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Caps Start 2013-14 With High Expectations Once Again

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Caps Start 2013-14 With High Expectations Once Again

Posted on 29 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It is awfully difficult to win a championship in professional sports but heading into 2013-14 that is once again the goal of the Washington Capitals, who have yet to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup since their inception in 1974. The Caps, who have made the playoffs the last six years, have another quality team as they prepare to open their season against the defending champs, the Chicago Blackhawks, in the Windy City on Tuesday night at 8pm on NBCSN.

On Sunday, Caps General Manager George McPhee made several moves to help put some clarity to the opening night roster culminating with a trade of center Matheiu Perreault to the Anaheim Ducks for a 4th round pick and AHLer John Mitchell. In addition, several players were sent to Hershey, including defenesemen Tyson Strachan and Dmitry Orlov. For now, here is what the Caps roster looks like:

Goalies (2): Braden Holtby, Michal Neuvirth

Defensemen (7): Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, John Erskine, Jack Hillen, Steve Oleksy, and Connor Carrick

Forwards (14): Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Mikhail Grabovski, Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, Martin Erat, Tom Wilson, Eric Fehr, Joel Ward, Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera, Aaron Volpatti, and Michael Latta

The move of Perreault was predicted here last week and makes sense from a hockey and salary cap standpoint. This Caps team needed to get bigger and more powerful up front and Wilson’s outstanding camp made keeping him up with the main club, rather than shipping him back to a weaker league (OHL), an easy decision. The 19 year old, who was the 16th overall pick in the 2012 NHL entry draft, brings a dimension that this Washington team needs more of in the post season: size and the ability to score the tough goals in close. Six months with Coach Adam Oates and some highly talented teammates is what is needed for Wilson to continue his development, the OHL is just not going to help him get any better.

As for the rest of the squad, the strengths appear to be in goal and up front. Braden Holtby has established himself as a number one goalie and has the chance to move into the elite category with a very strong season. As McPhee told the media last Tuesday, to win the Stanley Cup you have to have great goaltending. #70 is the guy being counted on to deliver that, but Neuvirth is a more than capable net minder and will be needed to play well so that Washington can qualify for the post season in a very competitive Metropolitan Division.

At forward, the Capitals have some serious depth on the wings but still aren’t sure who is going to be the third line center. Backstrom has the first line locked up with Grabovski manning the second unit. The club could go with Beagle as the 3rd line center and Latta pivoting the 4th to start the season, but that depends on the health of the others, primarily Laich, who has been battling a hip flexor issue. Right wing is just loaded up with Ovechkin, Brouwer, Fehr, Wilson, and Ward. Both Fehr and Erat were tried at center this preseason by Oates with some success, so the head coach has lots of options. Johansson could play 3rd line center at some point too. The Caps have not had as talented a crew of forwards to start the season in many years and with the players they have there is lots of room for flexibility.

On defense, the top three is awfully good with Green, Alzner, and Carlson. After that, it gets dicey. Erksine was super last spring in the regular season but is he really a top 4 d-man? #4 will have a chance to prove it starting this week. Oleksy came out of seemingly nowhere to take a 3rd pair spot in the spring and Hillen overcame an early season injury to play a lot of quality minutes last year. Carrick was the biggest surprise of training camp, has great offensive skills and his hockey IQ is high. Learning to play defense in the NHL is harder than any other position so Washington has to be careful to not put too much on the 19 year old, who has incredible potential. The organization still has high hopes for Orlov, but given his injury situation last season, starting him in Hershey made too much sense. The 2009 2nd round pick will play top pair minutes in the AHL and can hone his craft for what appears to be an inevitable jump back to the NHL at some point during the 82 game season.

Special teams will be an important component of Washington’s success. Last season the Caps were #1 in the NHL with the power play (26.8%). You can expect it to remain at least top 5 and Oates and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe will continually be tweaking things to counter opposition tactics. As for the penalty kill, Laich stated on Tuesday that is one of the areas this Capitals club will have to improve in if they want to do well in the regular season and playoffs. The PK has been one of the team’s weaknesses the last few years and it was 27th out of 30 in 2012-13 with a success rate of only 77.9%.

In summary, the expectations are high for this Capitals team. The playoffs are not a given, but if this club can stay relatively healthy, then they have the talent to compete for the division title. Every team in the Metropolitan Division has its issues. The Penguins are the pick of many but their goaltending and team defense certainly has its question marks. Will the Rangers respond positively to a new coach in Alain Vigneault? How will the Devils do with the departure of Ilya Kovalchuk? The Flyers added Vinny Lecavalier but will Ray Emery or Steve Mason step up and be a top goalie in a pressure packed Philly market? Are the Islanders ready to take the next step up the ladder or was their playoff run last spring a one time deal? Is Columbus going to play like the team that nearly qualified for the post season last spring or the cellar dweller crew that started 2013? Finally, will Cam Ward returning in net for Carolina propel them to a winning season? Nothing is set in stone heading into the season and in the salary cap era every team has holes and/or issues. What is important is that the Capitals get off to a good start since coming from behind in the standings is not going to be as achievable as it was in the Southeast Division.

