Tag Archive | "Schmidt"

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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There is nothing Alexander Ovechkin can't do when it comes to hockey.

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Ovechkin Scores 499 to Win It in Overtime for the Caps

Posted on 09 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

It’s hard to see a hockey game end any more exciting than that one did.

Wow!

Alexander Ovechkin, after Braden Holtby made a big save on Rick Nash and Nate Schmidt followed it up with a game saving block of Derek Stepan’s empty net bid, took the puck in three on three overtime, went end-to-end down the left wing beating both Nash and Ryan McDonagh with blazing speed, and ripped the 499th goal of his career by King Henrik Lundqvist to give the Washington Capitals an amazing comeback 4-3 victory after they had surrendered a 2-0 third period lead.

Once again…Wow!

I’m practically out of breath after this amazing game.

Washington carried most of the play over New York for two periods and seemed to have things in control heading into the final frame. However the Caps looked a little lethargic and tired while the Rangers, off since Tuesday night, came storming back to seize the lead, 3-2, with three goals in less than 10 minutes of play. Washington made too many defensive zone mistakes during that stretch and with just over five minutes to go it looked like New York was headed to its fifth win in the last six games against the Capitals.

But this Caps team is just too proud, too determined, and too tight of a unit to allow their archrivals to stick it to them again in a dagger like fashion. The Capitals put on a furious assault on Lundqvist and nearly tied the game on an Andre Burakovsky shot that hit iron. During that stretch, with 3:50 to go, the Rangers did get a two on one break and Nash fed McDonagh for what looked like a layup, but he either shot it wide or the Holtbeast (23 saves) just got a piece of it as the biscuit slid wide.

Still, with less than 30 seconds left the Caps were on their last life, but Ovechkin did a great job to gather a puck in the left wing corner and instead of firing on net, he fed Matt Niskanen at the left point. #2 saw that there were several Blueshirts in his lane so he slid the disc over to Justin Williams. The super smart Williams saw all star Nicklas Backstrom in front of King Henrik and he fired a shot on net with #19 screening. Lundqvist made the first save, but he couldn’t corral what he couldn’t see, and then Nicky put the rebound home with just six seconds left!

The Caps bench went nuts and then overtime came. It was a wild three on three affair and the Rangers looked to win it off of an offensive zone faceoff, but Holtby made the huge stop on Nash in the slot and #88 made his magic stick block on game seven hero Stepan setting the stage for the Gr8.

Ovechkin, who definitely has a flair for the dramatic, made no mistake about this one and after scoring he slid on his knees and did a spin in front of the Washington bench as his teammates stood by ready to mug him in celebration. Schmidt and Holtby embraced, as well, and this close knit group clearly enjoyed getting a victory in amazing fashion when it looked like the curse of the Rangers might live on.

Have I said “Wow!” in this blog yet?

Wow!

That was some game and this team just keeps finding ways to get it done. Ovechkin opened the scoring on the power play with a layup after a Dan Girardi givewaway to move to 498 career goals. Williams pushed the lead to a pair in the middle frame on a breakaway after a big Gr8 hit on McDonagh allowed Schmidt to get the puck and send #14 in all alone on the King. Williams pin balled it in on a diving Lundqvist and it looked like from there the Caps would cruise to another win.

But New York, who has really struggled since the season’s quarter pole, didn’t quit either, so give them credit for racing back into the game and grabbing the lead.

The Rangers, however, have to feel decimated after this one. They couldn’t hold a late lead and Washington increased their Metropolitan lead over them to 16 points at the season’s halfway mark. New York is now tied with their cross town rival, the Islanders, for second place (Caps have a game in hand on the Isles).

With Marcus Johansson out due to suspension (he is eligible to return Thursday against Vancouver) and Jay Beagle, Brooks Orpik, and John Carlson all injured, the Caps knew they needed big games from their top two lines on Saturday afternoon and they received just that. The Gr8 had two goals and was +2, Backstrom had his tally and was +2 while Williams notched a goal and assist (+1).

On the back end, Schmidt was the star with two assists and the big shot block in 21:20 of ice time, but Niskanen had a big assist on the game tying tally in 28:34 while Karl Alzner blocked seven shots, including one with his head in period two. King Karl eats rocks for breakfast.

Wow!

