2nd period we took quite a few penalties…every team has a good power play these days…moving forward I think we have to be more disciplined. When you are down that much it taxes certain guys that are penalty killers…we got a lot of good guys that don’t kill penalties so that throws them off a bit and takes them out of their rhythm. There are a lot of things it has an effect on,” said Orpik on Washington’s penalty issues, which helped aid Chicago in out shot attempting the Caps, 26-11, in period two.

“Barry talked about discipline and we sort of needed to refocus. I think we got away from our focus. I think we had a good 1st [period] and once we got into that second period maybe we got caught up with the emotion and the energy of the building and then our focus changed to complaining about penalties and what not…We got to be a little more disciplined,” added Green (two assists in 14:59) on what the team discussed after period two.

Clearly the Capitals aren’t helping themselves with some of these bad penalties. Complaining to the referees, whether justified or not, will not help the cause. Simply put, the players have to focus on their game and let Trotz and GM Brian MacLellan deal with the officiating.

In the end though, this was a huge two points for the Capitals on a perfect day at Nationals Park and the large majority of the 42,832 that attended went home happy, much like Capitals owner Ted Leonsis.

Notes: Power plays were 6 to 4 for Chicago and the overall shot attempts ended up 62-58 for the Blackhawks…the Caps lost the face off battle 42-36 but Nicklas Backstrom was 16-13…next up for the Caps are the Florida Panthers on Sunday at the Verizon Center at 3 pm.

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Caps Set to Face Blackhawks in Bridgestone Winter Classic

Posted on 31 December 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Well, it’s finally here.

We are less than 24 hours from puck drop at Nationals Park for the NHL’s Annual Winter Classic, sponsored by Bridgestone, between the Washington Capitals and the Chicago Blackhawks.

For those following along on EPIX in Ross Greenberg’s Road to the Winter Classic, you’ve watched two highly skilled teams orchestrated behind the bench by two very upfront coaches, in Barry Trotz and Joel Quennville.

Washington’s off season coaching change along with the personnel moves they’ve made on defense (via new GM Brian MacLellan) have propelled this club to an 8-2-3 December, and major cause for optimism, as I chronicled on Sunday.

The Caps are hot, but in this match up they are facing the best team in the NHL in the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks are led by Jonathan Toews, who has won two Stanley Cups and two Olympic Gold Medals in the last four years. He’s arguably the best player in the NHL, depending on who you talk to. Add to Towes the likes of Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook and it’s easy to see why this club is so good and narrowly missed winning Cup number three last year (they were knocked out by the Los Angeles Kings in game 7 of the Western Conference Finals in OT).

Chicago is talented, structured, and disciplined. They are everything the Capitals and Alex Ovechkin want to become on a consistent basis. Under Trotz, the Capitals are making steps towards that, but they are still a work in progress.

So let’s talk about Thursday’s game, which based on the weather conditions, may see a 60 to 90 minute delay due to weather. It’s not precipitation or temperature, but the sun that could cause the delay. With the shadows not covering the ice until roughly 2:30 pm, the potential for injuries due to glare (someone not seeing a puck properly) or bad ice (the sun can make the surface uneven) are much higher at the scheduled start time of 1 pm.

Now to the match up. The big question in Caps land is will Washington’s top left handed defensemen and major physical presence, Brooks Orpik, play after suffering a right knee injury on Monday?

Orpik did not skate during the normal team practice Wednesday at Nationals Park, but he did at Kettler Ice Plex in the morning, per a video shot by a fan that the super Capitals blog, Russian Machine Never Breaks, obtained. From that video, it’s apparent that Orpik could likely play, as he was moving well, but he’ll be a game time decision.

If Orpik is out, then Nate Schmidt goes into Orpik’s slot next to John Carlson, who by the way is having a very quiet monster season. #74 is fourth in the NHL in scoring by defensemen with four goals and 23 assists. He’s also a team leading +14! Yes, the 2010 American hero in the IIHF World Junior Championships has actually improved on last year’s super Olympic team making season playing alongside the steady and snarly Orpik. So hopefully Orpik’s absence, if it occurs, does not impact Carlson, as well.

