Tag Archive | "Ribeiro"

Ovechkin Is Still The Most Exciting Player in the NHL When On

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Ovechkin Is Still The Most Exciting Player in the NHL When On

Posted on 23 February 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Wow, that was one fun afternoon for the Washington Capitals and their fans.

In vintage 2008 form, Alexander Ovechkin took over Saturday’s matinee with the New Jersey Devils exploding for three goals and an assist in a 5-1 Caps victory. The Gr8 has been playing extremely hard over the last 13 games but until today’s tilt, he wasn’t getting the results on the scoresheet to correspond to that effort. That all changed in this one, perhaps having fiancee Maria Kirilenko in attendance for the first time all season brought him good luck?

Whatever the case, when Ovechkin is on, in my book he is still the most exciting and explosive player in the NHL. He may not be the MVP, like he was in 2008 and 2009, but when he is skating, shooting, and hitting he can still lift you right out of your seat. Or as the NHL Network’s Craig Button once said several years ago after attending a Caps game for free, “Where do I pay for the performance I just watched?!”

Certainly the fans in attendance got their money’s worth and more today, thanks to Ovechkin along with many of his teammates. It was easily the best game this struggling club has played all year and they finally knocked off a team in the top eight spots of the conference (now 1-8-1, h/t @SkyKerstein).

The Caps stayed out of the box yielding only three Devils power plays and a penalty shot. Two of those infractions were of the delay of game variety, something that Coach Adam Oates has to address going forward. But Washington scored shorthanded on Eric Fehr’s tally in the third period and the Caps power play clicked two of the three times it was on the ice. Anytime you go +3 in the special teams department, chances are pretty good you will win via a lopsided margin.

It was pretty much a complete performance and Braden Holtby had another superb game in the cage, including thwarting a Steve Bernier penalty shot in the middle frame. #70 is now 4-2 and has a .9255 save percentage in his last six games. As I said a week ago Friday on the air on WNST 1570 AM Baltimore in my session with Thyrl Nelson, host of the MobTown Sports Beat, I am a big believer in Holtby and his abilities.

Other standout performances on Saturday came from Matt Hendricks, whose pass to Ovechkin on his second goal was a thing of beauty and started the third period onslaught; Karl Alzner, who was superb at both ends of the rink; and Mike Ribeiro and Nicklas Backstrom for the outstanding passes and center ice play.

Still, this one was all about Ovechkin and his explosive performance. The Gr8 took over this contest like he did so many times from 2008 to 2010 when Washington was dominating the Eastern Conference. The Caps, who don’t have nearly the talent on their roster now as they did during that period, will need a lot more of these type of outputs to turn this 6-10-1 season into a “2008-like” magical run.

But that is a topic for another day. So for the rest of Saturday, Sunday, and Monday just enjoy the victory and rewatch the highlights of the Gr8 show, because games and individual performances like the one Ovechkin displayed today are what makes watching sports a special experience.

Notes: Mike Green missed his 3rd straight game due to a groin injury. Tom Poti took his place in the lineup…Washington won the faceoff battle 36-25, the 6th straight game the Caps have done that. Coach Adam Oates was arguably the best faceoff man ever so his influence appears to be rubbing off on the center ice men…the Caps next play on Tuesday at home against the Carolina Hurricanes before visiting the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night.

 

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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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Improving Caps Win 3rd Straight

Posted on 14 February 2013 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Will This Late Rally Be A Turning Point in the Caps Season?

Posted on 12 February 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It was 5-3 Florida with just over five minutes to go and the Washington Capitals were likely staring at a 3-9-1 record in this lockout shortened 48 game season. 

The Seth Jones talk appeared all set to begin.

But somebody forgot to tell Adam Oates’ club that.

In a furious and spirited rally, the Capitals received late goals from Eric Fehr and Alex Ovechkin and then Nicklas Backstrom set up Troy Brouwer on a breakaway in overtime with one of the prettiest passes you’ll ever see. #20 was stopped by Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen initially but the power forward alertly hit the brakes and banged home his own rebound for a wild 6-5 Caps victory in Florida on Tuesday night.

It was the Capitals second straight victory, their first on the road this season, and also the first time they’ve won when having to kill more than three penalties in a game.

They were terribly sloppy in their own end, especially in the second period, but somehow they killed off all five Florida power plays and went 2 for 3 on their own man advantage situations to scrape out a win.

Braden Holtby was the victim of some crazy bounces but he battled hard in the net and made some dandy saves when the Caps needed them most, including a huge stop on a Florida 3 on 0 in the middle frame. Basically, Holtby gave his club a chance and Washington delivered.

