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Ovechkin and Caps Off to a Fast Start

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Ovechkin and Caps Off to a Fast Start

Posted on 15 October 2014 by Ed Frankovic

On Tuesday night at the Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals rallied from a 3-0 first period deficit to force a 5-5 tie before ultimately losing in the gimmick to one of the best teams in the NHL, the San Jose Sharks. It was a thrilling game in which Alexander Ovechkin was the best player on the ice notching two goals and an assist. After three tilts the Capitals are 1-0-2, losing both games in the shootout, and the Gr8 has four goals and an assist over that span.

If you’ve watched the first three games of the Washington Capitals season, then you’ve seen the night and day difference in this hockey club from Caps teams in recent years. The blue line depth is something this organization has not seen in the Ovechkin era and Coach Barry Trotz has the personnel playing to their strengths and easily allowing elite players like the Gr8 and Mike Green to buy in, something that numerous people in the hockey media questioned prior to the season. Ovechkin went down to block a shot in the first period, added another block later on, had 14 shot attempts (including 8 on Antti Niemi), and five hits to go with his offensive output. He was more than worth the price of admission on Tuesday night.

After Ovechkin, in the game against the Sharks, the next best player on the rink was Green. #52 was absolutely fabulous with a goal, an assist, and it was his pass to Jason Chimera down the left wing boards that sprung #25 allowing him to draw a key penalty that led to Ovechkin’s goal that brought this one to 5-4 with just under six minutes left. Green would then feed Troy Brouwer less than two minutes later down the left wing boards for the game tying tally prompting the Verizon Center to erupt.

Simply put, if Green continues to play like he’s done in his first two games this Capitals club is going to be very, very good.

Why do I see Green continuing to play at the top of his game?

First, he’s being afforded the freedom to play to his strengths, which is carrying the puck and creating offense and space for his teammates.

“I think he doesn’t limit you, you obviously have to play within the system but he wants you to create and do the things you do well as a player and he encourages that,” said Green when asked about Trotz allowing creativity in contrast to the “five foot rule” that Adam Oates preferred the past two seasons.

Second, he’s in a system that will bring out the best in his defensive side of the ice.

“I feel good, the system and the way we play is very detailed and yet very easy to play. Although there is a lot of thinking, it’s great for the defensemen what they’re asking of us, and I feel very comfortable. There’s a plan for every situation on the ice and it’s just a matter of executing,” added Green.

Third, with the addition of Matt Niskanen, along with 2014 Team USA Olympian John Carlson, the Capitals are loaded on the right side of the blue line. Therefore, Game Over Greenie doesn’t have to log all of the hard minutes like he’s had to do in the past. Green only played 22:08 of the 65 minutes, but because of that, he was super fresh down the stretch and he was a major difference maker in the Capitals comeback.

“It’s great, I felt like I played a lot, I’m not sure how much, but I still had my legs at the end of the game, even in overtime, so when in the past maybe you’re playing a little bit more and there is more responsibility on yourself, but there’s three guys that can play, so it’s great,” said Green about the ability of the team to spread the ice time on defense.

Overall, Green looks to be as happy as I’ve seen him in several years thanks to the deep blue line that GM Brian MacLellan has assembled for 2014-15.

“Absolutely, the depth we have is incredible. It’s just a matter of being consistent every night,” finished Green.

Consistency is always an issue in hockey. The Capitals had some problems there on Tuesday, falling behind 3-0 in the first 10 minutes. Braden Holtby, who had thwarted 52 of 53 shots in the first two games, was unable to come up with a big save after some Capitals turnovers and was replaced by Justin Peters. Peters allowed two goals on 16 shots but he yielded juicy rebounds on both tallies against him. In addition, there were missed passes and mistakes by different players. Evgeny Kuznetsov, who overall had a strong game (1 assist), missed a breakout pass from Brooks Orpik that was right on his stick and that directly led to John Scott’s tally that made it 3-0. Those mistakes should get cleaned up over time, especially ones by younger players like Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky (1 assist).

Still, you have to be pleased with the way this team held together mentally and didn’t pack it in when it was 3-0, 4-1, and even 5-3 early in period three. The club is talented and believes in the system they are playing which aids their ability to rally.

So it’s three games in and the Capitals have yet to be defeated prior to the gimmick. The four points in the three games have all come against 2013-14 playoff teams so it’s fair to say Washington is off to a fast start.

This club has a lot of skill and a talented blue line. The depth on defense is something this organization has lacked in recent years and is a major reason why I see the team continuing to improve.

Notes: Despite Carlson (two assists) having a rough first 50+ minutes, #74 didn’t let that bother him and he was pretty much a one man penalty killing unit at the end of regulation and early in overtime as Washington survived a Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) high stick…the Caps were smoked at the dot, 13-5, in the first frame but rallied to finish 32-33 for the night…shot attempts were 71-56 in favor of the Capitals, who dominated puck possession for much of the last 55 minutes…Niskanen led the Capitals and Sharks in ice time with 26:47 and he was superb at both ends of the rink…the Caps next game is Thursday night at 7 pm against the New Jersey Devils at the Verizon Center.

 

 

 

 

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Caps Make a Statement By Whipping the Rangers

Posted on 08 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The King is Dead.

