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The Caps have another strong third period to win their 45th game of the season.

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Ovechkin and Holtby Lead the Caps to Victory Over the Wild

Posted on 27 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

When it comes to third periods, the Washington Capitals own them.

Facing a Minnesota Wild team that was desperate for points, had played the night before in Philadelphia, and had forged a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes, the Caps put the hammer down in the final frame getting Alexander Ovechkin’s 40th goal of the season on the power play, Dmitry Orlov’s game winner via a Harlem Globetrotters type move, and a huge victory clinching save from Braden Holtby with 33 seconds left en route to their 3-2 triumph at the Verizon Center.

Washington once again found themselves in penalty trouble in the first frame, taking three infractions, although the first one on Brooks Oprik was a total joke. The Wild capitalized on the third of those three man advantage situations to forge a 1-0 lead on Mikko Koivu’s shot that went five hole on Holtby. It was the 14th time in the last 17 games that the Capitals allowed the first tally. Their first frame was not very good once the parade to the box began and they were outshot on goal, 12-3, and 22-8 overall in shot attempts. It was an ugly period and Koivu’s tally, with 52 ticks left in the opening frame angered #70.

“Just over anticipating. I think they use a lot of tip plays and different things like that. Karl [Alzner] was in the lane and somehow the puck snuck through there. I need to be tighter there. Those are the plays I’ve been working on lately to solve, you don’t see the puck, but you still make the save. I didn’t do that,” said the Holtbeast afterwards on that first goal.

Coach Barry Trotz was not happy with his team’s play in the opening 20 minutes and he noted following the contest that he told the team they had to fix the problems themselves. It wasn’t about X’s and O’s, it was about playing the right way. In period one, Washington was very sloppy with their passes, they were losing the loose puck battles, and were making poor decisions.

They started the second period with a vengeance and Oprik scored his second goal in four games, and his sixth point in six tilts since returning from a 40 game absence due to injury, just 54 seconds into the middle frame. But another costly mistake on defense allowed Nino Niederreiter to get a breakaway on Holtby and he beat him top shelf at 5:05 of the second to regain the Wild’s one goal lead. After a few more rough minutes, the Capitals started to get their legs going and at the end of the period the shot attempts were 24-23 for Minnesota for those 20 minutes. Trotz told the media after the game that in the second period “we started fixing our battles.”

In the third period, the Caps really amped it up against a club that looked exhausted playing on back to back nights and their third game in four nights. They were also missing their top forward in Zach Parise, who was out due to injury. Ovechkin scored blocker side on Darcy Kuemper (24 saves) with the man advantage after Matt Niskanen gave him an absolutely perfect pass, which was hard to do on this evening. Carrie Underwood held a concert at the Verizon Center on Thursday and the ice was downright horrible. As one member of the media said to me, “It’s no surprise the ice is bad, because Carrie sure can melt some ice.” Isn’t that the truth and the surface was equally bad for both teams? Pucks were bouncing everywhere and skaters were falling down without even being touched.

But Washington fought through that and to their credit, they started owning the loose pucks as their coach preaches to them to do. The Caps had their fore-check going and were relentless in the last 20 minutes of this one. Orlov’s goal came after Andre Burakovsky made a nice cross ice pass to #9 and then he put the biscuit through his legs like he was Curly O’Neal and fired a backhander on the cage that Kuemper allowed to squeeze though his pads with 5:04 remaining.

The Caps then really buckled down and when they needed a big stop, the Holtbeast delivered. It was Braden’s strongest game (30 saves) in recent memory and he did it with his former bench boss, Adam Oates, the man who wanted him to play deeper in his net, in the house (Oates apparently is a paid consultant to Parise and Ryan Suter of the Wild).

The victory was Holtby’s 39th of the season and he is 31-2-3 in his last 38 games. Holtby did have to make several big stops early in this one and he also was run into by Niederreiter in the first frame. All around the league I’ve continued to see players making contact with goaltenders and the infractions are rarely being called. It’s becoming super dangerous to be a goalie these days. Kings Coach Darryl Sutter, just last week, commented on how Jonathan Quick continues to get run when he plays, as well. Following Friday’s win, I asked Holtby about this phenomenon.

“It’s one of those things where you solve the problem, but you create another one by putting the reviews in. There’s no reason for refs to call goalie interference anymore because they know it’s just going to go to review if it’s a goal. You knew that was going to happen and that’s no fault at all of the referees because if they make a mistake with the ability to have a review, then that’s not a good thing either. So we just have to play through it and hope it doesn’t cause any damage,” stated the Holtbeast on the recent trend of goalies getting run over.

