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Caps GM McPhee faces very critical week

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Caps GM McPhee faces very critical week

Posted on 27 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee is arguably facing his most critical week in his 16 year tenure.

His Caps sit at 15-17-1, 11th place in the Eastern Conference and 23rd overall in the NHL, with the trade deadline just one week away on April 3rd at 3pm.

It is waters they have not chartered since 2006-07 and a team that won four straight Southeast Division titles from 2008 to 2011 with 94, 108, 121, and 107 points, respectively, and had 92 points and finished eighth in the East last season, is currently moving towards a location often called “No Man’s Land.”

No Man’s Land is a spot in the NHL where you aren’t good enough to contend for the Stanley Cup, likely won’t make the playoffs, but also aren’t bad enough to land one of the top three spots in the draft. It is a position where it is very difficult to get better quickly, just ask the Calgary Flames or the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have been the President and Vice President of No Man’s Land in the NHL the last several years. Those teams, who have rabid and demanding fan bases, have recently routinely gone with the mind set that they are only a player or two away from the playoffs or contending in them. Both have been reluctant to take a critical step back in order to possibly move two or three steps forward (that might finally be changing in Calgary this spring, but is it too late?).

The Capitals were headed to No Man’s Land once before, in the days of Jaromir Jagr, but owner Ted Leonsis and McPhee went the “blow it up” route and started over. For the most part, especially from a business standpoint, they had success and it landed them Alexander Oveckhin, who is worth the price of admission on most nights, all by himself. It is important to note that hockey is first and foremost a business to many owners. So the bottom line is vital. Thus the push to just get into the playoffs can often be the difference between being in the red or black. The bottom line can drive an approach that constantly looks at the short term solution instead of the bigger picture.

This is a danger I see for the Caps right now. They are a team that has an incredible home sellout streak of 169 games and the marketable product in Ovechkin. But everyone knows in the Baltimore/DC area that winning is your most marketable item. This region demands a winner and when a club can’t consistently do that, the fan base erodes exponentially (see the Baltimore Orioles for 14 years). So owner Ted Leonsis surely is leery of what the impacts of a losing season or missing the playoffs would do to his club that generates full building after full building these days. So it can be a risk to have a losing season.

Clearly the Caps would love to make a run and reach the postseason this year but after last night’s loss to New York Islanders, they are seven points out of first place in the Southeast Division and four points behind the Rangers for eighth place overall in the Eastern Conference. With no Western Conference matchups, it is very difficult to make up ground. To reach the post season, the Capitals will likely need to go 11-4 or something along those lines. Is that really doable with this team, one that is finally healthy and still couldn’t beat John Tavares and company, at home, in a very important game?

That is a question that McPhee needs to ask himself because the way I see it right now he has three options over the next week:

1. Stand pat and do nothing

2. Become a buyer and try to make the post season

3. Sell off some assets ensuring a post season miss but put yourself in position to snag one of the elite players in what appears to be a draft with some impact players at the top.

In option one it will be difficult to make the postseason and the Caps likely end up 9th or 10th in the East. They would have low odds to win the new draft lottery to pick first overall and probably would draft around the 10th to 14th spot in New Jersey in June. In addition, unless they sign Mike Ribeiro, they likely lose him to unrestricted free agency after the season.

In the second choice, McPhee would really need to add an impact player to get this team to go 11-4 down the stretch. It would have to be a top line winger and to do that they have to give something up, likely their first round pick this year or perhaps one of their recent first round picks (Evgeny Kuznetsov, Filip Forsberg, or Tom Wilson). It is a mortgage the future type of move that might get them in the postseason but likely doesn’t put them in a real position to contend for the Stanley Cup given what the Pittsburgh Penguins roster looks like now after acquiring Brenden Morrow and Doug Murray. Making the playoffs would help the bottom line but would the price be too great? Then they’d still have the issue of trying to sign Ribeiro along with the asset they acquired at the deadline. The Caps currently have only $15M of salary cap space for 2013-14 with just 15 players under contract. Two top six forwards would eat up much of that and McPhee still has to sign defensemen Karl Alzner who is a restricted free agent, as well as some other players. Sure the competitor in me would like to give it a shot but depending on what you have to give up this season for a top six forward asset, doesn’t appear to make a lot of sense.