Well not exactly, but after 200+ minutes of failing to score a goal on Henrik Lundqvist, dating back to game 5 of last season’s playoffs, the Washington Capitals erupted for four goals to beat the $59.5M goaltender and his Rangers squad, 4-1, at Madison Square Garden.

This game was not close after the first 10 minutes as Washington continued it’s improved play and dominated the Rags from the mid point of the first period on. The Caps moved the puck really well from the back end and it resulted in several good chances on King Henrik. Washington totally outworked New York in this one, something that the Blueshirts typically pride themselves on doing. But the Caps had too much speed for a slow Rangers D that is now without Marc Staal and add in the hard work of guys like Jason Chimera and Joel Ward and it was the perfect recipe for a butt whipping of New York.

Chimera, Steve Oleksy, Mikhail Grabovski (penalty shot), and Nate Schmidt all tallied before Benoit Pouliot finally deflected the biscuit by Philipp Grubauer with 1:53 to go. Grubauer, who got the nod from Coach Adam Oates to give Braden Holtby a rest (Michal Neuvirth is injured), was excellent in gaining his first NHL win. He made a big save on Ryan Callahan’s backhander early in the contest then did his job as the Caps repeatedly owned the puck and kept any Rangers pressure to the outside.

It was a thorough team win and the Capitals dominated the Rangers, showing that they are improving as a puck possession club. To me that all starts from the back end and the addition of Dmitry Orlov to the defensive rotation has certainly made a difference. Oleksy fared well in his first game in several weeks too.

Credit Oates for inserting Grubauer and Oleksy after a win on Saturday. Both the Rangers and Capitals were in action Saturday with Washington having to travel to the Big Apple after they defeated the Predators while the Rangers played at their barn again. But the Caps had more energy and they used that along with their speed to put New York on its heels. Washington could have been up 6 or 7 pucks if not for some stellar glove saves by Lundqvist along with some assistance from the post.

The Caps were that good in this one in an important Metropolitan Division matchup. They improve to 16-12-2 (34 points) and now own a three point lead in second place over the Rangers and Carolina, who each have 31 points.

It was a win on the road against a club they’ve struggled with in recent times.

To me, that’s a statement victory.

Notes: John Carlson led the Caps in ice time at 23:57…the Caps out shot New York 36-31…both teams went 0 for 2 on the power play…Next up for the Caps are the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday at the Verizon Center.

 

 

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Ovechkin, Caps Rout Predators, 5-2

Posted on 07 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

In hockey, if you play the right way, good things usually happen.

On Tuesday night, Washington played the right way for the first 30 minutes against Carolina but ended up losing, primarily on goaltending. On Saturday night, the Capitals once again came out the correct way, but this time they received the expected result, racing to an early 3-0 lead and cruising to a 5-2 victory over the Nashville Predators.

Troy Brouwer, Alex Ovechkin, Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt, and Eric Fehr all tallied in a much needed win that pushes the Caps record to 15-12-2 (32 points), good for second place in the Metropolitan Division.

Going up and down the roster on Saturday night, every player contributed in this victory and Caps Coach Adam Oates has to be happy about that. His team did a nice job of getting pucks and bodies to the net and that allowed them to score more goals. Sure Nashville misses goalie Pekka Rinne, who is one of the league’s best, but Washington made it tough on backup Marek Mazanec with an increased net presence.

Defensemen Patrick Wey received his first NHL game tonight replacing Tyson Strachan, who was sent back to Hershey before hitting the 10 game limit that eventually would require #23 to clear waivers to go to Chocolatetown, and he acquitted himself well playing with Dmitry Orlov. Since #81 has gotten into the lineup the Capitals puck movement out of their own zone has been on the uptick (last three games). Every defensemen played well on Saturday. Schmidt notched his 1st NHL goal, Alzner scored his first ever tally at the Verizon Center, and Mike Green and John Carlson were dominant. #74 was +3 on the night. I’m not a big +/- stat guy, but that number was reflective of Carlson’s performance against Nashville. He is playing super and Preds GM David Poile, who doubles as Team USA GM, has to be pretty happy about having Carlson on the American Olympic team roster in Sochi in February.

Up front, Martin Erat (1 assist) had a productive night against his old team and he clicked as the center with Joel Ward and Jason Chimera. Both of those wingers, #’s  25 and 42, have continued to make whomever their 3rd line mate is look good this season. As I said above, up and down the lineup there were strong performances. Tom Wilson continues to impress and at some point, he will deserve more ice time. Washington has a surplus of forwards and they’ve now used 12 defensemen this season. That is number one in the NHL. The defense, after Green, Carlson, and Alzner, is extremely inexperienced. Schmidt is playing super but it’s a long season and then comes the playoffs. Once everyone is healthy up front, and Brooks Laich doesn’t appear to be close to that right now, a trade to get a more experienced and top 4 D seems necessary.

Right now, what matters is playing properly and getting wins. This was a victory against a Western Conference team and in regulation. Washington played well and deserved the two points, now they go to New York on Sunday night to take on the despised New York Rangers. A victory there would be big for this team. If they play the same way they did tonight and get pucks and bodies to the net, the Caps will finally be able to dent Henrik Lundqvist, assuming he’s in net for the Blueshirts.