My take, the referees need to enforce the rulebook and do a better job of protecting the net minders before some goalie gets seriously hurt.

After this third period domination, and the Caps lead the NHL with 80 third frame goals to just 48 allowed, they move to 45-11-4, good for 94 points. That is just sick and unbelievable and it ties them with the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for most wins in a team’s first 60 games in NHL history.

Speaking of sick and unbelievable, how about that Gr8 guy, who now has scored 40 or more goals in eight NHL seasons? Ovechkin became the seventh player in NHL history to record 40 or more goals in eight of his first 11 seasons, joining Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, Marcel Dionne, Brett Hull, and “Lucky” Luc Robitaille. He’s the 10th player in NHL history to post at least eight 40 goal campaigns. Those stats are all courtesy of the Capitals excellent public relations staff.

So now it is on to Chicago to face the Blackhawks on Sunday afternoon at 12:30. GM Stan Bowman is intent on trying to win his fourth Stanley Cup in seven years. On Thursday he traded for forward Andrew Ladd from Winnipeg and then on Friday he added forwards Tomas Fleischmann and Mike Wiese from Montreal and defensemen Christian Ehroff from the Kings (who was in the minors after being waived). Those are some good moves, but it remains to be seen how Coach Joel Quenneville will integrate his new troops. After Friday’s win, Coach Trotz joked that the Caps weren’t even going to pre scout the Hawks for Sunday’s game because they have like eight new guys. Too funny!

Speaking of jokes that are also somewhat serious, Coach Trotz was clearly not thrilled with another bad start and he stated afterwards, with a sly smile, that “we’ll go on a walkabout on Saturday to see if we can find our game.” Clearly the coach who holds everyone accountable is a Crocodile Dundee fan.

Here’s to hoping that on Sunday in Chitown the Caps come out as sharp as Dundee’s knife, for once.

Notes: Orpik had another fantastic game logging 24:44 and going +2. He had eight hits and five blocked shots. #44 is really playing well and his lengthy injury absence has to help Washington for the stretch run because the 35 year old is dealing with much less wear and tear…on the bad news front, John Carlson did not play due to a lower body injury and Coach Trotz confirmed that it is the knee that forced #74 to miss 12 games after Christmas. It remains to be seen if he will need the knee “to be fixed,” but the Caps huge standings point lead and the depth they have on defense, which will increase when Mike Weber joins the team (his wife had a baby on Thursday), allows the club to be extra careful and work to get Carlson right for the post season…Ovechkin had an assist on the Orpik tally and Nicklas Backstrom had two helpers in the game, as well…Sunday in the Windy City starts a stretch where the Capitals will play six games in nine days.

WNST EVENT NOTE: Please come out to Buffalo Wild Wings on Monday night (February 29th) in Belair, Maryland as Nestor Aparacio and I will be interviewing Coach Trotz. There will also be trained personnel in attendance who will be swabbing people for the Bone Marrow Registry in an attempt to continue to fight Leukemia. It’s an easy process, so please come on out, eat some wings, listen to the coach talk hockey, and support a great cause!

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Alex Ovechkin takes over the NHL's Goal Scoring Lead with his hat trick.

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Alex Ovechkin’s Hat Trick Carries the Caps Over the Wild

Posted on 11 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin scored three times, Nicklas Backstrom added three assists, and Braden Holtby made 33 saves as the Washington Capitals overcame a chippy Minnesota Wild team and some questionable officiating to earn a 4-3 victory at the Xcel Energy Center.

The Gr8 was dynamite in this contest scoring three times in the middle frame and generating 15 shot attempts, including 10 shots on goal in 19:47 of action. All three tallies were the result of Ovechkin going to the net, and the second marker came on the power play, which was important given the recent slump from that unit (0 for 19 before the Ovi Empty Net PPG in Nashville). Washington’s power play looked like its old self on that second goal.

Backstrom is just a wizard on the ice. His play to keep the puck in on the third Gr8 marker was incredible (the Wild unsuccessfully challenged it too), and then he finished it off with some great wall work. The line of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie was excellent and between the three of them, they had 16 of the Capitals 33 shots on goal.

Holtby gave up two late goals after it was 3-1 and then 4-2, the first of which came on a power play that the Wild received when Justin Williams was called for cross checking right after Andre Burakovsky was flattened with a dirty hit from behind. Mike Leggo and Frederick “Ship him back to Quebec” L’Ecuyer failed to whistle the infraction against the Wild. They called a curious contest on Thursday, but once again Washington was too good for the opponents and the bad zebras. Both referees also missed a dirty butt end by Mikael Granlund to the face of Evgeny Kuznetsov after the second Minnesota goal on the neutral zone draw. #92 left the game and did not return, so his status for Saturday’s game in Dallas is up in the air.

