Tag Archive | "Quick"

Sep 14, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA;Team Russia center  Alex Ovechkin (8) celebrates with the bench after scoring a goal against Team Canada during the third period in a World Cup of Hockey pre-tournament game at CONSOL Energy Center. Team Canada won 3-2 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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Canada the Team to Beat in World Cup of Hockey

Posted on 15 September 2016 by Ed Frankovic

The World Cup of Hockey is now officially set to commence on Saturday, September 17th with all games played over the upcoming two weeks at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

Who’s going to win? Well that’s pretty easy, Canada. They have the best overall team and the home ice.

But you still have to play the games and if the pre tournament action is any indication, then this is going to be one heck of an event. All eight teams won at least one time in their three World Cup tune-ups. Some of the games were downright played at NHL playoff intensity level, with USA-Canada on Friday night being the most noteworthy. The Americans played a strong physical game, received excellent goaltending from Jonathan Quick, and took advantage of a rusty Carey Price to win, 4-2. The Canadians then returned the favor the next night in Ottawa, winning 5-3 (Quick and Price did not play).

Canada then needed overtime to defeat the Russians, 3-2, on Wednesday night to finish 2-1. USA, playing at the Verizon Center on Tuesday evening, raced out a 3-0 lead that could’ve been five or six zip if not for Finland goalie Pekka Rinne, before hanging on to a 3-2 victory.

Both the USA and Canada are in group A with Team Europe, who pan caked Sweden, 6-2, at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night, and the Czech Republic, who knocked off the North American speedsters on Wednesday afternoon in the first of a doubleheader at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

Group B consists of Sweden, Finland, Russia, and the North Americans (USA and Canadian players aged 23 and under).

The top two squads in each group will advance to the semifinals where there will be a single elimination round. The top team in group A will play the runner up in group B while the first place team in group B gets the runner up in group A.

So there is a scenario where USA and Canada could meet in the finals, with the World Cup of Hockey being decided in a best of three games matchup.

Bottom line, this is going to be some really exciting hockey to watch.

Now, without further adieu, here are my picks for each group.

Group B:

First place: Russia. Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Nikita Kucherov, and Evgeny Kuznetsov lead a talented forward group that is thin on the blue line. But they have some great goaltending that starts with Sergei Bobrovksy. If “Bob” gets hurt or struggles, then Semyon Varlamov is more than capable of coming in and shutting the door. This group sets up well for the Russians. They are bigger up front than the other three squads and I don’t see any of the other three teams having a blue line that can match that offensive talent.

Where it could go wrong for Russia: I mentioned their blue line, but to me, the biggest question mark with this squad is the coaching. Going back to 1980, when Viktor Tikhonov yanked Vladislav Tretiak in net after one period in Lake Placid, we’ve seen so many head scratching coaching decisions from this federation. In the pre tournament action, the Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Kucherov line was outstanding against the Czechs, but coach Oleg Znarok moved Kuzy off of the top line and to a wing, at times, in Wednesday’s game against the Canadians. Anyone who watched the NHL last season knows that Kuzy is a sensational playmaker with the puck. Putting him in position on the wall where he will rely on others to give him the puck coming out of their own zone makes very little sense.

Second place: Sweden. Many of the so-called experts are going with Sweden to win it all, but I watched the Swedes on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center and I was not impressed. Yes, they have a very talented and mobile defense led by Victor Hedman and Erik Karlsson, but that whole blue line was a turnover machine, along with young forwards such as Filip Forsberg, in their loss to Team Europe. Henrik Lundqvist didn’t get much help in front of him and he wasn’t very good either in net. He’s 34. Up front, the coaching staff seems to rely heavily on the Sedin-Sedin-Eriksson line. They will try to cycle you to death. Nicklas Backstrom is a rock up the middle for Sweden and I don’t think he’ll get kicked out of this tournament for using ZYRTEC like we saw in the Sochi Olympics in 2014. That galactic screw up has left several in the NHL with a bad taste in their mouths over how that whole silliness went down. The NHL is controlling this event, so I don’t think we’ll see something stupid like that in this tournament, but Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly did tell me on Wednesday that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is involved with this tournament. Sweden has the talent to come close to Canada, but I’m not seeing it and there are legitimate concerns about King Henrik in the cage (cue Coldplay’s Viva La Vida).

Where it could go wrong for Sweden: In addition to concerns about Hank in net and the blue line turnovers, the defense is not configured to clear the front of their own net. If I’m coaching in group B I’m sending a steady diet of players to the top of the circle on the Swedes and daring them to move my forwards out of there. I also don’t like the fact that they left Marcus Johansson off of the roster. Marcus can do so many things in the lineup yet they excluded him and took players such as Jakob Silverberg, Mikael Backlund, and Carl Soderberg who don’t have the experience or versatility that Jojo brings. Big mistake Sweden, big mistake.

As for Finland and North America, I still like both of these squads despite not picking them for the semifinals. Finland could squeeze in if Rinne plays at the top of his game, he’s that good and big in the cage. North America has some really fun and fast players. If Coach Todd McLellan gets his players to play smart and not turn the puck over, then they could sneak in, especially if Stanley Cup Champion Matt Murray continues to play well in net.

Group A:

First Place: Canada. They have the best roster, hands down, in this tournament. They will be playing at home. They are experienced having won gold in both Vancouver and Sochi. They have an excellent coaching staff, led by Mike Babcock. It’s almost a given that they will win this event.

Where it could go wrong for Canada: They’ll make the semifinals, and that is where they are most vulnerable if they run into a super hot goalie. But in a three game set, in either the preliminary round or in the finals, they are just too deep to be beaten. I give the Americans the best chance to take them down in the finals, but they will have to have Jonathan Quick pull a Mike Richter in net.

Second Place: USA. The American roster has been much maligned by several of the supposed experts in the media, but I’m not buying it. This club, put together by Kings GM Dean Lombardi, is built perfectly for this type of tournament on an NHL sized rink. They have great goaltending, led by Quick, a very mobile and strong two way defense, led by John Carlson and Ryan McDonagh, and a set of forwards that can hit and grind out goals with players like team captain Joe Pavelski and T.J. Oshie. They also have some top notch skilled snipers like Patrick Kane and Zach Parise. John Tortorella and Mike Sullivan are coaching this team and both have won Stanley Cups for a reason. Torts may not have shown any bench boss magic over an 82 game season in awhile, but a short tournament like this is right up his alley.

Where it could go wrong for USA: They could struggle to score goals if they don’t crash the net. Europe has a “can get really hot” goalie in Jaroslav Halak and the Czechs will start Michal Neuvirth, who has been in the zone in the cage recently, as well. In order to beat those guys, USA must get lots of traffic.

