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Caps Play Textbook Road Game in Win Over Buffalo

Posted on 10 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

After Wednesday’s OT victory against the Boston Bruins, one in which the Capitals lost a three goal lead, Washington held a post game players only meeting to clear the air and get everyone on the same page.

It worked.

For the first time in several weeks, the Caps played a complete hockey game in a 4-1 victory in Buffalo that allowed the Capitals to sweep the Sabres, 3-0, this season.

Sure there were mistakes out there, the other team gets paid to play too, but Washington played a textbook road game. They were hustling and making smart decisions. They were also very positionally sound such that when someone made a mistake, there was a teammate there to make a play in support. After getting exposed by the Bruins badly after defensemen Matt Niskanen left the game on Wednesday in the first period, no one was hung out to dry against the Sabres on Friday night. In fact, they only gave up one odd man rush the entire night, a three on two late in period two.

Philipp Grubauer (27 saves) was stellar in net. He didn’t make any spectacular stops, but he was rock steady between the pipes, especially in the first 25 minutes when the game was scoreless. He and Braden Holtby have now formed the league’s best goalie tandem this season.

With Niskanen out of the lineup and day to day with an upper body injury, Taylor Chorney was put into action and paired with Nate Schmidt. Brooks Oprik and Dmitry Orlov linked up while John Carlson and Karl Alzner were the top duo. Those pairs provided balance and Orlov (2 assists in 16:52) had his best game of the season. He didn’t get out of position, he was tenacious on the puck, and he showed excellent hockey sense.

As for Carlson, well he was outstanding too and he finally broke his 25 game scoring drought with a key power play tally to make it 3-1 with 5:40 remaining and pretty much end this tilt. When Carlson and Orlov are paired with a partner who is strong defensively and knows how to support an offensive defensemen, they each are able to bring out the best side of their respective games.

The big key to this contest, once again, was getting the first goal. Jay Beagle and T.J. Oshie, who are both great at winning the one on one puck battles, each won one along the offensive boards. As a result, they were able to get the puck to an open Nicklas Backstrom (two assists, +2) at the left point and he fired it back to Beagle in the left wing corner. When both Sabres defenders converged on #83, that left Oshie all alone streaking to the net and Beags put a behind the back pass right to #77 who went skate to stick with the puck and buried it top shelf at 6:43 of period two. Washington is now 14-3-2 this season when scoring first.

With the score 1-0, the Caps earned a second period power play and then they really put a stranglehold on this contest. Evgeny Kuznetsov made a great late power play rush up the right wing boards squeezing by a Sabres defender en route. #92 then took the puck to the net instead of trying a drop pass or spinning away from any contact. As Kuzy did this, Jakub Vrana very smartly made a bee line for the paint. #13 stopped on the door step, something Comcast analyst Alan May pointed out is critical if you want to score goals, and he buried the great pass from Kuznetsov past Robin Lehner. It was Vrana’s first NHL goal and the game winning tally. Afterwards, he received a shaving cream pie in the face from Tom Wilson in celebration of his milestone.

If there was any gripe about the Capitals in this one, it came in the third period when they took three straight penalties. After holding the Sabres power play at bay on the first two, Kyle Okposo put a puck home from the doorstep with 7:57 to make this a one goal affair.

But as Oshie pointed out afterwards, the Capitals didn’t sit back and they immediately went on the forecheck, which is a real strength of this team when they put their mind and effort into it. As a result of that pressure, Brian Gionta took a bad interference penalty on Kuznetsov, which set the stage for Carlson’s first goal of the season.

Overall, the Caps effort was excellent across the board; there were mistakes, but because they were working as a unit, they minimized any damage, even when Buffalo was able to get a quality scoring chance. Grubauer was solid in net and the defense didn’t allow many second chances for the Sabres.

Coach Barry Trotz and the Capitals have to be pleased with this Friday night performance.

