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Backy Game 5

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Braden Holtby Robs Columbus in Game Five

Posted on 22 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

They should call this one “The Great Game Robbery.”

Braden Holtby made 39 saves, including 15 stops in the third period when Columbus was storming the castle, and Nicklas Backstrom deflected home a Dmitry Orlov point shot at 11:53 of overtime to give the Capitals a 4-3 victory in game five to take a three games to two series lead. Game six is on Monday night from Ohio at 7:30 pm.

Backstrom scored twice in this affair plus Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie also tallied for the Caps while the Blue Jackets received two odd man rush goals from Matt Calvert and an Oliver Borkstand tip in that tied this one up at three early in period three.

After playing a near perfect contest on Thursday in game four, which included preventing the Blue Jackets from scoring any rush goals, the Caps reverted on home ice. Both of Columbus’ first two lamp lighters came on fast breaks when the Capitals made mistakes in the offensive zone. The first tally that gave CBus an early 1-0 lead was the result of an Alex Ovechkin misplay on the power play. Ovi was taken off of the puck on the left wing boards setting up a two on one the other way. John Carlson was back and chose to go down to cut the pass off, but Holtby never really got set and Calvert fired it through his pads for a shorthanded tally.

Nicky tied the game up just over three minutes later by banking one in off of Sergei Bobrovsky (25 saves) from below the goal line. In that first frame the Caps took three penalties, but somehow managed to keep the game even on the scoreboard after 20 minutes.

Period two featured a better performance by Washington and they outshot Columbus, 13-9, and forged a 3-2 lead heading into the final stanza of regulation. Kuzy scored on a two on one rush by faking like he was going to pass and then rifling the puck five hole on Bob. This season Kuznetsov has added some “shoot first” mentality to his game and that has opened things up for him with opposing goalies unsure of what he is going to do with the puck, especially given his propensity to look for the perfect set up. Evgeny now has four goals in this series.

The Capitals prosperity lasted all of 84 seconds as Oshie, who was covering the point for Matt Niskanen, fumbled the puck at the offensive blue line allowing #11 to go in all alone on Holtby. The speedy Calvert went to shoot the puck on his forehand and fanned on it, but that move froze Holtby and Matt gathered in the disc and backhanded it past #70’s outstretched left pad before Niskanen and Orlov could get back to help. It was sloppy hockey with the lead and the Capitals paid for it.

Oshie notched his goal, the third of the series, at 16:42 of period two with a sweet tip in of a Carlson power play blast. Despite some shoddy play that led to two rush goals for Columbus, Washington had a chance to seize command of the series with a strong final 20 minutes.

That would not happen as the Caps never really got out of the gate for the third frame. The Blue Jackets played their best period of the series and they tied it up just 2:30 in on a rare offensive zone pressure tally. A Caps turnover by Kuznetsov kept the puck in the Washington end allowing Ian Cole to fire one from the point that Bjorkstand tipped nicely home with traffic in front of Holtby. Then wave after wave of Columbus pressure came the rest of the period with the Blue Jackets laying it all out on the line. Fortunately for Washington, Holtby was superb and he allowed a Caps team that was manhandled in the last 20 minutes of regulation to survive to see extra time.

The Caps were a different team in overtime and they carried the play, but some mistakes led to some great chances for the opponents, including an all alone Boone Jenner shot from just above the crease that the Holtbeast came up large on. At the other end, Bobrovsky made stellar saves on Ovechkin from between the circles and Carlson on the door step before Backstrom ended things with a gorgeous deflection.

The Caps did some good things in this contest, most notably their five for five penalty killing, but they were outplayed in this tilt and for the first time in the series they were outshot in the game, 42-29. Shot attempts were 85-68, but it was 35-11 for Columbus in period three, when Holtby saved the Capitals bacon. Washington, who had lost five of their last six games on home ice in the playoffs, were too loose with the puck and were outworked for stretches of this affair. Goaltending, however, is the key to the post season and #70 is dialed in right now.