As for the Czechs and Europe, they are long shots to advance, but if any could do it, my money would be on Europe. While they are slow on the back end with the likes of the chippy Zdeno Chara, they are coached well by Ralph Krueger, who was a joy to cover on Wednesday night and was an advisor on the coaching staff for the victorious Canadian team in Sochi. Europe has one of the best forwards in the NHL in Anze Kopitar along with some other snipers like Tomas Vanek and the young Oilers forward, Leon Draisaitl, who had a hat trick at the Verizon Center against King Henrik.

Like I said earlier, this is going to be some intense hockey. The tournament starts at 3:30 pm on Saturday afternoon with USA taking on Europe on ESPN2. Canada plays the Czechs at 8 pm on ESPN News.

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World Cup of Hockey: Ranking the Goaltenders

Posted on 08 September 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Day one of the pretournament games for the World Cup of Hockey didn’t disappoint at all. In the first afternoon tilt, Finalnd’s Olli Maatta beat Sweden’s Jonas Enroth on a two on one rush in overtime to lead the Fins to a 3-2 victory over their archrivals. In the second matinee, Alex Ovechkin’s Russian squad took 3-1 and 4-2 leads and then hung on behind goalie Sergei Bobrovsky’s 29 saves to defeat the Czech Republic, 4-3. In the main event on Thursday night, Team North America, comprised of Canadian and American players all age 23 and under, smoked a slow looking Team Europe, which consists of all European players not from Russia, Sweden, Finland, or the Czech Republic, 4-0. North America was extremely fun to watch with their high speed game.

As for the Capitals who suited up and played on Thursday, the Gr8 and Evgeny Kuznetsov were both held pointless in 15:17 and 15:57 of ice time, respectively. Ovechkin did have three hits. Russia’s Dmitry Orlov had an assist and led his team in ice time, with 20:12. Nicklas Backstrom was also held without a point in 16:58 of ice time and he went 8-7 on face-offs.

Friday night has one game, and it is a big one: USA vs. Canada from Columbus, Ohio at 7 pm on ESPNU.

On Wednesday night, I provided my World Cup of Hockey blue line rankings. Now we take a look at the goalies from each squad. Keep in mind that this is a SHORT tournament and having a hot goalie is very important to win, so I give more weight to those teams who I believe have net minders who are prone to hot streaks. Depth is important too, because if one goalie is off of his game, it’s paramount that you have a quality backup.

So without further adieu, here’s my rankings of each team’s goaltending from worst to first:

Eighth – Team Czech Republic – Peter Mrazek (DET), Michal Neuvirth (PHI), and Ondrej Pavelec (WPG). Each of these goalies has the ability to steal a game or two, but there’s no long term success history for any of them at the NHL level, and especially in this big time type of a tournament.

Seventh – Team Europe – Jaroslav Halak (NYI), Tomas Greiss (NYI), and Philipp Grubauer (WAS). Halak looked pretty rusty in the game against North America. He battled injuries last spring and if he doesn’t recover quickly, Greiss or Neuvy will see the cage. Halak has gotten hot in the past, but that was many moons ago.

Sixth – Team Sweden – Henrik Lundqvist (NYR), Jacob Markstrom (VAN), and Jhonas Enroth (TOR). Markstrom and Enroth are not very good and King Henrik is now 34 years old. Sure Lundqvist has shown the ability to get in the zone and steal several games in a row, but we haven’t seen that since the spring of 2015 when he helped the Rangers rally from a 3-1 series deficit against the Caps. This is Sweden’s biggest weakness.

Fifth – Team North America – Matt Murray (PIT), John Gibson (ANA), and Connor Hellebuyck (WPG). Murray plays so big with his solid positioning and he looked to have not missed a beat in his debut against Team Europe on Thursday night. He’s won a Stanley Cup, which none of the Sweden, Europe, or Czech Republic goalies can claim. Gibson played very well in the World Championships a few years back, so he’ll be the backup.

Fourth – Team Russia – Semyon Varlamov (COL), Sergei Bobrovsky (CMB), and Andrei Vasilevskiy (TB). This is a really strong trio and all have big game experience. Each of them has the ability to get hot. I’m guessing “Bob” will be the starter. He battled injuries last season and Varlamov has a history of groin issues, as well.

Third – Team Finland – Pekka Rinne (NAS), Tuukka Rask (BOS), and Mikko Koskinen (KHL). It’ll be Rinne first and if he falters, Tuukka will take over. Both are goalies that can get extremely hot and dominate for several games, so that makes them dangerous. The good news for Rask is there are no games at the Verizon Center in actual tournament play, he’s never won in the phone booth.

Second – Team USA – Jonathan Quick (LA), Ben Bishop (TB), and Corey Schneider (NJ). All three are very good goalies and can get super hot. Quick is the likely starter given his two Stanley Cup rings and experience in the Sochi Olympics, where he helped the USA to only fall 1-0 in a semi-final game against Canada, one in which they had no business being that close in.

First – Team Canada – Carey Price (MTL), Braden Holtby (WAS), and Corey Crawford (CHI). This is a no brainer. They have the last two Vezina Trophy winners, including the 2014-15 MVP in Price and a two time Stanley Cup Champion in Crawford. Yes, Price is returning from injury, so there’s questions surrounding him, but if he can’t play then either the Holtbeast or Crawford have plenty of talent and experience to do the job. Canada is flat out loaded at every position.

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A furious Capitals rally from a three goal deficit forces overtime, before Jeff Carter ends it for the Kings in the extra session.

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Caps Rally from Three Down But Fall in OT to the Kings, 4-3

Posted on 10 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Do not go to sleep on the Washington Capitals, ever.

On Wednesday night, the Caps rallied from a 3-0 third period hole to force overtime at the Staples Center before losing, 4-3, on Jeff Carter’s goal when a Capitals player headed to the bench on a bad line change giving the Kings an odd man rush.

Wow, what another thriller!

The Caps, who played the first period like they were still shopping on Rodeo Drive, trailed by three pucks after just 13:26. Washington once again was penalized by the zebras early in a game for the 10,000th straight time and after a failed clear on the penalty kill, a pinballing puck shot from the point hit notorious Cap killer Vinny Lecavlier on the way to the net and past Braden Holtby (26 saves). It was the 12th time in the last 14 games that the opposition scored on the Caps first.

The Holtbeast made several other big stops in the opening frame, but with the Capitals over pressing to tie things up, they made an offensive zone blue line turnover that allowed the Kings to get a three on two rush. Defensemen Jake Muzzin jumped up in the play and Tanner Pearson gave #6 a nice drop pass that he snapped top shelf by Holtby to make it 2-0.