So now on Sunday night at the Verizon Center, the Ovechkin 500th goal watch is in full effect. The Caps, who just finished a stretch of six road contests in seven games, went 5-1-1 to put a stranglehold on their division. They will now have to play for the third time in four nights against Ottawa, but at least it will be at home, which should be rocking with the Gr8, the man who saved hockey in this area, on the cusp of another major milestone.

Do. Not. Miss. It.

Notes: The Caps were 1 for 3 on the power play while New York went 0 for 3, but the Rangers tying goal came right after a Washington power play expired. The Capitals clearly missed Johansson’s ability to get clean zone entries with the man advantage which, at numerous times, made the PP look out of sync…several on the Caps bottom two lines had their struggles in this one in the last 20 minutes…Mike Richards skated on Friday but won’t play for awhile. He needs to get in hockey shape and a conditioning stint in Chocolatetown is not out of the question…Washington won the face off battle, 31-28, with Backstrom going a dominating, 15-7…see you for Ovie’s 500th on Sunday night, so be there or be square!

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Washington jumps out to a quick 2-0 lead en route to a suffocating 4-1 victory over the Islanders.

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Ovechkin Hits 497 as Caps Dominate Islanders

Posted on 07 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

You are not going to find a more complete road win than that one.

The Washington Capitals dominated the New York Islanders on Thursday night at the Barclays Center, 4-1, with a suffocating victory against a speedy Isles club.

The Caps did an outstanding job of back checking and staying together in five man units which kept New York on the perimeter and away from the high danger areas all game. It was a stellar effort in which Washington continued to win the majority of the loose puck battles.

Braden Holtby stopped 34 of 35 shots, with the only tally against a snipe from between the circles while the Caps defender screened the Holtbeast. Other than that, #70 was perfect and he ran his record in his last 21 games to an astonishing 18-0-2. On this night, though, he didn’t have to steal the contest by himself because his teammates turned in one of their best performances of the season away from the friendly confines of the Verizon Center.

On offense, the Capitals took advantage of a rusty Jaroslav Halak by throwing biscuits at the cage early and often (38 shots on goal total). Jason Chimera notched his 12th goal of the campaign just 5:45 into the contest after Marcus Johansson battled to grab the puck in the left wing corner. Jojo is having his best season as a Capital despite getting called for a neutral zone penalty in period one. Alex Ovechkin made it 2-0 at 15:45 after Karl Alzner alertly jumped on a puck in the defensive zone, made a great rush up the ice, and threaded a Nicklas Backstrom-esque pass backwards to the Gr8, who ripped it thru Halak and into the cage.

After the Islanders tallied early in period two, New York had a power play that they nearly scored on. The Caps would kill it off and shortly after the infraction expired, Backstrom hounded the Islanders defense behind New York’s cage, stole the puck, and then put one “on a tee” for Nate Schmidt, who got every bit of the shot that went through Halak again and into the twine. That made it 3-1 heading into period three.

In the final frame, coaches could record those 20 minutes and use it as an educational session on how to totally shut down an opponent with a two goal lead. The Islanders got NOTHING in that period as Washington carried the play and took away any chance New York had of getting a victory. The Caps were relentless in their puck pursuit.

When Isles Coach Jack Capuano pulled his netminder with over three minutes remaining the Caps did a super job of quickly getting the puck out, especially Ovechkin, and Backstrom (goal, assist, and +3) skated in and put the biscuit in the basket to close out the scoring.

All around the lineup the Capitals received excellent outings, especially from their defensemen. They were all impressive and Aaron Ness (12:34 of ice time) has really shown to be a super addition. #55 really skates well and is decisive with the puck. Matt Niskanen logged a team high 25:50 while Dmitry Orlov (22:50) turned in one of his best games of the season. #9 and Schmidt were super. This Caps defense is extremely mobile, but they can also play physical in the corners to win the puck battles. It’s hard to believe how well this team is playing on the back end with both John Carlson and Brooks Orpik out. As I blogged after Tuesday’s win over Boston, this injury situation is turning into a blessing in disguise because Ness has been a find and Taylor Chorney continues to get better and better. Kudos to Coach Barry Trotz and assistant coach Todd Rierden for the job they’ve done with this crop of blueliners.

Up front, I thought all four lines were good, but I was especially pleased with the top line. They had been in a bit of a funk recently, however, that was not the case in Brooklyn on Thursday. Ovechkin was back skating and shooting (497th career goal, 8 shots on net, 11 total shot attempts, and three hits) and all star Nicky was just outstanding with his two points and ability to win key draws. #19 was 12-7 from the dot and that forced the Islanders to do a lot of chasing just to try and get the puck back. By game’s end the Islanders looked totally out of gas while the Caps were still flying.