Trotz routinely puts Carlson and Orpik against the opponents top line, so the question now becomes which D pair, if 44 is out, does he go with against the Toews-Kane line? My guess is he may switch that to the Matt Niskanen-Karl Alzner duo.

Up front, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have been DOMINATING on their shifts in puck possession in recent weeks and they are due for a big game on the scoresheet. Does it come Thursday against Chicago?

To win, I really think that 8 and 19 will have to carry the day and Braden Holtby will need to be his usual stellar self, especially if Orpik doesn’t play.

As chronicled over at another great Caps web site, Japers Rink, the Caps power play is in a recent funk and needs to snap out of it to aid the Caps chances of beating the mighty Blackhawks.

The Caps have also been getting solid production from the line of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward.

Chicago is a great team and they bring four good lines. Washington will need their second scoring line and their fourth line to be near their best to get a victory.

This game on New Year’s Day is only for two points, but let’s be honest, it’s a huge deal and the players will approach it like a playoff one.

It’s the NHL’s regular season signature event and a can’t miss one for hockey fans.

 

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Caps Becoming the Team No One Wants to Play

Posted on 28 December 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Back on November 15, prior to the St. Louis Blues defeating the Washington Capitals, Blues Coach Ken Hitchcock, pointed out the differences he was seeing in the Barry Trotz coached Caps from past squads. Specifically, he said the following (courtesy of Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post):

“With the skill level he has to work with, it’s going to be a very difficult team to have to compete against. Hopefully we got them in the middle of their transition phase, but you can just see where it’s going to be in a month if the buy-in continues. It’s a lot of talented people that are beginning to understand structure and discipline and it’s going to be hard to play against.”

Fast forward to December 27, 2014, just over a month later, and after a 3-0 beat down of the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Consol Energy center the Caps are in the midst of an 8-1-2 run and have indeed become a club that is hard to play against.

Ever since Bruce Boudreau was fired, the Pens have pretty much owned the Capitals. They had won eight straight against Washington heading into Saturday’s tilt and were sitting atop the entire Eastern Conference at 22-7-5.  The Caps had to travel the day of the game and go into a hostile arena, but they never flinched and dominated the Penguins in nearly all facets of the game.

You get two points for every game you win, but this victory on Saturday meant more than that. It was a validation of the hard work this club is putting in learning the Trotz system, and more importantly, it is re-enforcement that they are becoming a team and changing their culture, and are no longer just a bunch of guys who show up for games and try to win them.

This team is as committed as I’ve ever seen it. They are hard on the puck at both ends and they are doing the things that win hockey games, like driving the net, something they had struggled with for several years. On the game’s final tally, Eric Fehr’s second of the night, all three Capitals forwards were in front of the net. When was the last time you can remember the Caps doing something like that?

It was a joy to watch and Sidney Crosby, who was -3 on the night as a result of being shut down by John Carlson and Brooks Orpik, was so frustrated that he threw his stick.

Yes, the Penguins know it now, this is a different Capitals team. They no longer float in their own zone waiting for breakaways, instead they hound the puck carrier up and down the ice. They hit, they block shots, and they protect their goalie, Braden Holtby (31 saves), who was outstanding once again.

Washington won despite their captain, Alex Ovechkin, having 0 points. But don’t mistake the point total for a lack of production. The Gr8 was a beast in this game with 18 shots attempts, including 10 on goal.  Ovi also had 5 hits in 23:34 of ice time. He and Nicklas Backstrom were dominant despite not getting any offensive points. But if they keep playing like that, the points will certainly come. The Capitals top duo is wearing out opponents and that is making it easier for the other lines to contribute.

Fehr notched two goals by going to the net on a very strong line with Joel Ward and Brooks Laich while Marcus Johansson had a huge marker on a two on one break to make it 2-0 in the third period. MJ90 wisely shot the puck on that odd man rush and he beat Marc Andre-Fleury to really put the Pens behind the eight ball.

Overall, the Caps carried the play in this one out shot attempting the Penguins, 63-53, and the Caps also survived a five on three Pens power play late in regulation. Washington played well and when they made any type of mistake, their goalie came through with a clutch save.

Simply put, this is a different Capitals team, and like Hitchcock stated, if the buy-in continues, look out.