Shortly thereafter, with the Capitals again trying to press the play, Karl Alzner lost the puck down low and the forward covering for him, Evgeny Kuznetsov, decided to freeze at the top of the right wing circle instead of turning and heading back on defense, as he is supposed to do. The result was a three on one for the Kings that Milan Lucic buried for his 16th goal of the season.

Perhaps you could partially fault Holtby on the second goal, but not the other two. He also made several other big saves on Los Angeles quality chances, otherwise it would’ve been at least four or five to zip.

It was another dud of a first frame for Washington, there’s no two ways about. They were outskated, outshot (14-6), and outplayed.

But in 2015-16 Capitals fashion, they never gave up. They had some super chances in period two, but couldn’t connect as the biscuit was just not bouncing their way. The shots on net after 40 minutes were 21-13 for the guys in black, but it was 7-7 in the middle stanza, so the tide was turning.

Three goals down heading into the final frame at 12:30 am, it’s time to go to bed on the east coast, right? I mean this Capitals team isn’t coming back from three down against one of the best squads in the NHL, right?

Since the Caps were in LA, I think it’s only fitting that we quote the great Jack Nicholson from a Few Good Men here, “You’re <blankety blank> right they did!” [Sorry, this is a kids friendly blog, so I won’t give you the exact quote, but you get the message, right?]

Shame on you if you bailed, because the Caps totally stormed the castle in that third period getting back in it on a goal just 1:46 in from T.J. Oshie on their only power play of the game, to three for the Kings (thanks for nothing Francois “You really should be selling ties” St. Laurent). Marcus Johansson made a nice play in front, after a Matt Niskanen shot, to keep the puck alive before #77 snapped it home.

Washington continued to swarm like bees around honey and with just over nine minutes remaining, Oshie made a brilliant pass to Alexander Ovechkin in front of Jonathan Quick (29 saves). Ovi was cut off so he tried a spin move and the fired puck hit off of the Kings defender in front right to Nicklas Backstrom. Nicky promptly buried it to end his 18 game goalless drought and put all LA fans at the Staples Center on edge, as they rightly should’ve been at that point, against the powerhouse Capitals.

Kuznetsov (1 assist) then had a glorious chance in the slot to tie the game up, but Rob Scuderi made a sprawling dive to cut #92 off and send the puck wide of the net. The Caps would not let up and their relentless pressure paid off soon after as Dmitry Orlov tied the contest with 3:22 to go on as pretty a play as you will see. Kuznetsov carried the puck in the zone and fed Justin Williams, who hit Orlov at the right point. #9 then weaved his way through several Kings defenders with amazing grace and stick handling before putting a quick, but deadly backhander past Quick. It was an amazing tally.

The Caps would then pressure the Kings for the last three plus minutes of regulation, but couldn’t convert on the game winner.

Both teams received a point and off to overtime we went. It was a sensational extra session with both teams having great chances, including Johansson just barely missing top shelf on a quality chance. As is usually the case, those misses cost you and the Kings scored on their ensuing possession after Jojo made a bad decision to change without his team having the puck, giving Los Angeles a three on two that Carter finished off.

Wow, what a game!

This Capitals team just never quits. It doesn’t matter how bad they start, they always seem to find the extra gears to get back in the contest to either win or at least salvage a point. They do that by wearing their opponents out, which should not happen when you are playing your sixth game in nine nights or seventh in 11!

But this team is great.

Sure it was a loss, but given the way they battled back to force overtime, it feels like a win. If they can just get some better pregame locker room tunes going so they start games off stronger, then they might never lose again. So somebody please yank the Barry Manilow CD or whatever other bad music (Kanye West?) is in there out of the boom box before puck drop in San Jose on Saturday night (10:30 pm on Comcast Sportsnet).

So the Caps finished off their seven games in 11 nights stretch going 4-2-1.

To quote Max Cherry from the 1997 movie Jackie Brown, they are like The Delfonics, “They’re pretty good.”

In there was a string of four games in five nights, plus a west coast flight. This squad should have had no gas left in the tank for a comeback on Wednesday night, but they somehow did. They have perseverance and incredible pride. They know that if they right the ship and start playing the “north-south” game their coach desires, they will eventually get results.

On Wednesday in LA, they took a costly 20 minutes off from playing Capitals hockey, but kudos to them for never quitting and putting one heck of a scare into a two time Stanley Cup winning hockey club.

Notes: Johansson and Oshie led the Caps with five shots on goal each. Ovechkin had four, three of which came after the first 40 minutes…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 28:22…the Caps lost the face off battle, 37-29…shot attempts were 60-53 for the Capitals, thanks to the furious third period rally when the Caps out shot Los Angeles, 18-6, in shots on net…the Kings presented separate video tributes to both Williams and Mike Richards, who each played their first game as visitors in the City of Angels since winning two Stanley Cups for Coach Darryl Sutter …Washington is now 49-13-5 (103 points). The league should have the Presidents’ Trophy engraved already.

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

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Ovechkin and Holtby Lead the Caps to Victory Over the Wild

Posted on 27 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Two of the NHL's best battle it out on Tuesday Night at the Verizon Center in a Caps 3-1 victory over LA.

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Grubauer Stellar in Caps Victory Over the Kings

Posted on 17 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

In a matchup of two of the NHL’s heavyweights, the Washington Capitals and Los Angeles Kings put on quite a bout on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center.

The Caps Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the game winner with 2:02 left in regulation when former King, Justin Williams, fed #92 on the left post for a tap in after LA goalie, Jonathan Quick (29 saves), was cut off by his own teammate, Kevin Gravel in the crease.

Jason Chimera then added an empty net tally with nine seconds remaining to make it 3-1.

This was a hard fought victory for Washington. After a decent opening 10 minutes they chose to play the “easy game” for the next 25 minutes and as a result, found themselves trailing, 1-0, on an Anze Kopitar shorthanded marker with 3:17 left in period one. Caps Coach Barry Trotz noted that his club, like they did in Dallas in the second period on Saturday, was playing too much of an “east-west” game. Once again the Capitals were attempting high risk, cross ice passes instead of getting pucks in deep and paying the physical price to score. Too often it was a one in and one out sequence in the Washington offensive zone. They weren’t working hard to support the puck and that allowed the Kings to dominate the shot totals and scoring chances.

Fortunately for Washington, Philipp Grubauer (39 saves) was the great equalizer. For 35 minutes he kept the Caps in the game until they got their brand of heavy hockey going. Chimera noted that the team didn’t make any adjustments to spur the comeback, they just started moving their feet and putting bodies on opposing players to win the loose puck battles. Simply put, the Capitals returned to what makes them so successful, heavy hockey. The Kings are a big team with the likes of Milan Lucic, Dustin Brown, Kyle Clifford, Jeff Carter, and others, but the Caps are big too with skaters such as Tom Wilson, Chimera, Alex Ovechkin, and Brooks Orpik.