This victory pushes the Caps to a 30-7-3 (63 points) record and they lead the Islanders by 14 points in the Metropolitan Division. They remain first in both the Eastern Conference and the NHL standings.

All in all, this was just a stellar hockey game by a team that really seems to enjoy playing together. They stick up for one another and when they play the Trotz system, they are very, very difficult to beat.

Even with some big injuries to Carlson, Orpik, and Jay Beagle, the Capitals are finding ways to win.

On Thursday night, they won convincingly, and that has to be disconcerting to the rest of the league.

Simply put, to quote the great Count Floyd, the play of the Washington Capitals is “Scary Stuff, kids!”

Notes: Nine of the Islanders 35 shots came on their two power plays…Washington signed two time Stanley Cup Champion Mike Richards to a one year, $1M contract on Wednesday evening. Richards will wear the #10 he had in Los Angeles and will practice on Friday with the team. He has not played since April and won’t be in the lineup until he’s good and ready. Coach Trotz said Thursday that he’ll start as a center on the fourth line once he’s game capable. I really like this addition because he’s a guy who’s won at all levels and really provides depth to the bottom six forwards…the Caps outshot New York 38-35 and I imagine the quality chances were even more lopsided towards Washington’s end…next up for the Caps are the New York Rangers on Saturday at Madison Square Garden at 1 pm. This is the third and final visit for the Caps to the gaaahhhden (until the playoffs).

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Braden Holtby defeats Boston once again as Evgeny Kuznetsov turns in another stellar performance.

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Kuznetsov Dazzles as Holtby Stops the Bruins

Posted on 05 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Who own da Bruins?

Braden Holtby owwwwnnnnssss the Bruins.

The Holtbeast stopped 25 of 27 shots, including a big one on Zdeno Chara late in the game, to preserve a 3-2 victory for a banged up Capitals team at TD Garden in Boston. The Bruins, who are also dealing with an injury to star forward David Krejci and a suspension to knucklehead Brad Marchand, put on a strong third period push after falling behind, 3-1, but it wasn’t enough.

The star for the Caps on this night was, you guessed it, Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Russian wizard set up Andre Burakovsky for a sweet top shelf marker in period one and then when the Capitals finally abandoned forcing the puck to Alex Ovechkin on the power play, the slick stickhandling Kuzya skated in from the right wing circle and snapped one by Tuukka Rask to make it, 2-0. Rask, who probably desires a contract clause that prohibits him from playing against the Capitals, had a strong outing (26 saves) and kept his club in it through two periods.

The Caps were dominant, leading the shots on goal, 23-14, in those opening frames and their only big hiccup in the first 40 minutes was a bad coverage situation that allowed Lou Eriksson to cut the lead in half on a play that Holtby had no chance on.

Marcus Johansson, who was great centering Tom Wilson and Jason Chimera despite missing some time in the middle frame, had the game winner by going to the cage and putting home a rocket of a shot by Dmitry Orlov that hit the pipe and ricocheted in front with just over nine minutes remaining. Jojo only played 12:12, but that new line that Coach Barry Trotz put together in Columbus since Jay Beagle is out for six weeks looks really good.

Burakovsky has also taken advantage of the lineup change playing with Kuznetsov and “Mr. Stick” Justin Williams. That trio was super and Washington received stellar performances from their second and third units. Kuznetsov and Williams were both around 20 minutes of ice time and Burakovsky played 16:56 in one of his best games of the season. That’s important because the Capitals really need him to gain confidence in time for the playoffs.

As for the first unit, well they are in a bit of a funk right now, and it was an ill timed giveaway after it was 3-1 that led to a Matt Niskanen (27:19 TOI) penalty with 8:47 remaining. That bad shift and infraction just 32 sections after the Caps grabbed a two goal cushion proved costly when Patrice Bergeron tallied on the rush with 8:08 remaining.

But Washington would do a good job of not giving up any real quality chances down the stretch and despite the fact that the Caps looked a little gassed once again, they held on, with some solid netminding from #70 to boot.