 

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Ribeiro OT Tally Gives Caps a 3-2 Series Lead

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Ribeiro OT Tally Gives Caps a 3-2 Series Lead

Posted on 11 May 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The New York Rangers had the Washington Capitals on the ropes early on in game five on Friday night.

Brian Boyle scored after a vicious forecheck just 53 seconds into the contest and then for the next 10 or so minutes New York was all over Washington. The Blueshirts received two power plays and were dominating play. But Braden Holtby (24 saves) made some big stops and the Caps rode the energy from the crowd at the Verizon Center until they could find their legs.

Then Coach Adam Oates, aided by his assistant coaches, made an adjustment that helped change the course of the game. Oates switched his defensive pairs moving a more mobile Jack Hillen with John Carlson on the second defensive duo while John Erskine slid down and skated with Steve Oleksy to start period two. The move, which Oates credited to assistant coach Calle Johansson, gave the Capitals some better matchups on the ice and they slowly started to take over the game. After trailing in shots late in the first period, 10-5, they would out shoot the Rangers 30-15 over the remainder of contest but it took Mike Ribeiro to tally in overtime to win, 2-1.

After game four I blogged about the importance of home ice, adjustments, and the influence of last change in the matchups. All three were a factor on Friday night. In addition to the defensive pair adjustment personnel wise, the Caps made a minor move on their power play that allowed Joel Ward to score just 14 seconds into their first man advantage and tie the game. Alex Ovechkin (9 shots on goal) was moved closer to the net and that seemed to confuse the Rangers, who were all set to once again deny both Mike Green and the Gr8 shots from higher up in the offensive zone. The shift created a 4 on 3 down low and opened up the passing lanes in the high slot, which is where Ward shot from to score.

Home ice was also critical, not just because the fantastic Verizon Center faithful were extremely loud and provided energy, but the Washington forwards could put their stick down second on faceoffs and Oates could work the matchups in his favor. In game four the Capitals were beaten soundly, 34-19, on draws but in game five Washington held a 42-30 advantage from the dot. Ribeiro was a super 19-8 and that was a big difference in the hockey game. That second line with #9, Troy Brouwer, and Eric Fehr was very strong for the Caps and they received right around 21 minutes of ice time each. Given that the Caps top line had its issues with getting out of their own zone for parts of the game, it was critical that Oates get production from his other lines. The Ribeiro line as well as the third unit of Mathieu Perreault, Ward, and Jason Chimera played well. Chimera used his speed, was a physical presence, and his hit on Ryan Clowe in the first period knocked the big winger out of the contest.

Speaking of physical, Tom Wilson made his NHL debut and looked very good in 6:24 of ice time. The rookie right wing, who was Washington’s 1st round pick (16th overall) last June, had four hits and helped wear down a Rangers defense that looked gassed in the third period and overtime. Oates and Ovechkin both praised #43 afterwards for his play and the Gr8 noted that with Wilson the Caps have four really big and powerful right wings in the lineup.

So home ice is 5 for 5 now in this very close series. Washington was able to withstand the early punches from New York and then wear the Rangers out and get a victory. The Caps fans were a big part of this game as they kept their energy up despite an early Rangers lead.  But you can bet that at Madison Square Garden the Rags will get big time support from their fans, as well. Oates feels that the Capitals will need to survive the first 10 minutes on Sunday in game 6 (faceoff at 4:30 pm).

If Washington wins, it is on to the second round with home ice. If not, game 7 is on Monday night at the Verizon Center.

Home ice has been a big key in this series and the Caps held serve on Friday night.

Now the pressure is on a Rangers team that many picked to go to the Stanley Cup Finals before the season started.

Notes: The Rangers had four power plays to just two for the Caps and the overall series tally is now at 21-14…shot attempts were 71-67  in favor of Washington…Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh both played over 29 minutes for the Rangers while Green played 29:16 to lead the Caps in ice time. Green’s partner, Karl Alzner, played 28:27.

 

 

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Caps & Ovechkin Must Adjust To Win Series

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Caps & Ovechkin Must Adjust To Win Series

Posted on 08 May 2013 by Ed Frankovic

On Sunday night, I blogged that the playoffs are all about adjustments. The Capitals were winning the series 2-0, at that point, and were dominating the play.

After two games in the Big Apple, the series with New York is now tied. Rangers coach John Tortorella made adjustments to his special teams’ units and with New York getting five extra power plays in the two games, it is no surprise everything is all knotted up heading into a crucial game five on Friday night at the Verizon Center.

The key words there are ”Verizon Center.”