Therefore, option three seems to be the smart move. Signing Ribeiro is going to be awfully tough to do and with number 9 at 33 years old and wanting a five year deal, it just doesn’t seem like a wise option on his terms. Remember Michal Nylander? That signing in 2007 arguably cost McPhee the salary cap space he needed in 2009 to shore up a Washington defense that was likely the biggest thing holding them back from beating the Penguins in 2009 and going on to win the Stanley Cup. So why hamstring yourself with a big contract to an aging player and risk that scenario all over again when you are planning on contending again?

But if you can get a number one draft pick or more this year for Ribeiro, then you should deal him. Sure you will definitely miss the playoffs but you also now have two first round picks and could package them to possibly move up to number one, two, or three and get one of Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, or Jonathan Drouin. Jones, according to my sources, is the best player in the draft and NHL ready now. He very likely will be a number one defensemen on a team in the NHL in a couple of years. He’s a team changer. Snag him and you suddenly have options to possibly move some of your other defensemen, like Mike Green, who you are paying $6M a season now.

In addition to Ribeiro or Green, there are other guys on this roster that teams might be interested in such as Marcus Johansson or Joel Ward or one of the three goalies (Braden Holtby, Michal Neuvirth, or Philip Grubauer) at the trade deadline.

What McPhee and his staff need to do is work to the Baltimore Ravens model of “Right Player, Right Price.” You have to know the value you place on every player on your team and in the league and make moves accordingly. Washington’s pro scouts will really need to be doing their jobs well and feeding the GM the info he requires to make some hard decisions. If you do it right you don’t overpay for your own guys and can end up with better players at or below that price (see the Ravens getting Elvis Dumervil, Chris Canty, and Marcus Spears for the same overall amount the Cleveland Browns paid for Paul Kruger).

McPhee has made some very smart decisions on players before, such as Semyon Varlamov, who he traded for a 1st and 2nd round pick. The 1st rounder is now Forsberg while the Capitals haven’t taken any hit at all in the goaltending department. Sergei Fedorov for Theo Ruth was another blue ribbon deal by the GM that made the Caps a legit Stanley Cup contender for two straight springs. But he’s also had some not so good decisions (re-signing an aging Tom Poti for two years, the four year deal for Jeff Schultz, and the two years given to an aging Roman Hamrlik). Those contracts have impacted Washington’s salary cap while not yielding quality results on the ice.

With Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, and John Carlson having long term deals clearly they are the guys for McPhee to build around going forward. Everyone else should be up grabs. It is Asset Management 101 at this point for Washington. They need to do what they can to transform a team that was one of the best in the league from 2008 to 2010, but has steadily declined, back into a Cup contender.

Sure its a risk from a marketing standpoint, but the fans in this area recognize when you are going in the right direction and will have the patience to endure a reshaping of the roster, especially if they believe it will eventually lead to Washington’s first Stanley Cup. So it’s a low risk play and if the moves are done right and there is a championship in the next few years or so, then you have people locked into your team long term (see the Philadelphia Flyers, who still sell out despite not winning a Cup since 1975).

So this is a huge week for McPhee and one he has three roads he can possibly take. They aren’t easy decisions and only he and his staff really know what options are going to be available to him in return for his current assets.

The path he ultimately chooses will likely make or break his and the Capitals future.

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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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Caps Have The Right Coach in Adam Oates

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Caps Have The Right Coach in Adam Oates

Posted on 06 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Wow, now that was an entertaining hockey game.

The Washington Capitals spotted the Boston Bruins three first period goals then roared back with two in the middle frame, the tying tally with 6:05 to go in regulation, before winning the game, 4-3, with Eric Fehr’s top shelf wrister just 37 seconds into overtime. It was a contest that saw exciting plays and odd man rushes at both sides of the rink. There also was lots of physical play and some huge saves at both ends. No doubt anyone who paid to watch it received their money’s worth.

