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Goaltending the Difference In Caps Loss to Canes

Posted on 03 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

In hockey, you often hear the saying, “Goaltending is the great equalizer.”

Well, you could use that term to describe the first 30 minutes of the Caps-Hurricanes game on Tuesday night. Washington dominated the play, in what Coach Adam Oates called his team’s “best first 30 minutes of the season,” but thanks to some super goaltending by Carolina goalie Justin Peters and two short side goals allowed by Braden Holtby to Jeff Skinner, the Caps trailed 2-0 with just under nine minutes to go in period two.

At that point Washington was still in the game, but Mikhail Grabovski made a major no-no, turning the puck over at his own blue line and then subsequently compounded a bad situation by taking a tripping penalty. The Canes scored on the man advantage on a screened point shot and the energy came right out of the Capitals. Carolina would make it 4-0 shortly thereafter. Mike Green notched a third period power play goal, his first of the season, as the Caps worked hard in the final frame but they could not solve Peters anymore.

Peters was very good on this night, his positioning was solid, but he was also fortunate, too. Jason Chimera had a wide open layup early in the game but somehow fanned on what would have given the Caps a 1-0 lead and perhaps changed the complexion of the game. Washington had numerous other chances that they either shot wide or Peters just happened to be in a spot where the puck hit him. He’s a streaky goalie and on Tuesday he was on (26 saves).

As for Holtby, this was not his night. Early on, an end over end puck that was shot from just inside the blue line hit the crossbar providing some foreshadowing for the tough night #70 would have. Holtby would be the first to tell you that he should have had both of Skinner’s goals. In the course of 82 games you are going to have bad outings and this just happened to be one of those for the young goaltender.

Despite the loss, the Caps improved play coming out of their zone since Dmitry Orlov joined the lineup on Saturday is encouraging. They are moving through the neutral zone with more speed and their puck possession in period one was excellent, as evidenced by their 23-14 advantage in attempted shots. Carolina was on their heels in the opening frame and Oates said the chances were 7-2 in his clubs favor.

The effort was there for the Caps in this contest and they skated well. This game was nothing like the Pittsburgh defeat where they were completely dominated by their opponent, so there is no need to go all “doom and gloom” after this loss.

The Capitals did a lot of good things in this game.

But goaltending, good at one end and subpar at the other end, can be the “great equalizer.”

That’s the way it went for the Capitals on Tuesday in their 4-1 loss to Carolina.

Notes: Holtby was yanked after 40 minutes and Philip Grubauer made nine saves on nine shots in the final period…John Carlson, who should make Team USA for the 2014 Olympics, was the Caps ice time leader at 22:58…Tom Wilson had a solid game and logged 10:44. #43 had 5 hits…the Caps were 1 for 5 on the power play while Carolina went 1 for 4… Washington is off until Saturday, when they host the Nashville Predators.

 

 

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Caps Draft Burakovsky as Big Trades Fail to Materialize

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Caps Draft Burakovsky as Big Trades Fail to Materialize

Posted on 30 June 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The days leading up to the 2013 NHL Draft generated a lot of hype for the extremely talented players slated to be taken at the top of the draft as well as for the possibility of some blockbuster trades given the NHL’s salary cap dropping from $70M in 2013 to just over $64M in 2013-14. Well the first several selections lived up to the billing but as far as deals went, outside of the Cory Schneider to New Jersey trade for the 9th overall pick, there wasn’t much that was done to impact the rosters of many clubs.

Center Nathan MacKinnon, as expected, went first overall to the Colorado Avalanche, but surprisingly the Florida Panthers chose forward Aleksander Barkov with the second pick and Tampa took winger Jonathan Drouin with the 3rd choice sending defensemen Seth Jones, who many had rated as the top player in the draft, to the Nashville Predators with the 4th pick. So former Capitals GM David Poile was the winner in this draft, in my opinion. Jones, who is big, can skate, and has offensive talents, gives the Preds another great right handed defensemen to go with the powerful Shea Weber down in Music City.