The Holtbeast went all Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to steal a game for Washington on home ice and he is now 17-4-2 as a starter against Columbus, lifetime.

Afterwards Coach John Tortorella, whose presser lasted less than two minutes, stated twice that his club would be back for a game seven before walking off. Caps Coach Barry Trotz countered with “It’s our job to not let that happen.”

Game six should be a dandy, but you can pretty much sum up game five with the following line from that great Paul Newman and Robert Redford movie.

“Esto es un robo.”

Notes: Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 33:16. Carlson played 27:23 and Orlov logged 27:00…Ovechkin had 13 shot attempts, including seven on net, but he was -1 in 23:40 of ice time…the Caps went 1 for 4 on the power play, but allowed a shorthanded tally…Backstrom had a helper on Oshie’s goal to go with his two tallies…Orlov had two assists. He’s been up and down this series, so it was good to see him set up the game winner…the Capitals were defeated at the dot, going 27-35 on draws. Jay Beagle was 8-3 and Backstrom was 8-8…Alex Chiasson and Jakub Vrana each played less than eight minutes…Seth Jones led Columbus in ice time with 31:51. Forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Mark Letestu both played less than eight minutes. Artemi Panarin played 27:11 and was -2. He was held pointless.

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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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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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Kuzy CBus

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Kuznetsov and Eller lead the Caps to a 4-2 Victory over Columbus

Posted on 10 February 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Evgeny Kuznetsov and Lars Eller each notched a goal and an assist and Braden Holtby made 35 saves to lead the Caps to a 4-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night at Capital One Arena. The back to back wins over Coach John Tortorella’s squad improves Washington to 32-17-5 (69 points) and puts them 11 points ahead of the Blue Jackets with 28 games remaining. The Penguins, who were defeated in a shootout, 4-3, in Dallas late Friday, are in second place. Sidney Crosby and company are five points behind the Capitals and the Caps have two games in hand.

These two clubs met on Tuesday at Nationwide Arena and it was the Blue Jackets who dominated play in the game, but thanks to great goaltending from the Holtbeast and some timely scoring, the Caps escaped the state of Ohio as 3-2 winners.

On Friday, Columbus played a very desperate style, but they once again came up short. Washington, while getting outshot, 37-17, and outshot attempted, 79-50, played a much better game in their home barn.

The Caps first period was cleaner in terms of puck management and John Carlson scored just 5:09 into this affair on the doorstep following two super passes from Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana. The Capitals carried the majority of the play in period one and they stretched the Blue Jackets out, which provided wider passing lanes for their zone exits. Coach Barry Trotz attributed the strong first period to his team “skating well.” The shot attempts were 21-20 for Columbus, but Washington had the scoring chance edge. Unfortunately for the Caps, Coach John Tortorella’s club tied the game up at the 6:28 mark when Tom Wilson’s intended pass to Carlson behind the Washington net hit an uneven spot in the left wing corner boards. The puck caromed into the slot and Pierre-Luc Dubois gobbled it up and quickly whipped it past Holtby.

Washington, however, seized some late momentum when Kuznetsov scored with two seconds left after coming out of the penalty box. Lars Eller and Tom Wilson killed the end of the Blue Jackets power play and then they rushed the puck into the Columbus zone. After the puck went below the goal line, Matt Niskanen fetched an errant clear on the right wing boards. Nisky fired it at the net, the disc hit Eller at the right post and then bounced far post where Kuzy was there to pot the rebound.

