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Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, and Holtby Lead Caps Over Montreal, 4-1

Posted on 09 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

“I said, Train kept a rolling, all night long, Train kept a rolling, all night long…”

Alex Ovechkin had a goal and two assists, Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the game winner just 54 seconds after Montreal tied the game up, then set up Brent Connolly’s 5th tally of the season to make it a two goal cushion, and Braden Holtby made 22 saves as the Washington Capitals played arguably their best road game of the campaign to knock off the Habs, 4-1, at the Bell Centre.

For the Gr8, he now stands at 999 career points and he has a date with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins on Wednesday night in an attempt at hitting four digits.

Before that big tilt takes place, however, the Caps can enjoy their flight home from Quebec after taking two games in the Great White North, a 1-0 win over Ottawa on Saturday in which the Holtbeast stole the show, and then Monday night’s dominating victory over a bit depleted Canadiens squad. These two triumphs increase the Capitals current winning streak to six games and they are now 26-9-5 (57 points) overall.

The Habs were without key players Brendan Gallagher, Andrei Markov, Andrew Shaw, and David Desharnais, but Washington was missing its top right winner, T.J. Oshie, who was injured thanks to one clean and one non-clean hit from Dion Phaneuf on Saturday in Canada’s capital city. Oshie did skate on Monday morning, so there’s a chance he could return for the Pens game on Rivalry night on NBC this Wednesday at 8 pm.

The Capitals were skating well in this contest against a speedy Montreal club that makes it very hard to get to the front of the net to disrupt all world goalie, Carey Price. Early on it was a chess match with both teams having good chances, but the Caps got on the board first when Karl Alzner made a strong pinch in the left wing corner and with the Gr8 covering the point, the puck went back to Ovi. Alex fired a hard, low shot on net and with Connolly screening in the high slot, Price (35 saves) could not control the rebound and all star Nicklas Backstrom backhanded the puck home at 11:03 of period one.

This game would then go back and forth for the next 35 plus minutes with Washington having the edge in quality scoring chances. The Caps, however, got into penalty trouble in the final frame and after Lars Eller took a bad neutral zone infraction trying to impede a Montreal rush, Tomas Plekanec scored with just one tick left on the man advantage via a goal mouth scramble. Holtby was contacted slightly by Paul Byron, but even more so by Brooks Orpik, who knocked over the Holtbeast while trying to clear out Byron. Coach Barry Trotz challenged for goalie interference, but the goal stood.

At that point the Bell Centre was hopping and a Caps team that had carried most of the play to that point, was at a critical juncture.

Enter Kuznetsov, who received a pass from Ovechkin in the neutral zone, worked his way strongly around Max Pacioretty to gain the offensive zone, then undressed Jeff Petry with a sweet outside in move, and finally chipped the puck by a stunned Price to give the Capitals a massive answer on the scoreboard after the Habs seemed to have all of the momentum. That goal, with 11:48 remaining, was like a shot of adrenaline to Washington and on Kuzy’s next shift, he took advantage of a Price miscue with the puck by his own net and fed Connolly in the slot to make it 3-1 with nine minutes remaining.

Washington’s penalty kill would thwart the fourth Montreal power play of the night and then #92 drew a hooking infraction on his fellow Russian countryman, Alexander Radulov, with 3:56 to go. At that point the only thing that could get the Habs some life would be a shorthanded tally, but there would be none of that.

Coach Trotz went for the dagger putting out the regular number one power play unit and Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) fed Ovi at the top of the left circle and the Gr8 rifled it by Price just 32 seconds into the man advantage. Game over.

Wow, this was some hockey game and it is easy to see why Price and Holtby were two of the three goalies for Team Canada this past fall in the World Cup of Hockey. Holtby, who on Monday was named the NHL’s third star of the week, was outstanding once again. In his last three games he’s allowed just one goal on 82 shots! The Holtbeast is now 7-0-1 lifetime at the hallowed Bell Centre (h/t to Caps beat writer, Mike Vogel).

For the night, the Caps outshot Montreal, 39-23, and deserved this victory. They did a better job of getting bodies in front of Price, unlike the 2-1 loss they suffered to the Habs at the Verizon Center on December 17th where Coach Michel Therien’s club sealed off the front of the net extremely well.

The Caps are now 5-0 in January and Kuznetsov looks like the player who made the NHL All Star team last season. He is moving more into the tougher areas of the ice and Petry was likely fooled so badly because he thought #92 was going to do his usual peel to the wing and look for a pass play. Instead, Evgeny went hard to the net and he’s been doing that, along with shooting the biscuit, more frequently during this winning streak. As a result, the points are piling up for him and the wins are too, for the Caps. This is the Kuznetsov the Capitals will need in the spring if they are going to win the Stanley Cup.

Now he just needs to keep the train rolling…

“I said, Train kept a rolling, all night long, Train kept a rolling, all night long…”

Notes: shot attempts were 68-62 for the Caps…Washington was 1 for 2 on the power play while the Habs went 1 for 4…Matt Niskanen led the Capitals in ice time with 23:06…Coach Trotz spreads his ice time around because of the deep Washington roster, although Liam O’Brien, who made his 2016-17 debut, only played 6:08…Tom Wilson, who was hurt blocking a shot on Saturday, played 10:22 and that allowed Coach Trotz to hold Paul Carey, who had been recalled earlier in the day from Hershey, out of the contest…the Caps lost the face off battle, 31-27…Alzner blocked six shots…Wilson and Connolly each had three hits doing a super job on the forecheck… Connolly took Oshie’s spot on the top line and he played very well…Nate Schmidt played just 13:59, but was outstanding at breaking the puck up the ice with speed on the back end, especially in the first period when the Capitals set the tone.

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Braden Holtby and the Caps End Columbus’ 16 Game Win Streak

Posted on 05 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The streak is over while another one continues…

Braden Holtby, aka The Holtbeast, stopped 29 shots and the Washington Capitals went to the net with authority for the fourth straight game to bury Columbus, 5-0, and end the Blue Jackets winning streak at 16 games while increasing the Caps victory run to four.

#70, who was pulled after 20 minutes against the Leafs on Tuesday, was dynamite in this one and several of his best saves came in the opening frame. About the only mistake he made was an early big rebound that he left in the slot which Brandon Saad shot wide. For the rest of the game, it was downhill for the Blue Jackets.

Nate Schmidt, who was scratched for two games, came to play and around the five minute mark his point shot found Jay Beagle parked all alone in front of Sergei Bobrovsky (18 saves). “Bob” made the first save, but Daniel Winnik made a great play to corral the rebound and put it behind the goaltender for a one goal Caps lead just 5:06 into this affair.

Just 20 seconds after that tally, Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) would take a terrible offensive zone penalty and the NHL’s best power play, at 28.3%, was looking to even things up. But the Caps penalty killing has been stellar this year and the only shot on net that CBus got was a 45 footer from Saad.

Washington then put the Blue Jackets down by two goals for the first time all season, according to Joe Beninati, as John Carlson scored off of his skate going to the net after both Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson made nice passes.

Despite the Capitals lead, Columbus carried the play and led in shots on goal, 11-6, after one period, but the Holtbeast was the big difference.

From there, the Capitals took over the game. Schmidt, who looked recharged after sitting out, received a great pass from Alex Ovechkin (1 assist) in the right wing circle a third of the way through period two. Two Blue Jackets went to the ice to block #88’s initial shot, they both missed, and then they went sliding by as the rebound went right back to Schmidt. Nate then fired it again as a third Columbus defender tried to block the shot and that player ended up deflecting it past Bobrovsky to make it 3-0. I’ve talked often about not leaving your feet on defense and Columbus, who thrives on blocking shots, did just that and it cost them.