Notes: Lundqvist took the loss for the Rags against the Devils tonight so it’s not clear if the $59.5M man will start against Washington on Sunday. One would imagine that Oates comes back with Holtby at Madison Square Garden. Braden is great in Saturday night games and once again he produced a victory. It must be the Hockey Night in Canada influence that gets #70 to raise the bar on Saturday tilts…the Caps were 1-4 on the power play and Ovechkin now has 136 career PP goals, one behind the Capitals all time leader, Peter Bondra. The Gr8 has 22 goals in 27 games, a staggering pace…Wilson beat up Rich Clune after the Predator tried to change the momentum of the game. #43 is tough and is already in the “Eats Rocks for Breakfast” club…Mikhail Grabovski and Nicklas Backstrom each had two assists…Washington won the faceoff battle, 34-30.

 

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Ovechkin Wins It In OT After Backstrom Tied it Late

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Ovechkin Wins It In OT After Backstrom Tied it Late

Posted on 30 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Wow, what a finish, and I’m not talking about Auburn-Alabama.

The Washington Capitals, who could’ve put the game away in the second period by burying some golden opportunities, looked dead to rights after the Islanders took the lead with 1:51 left in the third period and then Mike Green was correctly whistled for an interference penalty just 41 clicks later.

But the Caps showed some serious resolve and mental toughness as Karl Alzner made a great pinch on the left wing boards to get the puck behind the net to Jason Chimera and then #25 hit a streaking Nicklas Backstrom in the slot and #19 one timed it by Islanders goalie Anders Nilsson with 49 ticks left in regulation for an unlikely shorthanded game tying tally.

The Capitals would then kill off those final 49 third period seconds of the Green infraction and then 50 more into overtime. Over a minute later, Alexander Ovechkin scored from the slot five hole on Nilsson after a nifty drop pass from Mikhail Grabovski and it gave Washington a huge two points on Long Island. It was Ovechkin’s league leading 21st goal and the 5th time he has scored in OT in his career to defeat the Islanders (h/t @ehornick). The victory improves Washington to 14-11-2 (30 points) and keeps them two points ahead of the third place New York Rangers.

Washington led 1-0 heading into the final frame thanks to a hard working goal by the Caps fourth line of Martin Erat, Tom Wilson, and Aaron Volpatti at 8:58 into period two. Erat got the puck into the slot where Wilson used his size and strength to get two shots on Nilsson before Volpatti slapped it home. After that goal the Caps had some golden opportunities to expand their lead but Backstrom and Green both missed the net from in close in the slot when all alone.

Those misses looked like they might haunt Washington after they gave up a shorthanded goal to Cal Clutterbuck at 3:59 of period three, who got a breakaway when Green let a puck get by him at the Islanders blue line. It was another dismal power play for the Caps in their only try of the night. When Vanek scored just inside the two minute mark after a goal mouth scramble that had Braden Holtby (37 saves) incensed, it sure looked like it would be a rough defeat in a game Washington deserved at least a point.

But Coach Adam Oates’ crew didn’t quit and Backstrom’s laser made up for his earlier miss. Ovechkin sealed the deal like a true assassin to provide a very huge win and give the Caps a two game winning streak heading into Tuesday’s tilt at the Verizon Center against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Defensemen Dmitry Orlov made his season debut on Saturday and was very solid in 13:41 of work. Hopefully 81′s agent wises up and rescinds his ridiculous trade demand. As for the other player demanding out, Erat played hard and assisted on the first tally but his offensive zone turnover helped lead to the Islanders shorthanded breakaway.

On defense, Alzner and John Carlson led the way again, playing 23:20 and 24:40, respectively. Overall, the Caps moved the puck much better with Orlov in for Alex Urbom on the back end. There are still improvements to be made, but Orlov looks more like an NHLer than some of the other guys who’ve been playing. He just needs to get some steady work now that he’s fully recovered from last year’s injuries. Dima wasn’t tentative at all tonight, like he was in preseason, so the time in the AHL definitely benefited him.

New York is a team that in recent years has given the Caps trouble because of their speed and a struggling Islanders club gave it all they had tonight, making it difficult for the Caps to put them away. Then it sure looked like Washington had handed the game to New York before Backstrom, Oveckhin, and company snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

There are no style points in the NHL, two points is two points.

But the way the Caps came back and showed mental resolve makes this victory feel like more than two points.

Time will tell if this kind of come back victory is one that propels Washington to improved play and a long winning streak, but for tonight, I’ll just leave you with a classic line from Baltimore broadcasting legend Chuck Thompson.

Ain’t The Beer Cold!

 

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Caps Suffer Worst Loss of Season

Posted on 27 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

With two guys asking for trades this week (Martin Erat and Dmitry Orlov), things went from bad to worse on Thanksgiving Eve as the Capitals turned a 3-1 first period lead into a 6-4 defeat to Ottawa.

It was a terrible loss for Washington primarily due to a lack of focus and effort. There are also holes in the talent department on the back end too, but more on that later.