Washington gets the last change and that gives Coach Adam Oates the ability to get the matchups he wants. In game four in New York, Tortorella put Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh out against Alex Ovechkin and the Caps top line repeatedly, and it worked.

As for the Caps power play, well they only received two of them while the Rags got four in game four. Jason Chimera, who took a bad penalty late in period two, was cross checked after the Caps third goal but no call was made. But zebras will be zebras and you have to rise above them to win hockey games. 

On Washington’s man advantage the Rangers are selling out to not let Ovechkin and Mike Green beat them. With Mike Ribeiro and Nicklas Backstrom not shooting the puck, it was difficult for the Capitals to score. Hopefully Oates makes some adjustments there to get the man advantage going again. To steal a Tortorella term, the power play was ”too stagnant” at Madison Square Garden.

As for Washington’s penalty kill, it has been made tougher thanks to the adjustments the Rangers have made. Brian Boyle reeked havoc in front of Braden Holtby on his power play shifts (2:30 of PP time) and it made a difference on the goal that came after Chimera’s 2nd period infraction. That penalty and tally was a killer because Washington had all of the momentum at that point having tied the game in the last 30 seconds of the middle frame on Troy Brouwer’s backhander.

But overall, the Caps were just too sloppy once again. Holtby started that with a turnover that gave the Rangers a gift goal, which eventually was the difference in the game. #70 made some big stops but he’d probably want that pass and the third goal back. As for the other two markers, well you can pin those on poor defensive zone coverage. That is something that was not an issue in games one and two but was a big factor in New York.

What is also an issue is the potential loss of forward Martin Erat. #10 was hurt on a weird sequence that ended up with he and Ovechkin getting called for penalties on the same play in the first period. It appeared to be a left arm injury and with him out for the rest of the game, Oates moved Eric Fehr up with Ribeiro and Brouwer. That bumped Joel Ward up with Mathieu Perreault and Chimera. That third line was Washington’s best all evening and it was #42′s best game of the post season.

So the series now becomes a best of three, in four nights, no less. The Caps get two at home but they need to get back to playing the way they did in the first two games. They played poorly in both New York tilts but still had a chance to tie them up before the buzzer sounded. It’s a close series and injuries play a role. Erat is out and who knows who else in the Caps lineup is not 100% since injuries are never discussed come post season?

Long time, and now even short time Caps fans have been here before and know the team’s history in the post season. Washington left town on Sunday night with all of the momentum in the series, but heading into Friday, the Rangers have it.

The last change and special teams adjustments are the key, in my book, for the Caps to win this series.

Notes: The Capitals were beaten badly on faceoffs, 34-19…with Hershey losing to Providence on Wednesday night their season is now over so some players will be recalled to Washington as “Black Aces.” If Erat is out for Friday it will be interesting to see if Aaron Volpatti plays or rookie Tom Wilson gets a sweater in a huge game.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I’ll be on WNST’s morning show with Drew Forrester at 7:45am on Thursday talking Caps hockey. Listen Live at WNST.NET

 

 

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps in Game 1 Victory

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps in Game 1 Victory

Posted on 03 May 2013 by Ed Frankovic

All season long the Capitals have ridden Alexander Ovechkin’s offense and Braden Holtby’s goaltending. So it was no surprise that with the New York Rangers up 1-0 in the second period despite being outplayed, that a Holtby save on a Carl Hagelin breakaway and then a Gr8 power play tally on the rebound of a Mike Green point shot, helped even things up for Washington. From there the Caps killed off a critical five on three Rangers power play and riding the boisterous Verizon Center crowd, the Caps got a sweet goal from Marcus Johansson on a breakaway after a pretty feed from Steve Oleksy and then a tally from Jason Chimera with Mathieu Perreault running traffic in front of Henrik Lundqvist just 46 seconds later.

That second period sequence would pretty much end up deciding this contest and the Capitals were victorious, 3-1, and lead the best of seven game series, 1-0. Game two is Saturday at 12:30 pm at the Verizon Center (NBC telecast).

There was a lot to like in this win:

  • Holtby (35 saves) was very good and despite giving up a fluky first goal to Carl Hagelin, he buckled down and shut the door on New York. #70 was excellent with his rebound control and he looked poised in the cage.
  • The Caps won the special teams battle as they went 1 for 5 with the man advantage while killing all four Ranger power plays.
  • Washington received solid efforts from all four lines with the third unit of Perreault, Chimera, and Eric Fehr being big difference makers
  • Coach Adam Oates’ crew did a good job of moving the puck out of their own zone to thwart, for the most part, a very strong New York forecheck. Karl Alzner pointed out that the Rangers clog the boards so it was important for Washington to not turn the puck over to their waiting opponents and overall the Caps were successful doing that.
  • Caps fans were extremely loud and helped provide the team with energy. Troy Brouwer mentioned that at least three times in his post game media scrum and was very appreciative of the home crowd.