The last Wild tally came with four seconds left after Jason Chimera had made it 4-2 with an empty net marker with just 52 ticks remaining. That tally, Chimmer’s 15th of the season, was set up by great work from John Carlson in the corner and then Tom Wilson, who worked the puck out of the zone to spring the speedy #25.

Carlson had his best game since returning from injury getting an assist and going +2 in 23:46 of ice time. He looked like his old self in this one and helped get the power play to finally score with a keeper in place. His hard shot went off of the back wall right to Ovechkin on the 2nd goal. He had his legs back and was really physical and strong on the puck in the corners.

Ovechkin now has 34 goals and leads Chicago’s Patrick Kane by one in the Rocket Richard race. Holtby is now 27-1-3 in his last 32 starts and has 35 wins on the season.

Wins are the important thing there, as both co-MVP’s and the others on this club only care about the “W’s.” Ovechkin has enough individual trophies, and at this point, he only wants that big silver one they give out in June. But make no mistake about it, this club still relies on him to lead the way when it comes to turning on red lights.

Overall, the Caps played a very solid road game and when things looked to go off of the rails with some Minnesota dirty play and shaky zebra influence, Washington maintained their composure to hold off a desperate Wild team. Holtby made some big saves and Backstrom cleared a puck from the door step late in regulation en route to another Capitals victory.

The Caps record is now an out of this world 40-9-4 (84 points) and they close out their three game road trip in Big D on Saturday night. Per CSN’s Chuck Gormley, the Caps are 0-6-1 against the Stars since 2008, OUCH! Washington has a chance to finally knock off a very fast Dallas squad, but they’ll need a really strong and disciplined game (stay out of the box!) plus good gap control to combat the likes of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn on their home turf.

Notes: Mike Richards, who was nicked up in the Nashville game, suited up and logged 11:03 on his 31st birthday…the Caps were destroyed on draws, 46-22, but Backstrom was 12-9…Zach Parise had three assists for the Wild…Minnesota out shot the Caps 36-33 and it was 72-56 overall in shot attempts…both teams were 1 for 5 on the power play…Karl Alzner was +2 in 22:07 of ice time. He had a strong game.

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Caps John Carlson Makes a Strong Team USA Olympic Hockey Team

Posted on 01 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Following today’s NHL Winter Classic in the “Big House” in Ann Arbor, USA Hockey announced their 25 man roster for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in February and as predicted in this blog back in November, the Washington Capitals John Carlson made the team on defense.

Carlson, in a conference call with the media tonight, called it a “dream come true” and said that playing on this big stage would be an even greater feat than scoring the overtime game winning goal for USA in the 2010 World Juniors Gold Medal.

Washington’s #74 received a ringing endorsement from team captain Alex Ovechkin when the Gr8 said that Carlson was the team’s best defensemen and 100% deserved to be on the team. Carlson has had an outstanding season and when Mike Green was injured earlier in the year, he stepped up as the team’s #1 d-man on the power play to go along with his role of being on the #1 pairing for killing penalties. Simply put, his ability to play in all situations combined with his excellent skating and hard shot made him a perfect fit for this year’s Team USA Olympic squad.

As for the rest of the team, GM David Poile’s club that will be coached by Penguins bench boss Dan Bylsma is as follows:

Goalies (3):

Ryan Miller (Buffalo), Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles),and Jimmy Howard (Detroit)

Defensemen (8):

Carlson, Ryan Suter (Minnesota), Ryan McDonagh (Rangers), Brooks Orpik (Pittsburgh), Paul Martin (Pittsburgh), Kevin Shattenkirk (St. Louis), Kevin Faulk (Carolina), and Cam Fowler (Anaheim)

Forwards (14):

Patrick Kane (Chicago), Zach Parise (Minnesota), Joe Pavelski (San Jose), Ryan Callahan (Rangers), Derek Stepan (Rangers), James van Riemsdyk (Toronto), Phil Kessel (Toronto), Blake Wheeler (Winnipeg), David Backes (St. Louis), T.J. Oshie (St. Louis), Ryan Kesler (Vancouver), Max Pacioretty (Montreal), Paul Stastny (Colorado), and Dustin Brown (Los Angeles)

This is a very good team but the challenge, as Poile mentioned back in August, is to be able to handle the big ice surface in Sochi. Team USA has not fared well outside of North America in the Olympics so the pressure is on this club to produce. The strength of this squad, in my opinion, is the goaltending and up front. Miller, despite playing behind a weak Sabres club, has been performing at a very high level and if Quick doesn’t get healthy and play well quickly, it will be the Michigan State alum in net once again for the Americans. Up front, Kane is as good a scorer as any in the world. The defense is the question mark but this crew of eight is filled with players who can play at both ends of the rink.