With their top defensive pair out in John Carlson (day to day) and Brooks Orpik (week to week), Orlov (20:06) and Nate Schmidt (18:43) have really stepped up and done a nice job as the second duo. The third pair of Taylor Chorney and Aaron Ness were solid on Tuesday, as well. Coach Trotz didn’t have to hide anyone on the blue line with Ness logging 12:55 and Chorney at 15:46. Those are decent ice times for a third pairing and the injuries have helped Washington develop some back side depth.

The victory halts a two game losing streak, although the second was in the gimmick so the Caps received a point, and pushes their overall record to an NHL leading 29-7-3 (61 points). They have a 12 point lead over the second place Islanders and a 13 point lead over the third place Rangers, in the Metropolitan Division. Those two teams are their next two opponents in New York on Thursday and Saturday, respectively. Washington has a game in hand on each team, as well.

It seems unlikely that #74 will be in the lineup on Thursday, and the Capitals have no need to rush him back with the lead they have overall in the standings (including a nine point cushion over the red hot Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference, who have won 10 in a row and lead the Atlantic Division). The Islanders recently lost top pair defensemen Johnny Boychuk for 4 to 6 weeks so they have no injury sympathy for the Caps. New York will be fired up for this one, given it is the first meeting since Washington defeated the Isles in game seven of last spring’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, this contest will take place in Brooklyn since the Islanders moved out of Nassau Coliseum over the summer.

As you recall, it was Kuznetsov who scored the series winner in dazzling fashion to send the Islanders to the links last April. On Tuesday in Beantown, #92 was the main reason the Capitals won once again, giving Holtby his 25th victory of the season.

Notes: Ovechkin had only six shot attempts, including two on net. He’s looked sluggish the last few games, but fortunately the Capitals have a deep lineup and can still win when he’s not scoring…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 27-26, and Jojo went 6-4…Wilson left for a bit in the middle period when Johansson was out too, but he still played 13:42. It was when those two were out that the 4th line gave up the Bruins first tally with some poor back checking and coverage…the Caps were 1 for 3 on the power play while Boston went 1 for 4…Zach Sill had five hits in 7:57, one of them was a missed boarding penalty, though…Stan Galiev only played 5:42 and was -1.

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The Caps fight hard but get 0 power plays in a tough loss in Carolina

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Caps Winning Streak Ends at 9 in Carolina

Posted on 31 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Well, I guess all good things have to come to an end.

In a contest in which the odds were heavily stacked against them, even before referees Steve Kozari and Mike Leggo put on their Canes colored glasses, the Washington Capitals, who were undermanned without Jay Beagle, John Carlson, and Brooks Orpik in the lineup, battled as hard as they could before falling in the third period to Carolina, 4-2.

Gone went their nine game winning streak. Ditto for their string of five consecutive road wins.

But their streak of never quitting continued. Sure, the way they fought back, once again, is a moral victory on New Year’s Eve. After all, they gave everything they had to rally and defeat the Sabres on Wednesday night without Nicklas Backstrom and Beagle in the third period plus Carlson, Orpik, and Michael Latta out for the entire contest. They then had to travel to Raleigh to face a rested Hurricanes team that has been playing well.

But that’s hockey and there are no excuses.

Washington was dominated for stretches of this tilt and, at times, were their own worst enemy. Case in point, the Carolina third goal where Hershey call up Zach Sill inexplicably left sniper Jeff Skinner all alone in the slot for the game winning goal. That gave the Canes a 3-1 lead early in the third period.

However, the Caps did come out of this one with a lot of positives.

Let’s start with the pregame good news. Word is that Carlson should be back for Tuesday’s road game in Boston, so #74, who is in the top 10 to 15 defensemen in the league, should only miss a total of four games. Next, Backstrom, who scored the Capitals first goal on a whale of a snipe, was deemed healthy and looked good after suffering an upper body injury against the Sabres. Also, Latta, who stepped up for Justin Williams on Monday night and was injured fighting a circus clown, returned to the lineup and had some very strong shifts with Andre Burakovsky and Brooks Laich. Burakovsky, who scored on Wednesday to break a two month scoreless drought, logged 12:18, went +2, and was flying on the ice. That’s very encouraging and he will be very much needed come April and beyond. Remember when he dominated Caps-Rangers game four last spring? That’s what Coach Trotz and company need from this kid.

In addition, Alex Ovechkin notched his fourth goal in three games to move to 21 on the season and 496 in his career. The Gr8 came awfully close to tying this contest up late. In 20:05 of ice time Alexander the Great had 10 shot attempts, including six on net and four hits.