In addition, it was a win the Caps needed to keep their Southeast Division title hopes alive and they have won seven of their last 10 games to improve their record to 9-11-1 (19 points). It also was their most impressive victory of the season because it came against the team that likely is the best and most complete club in the Eastern Conference. Boston is 14-3-3. They have four good lines, three solid defensive pairs, and a good goalie (Tuukka Rask). Just two springs ago they won the Stanley Cup and are serious contenders once again in 2013.

So to give a quality team like the Bruins a three spot in the opening frame and come back and win says a lot about the Caps and their progress since their 2-8-1 start. This club, weak in talent in some key areas, is starting to play some good and inspired hockey.

In my book, the credit for that goes to Coach Adam Oates.

In Tuesday night’s victory, Washington actually came out and played a decent first period despite the early hole on the scoreboard. They were working hard and generating chances with a ferocious forecheck. But their special teams let them down in the first 20 minutes yielding a shorthanded goal on a penalty shot and a power play marker. Many teams might have packed it in and some coaches might have yelled at their club and likely ended any chances of a comeback.

But Oates didn’t do that. The Caps I talked to after the game, Fehr (1G, 2A), Steve Oleksy (1A), and Braden Holtby (30 saves), all to a man said it was the coach’s message between periods that allowed the Capitals to stay focused on the task at hand.

The Hall of Famer told the team that they did a lot of good things in the first period and to stick to their system. Oates’ troops did exactly that and Washington was able to chip away at the Bruins lead.

Much has been made of the Caps coaching system over the last 18 months. The popular and gregarious Bruce Boudreau did a lot of super things for the Caps but was let go in November of 2011. Bruce is a very good coach, as evidenced by what his Anaheim Ducks are doing so far this season, but his time had run its course in Washington. In came Dale Hunter and while he earned the players respect and nearly produced a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, the organization didn’t like his defensive system. So all last spring the talk around the team was that owner Ted Leonsis and GM George McPhee needed to hire a hybrid of the two coaches. One who had an aggressive system like Boudreau but also one who had a calm demeanor and would command respect, like Hunter.

Guess what? Oates is exactly a combination of the good of both Boudreau and Hunter. He REALLY knows hockey from a technical and tactical standpoint. But he also knows people and players too. He is calm and doesn’t get too high or low. When Washington was struggling early on he preached patience and adherence to the system. He cautioned it would take time but he was not afraid to point out individual or team shortcomings. He’s a straight shooter.

So when Oates came in to talk to the media after a thrilling victory, it was no surprise that he conducted his press conference in the same fashion as he did after a loss or during the early season struggles. He was honest, forthcoming, and it is clear he wasn’t too high about things even though his team is on a roll right now. He talked about continuing to work hard and about going over some of the things they were doing wrong that led to too many chances for Boston, which fortunately did not come back to haunt them on this night. He talked about players keeping their emotions in check. He talked about the thought process in deciding to keep Holtby in the game after allowing three early goals. Basically he said all of the things you’d expect from a good coach.

And that is what the Capitals have right now, a good hockey coach, who will only get better.

Management definitely needs to make some player moves to get this team back to the elite level, and making trades during a winning run certainly puts an organization in a stronger position to do that. So McPhee and Leonsis have that going for them, which is nice.

But one thing they don’t have to worry about is looking for a head coach again. The way this club works and reacts to their bench boss certainly justifies one thing for me:

They got the coaching decision absolutely right in choosing Adam Oates.

Notes: Washington lost the face off battle 36-32, primarily because Mike Ribeiro went 1-9 from the dot. However, the Caps second goal, scored by Tomas Kundratek, came directly off of a Nicklas Backstrom (3 assists) win from the dot…Alex Ovechkin had a wild night with an assist, two penalties, 13 attempted shots, three takeaways, three hits, and two blocked shots in 23:19 of ice time. He also crashed into the Bruins goal three times. He was up and down the ice on both offense and defense and it was clear he was on a mission to get a Caps victory…Defensemen Roman Hamrlik was put on waivers on Tuesday…Mike Green (groin) and Troy Brouwer (illness) both missed the game…Oleksy played just over 10 minutes in his NHL debut and had an assist and was +2. He was paired with Tom Poti on defense.