At that point, you could see the Columbus energy start to diminish and Washington’s just getting stronger. It takes a ton of effort to maintain a long winning streak and with their hopes of tying the Pittsburgh Penguins NHL record dying, you could see the stress of it starting to zap the Blue Jackets.

The Caps third line then ended all doubt as Lars Eller and Brett Connolly put on a great forecheck/backcheck combination and that forced a Blue Jackets turnover. Carlson gathered up the errant pass just inside the offensive blue line and fed Andre Burakovsky in the slot, who snapped the biscuit by Bob at 16:27 of period two. At that point, the game was pretty much over.

Burakovksy backed up his “it will be fun to end the streak” talk from the AM skate with that goal and he and his linemates continue to look like the answer Coach Barry Trotz and GM Brian MacLellan have been trying to find with that third unit for several years.

The last nail in the coffin was then added by Justin Williams just 5:36 into the third period when Kuznetsov won a puck battle on the left wing boards and fed #14 in the left wing corner. Williams skated in on Bobrovsky, and roofed it to make it 5-0. That prompted Columbus coach John Tortorella to take out his #1 goalie and insert Curtis McElhinney.

The only question for the last 15 minutes was would the Holtbeast get a shutout? The zebras once again tried to help the Blue Jackets giving them a 76 second five on three with Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen in the sin bin. Washington, however, was fantastic on the kill with Holtby making three saves, including two in tight on Cam Atkinson. Tom Wilson, who had one of his best games of the season, then drew a tripping infraction on a two on one with Eller, who had just blocked a shot to spring it and any real scare was over with 5:30 remaining.

Columbus received one more power play, but the Holtbeast gobbled three shots up and he easily earned his number one star of the game award.

This was quite an effort from Washington and in arguably their two biggest games this season, home against the Penguins and on Thursday against the Blue Jackets, they have won by a combined 12-1. There is no doubt that this club, when focused and motivated, can play with any team in the NHL.

The bottom six forwards were outstanding in this affair and the Caps gap control was sensational all game. They throttled the Blue Jackets ability to generate quick scoring chances and after a rough first period, they dominated the boards and loose puck battles.

It was a huge victory to knock off the first place Blue Jackets, who had a very impressive 16 game run. Washington is now 24-9-5 (53 points) and is just five points behind Columbus, who have a game in hand.

For the Caps, this was an encouraging and dominating victory, especially from the second period until it was 5-0.

Everyone in hockey says that the NHL season really doesn’t begin until January.

So far in the first month of 2017 the Caps are 3-0.

Notes: Shots on goal were 29-27 for CBus and shot attempts were 51-50 for the Caps…Washington was a perfect 5 for 5 on the penalty kill, but were 0 for 4 with the man advantage…Carlson was the second star and Schmidt was the third star. Both were really good on the back end, as was Dmitry Orlov (22:42)…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:18…Williams now has 11 goals on the season, he’s on fire right now…Orpik and Schmidt were both +3…Kuznetsov had four shots on goal…Brandon Dubinsky was -4 for the Blue Jackets.

 

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Backstrom Saves the Day for the Caps in OT

Posted on 07 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

And then Nicklas Backstrom saved the day for the Capitals.

Nicky’s tally through the legs of Tuukka Rask 1:36 into overtime allowed to Caps to survive, 4-3, after they blew a three goal advantage.

Washington looked like gangbusters for the first 25 minutes building that 3-0 lead on the backs of two Justin Williams goals from the paint and then a sweet shot by Daniel Winnik on a two on one break after a superb feed from Jay Beagle. But with Matt Niskanen getting hurt on a dirty hit from Patrice Bergeron late in the first period and not returning, the Bruins took over the game physically and worked their way back into it. That hit by Bergeron only landed #37 in the sin bin for two minutes when it easily could’ve been called a major.

After Winnik’s marker, the Caps would then go 26 minutes and 27 seconds without a shot on goal. By then it was 3-3 with only 7:42 remaining in regulation.

Boston’s first goal was fluky. After Alex Ovechkin was picked off of the faceoff, the Bruins threw the puck on net. Brooks Orpik was pushing his man, Anton Blidh, away from the net while Holtby tried to clear the biscuit. Unfortunately he put it right on #81’s stick and he fired it off of the Holtbeast and Dmitry Orlov failed to tie up notorious Cap killer, Dominic Moore, and he deposited the puck into the open cage.

Then things got really hairy when Evgeny Kuznetsov, who set up the first two goals for Washington and played a super first period, made a terrible turnover at the offensive blue line with just over a minute left in the middle frame, and it led to a David Pastrnak breakaway. #88 beat Holtby through the five hole on the backhand and suddenly two goals in two minutes and 25 seconds late in period two made this a one puck hockey game.

With one of their top three defensemen out in Niskanen, the Caps were getting exposed badly. Boston simply amped up their game and physical play and the Capitals couldn’t match the push. That continued into the final frame and after an iffy penalty to Tom Wilson, Brad Marchand and Autin Czarnik set up Colin Miller in the slot and he lasered one by #70 late in the power play to even things up with 11:41 left.

About four minutes or so later, the Capitals finally started getting their legs going again and stabilized the ship, setting the stage for Backstrom’s OT heroics.

For the game, the Caps were outshot 34-20 and they allowed Boston to have too many easy outs from their own end. The forecheck and heavy hockey that earned them the 2-0 lead in the first frame disappeared. It was almost like the Capitals thought that they could just go back to the perimeter game and still win.

Luckily for them, they did, because they needed these two points. However, they cannot be happy about what happened after the first period. They once again forgot what makes them successful; winning one on one puck battles and using their size. The Caps typically handle the Bruins because the B’s employ a physical style that fits Washington’s lineup perfectly. But Coach Barry Trotz’s team quit playing and it was the Bruins who were doing the manhandling.

Holtby, who made 31 saves, was a big reason, once again, why this team was able to get a victory when they were outplayed badly for two periods.

And Backstrom delivered another key goal, like he did in Tampa last Saturday night when he got the Caps to overtime, but this time he potted the game winner.

So on Wednesday night, which was NBC Rivalry Night, we saw the good from the Caps in the first period, the bad in the second period and parts of the third, but thanks to Holtby and Backstrom, we didn’t have to deal with the ugly, which would’ve been a loss after a great start.

Notes: Rask has still never won a game at the Verizon Center…Williams doubled his goal output of the year just 7:57 into the contest. The first goal came at the 23 second mark. Kuznetsov assisted on both goals. Ovechkin assisted on the first one, and likely deserves a helper on the second, as well…Niskanen was +2 in only 6:44 and his short night due to injury showed how thin the Washington back end is when it loses either he, Karl Alzner, or John Carlson. I have to think GM Brian MacLellan will be trying hard to add a top 4 D before the trade deadline…the Caps only had seven shots total after they went up 3-0. They scored on the only shot in OT for either team…Marcus Johansson and Nate Schmidt both made nice plays to set up the winning goal and each earned an assist for their effort…T.J. Oshie returned to the lineup after missing seven games with an upper body injury (shoulder). He got banged up in the lower body area early, but he eats rocks for breakfast and stayed in the game. He only played 15:11, though…Carlson played 25:04 to lead the Caps in ice time and Alzner was close behind with 24:04…final shot attempts were 62-44 for Boston. It was ugly after Niskanen left the game…next up for the Caps are the Sabres in Buffalo on Friday. There is no practice on Thursday, so we won’t know about the status of #2 until Friday. He has an upper body injury.

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Caps Blanked At Home by the Islanders, 3-0

Posted on 02 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

There are bad losses and then there are really bad losses.

Thursday night’s Capitals 3-0 defeat to the New York Islanders falls into the latter category.