On the flip side, here are some of the things Oates will want to see improved for game two:

  • Washington allowed too many odd man rushes. Hagelin’s breakaway, had he converted, would’ve made it 2-0. In addition, a Johansson giveaway led to a New York two on one in period three but the Rangers somehow hit the crossbar and didn’t score. There were some other poor passes that led to Rags chances that need to be avoided going forward.
  • Green took some big hits from Mats Zuccarello late in the game. Washington does not want #52 getting run and they did well at this until the end of the game. Green (1 assist, 26:38 of ice time) is so critical to this team and there is no doubt the Rangers are targeting him.

Overall it was a physical game and the Caps held up extremely well. They battled against a gritty club but used their skill and desire to gain the victory. The Caps went hard to the net and were rewarded. There were several post whistle scrums and Brouwer made a point to praise the NHL officials for communicating with the players. #20 said the refs talked to the players, let them know where the line was, and backed it up with calls when the line was crossed. Troy noted that in the playoffs that everything is a battle and the referees did a good job of not overreacting to the scrums. Brouwer also praised his teammates for not getting caught up in the emotion of the moment and taking unnecessary penalties.

The keys for Washington going forward, first and foremost, is to realize this is just a single game and be ready to battle again on Saturday and beyond. The Rangers are a team that scraps, like their head coach, so it will be hard to take their will completely. Oates talked about holding serve at home and if the Caps clean up some of the turnovers and minimize odd man rush issues, then they should carry the play again.

Notes: The Rangers rely heavily on their key players. D man Dan Girardi logged 29:00 and the Hagelin, Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan line saw a lot of minutes…Washington won the faceoff battle, 32-30. Backstrom went 14-11…Ovechkin had five shots on net and five hits…Rangers forward Rick Nash logged 23:04.

 

 

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Ovechkin’s 2013 Caps are a Special Team

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Ovechkin’s 2013 Caps are a Special Team

Posted on 23 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

24-10-1.

That’s what it takes to go from 2-8-1 and last in the NHL to clinching the Southeast Division for the fifth time in the last six years.

Kudos to Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals for a run that, to me, is more remarkable than the one they made in 2007-08, although both have to be categorized as special.

Special. That is a key word tonight and that is how this 2013 Caps team should be described.

It takes a really special group to do what this hockey club did after a terrible start. They overcame some big time injuries and major doubts from the critics, many of whom chose to blast Ovechkin for all of Washington’s problems. They were buried many times this season. Yet they stuck together and proved that their General Manager George McPhee was absolutely right back in January and early February during the losing times when he said “I think we have a good team.”

Credit the GM for standing up for the club he assembled, credit the head coach for putting the team in winning situations, and most importantly, credit the players for staying together and not quitting on a season that had the makings of a disaster at several points.

It took resolve and hard work. This team continues to get better and better as the season progresses. Their captain once again looks like the two time MVP he was in 2008 and 2009, only this year he is a better player overall. His defensive skills have improved, look no further than the back check he made to cover teammate Mike Green after #52 got caught pinching at the Washington blue line in the first period of Tuesday night’s Southeast Division clinching victory. Ovechkin’s passing, often underrated, is as good as its ever been. He is seeing the ice extremely well and he has embraced the transition to right wing. Opposing defenses are on their heels against the Gr8 once again.

Nicklas Backstrom is arguably playing at his highest career level and what a story Marcus Johansson has been being the guy to round out a top line that has been as good as any other in the NHL over the last month? Add in a second unit of Martin Erat, Mike Ribeiro, and Troy Brouwer and for the first time since 2008-09 the Caps are going into the post season with two legitimate scoring lines. Hard to believe that is possible given Brooks Laich’s injury but the Erat trade is exactly what Washington needed to compete in the post season.

Of course this team is not special without forwards like Mathieu Perreault, Matt Hendricks, Eric Fehr, Joel Ward, Jay Beagle, and Jason Chimera finding ways to contribute. In this playoff clinching win, the bottom six forwards scored three of the four Capitals tallies when Winnipeg had Ondrej Pavelec in the cage.

If you really want to pinpoint where the turnaround came from, it isn’t hard to figure out. The defense was a train wreck early on as Mike Green, John Erskine, and Jack Hillen were injured for long periods of time forcing the team to rely on players who don’t really belong in the NHL anymore. Once Oates and assistant coach Calle Johansson were able to put a solid defensive lineup on the ice, combined with the improved health of forwards Backstrom, Johansson, and Laich (for a 10 game stretch) then it became a challenge for opponents to match up with a club that could move the puck out of its zone quickly and up the ice where its skill could take over. Add in super goaltending from Braden Holtby and some great spot starts from Michal Neuvirth combined with the struggles of the rest of the division and what looked to be a season playing for a draft pick is now one where you can’t help but play “what if” as the Capitals prepare for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

This team right now is better than the ones that entered the post season the last three years. The 2013 crew is a special group because they never gave up and stuck together to make an improbable run to the third seed in the Eastern Conference. They are a team that will be a tough out it in the playoffs and they have enormous potential to go deep in the postseason.