The Caps came out skating, something you must do against a very fast Senators club, and as a result, they had the lead and the momentum. Then Chris Neil, who is known for physical and dirty play, took a run at defensemen Nate Schmidt drawing an obvious penalty in the process. What happened next, was the start of the end for the Caps. Defensemen Tyson Strachan immediately went after Neil taking an instigator penalty, five for fighting, and a 10 minute misconduct to take the Caps off of a power play that could have put them up 4-1. It was a bad decision at the wrong time for a guy who really should be playing in Hershey.

Ottawa received a spark from the play while the Caps seemed to get their boots filled with cement. The Senators would out shoot the Caps 19-3 in the second period tying the contest up and then they dominated Washington in the 3rd period to take a 4-3 lead on their third power play goal of the game. Ottawa was flat out too fast and determined for Washington and they repeatedly went to the net for screens and deflections while many of the Caps defenders failed to get position or tie up their sticks. It was absolutely terrible defense by the Capitals. A big part of that problem is the lack of talent on the back end. Strachan, Schmidt and Alex Urbom simply aren’t NHL players at this point in their careers. This is a big reason why the Caps are giving up lots of shots night after night (Ottawa had 40 on Wednesday) and the goaltending is starting to wear out. Braden Holtby started strong in this game but he faded giving up some goals he’d like to have back. But when your defense allows too many players in front of the net and can’t consistently close gaps on the ice, your goalies are going to get lit up eventually. You also can’t score when the other team has the puck.

Therefore, it is up to Coach Adam Oates, assistant Calle Johansson, and GM George McPhee to make some upgrades on the back end. Whether it is inserting Orlov, trying someone else from Hershey, or making a trade for some defensive help, something has got to give.

The Capitals are fortunately still sitting at 12-11-2 after this four game losing streak (0-3-1) thanks primarily to the outstanding play of Alexander Ovechkin and John Carlson this season. Carlson was great again tonight throwing seven pucks on net and his individual effort at the blue line drew a penalty and then #74 tied the game with three minutes left on the ensuing face off. It’s too bad that Mike Green’s awful night (3 minor penalties and shoddy d-zone play) and Schmidt’s inability to close on a streaking Senators forward resulted in the winning goal just 64 seconds later. Green was pretty bad on Wednesday after two games where he seemed to be on the upswing. Bottom line is #52 needs a steady NHL partner to be most effective and he does not have that with this defensive crew make up right now.

There were several other passengers in this one up front. Troy Brouwer was -3 and he continues to struggle this season. Mikhail Grabovski had a poor showing as well.

As for the penalty kill, it’s dropping like a bag of wet cement lately. The Caps are losing too many face offs and they are allowing too much traffic on their goaltender. The Caps rely heavily on Karl Alzner and Carlson to kill penalties and when the team gets into penalty trouble, like it did on Wednesday, it severely impacts the Capitals ability to win the puck possession battle because their top duo spends much of their energy while shorthanded. It’s a bad situation right now with the lack of experience on the back end.

So on Thanksgiving Eve, a game that started so promising, turned into a disaster and the way Ottawa skated all over the Capitals was telling.

It was an ugly defeat from the lack of effort and focus along with a shortage of talent on defense.

Worst loss of the season for the Caps? Absolutely.

 

 

 

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Ovechkin Tallies Again, But Caps Lose in Shootout

Posted on 23 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

For the second straight night, the Washington Capitals ran into a hot goalie and lost a hockey game.

The good news, was that on Saturday evening, the Caps picked up a point since it took the shootout for the Toronto Maple Leafs to defeat Washington, 2-1.

There were lots of good things for the Caps in this one. They dominated the game and the shot totals, 50-28 in shots on goal and 101-54 in shot attempts. That’s some serious puck possession there, primarily because they played better getting out of their own zone. Alex Ovechkin scored late in regulation off a beautiful Mike Green sand wedge to tie this one after it looked like David Clarkson’s power play deflection tally might be the only one to hold up.

It was a very entertaining hockey game and James Reimer was the difference. Given that the Caps played the night before and didn’t get into the Big Smoke until the wee early hours of Saturday morning, Coach Adam Oates must be pleased with the effort he received. Oates inserted Eric Fehr into the lineup and took out 32 year old Martin Erat to add energy in a tough back to back situation. The move worked as Brooks Laich, moving down to center Joel Ward and Jason Chimera, had his best game of the season and the second line of Fehr, Mikhail Grabovski, and Troy Brouwer were strong too.

Grabovski though, had a scary moment catching Clarkson’s skate to the face after Joffrey Lupul used his stick to take Grabovski down to spring a Leafs 4 on 2 rush near the end of period two. Grabovski needed more than 20 stitches to close two cuts and is fortunate to not have lost his eye. I’m not sure what the referees were doing there, but the move by Lupul to take 84 down was clearly either any of hooking, high sticking or interference?

Fehr would score first in the shootout and it looked like Washington might get the win, but then James Van Riemsdyk tallied and Nicklas Backstrom’s attempt to win the game on his 26th birthday failed. Lupul, a big time Capitals killer (see game 7 in 2008), beat Braden Holtby and Troy Brouwer didn’t convert as Washington dropped to 5-2 in the gimmick this season. Overall the Caps are now 12-10-2 on the season, good for 26 points and second place in a tightening Metropolitan Division (the Rangers and Flyers both won again).