That buy-in must continue. The addition of Orpik, who was +3 in 24:04 of ice time, has changed the dimension for the Caps on the back end. Teams have a lot more trouble getting to the front of the Washington cage for easy goals. Bringing in Matt Niskanen has also allowed Carlson and Mike Green to be fresher and play more to their strengths. Those two former Penguins have been difference makers this season, whether you like their contracts or not.

The Caps are now 18-11-6 but are still in 4th place in the Metropolitan Division. The transformation is still occurring and Trotz also has the tough task of trying to fit in three younger players in the lineup in Tom Wilson, Andre Burakovsky, and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Those three all have promising futures because of their skill sets, but they are still green when it comes to the NHL. It’s a tough balancing act, but so far the team is finding ways to win while developing the young guys.

So now it’s on to Long Island for Monday’s tilt against the Islanders, a team they went 1-0-1 against in late November. The Caps are just five points in back of New York, who are now without goalie Jaroslav Halak. It’s another big game for Washington and they have a chance to make things very uncomfortable for their opponents once again.

The way Washington is playing and dominating their division opponents, they are quickly becoming the team in the Metro that noone wants to play.

 

 

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Ovechkin, Holtby Propel Caps Over Devils

Posted on 21 December 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin has been flying for weeks but not getting rewarded with goals (only two tallies in last nine games). On Saturday in New Jersey, the Gr8 continued to shine on the ice but through two periods, he did not have a goal or a point, yet his team was leading 2-0. Ovi had hit two posts and was on the ice for both Caps goals, helping create net traffic on Mike Green’s marker that made it 1-0.

It seemed that eventually he would break out and end his scoring drought and in vintage Ovechkin fashion he did it with a highlight reel goal. The Gr8 took the puck in his own zone with just under 10 minutes left in regulation, raced up the right wing boards, made a sweet move around Jon Merrill and then roofed the biscuit top shelf on the backhand past Cory Schneider to give Washington a 3-0 lead to effectively end the contest. That one will be all over the highlight shows and You Tube.

Jay Beagle (two assists) would work hard up the right wing boards with just over two minutes left allowing Nicklas Backstrom (two goals) to hit the empty net and seal a 4-0 Caps victory.

Washington now improves to 16-10-6 and completes their three game road trip at 2-0-1 (only loss in a 20 round shootout in Florida). The Caps are really playing better as a team and as a result, they seem very comfortable on the road (10-5-2 on the season). When the Capitals score first, the game has been pretty much over this season, as they are now 15-1-2 when getting the first tally.

In addition, the Caps are now 6-0-2 in their last eight games. Braden Holtby was outstanding once again on a Saturday night stopping all 21 shots he faced, including several tough ones when the game was still close. #70 is in a groove, and I credit a lot of that to individual improvement but also to the fact that Coach Barry Trotz has the whole club playing a structured defense. It’s amazing what an experienced coach can do for a club and Trotz is transforming a Capitals team that was awful in their own zone into a much tougher team in all zones. Goalies love knowing where the shots are coming from and that is primarily the case for the Caps goalie these days.

Sure the Devils played on Friday night and are a banged up and old team, but in the past the Capitals had trouble winning games at The Rock. Trotz and company seem to be changing a lot of the old Caps paradigms and this team looks much more confident playing the game. When someone makes a mistake, it seems there is always another Capital there to prevent it from costing the club. Washington is much more relentless on the puck as they’ve become more and more comfortable with Trotz’ system.

Ovechkin and Backstrom were dynamite on Saturday and at least one of them was on the ice for all four of Washington’s goals. The Gr8 was a +3 in this game and is now +7 overall after being -35 under Coach Adam Oates and a lousy defense last season. Defense is now something the Capitals understand and continue to improve at, thanks to the upgrades on the blue line and the Trotz hiring.

They continue to get better and are now 8-1-2 in the Metropolitan Division. Still, they have yet to face the New York Rangers or the Pittsburgh Penguins. After playing the Senators on Monday at the Verizon Center, they travel to MSG on Tuesday to face Rick Nash and company and then on Saturday they get Sidney Crosby and the Pens at the Consol Energy Center.

It’s been a busy month for Washington, but they’ve continued to pick up wins and points thanks to their improved defense, strong goaltending, and a willingness to get pucks to the cage with net presence.