The Caps, however, could not keep the momentum as Artemi Panarin deflected home a Seth Jones point blast just 27 seconds into the middle frame. Jones, who led all skaters with 25:32 of ice time, was able to get the puck when Dmitry Orlov missed a breakout pass on the left wing boards. At that point, the contest could’ve gone either way, but Washington potted what would be the game winning tally when Jay Beagle outworked Jones in front of the net to notch his sixth goal of the season. This was one of those tallies generated by good ole fashioned hard work. After a sequence of puck cycling by the Caps fourth line, Devante Smith-Pelly took a feed from Orlov on the high left wing boards and he alertly fired the puck at the cage. The shot hit Chandler Stephenson en route to the net and Beags closed the deal on the rebound just 4:38 into period two.

On the ensuing neutral zone faceoff, Lukas Sedlak was whistled for high sticking Nicklas Backstrom and that put Washington on the power play. The Caps couldn’t score with their first unit, but they connected on a rush with part of the second unit on the ice. Eller, T.J. Oshie (assist) and Alex Ovechkin had a three on two and with the Osh Babe going to the net far post, Eller caught Sergei Bobrovsky cheating a little to his right and #20 beat him short side at 6:06. That was six goals in just over 26 minutes of hockey, but that would be all of the red lights for this night.

With the Caps up two pucks, they focused on keeping the Blue Jackets to the perimeter, but in the last 10 minutes of period two, they were not very successful. Columbus had a number of good looks, especially on a late power play with Wilson in the box for tripping, but they were either stopped by the Holtbeast, missed the net, or blocked. Holtby was at his best during this stretch.

In the final stanza, the Capitals limited scoring opportunities for Columbus and they forced their opponents to have to settle for a lot of long range outside shots. The Caps team defense was solid and they didn’t allow the Blue Jackets to get any tipped or screened goals, something they live off of. Washington was outshot attempted 29-14 in period two and 29-16 in period three, but a lot of that is score effects, although winger Brett Connolly thought they needed to be attacking a bit more.

“I think we spent a little too much time in our own end in the third, I think you want to go at teams, but sometimes they push and you’ve just got to be in good position defensively. You try to get in front of pucks and Holts was good a couple of times there to make saves. I thought we were better tonight than in Columbus, a little more solid all around,” said the winger who has 13 goals this season.

Connolly is correct and afterwards Coach Trotz stated that there were “no passengers” on his bench for this one. Washington did skate well, especially early, and the top player in this tilt was Kuznetsov. When he is on, he is flat out dominant and that was the case on Friday. Linemates Vrana and Oshie also performed extremely well. Vrana employed his speed and he was engaged physically in his own end, something the Caps bench boss noted to the media afterwards.

Special teams provided an edge for the Caps, just like it did on Tuesday. Washington went one for four with the man advantage while the Capitals PK unit was a perfect three for three. The Caps generated five of their 17 shots on goal for the game on the power play. At one point in period two, the Capitals had four goals on “Bob” in 11 shots. Volume of shots isn’t something coach Trotz is overly concerned about; he’s more focused on quality shots. He was pleased with the goals and said any time you get four on [Bobrovsky] you should win.

This was a big triumph against a very desperate club that works hard, throws a lot of pucks on the net, and tries to generate ugly goals. The Capitals kept the Blue Jackets off of and out of the line of sight of Holtby. It was another victory that wasn’t pretty. There are no style points in the NHL, but the Caps were better than they were on Tuesday and they had to be to knock off a club that is fighting for their playoff lives.

Notes: Alex Ovechkin had five shot attempts, but none were on net…Kuznetsov was the #1 star. He had two points, four shots on goal, and logged 20:16…Alex Chiasson took the scratched Andre Burakovsky’s spot on the third line. He played only 9:05…Washington lost the faceoff battle, 32-27. Beagle was 6-5…the Caps next game is against the Detroit Red Wings at 3:00 pm from Capital One Arena on Sunday afternoon.

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Kuzy CBus

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Holtby and Kuznetsov Help Caps Squeak by Columbus

Posted on 03 December 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Jeff Spicoli: Woah, you’re gonna flunk me?

Mr. Hand: Don’t worry Spicoli. You’ll probably squeak by.