Notes: The win moves the Caps record to 16-7-3 (35 points)…Alex Ovechkin didn’t have any points, but he had six shots on net and four hits. He was working hard on the ice and didn’t make any mistakes or take any penalties. If he keeps playing like that, then the goals will start coming again…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:40…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 33-24. Beagle was an astounding 16-4…Marcus Johansson scored his 12th goal of the season into the empty net after Oshie (1G, 1A) won another puck battle to spring Jojo for an easy marker…the Caps were 2 for 3 on the power play and both tallies came at key junctures in the game and provided Washington with a two goal cushion…Buffalo went 1 for 5 with the man advantage…Andre Burakovsky had one shot on goal in 9:58. He was good in the first two periods, but in the final frame he made some bad plays and looked timid with the puck…next up for the Caps are the Vancouver Canucks at the Verizon Center at 5 pm on Sunday. Vancouver defeated the Lightning, 5-1, on Thursday and will visit Florida at 7 pm on Saturday and then take a late night flight to DC.

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Johansson Rallies the Caps Past Buffalo in OT

Posted on 05 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Marcus Johansson blasted a slapper past Robin Lehner 2:38 into overtime to give the Washington Capitals a 3-2 victory to end their three game losing streak. It was fitting that Johansson, who also scored the game tying goal with 6:18 remaining, tallied the game winner because he’s been outstanding all season and now has 11 goals on the campaign.

The Caps other goal on this night came from their most determined player, Jay Beagle, who tallied his fifth of the season on a redirection of a great pass from Brooks Orpik in the middle frame. That tied the game at one.

Beagle, Johansson, and the injured T.J. Oshie have been the hardest working and best Capitals forwards this season.

Unfortunately for Washington, lately the word “hard working” has not been a part of the game plan for many of the players. Since Oshie went down with a shoulder injury against the Red Wings on Friday, November 18th, the Capitals have missed his energy and aggressiveness that typically rubs off on the other players. Oshie is the best on the team at winning one on one puck battles. His absence has showed as the team was 2-3-1 without #77 heading into Monday’s tilt with the Sabres.

Buffalo was missing three key defensemen in Zach Bogosian, Dmitry Kulikov, and Josh Gorges, however, they came to play at the Verizon Center while the Capitals appeared to continue to take the “It doesn’t matter until the playoffs” mantra a little too seriously.

For several weeks, the Caps effort has been suspect and multiple forwards such as Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, and Tom Wilson have been underperforming in terms of production. After losing to the Penguins last spring, Washington seemed to get caught up a little too much in being a speed team at the expense of an aspect of their game that makes them elite, heavy hockey.

The Capitals forecheck has been MIA for weeks and the lack of hitting from a big hockey club has been evident. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that heading into this contest I had enough of the soft and uninspired play. Unfortunately, for 40 minutes on Monday, that trend continued.

After the second period, in which the Capitals trailed, 2-1, former Capital and stellar Comcast analyst Alan May summed up the Caps last 20 minutes of play, one in which they were outshot, 16-7, in a perfect seven words: “out hustled, out muscled, and out shot.”

You could take that statement and apply it to many of the periods the Caps have played since Oshie went down (and there were duds, at times, before #77 was hurt, too). They were downright awful and so far away from what had made them successful that they were getting manhandled by a cellar dweller team that was missing three NHL caliber defensemen.

Luckily for Washington, they have an all world goalie in Braden Holtby (31 saves), who once again, much like last Saturday in Tampa, kept the Caps in it until they could get their “you know what” together.

Apparently Coach Trotz finally reached a boiling point, as well, and according to Comcast Caps reporter Jill Sorenson he lit into the team after that second frame. It was well deserved because this club was playing as soft as butter.

The coach also tinkered with his lines and also shuffled up his defensive pairings, something I have been calling on for several weeks. John Carlson was reunited with Karl Alzner and Dmitry Orlov was paired with Matt Niskanen. Suddenly there was some stability on the back end now that you had an offensive minded defensemen paired with a solid defender in his own end on each of the top two pairs.

The fixes on the back end certainly helped support the forwards, who began playing with passion and were finally taking the body. Washington was relentless from the 13:00 mark of the third period on and it was because they were skating, hitting, and forcing turnovers. Even Kuznetsov, who has been shying away from physical play quite a bit, put a strong hit on Justin Falk to help force a neutral zone turnover and keep the pressure on Buffalo near the midpoint of the period.

Naturally, the results started coming once they played the way that fits them best. Fortunately, though, the opponents were a depleted Sabres lineup and they were able to get away with a 40 minute absence. That type of effort, though, won’t cut it against the better teams in the league.