New York was playing their third game in four nights and arrived in the wee hours of Thursday morning, except for goalie Jarolsav Halak (38 saves), who was smartly sent in a day early since GM Garth Snow continues to carry three goalies.

So this should have been a game where the Caps could take advantage of a tired opponent and get two points, right?

Well, for 40 minutes, it looked like Washington was poised to do just that. The Caps carried much of the play through those first two periods and had four power play chances to just two for the Islanders. Coach Barry Trotz’ crew would build a 52-36 advantage in shot attempts, but the problem was that none of them got by Halak and into the cage.

Through 40 minutes, Justin Williams alone had six shots on goal and that didn’t count the one he came 1/10th of a second from scoring right as the first period horn sounded. #14 is playing some good hockey and getting more than his share of chances, but if you look up “snakebit” in the dictionary right now, you’ll see a picture of Mr. Crazy Hair.

During those first two frames New York did have several quality chances themselves, including a shorthanded breakaway by Casey Cizikas in the middle period after he blocked an Alex Ovechkin shot. However, Braden Holtby (25 saves) would stop #53 and that was just one of many the Holtbeast made to keep his club even.

As the final period began, the prevailing thought was that the Caps would use the rest to their advantage while the Islanders would wilt from fatigued wheels.

That was not the case.

Just over three minutes into the final stanza, Dmitry Orlov turned the puck over at the offensive blue line giving Shane Prince a breakaway and he was the first to solve Holtby on this night.

Okay, no biggie, right? Orlov made a mistake and his partner wasn’t able to cover for him either, but it’s only one goal and there’s still nearly 17 minutes left.

Move on from it and get it back.

That’s where the game and this defensive pair once again went off of the rails. Nearly three and half minutes later, John Carlson went behind his net to play a puck and he backhanded it to Orlov to the left of Holtby below the goal line. Both Islanders forwards were coming at Dmitry on an aggressive forecheck. At that point, #9 had two options, eat the puck and take a hit and wait for reinforcements, or even better, he could wheel the puck hard around the boards and give the Capitals an odd man rush situation with two opponents trapped in the offensive zone. Instead Orlov panicked and chose the third option, which even five year old mite players know not to do; he tried a blind, backhanded pass up the middle of the ice, which was quickly gathered up by the Islanders. Following another great initial save by Holtby, New York potted the rebound to go up 2-0.

That mental mistake was the dagger for Washington on this night and Jason Chimera then threw salt in the wound going right around Nate Schmidt after an Ovechkin neutral zone turnover to close out the scoring.

It was a swift and stunning three goals in less than five minutes for the Islanders and they were able to win their third straight tilt, all in four nights.

Wait a minute; aren’t you supposed to run out of gas on that third game in four nights, like the Capitals did in Toronto last Saturday? Well, someone forgot to tell New York that because they never let down and kept skating while Washington mentally wilted over the last 20 minutes.

It was red flag city for the Capitals, who are now 2-3 without T.J. Oshie in the lineup (speaking of which, let’s lock #77 up long term, okay?). The power play was a disaster giving up multiple shorthanded chances and for the night it went 0 for 6 in 12 minutes of time! That’s downright awful. There is not enough movement, shots aren’t coming frequently or quick enough, and the right point shot is not getting through and opening things up for the flanks. Bottom line, had the power play clicked earlier then we likely aren’t all over Orlov for this one.

But let’s be real on the Orlov-Carlson defensive pair and I’ve said this multiple times this season: it is not working. 22 games in and #74 has 0 goals. Both of these guys like to rush the puck up the ice and create offense. To do that properly, they need a defensive partner that will hang back a bit and cover for them. Carlson has had that for the last several years, first with Karl Alzner and then with Brooks Orpik. Orlov benefitted from playing with Orpik in the latter half of last season when #44 returned from injury.

Simply put, Coach Trotz needs to make some changes on the back end. The first thing he should do is sit #9 for a game to let him watch and get his head clear. Taylor Chorney, who played extremely well last Friday against Buffalo, deserves a sweater on Saturday in Tampa.

With the loss the Capitals fall to 13-7-2 and are now in fourth place in a very competitive Metropolitan Division. Things are not good in Caps land right now, they are getting strong goaltending, but they aren’t burying enough of their chances and they are also not working hard enough or smart enough to generate some gritty goals. In addition, defensive breakdowns and bad chemistry, primarily with the Orlov-Carlson pairing, are allowing too many easy opportunities for the opponents.

This was a really bad loss on Thursday. No two ways about it.

Notes: The Caps out shot attempted the Islanders 87-47…Washington won the faceoff battle, 29-28. Jay Beagle was 8-5…Orlov was benched after the second goal…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 26:41 and he had six shots on net, second only to Williams, who had seven…Ovechkin had 13 shot attempts in 24:47, but only four made it on net. The Gr8 took the Caps only two penalties…Jakub Vrana made his NHL debut for the Caps and logged 10:10. He had four shots on net and looked more comfortable as the game went on…Andre Burakovsky had 0 shots on net in 15:57 of ice time.

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Caps Rally To Defeat Florida, 4-2

Posted on 06 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

On Hockey Fights Cancer night at the Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals rallied from a 2-1 third period deficit to knock off the Florida Panthers, 4-2. Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, and Lars Eller all scored in a span of less than five minutes midway through the final frame after Reilly Smith went around Matt Niskanen on a power play to give the Cats the lead just 2:32 into period three.

The come from behind victory improves the Caps to 8-2-1 on the season.

This game really should not have been close since the Capitals really dominated Florida in terms of shot attempts (64-46) and scoring chances. Washington missed the net on several good looks and Roberto Luongo (32 saves) was sensational in the middle frame when the Caps out shot the Panthers, 18-4. Most notably, Luongo made a sick glove save on a rebound attempt on the doorstep from Nicklas Backstrom after an Ovechkin shot.

Coach Barry Trotz’ crew played a so-so first period, but trailed when Evgeny Kuznetsov didn’t tie up Jared McCann in front of the net just over five minutes into the game. McCann’s deflection got by Braden Holtby (22 saves) for his first tally of the season.

Washington would finally tie the game at 10:42 of the middle stanza when Ovechkin fed Oshie perfectly on a two on one break and #77 beat Bobby Lu with some nice top shelf cheese.

The turning point in the game came, however, with 13:19 left in regulation when the Holtbeast made a huge save on Shane Harper in the slot on a quality scoring chance. If Harper scores there, it’s a three to one tilt, but Braden showed why he’s one of the best goalies in the world and although he didn’t have a ton of work in this one, he made another clutch stop when his team needed it most.

From there, Ovi had his sensational deflection goal after he, Justin Williams, Backstrom, Nate Schmidt, and Brooks Orpik turned in a great hustle and cycle shift. Orpik and Williams both looked like they found the fountain of youth on that sequence and the Gr8 showed why he is the best goal scorer on the planet by finding space in front of Luongo, who was super hot up until that point.

Just over two minutes later, Michael Matheson, who was unable to tie up Ovechkin on his game tying tally, was totally out worked by Oshie at the offensive blue line. T.J. once again won another puck battle and taking this one gave him a clear path to the cage with speed from the right wing wall. Luongo probably wished he was cracking his usual stellar jokes on Twitter, at that point, as Oshie again skated in and beat him top shelf. All Verizon Center fans should’ve received a free container of JIF after that beauty of a play and shot.

The Caps were not done crashing the cage, however, and Eller’s goal to seal the deal came when John Carlson’s blast was deflected down by #20 and he beat Luongo easily once the biscuit hit the ice. Bobby Lu was probably wondering where his support was in that situation because Tom Wilson was also parked all alone a few feet from Eller.