The question is, can they stay healthy and keep it going?

It’s a good question to ask, but for Tuesday night and the rest of the week, Caps fans should just enjoy this “special” team and not worry about the playoffs until Monday.

Notes: Ovechkin notched his league leading 31st goal into the empty net to seal the victory…Green and Karl Alzner were downright dominant in this contest. Green logged 24:27 and had an assist while King Karl played 23:33. The two Western Canadian boys compliment each other well on the ice…Washington won the faceoff battle 39-31 and outshot the Jets 41-27. Shot attempts were 72-48 in favor of Washington despite the Jets getting three power plays to just one for the Caps…next up for the Capitals are the Ottawa Senators at the Verizon Center on Thursday night.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I’ll be on with Drew Forrester on WNST 1570AM Baltimore talking Caps hockey on Wednesday morning at 7:45am. Listen Live at WNST.NET

 

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Caps Win on Green OT Tally After Losing 4 Goal Lead

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Caps Win on Green OT Tally After Losing 4 Goal Lead

Posted on 13 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The most important thing happened for the Washington Capitals on Saturday night. Mike Green lasered one in on the power play in overtime to give the Caps a 6-5 victory over Tampa Bay and now they lead the Southeast Division by four points over Winnipeg with just six games to go.

It was two much needed points but what looked to be a laugher in the second frame with Washington up 5-1, turned into a horror show as Tampa rallied to tie the game with three third period tallies. But Adam Oates’ team can breathe a big sigh of relief after this one thanks to Marcus Johansson drawing a key penatly in the extra session followed by Green’s game winner.

Speaking of Oates, he has a ton of video, good and bad, to show his club the next time they reconvene at Kettler IcePlex (either Sunday or Monday).

The good was the Caps offensive zone passing, which led to some very pretty goals over the first 26 minutes of this contest. Tampa isn’t exactly known for defense and goaltending but the Capitals were playing well and with confidence. Alexander Ovechkin pumped in his league leading 27th tally and also added an assist. Mathieu Perreault’s line scored twice on pretty passing plays in the middle frame with both Eric Fehr and Jason Chimera finishing via tap-ins. Even the fourth line got on the score sheet as Jay Beagle fed defensemen Jack Hillen for a goal while Aaron Volpatti did a super job of going to the net to create traffic. Troy Brouwer notched the first marker on the power play on a sweet feed from Mike Ribeiro.

However, the bad is what the team seemed to be focusing on after the game and that could turn out to be a positive. Washington’s defensive zone was horrible over the last 30 minutes and it primarily had to do with players not moving their feet. When you stop skating suddenly the other team is quicker to the puck and massive open ice appears for the opponent. The high slot was vacated by Washington defenders nearly the entire third period while the wingers were caught down low too often. This made it easy for the Bolts to get point shots with traffic. It was a recipe for disaster and Braden Holtby fortunately made some big saves late otherwise the Caps would have lost. This wasn’t really about X’s and O’s in the final frame, it was all about effort and the lack of skating. That’s easily correctable.

Two points are two points though, and this victory gives the Caps seven wins in a row. They are a hot hockey club and hopefully they don’t lose any confidence from the blown lead and realize this was an effort problem, not a lack of skill or system problem.

If they focus on the effort issue and maintain their confidence level, they’ll be all right going forward.

Notes: Volpatti went down injured after blocking a third period shot and didn’t return…Martin Erat played his first game since being injured last Saturday in Florida. #10 had 15:11 of ice time…the Caps won the faceoff battle 39-29 but were outshot 40-38 and the shot attempts were 67-57 for Tampa….the Caps power play went 2 for 5 while the Bolts were 0 for 2 with the man advantage…Washington held Steven Stamkos without a goal, he trails Ovechkin by one in the goal scoring race…Martin St. Louis, a Cap killer, had two goals for Tampa…the Capitals next five games are against Canadian teams (home vs TOR on Tuesday, then at OTT on Thur, and at MTL on Sat, before coming home to face WPG and OTT the following week). The last game of the year is home against the Bruins on Saturday, April 27th. Only Winnipeg isn’t in playoff position right now but they are playing well so this final stretch is going to be tough for Washington…congratulations to former Capitals assistant Coach Keith Allain on winning the NCAA Hockey Championship as the head coach at Yale.