So the Caps stay alive and move to 4-8-1. They have a long way to go to climb back into the playoff race and their play is wildly inconsistent on the ice.

But one thing we saw tonight that you can’t question is this club’s heart. They played the last five plus minutes and overtime like they knew they had to find a way to win the game. If you play hard like that and go to the net, good things are bound to happen. That is how Washington came back.

Sure they are still scary in their own end in too many instances. They make too many turnovers, get out of position too easily, and aren’t physical enough in their own crease and slot areas. They must improve on that to salvage a season that has gotten off to a terrible start.

They still don’t have two top lines to consistently throw at the opposition and on defense they are hurting with the loss of Dennis Wideman to offseason free agency and Dmitry Orlov still out injured, so the margin for error is razor thin. They have to stay out of the box, get good goaltending and the effort has to be consistent to beat the better teams. Fortunately Florida is not one of the better clubs so the Caps managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat and get a much needed victory on a night when their play was very uneven.

But winning the way they did in the last five minutes could provide a valuable lesson about sticking together, working hard, and not quitting.

The Caps showed resiliency and that has to give some cause for optimism.

So the question is, will this late rally be the turning point in the Caps season?

Stay tuned…

Notes: Washington’s next game is Thursday at 7:30pm in Tampa…The Caps scored two goals directly off of faceoff wins. Karl Alzner and Ovechkin had those tallies…Backstrom (2 assists) was 19-10 on draws and Mike Ribeiro (1 goal, 2 assists) was 8-5…Jason Chimera was -3 in just 5:43 of ice time. #25′s play has really dropped off, which is something the Capitals do not need. Chimmer needs to get back to skating and playing hard…John Erskine had two goals bank in off of him but Washington is now 4-2-1 with #4 in the lineup.

 

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Any Way You Slice It, The Caps Defeating the Flyers Is Always Fun

Posted on 02 February 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals early season struggles have been well chronicled, but on Friday night at the Verizon Center the Caps gave their fans an evening to forget about the string of six losses in seven games by defeating the despised Philadelphia Flyers, 3-2.

For two teams that are usually near the top of the Eastern Conference standings, this was an unusual affair as the loser would likely reside in the basement of the conference at the end of the night. That “cellar dwellar” title goes to the Flyers after Braden Holtby played an excellent game in net making 29 saves and center Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) had his best effort of this lockout shortened season.

Believe it or not, we are at the 1/6th point of a 48 tilt campaign. The Caps are still 2-5-1 and have a lot of work ahead of them, but I thought they did some good things in the victory over the Flyers.

To steal a line from the movie “What About Bob?”, Washington managed to do some ”baby stepping” on Friday.

There was progress in the penalty department as the Caps only allowed three power plays despite taking another delay of game penalty. Washington killed off all three of those Philadelphia Flyers power plays. In their two wins they have only had to survive two shorthanded situations (vs Buffalo) and the three on Friday. Stay out of the box and not allow a power play goal and your chances of winning go up dramatically, much like not turning the ball over in football generally leads to victories.

In addition, there seemed to be more cohesion with the lines as Coach Adam Oates put Alexander Ovechkin with Mike Ribeiro and Wojtek Wolksi together with Backstrom centering Troy Brouwer and Marcus Johansson on the second line. That left a good checking unit in Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle, and Joel Ward. Ovechkin had seven shots on goal, his highest total of the season, and he had more jump than usual. However, he and his linemates will be called on the carpet for the total lack of defensive assistance they provided to Mike Green and Karl Alzner on the first Flyers tally. Defensive zone is still an issue for this team, one that I am sure Oates will continue to address and tweak going forward. You can’t win if you are bad in your own zone and Washington has plenty of room for improvement there.

One of the areas I was most confident in this team coming into the season was goaltending. Holtby was outstanding in this one after Michael Neuvirth had given the Caps a chance to win the previous four games. Both Holtby and Neuvy are the type of goalies you want to have in this short compact season: young and ultra competitive. Also, they both have a short memory, which is very important at the NHL level.

Washington’s power play still continues to sputter (o for 5 vs. Flyers), mostly due to their inability to get the puck in the zone to set up. Oates attributed that to “bad reads” on Friday night. I’d still like to see more bodies and pucks to the net with the man advantage. For me, Brooks Laich can’t get back soon enough to join the second line and bump Johansson down to the fourth unit or even out of the lineup. Plus #21 is a super net presence in man advantage situations and his penalty killing is outstanding. With Laich skating on Friday morning, it appears we are getting closer to getting a key piece back into Washington’s forward lineup.