Ovechkin now has 20 goals in 22 games, so don’t tell me Oates can’t coach. The bench boss has turned the Gr8 back into the purest goal scorer in the NHL again.

As mentioned above, the biggest reason for the Washington domination was the play on the back end. Green had a really strong game and John Carlson was flat out dominant once again proving that he not only should make Team USA for the Sochi Olympic Games, but he just might be the best right handed defensemen on the team the way he is playing. Even more encouraging was the performance of Nate Schmidt. I’ve liked #88 since his first game in Baltimore back in September, but he probably would’ve have been best having a season in the AHL to hone his craft. Tonight though, Schmidt was outstanding with his decision making, stepping up in the neutral zone when necessary, and it culminated in his best game of the season. He’s playing due to injuries, but the rookie is doing all he can to help the team. Give credit to assistant coach Calle Johansson too, after Carlson, Green, and Karl Alzner, the other guys playing defense aren’t household NHL players but somehow Calle had these guys playing above their skill level on Saturday.

If there are some things not to like about this loss that featured a great team effort, it is probably the power play going 0 for 3 on the night (10 shots on goal) along with Washington’s inability to get a lot of traffic on Reimer. The Leafs were not going to let Ovechkin score with the man advantage and Brouwer and Ward didn’t capitalize on their opportunities. Oates and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe will need to adjust that unit again to get more traffic. Carlson had several point blasts but Reimer saw nearly all of them cleanly. One other thing to dislike were the face off totals. Toronto won that battle handily, 39-24.

So the Caps end up a back to back weekend against the Habs and Leafs going 0-1-1 despite carrying the play in five of the six periods. Peter Budaj and Reimer were the difference makers and the Capitals inability to get traffic and rebounds didn’t help the cause. That’s an area to work on going forward.

Still, the fact that Washington’s puck possession numbers were much better the last two nights is encouraging. I credit a lot of that to getting #52 back in the lineup. Green doesn’t get paid $6M+ per season for nothing. With Green and Carlson playing the right side for over 80% of the game, Washington is a different team than when they are only with one of them. In addition, the other defenders amped up their game and minimized their mistakes.

Notes: Washington’s next game is at home against the Ottawa Senators on Thanksgiving Eve…assistant equipment manager, Craig “Woody” Leydig, worked his 2,000th NHL game on Saturday night. Woody has been with the Caps since the 80′s and is one of those guys that just shows up and does his job every night. He’s a well known “good guy” around the league.

 

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Oates Frustrated After Caps Comeback Falls Short

Posted on 23 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Coach Adam Oates was notably upset after this one, and that is highly unusual.

The normally calm bench boss who does a great job of answering post game questions, win or lose, was frustrated and he said as much as he closed down his presser.

He was frustrated at his team, particularly some of the “veterans” who aren’t helping the younger guys.

My take is he was also frustrated with an officiating crew that somehow had the power plays five to two in favor of Montreal despite the fact that the Caps carried the large majority of the play for the last 44 minutes.

More importantly, he knew that all of the energy his club spent trying to come back from a 3-0 deficit was mostly wasted and could potentially hurt them for their game on Saturday night in Toronto. The Caps will face the Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Hockey Night in Canada and they will not be getting in to the Big Smoke until early Saturday morning after having to clear customs.

The problem in Friday’s game was Washington came out sluggish, looking like the team that was dominated by Pittsburgh on Wednesday, and they dug themselves a 3-0 hole. Oates called the errors some of the same ones his team has been making over and over. There were wrong reads on passes (Alex Urbom’s pass to Mikhail Grabovski that led to the first goal), bad icing penalties which caused his club to give up a face-off goal due to bad coverage by some inexperienced defensemen (Tyson Strachan and Nate Schmidt), and poor penalty killing technique (Strachan and Urbom) that allowed the Habs to get a tap in goal from Daniel Briere, which was the eventual game winner.

The veterans Oates was likely upset with on the face off goal were the team’s first line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson. Those guys needed to be better with the puck in that situation and not get whistled for icing with a weaker defensive pairing on the ice.

Still, despite the early ugliness, there were lots of good things that occurred. Perhaps it was because Montreal relaxed or maybe because Washington simply played better?

I’m going with the latter. It was clear that Mike Green, who returned after missing three games, was rusty in period one. Oates called him “shaky” in that period but after the first frame, suddenly the Caps were coming out of their zone much better. A lot of that has to do with #52′s ability to move the puck. John Carlson (two assists) continued to be his dominant self so Oates was back to having a strong right side defense and those two players were on the ice for a combined 45+ minutes. It’s no surprise to me that the Capitals are a much better club and have the puck more often when both Green and Carlson are in the lineup.

The Caps had a ton of scoring chances the last 40 minutes but this game was won by one person, Peter Budaj. The former Colorado goalie stopped both Aaron Volpatti and Backstrom on breakaways in the middle frame and he came up large on several other situations where the Capitals were putting on extreme pressure. Only two Ovechkin goals got by him, one that hit the leg of Josh Gorges and changed direction and the other on a Gr8 deflection of a Carlson blast. Ovechkin now has 19 goals in 21 games played this season.