 

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Caps Follow Ovechkin’s Lead to Victory

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Caps Follow Ovechkin’s Lead to Victory

Posted on 18 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

After a subpar effort in Boston on Saturday, the Washington Capitals needed a fast start to get back on track Sunday night against the Buffalo Sabres. They got just that as Alexander Ovechkin lasered home the biscuit 19 seconds into the contest after Nicklas Backstrom won an offensive zone draw and Marcus Johansson tapped the puck to the Gr8. The Caps would go on to grab a 4-1 lead, see it shrink to 4-3, before Mathieu Perreault put this one away with 4:55 to go. The victory improves Washington to 12-15-1 and seven points out of first place in the Southeast Division with 20 games remaining.

There were lots of good and some not so good in Washington’s play Sunday evening but one thing is for certain, the Sabres are a bad team and appear headed to battling Florida for the bottom spot in the Eastern Conference and perhaps the NHL standings.

The fact that Buffalo is bad was my primary takeaway of the night but there are several things worth pointing out in this contest as it relates to the Capitals:

- Ovechkin’s night included the early goal and he could have had several more. In 20:11 of ice time he had 16 shot attempts, five of which found the cage. He hit the post in the first period and had numerous scoring chances. He also doled out three hits and very importantly, he came to the aid of teammate Backstrom in the middle frame. The Sabres are not a physical team on the back end but their primary pest and chief punk, forward Steve Ott, is someone you have to watch out for at all times on the ice. Ott was up to no good most of the evening and after a whistle he reached for Backstrom’s throat area. Ovechkin quickly grabbed Ott from behind and took him to the ice. This was especially good to see given that many were questioning the ability of the Caps to come to the aid of their teammates after Matt Hendricks was jumped in Beantown on Saturday. The team captain was having none of the pesky Ott trying to take out the Capitals #1 center. Good to see there Ovi, great toughness and leadership.

- Washington’s power play is a thing of beauty at times and I credit much of that to Mike Ribeiro and Backstrom. The two of them are creative magicians with the puck and the Troy Brouwer tally that made it 2-1 is one you could watch over and over because of the work of numbers 9 and 19. Brouwer has been very good at being the guy in the middle of the ice who finds space for the in close quick shot or for screening the opposing goalie. Oates has done a good job with the power play and if Mike Green were back healthy, it would likely be even better. John Carlson has a great shot but his passing skills are not at 52′s level and once again on Sunday #74 had a hard time of putting the puck in the correct area for Ovechkin to get off his patented one timer. The Caps went 1 for 4 with the man advantage but if they could get the Gr8 the puck in his wheelhouse the damage could be far greater.

- Speaking of the power play, the Caps received one late when Ott was sent to the dressing room for basically being a horse’s rear. The score was 5-3 and I’m sure many players were thinking about the post game, at that point. I’ve blogged about Oates’ atttention to detail in the past and I noticed that old #77 was quite animated talking to his club before the start of that power play with 1:20 to go. Brouwer said afterwards that Oates was explaining he was going with two defensemen and for his team to be careful and not take chances. He also warned his club that the Sabres would pull Ryan Miller and make it a 5 on 5 situation. Buffalo did just that and the Caps were prepared.

- Once again Washington lost a defensemen in the game and were forced to play with five rearguards. Tom Poti took a cross check from Ott in the second period and didn’t return (played only 7:38 total). Oates said that #3 already had a bad back so the injury wasn’t all on Ott. As a result, Carlson logged 30:15 while Jack Hillen played a season high 23:03. Steve Oleksy played 21:09 but it wasn’t his best game as he screened Braden Holtby (27 saves) on the Sabres first goal and he got suckered into a penalty by Ott in the third period. In fairness to #61, Ott did ask him to go then when Oleksy dropped his mitts the Buffalo forward turtled. In his post game presser, Oates didn’t seem too happy with what Ott did and noted the pre penalty verbal exchange was clear on the video. With the injury to Poti it is unclear who will suit up in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Tomas Kundratek, who was injured in Carolina on Thursday skated minimally on Sunday morning. Green is close to returning while John Erskine is on IR and did not skate on Sunday. In addition, Dmitry Orlov played for Hershey on Sunday night, notched two assists, and was the game’s third star so perhaps #81 could make his Caps season debut in the Steel City or sometime in the near future? One thing is for sure, the Caps have to be tired of losing defensemen in game and having to play short.

Overall, the Capitals got a much needed win on Sunday night. It came against one of the weaker teams in the league. Washington was sloppy, at times, and will need to play a much better game on Tuesday, when they face the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road. The Pens have won nine straight and have really clamped down in their own end. The Caps will have to be close to perfect to beat Sidney Crosby and company.

Notes: Brooks Laich told me he will be back in the lineup “very soon.” Let’s hope that means Tuesday in Pittsburgh or at worst, Thursday in Winnipeg…the Caps destroyed the Sabres from the face off dot, 41-23. Brouwer was 10-2, Perreault was 8-3, and Ribeiro was 5-1…Johansson had a goal and an assist in 18:57 of ice time. It was his best game of the season and he played on the top line with Ovechkin and Backstrom. Ribeiro (two assists) centered Brouwer and Eric Fehr to form a solid second unit…Perreault and Joel Ward had two points on the third line and Jason Chimera scored his first goal of the season, a big relief for #25.