Look, you absolutely cannot play “balls to the wall” hard every night in an 82 game season that’s followed by up to two months of playoffs, but you can’t keep taking nights off in a very balanced league. Washington had gotten too lackluster with their performances and heading into Monday found themselves in fifth place in points in the Metropolitan Division. Sure, they have games in hand on many of the teams above them, but given the trend of not showing up and being committed, things were getting dicey. For 40 minutes on Monday, there was little sign that Washington was going to break out of their funk.

Luckily they did, so it is okay to be pleased with the way the Capitals played in the third period and overtime. It’s good to know, like we saw when they blew the doors off of the Penguins, 7-1, a few weeks ago, that they can amp their game up. However, there are still guys on this roster who are struggling, and to get out of it they’ll have to be more committed to the physical aspects of the game and win more of the one on one puck battles. If they do that more consistently, the wins and points will come in bunches.

Notes: Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 26:27…Johansson logged 20:00 and scored on his only two shots, the first of which was a power play deflection of a Carlson blast that was on net (#74 been struggling to do that for several games)…Alex Ovechkin played 21:57 and only had one shot on net. He hasn’t played well since the hat trick game against the Blues. Right before the Sabres made it 2-1, he was at fault on what would’ve been Buffalo’s 2nd goal when he failed to take a proper pass from Brooks Orpik on the boards. Luckily the Caps correctly challenged and won it since the Sabres were offside on their zone entry…Beagle led the Caps with six shots on goal in 17:24 of ice time, including 36 seconds on the 2nd power play unit…Wilson didn’t have a shot on net, but he made a great play on the PK late in the game when it was tied. #43 has been really good at killing penalties, but the Caps need him to be more physically involved at even strength…Brett Connolly was scratched, which was surprising to me given that he played great against Buffalo in the Caps last win before Monday and he had been getting lots of chances, plus he is a good physical fore checker…next up for the Caps are the Bruins at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night at 8 pm (NBC Rivalry Night).

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Despite losing two players to injury, the Caps go "Next Man Up" to defeat Buffalo, 5-2

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Ovechkin, Kuznetsov Carry Banged Up Caps to their 9th Straight Victory

Posted on 31 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Injuries are a part of sports, there is no denying that, but it’s how a team reacts to them that’s important.

So with the Washington Capitals trailing, 2-1, after 40 minutes on Wednesday night to the Buffalo Sabres at the Verizon Center, and with both Nicklas Backstrom (upper body) and Jay Beagle (upper body injury that will require surgery) having to leave the game, Coach Barry Trotz needed his big guns to step up.

They did just that as Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists), reunited with Alex Ovechkin (two goals) and T.J. Oshie (one assist) to reform the TKO line, caught fire to lead the Capitals to a four goal final frame and a 5-2 victory, their ninth straight win. Kuznetsov, the game’s number one star, put on a clinic on the ice on how to shred a defense with dazzling moves and superior puck management. The young Russian made a super pass to the Gr8 just 1:24 into the 3rd period to tie the game up. Then, after the Caps lost the initial draw on a power play, Oshie outworked two Sabres in the left wing corner to get the puck to Kuzya. After trading passes with Matt Niskanen (1 assist in 25:40 of ice time), #92 fed Marcus Johansson in front for the game winner with 11:28 remaining.

Johansson (1 goal, 1 assist) was another of the players who really stepped up in the third period moving to the center position after having played wing for most of the last several seasons. Jojo, with Backstrom out for the third period, logged a season high 20:11. Andre Burakovsky took advantage of his opportunity, as well, and had a huge goal just 84 seconds following the Johansson tally. After a successful Brooks Laich offensive zone forecheck, Johansson was able to grab the puck and feed #65 in the slot for Andre’s third goal of the season and his first since October 23rd. Ovechkin would add an empty net goal, his 20th of the season, with 1:13 remaining to close this one out.

It was a very strong final 20 minutes and Coach Barry Trotz commented afterwards that the whole team really did step up. The Coach called it “Next Man Up” and the resilient Capitals out shot attempted the Sabres, 28-20, in that period to take full control of the hockey game.