The Capitals roster is also deep, and with the return of Orpik (1 assist, +1, in 16:43) they were able to roll their three defensive pairs while Los Angeles relied heavily on its top four blue liners, especially their top pair of Drew Doughty (1 assist in 31:29) and Jake Muzzin (28:49).

Through 40 minutes, Doughty and Muzzin were both over 20 and 18 minutes respectively while Coach Trotz’ top defensemen, John Carlson, was just over 15 minutes. Similarly, Washington was rolling its four lines and that allowed the Capitals to dominate the first nine minutes of period three. The Kings didn’t have a shot on net during that span and it took some super saves from Quick to hold the fort for the visitors. Andre Burakovsky, who scored the Capitals first tally by going to the net and deflecting home a Dmitry Orlov point shot with under a minute left in period two, had a great chance on a two on one rush, but somehow #32 got his shoulder on a shot targeted for the top shelf.

Not to be outdone, Grubauer made a few point blank saves in the slot area to keep the game tied before Williams and Kuznetsov found a way to give the Caps the lead and eventually the win.

It was a super intense contest and credit the Kings for bringing their “A” game against Washington, but the Caps are just so deep and continue to take early punches then find ways to win hockey games. They aren’t always doing it the way their coach would like, especially the recent second period swoons, but the way they are carrying the final frame is a testament to their depth. When you are deep and can play a physical style that wears opponents out, it leads to strong finishes. On this night, the Caps certainly finished strong to beat one of the league’s best squads (and recent two time Stanley Cup Champions).

Going forward, the recent return of Carlson and then Orpik on Tuesday night on the back end will be a huge advantage. Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time at 22:40, but the lowest defensemen total was for Nate Schmidt with 13:27. That’s shows a fairly proper spread of blue line minutes and will pay off over the next two months when the Capitals will be playing a lot of hockey. When both Carlson and Oprik were out, Niskanen was routinely playing up in the 27 to 28 minute range, and that is just too much over the long haul. Coach Trotz noted that those guys, Niskanen and Karl Alzner, made it seem like the team wasn’t missing Carlson and Orpik because those two played so well. Trotz also stated that there is an upcoming stretch where they’ll play six games in nine days with the last one involving a cross country trek to Anaheim, so having the ability to spread the minutes is huge for his club.

Orpik, when asked afterwards if it makes a difference, noted the advantage this Capitals team has with a big standings lead and the depth on the blue line.

“I think so for sure, last week playing in Minnesota you see a guy like Ryan Suter plays almost 35 minutes. Over an 82 game season and hopefully playoffs, I don’t care how good of shape you are in, that just takes its toll on you. Especially tonight, there’s two to three minutes left and you see we got our fourth line out there. Coach trusts them in a tight game, that’s what you need. You can’t just wear your guys out down the stretch, especially with how physical the games get.”

Managing the minutes will be important, but should the Capitals take guys out of the lineup down the stretch to prepare for the playoffs?

“I think it’s a fine line too, you’re kind of in a similar situation to Pittsburgh when I was there. A few years we had big leads and sometimes we started resting some guys and taking them out of the lineup and that doesn’t really work so well. I think maybe backing off of the minutes on some guys you can do to keep everybody going, keep the rhythm going. Every year, if you look at that team which battles to get the last playoff spot has success. They have to play hard that last month and just roll that right into the playoffs. It’s not a league where you can say ‘ok, we’re going to turn the switch on now’ after four for five guys resting for a week or so. But definitely minutes wise you can be a bit smarter and back off guys,” finished Orpik, who Coach Trotz said played well in his return to the lineup after missing 40 games. He noted Oprik’s excellent passes and said that he and Dmitry Orlov were the second best defensive pair against the Kings.

The ice time management will be something to watch as the Caps, now 41-10-4 (86 points), play their remaining 27 contests.

Washington continued its season long streak of following up a regulation loss with either a non-regulation loss or a victory. On Tuesday, it was another W as they rode their back up goalie, Grubauer, for as long as they could until the team found a way to score a pair of greasy, going to the net type of goals that you must get to beat a super club like the Los Angeles Kings.

Notes: LA won the face-off battle, 33-25. No Caps player won more than half of their draws. Jeff Carter was 13-3 for the Kings…Doughty had an assist on the Kings goal when he thwarted a Marcus Johansson pass intended for Ovechkin in the slot. If the pass goes through, it’s an easy goal for the Gr8. That’s a big reason why Doughty is the best defensemen in the NHL, he can play at both ends of the rink at an elite level…each team had 33 hits, it was a “heavy affair.” Niskanen had six to lead the Caps while Brown had five for LA…Ovechkin had 15 shot attempts, including 10 on goal in 19:29 of work…next up for the Capitals are the Islanders in Brooklyn on Thursday night. The Caps are 2-0 against New York this season.

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The Caps play a terrible 2nd period that ultimately dooms them in Dallas.

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Caps Third Period Rally Falls Short Against Dallas

Posted on 13 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals played, by far, their worst period of the season in the second frame on Saturday night in Dallas, giving up 17 shots on net and four goals to fall behind 4-0 after 40 minutes.

The Caps went totally against what makes them successful in that middle frame. They tried soft, cross ice passes instead of getting pucks deep. As a result, they could not take advantage of their size and skill down low which provided the super fast Stars with several odd man rushes that they capitalized on.

Braden Holtby did all he could to keep Dallas at bay, but he could not be faulted on all four of the goals against since two were on three on one breaks, one came from in front by one of the best scorers in the NHL in Jamie Benn when he was not covered properly, and the fourth tally was on a two man advantage power play where one of the Capitals penalty killers also lost his stick.

It was as ugly a period as the Caps have played all season long. It all started with a bad decision by the Caps inside their offensive blue line. Instead of dumping a puck down low and creating a two on one advantage situation, the Washington forward chose to go cross ice and Dallas was off to the races. That sequence started what seemed like wave after wave of Capitals turnovers leading to Stars chances.

Shortly after it was 2-0, the Caps Andre Burakovsky had a seemingly open cage to cut the lead to one and the shot was somehow stopped. Moments later the Stars were gifted another three on one when a Caps defenseman tried to carry the puck into the offensive zone and was pick pocketed. That made it 3-0, and then when Washington took two bad offensive zone penalties, the Stars cashed in late to make it 4-0.

Holtby, who deserved much better than the garbage play in front of him to that point, was relieved for the final frame to get Philipp Grubauer some work.