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Have The Caps Put Themselves Back in the Playoff Race?

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Have The Caps Put Themselves Back in the Playoff Race?

Posted on 26 February 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals played their second consecutive quality hockey game on Tuesday in a 3-0 white washing of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Braden Holtby’s 33 saves and Nicklas Backstrom’s goal and assist paved the way for a solid victory after Alexander Ovechkin put on that great show on Saturday against the Devils.

Coach Adam Oates’ club is exhibiting some serious signs of being a much better hockey team than we saw in the early part of this season and their shot output over the last two contests certainly indicates that. Washington has dominated both of these last two matchups.

So the question now becomes, have the Capitals put themselves back in the playoff race?

At 7-10-1 the answer would often be a solid “no.” But then again, the Caps play in the Southleast, er, Southeast Division. At 15 points, Washington is only four points out of the division lead, which would yield a third seed in the post season.

The Caps are now 5-2 in their last seven games and the way Holtby is playing in net and the fact that Ovechkin and Backstrom have kicked their games up to the elite level certainly gives Washington and their fans cause for optimism.

Backstrom clearly was the best skater on the ice in this one and owned the puck and his opponent most of the evening. Ovechkin (1 assist) didn’t have any shots on goal but the Gr8 had three takeaways, four hits, and some superb passes that should’ve had resulted in more Capitals goals if only there were additional finishers on this club. John Carlson (1G, 1A) is playing his best hockey of the season and was a force on the ice, as well.

In net, Holtby is in a major groove and his two top stops were while the Caps were on the power play. The first was on an Alex Semin breakaway early in a scoreless game and then on Eric Staal on an odd man rush in the third period. If either of those chances go in, the game might have gone differently. But #70 is playing large in net and looks ultra confident in the cage.

Simply put, if those four players are playing near the top of their respective games, the Capitals are going to be in every contest. That is what has been happening over this seven game stretch. Add in Mike Green returning to the lineup after missing three tilts due to a groin injury and it appears that things are finally heading in the right direction for the Caps.

The question is, can they keep this up? Teams will look to take away Ovechkin and Backstrom along with Mike Ribeiro. Those three players are the heart of the Washington offense. It will be up to players like Troy Brouwer, Eric Fehr, Mathieu Perreault, Joel Ward, and Jason Chimera to convert on the great setups they are getting from 9, 19, and 8. What would make things even better is if the Caps could get Brooks Laich back in the lineup in the near future.

So are the Caps back in the playoff race? Given the current standings, you’d have to say yes.

But tough games in Philadelphia on Wednesday, then in Winnipeg on Saturday before coming home to face the Boston Bruins on Tuesday loom large. How this team does in these three upcoming contests will go a long way towards answering things for the Capitals management.

A 2-1 or better mark certainly has to make owner Ted Leonsis and GM George McPhee seriously think about finding a way to add a finisher or two to the forward crew to give this club a chance to take the division and try and make some post season headway. However, if they drop two of three in regulation then the pendulum swings back to the longer term where finishing near the bottom of the standings will very likely yield a prize prospect.

It’s a fine line for this hockey team right now, but there is no doubt they are back in the playoff race with 30 games to go.

Notes: The Caps lost the faceoff battle for the first time in seven games, 31-29…Green played 21:54 in his first game back and looked fairly good, although there were some tentative moments along the walls, which is to be expected…the Caps were 2-2 on the penalty kill and 1-4 with the power play. Their third goal came 28 seconds after a Canes penalty expired but it was the PP pressure that resulted in the tally as Carolina never recovered territorially after the initial two minutes were up.

 

 

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Improving Caps Win 3rd Straight

Posted on 14 February 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals did a lot of things right and several things wrong on Thursday night but the bottom line was the Caps got a much needed and deserved victory in Tampa by the score of 4-3.

Eric Fehr potted two tallies and Mathieu Perreault had three assists as Coach Adam Oates third line, that also includes Joel Ward, was the primary reason the Caps were victorious.

Jay Beagle had the eventual game winner to make it 4-1 with 12:31 to go but if you watched the entire game, you knew it was not going to be an easy finish against a very talented Lightning club. The Caps continue to have their struggles in their own zone with poor coverage and turnovers. The last eight plus minutes basically turned into “The Count Floyd Show” as the team survived one scary shift after another en route to a nailbiting win.

Beagle won some big draws late and Braden Holtby, who made several huge stops in this one but also had a breakdown or two himself, held strong at the finish.