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

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The Referees Weren’t Good, But That’s Not Why the Caps Lost

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The Referees Weren’t Good, But That’s Not Why the Caps Lost

Posted on 21 February 2013 by Ed Frankovic

As many of you know, I am not a fan of referees. I probably use the #badzebras hash tag more than anyone on twitter, heck some might even claim I invented it.

But watching the Capitals 3-2 loss to New Jersey tonight, you aren’t going to get me blaming the referees for yet another Washington loss.

Were some of the calls questionable in this one? Yeah, maybe so, but good teams and smart ones at that, don’t put themselves in the position this Caps team does repeatedly to give the zebras a chance to whistle them for infractions. Lack of talent combined with low hockey IQ led to the penalty parade that was the third period, one in which Washington was called for six infractions and resulted in two lengthy 5 on 3 Devils power plays.

Simply put, you play like that and you deserve to lose.

Combine that with the fact that Washington was dominated at even strength all night, and it is amazing that the Caps even had a chance to win this one going into the final frame.

For that, everyone can once again thank Braden Holty, who was brilliant in net, especially in the first period when the Capitals were sleep walking.

The only other reason the Caps were winning after 40 minutes was their power play. They tallied twice on it despite giving up an inexcusable shorthanded goal to Patrick Elias. Washington went 2 for 4 on the night with the advantage but surrendered the shorty and they also gave up the game winner while shorthanded. So the special teams battle was even at two a piece.

Look no further than the tying goal for why the Capitals lost. Mike Ribeiro lost a key defensive zone draw and then he failed to cover Andrei Loktionov as the Devils center went to the net. The result was a lay up for the New Jersey forward on a Holtby rebound. Lazy hockey there, plain and simple.

I’ve chronicled all season the lack of talent on this Washington roster, especially up front. They could not afford to lose Brooks Laich and with Mike Green now out on the back end for the second straight game players on the downside of their careers, like Tom Poti, end up in the game. Poti was whistled for interference just before the game winner.

So the nightmare season continues for Washington as they drop to 5-10-1 and they remain in last place in the Eastern Conference. 

Saturday at noon they get Martin Brodeur, Ilya Kovalchuk, and company again at the Verizon Center. The Devils are a talented team that plays smart. Right now the Caps are nearly the complete opposite.

So blame the referees all you want for this loss, but if you peel back the onion and do the real analysis, you’ll soon find out the real reason you are crying.

 

 

 

 

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Caps Holes Evident in Loss to Rangers

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Caps Holes Evident in Loss to Rangers

Posted on 17 February 2013 by Ed Frankovic

 

Typically in pro sports, wins and losses comes down to talent. On Sunday night in New York at Madison Square Garden talent was the difference as the New York Rangers knocked off the Washington Capitals, 2-1, despite an outstanding goaltending performance from the Caps Braden Holtby (38 saves).

The Caps came into this game already missing Brooks Laich up front and Dmitry Orlov on the back end and when they had to play without their best defensemen, Mike Green (lower body injury), you knew it was going to be tough sledding for Washington. And that is exactly what happened as the Rangers used their talent up front to dominate puck possession and the shot clock for the first 30 minutes of this contest. The only thing that made it a game to that point was Holtby, who somehow managed to keep the scoreboard knotted at one.

Unfortunately for Washington, Holtby couldn’t score goals from the opposing crease and that is what doomed the Capitals in this one. Over the last 30 minutes Coach Adam Oates’ team started to carry more of the play, but when you only have three top six forwards and are relying on guys like Wojtek Wolksi and Jason Chimera to score from the left wing on the top two lines you are in trouble. Don’t get me wrong, I like Chimera. He is a lunch pail, hard working forward, but he is a third line left winger. Wolski, well that’s another story. The former first round pick isn’t on his fifth team for nothing, although that is what the Caps pretty much paid for him. In this case, the old saying, “You get what you paid for” certainly applies. Wolski had several opportunities to score on Sunday night after some sweet set ups from Nicklas Backstrom, yet Wolski couldn’t find the net on many of them.

On the back end with Green out, Oates had two choices in either Tom Poti or Roman Hamrlik. Neither are good ones at this point as both older players have shown that their careers are pretty much finished. Poti got the call on Sunday and played less than 10 minutes. On the Rangers first goal, Poti was downright terrible turning the puck over and then failing to tie up Carl Hagelin by the net as #62 put the biscuit home. Oates barely played #3 after that one.