“We got it from our top people, and I thought we got it from everybody. Our lines are all messed up, obviously, with a couple guys out, especially in the middle, and I thought Jojo [Marcus Johansson] stepped in and played center. I thought Ovi [Alex Ovechkin] and the big line really stepped up. I thought our defense core as a whole really got resilient. A guy like Zach Sill came in and did a really good job. I just thought everybody said, “hey, let’s find a way to win, it doesn’t bother us, just go.” It’s an opportunity for guys to step up and they did,” added the man whose team now leads the NHL with a 28-6-2 record (58 points).

Overall, this was a strong game for Washington, save for some sloppy sequences where they over passed the puck in the middle frame, which led to some Sabres quality scoring chances. Even with multiple turnovers and the occasional extra pass, the Capitals dominated with 43 shots on goal and 76 shot attempts to just 27 and 55, respectively, for Buffalo.

“It’s a fine line, you don’t want to discourage skill, guys are making those plays where sometimes you’re looking for a better shot and when it works a lot of times they’re the ones that go in because the goalie has to move from side to side. So I understand the reasoning behind it, but you’re kind of flirting with danger there when you’re making those cross ice passes and when there’s extra guys jumping in the rush you open yourself up to odd man rushes the other way, as well. You don’t want to discourage it, but I think just recognize how the game is going and be smart about it when you try those plays,” said Niskanen on the Caps skill and their tendency, at times, to pass up shots for another pass.

Coach Trotz, when talking about the over passing, stated that he’d like to see more shots, as well, even though he pointed out they did have 43 of them on Wednesday, but he doesn’t want to stifle the creativity and high end skill that many of his players possess. To him, the key is “game management” and knowing the situation you are in, much like what Niskanen stated.

With John Carlson out of the lineup for the second straight contest, and Trotz stated afterward that #74 will not travel to Carolina and Columbus for the next two games, the defense was forced to step up, too. Niskanen was outstanding leading the club in time on ice while Nate Schmidt (23:23), Dmitry Orlov (21:53), and Karl Alzner (20:24) all logged significant minutes. Taylor Chorney played 13:12 and Connor Carrick (-2), who only logged one third period shift before Ovechkin’s empty net goal, chipped in with 11:04.

Braden Holtby won his league leading 24th game of the season and is now a staggering 16-0-1 in his last 18 tilts with two shutouts, a 1.76 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage. #70 was at his best in the second period, and he also received some good fortune on two pucks that hit iron, making several big stops. In the final period he didn’t have to do too much as Washington dominated play and didn’t allow many quality scoring chances.

So now it is on to Carolina for a game in Raleigh at 6 pm on New Year’s Eve. The speedy, well skating Hurricanes will once again be rested against a Capitals team that will have played the night before. Last time this sequence occurred, Philipp Grubauer stole a win for Washington. Given that the Caps play in Columbus on Saturday, you can expect #31 to be in the cage again versus the Hurricanes. He also might have to steal another win given the list of Capitals now in the infirmary. Backstrom will travel to Carolina and hopefully can play, as well as Michael Latta. But you can expect a forward and defensemen call up from Hershey as a precaution for Thursday’s game.

It’s once again “Next Man Up,” especially if the Capitals want to extend their winning streak to 10 games.

Notes: Justin Williams had the Caps first goal into a vacant net after a furious forecheck in which he and Kuznetsov forced goalie Chad Johnson (38 saves) to turn the puck over…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 33-30, which is no surprise with their 1st, 3rd, and 4th line centers out for the third period and more…Sill, recalled from Hershey on Wednesday, was only 3-9 from the dot in 10:08 of ice time…Ovechkin had 10 shots on goal and 15 shot attempts…notorious Cap killer Evander Kane had six shots on net and 10 shot attempts total for Buffalo…rookie Jack Eichel had 13 shot attempts (six on goal) and two assists to earn the game’s third star.

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Alex Ovechkin scores his 18th goal of the season and Braden Holtby shuts out the Sabres in the Caps 8th straight victory.

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Holtby, Ovechkin Lead Caps over Chippy Sabres, 2-0.

Posted on 29 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Buffalo Sabres thought they could play heavy hockey with the Washington Capitals on Monday night in the first meeting of the season between these two clubs.

Boy, were they wrong.