So that’s three key goals on hard work and smart hockey, which entails getting pucks and bodies to the cage. Through 11 games we’ve seen quite a few tallies like that by Washington and doing so has them living up to the “Will Over Skill” tee-shirts they all received in training camp this September.

Many of the goals they’ve been getting recently are very playoff-esque in their nature. The Caps aren’t winning just via pretty passing plays and one timers and that’s encouraging.

On the back end, the Schmidt-Oprik pair was very good and both players had their legs going. Orpik was +1 in 15:42 and earned the game’s third star.

This was a solid home win by the Capitals, who have now won five straight games. Florida was missing notorious Cap-killer, Jonathan Huberdeau, as well Nick Bjugstad. In addition, former fire sale Capital Jaromir Jagr left the contest after only five shifts. Hmmm, aren’t there NFL games tomorrow? Perhaps the old man hadn’t gotten his wagers in yet for Sunday’s tilts and decided he needed to do so, pronto??!!

In any event, Washington had superior talent to Florida on Saturday night and by continuing to work hard, they wore out the Panthers, who ultimately badly wilted over the last 15 minutes.

Notes: This was the first time all season that the Caps have trailed after the first period…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 23:59. Ovechkin logged 19:28 as the Caps went 0 for 4 on the power play in 7:31 of time. They did have numerous good looks, though, the puck just wasn’t going in…Florida was 1 for 2 with the man advantage, so the Caps lost the special teams battle (-1), but still found a way to victory…Washington won the face-off battle, 37-30. Eller was 8-3…I thought that was the best game of the season for Williams, he was moving his feet and forcing turnovers…the Gr8 was +3…next up for the Capitals are the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night at 7 pm at the Verizon Center. The Sharks were 2-0 against Washington last season. It’s a good night to come out and see the Caps take on last season’s Western Conference champs, who still have “The Big Cheese,” Joel Ward, and avoid the stupid election coverage.

 

 

 

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Luck Not the Sole Reason for the Caps’ 2nd Round Exit

Posted on 13 May 2016 by Ed Frankovic

There have been 41 Washington Capitals seasons and zero Stanley Cup Championships.

Those are the facts, there is no denying them.

2015-16 was supposed to be different. It sure felt that way, from the general manager to the coaches to the players to the fans and even some in the media. Heck, I was front and center putting myself out there saying this team and this season would be different.

In many ways, it was, and we’ll touch on that later.

But in the end, as Justin Williams, John Carlson, and many other Capitals players proclaimed on breakdown day on May 12, 2016, the season was a “failure” following a devastating overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in game six that allowed the Pens to win a very closely contested series, four games to two.

Pittsburgh scored 16 goals and Washington tallied 15 times in the series. Each Penguins victory, two of which came in overtime, was achieved by a single goal. Both teams had stretches where they dominated the play, but ultimately it was the Penguins who prevailed.

Did the Capitals deserve a better fate from the Hockey Gods?

Maybe, I mean how often do you see a goal scored off of the back of a player? That happened in game three for Pittsburgh, a game in which the Caps carried the large majority of the play, but managed to lose. Numerous times in this series the Capitals had themselves in position to bury a puck at a key moment, and somehow it bounced over their players stick. Surely luck was not on their side, and as Matt Niskanen noted on breakdown day, you talk to guys around the league who have won championships and they’ll tell you need luck along the way to win.

There is truth to that, around these parts there is no denying that the two Super Bowls the Baltimore Ravens won included some luck. Al Del Greco hit the upright on a field goal right before halftime and then a blocked Del Greco field goal, in the fourth quarter, landed right in the hands of Anthony Mitchell and he then returned it for the game winning touchdown in 2000 against the Titans. Joe Flacco’s Hail Mary pass to Jacoby Jones in 2012 went over the head of a Broncos safety that mistimed his play on the ball for the tying touchdown to set up overtime and an eventual huge Ravens upset. All of those plays included luck, but the Ravens were also good enough to put themselves in position to get the breaks.

You certainly need some luck to win and the Capitals received some of that in series one when Jason Chimera’s innocent dump in deflection traveled 100 feet and through the wickets of Steve Mason into the cage in game two. The Caps took advantage and raced to a three to nothing series lead and eventually prevailed, four games to two over the Flyers.

In series two, Washington didn’t get the bounces and lost by a goal, but it wasn’t bad luck that did them in.

We’ll get that to what ultimately doomed them in a minute, but first, let’s put some perspective on where this team has come from over the last two years.

After a disastrous 2013-14 season, the Capitals were an absolute train wreck and a Stanley Cup seemed to be mostly an unobtainable goal in the near term. Following the conclusion of that season, I was full of piss and vinegar and rightfully called for the ultra-conservative and often panic stricken general manager to be let go, along with the divisive bench boss who seemed to insist on being the smartest guy in the room. I was furious that the blue line continually was not properly addressed by George McPhee for over 10 plus seasons. Fortunately, owner Ted Leonsis and team President Dick Patrick saw the same thing, when many in the national media were once again calling for the core of the team, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, to be shipped out instead.

Enter Coach Barry Trotz and promoted General Manager Brian MacLellan to commence a massive turnaround. They immediately went to work on two things the club desperately needed, a blue line fix and an identity as a team.

“Last year when I came here, that was the first thing we did, was fix the defense. We got two outstanding players in Brooks [Orpik] and Matt [Niskanen] and we started the process of building a culture and it started by fixing holes, by going out and getting the best people that we felt could do that and getting people who have won, then the next phase of that was to develop our own people,” said Caps coach Barry Trotz to Nestor Aparacio and I on February 29th, 2016 at a WNST radio event at Buffalo Wild Wings in Belair to continue the fight against leukemia and support the bone marrow registry.

Those moves laid the foundation for a very successful 2014-15 campaign that saw Washington return to the playoffs, defeat the New York Islanders in round one, and then lose in painful fashion, in overtime, in game seven against the New York Rangers. The Capitals only allowed 13 goals in seven games, but could only muster 12 goals themselves and lost twice in overtime in the final three contests.

It was an awful defeat, they lost a three games to one series lead, but everyone knew that the main problem was the Capitals didn’t have enough talent up front to score consistently. The loss was rough, but things were rapidly moving in the right direction after utter chaos just a year earlier. My end of the season blog focused on the need to improve the top six forwards and sure enough, MacLellan pulled it off dealing Troy Brouwer for T.J. Oshie and signing Justin Williams to a two year free agent deal. Unfortunately, adding those guys and the need to pay goalie Braden Holtby what he was rightfully worth, put the team up against the salary cap. With it not possible to move Brooks Laich’s boat anchor of a contract in the summer, the team was forced to part ways with grinding forward Joel Ward and defensemen Mike Green, both key players on the squad that fell just short against the Rags. They were tough personnel losses to a team that had become super close.

But Oshie and Williams fit in perfectly and the Ward and Green losses faded to the back of everyone’s mind as the Capitals stormed out of the gate and blew the league away in the regular season pretty much clinching the Presidents’ Trophy by Valentine’s Day. Holtby was legendary in the cage and he tied the NHL single season victory total for a goalie with 48 (tied with hall of famer, Martin Brodeur). It was so much fun and the team seemed to get tighter as a unit as the season moved on. This was surely setting up to be the year for a Cup parade, but quietly the Pittsburgh Penguins were addressing some serious issues they had themselves.