Still, given the talent imbalance, I have to give the Capitals players credit for battling a team that many have picked to come out of the Eastern Conference to play for the Stanley Cup this spring down to the wire. There was no lack of effort from Washington’s players and Oates has impressed me with what he’s done in many areas with this team. But at the end of the day, they just don’t have enough finishers. The Caps opponents know they just need to key on Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Mike Ribeiro and they are in good shape. Even still, the Capitals almost tied this one up late, so kudos on the effort.

But despite the late surge the effort yielded 0 points and Washington fell to 5-9-1, good for last place in the Eastern Conference.

Two years ago in the post season the Capitals eliminated the Rangers in five games. After that series, Rangers Coach John Tortorella said, “We are not there yet,” describing his lack of talent compared to Washington’s, at the time. Last spring, the Caps and New York played a seven game series that was pretty much a dead heat but the Rangers got the bounces and moved on.

So what transpired last summer from a management perspective for these two clubs? Well the Rangers went out and acquired former #1 draft pick Rick Nash while the Caps acquired Ribeiro to fill their gaping hole at second line center. Unfortunately the Capitals let Alex Semin and Dennis Wideman walk in free agency without replacing them. Sure they were counting on Orlov to fill some of Wideman’s shoes, but Wideman didn’t get upwards of $5M a year for nothing. Semin received $7M from the Hurricanes, who are in first place in the Southeast Division. Based on that, combined with the injuries to Laich and Orlov, it is pretty easy to see why the teams sure seem headed in opposite directions right now.

To get back into the playoff race will be extremely difficult for the Caps, at this point, unless management makes some moves. That doesn’t appear easy, even if they are willing to do so. Sure Washington has some good young talent overseas and at the junior level. But Evgeny Kuznetsov (2010 1st round pick) won’t be in the NHL until 2014, Filip Forsberg (2012 1st round pick) is playing in Sweden this year, and Tom Wilson (2012 1st round pick) needs the proper time to develop. There is no immediate help in the system this season so the answer would have to come from trades, which are difficult to pull off in the salary cap era.

Therefore, it just looks like the Caps will have to gut this out and see where things take them. If they aren’t making up ground by the trade deadline (April 3rd), then a decision will have to be made on Ribeiro, who will be a free agent this summer. Based on the way #9 has played, he will bring value in return. Then again, it may be worth signing him if Washington thinks it is in position to compete with the elite of the East starting in October. It also doesn’t make any sense to rush Laich and Orlov back from their injuries, as well.

In no way am I advocating quitting on the season, you never do that. However, given that there are some prize players at the top of the draft board this year, particularly American defensemen Seth Jones, who just helped Team USA win the Gold Medal in the World Juniors in January, the Caps need to be smart about things because adding a player like Jones given what is in the pipeline the next two years changes the dynamic of your team.

But there are still 33 contests to go and the Eastern Conference is pretty weak after the Rangers, Boston Bruins, and New Jersey Devils. The Penguins and Hurricanes certainly appear to be in the next grouping but after that, there are no really strong teams so anything can happen.

Still, when you see the holes in the Capitals lineup, it is tough to get excited about this short lockout stained season.

Notes: Backstrom was 12-6 on faceoffs and Washington won the battle there overall, 31-27, but on the Rangers game winning PPG, Jay Beagle was beaten cleanly on the draw and the Rags scored in seven seconds for the ball game…the Rangers had 20 shots in the 1st period but Holtby, in amazing fashion, stopped them all…Tomas Kundratek played a career high 23:25 with Green out of the lineup…Washington’s power play missed #52 and went 0 for 4…the Caps have a crucial two game series with the Devils starting on Thursday. If they lose both tilts, then the Jones talk will heat up even more…for more of my take on the team, check out my on-air session with Thyrl Nelson of WNST from Friday’s MobTown Sportsbeat show here

 

 

 

 

 

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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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With Caps Struggling Will McPhee Make A Move to Help Oates?

Posted on 24 January 2013 by Ed Frankovic

We are only three games into a 48 game season and the Washington Capitals look like a broken hockey team.

