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Kings Will Win The Cup, But It Won’t Be Easy

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Kings Will Win The Cup, But It Won’t Be Easy

Posted on 03 June 2014 by Ed Frankovic

In a series that was the best I’ve ever seen in my lifetime, the Los Angeles Kings defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime in game seven of the Western Conference Final to move on to face the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final.

The Western Conference, in terms of elite teams, is clearly the better side, but the way the Rangers are gelling, this is not going to be an easy series for the Kings. New York is playing with tremendous emotion, they have excellent speed, and Henrik Lundqvist is money in the cage. Los Angeles brings size, “deep” depth at forward, and a never say die mentality.

Let’s take a look at the match-up in terms of offense, defense, goaltending, coach, and intangibles.

Offense: The Kings lead the NHL in goals for per game in the post season, at 3.48 while New York is 8th at 2.70. Los Angeles has an excellent top six crew of forwards and the bottom six is as good, if not better, than any team in the league. Coach Darryl Sutter has a talented group of players that really filled its’ biggest need with the Marian Gaborik acquisition at the trade deadline (In a related story, Kings GM Dean Lombardi is wanted on felony robbery charges in the state of Ohio). Justin Williams, after the Kings won a thrilling series with the Blackhawks, called “Gabby” the missing piece for LA. He was dead on, since adding an offensive talent like #12 allowed Sutter to balance his lineup. The Kings survived a series of 0 goals from their best offensive player, Anze Kopitar, in the Western final, so that tells you how deep this crew of Kings forwards is. Mike Richards is mostly playing on the bottom two lines, and he’s a second line center on many NHL clubs. The Kings “That 70′s line” of Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter, and Tanner Pearson brings speed and energy. Carter was amazing in the series against the Blackhawks and is a big reason the Kings have a chance to win their 2nd Cup in three years. New York has not scored a lot of goals and Martin St. Louis is their points leader with 13 in 20 games. Chris Kreider has come in to give New York a shot in the arm on offense and he has 10 points in 10 games. The Rangers will rely heavily on his speed and that of guys like Carl Hagelin and Matt Zuccarello. Simply put, though, the Rangers don’t score a lot of goals. Their power play is operating at a 13+% level while Los Angeles is cruising at 25+%. In addition, the Kings can throw four interchangeable lines at you while the Rangers struggle to find a fourth unit. Advantage: Heavily for the Kings.

Defense: The Rangers have a very good top four defense in Ryan McDonough, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and Anton Stralman. Their third pair of John Moore and Kevin Klein is solid too. New York’s deep defense allows Coach Alain Vigneualt to not worry alot about exposing one of his pairs to a major mismatch. Any of the three pairs can face high end talent. The question for New York is what pair do they put against the Kopitar line and which one gets the Carter line? I’d imagine we see 27 and 5 go against Kopitar, Gaborik and Brown while Staal and Stralman get the 70′s line, at least initially. As for the Kings, Drew Doughty is the best defensemen in the NHL and he’ll log a ton of minutes. Doughty will make some mistakes but he’ll more than make up for that with numerous “how’d he do that type of plays?” The questions, though, for LA come with the rest of their crew. The injury to Robyn Regehr has been huge and getting Willie Mitchell back in game two against Chicago was very important. Mitchell and Doughty are great penalty killers. Slava Voynov elevated his game in the Blackhawks series and along with Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez and Matt Greene, they are key to Los Angeles’ ability to win. Will the Rangers speed be too much for those guys? Somehow the Kings were able to overcome Chicago’s speed up front, but the Rangers are likely faster. However, the Rangers forwards don’t have the high end skill like Chicago had with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Sharp. The Kings, however, are one injury away from the slow footed Jeff Schultz being inserted in the lineup. Advantage: Rangers, because of their balance and depth.

Goaltending: Does it get any better than Jonathan Quick vs. Henrik Lundqvist? These are the best goalies in the NHL going head to head for Lord Stanley. Amazingly, they both play different styles. Quick is far more aggressive and moves around much more than King Henrik. Lundqvist is the ONLY goalie in the league who can pull off the “deep in the net” style that he employs. That allows him to rarely be out of position on shots. The Rangers defense knows how #30 is going to play and they are a solid defensive unit. The Rangers are 2nd in the playoffs in goals against yielding 2.25 a game while the Kings are more leaky, at 2.86 per contest (9th overall). But those stats speak more to the style of play and defense of the teams than the net minders. Los Angeles has run into issues when they turn the puck over in the neutral zone, and that has led to a lot of odd man rushes against. Sutter must limit those against a fast Rangers club. Both goalies have had strong outings and also some poor ones, mostly because the team in front of them has struggled, at times. Overall, the Rangers have been more consistent, but they haven’t played the high end talent that Los Angeles has faced in San Jose, Anaheim, and then the 2013 Cup Champion Blackhawks. Advantage: Neither team, goaltending is a dead heat.