They fired their coach, Mike Johnston, and replaced him with former Rangers assistant Mike Sullivan. But more importantly, general manager Jimmy Rutherford made some great moves to transform his roster. In the summer, he traded high draft picks to Toronto to acquire scoring winger Phil Kessel and he dumped the slow and plodding Brandon Sutter for speedy Nick Bonino. After the season began, he also swapped David Perron for super-fast Cap killer Carl Hagelin. Suddenly he had a line that could skate like the wind, but he still had issues on the back end. Rob Scuderi was old and slower than molasses, but Rutherford somehow convinced Stan Bowman, who is considered an excellent GM, to deal mobile defensemen Trevor Daley for the past his prime Scuderi. It was a fleecing or highway robbery of a deal, whatever you want to call it. From there the Penguins were the best team in the league from January on and Washington knew they’d have their hands full with them, at some point. The Caps had become somewhat complacent given their huge standings lead while Pittsburgh pressed madly to move up the standings after wallowing out of playoff position for much of the first 40 games.

While the Penguins were making all of these moves, MacLellan not only added Oshie and Williams, but he brought in Mike Richards as a depth center. That move was excellent and if not for some of Richards outstanding penalty killing skills, the Flyers might have won game six, as well as game two. Richards ability to read back door passes and get his stick in lanes on defense and while shorthanded was very much needed. The Caps suddenly were not only super on the power play, but also on the penalty kill.

With the Richards move, the Caps only real question marks appeared to be on defense. The loss of Green was a blow, no doubt, you don’t replace a player of that caliber easily, and the Caps plan, partly due to limited salary cap room, was to go with rookies Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt on the back end as a third pairing. When Orpik was injured in early November with a cracked femur, suddenly those guys were forced to play more minutes than originally planned. They played well, too, perhaps clouding the judgement of the Capitals brass as the trade deadline approached. MacLellan did add Mike Weber as a depth defensemen and he somehow masterfully moved Laich out for an upgrade in forward Daniel Winnik. The move also freed up money on the current salary cap, but more importantly for 2016-17 when dollars would be needed to retain Marcus Johansson, who was having a career year, and others like Tom Wilson. Some wanted the Capitals to use that extra dough to acquire another defensemen given Oprik’s health issues and the lack of experience on the back end. Dan Hamhuis, among other experienced defensemen, were still out there reportedly to be had, but Washington passed.

After the trade deadline, at the WNST event with Coach Trotz on February 29th, I specifically asked him about the decision to go with the two players who had zero playoff experience on the back end.

“We talk about that, the blessing this year with Brooks being out for a long period of time, Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt were in the lineup for 50 some games. We already know what they can do and it’s been really beneficial for us. I think by adding Mike Weber we’re eight deep at the NHL level,” explained Trotz on the rationale of where the organization stood on their blue line.

It seemed like a viable plan at the time and Weber certainly seemed like the type of guy who could fill in for an Orpik or even a Karl Alzner if there was an injury. But Oprik came back healthy down the stretch and despite the fact that Carlson missed 12 games with a cracked ankle/foot in March, the Caps only played Weber in 10 of the 21 contests that occurred before the post season began. Basically, the Capitals decided to ride Orlov, Schmidt and Taylor Chorney instead of Weber. #6 was a seven year veteran with more playoff experience (seven games) than the other three combined, but he spent most of the time in the press box becoming rusty. As anyone in hockey will tell you, performing in the regular season is one thing, but doing that in the playoffs is another story, so the Capitals were really taking a risk on the Orlov-Schmidt-Chorney trio.

When Orpik was concussed and injured his neck in game three against the Flyers, I remarked to MacLellan after that tilt that “this was the reason you went out and got Weber.” The GM seemed to nod his head in agreement, yet somehow it wasn’t until a series clinching victory in game six that Weber finally got a sweater for the Caps? The coaching staff went with Chorney over a more physical Weber against a chippy and dirty team like the Flyers. Weber, to that point, had never received the repetitions he really needed to play at a top four level that would be required when Orpik went down.

That leads me to where this season broke down. Yes, the Penguins were the faster team, but you can deter speed by keeping it to the outside and wearing it out with proper execution. The Bonino line, with seven goals, was the difference in the series and while they were fast, several of those goals came from right in front of the net following turnovers. Oprik’s terrible hit on Olli Maatta that took #3 out of three games and #44 too, as a result of a suspension, turned the entire series around, as well.  The Caps were flat the rest of game two and lost home ice. In game three, Schmidt made a costly turnover and then was manhandled in front by the small Hagelin for the eventual game winning goal. He would not play in two of the final three games. Orlov was benched for a game and the Caps only won once with Chorney in the lineup (game five of the Pens series). Weber did get a jersey for game four and played decently, but the game winning goal went off of his stick to Patrick Hornqvist and he was banished to the press box once again.

When Alzner’s groin, that he initially injured in the Flyers series, finally popped in game six, the Caps had little left on the back end other than Carlson and a tiring Niskanen, who played all 82 games and every playoff game with King Karl, to that point. After #27’s injury, Orpik took another awful penalty, a careless double minor for high sticking on Hornqvist with the puck 50 feet away in period two, and the Caps great penalty killing unit was suddenly forced to play both Chorney and Orlov in succession. Two goals in 29 seconds was the result and that put the Caps in a deep hole, 3-0. It was a terrible penalty that Orpik could not afford to take, once again, and it was especially bad knowing that Alzner was done for the game. In short, as much as I like Orpik and what he can bring to the Capitals, he had a nightmare 2015-16 season with his injuries and bad penalties. Simply put, the Penguins were faster, but they also were able to get to the front of the Capitals net, and most of those occasions came when members of the bottom half of the Washington defense were on the ice.

Now the encouraging part of the story is that this is where this Capitals teamed proved to be different.  Instead of folding tent like the 2009 Caps did in game seven against Pittsburgh when they went down 3-0, they fought back and forced overtime in game six showing tremendous fortitude and resolve. They probably should have won too, but failed to capitalize on a late power play that they received. At that juncture they seemed a little too comfortable at that moment at just being tied up, something that occurred too frequently during this season and in the Flyers series, as well.

On to overtime we went and the Capitals, who rode the top six forwards and Carlson and Niskanen on the back end heavily, were out of gas. Niskanen was forced to play with guys he wasn’t used to being paired with and miscommunication happened on the game winning tally, which was another goal that once again came from the doorstep on a rebound.

In a nutshell, the Capitals lost on their lack of defensive depth, something they thought they had, but really didn’t.  They put too much stock in the abilities of Orlov and Schmidt based on their regular season success and they failed to take advantage and develop or possibly misevaluated what Weber could bring to the lineup. It was a waste of a third round draft pick the way it all played out. The Penguins found their way through the Washington back end too easily and Holtby couldn’t prevent all of those second chance tallies.

In addition, their season long tendency to sit back and not take control of games cost them dearly. They didn’t attack in game two and show that killer instinct to seize a critical contest and the series. That lack of killer instinct also allowed a Kris Letang-less Penguins team to steal game four. The Pens gained confidence to win in those first 30 minutes when the Capitals needed to step on their throats and not allow them to believe they could prevail without their best defensemen. It was a major opportunity lost.

Finally, the Capitals loss of Ward took away a player who routinely went to the front of the net in the postseason to get ugly goals. Washington didn’t have much of that against the Penguins outside of a couple of Williams tallies (but one was with the goalie pulled). The Caps need their bottom six forwards to chip in with more greasy goals.

So where does that lead us heading in to 2016-17?

Obviously the team is extremely disappointed that they let a major chance to win a championship slip by once again. The lack of true defensive depth, killer instinct, and inability to add in some rebound goals was what ultimately cost them the series against what should become in June, the 2015-16 Stanley Cup winning Penguins.

Some will call for panic and to try to blow things up, like the San Jose Sharks nearly did following a loss to the Kings in 2014 after owning a 3-0 series lead. Two springs later, the Sharks are in the hunt for the Cup and credit for that goes to hanging on to their core, the addition of Ward up front, and bringing in Paul Martin on defense.