The time zone change, Sochi is nine hours ahead of the east coast, will be a factor for many of the NHL players but that impacts nearly every squad. On paper, Canada and Sweden look to be the best while Russia is hoping home ice helps their cause. I see Russia’s defense and goaltending as ultimately being their downfall. There are still six weeks to go until the games start, but my prediction right now is:

Gold – Sweden

Silver – Canada

Bronze – USA

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Holtby Shines Again as Caps Win in Shootout

Posted on 07 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby is in the zone right now. The Washington net minder, who was unfairly assaulted last week by a lunatic Flyers goalie, stopped 33 shots and all three shootout attempts from a very good Minnesota Wild hockey club to allow his team to prevail, 3-2, in the gimmick, at the Verizon Center.

Alex Ovechkin notched a power play goal early on and Marcus Johansson tied it late after some hard work by Tom Wilson and Brooks Laich before Nicklas Backstrom scored the lone tally in the skills competition to push Washington’s record to 9-7.

The Capitals have a four game winning streak and now head out west to take on Phoenix and Colorado on Saturday and Sunday evenings, respectively.

Call me a glass half full guy tonight. This wasn’t a pretty victory, but the Caps did work hard against a team that does the same. Minnesota doesn’t allow a lot of shots or chances so you have to be patient against them, especially since it seems all American defensemen Ryan Suter never leaves the ice (36:51 played on Thursday night). The shots on goal were 35-27 in favor of the Wild but a closer look at shot attempts had the Caps winning that battle, 57-51.

Both goalies were good and each team went 1 for 3 on the power play. So it is no surprise that this contest ended up in extra time. It was a fairly even battle but the Capitals prevailed because they are really good in shootouts under Coach Adam Oates (4-0 this season).

Ovechkin notched his 13th goal in 14 games, but to me, the skater who has been really instrumental during this streak is Backstrom. Nicky is dominating the play when he is on the ice. He is so strong on his skates and wins the large majority of board battles. His stick handling and passing are amazing and he’s shooting the puck more. His move around Suter late in the game, lifting the puck to create a lane to shoot from, was a thing of beauty and Josh Harding had to come up big to stop that one. Ovechkin is going to get his goals and he’ll get even more if Backstrom continues to play at the high level he’s playing right now. #19 doesn’t get the credit he deserves around the league, but I doubt he cares. From talking to him over the years I know he cares most about winning.

Perhaps the biggest reason for the last four wins is the Capitals goaltending. They’ve gotten four super starts in a row (three by Holtby and one from Neuvirth). Holtby made some huge stops late in regulation when the Wild were gifted with a power play (memo to Ian Walsh: what a garbage call on Erat!) that also gave them a hard to defend 4 on 3 in overtime for 61 seconds. There is no doubt in hockey that goaltending is the most important position and #70 delivered there.

The thing to like about this win, outside of super goaltending and the play of Backstrom, was the effort. Washington played hard but the other guys get paid too so it isn’t going to be all roses every night. This club kept grinding against a stingy team and found a way to tie it up late when Minnesota usually closes those types of games out.

On the flip side, the Caps still are turning the puck over too much and do have a tendency to puck watch and not cover their opponents in their own end at times. That needs to improve. The injuries to Jake Hillen and John Erskine have put the Caps in a bind on the left side of their defense. Alex Urbom and Nate Schmidt are playing because of the injuries. I’ve liked Schmidt since his first preseason game in Baltimore but sometimes he’s in over his head in the NHL. He could use a year in the AHL to properly develop. But there are really no alternatives at this point until GM George McPhee makes a deal for a defensemen. Trades are best made when a team is going well and the Caps are certainly heading in that direction. They have a good forward in Eric Fehr sitting in the press box and Evgeny Kuznetsov likely slated to come over in the spring to play in the NHL, so McPhee has some strengths he can leverage to try and upgrade his defense, which sure seems needed if Washington wants to go deep in the post season. But it takes two to tango and there is plenty of time to make any necessary moves.

Tonight the Caps can thank Holtby and effort for a win against what appears to be a good Western Conference team. Next up are two that just may be even better.

Notes: Washington lost handily in the faceoff department, 34-25…Wilson only played 6:30 but he was a huge factor in the tying goal helping Johansson get the puck and come out of the corner to score while Laich ran havoc in front of the cage…credit Schmidt for not getting down on himself after some tough shifts. The kid played 23:53 and is learning. He had some really good shifts too, so overall he’s been impressive. It is baptism by fire for him…by the way, the Flyers lost 3-0 tonight, boy do those goons stink!