As for the the Caps, General Manager George McPhee stated that he tried hard to trade up into the top third of the first round but was unsuccessful. Thus Washington selected Austrian born/Swedish left winger Andre Burakovsky with the 23rd pick in the draft. The early line on the Swedish forward who reportedly has excellent offensive skills is mixed. TSN’s Bob MacKenzie listed him 24th on his board while Craig Button had Burakovsky as far down as 58th on his final list. McPhee and Director of Amatuer Scouting, Ross Mahoney, have not had a first round bust since Anton Gustafsson in 2008. Over the period of 2008-12, they’ve picked up John Carlson, Marcus Johansson, Evgeni Kuznetsov, Filip Forsberg, and Tom Wilson in the first round. Certainly one would hope that Burakovsky fits in with that last group but one scout I talked to, who called the 2012 1st round picks “home runs” for Washington, had him more in the Gustafsson camp. Guess we’ll find out over the next few years who is correct on that front? McPhee did state that he believes Burakovsky will take time to develop, so he is likely several years from the NHL, at this point.

In the second round, the Capitals took right handed shooting defensemen Madison Bowey from the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League with the 53rd pick and then traded their 3rd (84), 4th (114), and 5th (127) round selections to move up to the 61st spot to take forward Zach Sanford from Derry, New Hampshire. Sanford will play in the USHL this year and then is currently committed to Boston College in 2014-15. Bottom line, the NHL draft is a crap shoot since you are choosing 17 and 18 year olds and many selections take years to develop.

Going back to the trade front, it’s pretty easy to figure out that Washington wants to upgrade the left side of its defense. Specifically, they need a left handed shooting d-man to play with John Carlson on the second d-pair. In addition, with center Mike Ribeiro slated to test the free agent waters, the Caps will likely need to add a number two center once again. There was hope that perhaps one or both of those voids could be filled with trades in New Jersey but despite the buildup, there were no big deals for top 6 forwards or top 4 defensemen at Sunday’s draft. But there are still four more full days until free agency begins on Friday, July 5th.

The biggest news of the weekend was Tampa Bay using its’ compliance buyout on 1998 1st overall pick Vinny Lecavalier. Naturally there is interest galore in the 2004 Stanley Cup winning center and he’d be a nice fit in Washington. But he’d be great for a lot of teams. McPhee noted that Adam Oates met with Lecavlier, facilitated by the fact that Oates was an assistant with the Bolts back in 2009-10, and that the Caps coach thinks highly of him. At the end of the day though, this is likely to come down to money and Washington just might not have enough salary cap room to land Lecavalier.

The next two weeks will do a lot towards shaping the Capitals roster for 2013-14. The GM has not decided if he will use a compliance buyout or not, routinely scratched Jeff Schultz is slated to count $2.75M against the Capitals salary cap, but he says he has ownership’s support to use that mechanism, if necessary. McPhee still has to sign restricted free agents Karl Alzner and Marcus Johansson but the only questions there are pretty much the dollars. It will be interesting to see what the GM does to fill what look to be two holes heading into a season in which they move into an extremely competitive new division. Is Dmitry Orlov ready to be an NHL second pair defensemen? The Devils improved themselves by adding Schneider in goal while the Flyers have lost Ilya Bryzgalov and Danny Briere to costly compliance buyouts. In addition, Philly signed 35 year old defensemen Mark Streit to a long term deal for four years at $21M. So Paul Holmgren and company continue to do some crazy things and don’t appear to be any better, at this point.

But there are a couple of more weeks where the big action still looks to take place via trades and free agency, so stay tuned!

Notes: The Caps will hold development camp at Kettler Iceplex from July 8-13…Team USA will holds its Olympic orientation camp at Kettler as well from August 25-29 in preparation for the 2014 Olympic Games that will be played in Sochi, Russia. Poile is USA’s GM while the Penguins Dan Bylsma will coach the squad. This is a big deal for the area to host this type of event.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on the Morning Reaction with Drew Forrester talking NHL and Caps draft at 7:25 am Monday morning.

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McPhee Takes Big Risk With Erat for Forsberg Trade

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McPhee Takes Big Risk With Erat for Forsberg Trade

Posted on 03 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

For all of those people in Caps land who say that George McPhee is not a risk taker, you have no case after today.