On Saturday night against the young and hard working Columbus Blue Jackets, the Washington Capitals played a Jeff Spicoli-like hockey game. They squeaked by with two points, primarily due to their all world goaltender, Braden Holtby.

The Caps stormed out of the gate, against a CBus squad that had played and won the night before, thanks to some great forechecking and smart hockey. Brett Connolly and Alex Chiasson scored two markers from the slot before the game was 130 seconds old and it looked as if Coach Barry Trotz’ crew was going to lay a woodshed beating on the Blue Jackets.

That would not be the case.

Columbus outworked Washington over the last 15 minutes of the opening frame, but couldn’t dent the Holtbeast (32 saves) despite several quality chances. Coach John Tortorella’s squad carried that momentum into the middle frame and cut the deficit to one after a brutal Capitals turnover gave Artemi Panarin an easy back door tally. The Blue Jackets kept churning and the Caps kept giving the puck away, but #70 held the fort.

At about the game’s midpoint, the guys in red starting playing again and they nearly extended their lead. They looked poised to do that when they received a power play with less than five minutes to go in period two. After a face off win, John Carlson (two assists) blasted one from the point that may have been tipped by T.J. Oshie, but it hit the post. Columbus then went the other way and Mike Foligno was robbed by Holtby in a one on one sequence. Soon thereafter, Oshie made a poor pass to Nicklas Backstrom in his own end and Brandon Dubinsky gathered in the loose change and fed Matt Calvert in the slot. Calvert quickly deposited it by a screened Holtby with 3:32 left before the second intermission.

Suddenly the game was tied and Columbus had all of the momentum. Dmitry Orlov then drew a blatant holding call on Boone Jenner with 48 ticks left in period two. Washington needed just all of 10 seconds to regain the lead. Evgeny Kuznetsov made a great read and steal of a Columbus pass behind their net after a Jackets face off win and fed Backstrom on the right wing half wall. #19 moved it to #74 at the top of the point, who slid it to Alex Ovechkin in his office, and the Gr8 beat Sergei Bobrovsky (19 saves) short side for a key goal. That marker was Ovi’s 19th of the season (tied for the league lead with Nikita Kucherov of Tampa).

The Caps came out in period three and put the early pedal to the medal. Oshie had a nice zone entry and after stopping inside the blue line, he fed a charging Kuznetsov coming into the offensive zone. Carlson jumped up in the play and was heading to the net. Somehow #92 got the puck to Carlson and he tapped it back to Kuzy, who then put it into the vacant cage to make it 4-2 with 18:52 left in the contest.

With Columbus having played on Friday and then traveling to DC, one would think they’d be tired and go away, right? Not so fast. Coach Tortorella’s crew kept coming in waves into the Caps end, but somehow Braden made some amazing stops, including an all world glove save on Cam Atkinson, and then he got a great goal line clear from Jay Beagle to preserve a 4-3 victory.

The win improves Washington’s record to 15-11-1 (31 points) and puts them just four points in back of first place Columbus in the Metropolitan Division.

Here’s my thoughts and analysis of an important Caps victory.

The Holtbeast was the reason Washington won this game, plain and simple. The Capitals, while scoring four goals, were largely inept with the puck in this affair. It was turnover city in their own end and Oshie, Backstrom, Orlov, and Ovechkin were all guilty of terrible giveaways. Ovechkin (cross ice from his own end) and Oshie had especially bad ones in period three that need cleaning up going forward. For most of the game, the Caps were soft on their breakouts and the weak bump backs to the defensemen or soft chips from the winger to the center of the ice were time after time stolen by a young, hungry, well coached, and talented Columbus team. For some reason, the Capitals didn’t adjust and it resulted in numerous quality chances for the Blue Jackets. In the final frame it was all CBus as they outshot the Caps, 17-3. Tortorella’s well conditioned and youthful squad looked like the more rested club despite the actual schedule. Washington continually made poor decisions with the puck as they came across the blue line and they are lucky that Holtby flat out saved their asses.