In the NHL though, playing well doesn’t ensure you get any standing points and the Caps fall to 12-10-1 after this defeat. It stings because a strong final two stanzas is negated by a bad start, once again. It’s hard to determine why this team struggles out of the gate because they are a good skating team. Somehow they are too sloppy early and that seems to be a mental thing.

Still, despite the loss, the way Washington dominated the last two thirds of the game, except when they had to kill off some silly penalty calls (i.e, Brooks Laich hold, Martin Erat roughing), is encouraging. After being outshot heavily at even strength in the three games Green was out, the Caps found themselves dead even in even strength shots on goal at 21 each with the Habs. Shot attempts for the game were 66-57 in favor of Washington and that is pretty significant when you consider that Rob Martell and Dan O’Halloran gifted Montreal with three extra man advantage situations. How does that Peter Laviolette line about the refs and the Canadiens from 24/7 go again?!

But enough on that, the zebras make mistakes, as Ovechkin told me afterwards. The Gr8 stated it was okay and everyone makes mistakes, he just would have liked to have seen his club get a call late like it sure seemed they deserved.

But that’s hockey and sports, in general. Some nights you have to play good enough to overcome the opposition and the guys in the stripes.

The Caps nearly pulled that off, but a hot Habs goalie and a bad first 16 minutes were the recipe for defeat.

Notes: Carlson’s chances of making Team USA for the Olympics continues to go up. I chatted with Team USA scout and former Thrashers GM Don Waddell on Friday and he was lavish in his praise of #74. Judging by our conversation, if Waddell was picking the team, Carlson would be on it. But David Poile is the GM of Team USA so he has the final say. Still, the way Carlson is going, he seems like a lock to me…The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, was in the house for this one and in typical #99 fashion, he signed lots of autographs while sitting in owner Ted Leonsis’ box…Washington dominated from the faceoff dot, 45-32. Backstrom was 14-7…the Caps second line of Laich, Martin Erat, and Troy Brouwer struggled for the first 40 minutes but they looked a little more cohesive in the third period. Erat played center and Laich moved to left wing. Those guys could really use a goal to get some confidence back.

 

 

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Pens Expose Caps D in Dominating Victory

Posted on 20 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It was NHL rivalry night on NBC on Wednesday night.

It was Penguins-Capitals, two teams that have despised each other since the early 90′s, playing for first place in the new Metropolitan division.

It was Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, arguably the top 2 players in the NHL going head to head once again.

Should be a great game, right?

Nope, it was pretty much a dud. At least from the Washington Capitals side. The Penguins came in and dominated a Capitals club that was missing #1 defensemen Mike Green, winning rather easily 4-0.

The shots on net were 40-18 in favor of the guys from Pittsburgh as the Pens seemingly had the puck on a string all night (see Crosby’s goal that made it 3-0 late in period two). It was a thorough rear whipping delivered by the Pens against Washington.

Give credit to Pittsburgh, they are a good hockey team. As good as Crosby is, there is a guy wearing #71 over there that when he decides to play, can be just as good as #8 and #87. On Wednesday, Malkin was on. His play on the second Pittsburgh goal, against Washington’s top D pair of Karl Alzner and John Carlson, really took the wind out of the Capitals sails and Geno would go on to dominate many of his other shifts against a Caps defense, that frankly has four guys who are third pair defensemen, on their best nights.

When your defensemen can’t get the puck from the opposition and struggle to get it out of their own end cleanly, it’s tough to generate offense. That is what we saw from Washington tonight. Missing Green is a big factor. Normally Coach Adam Oates will get 45 to 50 minutes out of Green and Carlson on the right side, but tonight, all he had again was #74. The Caps got by without Green against a rare subpar Detroit Red Wings squad and a tired Blues team over the weekend, but going against a rested Penguins team that had their full lineup, it was a mismatch between Pittsburgh’s forwards and the Capitals defense.

Yes, Green makes a big difference for Washington but GM George McPhee has to have some concerns about the left side of his defense. Alex Urbom and Nate Schmidt are playing their hearts out but they are not meant to be getting more than 12 to 14 minutes a night at the NHL level. Schmidt has a bright future and could eventually be a 2nd pair defensemen, but right now he’s just not ready and is playing due to the injuries to John Erskine and Jack Hillen. Even still, in the summer we heard talk that the team was hoping that Dmitry Orlov could step up and be a top 4 d-man. Unfortunately, he hasn’t played at the NHL level this year yet. Part of that is because Washington has been smart about not rushing a player who has had a recent concussion history and putting him in a bad situation. Just last week McPhee stated that #81 was ready and was Hershey’s best d-man so perhaps we’ll see him Friday against Montreal?

The D certainly deserves the lion share of the blame but the Caps power play went 0 for 3 in the first frame too. Ovechkin hit the post and from there things went downhill.

It was an ugly game and a less than average effort against a disliked rival.

The Pens came to play on Wednesday and took advantage of matchups to dominate the game. Kudos to them.

For the Caps, the good news is this is just one game and it is only November. The team, despite the issues on the back end, is still 12-9-1 and in second place in their division.

There are concerns on defense, but there is plenty of time to evaluate and possibly make moves when the time is right or a good deal presents itself.