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Handling Bigger Ice Key for Team USA in 2014 Olympics

Posted on 27 August 2013 by Ed Frankovic

On day two of Team USA orientation camp at Kettler IcePlex this afternoon General Manager David Poile didn’t beat around the bush when discussing the biggest challenge his squad faces heading into the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. It’s all about how his squad performs on the bigger ice surface.

“We know what the challenges are here, we haven’t had any success in Europe on the big ice. The United States hasn’t won any medals in the last two Olympics played on the big ice,” stated the long time NHL GM.

Yes, Team USA won silver in Vancouver in 2010 and also in Salt Lake City back in 2002, but both of those tournaments were played on NHL sized rinks. The Olympic surface is wider, which changes several aspects on how the game is played.

“Angles and spacing really [is the difference]. More so the angles are quicker to adjust, it’s more of a read. At the NHL level you are approximated to the boards so you can use it as a gauge. Here, if you rely on that you are out of position pretty quickly. The one good thing is the zones are all a little different sizes but the paint is always in the same spot. I think that’s a key thing for everyone to understand and realize that from a spacing issue to try to use the faceoff circles and dots because they are actually in the same position as an NHL rink, almost,” said Kings winger Dustin Brown.

In 2010, Team USA used its ability to be physical to its advantage but with more room, taking the body is not as easy and is not as much of a factor.

“There’s more to being physical than the big hits. It’s rubbing guys out, grinding guys out. There’s still opportunities for the big hit, you just have to be patient and let it come to you. You can’t be running out of position because it’s just that much further you have to go to get back,” added Brown.

Most of the players seemed comfortable with going to the bigger rink size and some, like Carolina defensemen Justin Faulk, didn’t think the change was going to be real difficult.

“It’s probably easier going from big ice for smaller ice. You get more room. I don’t think it’s a big deal, I’ve done it many times personally. Everyone in here has played on big ice at some point. Obviously it’s a little bit different game and style,” stated Faulk.

Several other players acknowledged the ice surface challenge but it was clear that Poile, who has been in hockey long before every one of Team USA’s players was born, believes that addressing the rink size issue is paramount to his clubs success.

“The challenge for us is we’ve never had any success on European soil. We owe it to ourselves to to go over every facet of what we’ve done in the past on it. We’ve talked to former players and coaches and the thing that comes up constantly is you have to have speed. I don’t think we’ll need that truculence element as much. It’s just an adjustment and making the players aware of the differences in the ice size and making sure. You don’t want it to be the excuse. The fact that we’ve won two silver medals in North America and got nothing in Europe – I can’t accept that. These are good players, they’re smart players, they’re skilled players. It’s different – yes. Ok, so let’s go figure it out…it could be coaching, it could be systems, it could be the players that we take over there,” concluded Poile.

As for the roster make up itself, there were 48 players invited to the orientation camp and this is the deepest pool of talent Team USA has ever had. The team appears strongest in net where the club has the likes of Jonathan Quick, Jimmy Howard, Craig Anderson, Ryan Miller, Cory Schneider, and John Gibson. Up front they are led by Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, Ryan Kesler, Joe Pavelski, and Bobby Ryan while on defense Ryan Suter and Erik Johnson are the logical leaders. Poile indicated that this would be the toughest team these players would ever have to make and he stated that about half of the spots are likely already locked up based on the performances of some in the 2010 Olympics.

“As we’ve told the players, the body of work they’ve had in their career to this point is important but what they do in October, November, and December will be the deciding factor. I favor the guys from 2010, not only because of the success they had but how they’ve matured as hockey players. The age group we have right now is excellent. At times we thought we were too young in 2010 but now, four years later, we are bang on at the right age.”

It is apparent that the roster decisions are going to be extremely tough and many players will suffer the disappointment of missing out on representing their country, but Poile relishes that process.

“This is going to be the toughest decisions that I have to make, but I want it to be tough…We want the hard decisions, we’ve never really had in USA hockey to make that many hard decisions because we’ve never really had the depth and quality we presently have, so bring it on.”

Notes: The Caps were represented at the orientation camp by defensemen John Carlson, who scored the Gold Medal winning goal for Team USA in the 2010 World Junior Championships…Poile called Kettler “as good as any facility I’ve ever seen”…Erik Johnson was very critical of his game with Colorado last year and made it clear he needs to be more consistent…the Team USA jerseys were unveiled by the players to a sold out Kettler IcePlex. NHL Network televised the event.





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