The Caps received an early second period goal from Alex Ovechkin and then Jay Beagle scored with just over seven minutes remaining in period two to notch the only two tallies in a physical, and at times, dirty effort on the part of Buffalo, in a Washington 2-0 victory.

This was a game in which there was the potential for a Capitals letdown. The Sabres are a mediocre team and the Caps are arguably the best squad in the NHL. Washington not only can beat you with skill, but they also have size and will punish you physically. If there is a style that doesn’t fit the Capitals, it is usually a high speed, end to end type of contest. On this night, for some reason Buffalo thought they could intimidate Washington. That wasn’t going to happen.

The Sabres, who seemed to get more and more frustrated with their inability to score on Braden Holtby (31 saves) as the game went on, routinely sent players into the crease area in an attempt to disrupt the Holtbeast (and possibly injure him). Yet somehow none of the sequences where the Sabres crashed into Holtby, to include Tyler Ennis late in period three and Johan Larson in period two, were whistled for goaltender interference penalties? Bylsma and company were basically playing cheap hockey to try and stay in the contest.

Speaking of cheap, Nicolas Deslauriers, who had only three goals and four assists heading into Monday’s tilt in 34 games, roughed Justin Williams in the face in the neutral zone in period two and then clipped #14 with his stick as Williams fell to the ice after the clear roughing infraction. Justin was bleeding heavily and had to go to the locker room for repairs. That was six penalty minutes that could have easily been called, but referee Dave Lewis, who was looking directly at the play, called nothing!

Michael Latta would rightly stick up for Williams and take on a bigger Deslaueries a few shifts later. The Sabre won the fight in a decision, but judging by his circus type reaction, you’d have thought he knocked out Muhammad Ali. What a clown and between the cheap hit on Williams and the fight, that rough stuff seemed to really galvanize the Capitals.

As a result, Washington picked up their intensity and threw the body around themselves, cleanly and effectively, rattling a young Buffalo squad.

The good news is despite the cheap stuff and the lack of Sabres penalties the Caps were easily able to defeat both the zebras and the dirty Sabres on this night. Buffalo rarely had quality scoring chances while the Caps had some grade A opportunities that they just couldn’t bury either shooting wide or due to pucks bouncing over their sticks. In addition, they tended to over pass themselves out of potential shot attempts on several occasions. That’s a recent trend that needs to be corrected.

But after the rough stuff really was initiated by Buffalo in period two, I knew the Caps would not back down nor be intimidated and intensity would not be an issue the rest of the way. I was right, this team sticks together, and the Capitals pretty much gave the Sabres nothing over the last 25+ minutes to win once again.

Buffalo’s best chance came with 1:01 left and the goalie pulled when Evander Kane appeared to have an easy back side goal with a seemingly open net only to see the Holtbeast snag the shot out of the air with his glove. It was vintage Holtby, who won his NHL leading 23rd game and completed his 2nd shutout of the season.

Washington’s winning streak now stands at eight games and they improved to 27-6-2 (56 points). The Capitals have a dozen point lead over the Rangers in the Metropolitan Division, with two games in hand. They were able to win on Monday in Buffalo without John Carlson, their #1 defensemen, who was unable to play due to a lower body injury.

Perhaps Bylsma felt that his club could play physical with Carlson and Brooks Oprik out and young Connor Carrick in the lineup? If so, he forgot that the Caps have their own forwards that can pound the opposition to include Ovechkin and Tom Wilson. Again, bad strategy by the Sabres.

Simply put, when it was all over and done, it was Barry Trotz’ men left standing vs. Disco Dan Bylsma’s boys when it came to who was the best at heavy hockey in this affair.

Now the two teams will get it on again on Wednesday at the Verizon Center. Coach Trotz will have last change and you can bet that Washington will be motivated to defeat the Sabres once again given the chippy nature at which Buffalo played on Monday.