After coming out and playing a solid first period, the Caps got into penalty trouble and gave up two goals to the Canadiens in the first five minutes of period two.

Gone went any confidence this team had built up in the opening frame and anyone who has ever played hockey knows that confidence is one of the most important attributes you need to play the game.

From there it just snowballed as Montreal expanded their lead to 4-0 after 40 minutes. With Washington’s shut down defensive pair from last season, Karl Alzner and John Carlson, struggling mightily, it becomes harder to turn things around. Coach Adam Oates response in the third period to that problem duo was to move Alzner with Mike Green and Carlson with Tom Poti.

Up front, there isn’t much good news either. Alexander Ovechkin still doesn’t have a goal and the power play can’t finish. There were some good chances but the forwards aren’t paying the price in front of the net to either deflect pucks home or put away rebounds that were there for the taking by Carey Price. Currently this forward crew is playing too much on the perimeter and appears soft. There isn’t enough hitting and looking at some of the players on the forward roster, that is not surprising.

In net, neither goalie looks totally sharp but with the continual breakdowns in front of them, their confidence has to be shot too.

Clearly the Brooks Laich injury is a big issue but a single hockey player can’t fix this mess right now. Unfortunately, Oates doesn’t have the luxury of having a few days to work things out in practice as Washington plays six games in the next 10 days.

So the coach’s only option now is to mix the combinations up and perhaps put some of the current scratches back in the lineup. I imagine we will see Eric Fehr at forward and perhaps John Erskine and/or Jeff Schultz on defense in New Jersey on Friday night.

Oates also has to find a way to get the players to work harder and smarter, then somehow hope they get some positive results and regain their confidence.

If that doesn’t happen, this could get ugly fast. A loss to the Devils would put the Caps at 0-4 in this short season with a hot Sabres team coming in to the Verizon Center on Sunday.

Two Sundays ago after the team’s initial practice, Caps GM George McPhee, when asked by the media if he was going to make any moves stated,  “I like our team.”

I wonder if he’d still give the same answer after watching these first three games?

To me, the results speak for themselves.

So the question now is will McPhee make a move or two to try to shake things up and get this season back on track?

Notes: Joey Crabb scored late in the final period to close the book on the Caps 4-1 loss…Carlson has been on the ice for 9 of the 14 goals against this season…Washington did win the faceoff battle, 30-25, so they got that going for them…Ovechkin had one hit and three shots on goal in 22:26 of ice time. The Gr8 needs to find a way to be more physically involved.

 

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Sloppy Play and Penalties Cost Caps in Season Opener

Posted on 19 January 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It is only one game, but the Washington Capitals were very sloppy, took too many penalties, and looked anything like a playoff team in their season opener, a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Adam Oates, when he watches this one on film, will not be a happy man as his club made far too many mistakes, especially in their own end. The defensive zone coverage, which had improved under Dale Hunter last season, was atrocious in this one giving a Lightning team with some series weapons, such as Martin St. Louis (3 points) and Steven Stamkos (2 points), too much room and too many quality chances. The Bolts skill took over when the Caps broke down and several ill advised penalties helped to doom Washington as well, including Nicklas Backstrom and Mathieu Perreault’s lazy back to back trips that gave Tampa a five on three that they used to take the lead for good in the third period.

Braden Holtby, who shined in Hershey in December, did not have a good game getting beat up high several times. Granted he could probably sue his teammates for non support on mulitple goals. In addition, three of the goals against came on the power play as Washington was shorthanded seven times.

It is very difficult to win in the NHL when you are out power played seven to four and it would be difficult to try and blame the imbalance on the referees. Plain and simple, the Caps were lazy on too many occassions and deserved to be whistled for most of those infractions (the Jason Chimera call was bogus, though).

As I wrote in this blog on Friday night, in order for the Caps to be successful they need production from their big guns of Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and Mike Green. I thought the Caps top line of 90-19-8 was downright terrible in this affair and if I had a vote I’d break that trio up immediately because there is a lack of net presence on that line.