That start, though, was totally awesome. Coach Trotz juggled his bottom six and it paid off. Connolly, who had been scratched for two games, was put back in. Tyler Graovac was sent to the press box and Nathan Walker, who only played seven games all season, was lost to Edmonton for minimal cash via the waiver wire (the Caps hoped to sneak him through to Hershey to get some playing time). Lars Eller, who had been struggling, was put with Connolly and Chandler Stephenson on the third line and they got the ball rolling early. Orlov made his best play of the night, a nice carry in to the offensive zone, enabling the Caps to set up a cycle situation. Eller received the puck on the right wing boards from Brooks Orpik and #20 found Connolly alone in the slot. With Stephenson in front of Bob, #10 one timed the biscuit home. It was a goal very reminiscent of Connolly’s tallies last season. This game was easily Brett’s best of the 2017-18 campaign. Gone were the lunging and reaching plays he’d been making most of the year and instead he was moving his feet and using his body to win puck battles. If he keeps that up, he will be successful like he was in 2016-17.

Washington’s second goal was just another case of getting pucks and bodies to the net. Matt Niskanen made a nice pinch in on the right wing boards and he fired a hard, low shot on Bobrovsky that bounced into the slot. Chiasson gathered the rebound in the high danger area and whipped it by #72 at the 2:06 mark. Those two goals were textbook smart hockey. Good things happen when you shoot and had Washington stuck to that recipe, it might have been “Just a walk in the park, Kazansky,” but the Caps reverted to bad form shortly afterwards.

On the good side, Kuznetsov continues to play well. He was Coach Trotz’s best forward in this one and since the Calgary game that’s been the case, consistently. Kuzy is not over passing and he’s shooting the puck. He’s now up to nine goals and his line, with Jakub Vrana and Oshie, is playing well. The Osh Babe needs to start shooting more, though. #13 has been using his speed to get to the net and open up lanes for his line mates. Jakub and Kuzy are a major reason the Caps have won four of their last five games. Orpik (assist, +2 in 22:40) was the Capitals best blue liner in this one, although Carlson had a good game, as well.

Many others on this club were flat out inconsistent on Saturday night. Niskanen, who has been mostly struggling all season, primarily due to missing 13 games with a hand injury, still does not look 100% healthy on the ice and the Capitals need their best blue liner from last season back in top form. Hopefully whatever is ailing him is taken care of here in the short term.

Washington has to lose the cross ice passes, especially when up two pucks in the third period. Aside from the many defensive zone blunders, there were too many times that the Capitals tried that fancy pass inside the offensive blue line instead of putting the puck on or behind the net. It was just bad hockey and you rarely see Columbus make those mistakes. They are a very impressive team and, at this point, I have to make them the favorites to win the Metro division because they are structured and play hard. Columbus certainly deserved a better fate on Saturday, but goaltending was the difference.

On Monday night the Caps will take on the San Jose Sharks, a team who routinely whips their butts. If the Caps play like they did on Saturday against Columbus, it will be another blowout by the guys in teal and black. Holtby can’t keep nearly single handedly winning games for the Caps, this team has to get back to consistently playing the right way, like they did in the three affairs sandwiched around Thanksgiving.

Sneaking by may have cut it for Spicoli at Ridgemont High and for the Caps on Saturday night against Columbus, but that method is a long term recipe for failure.

Coach Trotz’s crew needs to say “Aloha” to the turnovers and poor decisions and get back to playing hard, intelligent hockey.