Notes: Wilson had an assist on Beagle’s goal, his third in two games. #43 retrieved a loose puck in the offensive zone and fired it at the cage. It struck a Sabre defender en route and ricocheted off of the back boards right to #83, who deposited it into the empty cage behind Linus Ullmark (24 saves)…the Caps first goal by Ovechkin came after a furious forecheck from the Gr8 and his linemates, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. Both #19 and #77 earned an assist on the goal…Lewis and the other official, Chris Rooney (aka, Rooney Tunes), were clearly not watching the same contest I was viewing and at the end of the night, the power plays were three to one for the Sabres; that’s pathetic…officially, shot attempts were 56-50 for Buffalo, but the Caps had 9 giveaways and Buffalo had 9 takeaways…Latta didn’t return after his fight due to injury (upper body, but not the head, per @VogsCaps)… Carrick played less than 10 minutes while Matt Niskanen logged a game high 27:25. Karl Alzner played 26:23, Nate Schmidt 23:07, and Dmitry Orlov had 19:45. Taylor Chorney’s ice time was just 12:14.

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Jay Beagle's line shines once again in a Capitals 3-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens

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Caps Third Line Propels Team to its 7th Straight Victory

Posted on 26 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river. – Creedence Clearwater Revival

Proud Mary is probably a good song to be playing these days if you are a Washington Capitals fan, especially after the Caps won again on Saturday night, defeating the Montreal Canadiens, 3-1, for their seventh straight victory.

Fresh off of a four day break, three of which were mandated for the NHL Christmas shutdown, the Caps came out and played a solid game at home against a team that is very quick and adept at causing defensive zone turnovers.

Washington would have its issues, at times, with the Habs speedy forwards, but on the whole, they dominated this game in the scoring chances department, and if not for some overpassing and good goaltending from Mike Condon (30 saves), the Caps win this tilt by a larger margin. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jay Beagle (GWG), and Jason Chimera tallied for the home squad, who are now 17-0-0 when scoring three or more goals this season.

On the other end of the ice, yes there were turnovers, but not a whole lot of quality shots for the Canadiens. That allowed Braden Holtby (29 saves) to get his league leading 22nd victory and lower his goals against average while raising his save percentage. It was another solid game for the Holtbeast, but on this night, he didn’t have to be the star because the Caps played pretty well.

The Beagle, Chimera, and Tom Wilson line had another superb effort and Willy picked up two helpers, and both were of the primary variety. When your third line scores two goals, there is a darned good chance you are winning the contest and Washington is still undefeated in regulation when #83 tallies. Wilson continues to improve and was super on the penalty kill, Montreal went 0 for 2, and he also earned a decision over Jared Tinordi in the first period. It was a properly timed fight by Wilson given that the Canadiens had three or four consecutive good shifts and Tinordi also cheaply cross checked him. After that bout the Caps seized the momentum right back in the hockey game.

Beagle’s game winner was a thing of beauty as the three forwards all did the proper things on the goal sequence. Chimera charged the net after getting the puck out to Wilson, and big #43 made a sweet pass back to Beagle, who used the Habs player as a screen to laser one over Condon’s shoulder. Plain and simple, it was a sweet goal.

Montreal would tally back 24 seconds later in the middle frame on a bad giveaway and poor coverage sequence by Washington’s second line, which was arguably the Caps worst shift of the game.

But with the Capitals nursing a 2-1 lead in the final frame, Nate Schmidt made a good pass to Willy in the neutral zone and he properly banked it off of the boards to a streaking Chimera. From there #25 turned on the jets to fly in and beat Condon top shelf, glove side. Caps play by play announcer, Joe Beninati, could not have called that one any better with the “Speed Kills” line. That goal came with 8:45 left and the Capitals salted this game away from there. The only scary moment came in the last five minutes when Matt Niskanen fired a point blank shot off of the right wrist of Alex Ovechkin. The Gr8 was in pain, but he did come back to play another shift after that. The captain, who clearly eats rocks for breakfast, also had a big shot block in the dying seconds of period two. That type of lay out and sacrifice your body for your squad sequence received lots of immediate praise from his teammates.

Overall, this was another nice win and the Caps have won eight straight in the friendly confines of the Verizon Center. Beagle noted that the crowd was loud and they helped Washington. There’s no doubt about that and the team is now 26-6-2 (54 points) to remain atop the Eastern Conference standings.

This team is really good and continues to find different ways to win games. The Caps continue to be on a roll, going 16-2-2 over their last 20 games, so I say cue the CCR.

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river.