Notes: Shot attempts were low in this one, 37-36, for the Caps. Ovechkin had 10 of the Caps shot attempts, including two posts and then a missed penalty shot…faceoffs were even at 28-28…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time at 23:31. Trotz continues to spread the ice time out and that helps keep players much fresher and less likely to get injured.

 

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Mike Green Show Leads Caps in OT Over Blue Jackets

Posted on 18 December 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Well they don’t call him “Game Over Greenie” for nothing.

After being on the ice for what the Columbus fans thought was the Blue Jackets winning goal with 4:25 remaining in regulation, Mike Green took the game over for Washington.

#52 went end to end on an amazing rush to set up Troy Brouwer for his skate tying goal with three minutes left in regulation.

Then, on the opening shift in overtime, Greenie took the biscuit in the neutral zone and flew around Jack Johnson to set up a streaking Eric Fehr in the slot for the game winner just 42 seconds into the extra frame. It was another top notch pass that only a few NHL players can make and it allowed the Capitals to get a win after blowing an early 2-0 lead.

Wow. This was one exciting game that was filled with animosity and emotion, exactly what you want in an NHL tilt.

The Blue Jackets came in as winners of seven straight, but the Caps were entering the contest with a 4-0-2 mark in their last six.

Washington TOTALLY dominated the first period and led, 2-0, before an iffy call on Alex Ovechkin in period two put Columbus on the power play. The Blue Jackets scored there and then on another man advantage as the Caps seemed to forget that at even strength they were the better club. For the night, the Caps out shot attempted Columbus 67-41, and CBus had the extra power play too.

That second period was a crazy one with three fights and Washington losing their heads (see John Carlson’s high hit on Ryan Johansen). The Capitals need to learn that the referees really are mostly incompetent so they should just do their best to ignore them and play the game. Instead, Washington got frustrated and away from their game plan, which Columbus wanted since the Caps are the superior team.

That ploy by Todd Richards’ club nearly paid off as the home team in the ugly third jerseys took 3-2 and 4-3 leads in the third period. But Washington showed resilience and Green and company were determined not to lose. It was an impressive performance in a barn that is loud and has a crazy cannon. The Caps, just a year ago with a much weaker defense and a poor coach, were run out of Nationwide Arena twice in games that were not close at all.

So on Twitter (@EdFrankovic) today I called this game a benchmark one for Washington, like I labeled the Islander back to back tilts around Thanksgiving. The Capitals record in those three games is now 2-0-1 with two of those tilts on the road. In each case, the Capitals carried the play against an opponent that was playing well coming into the game.

This team, when it wants to work, is pretty darned good.

However, when they get complacent or lose their focus, like they did in period two tonight, they play very poorly.

Fortunately for Washington, they kept working, even after the lazy shift that gave Columbus the 4-3 lead.

Green and his teammates were relentless and they deserved the “W” for that effort, which included going to the net and rattling a super goalie in Sergie Bobrovsky (31 saves).

The Caps are now 15-10-6 and back in 3rd place in the Metropolitan division. More importantly, they are now 7-1-2 in the division. Washington is also 14-1-2 when scoring first.

A good start and a highlight reel finish by Green was the recipe for success on Thursday night.

Notes: Ovechkin was great but held without a point. He had 14 shot attempts (6 SOG), 3 hits, and was +2 in 22:03 of ice time…Michael Latta had one of his best games ever with two assists. He was physical all night…Karl Alzner had a goal and an assist in one of his better games this season…Green is an unrestricted free agent after this season. The Capitals have really improved their blue line but it would not be as solid if they lost #52. Resigning Green needs to be a priority.

 

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Caps Play Best Game in 4 Years

Posted on 09 December 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Craig Laughlin called the Caps “Relentless” after Tuesday night’s 5-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

That choice of words was extremely accurate as the Capitals routinely swarmed the puck and pinned a very good Bolts team in their own end on numerous occasions en route to a huge win on the road.

My take on that victory: It was the best game the Caps have played in about four years, considering the opponent.

Washington played Coach Barry Trotz’ system effectively, limiting turnovers and odd man rushes while playing fast and physical. It was an exciting game to watch and a style, that if the Caps can continue to master, will push them back up towards the elite teams in the league.