No need to panic, the Caps still have a very solid team. But it is frustrating to get smoked by one of your archrivals in your own building when first place is on the line. So November or not, it is telling in some regards. Now it is up to the team and management to adjust.

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps into 1st Place

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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps into 1st Place

Posted on 17 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Facing a very good St. Louis Blues squad that had won the night before, the Washington Capitals came out on flying on Sunday evening getting two Alexander Ovechkin tallies and a sweet rebound goal from Mikhail Grabovski to grab a 3-0 first period lead and they rode that to an impressive 4-1 victory at the Verizon Center.

Braden Holtby made 46 saves on the night, many of which came AFTER the Caps grabbed a 4-1 lead on John Carlson’s 5th goal of the season (and in the month of November) at the midway point of this contest.

With the win the Capitals are now 12-8-1 and in FIRST PLACE in the new Metropolitan Division, taking a one point lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have a game in hand and come to town on NHL rivalry night on NBC on Wednesday (8 pm start).

Granted the Blues were tired from arriving at 3 am on Sunday morning, which is life in the NHL, but nonetheless, this was an impressive victory for the Caps who were the first team in the NHL to hold St. Louis under two goals all season. The Blues are a strong team and Washington showed that they are a club on a serious rise after a 1-4 start to the season.

There were lots of good play to go around in this one but it obviously started with the Gr8 and Nicklas Backstrom. Do yourself a favor and go back and watch the Capitals goals on the night once again. Ovechkin’s rocket of a shot on the first goal was an absolute laser and his second was on a rebound in front of the net. Coach Adam Oates has been trying to get Alexander the Great to hang out in the low slot a little more to use his size and reach and it is paying off. That’s now a league leading (tied with the Blues Alexander Steen) 17 goals in just 19 games for Alex, WOW! As for Backstrom, his masterful passing helped set up both Ovechkin tallies as well as Carlson’s power play blast that effectively ended any chance the Blues had of getting back into the game. There are not enough words in the English dictionary to describe how great of a passer #19 is. The sneaky neutral zone touch pass he made to Ovechkin on the 1st goal was made to look so easy by the Swedish center, but it is a very difficult thing to do. The guy is playing at an extremely high level this season.

Oates moved Marcus Johansson back up with Ovechkin and Backstrom on Friday in Detroit in that comeback victory and it was absolutely the right thing to do. MJ90 works well in that role and he was struggling a bit at both ends as the 2nd line center. Moving Martin Erat down to the second LW spot and Brooks Laich to center again with Troy Brouwer is another good combination.

As for the third line of Grabovski, Joel Ward, and Jason Chimera, they continue to be a trailblazing group. Chimera used his speed to agitate a big Blues defensive crew all evening and #84 had a sweet tally banging home the rebound of Chimera’s shot out of the air for the third first period tally, which ended Jaroslav Halak’s night (3 goals on 6 shots). That trio is playing as well as any in the league. The Caps should send Toronto coach Randy Carlyle and GM Dave Nonis some really nice holiday presents for buying that guy out, he’s been an outstanding addition for Washington.

On defense, it all starts again with Carlson and Karl Alzner. In my Saturday WNST story on Carlson, I stated my case for #74 to be on the Team USA Olympic team this February. Team USA assistant coach Peter Laviolette was in the house on Sunday scouting for Team USA (h/t @Jeff_Kryglik of WNST) and he had to take notice of how dominant Carlson is out there. He skates extremely well and has a very good stick. He used them effectively at both ends of the ice, with many of the PK clears coming from his blade. Alzner is a great partner for Carlson and they are the first duo out on all Caps penalty kills. Neither was on the ice when St. Louis got their lone marker with the man advantage in period two.

No victory is complete without good goaltending and Holtby was super, stopping any Blues early shots that could have given them momentum. St. Louis had the quantity of shots tonight but the quality ones were not in abundance, but when they had them, #70 was there to shut the door. Again, most of that quantity of shots did come after it was 4-1 (the result of score effects, as the hockey analytics community would call that scenario).

The Caps also received good performances from several others. Second defensive pair Tyson Strachan and Nate Schmidt played well again after a nice NHL debut together on Friday (they were paired in Hershey early on in the AHL with good success too). Michael Latta continues to be an added bonus to the Filip Forsberg trade doing the little things that a fourth line center needs to do, and even Tom Wilson let Ryan Reaves know that his cheap shot from behind on Backstrom would not be tolerated and #43 promptly leveled him to the Verizon Center ice.

It was a super win for Washington against a top hockey club on Sunday and they’ve earned first place in their division.

Next up, Sidney Crosby and the Penguins on Wednesday.

I can’t wait.

Notes: Mike Green missed his second consecutive game with a leg contusion but did skate this morning. There is a chance he could play on Wednesday but given the strong play of Strachan, there is no need to risk any further damage this early in the season. The Caps will need #52 big time the rest of the year and in the playoffs…Ovechkin had 14 shot attempts (5 on net) and 4 hits to go with his 2 goals…Carlson had 25:01 of ice time to lead the Caps while Team Canada defenseman Alex Pietrangelo led all skaters at 25:57.