The Capitals GM basically went all in on his current team and perhaps his job today, by moving top prospect, Filip Forsberg (1st round pick in 2012), to Nashville in return for 31 year old winger Martin Erat and minor league center, Michael Latta. After the Caps picked up five points in three road games combined with the collapse of the Winnipeg Jets and the Carolina Hurricanes ahead of them in the Southeast Division, it became pretty clear that McPhee’s team has a great chance to win the division, grab the number three seed in the Eastern Conference, and perhaps get a favorable matchup in round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

It is a move that could net his owner millions of dollars in playoff revenues which would likely get McPhee and his staff not only a playoff bonus, but a contract extension (it is believed McPhee is in the final year of his current contract). As I’ve blogged recently, most fans focus on the “winning a championship” aspect of sports and are only emotionally invested in those teams. But for those in the game, it is their livelihood and as a result, the short term survival route is often the one chosen over what might appear to be the smarter long term plan.

That is what happened here today with the Caps. Washington needs to make the playoffs from a business and personal standpoint for those involved with the club and therefore, McPhee was going to do whatever he was allowed to do to increase the probability his team makes the postseason. If he doesn’t make the playoffs, there is a very good chance he would no longer be the General Manager of the Washington Capitals next season.

From a strictly hockey standpoint, this trade appears to favor the Nashville Predators. Forsberg is believed to be a potential long term top six forward in the NHL. He was the third forward drafted in the first round last season (11th pick overall) and many felt the Caps hit a “home run” when the Swedish right wing fell to Washington when a run on defensemen occurred at the top of the draft. This player could turn out to be an elite one based on input from people I’ve talked to around the league. Of course, the Caps, having drafted and watched him play quite a bit this season, likely know the ins and outs of the young player that other teams may not know about. In addition, the Capitals also have two talented young forwards already in their system in Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson (2012 1st round pick, 16th overall). With Alexander Ovechkin signed long term and Troy Brouwer inked for three more years, the Caps clearly had an abundance of right wings so perhaps in order to get a top six left wing they felt that Forsberg was the best asset to move in order to acquire Erat? After all, you do have to give up something to get something decent in return.

That brings us to Erat, the return on Forsberg (for all intensive purposes Latta is pretty much an AHLer). The speedy and shifty left wing has not had a good year (21 points in 36 games) on a Preds club that struggles to score and it was no secret that Erat had requested to be moved. The question is can he become energized again and produce at a higher level like he did in his previous seasons with Nashville? Washington is banking on that with him likely sliding into the top line left wing spot with Ovechkin on right wing and Nicklas Backstrom at center. Who wouldn’t be energized by playing with those guys?

This trade, unlike some other deadline deals, was not a rental move by McPhee. While they gave up Forsberg, they get Erat under contract for this season and the next two after that at $4.5M against the salary cap. As expected, center Mike Ribeiro was not dealt and he will test free agency in the summer and likely find a higher bidder, so the Caps had to hedge against going down another top six forward.

The question is did McPhee get enough in return for Forsberg in Erat? Based on what I saw in other trades and people I’ve talked to in and around the league, Washington paid a big price for the lefthanded shooting winger.

But the price may not matter, especially if Erat starts scoring playing with Ovechkin and Backstrom and the Capitals win the Southeast Division. In that case no matter what happens with Forsberg long term, it is a success for Leonsis and McPhee. However, if the Caps miss the playoffs while Forsberg turns out to be an elite player down the road, this trade will be pointed to and ridiculed for many years by Capitals fans and those around the game. It would become worse than Jorgen Pettersson for Doug Jarvis, and that would be saying something.

McPhee took a big risk today, no matter how you slice it. But he had no choice since the Caps have to make the playoffs. Standing pat was an even worse option given the lack of depth and the need for a top six forward.

So the general manager did what he had to do individually and for his team. McPhee put himself out there and now his club needs to deliver for him. The Southeast Division and a nice playoff matchup is there for the taking. Adding Erat should be enough to put the Capitals over the top. But if it doesn’t, then you can bet changes will be coming.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on with Drew Forrester on the Morning Reaction at 745am talking Caps and the NHL trade deadline. Listen Live via WNST.NET

 

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