They also overcame a nine minute stretch in the second period where they had to kill off three straight minor penalties, two of which were very questionable calls. That’s six minutes of shorthanded time against one of the best pure goal scorers in the league in Steven Stamkos, yet the Caps PK unit was marvelous and goaltender Braden Holtby (33 saves) was outstanding.

This win gives the Caps a three for three road trip and Holtby was a staggering 3-0 with a 1.67 goals against average and a .950 save percentage.

Another key to the Capitals great road trip: fast starts.

Alex Ovechkin (two goals) scored in the first minute of this one by crashing the net with Tom Wilson (1 assist) and the Caps seemed to feed off of that early success. In the first 10 minutes Washington could’ve been up at least two or three pucks but Ben Bishop (30 saves) was strong early before finally being overwhelmed by the Caps offensive attack. The Caps are now 12-1-1 when notching the first tally.

What I also really liked about this game was the Capitals did not make the extra pass just inside the offensive blue line, instead getting pucks and bodies towards the cage. The first, third, and fourth Washington goals were all about net presence and not over passing. Troy Brouwer’s game winner was a sweet shot off of an excellent feed by Marcus Johansson (two assists), but Evgeny Kuznetsov made the play at both ends by chipping the puck out in a perfect spot for MoJo and then driving to the net to free up a lane for Brouwer to roof one past Bishop. If Kuznetsov can continue to improve along with Brooks Laich staying healthy, then the entire forward lineup becomes more balanced for Washington.

So the Caps are red hot as they come home to face the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night before playing the Bolts on Saturday. Home ice has been an issue for the Capitals this year. It will be up to them to find a way to come out fast, like they’ve done on the road this week, and get the Verizon Center crowd into the game early.

Notes: Washington is now 13-10-4 (30 points), good for 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division…Brooks Orpik led the Capitals in ice time with 26:25. Trotz has been relying on #44 heavily during this recent run and his strong defensive play is paying off. Sure Stamkos beat him on the second goal, but overall, opponents are paying a much steeper price in the Washington end and it wears the other club out, eventually…the Caps won the face off battle, 27-22. Nicklas Backstrom (2 assists) was 10-5 while Kuznetsov was 0-4…Mike Green did not make the trip to Tampa but reportedly is close to a return to the lineup for Washington, they need him back.

EVENT NOTE: Nestor Aparacio and I will be interviewing Coach Barry Trotz on Wednesday night at the Buffalo Wild Wings in Belair, MD. Come on out and show your love of the Caps and also support the fight against cancer. We’ll be swabbing people to help build the pool of potential bone marrow transplant donors.

 

 

 

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Caps, Holtby Shut Down Devils in Road Win

Posted on 06 December 2014 by Ed Frankovic

After Tuesday night’s Caps loss to Vancouver, the Capitals players talked about getting off to better starts in games. Two contests later, they are two for two when scoring first, and now are 11-1-1 this season when doing so (h/t @ThePeerless).

Braden Holtby was fabulous in net stopping 33 shots and Jay Beagle scored the game winner on a “Jari Kurri” type rush and finish to lead Washington to a 4-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils in East Rutherford on Saturday night. The Caps are now 6-1-1 in the Metropolitan Division and are 12-10-4 overall (28 points), good for 3rd place in the division.

As predicted, this was a grind it out type of contest, with the team winning the individual puck battles and minimizing mistakes the likely victor. The Caps did that most of this game, outside of Karl Alzner getting walked by Danius Zubrus on the only Devils goal.

In the second frame, all four lines were contributing, which hasn’t happened much this season and that is when the Capitals broke a 1-1 tie to forge a 3-1 lead that they would nurse through the 3rd period until Brooks Laich’s empty netter sealed the deal.

After Beagle’s goal, both the first line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Tom Wilson and the new second line, based on even strengh utilization, of Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward pinned the Devils in their own zone and that then allowed Marcus Johansson to draw a Devils penalty on the next shift. On the ensuing power play, Adam Henrique received a clean breakaway but Holtby stopped him cold. Washington then went down and received a sweet power play goal from Evgeny Kuznetsov with Laich providing some nice traffic in front. That sequence turned out to be the difference in the game.

New Jersey had the puck most of the 3rd frame, but the Capitals did a super job of not allowing any odd man rushes and they kept the Devils mostly to the outside. There were some flurries of activity for the Devils, but Holtby was strong, once again.