Washington needs to find a Paul Martin type on the back end because running out the same seven guys again, particularly the four after Carlson, Niskanen, and Alzner, carries significant risk.

Johansson will be the top offseason priority to sign to a long term deal. He’s a key piece to this team and had a remarkable regular and post season. He was one of the guys going to the net against the Flyers and scoring tough goals. He also brings a major element of speed.

Wilson is next on the priority list as a restricted free agent. #43 made significant contributions this year on the penalty kill and defensively. In some games, such as game five against the Penguins, he was a difference maker by drawing penalties and keeping the opponent out of the offensive zone. Still, he needs to develop his offensive skills so that he could possibly fill that Ward type of role in front of the net. His improvement is a must and the coaches need to aid that by playing him more. If they prefer not to do that or think he can’t do that, then a move is needed.

Orlov is a restricted free agent, as well, and he and Schmidt are similar players, along with Chorney. The Caps management team needs to determine if that is indeed the way to go to win a Stanley Cup on the back end. My recommendation would be to move at least one of them and upgrade the blue line, especially since Oprik is adding another year and he has an injury history.

Ovechkin is about to head into his 12th season and the Capitals need to win soon (Steve Yzerman’s first Cup came in his 14th season). The Gr8 was superb in these playoffs and downright dominant in several games, such as game five against the Penguins. Oshie, Williams, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Alzner are all free agents after next season and will require more dollars. Carlson has two more years to go at the deal of the century, a contract just under $4M per season. He was the Capitals best player in the post season and will command $7M plus in 2018-19.

Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky are two young players that had super regular seasons, but as a result of playing all 82 games, didn’t have the legs they had in 2015-16 when they were playoff difference makers. They need to learn from that and be better prepared physically next spring. They need to add strength and learn to get some ugly goals in front.

I typically wait several days before writing this blog to let the emotions of the playoff defeat die down, but I don’t think that will be possible this season. This was one tough loss and a major opportunity gone by the wayside. Everyone will feel the pain all summer and I certainly don’t want to be sitting here next season beginning my 2016-17 final blog with a 0 and 42 statistic.

I know the Capitals don’t want me to be doing so either.

Everything the Caps do between now and next April 15th has to be about the playoffs and winning the Cup. The team is tight and the culture is strong, but they need to develop that killer instinct. In addition, the management needs to address the personnel short comings on defense and the coaching staff needs to be quicker to adjust when things aren’t working.

The last thing management needs to do is panic and make radical changes, this team is ultra close, but more is necessary to get over the hump.

So the time is now for the Capitals to start getting at next year and doing everything in their power to make sure no stone is left unturned and no holes are left exposed when injuries or uncomfortable situations present themselves in the spring of 2017 playoffs.

There were a lot of things to like from this team this year, but the ultimate prize was not captured and the season was a major disappointment, or a failure, as many players called it.

The clock is ticking.

They must end this awful postseason losing cycle once and for all.

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John Carlson has a memorable return from injury with an OT blast that gives the Holtbeast his 45th victory of the season

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Carlson Tallies the Game Winner as Holtbeast Blanks the Devils

Posted on 25 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

In his first game back after missing 12 contests, John Carlson showed why he is so valuable to this Washington Capitals team as he fired a laser just inside the far post past Scott Wedgewood to give the Caps a 1-0 overtime victory over the New Jersey Devils.

Carlson’s rocket, after a super feed from Jason Chimera, ended Wedgewood’s shutout streak at 159:34 and put Washington just a single point away from clinching the Presidents’ Trophy. In addition, Braden Holby (22 saves) earned his 3rd shutout of the season, in Martin Brodeur’s old building. The Holtbeast notched season triumph number 45 and he is just three victories away from tying Marty’s all time NHL leading single season win total.

Washington came out strong early on, which has been a recent trend, once again dominating the shot attempts, but they failed to find the handle on several sequences around the net. The Caps would outshoot the Devils, 10-4, in that opening frame, however, Wedgewood and several missed opportunities kept this one scoreless.

The second period mirrored the first, with the Caps outshooting the Devils, 9-6. Both goalies made some decent stops and with New Jersey having played the night before in Pittsburgh and ending the Pens six game winning streak on Thursday, one would think they would be the more tired club in the final frame.

That was not the case as the Devils fired 11 shots on Holtby while Washington had just five. The Caps were guilty, once again, of over passing the puck and therefore, were not able to not consistently get the biscuit to the cage. Alex Ovechkin drew a penalty with 2:16 remaining, but Washington’s power play struggled to get set up and off to overtime we went.

In the extra session, Wedgewood made a huge stop on Ovechkin to extend the game. Shortly thereafter, Marcus Johansson made another great zone entry and he gave the puck to Chimera on the left wing boards. Chimmer skated behind the net looking for a pass and he came patiently out the other side to tee it up for #74 for the game winner.

This was tough sledding for the Caps as New Jersey basically conserved energy by guarding their own net like a fort. They tried to sit back and counter attack, but Washington did a nice job of not forcing plays which will often lead to odd man rushes. However, skating through the Devils and trying to get pucks to the front of the opposing goaltender was exactly how Craig Laughlin termed it, “like a tractor pull.”

It was not going to be pretty hockey, much like the case in the Capitals previous visit to the Prudential Center. In that contest Washington had to overcome the Devils in a shootout. Simply put, New Jersey doesn’t have the fire power that the Caps have so they really have only one way to try and win, sit back and hope for mistakes. That style earned them a point on Friday night, but their season is basically over, except for the mathematics.

Overall, this was a solid effort from the Capitals and Coach Trotz will be pleased that they stuck to their game plan without getting frustrated. They kept doing what they were supposed to do and maintained strong puck support all evening, which prevented the opportunistic Devils from capitalizing on any turnovers.

Perhaps the most encouraging item of the evening was getting Carlson back. His goal, in my book, was just icing on the cake to a solid performance in which he actually appears to be moving much more like the player he was before originally sustaining a lower body injury against Montreal back on December 26th. Carlson is the Capitals number one defensemen and an elite NHL blue liner, so his return to form is important for the post season. Washington was finally able to ice its top six defenders and it was clear how much of a difference it makes in terms of controlling the play.

The victory improves the Capitals to 53-15-5 and an astounding 111 points with nine games remaining. They are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games despite really having nothing to play for. On Saturday at the Verizon Center, Washington will take on the St. Louis Blues, who rolled over the Canucks on Friday night. It will be a matchup of two teams coming off of shutout victories that also had to travel to the District afterwards. As mentioned above, any point earned by the Caps yields them the franchises second Presidents’ Trophy.

That piece of hardware has been a foregone conclusion for weeks and the team focus has been on better starts and building their game for the playoffs. On Friday in New Jersey, large portions of this game were playoff-like in terms of the lack of open space on the ice, so it was another good tune up in order to help the Caps prepare for the all-important post season.

Notes: Both teams failed to score on the power play (NJ was 0 for 3 and Washington went 0 for 2)…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:14. Carlson logged 19:27 and Nate Schmidt had the lowest for a blue liner with 16:25. That is excellent ice time management by the coaching staff since no one was overworked…the Capitals dominated from the dot, going 32-20 (62%). Mike Richards was 9-2 and Nicklas Backstrom went 10-7…Ovechkin had nine shot attempts with four that made their way through to Wedgewood…T.J. Oshie missed the game due to the flu. Stan Galiev received a sweater as a result and logged 8:21. He had two shots on goal.

Special thanks to budding journalist, Anthony Poisal, for providing me with key statistics and assisting in the development of this game story.