Another problem with the power play is faceoffs. Right now the Caps are losing those opening man advantage draws and that wastes a good 15 seconds right off of the bat. It also allows the defense to set up. Philadelphia was 40-29 from the dot against Washington on Friday, with Ribeiro going a terrible 5-12. The Caps centers have to be better at draws going forward.

On the backend, John Erskine has played very well and is getting the fourth highest D-man minutes. However, his elbow to the head of Wayne Simmonds will likely draw some Brendan Shanahan reaction in the form of a fine and possibly a suspension. It would be nice if Dmitry Orlov was ready to go but that won’t happen yet, although it appears he practiced late this week in Hershey and is inching closer to a return. Getting Orlov back and playing at the NHL level would help the Caps defense and also strengthen the second power play unit (a left handed point shot is definitely needed).

Summing up this one, the Capitals did some good things and got a victory on Friday night. They needed one of those very badly. What makes it even sweeter is it came against the Flyers, who along with the Penguins, are the most disliked teams the Caps compete against.

Washington has a lot of work to do to get better and climb back into the top eight slots in the East. If they keep working hard, playing smart, and sticking together, they have a chance to win consistently. But they don’t have much room for error.

Still, any way you slice it, a win over the Flyers is always good, no matter what the records are coming into the affair.

Next up, the Pittsburgh Penguins on Super Bowl Sunday.

Notes: John Carlson made a great poke check to spring Backstrom for the Caps first goal that tied the game at one. #19 beat Ilya Bryzgalov on the back hand on a breakaway as Philly got caught in a line change…Matt Hendricks and Flyers goon Zac Rinaldo were both ejected for the dropping the mits on a faceoff before the puck was officially in play. That is an automatic game misconduct…Wolski and Brouwer had the Caps other goals.

 

 

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No Two Ways About This: The Caps Are a Bad Team Right Now

Posted on 31 January 2013 by Ed Frankovic

You can line up the excuses any way you want: there’s a new coach, they have a new system, there was no training camp, some guys didn’t play during the lockout, blah, blah, blah.

At 1-5-1, you are what your record says you are: a bad hockey team.

Washington Capitals, look in the mirror, that is what you are right now after dropping two games in Ontario this week with very poor third period efforts.

Effort, that is a good word there. In hockey it is the most important thing you need to be successful. Too many Capitals players aren’t consistently bringing an honest effort.

You can start with the captain, Alexander Ovechkin, and work your way through a number of other players with Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson next on the list. Those three guys all make a lot of coin and are on long term contracts. Maybe the fact that they lead in the poor effort department is just a coincidence, eh?!

In addition, when you go 10 minutes without a shot on net like the Caps did to start the 3rd period on Thursday, there is no other way to characterize that stat than “lack of effort.” It was pitiful to watch, and it came against a Leafs team that hasn’t made the playoffs since the 2004-05 lockout.

Hockey IQ. Another important facet to winning at the NHL level. The Caps continue to display a low hockey IQ taking too many penalties and making too many mental miscues. Carlson’s ill timed pinch late in period two of Tuesday’s game in Ottawa started the downward spiral that night. On Thursday, with Washington trying to tie the game late, Ovechkin carried the puck and circled the rink nearly two times before forcing a terrible pass into the middle of the ice. An easy clear was made by Toronto and it was game over. Hockey is a team game and the captain still is playing, at times, like he is going 1 against 5.

At this point, I am not sure what Coach Adam Oates can do other than benching Ovechkin to send a message. The team does not look unified at all like it did during that great playoff run last spring. When things are going bad, you need leaders to step up and right the ship. Right now all I see from the captain are prolonged periods of non skating (see the Leafs tying goal where an orange road cone could have played better defense than Ovechkin) with short bursts of individual play. That is no way to lead a hockey team. The coach, GM, and owner should be livid with Ovechkin right now. He is getting paid a lot of money to produce and lead this hockey team. He’s doing none of that through seven games, which becomes magnified in a short 48 game season.

As for McPhee, I would have to think he is redefining his pre-season assessment of this team. There are only three legitimate top six forwards on the club and only one of them, Mike Ribeiro, is playing up to his potential. I guess it is no coincidence that #9 is a free agent after this season? Given the long term deals he is pretty much stuck with in Oveckhin and Backstrom, there is not a lot he can do. But he has to try to do something to shake this team out of its funk because they are showing no signs of turning this bad start around with the lack of on ice cohesion.

It is a sad state of affairs right now and until the Caps find a way to rachet up their compete level, play smarter hockey, and work as a team, they will continue to be what they are currently: a bad hockey team.

 

 

 

 

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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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