Despite the ugly loss, there were some positives. First off, I thought Mike Ribeiro was excellent. #9 has a strong stick at both ends of the rink and his playmaking skills are a treat to watch. There is no doubt he makes the guys on his line better and Wojtek Wolski was rewarded with a goal tonight for getting on the ice with the former Dallas Star. If Wolski continues to go to the net he will score a lot of goals because Ribeiro is very good at getting the puck there.

In addition, Joel Ward looked like a completely different player than last season. Clearly the hernia surgery was a huge success because #42 was a force all night and he tallied twice by working hard and going to the net. Ward, Jason Chimera, and Jay Beagle were another solid line for Oates on Saturday night. On defense, the only player I thought who played up to par was Karl Alzner, the rest simply made too many mistakes in coverage in their own end.

Fortunately for Washington, this is only one loss and there are 47 more games to play. They have lots of room for improvement but if this team wants to make the postseason, they must get production from their top line. What we saw from them on Saturday night just doesn’t cut it, in my book.

Notes: The Caps next game and home opener is on Tuesday against the Winnipeg Jets at the Verizon Center…defensemen Jack Hillen was hit hard into the boards by Vincent Lecavalier in the second period and did not return. He only played 3:29 overall…defensemen Tom Poti played his first NHL game in over two years. He logged 13:20 and was a -2…the Capitals went 1 for 4 on the power play. They need to get more bodies in front of the opposing goaltender with the man advantage. Bolts goalie Anders Lindback was able to see the shots too well in this one.

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Predicting the Caps Season Is As Clear As Mud Right Now

Posted on 18 January 2013 by Ed Frankovic

 

The Washington Capitals start their short but jam packed 48 game season in Tampa Bay tomorrow night when they take on the Lightning (7 pm CSN).

Since the magical run in the spring of 2008, I’ve felt like I’ve had a pretty good read on this team and could accurately say before the season started that the Caps were definitely a playoff team each of the last four campaigns.

Last year’s club struggled through a coaching change and key injuries to Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green before squeaking into the dance and then coming a game away from a date with the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Championship.

This season, I have no idea how this team, with a new coach and system, will respond in a season where taking a game or two off is just not an option.

Hockey starts in net and Washington will go with youngsters Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth. Personally, I am pretty confident in that duo right now, especially given the way those two compete. Holtby’s ability to play the puck certainly is an advantage I expect coach Adam Oates to put to use frequently.

On defense, Dennis Wideman departed in free agency (Calgary) but with a healthy Mike Green and an emerging John Carlson, they didn’t need him at the dollars he was looking for and received. With Karl Azner in the mix as the Caps most solid defensive defensemen to go with the aging, but savvy Roman Hamrlik, Washington has a decent top four. After that it is a crap shoot with Jeff Schultz, John Erskine, Jack Hillen, and a 35 year old Tom Poti, who miraculously is back after missing two years due to groin and hip injuries. Dmitry Orlov would probably be my number five d-man on this club, but he is hurt right now. So this defensive crew could be really good or teams could expose the third pair, if it doesn’t step up. Any two week or more injury to either Green, Carlson, or Alzner could be devasting.

Up front, the Capitals have three legitimate top six forwards in Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Ribeiro. Luckily two of those three are centers, something the Caps haven’t been able to say since 2009. The question though, is who is going to be the wingers to fill out the top two lines? Troy Brouwer, because of his net presence is clearly the best answer on the roster. Brooks Laich would be your next best bet but he is out injured and may not play for the first two weeks. General Manager George McPhee is taking a flyer on forward Wojtek Wolski, who was signed off of the scrap heap this past summer. Wolski is 6-3 and 210 and he will need to play “big” if he wants to stick around in the top six.

Third year man Marcus Johansson is on the top line right now with the Gr8 and Backstrom. MJ90 has a lot of speed but he puts no physical fear into opposing defenders and he was often rubbed off of the puck easily in the corner in his freshmen and sophomore campaigns. Playing the third year Swede on the top line is asking a lot of the youngster.

I really like the third line of Jason Chimera-Jay Beagle-Joel Ward, especially now that we know Ward is not dealing with the hernia injury he had in 2011-12. The fourth line features heart and soul hard worker Matt Hendricks and likely a rotation of two of the following three players: re-signed Eric Fehr, Mathieu Perreault, and Joey Crabb.

