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Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, and Holtby Lead Caps Over Montreal, 4-1

Posted on 09 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

“I said, Train kept a rolling, all night long, Train kept a rolling, all night long…”

Alex Ovechkin had a goal and two assists, Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the game winner just 54 seconds after Montreal tied the game up, then set up Brent Connolly’s 5th tally of the season to make it a two goal cushion, and Braden Holtby made 22 saves as the Washington Capitals played arguably their best road game of the campaign to knock off the Habs, 4-1, at the Bell Centre.

For the Gr8, he now stands at 999 career points and he has a date with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins on Wednesday night in an attempt at hitting four digits.

Before that big tilt takes place, however, the Caps can enjoy their flight home from Quebec after taking two games in the Great White North, a 1-0 win over Ottawa on Saturday in which the Holtbeast stole the show, and then Monday night’s dominating victory over a bit depleted Canadiens squad. These two triumphs increase the Capitals current winning streak to six games and they are now 26-9-5 (57 points) overall.

The Habs were without key players Brendan Gallagher, Andrei Markov, Andrew Shaw, and David Desharnais, but Washington was missing its top right winner, T.J. Oshie, who was injured thanks to one clean and one non-clean hit from Dion Phaneuf on Saturday in Canada’s capital city. Oshie did skate on Monday morning, so there’s a chance he could return for the Pens game on Rivalry night on NBC this Wednesday at 8 pm.

The Capitals were skating well in this contest against a speedy Montreal club that makes it very hard to get to the front of the net to disrupt all world goalie, Carey Price. Early on it was a chess match with both teams having good chances, but the Caps got on the board first when Karl Alzner made a strong pinch in the left wing corner and with the Gr8 covering the point, the puck went back to Ovi. Alex fired a hard, low shot on net and with Connolly screening in the high slot, Price (35 saves) could not control the rebound and all star Nicklas Backstrom backhanded the puck home at 11:03 of period one.

This game would then go back and forth for the next 35 plus minutes with Washington having the edge in quality scoring chances. The Caps, however, got into penalty trouble in the final frame and after Lars Eller took a bad neutral zone infraction trying to impede a Montreal rush, Tomas Plekanec scored with just one tick left on the man advantage via a goal mouth scramble. Holtby was contacted slightly by Paul Byron, but even more so by Brooks Orpik, who knocked over the Holtbeast while trying to clear out Byron. Coach Barry Trotz challenged for goalie interference, but the goal stood.

At that point the Bell Centre was hopping and a Caps team that had carried most of the play to that point, was at a critical juncture.

Enter Kuznetsov, who received a pass from Ovechkin in the neutral zone, worked his way strongly around Max Pacioretty to gain the offensive zone, then undressed Jeff Petry with a sweet outside in move, and finally chipped the puck by a stunned Price to give the Capitals a massive answer on the scoreboard after the Habs seemed to have all of the momentum. That goal, with 11:48 remaining, was like a shot of adrenaline to Washington and on Kuzy’s next shift, he took advantage of a Price miscue with the puck by his own net and fed Connolly in the slot to make it 3-1 with nine minutes remaining.

Washington’s penalty kill would thwart the fourth Montreal power play of the night and then #92 drew a hooking infraction on his fellow Russian countryman, Alexander Radulov, with 3:56 to go. At that point the only thing that could get the Habs some life would be a shorthanded tally, but there would be none of that.

Coach Trotz went for the dagger putting out the regular number one power play unit and Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) fed Ovi at the top of the left circle and the Gr8 rifled it by Price just 32 seconds into the man advantage. Game over.

Wow, this was some hockey game and it is easy to see why Price and Holtby were two of the three goalies for Team Canada this past fall in the World Cup of Hockey. Holtby, who on Monday was named the NHL’s third star of the week, was outstanding once again. In his last three games he’s allowed just one goal on 82 shots! The Holtbeast is now 7-0-1 lifetime at the hallowed Bell Centre (h/t to Caps beat writer, Mike Vogel).

For the night, the Caps outshot Montreal, 39-23, and deserved this victory. They did a better job of getting bodies in front of Price, unlike the 2-1 loss they suffered to the Habs at the Verizon Center on December 17th where Coach Michel Therien’s club sealed off the front of the net extremely well.

The Caps are now 5-0 in January and Kuznetsov looks like the player who made the NHL All Star team last season. He is moving more into the tougher areas of the ice and Petry was likely fooled so badly because he thought #92 was going to do his usual peel to the wing and look for a pass play. Instead, Evgeny went hard to the net and he’s been doing that, along with shooting the biscuit, more frequently during this winning streak. As a result, the points are piling up for him and the wins are too, for the Caps. This is the Kuznetsov the Capitals will need in the spring if they are going to win the Stanley Cup.