This was a classic road victory as Washington kept their game very simple. The Caps limited neutral zone turnovers and they routinely got pucks in deep on the Devils to try to wear out an inexperienced defense and keep the puck away from a talented and experienced forward group.

Coach Barry Trotz rolled his forward lines most of the night, but on defense, he went heavily with the trio of John Carlson (25:22), Brooks Oprik (25:18) and Matt Niskanen (24:36). Karl Alzner, who scored Washington’s 1st goal after Wilson forced a turnover, logged 20:44 but the other two D, Nate Schmidt and Jack Hillen, played only 11:15 and 9:35, respectively. This was an important game to win so Barry shortened his bench to give his club the best probability of doing that. It worked, as it did in Carolina on Thursday.

So the Caps have a little bit of momentum right now and their goalie, Holtby, is playing well. The team is making a better effort to get net presence and it is starting to pay off. They still don’t have a bonafide second line that can score when the Ovechkin line isn’t producing, but by relying less on the old second line (MJ90, Brouwer and either Kuznetsov or Andre Burakovsky) the Caps aren’t giving up untimely goals due to bad turnovers or missed defensive assignments.

Having Laich back has been a big plus since he helps Trotz better balance his lines, plus 21’s great work ethic rubs off on the rest of the squad. The team is a still a work in progress and as reported by TSN’s Bob McKenzie earlier this week, GM Brian MacLellan is trying to improve the forward position via the trade market.

But for now, this is what Trotz has to work with and lately he’s been using an old tactic of shortening the bench to try and close out games. Holtby has also helped him do that successfully.

Now it is on to Tampa to try to avenge a tough 4-3 defeat they endured there back in November. The Bolts lead the Eastern Conference with 39 points so this will be another good barometer on where the Capitals stand.

Notes:  Face offs were even at 34-34….shot attempts were 66-42 in favor of NJ but they were close to +20 in the 3rd period alone, so that can be explained mostly by score effects…the Caps were 1 for 2 on the power play and they successfully killed off both Devils power plays…That bitter loss to Tampa last month came as a result of a critical Burakovsky missed defensive coverage in the slot in the last 10 minutes. Burakovsky was scratched in NJ and I don’t expect him to play in Tampa either. He really would be best served getting some games down in Hershey to learn the center position, and more importantly, how to play defense. He’s only 19 and after all, if guys like Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf played close to 20 games in the AHL at the age of 20, why wouldn’t it be a bad thing for #65 to get some work down there and rebuild his confidence?

 

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Jerry’s Used Car Superstores Presents WNST Rock The Red Caps Bustrip to D.C. vs. New Jersey Devils (March 26)

Posted on 05 December 2014 by WNST Trips

We’re trying to get more aggressive and do even more WNST Baltimore “Rocks The Red” buses down to D.C. than usual this season but can only do these trips based on demand. If you love the Caps and don’t like the drive before and after games, our trips have an eight-year track record of being easy, fun and affordable. We appreciate you supporting all that we’re doing to grow the hockey community in Baltimore. If you know of other Capitals/Skipjacks/Clippers/Bandits hockey fans in Baltimore, please help us spread the word and fill some buses with Baltimore “Rock The Red” fans.

All aboard another Jerry’s Used Car Superstores WNST Rocks The Red Puck Bus to D.C. as the Washington Capitals take on the New Jersey Devils at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 26, 2015. Our Gunther Motorcoach will depart from the White Marsh Mall at 4:15 p.m. with a pickup from Catonsville/UMBC I-95 Park N Ride (at Rt. 166) at 4:45 p.m. All tickets are upper level in the Verizon Center and include a limited supply of cold beer (for those 21-and-over) en route and snacks, soft drinks and fun videos and giveaways.

We will be able to accommodate larger groups upon request and always keep groups together.

We hope you join us for a night of hockey and fun aboard the Jerry’s Used Car Superstores WNST Rocks The Red Puck Bus to D.C. Families and children are welcomed and encouraged to join us!

It’s a great night out!

Your PayPal receipt is your ticket and we always throw you an email 48 hours before the game to confirm everything. All you need to do is purchase and we’ll see you at the bus. We bring the game tickets with us. Nice and easy!