The reaction on twitter from several skeptics within and outside the Caps fan base was somewhat predictable during the second intermission. People were spouting off about how the Caps losing to Dallas, for the second time this season, showed they couldn’t beat the best teams in the NHL and that they weren’t for real.

Are you kidding me?

We can check the ledger with the court reporter, but if I’m not mistaken the team that has won three of the last six Stanley Cups, the Chicago Blackhawks, were defeated by the Caps in their only meeting back in October. But narratives rarely focus on the facts on twitter, especially from the haters and non-believers, so my message after 40 minutes to those who were bailing on the team after one bad period was: “Good riddance and don’t come back.” Washington, win or lose in Dallas, was still going to be the best team in the NHL.

“Best team in the NHL” is what showed up in the third period as the Capitals stormed back like Miracle Max had given them all magic healing pills. Alex Ovechkin started it with a laser from the Ovi spot on the power play to record his league leading 35th tally and get the ball rolling for Washington.

Justin Williams then atoned for his poor play on the first goal and made it 4-2 from in tight with just over 12 minutes to go. Then, after Ovechkin was flat out robbed by Kari Lehtonen (20 saves), Andre Burakovsky buried a sweet feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) to cut the deficit to just one puck with 6:06 left.

For the final six minutes the Caps had numerous chances and it took fortunate stops from “LUCK-onen” on Burakovsky, John Carlson, and Williams to maintain the Stars lead. Finally, with Grubauer pulled for the extra attacker, it took the right goal post on a Tom Wilson shot in the slot and then the linesman getting in the way after a face off win to take Ovechkin off of the puck with 30 seconds left for Dallas to escape with a 4-3 win.

The loss, just Washington’s 10th of the season in regulation, drops them to 40-10-4 (84 points). They still lead the NHL in points and are the best team in the NHL. The Stars have 15 regulation losses and no other club is closer in that department.

Losing was tough for the Caps and the critics will likely be out, especially those who despise Ovechkin and this franchise, but I don’t really care. Washington proved to all watching, and hopefully most importantly to themselves, that when they play their brand of hockey, which is getting pucks in deep on the opponent via proper zone entries, solid puck support, and strong, hard passes, that they are unbeatable.

That’s right; I said the Caps are unbeatable when they play the right way. In the second period, they played the wrong way. They tried the “easy game” where you don’t pay the price physically and mentally that’s necessary to win hockey games. You can’t play that way and beat anyone, let alone one of the top clubs in the Western Conference.

So on Saturday night, the Caps hopefully learned a good lesson or were simply reminded (after all, they’ve won 40 times this season in 54 games) about what is needed to be successful. Sure they received zero points, but when Coach Barry Trotz and his assistants show the team the tape of this one and point out the good and the bad, it will be clear as day as to how they need to play if they want to win the trophy I know they badly want in June.

In February, you can try the “easy game,” it probably won’t work, but when you have a big standings lead and are two months from the playoffs, it doesn’t hurt you in the near term. But playing the way they did in the 3rd period was a great reminder to Ovechkin and company that there is one recipe for success in the NHL and that is for a team to play to their strengths. For the final 20 minutes, it was “heavy hockey” city for Washington and that allowed their skill to take over the game. That’s the way Coach Trotz wants it drawn up and executed. When they do that, they win.

Yes, losing stinks, but on Saturday, the way this one went down might just be a really good thing, long term, for the best team in the NHL.

Notes: the loss halted the Capitals five game winning streak…Washington won the face off battle, 31-27. Mike Richards was 6-0 from the dot…the Caps were only credited with 15 hits, four by Ovechkin. Most of the physical play from Washington came in the final 20 minutes…Dallas was 1 for 4 on the power play while the Caps were 1 for 3…the Caps took their fourth “too many men on the ice” penalty in the last four games. That trend needs to stop, immediately…next up for the Capitals are the Pacific Division leading Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center. The Kings will be without forward Marian Gaborik (knee) and goalie Jonathan Quick’s status is up in the air, too. #32 was injured in a win over Boston earlier in the week. There is a very good chance that Brooks Orpik will be back in the lineup  for the Caps which likely means that Taylor Chorney will be scratched. Chorney was -2 in this contest and he and Dmitry Orlov were the defensive pair on the ice on both three on one rush goals by Dallas.

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Caps Slay The Defending Champion Kings, 4-0

Posted on 04 February 2015 by Ed Frankovic

“I’m shuffling lines around, guys. I’ll let you know when I get it straightened out.” – Reg Dunlop, Charleston Chiefs

For 50 games, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz has been juggling his forward line combinations trying to find the right fits.

In game number 51, which turned out to be a Caps 4-0 rout of the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings, he just may have found his best forward line up yet.

Trotz moved Marcus Johansson, who is having his best pro season, up into the top right wing spot, and inserted rookie forward Andre Burakovsky into Jojo’s spot on the second line giving the Caps a very offensively talented top six crew of forwards. In addition, the bench boss took Jason Chimera and Michael Latta out of the lineup and went with a fourth unit of Aaron Volpatti, Jay Beagle, and Tom Wilson. The third line, Washington’s checking trio of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward, went unchanged.

The result was a thing of beauty as the Capitals gap control was as good as it has been all season.

Taking the strong blue line play that the Caps have enjoyed all season combined with elite goaltending from Braden Holtby plus a very motivated hockey club this was a thorough whipping of a Kings team that still has Norris Trophy leading candidate Drew Doughty, all world goalie Jonathan Quick, and super forward Anze Kopitar. But Los Angeles is really not a Cup contender this season since they’re playing with a much weaker blue line due to the loss of Willie Mitchell (salary cap) and Slava Voynov (domestic abuse charges). As I’ve been saying for years, it is tough to be consistent and win in the post season without a good blue line. Fortunately with the departure of former GM George McPhee, the Capitals finally figured it out in the offseason and brought in some talent that gives Washington a very deep crew on the back end.

But the key to becoming a really top team is to have not only strong goaltending and defense, but depth at forward. That has been the challenge for Trotz and his job has been tougher by having to work in two rookies in Evgeny Kuznetsov and Burakovsky, along with second year man Wilson. It’s not an easy task and being a rookie in the NHL is very difficult. But Trotz has brought each of them along differently given their age and history. Kuznetsov is starting to blossom into the second line center role and his behind the back pass to Troy Brouwer is one that you usually only see from the Nicklas Backstrom’s of the world. That 1st goal was so huge because the Caps were 24-1-4 when tallying first and 1-14-6 this season when yielding the first marker. That is quite a telling statistic.

On that Brouwer goal, of note was the forechecking pressure that Burakovsky put on Robyn Regehr. The heat from #65 forced Regehr to put Alec Martinez in bad position with the biscuit and the man who scored the Cup clinching tally against the Rangers made an errant pass to Karl Alzner on the left wing boards. Alzner found Kuznetsov below the goal line and a sweet pass later it was 1-0. Trotz praised Burakovsky afterwards and stated that pretty soon everyone will all know the kids name.