Now he just needs to keep the train rolling…

“I said, Train kept a rolling, all night long, Train kept a rolling, all night long…”

Notes: shot attempts were 68-62 for the Caps…Washington was 1 for 2 on the power play while the Habs went 1 for 4…Matt Niskanen led the Capitals in ice time with 23:06…Coach Trotz spreads his ice time around because of the deep Washington roster, although Liam O’Brien, who made his 2016-17 debut, only played 6:08…Tom Wilson, who was hurt blocking a shot on Saturday, played 10:22 and that allowed Coach Trotz to hold Paul Carey, who had been recalled earlier in the day from Hershey, out of the contest…the Caps lost the face off battle, 31-27…Alzner blocked six shots…Wilson and Connolly each had three hits doing a super job on the forecheck… Connolly took Oshie’s spot on the top line and he played very well…Nate Schmidt played just 13:59, but was outstanding at breaking the puck up the ice with speed on the back end, especially in the first period when the Capitals set the tone.

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

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Holtby Steals a Victory for the Caps at the Bell Centre

Posted on 03 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TJ Oshie & Jonathan Quick Lead USA over Russia

Posted on 15 February 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Most hockey fans know who TJ Oshie and Jonathan Quick are, but today, an entire nation now knows them, as well.

After USA and Russia played a marvelous 65 minutes of hockey, the skills competition commenced and the US bested the Russians, 3-2, after eight rounds of the shootout.

The rules are different in International Hockey so after three shooters, a coach can choose whatever player he wants and can keep repeating that selection. Team USA Coach Dan Bylsma stuck to his guns and kept throwing #74 out there and he delivered 4 of 6 times, three times via the “five hole,” to win it for USA. Quick, who won the Stanley Cup with the Kings in 2012, stopped 5 of 8 tries for the victory in net.

Wow, what a hockey game.

This was no “Miracle on Ice” from 1980. It is not even close and let’s be clear about that since 1980 was a mismatch on paper, but somehow a bunch of college kids beat one of the greatest teams of all time.

This game was a fairly even matchup. Team USA has an excellent squad but so do the Russians, who also have home ice. The perceived weaknesses on each club are their respective blue lines. Coming into the Olympics, you would have thought the Russian defense was as bad as the 2013 Washington Redskins, based on the pre tourney analysis. But they quickly proved that theory wrong playing excellent defensive hockey and only allowing two USA power play goals (Cam Fowler and James VanRiemsdyk).

Russia had some great chances and their power play, on paper, looks deadly. It features Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk (2 goals), and Evgeni Malkin. Talk about some serious fire power there! Somehow the US managed to hold the Russians to one tally on five chances in this one.

One thing both teams coaches will not like were the penalties each squad took. Bylsma can’t be happy about Dustin Brown’s giveaway and then penalty in the last 10 minutes. That infraction gave the Russians the power play that they tied the game on via Datsyuk’s second goal. Conversely, Alexander Radulov took two selfish penalties and the US scored on both. The only thing saving Radulov from a trip to Siberia was his great screen on the tying tally and his assist on Datsyuk’s first goal.

On that first goal, Datsyuk broke free from Max Pacioretty in the neutral zone and split Brooks Orpik and John Carlson for the game’s opening tally. Bylsma clearly wasn’t pleased with Carlson and Pacioretty because they didn’t see much ice time after that, but Orpik was just as much to blame as foot speed isn’t one of #44’s strengths. But Orpik kept getting put on the ice by Bylsma even after the miscue (Note: I wonder what coach he plays for during the regular season? Hmmm….).

After the Russians tied the game on Datsyuk’s PP tally, a goal that appeared to make it 3-2 for the home squad was correctly disallowed. Quick had inadvertenly dislodged the net on an earlier save and the referees didn’t see it and let play continue. Shortly thereafter, a Russian point shot was deflected and barely went in under the cross bar towards the right post. It was that right post that was off of its peg and pushed back a bit. After a review, which initially many thought was due to a potential high stick, the goal was taken down due to the net issue. It was the right call based on IIHF rules and I assert that there was no way to allow it based on physics, alone. If the net is in its proper position there the puck may have struck the cross bar and never went in to begin with. Bottom line is the right call was made on the ice after review, although it would have been better had the zebras noticed the dislodged cage sooner.

This win was big because it sets up the USA to place first in their group tomorrow with a victory over Slovenia (1-1), a team that is led by the Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings. Winning the group means a bye into the quarterfinals. Conversely, Russia will likely get a bye, as well, if they beat the Slovaks by being the best second place finisher. The other teams that will get a bye are Canada, who will likely be the #1 seed, and Sweden, who are ravaged with injuries. Both Henrik Zetterberg and Henrik Sedin are out hurt but they still managed to carry their group with three wins.

However, with Sweden’s injuries, this is shaping up to be a three horse race for the Gold Medal between Canada, Russia, and the United States.

In summary, this was a big win but this was not a “Miracle” type victory. Make no mistake about it, though, this game mattered A LOT, to both squads.

The two countries are nowhere close to allies and their are serious political differences.

The Cold War is over, but a win over the Russians still carries enormous weight in the USA.

The Americans played a strong game and won on the home team’s soil to set themselves up for a run at a medal.

TJ Oshie for President!

 

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