If you have any questions, throw me a note: nasty@wnst.net

COST: $75 per person

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Bottom Two Lines & Holtby Lead Caps over Canes

Posted on 04 December 2014 by Ed Frankovic

There are no style points in the NHL, you can look it up.

So despite all of the complaints from your fan base on twitter for not being perfect, a win is a win is a win.

On Thursday night in Carolina, the Capitals did what they needed to do to get a victory they desperately needed against a division opponent.

They didn’t put a dangerous Canes team that features Eric Staal, Alex Semin, and Jeff Skinner on the power play, they received excellent goaltending from Braden Holtby (29 saves), and they got super performances from their defense as well as their bottom six forwards.

The win moves the Caps to 11-10-4 (26 points) and ties them with the New York Rangers for 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division.

With the Caps struggling with slow starts and nine of the next 12 games on the road, Coach Barry Trotz’ club desperately needed an early goal to start things out right.

Jay Beagle delivered that after Jason Chimera, who might have had his best game of the season, outraced the Carolina d-man and fired a hard shot on Anton Khudobin. The Canes goalie couldn’t handle the puck and #83 scooped it into the net just over two minutes into the contest.

It was exactly the start this team needed and they had some other chances in the next two periods but couldn’t convert. Carolina then tied the game early in the third frame after an Andre Burakovsky offensive zone turnover led to a Canes counter attack. #65 then lost Semin in the slot and #28 fired a nasty backhander up under the cross bar to beat his old teammate. It was another nightmare defensive zone coverage shift for Burakovsky, who seems to be having more and more of those lately.

The kid is only 19 so asking him to play 2C in the NHL, at this point, is treacherous. Burakovsky has enormous potential but he doesn’t know how to play defense and trying to learn it against the world’s best players is not an easy chore. Perhaps the team should look at moving him down to Hershey so he can properly learn the defensive side of the house while building up his offensive confidence? You don’t want to wreck a player that has such a huge upside. Detroit routinely over cooks guys in the minors and Nashville put Filip Forsberg, who was 19 last season, down on the farm and he’s averaging a point a game now and carrying his club offensively. The NHL is a man’s league and if you aren’t ready it will destroy you over an 82 game season. So GM Brian MacLellan and Trotz should seriously consider what’s best for this player from a long term development standpoint.

Now back to the hard earned victory in Carolina where Washington’s bottom two lines carried the day. The third unit of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward would net the game winner with just under four minutes left as excellent fore checking pressure led to a Canes turnover and Fehr buried it top shelf. Had he not put the biscuit in the basket the Caps would’ve had a power play anyways, but Fehr rendered that point moot.

So as stated earlier, this was not a pretty victory, but it was a big step in the right direction from a work ethic standpoint. The Caps didn’t come out sluggish and they really carried a lot of the wall play and individual puck battles, something they have not done well since their torrid six game start. There is still sloppy play and the top two lines are woefully inconsistent, especially the second unit. The top line was mediocore, at best, on Thursday as Alex Oveckin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Tom Wilson looked very sleepy for most of the contest.

In addition, the Caps power play failed to connect on two tries. The Canes shadowed the Gr8 and the other four forwards didn’t read and react to that properly, so assistant coach Blaine Forsythe has some work to do with that crew.

But defensively, the Capitals didn’t give Carolina a whole lot of space due to a hard work ethic. When the Canes did get some room, Washington did a nice job of blocking shots with none bigger than Brooks Orpik’s block of Semin’s grade A chance in the slot with the Carolina goalie pulled.

A win is a win is a win and when you work hard, like most of the Caps did on Thursday, you get the two points you deserved.

Notes: Washington lost the face off battle 32-28. Michael Latta was 3-10 on draws…Orpik had seven hits, seven blocked shots and led the team in ice time with 25:13…Burakovsky only played 10:02, lowest on the team…Evgeny Kuznetsov was a healthy scratch….courtesy of Adam Vingan, this was the Caps first victory scoring two or fewer goals in a regulation game since March 11, 2012 (Dale Hunter was head coach)…next up for the Caps are the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night. Last time these two teams played the Devils won, 1-0, at the Verizon Center. So expect another hard working, low scoring game.

 

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