In goal, Philipp Grubauer almost singlehandedly gave the Caps a chance with a super effort making 33 saves, many of which were from the high danger zone. Coach Trotz should have no issue with giving Braden Holtby some rest over the remainder of the season given how well #31 is playing.

On the downside, the Caps have been piecing it together on the blue line with all of the injuries and that’s two games in a row where Coach Trotz has basically sat Connor Carrick and gone with just a five man rotation for the third period. Perhaps Aaron Ness, who was recalled from Hershey on Thursday, will get a sweater against the big Blue Jackets? That would make sense, and it in no way is a knock on the progress of Carrick. The young blue liner is only 21 and it really takes a player physically and mentally until 23 or 24 to thoroughly become a game in and game out NHL blue liner. Nate Schmidt is now 24 and is coming into his own, but two years ago, he was at a spot similar to where Carrick’s development is now.

In addition, the officiating was just downright pitiful. Carolina is one of the least penalized teams in the NHL, but you want to tell me they didn’t commit any infractions in this one while the Caps were called for three penalties? Sorry, but I’m going all Reg Dunlop, at this point.

WE ALL SAW IT WITH OUR OWN EYES!!!

Yes, the Jordan Staal trip on Evgeny Kuznetsov in the faceoff dot that allowed the Canes to get an odd man rush the other way that they scored the opening tally on. Also, the BLATANT interference on Tom Wilson that was not called with Grubauer pulled and the Caps storming the castle late. Willy had the lane to the puck to set up a chance to tie the game, but due to the non-call, the Hurricanes were able to get to the biscuit easily and hit the empty net to close this one out.

Those were two critical sequences where the zebras landed on the incorrect side of the play, as well as the Capitals, and were a major influence on the outcome. There is no denying that.

There were other missed calls, as well, most notably another Staal interference on Marcus Johansson in the third period. Basically, I started wondering if Kozari and Leggo were distant relatives of the Staal family. Maybe I’ll give Oliver Stone a call to check on that?

When it comes to the officiating on Thursday night, it’s pretty clear the prosecution (aka, me) rests its case, but with Gary Bettman and company as the judge and jury, we all know this poor performance will be swept under the rug. NFL officiating is bad, but at least they admit their mistakes, unlike the way the NHL tries to ignore the evidence in a Nixon administration-like fashion.

Oh well, I guess all NHL referees can’t be of the calibre of Dave Jackson, so the trend of poor officiating will continue, especially when it comes to plays involving Wilson. So thanks again, 30 Thoughts!

With the defeat, the Caps fall to 28-7-2 and still lead the Eastern Conference by 11 points over the New York Islanders. Washington is still a bit banged up and now head to Columbus to face a Blue Jackets team that just defeated the Dallas Stars, 6-3, on Tuesday night. They are coached by the insufferable John Tortorella and will play a hard, physical style. The Caps have a chance to keep another streak going on Saturday, they’ve gone 37 games without a two game losing streak, but now that one is in jeopardy with key guys still out.

But that’s hockey and all that matters is wins and losses, there are no excuses, so the Caps need to get back on the horse to prevail on Saturday night.

Notes: Did I mention the power plays were 3 to 0 for Carolina?…the Caps lost the face off battle, 31-28. Williams was 2-0, but the Caps were 0 for 0 on draws on the power play…the shot attempts were 69-53 for the Canes, but they had seven shots on goal on their power plays alone while the Caps had, oh wait, I forgot they had no power plays, did I say that yet?…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 28:25 including 0:00 on the power play…the Caps had no power plays in this game.

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

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

Posted on 31 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 29 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

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

Boy, were they wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Caps Third Line Propels Team to its 7th Straight Victory

Posted on 26 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You can not stop the Washington Capitals right now, in fact, you can't even contain them.

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Caps Dig Early Hole, Then Demolish the Rangers, 7-3

Posted on 20 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

In case you’ve been living under a rock since October, I have a memo for you:

The 2015-16 Washington Capitals are really good.

For the second straight contest, the Caps put themselves behind the eight ball stinking up the first period and trailing, 3-1, in Madison Square Garden, before reeling off six straight goals to demolish the New York Rangers, 7-3. Sir Paul McCartney was in the house with his son and actually caught a puck in the 1st period when the Capitals, after taking an early 1-0 lead on a Justin Williams goal (2 goals, 1 assist), played a terrible final 10 minutes of the opening frame. During that stretch they were not physical, made turnover after turnover, and also took a bad penalty that yielded the third Blueshirts tally. Washington was out shot 15-7 in those first 20 minutes and it appeared that the New York curse over the Caps would continue.