Not only did the super gap control lead to production, but it also kept Washington out of the penalty box. This Caps team has had a recent propensity of taking tripping, high sticking, interference, and hooking penalties that are often the result of poor positioning and a lack of structure. The Capitals only had to kill one penalty on Tuesday night, which was their lowest total since December 4th against Carolina (h/t to Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post). You can add in discipline to that equation as Washington did not retaliate against a big Kings club. John Carlson took a couple of cheap shots from Kyle Clifford late in period two that somehow didn’t garner a penalty call from Paul Devorski and Tom Kowal (imagine that!). #74 could have easily gotten upset and attacked Clifford but Carlson kept his head and didn’t take an unnecessary penalty at a time when the game was still in question. Big kudos to Carlson there, that’s putting your team first, something we’ve seen more and more of this club this season than any other in the recent past.

Overall, it was a dominant performance by the Caps and Holtby came up big when he needed to be in stopping 27 shots. He made some key saves, with perhaps his best one coming on Jeff Carter in period two when it was still 1-0. Carter, who is a true sniper, appeared to have the top right corner picked but #70 managed to get most of his glove on the biscuit and knock it to the corner. Holtby also stoned Marian Gaborik on a semi-breakaway in period two. Holtby has now gone three straight games without allowing a goal in regulation and the only tally he yielded came in OT against the Habs and league MVP Carey Price on Saturday.

So the Caps end up going 1-1-1 against some of the better teams in the league with the lone regulation blemish coming against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday. The Blues are my current pick to win the Stanley Cup so a one goal defeat to them, after Washington played the day before while St. Louis rested, is not a black mark at all.

Washington is now 26-15-10 (62 points) and 9-1-1 in their last 11 home games (h/t to @ThePeerless). But the upcoming schedule doesn’t get any easier. After a day off on Wednesday, the Caps travel to take on a speedy Ottawa team on Thursday night, then come right home on Friday to play one of top teams in the NHL standings in the Anaheim Ducks. Finally, on Sunday at 3 pm they get a hot Flyers team at the Verizon Center. We all know what I think of Philadelphia, but that’s a story for another day.

Notes: Brouwer had two goals in his 500th NHL game…Backstrom had a goal and an assist while Alex Ovechkin had an assist. The Gr8 had 11 shot attempts…Washington led the shot attempt totals after 40 minutes, 40-21, that’s pretty impressive over one of the best puck possession teams in the NHL. Game total shot attempts were 52-44 for the Caps…the Kings won the face off battle, 26-23, but Backstrom was 12-6 from the dot.

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Kings Will Win The Cup, But It Won’t Be Easy

Posted on 03 June 2014 by Ed Frankovic

In a series that was the best I’ve ever seen in my lifetime, the Los Angeles Kings defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime in game seven of the Western Conference Final to move on to face the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final.

The Western Conference, in terms of elite teams, is clearly the better side, but the way the Rangers are gelling, this is not going to be an easy series for the Kings. New York is playing with tremendous emotion, they have excellent speed, and Henrik Lundqvist is money in the cage. Los Angeles brings size, “deep” depth at forward, and a never say die mentality.

Let’s take a look at the match-up in terms of offense, defense, goaltending, coach, and intangibles.

Offense: The Kings lead the NHL in goals for per game in the post season, at 3.48 while New York is 8th at 2.70. Los Angeles has an excellent top six crew of forwards and the bottom six is as good, if not better, than any team in the league. Coach Darryl Sutter has a talented group of players that really filled its’ biggest need with the Marian Gaborik acquisition at the trade deadline (In a related story, Kings GM Dean Lombardi is wanted on felony robbery charges in the state of Ohio). Justin Williams, after the Kings won a thrilling series with the Blackhawks, called “Gabby” the missing piece for LA. He was dead on, since adding an offensive talent like #12 allowed Sutter to balance his lineup. The Kings survived a series of 0 goals from their best offensive player, Anze Kopitar, in the Western final, so that tells you how deep this crew of Kings forwards is. Mike Richards is mostly playing on the bottom two lines, and he’s a second line center on many NHL clubs. The Kings “That 70’s line” of Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter, and Tanner Pearson brings speed and energy. Carter was amazing in the series against the Blackhawks and is a big reason the Kings have a chance to win their 2nd Cup in three years. New York has not scored a lot of goals and Martin St. Louis is their points leader with 13 in 20 games. Chris Kreider has come in to give New York a shot in the arm on offense and he has 10 points in 10 games. The Rangers will rely heavily on his speed and that of guys like Carl Hagelin and Matt Zuccarello. Simply put, though, the Rangers don’t score a lot of goals. Their power play is operating at a 13+% level while Los Angeles is cruising at 25+%. In addition, the Kings can throw four interchangeable lines at you while the Rangers struggle to find a fourth unit. Advantage: Heavily for the Kings.

Defense: The Rangers have a very good top four defense in Ryan McDonough, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and Anton Stralman. Their third pair of John Moore and Kevin Klein is solid too. New York’s deep defense allows Coach Alain Vigneualt to not worry alot about exposing one of his pairs to a major mismatch. Any of the three pairs can face high end talent. The question for New York is what pair do they put against the Kopitar line and which one gets the Carter line? I’d imagine we see 27 and 5 go against Kopitar, Gaborik and Brown while Staal and Stralman get the 70’s line, at least initially. As for the Kings, Drew Doughty is the best defensemen in the NHL and he’ll log a ton of minutes. Doughty will make some mistakes but he’ll more than make up for that with numerous “how’d he do that type of plays?” The questions, though, for LA come with the rest of their crew. The injury to Robyn Regehr has been huge and getting Willie Mitchell back in game two against Chicago was very important. Mitchell and Doughty are great penalty killers. Slava Voynov elevated his game in the Blackhawks series and along with Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez and Matt Greene, they are key to Los Angeles’ ability to win. Will the Rangers speed be too much for those guys? Somehow the Kings were able to overcome Chicago’s speed up front, but the Rangers are likely faster. However, the Rangers forwards don’t have the high end skill like Chicago had with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Sharp. The Kings, however, are one injury away from the slow footed Jeff Schultz being inserted in the lineup. Advantage: Rangers, because of their balance and depth.