Notes: Schmidt had two assists in 20:15 of ice time…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 26:17…shots on goal were 33-30 for the Washington, but shot attempts were 61-52 for Montreal. The Caps passed up a lot of shot opportunities and that resulted in offensive zone turnovers…the Habs won the faceoff battle, 33-25, but Nicklas Backstrom went 11-8…the Caps now play a home and home series with the Buffalo Sabres on Monday and Wednesday. On Monday, they are at the First Niagara Center. Sabres rookie forward and second overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft, Jack Eichel, had two goals and two assists in a 6-3 victory over the Boston Bruins on Saturday night. Ryan O’Reilly had three points and notorious Caps killer, Evander Kane, had a goal. This will be a tough two games with a young and improving Buffalo team…the Caps wore their third jerseys for the second time (2-0) and to quote the great Billy Crystal, “They looked Maaaaahvelous!”

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Caps Lose Late 2 Goal Lead & Fall to Flyers in OT

Posted on 31 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

After heroics in Buffalo on Saturday night garnered them two huge points, the Washington Capitals turned right around on Sunday night and blew a late two goal lead to the Flyers and ended up losing in overtime, 5-4, in Philadelphia.

It was a gut wrenching defeat given that the tying tally came with 10 seconds left after the Caps were called for an iffy icing call. Nonetheless, Washington failed to win a late defensive zone draw and Philadelphia’s Kimmo Timonen bombed one in through traffic before Ruslan Fedotenko won it in overtime on a Caps defensive breakdown.

Defensive breakdown. Those are two big words for this Capitals team and it has been something that has plagued them all season long. No matter how good things are going or if they have the momentum, they somehow seem to find a way to make a mistake in their own end that allows the puck to eventually end up in the back of their own net. It is a maddening event that continues to occur with this 2013 Caps club.

You can call it bad luck, but I label it lack of attention to detail. This Caps team did a good job of learning to play in their own side of the rink last season under coach Dale Hunter, but somewhere along the way in their quest for more offense under Coach Adam Oates they’ve lost that ability this season. Maybe it’s the departures of a solid two way player in Alex Semin and Dennis Wideman on the back end, but whatever the case, this team seems to have forgotten how to cover their opponents inside their own blue line? And doing that leads to bad results in hockey, for the most part, thus the 16-17-2 record Washington now posseses with just 13 games remaining.

What is even more discouraging is that this poor defensive zone play isn’t coming against the better clubs in the league. In their last four games the Caps have no regulation wins against Eastern Conference squads that are in the bottom eight of the conference in the Rangers, the Islanders, the Sabres, and Philadelphia. This at a time when Washington is trying to put together a late surge to make it into the post season.

It is frustrating because at times this Capitals team really looks good, poised to click and go on a run. After a clean hit by Steve Oleksy on Claude Giroux resulted in the Flyers Jakub Voracek acting like an idiot and jumping #61, the Caps received a four minute power play early in period three. Despite struggling on their first four power plays of the game, including a nearly full two minute five on three, the Caps finally made Philadelphia pay for its thuggery and buffoonery by scoring two times (Marcus Johansson and Alex Ovechkin) to take what appeared to be a commanding 4-2 lead. Even though there were still 13 minutes left, it should have been game over.

But Washington couldn’t close, they failed on another power play attempt and then Troy Brouwer took a bad penalty. Giroux scored on the power play and the Caps were on their heels most of the last seven minutes before the dam finally gave way.

It was a crushing loss on a night they should have had two points, yet they pick up only one.

What makes it even worse is it came against the hated Flyers, and that does not make Capitals fans feel good at all.

Notes: Washington’s last game before Wednesday’s trade deadline is Tuesday in Carolina. The Caps need to win that game if they want to win the division and make the playoffs…Defensemen Jeff Schultz played for the second straight game while Dmitry Orlov curiously sat in back to back tilts…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 32-25 with Jay Beagle going 6-0. Unfortunately due to the apparently erroneous icing call, Oates couldn’t put Beagle on for the critical late draw that the Caps lost just before the tying tally…Ovechkin now has points in eight straight games and he has 18 goals in 35 games, putting him at a 40+ goal pace in a normal season…the Capitals were 2 for 7 on the power play while the Flyers went 1 for 4.