Clearly this team will need above average to excellent seasons from Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Green if it is going to win the Southeast Division. None of them had even average seasons last year, although Green and Backstrom had injury excuses. So to predict this team is a lock for the postseason is no sure bet.

Many of the so-called experts are already giving the Stanley Cup to the New York Rangers since they added forward Rick Nash while giving up pretty much nothing. We all witnessed how smart the experts were in the NFL last week when Ray Lewis and company went in and won in Denver when practically every talking head out there had a “Brady vs. Manning” AFC Championship matchup set in stone. Yes, the Rangers look good on paper, but you have to play the games.

The bottom line is the Caps could be really good or they could fall flat on their faces. McPhee has been consistent this week in saying “I like our team.”

Well the games start tomorrow, then come rapidly at a fast and furious pace, so Caps fans are about to find out if their GM is on the mark.

 

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Caps Finalize Roster

Posted on 04 October 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals finalized their NHL roster on Tuesday at 3pm, as required by the NHL, in preparation for Saturday’s season opener against the Carolina Hurricanes at 7 pm at the Verizon Center. The final roster is really no surprise (especially if you follow this blog or me on twitter: @EdFrankovic) and is listed below.

Forwards: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Semin, Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, Mike Knuble, Marcus Johansson, Joel Ward, Jason Chimera, Jeff Halpern, Matt Hendricks, Jay Beagle, Mathieu Perreault, and DJ King

Defensemen: Mike Green, Roman Hamrlik, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Dennis Wideman, Jeff Schultz, and John Erskine

Goalies: Tomas Vokoun and Michael Neuvirth

Forwards Cody Eakin and Mattias Sjogren plus defensemen Dmitry Orlov were sent to Hershey this afternoon and will get more seasoning in the American Hockey League. Defensemen Tom Poti is injured and as a result will not count against the salary cap (I doubt he will ever play for Washington again given his injury situation).

In other Caps news, Ovechkin, whose uncle passed away unexpectedly, did practice today but was slated to leave Tuesday after practice for Russia for the funeral. The Gr8 plans to come back on Friday and play in Saturday night’s season opener.

Last season, many of the Capitals came into training camp feeling the hangover effects of their first round playoff loss to Montreal and didn’t get themselves in the best of shape for the regular season. While the Caps still wound up as the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, they really didn’t have their game honed for the post season. This summer, GM George McPhee let it be known that the players were required to be in better shape for camp and based on what I’ve seen and heard, that guidance was absolutely followed. The key now for the Caps is to get off to a fast start and incorporate the new faces that were added in the offseason.

For me, the biggest focus of the regular season should be on team defense and goaltending, because that is what wins Stanley Cups. The Boston Bruins were outstanding in their own zone in the post season and their goalie found ways to steal games in the playoffs. Washington must really work on that aspect of their game this regular season and build on Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s system change from last December, which was definitely the right way to go if the Caps are ever going to make the Stanley Cup Finals. The Caps, believe it or not, were 4th in the league in goals against in the regular season last year. However, partly due to injuries, they did not sustain that level of success in the playoffs. Team defense includes the forwards and if done correctly, then the goaltender’s job becomes exponentially easier because he will know where the opponents shots are coming from. From what I’ve seen in preseason, the Capitals have a lot of work to do in this area but I do think the players all realize that the regular season does indeed matter. I’ll be providing lots of analysis on Washington’s play in their own zone as the season progresses.

Notes:  The Capitals and Penguins today announced a joint effort to raise money for the families of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, the KHL team that perished in a plane crash Sept. 7 in Russia. Caps and Pens players will wear jerseys with commemorative Lokomotiv patches at the Oct. 13 game, then autograph the game-worn and game-issued jerseys afterward and auction them off at www.nhl.com. All proceeds will benefit the Lokomotitv players’ children and families…Caps Red Line (CRL), presented by GEICO, is returning for a special preseason episode on Wednesday, Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet. CRL takes viewers behind the scenes of the weeks leading up to the regular season. Replays will air on Friday, Oct. 7 at 9:30 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 8 at 9 a.m. on Comcast SportsNet and on WashingtonCaps.com.

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