Notes: Washington won the face off battle, 37-23. Beagle, who lifted Panarin’s stick to stave off the tying goal, was 10-2. Backstrom was 13-8…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:55, but Carlson logged 24:42…Madison Bowey, who struggled in Thursday’s bad loss to the Kings, only played 10:21. Rookie Christian Djoos only received 12:41 of time. It’s a learning process for both young blue liners…Stephenson was rocked by a Seth Jones hit in period one. He played in the first 40 minutes, but left before the 3rd period with an upper body injury and is day to day…Ovechkin and Backstrom were both -2…once again, Holtby’s glove save on Cam Atkinson late in the game was unbelievable. Braden made a ton of Ten Bell saves in this affair. All hail the Holtbeast!

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Caps Still A Contender Despite Off Season Losses

Posted on 03 July 2017 by Ed Frankovic

For the past three years Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan built a squad to compete for the Cup with entry level or bridge contracts working in his favor. Unfortunately, despite having a complete roster this past season, which led to a second straight Presidents’ Trophy, they did not get the job done.

The Caps had the best team on paper this past spring, but when it came down to it, they couldn’t defeat Pittsburgh, once again.

Bottom line, they couldn’t handle the pressure of the top seed and they under performed.

They choked.

There is no way around that, all you have to do is go back and watch the panic they displayed in game seven after the Penguins took a 1-0 lead.

But we’ve already dissected that loss and the disappointing end to the season, so it’s time to move on.

On this journey, however, MacLellan, while talking about what he called a two year championship window (2015-16 and 2016-17), also clearly pointed out that after those two years were up that roster changes were inevitable due to the salary cap.

As the Caps GM and anyone else that closely follows this team knew all along, they had 11 players from this past spring’s roster that were up for new contracts.

Eleven!

So there was NO WAY this team was going to be the same and they were going to lose many pieces, especially with the salary cap only going up to $75M after the NHLPA mistakenly didn’t take advantage of the full escalator clause. That error is now putting many veteran NHL players out of work and could force many of them to have to take major pay cuts just to stay in the league.

So with five unrestricted free agents, six restricted free agents and the expansion draft guaranteeing one unprotected player was going to be taken by Vegas, the Caps GM had his work cut out for him.

MacLellan wisely took a strategy that focused on keeping the core of the team intact while letting players be exposed, unsigned, or traded where they had other options in the pipeline at those positions, such as on defense and at wing.

For the expansion draft he took the 7-3-1 protection approach which left them most vulnerable with either their 4th defensemen (Nate Schmidt) or the backup goalie (Philipp Grubauer). Leaving just those spots exposed was good asset management, especially when the Capitals knew they were losing one good player NO MATTER WHAT. That turned out to be the very popular, but still relatively inexperienced Schmidt. The 88 car, who is a very good skater and a positive player, was an undrafted free agent that had yet to play a full 82 game season and playoffs as a top four defensemen. The Capitals clearly liked Schmidt and openly stated the plan was for him to have the first shot at the fourth blue line slot this upcoming season, despite not having lengthy experience in that position at the NHL level.

Vegas GM George McPhee, who knew Schmidt well from his days with the Caps, opted to take Nate instead of Grubauer and the first roster hole became official.

Immediately after the expansion draft, the T.J. Oshie signing occurred allowing Washington to keep the 33 goal scorer and top line right wing at a bargain price of $5.75M for eight years.

This past weekend, with the start of free agency on July 1st, MacLellan focused his efforts on signing his restricted free agents. He inked defenseman Dmitry Orlov to a six year $30.6M deal, winger Brett Connolly to a two year $3M contract, and center Evgeny Kuznetsov to an eight year $62.4M monster extension. Over the same period unrestricted Washington free agents Karl Alzner signed with Montreal, Kevin Shattenkirk went, as expected, to the Rangers, and Justin Williams received a high paying two year deal ($9M) to return to Carolina.