Goaltending: Does it get any better than Jonathan Quick vs. Henrik Lundqvist? These are the best goalies in the NHL going head to head for Lord Stanley. Amazingly, they both play different styles. Quick is far more aggressive and moves around much more than King Henrik. Lundqvist is the ONLY goalie in the league who can pull off the “deep in the net” style that he employs. That allows him to rarely be out of position on shots. The Rangers defense knows how #30 is going to play and they are a solid defensive unit. The Rangers are 2nd in the playoffs in goals against yielding 2.25 a game while the Kings are more leaky, at 2.86 per contest (9th overall). But those stats speak more to the style of play and defense of the teams than the net minders. Los Angeles has run into issues when they turn the puck over in the neutral zone, and that has led to a lot of odd man rushes against. Sutter must limit those against a fast Rangers club. Both goalies have had strong outings and also some poor ones, mostly because the team in front of them has struggled, at times. Overall, the Rangers have been more consistent, but they haven’t played the high end talent that Los Angeles has faced in San Jose, Anaheim, and then the 2013 Cup Champion Blackhawks. Advantage: Neither team, goaltending is a dead heat.

Coaching: I was not a John Tortorella fan and when they canned the fiery bench boss and replaced him with Vigneault, I expected marked improvement from New York. Did I think it would translate into a Stanley Cup Final run? Absolutely not. But give credit to the new bench boss (and GM Glen Sather too for some “ballsy” moves behind the bench and with personnel). He managed to survive a terrible schedule early in the post season and rally from a 3-1 hole against Pittsburgh. He’s doing a super job. Sutter is in an elite coach. He maintains an even keel so his team doesn’t get too high or low emotionally and he is a master tactician. Most other coaches would be golfing by now after facing a 3-0 hole in the opening round, but Sutter, assistant coach John Stevens, and the rest of the staff found a way to turn it around, mostly by fixing their poor neutral zone play. Sutter has a keen sense of who has it rolling on a given night and who just doesn’t have it. That’s why guys will move up and down the line-up. He somehow was able to win against the Ducks with both Regehr and Mitchell out, that speaks volumes to the coaching given that that they won with a guy who played the entire season in the AHL in Schultz. Advantage: Los Angeles.

Intangibles: Ever since St. Louis’ mom passed away unexpectedly, the Rangers have been a different team. Anyone who has played hockey, at any level, knows that it is a team game that requires intensity and an emotional commitment. New York clearly has that and throw Dominic Moore’s personal situation into the mix as well. The Rangers are on a mission. On the other hand, the Kings have won three game seven’s on the road, a feat that has never been done before in NHL history. They came back from a three game hole in the first round and were down 3-2 against the Ducks and survived. They were losing 2-0 early in game seven against the Hawks and scraped out a W. One thing that favors LA is the travel schedule. While the Rangers sat for days waiting to figure out who they would play, once they finally did they had to fly cross country to California. So I think that negates any rest they received. Both teams have played a lot of hockey. Advantage: Slight edge to Kings due to home ice.

So I think this is going to be an excellent series, but it will be lower scoring. It will be hard to top the Chicago-LA Western Final, no doubt. Both teams could win this thing, especially if the Kings can’t get net presence on Lundqvist. But I think the Kings will find a way and overcome a Rangers team that seems to keep improving.

The Pick: Despite the fact that broadcaster Kenny Albert and Rangers assistant GM, Jim Schoenfeld, are some of my favorite people in hockey, it’s Los Angeles in 6.

 

 

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TJ Oshie & Jonathan Quick Lead USA over Russia

Posted on 15 February 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Most hockey fans know who TJ Oshie and Jonathan Quick are, but today, an entire nation now knows them, as well.

After USA and Russia played a marvelous 65 minutes of hockey, the skills competition commenced and the US bested the Russians, 3-2, after eight rounds of the shootout.

The rules are different in International Hockey so after three shooters, a coach can choose whatever player he wants and can keep repeating that selection. Team USA Coach Dan Bylsma stuck to his guns and kept throwing #74 out there and he delivered 4 of 6 times, three times via the “five hole,” to win it for USA. Quick, who won the Stanley Cup with the Kings in 2012, stopped 5 of 8 tries for the victory in net.

Wow, what a hockey game.

This was no “Miracle on Ice” from 1980. It is not even close and let’s be clear about that since 1980 was a mismatch on paper, but somehow a bunch of college kids beat one of the greatest teams of all time.

This game was a fairly even matchup. Team USA has an excellent squad but so do the Russians, who also have home ice. The perceived weaknesses on each club are their respective blue lines. Coming into the Olympics, you would have thought the Russian defense was as bad as the 2013 Washington Redskins, based on the pre tourney analysis. But they quickly proved that theory wrong playing excellent defensive hockey and only allowing two USA power play goals (Cam Fowler and James VanRiemsdyk).

Russia had some great chances and their power play, on paper, looks deadly. It features Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk (2 goals), and Evgeni Malkin. Talk about some serious fire power there! Somehow the US managed to hold the Russians to one tally on five chances in this one.

One thing both teams coaches will not like were the penalties each squad took. Bylsma can’t be happy about Dustin Brown’s giveaway and then penalty in the last 10 minutes. That infraction gave the Russians the power play that they tied the game on via Datsyuk’s second goal. Conversely, Alexander Radulov took two selfish penalties and the US scored on both. The only thing saving Radulov from a trip to Siberia was his great screen on the tying tally and his assist on Datsyuk’s first goal.

On that first goal, Datsyuk broke free from Max Pacioretty in the neutral zone and split Brooks Orpik and John Carlson for the game’s opening tally. Bylsma clearly wasn’t pleased with Carlson and Pacioretty because they didn’t see much ice time after that, but Orpik was just as much to blame as foot speed isn’t one of #44’s strengths. But Orpik kept getting put on the ice by Bylsma even after the miscue (Note: I wonder what coach he plays for during the regular season? Hmmm….).

After the Russians tied the game on Datsyuk’s PP tally, a goal that appeared to make it 3-2 for the home squad was correctly disallowed. Quick had inadvertenly dislodged the net on an earlier save and the referees didn’t see it and let play continue. Shortly thereafter, a Russian point shot was deflected and barely went in under the cross bar towards the right post. It was that right post that was off of its peg and pushed back a bit. After a review, which initially many thought was due to a potential high stick, the goal was taken down due to the net issue. It was the right call based on IIHF rules and I assert that there was no way to allow it based on physics, alone. If the net is in its proper position there the puck may have struck the cross bar and never went in to begin with. Bottom line is the right call was made on the ice after review, although it would have been better had the zebras noticed the dislodged cage sooner.

This win was big because it sets up the USA to place first in their group tomorrow with a victory over Slovenia (1-1), a team that is led by the Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings. Winning the group means a bye into the quarterfinals. Conversely, Russia will likely get a bye, as well, if they beat the Slovaks by being the best second place finisher. The other teams that will get a bye are Canada, who will likely be the #1 seed, and Sweden, who are ravaged with injuries. Both Henrik Zetterberg and Henrik Sedin are out hurt but they still managed to carry their group with three wins.