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Alexander Ovechkin doesn't miss another opportunity at delivering in the clutch to help the Caps win again.

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Ovechkin Wins The Game Again for the Caps

Posted on 06 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

For the second straight contest, Alexander Ovechkin was the hero for the Capitals late, scoring the game winner in the shootout to give Washington a hard fought, 3-2, victory over a pesky New Jersey Devils team on Saturday afternoon at “The Rock.”

Another big hero in this contest was Paul Carey, who notched his 1st NHL goal to tie the game up at two with 5:53 to go after the Devils tallied twice in the third period to seize a 2-1 lead. All game, the Capitals fourth line of Michael Latta, Brooks Laich, and Carey played well. Laich drew an early penalty and Carey also put Washington on the power play when Jordin Tootoo interfered with him in the third period. The Caps, however, are currently in a 0 for 15 funk with the man advantage and squandered both of those opportunities. The problems with that unit includes all of the following: losing too many initial power play draws, poor zone entries that make setting up difficult (get well soon Marcus Johansson), too much fancy play, not enough net crashing, and a lack of shots being taken towards the net.

On the game tying goal, though, Carey and his linemates did what you have to do to score on a very well coached and strong defensive Devils team, go to the net. Carey parked himself in the slot and Matt Niskanen made a whale of a play with a pass off of Carey’s stick that #28 redirected home.

Washington’s first goal, again came on a crash the net sequence after Evgeny Kuznetsov tried one of his vintage behind the back passes as he’s skating behind the opponents cage. The biscuit bounced out to Justin Williams in the lower right slot and “Stick” put the puck towards the net. Cory Schneider (27 saves) made the initial stop, but “Johnny on the Spot,” Andre Burakovsky, was camped at the right post and batted it home to give the Caps a one goal lead in the middle frame that they would take to the third period. That is now six goals in five game for #65 and he’s up to 10 goals on the year (and 14 points in his last 15 games).

For two periods the Capitals gave New Jersey pretty much nothing in this tilt and the Devils only had 14 shots on net. But in the third, Mike Richards took a tripping penalty that New Jersey’s Joseph Bladisi, who was one of the better Devils in this one, tallied on from the doorstep. Less than six minutes later, an ill advised offensive zone pass by Washington led to an odd man rush for the Devils. When the Caps over back checked, Adam Henrique was all alone in the slot and he beat Braden Holtby (22 saves) with a wicked top shelf snipe.

This Capitals team, however, is quite resilient and even though their top line was struggling with the Travis Zajac unit of New Jersey, the team fought back with the fourth lines marker. Overall, the Capitals second line, led by Kuznetsov, was their best, dominating the Devils in the shot attempt department by about a dozen.

Williams did take a late tripping call with a minute to go and the Caps penalty killing unit delivered by first forcing overtime and then thwarting another 60 seconds of four on three play. After the teams were all even at four on four, New Jersey had a long shift in the OT and had the Capitals players dog tired. Luckily a thunderous Ovechkin hit on Jacob Josefson allowed Washington to get the puck out and send the game to the gimmick.

From there, T.J. Oshie scored five hole on Schneider, while only Reid Boucher beat the Holtbeast in three tries. That set the stage for the Gr8 to win the game with a nasty backhander after a slick motorcycle kick move that froze Schneider like he was targeted by Elsa.

The victory was Washington’s second in a row and they improved to 37-9-4 (78 points). This was a game in which the Capitals had to play greasy to get a win because the Devils are so strong defensively. Washington did just enough of that to earn Holtby his league leading 32nd victory of the season.

Now it’s back home to face the despised Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday at noon. The Capitals have had trouble defeating the Philly crew in the Barry Trotz era. The Flyers are rebuilding and have a young defense as well as a deadly power play run by Claude Giroux, so staying out of the box is paramount. The Flyers are fighting for their playoff lives and last time they were in noted Caps killer, Jakub Voracek, had two goals in a 4-3 Filthy win just before the all star break.

Bottom line here: it’s time for Trotz and company to just come out and bury the Flyers.

Notes: On Sunday, it’s very likely Holtby will get the call in net while the Flyers will probably go with Michal Neuvirth, who won his last start at the VC…Washington was 0 for 3 on the power play while the Devils went 1 for 2…the Caps dominated at even strength, out shot attempting New Jersey, 48-29…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 30-26, which I mentioned was a problem on the power play. Laich went 3-1…Jason Chimera led the Caps with five hits while Ovi had four…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 28:04. Karl Alzner, John Carlson, and Nate Schmidt all logged over 23 minutes while the third pair of Dmitry Orlov and Taylor Chorney each played just 12 minutes and change…Carey was called up, along with Connor Carrick, on Friday as Zach Sill was sent down to Hershey along with Aaron Ness. Coach Trotz stated that they wanted to see more of Carey, who was up for a short time earlier in the season…Coach Trotz credited assistant coach Blaine Forsythe for picking Ovechkin instead of Nicklas Backstrom in the shootout.

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Braden Holtby returns to Beast Mode to help the Caps bomb the Blue Jackets, 6-3

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Holtby, Kuznetsov Help the Caps Silence the Cannon

Posted on 19 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals had six players with multi-point games, including a four assist evening from passing magician, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Braden Holtby was marvelous in net stopping 32 of 35 shots in a 6-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Nationwide Arena.

Holtby, who said on Tuesday that he left Sunday’s game against the Rangers with a migraine that caused him to have blurry vision, was dialed in from the get go against John Tortorella’s squad. Columbus fired 10 of the first 11 shots, including Kerby Rychel’s first goal of the season on a two on one break, to take a 1-0 lead 9:30 into the contest. But if not for the Holtbeast, it could’ve easily been more.

Less than three minutes after the initial cannon shot, Washington’s first line answered with a sweet passing play from Alex Ovechkin (1G, 1A), and T.J. Oshie that Nicklas Backstrom (two goals) buried past Sergei Bobrovsky (22 saves on 27 shots). Just under four minutes later, Tom Wilson hit the Blue Jackets defensemen in his own zone after a good pinch by Taylor Chorney on the right wing boards and the Columbus player passed the puck right to Marcus Johansson (1G, 1A) in the high slot. Jojo then adeptly slid a no look pass to Jason Chimera, who had just returned to the game after blocking a shot with his left hand, and #25 sniped it by “Bob.” Chimera eats rocks for breakfast.

Washington would take that 2-1 lead to the dressing room, but on the opening shift of period two, Columbus nearly tied it up, but Holtby would not allow that to happen. Johansson, just over three minutes into the frame, then drew a double minor for high sticking on Justin Falk, who is one of the biggest stiff defensemen in the league, and that gave the Capitals back to back power plays.

It took Ovechkin just 13 seconds to extend the lead to 3-1 off of a great cross ice, box splitting feed from Kuznetsov and then Washington took full control of the contest when Kuzya hit Backstrom on the doorstep for a layup to make it 4-1 on the back end of that double minor.

The Blue Jackets then scored on a power play after Ryan Stanton took an ill advised penalty, but Andre Burakovsky fired a laser top shelf past Bobrovsky to restore the three goal lead heading into the final frame.

Washington came out slow again on the first shift of period three and it took another good save from Holtby to prevent any Columbus early momentum. Seriously, somebody needs to get the Caps some new locker room tunes because they are coming out to start periods playing like they’ve been listening to “Mandy” by Barry Manilow far too often.

Ryan Murray then took advantage of another Stanton mistake that ultimately allowed the Blue Jackets to fire that freaking cannon for the third time of the game.

But Jojo, who also eats rocks for breakfast, would hit the empty net and the Caps were able to leave town with a win and 35-8-3 record (73 points). The Holtbeast picked up his 30th victory on the season and he really earned this one. The quality chances were close, but Columbus had slightly more, while the shot attempts favored Torts’ crew at 67-50.