The problem with the Caps signings was that the Orlov and Kuznetsov numbers came in a bit higher, especially in Kuznetsov’s case, than originally anyone expected. Both had leverage with the KHL, primarily Kuznetsov, and with Washington thin at center in the organization, Kuzy had even more extra leverage to get a big pay day. After all he could bolt to Russia, play in the Olympics and KHL this season, log another year overseas and then become an unrestricted NHL free agent in the summer of 2019. With no clear top two centers in the Capitals organizational pipeline, MacLellan had no choice but to re-sign Kuznetsov, mostly on #92’s terms. At that point, with restricted free agents Andre Burakovsky and Philipp Grubauer still the only ones needing new deals, someone was going to have to be moved now or in the future to make the overall salary cap dollars work.

The NHL allows teams to carry up to 10% over the salary cap until final roster cut downs, but with so many veteran players on the market likely to be cheaper going forward due to the small salary cap increase (bad move again, NHLPA) it was clear that the trade market was going to be decreasing rapidly going forward. Add in the fact that most teams spent a lot of money to give big increases to their own players (see Connor McDavid and Carey Price) and you can see why there hasn’t been a big trade market since the NHL expansion draft.

Case in point, just last week Vegas GM George McPhee, who selected top four defensemen Marc Methot from Ottawa in the expansion draft, was only able to obtain from the Dallas Stars a 2020 2nd round pick and goalie Dylan Ferguson (a 7th round pick in the 2017 draft) for the blue liner. You read that correctly, it’s the year 2020 for that second round pick!

So with MacLellan needing to deal because the trade market was looking bleak going forward, the Caps GM had to pick a player to move for salary cap room while also finding a dance partner. Marcus Johansson, who carries a $4.583M cap number, was the most likely candidate, especially with Burakovsky and 2014 NHL first round pick Jakub Vrana in place and ready to move up the depth chart at wing. Luckily the New Jersey Devils, who had set aside money to try and lure Shattenkirk to their club on July 1st, but failed to do so despite likely offering more money than the Rangers, had remaining budget and needed to make a splash to improve their team and appease their fan base.

So on Sunday night, just after announcing the blockbuster Kuznetsov deal, the Caps traded Jojo to the Devils and received 2018 2nd and 3rd round picks for the forward who just completed a career year in Washington with 24 goals and 58 points. 19 of those 58 points came on a first power play unit with Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and Oshie, but Marcus did his share to earn those points by being the best on the team in man advantage zone entries (Kuznetsov will assume Johansson’s 1st PP spot going forward).

With the departure of the also very popular Johansson to go along with Schmidt and the three EXPECTED unrestricted free agent losses, some in the fan base and local and national media went nuts. This despite the fact that MacLellan had managed to pretty much ensure he’d re-sign six of the 11 players that needed new contracts for 2017-18 while also getting two draft picks for the departed Johansson to fill in holes that they had in the 2018 draft as a result of previously traded choices. Those draft picks should prove to be valuable going forward.

Following the Johansson trade, the fan response on Twitter and blog/Twitter posts of some in the local and national media were emotionally charged and a major overreaction in a negative sense. It seems that many conveniently forgot the facts, or chose to ignore them: the Caps were going to lose good players this off-season and when prices went up in the restricted free agent market, it likely cost them one more that they did not originally expect or could reasonably prepare for given the expansion draft.

Suddenly MacLellan, who along with Coach Barry Trotz and his coaching staff have done a wonderful job of turning around a team that was an absolute train wreck just three years ago, had become the village idiot on Twitter for losing Schmidt and Johansson. But in reality they are two replaceable players in the grand scheme of things when you look at the Capitals organizational depth. They have young quality defensemen in the organization and at wing both Burakovksy and Vrana are ready to move up to fill in the gaps left by the departure of Jojo.

Overall, the expansion draft and the upward costs of the restricted free agents resulted in the loss of those two players in addition to their unrestricted free agents (although MacLellan did keep Oshie from the UFA pile). In my opinion, however, you’d be hard pressed to pick any other two players from the 7-3-1 protected list and restricted free agent crew that make the dollars work while resulting in a better overall scenario for Washington going forward, especially given the other assets they currently have in the organization for replacements. Keep in mind that Vegas had the final say for the expansion draft, too, so the Caps did not get to choose who the Golden Knights selected. In addition, the idea of buying out Brooks Orpik was never a viable option and it would not have resulted in enough salary cap savings (only $3M) this season to allow all of the restricted free agent signings to occur (not to mention it would add wasted dollars to the salary cap for the next four seasons).