But there were still 40 minutes to play and fresh off of their three goal rally on Friday night against Tampa, Washington knew if they settled down and played the heavy style their coach prefers, they would be able to get back in it. From the opening shift of the middle stanza, where Marcus Johansson hit the crossbar, this was all Washington. Shortly after killing off an early unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Tom Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsov scored after a Rangers turnover, that was pounced on by Dmitry Orlov (2 assists) in the slot. Wilson, who had just returned to the ice from feeling shame, went to the front of the net and distracted King Henrik Lundqvist on a goal that turned things around. Just less than two minutes later, Nicklas Backstrom (three assists) dumped the puck perfectly off of the right wing boards and the biscuit was picked up by T.J. Oshie, who buried it pass Lundqvist to tie the game just 7:01 into the 2nd period. Oshie went flying in the air on that goal and would miss some time in that period, but return and play the final 20 minutes.

At that point you could see the Rangers, who have been banged up and struggling, realize they were in trouble. The Capitals continued to pounce and drew two penalties (Andre Burakovsky and Wilson) that they finished thanks to outstanding power play feeds by Johansson (1 goal, two assists). Alex Ovechkin (17th goal) and Williams buried those passes and following 40 minutes, Coach Alain Vigneault pulled Lundqvist, who I’ve been suspected of being slightly injured for several weeks.

Ovechkin would take a hooking penalty early in period three, but the Capitals PK unit responded with Wilson chipping a puck out that gave Jason Chimera a breakaway on goalie, Magnus Hellberg. Chimmer made it look easy notching his eighth goal of the season to pretty much end this contest. Johansson would close out the scoring off of a sweet Kuznetsov feed from behind the net just over two minutes later and this one pretty much became a glorified preseason tilt from then on.

The musical legend McCartney would get up to leave late in the contest, presumably to go get his new Ovechkin jersey, and I couldn’t help but think that Blueshirt fans would’ve have liked him to crank out “Yesterday” seeing how the Caps have turned the tables totally on New York with the acquisitions of Williams and Oshie in the offseason.

The Caps are now 24-6-2 (50 points) and lead the Metropolitan Division by eight points over the Rangers with three games in hand. In the Eastern Conference, they are seven points up on Montreal with two games in hand and overall they are tied with the Dallas Stars for the best record in the NHL, but they have a game in hand. Bottom line, this team is really, really good.

But they can still get better, and that’s scary. Yes, they brought their “A” game over the last 40 minutes on Sunday, much like they did the last 20 minutes versus Tampa. Still, this team needs to get off to better starts and clean up some things in their own zone. When they do that and play a physical style, they are awfully hard to beat.

It was a huge victory for Washington on 33rd street on Sunday night with Manhattan fireworks that sent the Rangers faithful home after they thought they were going to get another big win versus the Caps. Barry Trotz and company played the role of “The Grinch” and buried a New York team that looks lost right now (3-9-2 in their last 14 games).

There has been a changing of the guard in the Metropolitan Division and the Caps own the keys to the castle with 50 games left in the regular season.

Notes: Washington plays its last game before the holiday break on Monday night in Carolina. The Hurricanes have been playing better lately (5-4-1), so this has the potential to be a trap game. Coach Trotz may very well go back with Braden Holtby (33 saves) given that the Holtbeast had that break on Friday night…the blowout win allowed the ice time to be spread out in preparation for Monday’s tilt in Raleigh. Taylor Chorney (1 assist, +3) logged 9:49 in the 3rd period and played a total of 18:40, a season high for him. Nate Schmidt, who had a key shot block that stung him early in period three, was able to be rested a bit and only played 15:19…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time at a low figure of 22:13. Matt Niskanen logged 21:27, but no other Capital played over 20 minutes…the Rangers won the shot attempt battle, 66-52, but it was 23-12, New York, after one period (h/t to Dan Rosen of NHL.com)…the Caps lost the face off battle, 35-30, but Kuznetsov went 11-7…Washington was 2 for 3 on the power play while the Rags went 1 for 5.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Be sure to listen to 1570 AM Baltimore on Monday since I’ll be on air talking all things Washington Capitals with host and station owner, Nestor Aparacio. Listen Live via WNST.NET on your computer or mobile device.

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