The Capitals played fairly well and dominated for stretches after the first 10 minutes or so, but they also had their share of breakdowns, mainly with the third defensive pair of Stanton and Chorney on the ice. This was Stanton’s first NHL game this season and he looked like he was playing just that. Not a good night for him and with John Carlson traveling with the team and likely to practice on Wednesday and/or Thursday, there is a good chance #20 won’t play against the Ducks on Friday at the Verizon Center as Snowmageddon Two descends on our Nation’s Hockey Capitol.

Overall, the difference in this game was the goaltending of Holtby and the Capitals superior skill. Washington just has so many weapons while Columbus shipped their number one center, Ryan Johansen, off to Nashville for defensemen Seth Jones (two assists, +2) recently. As a result, Coach Barry Trotz was able to limit the effectiveness of center Brandon Saad, who killed the Caps on January 2nd in a 5-4 Columbus shootout victory. On this night Saad was a non-factor going -2 in 19:30 of ice time.

So the Capitals just keep on rolling. With Carlson likely back in the lineup and Mike Richards (12:23 of ice time) getting his hands and legs in NHL game shape, this Washington team should keep improving. It’s amazing how well the Caps have performed without #74 (9-2-1), who is one of the best 10 to 15 defensemen in the league. This roster is deep and they still are missing Jay Beagle and Brooks Orpik, as well.

One of the biggest reasons this team has been able to keep winning despite the injuries has been the play of Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt. On Tuesday in Columbus, Orlov was just outstanding. The Blue Jackets had no answer for his ability to take the puck and skate it out and get the Washington rush going the other way. #9 was all over the ice at the Nationwide Arena and despite being pointless in 22:07, you could make a case that he was the best defensemen on the ice for the Caps (Matt Niskanen was darned good too with two assists in 28:31).

This was a game that was a potential trap one for the Caps. It was their 4th in six nights and they were playing one of the leaders in the Auston Matthews sweepstakes, so a letdown was quite possible. But the Holtbeast did his part to keep his club afloat despite bad period starts in all three frames, and the Washington skill took over to provide another three goal victory.

Finally, with this being the last trip to Columbus for the season, the Capitals will not have to hear that cannon go off again until at least October, and that is a very good thing.

Notes: Justin Williams had two assists after getting hit early in the game with friendly fire. He was in obvious pain on the bench, but played on. He also eats rocks for breakfast…Richards was 8-6 on draws while Kuznetsov went 7-5, which was good because overall the Caps were down from the dot (29-34). Jojo was 3-10, his only blemish on an otherwise very good evening…Wilson had five hits and Ovechkin had four…Karl Alzner tied a club record with his 422nd game in a row. Kudos, King Karl!

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The Washington Capitals continue to improve as they dominate the NHL.

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Kuznetsov Shines as Caps Dominate the Canucks, 4-1

Posted on 14 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Another game, another Washington Capitals victory.

On Thursday night at the Verizon Center, it just didn’t seem fair as the Caps just thoroughly dominated a Canucks team that came in to town feeling pretty good about itself. As it turned out, if not for some stellar goaltending by Ryan Miller (36 saves), the Washington 4-1 triumph could’ve been more lopsided because the Caps played that well.

It’s getting scary how good Washington is, and they keep getting better.

The Caps out shot Vancouver, 40-30, out shot attempted them, 73-58, and would’ve blanked them on the scoreboard if not for a mid third period five on three power play goal by Radim Vrbata.

It was the men versus the boys for most of the night and Evgeny Kuznetsov (two goals, one assist) was the primary star, once again. #92 scored the opening tally on a two on one with Dmitry Orlov after #9 made a great play at the Capitals defensive blue line to turn things the other way. Karl Alzner would make it 2-0 on a long bomb heading into the final twenty minutes following a sequence where the Canucks lost their focus in the corner.

In the third period, Kuznetsov helped increase the Caps lead to 3-0 with one of his absolutely sick, no-look, behind the back passes to Tom Wilson in the slot and Willy one timed it home for his 4th goal of the season. It was a goal of beauty and Andre Burakovsky (two assists, +3) deserved applause as well for his work down low on the boards to get the puck to Kuzya. Kuznetsov would then close out the scoring with an empty net goal with one second left to make it 4-1.

Washington is now 33-7-3 (69 points) and they’ve won five games in a row and 11 straight at the Verizon Center. So how could they possibly still be getting better?

Well, let me explain. Remember how this Caps team often found itself having to chip the puck out of their own end last season? That strategy ultimately doomed them in game seven against the Rangers.

This season, with the additions of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, plus the emergence of Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, Wilson, and Burakovsky to go along with superstars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals have a high talent level that can make the proper passes to get the puck going into the offensive zone as quickly and efficiently as possible. Add in a speedy Jason Chimera plus a very mobile defense that has benefited from the addition of Orlov and the rapid ascension of Nate Schmidt and you’ve got yourself one heck of a puck moving hockey team.

In the last few weeks we’ve seen that ability to go from defense to offense take off and I asked Williams about the keys to the Washington breakout and its strategy after the victory over Ottawa on Sunday night.

“First of all, we want to play a quick game. And if we want to stretch it out, we’ll stretch it out. I think that everybody wants the puck on the ice and that’s great because when you want the puck you are calling for the puck. That makes it easier for the guy who has the puck if he can’t see you, to make a play….that happens all throughout the ice, communication,” stated the three time Stanley Cup winner on the secrets of the Caps success.

What Williams says sounds so simple, but it is not. It takes five guys on the ice working together and communicating to make the magic happen. In game 43 of 82, the Capitals sure seem to be getting better and better at this and they seemingly had the puck on a string all evening against the Canucks.

They can beat you with skill.

They can beat you with speed.

They can beat you with power.

Sure I read a lot of Dr. Seuss in the day, but the Caps seem to possess so many key facets to being able to win and they just keep iterating on their game and improving. It is really a scary sight for the rest of the league and they are doing this without John Carlson, Brooks Orpik, Jay Beagle, and newly acquired two time Stanley Cup Champion Mike Richards.

On Thursday, all four lines were going. The Gr8 was held pointless but he, Oshie, and Backstrom were dominant. Ovechkin had 11 shot attempts (five on net), and many were quality chances. Again, Miller is the reason this wasn’t a 7-1 affair, like on Sunday against Ottawa.

It seems that everyone on this team is playing “the system” as Coach Barry Trotz likes to call it. They skate, they push the pace, and they punish you. The Caps had 20 hits to Vancouver’s eight and Washington had the puck most of the game!

It is heavy hockey with talent and skill at a very fluid pace.

That’s one scary combination and the Capitals still feel like they can keep improving.

Right now I’m not sure there is a better group of top nine forwards in the league and the mobile defense continues to make plays that allows the forward group to excel.

It’s enjoyable hockey and tons of fun to watch.

Notes: Ovechkin was honored before the game with a lengthy video tribute from many other prominent NHL 500 goal scorers, including a wonderful closing sequence from The Great One, Wayne Gretzky. Caps owner Ted Leonsis and Team President Dick Patrick presented Ovi with a golden stick listing all of his goals up to 500…the Caps dominated face offs going 34-20. Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and Johansson all had five more wins than losses from the dot…the Caps were 0 for 2 on the power play while the Canucks were 1 for 3…Braden Holtby made 29 saves and played well. He’s now 20-0-2 in his last 23 starts…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time at 28:28. Alzner logged 24:59…the Capitals are in Buffalo on Saturday at 7 pm before coming home to take on the Rangers at 5 pm on Sunday.

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