The Caps lost good players, but let’s get one thing straight in spite of everything that has transpired since the end of the season – the Capitals still have a VERY GOOD hockey team heading into 2017-18.

The projected line-up, based on input from the Caps GM during his Monday morning conference call, is now as follows:

Forwards:

Ovechkin – Backstrom – Oshie

Vrana – Kuznetsov – Burakovsky

Connolly – Eller – Wilson

TBD – Jay Beagle – TBD

Defense:

Orlov – Matt Niskanen

TBD – John Carlson

Orpik – TBD

Goalie:

Braden Holtby

Grubauer

The TBD’s at forward, right now, include the possibility of several Hershey players such as Chandler Stephenson, Nathan Walker, Travis Boyd, Riley Barber, or recently acquired players such as Tyler Graovac, Anthony Peluso or Devante Smith-Pelly (signed from New Jersey on Monday on a two way contract for the league minimum, $650,000). On defense, the TBD’s appear to be two of Taylor Chorney, Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos, Aaron Ness, and Tyler Lewington.

Yes, this is no longer a 118 or 120 point roster, but it’s still a good one, likely in the 100 to 105 point range given the strong centers, skilled scoring wingers, and quality goaltenders. In my opinion, Vegas not taking Grubauer will be a blessing in disguise for the Caps in 2017-18 because goaltending is the most important position in hockey. There will also be a lot less pressure on this team, the media and many fans have already written them off.

Finally, keep in mind that the other playoff teams in the Metropolitan Division have lost players too, due to the salary cap. In Pittsburgh, the two time defending champs saw Marc Andre-Fleury (expansion draft), Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, Trevor Daley, and Ron Hainsey all depart. Without Fleury, who was a great insurance policy for the oft-injured Matt Murray, the Capitals win that second round series this spring. The Rangers signed Shattenkirk, but they traded their number one center, Derek Stepan, backup goalie, Antti Raanta, and bought out defensemen Dan Girardi in the process of doing so. Columbus traded forward Brandon Saad to Chicago for Artemi Panarin, so they are still looking for a number one center to fill their biggest need. Bottom line, nobody has a roster without holes.

It’s clear the fact that the salary cap is impacting all teams gets lost in the noise when some look and analyze the Capitals.

Yes, they’ve become “top heavy” as MacLellan called them, but they are still a playoff team, at a minimum.

Fans are fans, though, so the negativity is to be expected, that’s just the way it is in professional sports. But you’d expect more out of the local and national media. Keep in mind, though, that there are critics in parts of the media who are fans, at heart, of other Metropolitan Division teams (for example, the Devils and the Flyers, to name a couple), or flat out just don’t like the Capitals organization, there’s no denying that. Then there are others who are just not experienced enough when it comes to the workings of the NHL or are trying to make their mark in their craft to move up the sports media ladder via page clicks – so please take their criticism and bashing with a grain of salt. They have an agenda.

In full disclosure, I won’t walk away from the fact that I worked for this organization for 11 seasons either, but my track record of calling the team out when they make mistakes is well documented (see my 2014 end of season fire McPhee and Oates blog or simply check out the first few paragraphs above). If I thought MacLellan did a poor job of handling this off-season, I’d call him out. But given what he was up against and the undeniable rising salary costs for the top players in the game, I think he’s done the best job he possibly could to keep the Capitals a playoff team and, depending on how the new players that make the lineup this fall pan out, still a Stanley Cup contender.

It’s now up to the Capitals star players, starting with Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and Holtby, to produce their best performances to help carry this club through the regular season and deep into the postseason.

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