It was a game the Caps had to have to stay in the playoff race and they worked hard to win it. The effort has certainly amped up here during this three game winning streak and Washington also did a good job of not taking bad penalties in this one. The Capitals only went to the sin bin twice and thwarted both Tampa power plays.

On offense, Washington has 15 goals in three games. The power play looks great and clicked early on its only try and that goal by Troy Brouwer on a pretty passing play set the tone. With the Caps going 8 for their last 15 with the man advantage the Bolts knew they could not afford to take penalties. They did take some infractions but fortunately for them, zebras Frederic L’Ecuyer and Steve Kozari were pretty much letting things go in this one.

When Oates took over it was believed that Washington’s offense would return and it certainly has in the last week. The Caps had a lot of sustained pressure and poured 39 shots on Mathieu Garon. In this streak they are getting the biscuit deep and using the cycle game to generate chances. They are also crashing the net much more. Tonight they won the game with three of the four goals coming from their bottom two lines.

What is concerning is the Caps defensive zone play. There are times when Washington just doesn’t look like they know what they are doing in their own end. Oates must address this to keep this streak going because Holtby certainly bailed the team out several times in the first 50 minutes of this one.

Fortunately the head coach has two days to work on the defensive zone because one thing their next opponent, the New York Rangers, will do on Sunday is test Washington in their own end with hard work and a strong cycle game.

But that is for tomorrow and Saturday, on Thursday the Caps got a Florida sweep to move to 5-8-1. They still have issues on the defensive side and their top two lines could use some personnel upgrades. A Brooks Laich return soon would be an upgrade over Wojtek Wolski, for sure. It would also be nice if GM George McPhee could make a move while the team is winning to get another top six winger because playing Jason Chimera and/or Matt Hendricks with Mike Ribeiro and Alex Ovechkin isn’t a long term recipe for success.

One thing is becoming clear though, Oates is a smart hockey guy and he has this team’s attention.

The Hall of Fame bench boss has this hockey club playing hard and improving, despite some big holes in the lineup.

Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle, 36-29. That is a very important stat on the road. Beagle was 8-3 from the dot, Perreault won six of eight draws, while Nicklas Backstrom was 13-10…Karl Alzner had his best game of the season and logged 26:12 to lead the Caps in ice time…John Erskine was excellent again and played a whopping 23:42 on the blue line…Ribeiro and Ovechkin were both -2 on the night but I thought #9 was good. He made some super two way plays and his wingers just aren’t finishing right now. The Gr8 had defensive zone issues but he was better on D on his very last shift at the end of the game. His positioning and posture appear to be his biggest problems in his own end.

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Caps Get Much Needed Blowout Victory

Posted on 09 February 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Florida Panthers should reconsider playing hockey at the Verizon Center going forward.

After getting absolultely smoked by the Washington Capitals, 5-0 on Saturday night, they are now 0-4 and have been outscored 16-2 by the Caps in those games.

It was a victory that this Caps club desperately needed. They played with energy, determination, and heart. They got super goaltending from Braden Holtby and they only allowed two power plays to the Cats.

Coach Adam Oates shook up the lineup at forward sitting underachieving Marcus Johansson and putting Mathieu Perreault on a unit with Joel Ward and Eric Fehr. Boy did that move pay dividends as the 42-85-16 unit was all over Florida with a ferocious forecheck and pressure that led to two goals for that line. Ward now has five goals on the season and is tied with Troy Brouwer for the team lead.

Brouwer also had a big night with two tallies, including one going in off of his rear. But good things happen when you go to the net, something this Washington club needs to do more of if they want to climb their way up the standings.

On the back end, the defense received a boost from John Erskine’s return to the lineup after serving a three game suspension. The loss of #4 forced Oates to put in either Tom Poti or Roman Hamrlik and at this stage, neither one of those defensemen looks like they are NHL calibre anymore. Erskine was solid in 17 minutes and change and he had a spirited first period fight with Florida tough guy, George Parros. Perhaps that bout gave Washington a bit of a spark?

Whatever the case, the whole team looked good and Alexander Ovechkin finally notched an even strength goal. The Gr8 was physical and engaged and looks like he is sick and tired of losing because his intensity has gone way up over the last two games.

So the Caps move to 3-8-1 after this whitewashing of a Florida team that looked totally lost. The Caps get them again in Sunrise on Tuesday in another must win for Washington.

It is only one victory, albeit an impressive one, but the Capitals have dug themselves quite a hole and they will need to play like this each and every night for a sustained period to get back into the playoff race. It certainly won’t hurt if the opponents continue to play poorly like the Panthers did in this one.

Notes: Holtby’s great pass on a bad Florida change set up Brouwer’s 2nd tally, a power play goal…Washington won the faceoff battle, 25-24….every Caps player had at least 10 minutes of ice time with Mike Green logging the most at 24:11. Oates had to be pleased that his team stayed out of the box and he could roll all four lines.

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