 

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Caps & Ovechkin Stayin’ Alive After Shootout Win

Posted on 30 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It was 3-1 Sabres going into the third period and the Washington Capitals season was basically on the line.

Sure they were carrying much of the play after a horrid first 20 minutes, but the way Jhonas Enroth (35 saves) was going it wasn’t looking good for the Caps

Even after Troy Brouwer scored on a shorthanded goal set up by Braden Holtby (yes, you read that correctly), the Caps were down a puck and had to pull their goalie in the last minute to try and tie the game. Fortunately Mike Green lasered one in with 40 seconds remaining and then Matt Hendricks and Alexander Ovechkin scored on the first two Caps shootout tries while the two Buffalo shooters failed to tally to give Washington a huge 4-3 comeback victory.

It was two points the Caps had to have and they found a way to get it against a bad Buffalo squad.

The win pulls Washington to within five points of Southeast Division leading Winnipeg (and the Caps have 2 games in hand) and they are now just two points in back of the 8th place New York Rangers, who continue to lose under dictator John Tortorella despite having a very talented roster.

With the trade deadline fast approaching on Wednesday, the Capitals players had a big chance to show their general manager that they still have a club that can make the post season with the three games in four nights that started on Saturday in Buffalo. A loss to one of the weaker clubs, the Sabres, would surely signal that George McPhee should get on the phone and start selling. Well, this win keeps the “add players to improve the team” option open to McPhee and they have a chance to increase the probability of that option on Sunday night when they take on the Flyers in Philadelphia at 6 pm.

There were lots of good things in this victory. Ovechkin was all over the ice and his stat line for the contest reads:

1 goal, 1 shootout goal, +1, 17 shots attempted (10 on goal), 3 hits, and two takeaways in 25:57 of ice time

It is pretty obvious that the Gr8, who notched his 17th tally of the season, is trying as hard as possible to carry his club out of its huge standings hole and into the post season. He has been playing extremely well since being reunited with Nicklas Backstrom a couple of weeks ago.

Holtby (20 saves and an assist) probably should have had the first tally by Christian Ehrhoff but the other two, by Ville Leino, were layups as Washington played poorly in their own end for stretches in the first two periods. #70 made some big stops to give his club a chance to come back and tie it and then he did his job, along with the post, in the shootout.

Overall, the effort was really there after a slow start, which might have been due to four days off. It was clear which club wanted it more at the end and as a result, the Capitals found a way to win.

The poor play in their own end, especially to start the game, must stop immediately. This is two straight games that the opponents are getting the lead goal because the Capitals are sleep walking in their zone. Remember what happened the last time the Caps went to Philadelphia? The Flyers scored on the very first shift and Washington had no chance and were smoked. A good start to correcting the defensive zone would be to sit Jeff Schultz and put Dmitry Orlov back in. #55 did not look good at all in his 11 plus minutes of action, which appeared to me to be a showcasing scenario. Washington needs to be prepared for the physical play they’ll get from the Flyers forwards.

So the Caps improve to 16-17-1 and will try for the third time this season to reach the .500 mark. The last two times they had bad starts and lost to the Islanders. Will things be different in the City of Brotherly Love on Sunday?

If the Caps players want to stay together and not be sold off at the deadline, they better find a way to get it done on Sunday.

But for Saturday night and into early Sunday morning the Capitals are still in the race. They were on the ropes but found a way to get it done in Buffalo.

So go ahead and crank up the Bee Gees after this one, because as sure as Barry Gibb and his brothers sang it back in the 1970’s, the Caps are living that theme tonight after a huge comeback against the Sabres.

“Feel the City Breakin’ and Everybody Shakin’ and we’re stayin’ Alive, stayin’ Alive”

Notes: The attempted shots were 66 to 41 in favor of Washington…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 32-29, which included a big win by Brouwer right before Green tied the game…Wojtek Wolski suited up and played only 8:23. The injury to Eric Fehr is hurting the lineup as #16 was playing well this season…Down a level, Philip Grubauer stopped 37 shots as Hershey rallied to defeat Providence, 3-2 on Satruday night. The Bears improve to 32-26-3-6 (73 points) and remain in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with nine games left in the regular season.

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Caps Follow Ovechkin’s Lead to Victory

Posted on 18 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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