However, with Sweden’s injuries, this is shaping up to be a three horse race for the Gold Medal between Canada, Russia, and the United States.

In summary, this was a big win but this was not a “Miracle” type victory. Make no mistake about it, though, this game mattered A LOT, to both squads.

The two countries are nowhere close to allies and their are serious political differences.

The Cold War is over, but a win over the Russians still carries enormous weight in the USA.

The Americans played a strong game and won on the home team’s soil to set themselves up for a run at a medal.

TJ Oshie for President!

 

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Embarrassing Weekend for Caps & NHL

Posted on 19 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

For those following along on this blog and in my recent radio session with Drew Forrester on WNST, the fact that the Capitals have lost five in a row is not a surprise to you. On Friday they were whipped 5-1 by the Columbus Blue Jackets and on Sunday night it was a 4-1 drubbing to the despised New York Rangers. Things are bad in Caps land, no doubt.

The optimists will point to some fancy stats, particularly the Caps 5v5 Close Fenwick percentage, and talk about how the Capitals puck possession statistics are at a season high. But that and a dollar might get you a cup of coffee these days. Washington is making far too many mistakes on the ice, to include the propensity to take terrible penalties.

They are like that NFL team that can pile up the yards on offense but turn the ball over several times a game, get flagged often, and have a weak defense. Yes, the Caps have the puck more than their opposition a lot lately, but when they lose it, the mishap is resulting in a biscuit in the back of their net far more often than the puck possession edge is leading to goals for them.

Outside of Alex Ovechkin and perhaps John Carlson, there aren’t many guys playing well right now on this club. The defense is a shambles as Washington just doesn’t have six legit NHL blue liners. After Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Mike Green, the quality takes a severe drop. Dmitry Orlov, who made the terrible turnover that started the loss to New York just 70 seconds into the game, is trying to do too much on a disastrous pairing with Green. Both 52 and 81 have the same styles but because Washington is so weak depth wise on defense, Coach Adam Oates is practically forced to play them together because the other options are far worse.

The goaltending has had its share of ups and downs and the latest casualty of a horse being ridden too hard and long appears to be Philipp Grubauer. The rookie goalie was bad on goals two and three against the Rangers and yanked for the second straight contest. He likely will be heading back to Hershey since logically the way to go right now is with Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth in goal. As for Neuvirth, with a limited goalie trade market, it makes little sense to just dump the young goalie because he wants out. Neuvy has played well in his two recent games so the smart move for the Caps is to just go with the duo they planned on having all season and then decide what to do in the off season. GM George McPhee likely can’t get a good enough return to make it worth his while to move Neuvirth. Goaltending is a precious commodity (see Edmonton and Philadelphia for examples of teams with weak net minding) so for the Caps to move a good goalie who has won a playoff series and has a salary cap friendly contract would be foolish.

As for the offense, it stinks after you get past the Gr8. Part of the problem is the defense is not good at getting the puck out of their own zone but this crew of forwards lacks chemistry and the intestinal fortitude to get the greasy goals needed to be a playoff team. They also don’t defend well either. There is an over abundance of right wings and a dearth of left wingers. Martin Erat, who asked to be traded back in November, took three minor penalties on Sunday in New York, one of which cost Green a goal. The 32 year old winger, who is on the downside of his career, is not helping his trade case, at this point.

Basically, it’s a train wreck for the Caps right now and the schedule doesn’t get any easier with a home game on Tuesday against a speedy Ottawa team (2-0 vs. Caps this season) followed by five straight games on the road.

The embarrassing weekend has dropped the Capitals out of a playoff spot and if they don’t find a way to turn things around quickly, they will be in even worse shape heading into the Olympic break in early February.

Speaking of embarrassing, the NHL should have its’ tail between its’ legs after the events of Saturday night, which was “Hockey Day” in Canada.

Let’s start with the debacle in Detroit. The Los Angeles Kings had a 2-1 lead late in regulation when a Wings point shot deflected off of the stick of a Kings defensemen up in the air and hit the netting behind the goal some 20 feet up. The puck then proceeded to ricochet off of the netting and off of the back of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick and in the cage for what the zebras called on the ice the tying goal. Kings D-man Drew Doughty immediately put his hand up to signal the puck went out of play but somehow all four officials MISSED the puck hitting the netting. Then a bigger issue comes into play. Because pucks off of the netting are not reviewable the league office in Toronto could not disallow the goal because it is not in the rule book. What a joke. If the league doesn’t immediately change that rule tomorrow then they are a disgrace. The shootout loss cost LA a critical point that could decide home ice advantage for them and the Wings got two points they desperately need, but did not deserve, in a very tight Eastern Conference playoff race. Shame on you NHL for not having this scenario covered and double shame on the blind referees who missed this obvious call.

Now for the big embarrassment of the weekend, and those of you who follow the game will be not be surprised that Vancouver Coach John Tortorella was the main culprit. The stubborn and fiery coach, who has already worn out his welcome in Tampa and New York, is currently coaching a struggling Canucks team that just went 0-3 on a road trip. Flames coach Bob Hartley, the Canucks opponent on Saturday night, put a starting lineup together that was ultra tough. Calgary has been a bad team all year but their early season strong work ethic had recently waned. So Hartley rewarded a fourth line that had scored in the previous game with a start in Vancouver. So naturally, the man who seems to look for fights, Tortorella, overreacted and put his tough guys out on the ice to start the game. The result, as many have seen, was an instant line brawl right out of Slap Shot. It was a disgrace and an embarrassment to hockey. What made things even worse was Torts, after the first period was over, was caught on Hockey Night in Canada cameras trying to get at Hartley in the entrance to the Flames locker room. A major dust up occurred with Flames goalie coach and former Washington Capital Clint Malarchuk having to be restrained from going after Torts. Tortorella’s actions after the period was over are far worse than anything else because the game should never be played off of the ice. Torts crossed the line there and should be suspended for several games and fined heavily.

Those who try to say that Tortorella’s hand was forced aren’t going to get any agreement from me. If Torts had remained calm and thought his way through things he would have put out his 2nd or 3rd line to start the game. The line brawl would not have occurred and you can bet that the referees would have been watching closely at the Flames fourth unit and whistled any penalties had they come close to crossing the line. It was an avoidable situation for Tortorella but he was too busy being hard headed and trying to “man up” that he missed a chance to teach his team the right lesson about showing self discipline. Now he’s going to sit for awhile and his ability to get his club to show restraint seems to have been diminished greatly.

What an embarrassment for hockey from Tortorella, there is no other way to put it.

 

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