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Ovechkin Nets Winner as Caps Grind Out OT Victory

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Ovechkin Nets Winner as Caps Grind Out OT Victory

Posted on 13 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

“Every night is a grind.”

That was what Caps Coach Adam Oates had to say after his team rallied in the third period before winning in overtime on Alexander Ovechkin’s 14th goal of the season, 4-3, over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

As usual, the Washington bench boss is spot on.

Playing their fifth game in eight nights the Capitals had an up and down performance but grinded to get a much needed two points to push their record to 10-8-1. It wasn’t pretty as several players, including the Gr8 himself, struggled for much of the game. Mike Green and Marcus Johansson also had a rough go, but both found a way to make a play late in the contest that helped their team win. Green’s work on the boards with under two minutes left in regulation allowed Washington to tie the game on Mikhail Grabovski’s sixth goal of the season and MJ90 finally got his legs going and flew past a Columbus defender to set Ovechkin up for the OT winner.

It was a much needed victory after two defeats out West in two nights that included a lot of travel.

The travel played a role in this contest, the Caps played a solid first period carrying the scoring chance opportunities, but they couldn’t finish and as a result the first stanza ended, 0-0. As the game wore on, some players looked to be feeling the effects of the frequent flyer miles, however, one unit continued to carry the play: the third line of Grabovski, Jason Chimera, and Joel Ward. Those guys used their speed and gave the Blue Jackets fits all night. Oates was once again impressed with the unit, half jokingly calling them “the first line” in his post game presser. He also pointed out that he saw good chemistry between Ward and Chimera last spring and it has continued in the first quarter of this season.

As good as the third line was, there was no better player on the ice on Tuesday night than John Carlson. Hopefully someone from Team USA saw this one because #74 was flat out dominant against Columbus. He was winning every puck battle in every zone, he scored a big goal after a great feed from Martin Erat and he had the second assist on the game winner. Carlson logged 24:32 of ice time that was only bested by his d-partner Karl Alzner at 24:55. Oates praised Carlson’s game saying he’s been playing great hockey lately along with Alzner and reminded everyone that the duo is the first unit on the ice on every penalty kill.

Alzner, who rightfully gave himself credit for allowing Carlson to play more aggressive given his defensive style, said that Carlson getting his first goal 10 days ago against Florida allowed #74 to get his confidence going. King Karl pointed out that “Carlson can win games for us” and that he was a “huge, huge factor” in the victory. Carlson now has four goals in his last six games.

Braden Holtby earned the victory in this one stopping 24 of 27 pucks thrown his way. He can’t be faulted on any of the three goals. Two were one on one situations and the other was a deflection in front where #70 didn’t have much of a chance to see the biscuit. Holtby also took a skate to the top of his head after that goal and said he had to “shake the cobwebs out” afterwards. 

Braden is only 24 years old, but it is evident he is becoming a team leader, much like Olie Kolzig did when he was the Washington goalie. Following the game, Alzner pointed out that the bench was mad after Columbus took the lead and that allowed them to respond and come back. Holtby partially agreed with the “mental toughness” aspect of that, but also was quick to note that it took a couple of shifts before things turned around as Columbus had a three on one break right after the goal and had they scored there, this one would have been a loss. Holtby certainly isn’t afraid to hold his teammates accountable, and that is the mark of a leader. This team needs that given its tendency to forget about their own zone, at times.

Oates was clearly happy to get two points on this night, but he wasn’t thrilled about some of the mistakes his club made, particularly the third Columbus goal. Many will point to Green missing the puck as it took a Washington Wizards hop over his stick allowing Cam Atkinson to get a breakaway tally, however, the Hall of Fame coach was upset with the team’s decision making in the offensive zone. Nate Schmidt pinched down to take a shot and he didn’t hit the net, which was compounded by some of Washington’s forwards not being in position to help cover for #88. Oates said his team broke “one of their rules” in that situation. You can bet that will be addressed on Wednesday.

The coach also likely isn’t pleased with his power play, which went 0 for 3 and allowed a short handed goal. Luckily, though, the penalty was a perfect 3 for 3 and scored too.

The PK excellence is what you need to do to get two points when your big guns aren’t clicking for much of the night.

You have to find a way to grind it out, and that’s what the Caps did on Tuesday to get the victory.

Notes: The Caps outshot Columbus 34-27 and the attempts were 57-55 overall for the game…the Caps were crushed on face-offs, 36-22, but Michael Latta went 3 for 3 centering a fourth line that played just over five minutes but performed extremely well when they had their numbers called…Alzner discussed defensive zone positioning with me afterwards and noted that part of the issue with goals being scored on passes from behind their net was that he and Carlson were still learning when Johansson is going to chase or stay back. On Tuesday night, you could see that the trio was doing a better job of communicating and executing. Columbus didn’t sneak into any gaps for quick shots on passes from behind the net. MJ90 didn’t play center at all last spring so it’s been awhile since 27 & 74 have had to play D while #90 is playing the pivot spot, which explains some of the recent issues…next up for the Caps are the Red Wings in Motown on Friday night…six of the eleven NHL games on Tuesday were decided in OT or the shootout which shows just how close the league is and why every night is “a grind.”

 

 

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