Coaching: I was not a John Tortorella fan and when they canned the fiery bench boss and replaced him with Vigneault, I expected marked improvement from New York. Did I think it would translate into a Stanley Cup Final run? Absolutely not. But give credit to the new bench boss (and GM Glen Sather too for some “ballsy” moves behind the bench and with personnel). He managed to survive a terrible schedule early in the post season and rally from a 3-1 hole against Pittsburgh. He’s doing a super job. Sutter is in an elite coach. He maintains an even keel so his team doesn’t get too high or low emotionally and he is a master tactician. Most other coaches would be golfing by now after facing a 3-0 hole in the opening round, but Sutter, assistant coach John Stevens, and the rest of the staff found a way to turn it around, mostly by fixing their poor neutral zone play. Sutter has a keen sense of who has it rolling on a given night and who just doesn’t have it. That’s why guys will move up and down the line-up. He somehow was able to win against the Ducks with both Regehr and Mitchell out, that speaks volumes to the coaching given that that they won with a guy who played the entire season in the AHL in Schultz. Advantage: Los Angeles.

Intangibles: Ever since St. Louis’ mom passed away unexpectedly, the Rangers have been a different team. Anyone who has played hockey, at any level, knows that it is a team game that requires intensity and an emotional commitment. New York clearly has that and throw Dominic Moore’s personal situation into the mix as well. The Rangers are on a mission. On the other hand, the Kings have won three game seven’s on the road, a feat that has never been done before in NHL history. They came back from a three game hole in the first round and were down 3-2 against the Ducks and survived. They were losing 2-0 early in game seven against the Hawks and scraped out a W. One thing that favors LA is the travel schedule. While the Rangers sat for days waiting to figure out who they would play, once they finally did they had to fly cross country to California. So I think that negates any rest they received. Both teams have played a lot of hockey. Advantage: Slight edge to Kings due to home ice.

So I think this is going to be an excellent series, but it will be lower scoring. It will be hard to top the Chicago-LA Western Final, no doubt. Both teams could win this thing, especially if the Kings can’t get net presence on Lundqvist. But I think the Kings will find a way and overcome a Rangers team that seems to keep improving.

The Pick: Despite the fact that broadcaster Kenny Albert and Rangers assistant GM, Jim Schoenfeld, are some of my favorite people in hockey, it’s Los Angeles in 6.

 

 

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Schultz scores six goals to lift Loyola past Bucknell

Posted on 18 April 2014 by WNST Staff

Schultz Scores Career-High Six As Men’s Lacrosse Beats Bucknell, 13-5

BALTIMORE – Brian Schultz scored a career-high six goals on just 10 shots, helping No. 1-ranked Loyola University Maryland defeat Bucknell University, 13-6, in the teams’ final Patriot League regular-season game of the year.

Schultz, who had a previous best of four goals earlier this season against Lafayette College, recorded a hat trick in the game’s first 25-plus minutes, helping Loyola take a 5-1 halftime lead.

He tallied another in the third, the final goal of a 7-0 Greyhounds run, and two in the fourth quarter.

The Loyola run, its 22nd of the season of 3-0 or better, started when slick passing led to a Matt Sawyer goal on the doorstep with 4:47left in the first quarter. Brian Sherlock sent a high-to-low pass from the top to Schultz on the right side. Schultz didn’t let the ball settle in his stick and immediate fed Sawyer on the crease for a goal that put Loyola up, 2-1.

Loyola’s defense played as big of a role in the run as its offense, as Bucknell missed on 20-straight shots and was shutout for a period of 37 minutes, 17 seconds.

Jack Runkel made 14 saves in goal for the Greyhounds (12-1 overall, 8-0 Patriot League), and Loyola forced 18 Bucknell (7-7, 4-4) turnovers. The Greyhounds caused 13 of the turnovers, led by a career-high five by Pat Laconi. Schultz and Jason Crane each had two for Loyola. Joe Fletcher led all players in the game with seven ground balls.

Fletcher also held the player he was defending, Bucknell’s David Dickson, without a point, snapping a streak of 41 games with at least one. It is the third time in four weeks that Fletcher has held an opponent without a point after he entered the game with a streak of 15 or more games (Colgate’s Ryan Walsh, 42; Navy’s T.J. Hanzsche, 15).

Schultz put Loyola on the board after more than seven minutes of scoreless lacrosse to start the game. Justin Ward, who had a goal and three assists, used a skip pass to find Schultz on the low right side, and Schultz finished with a nine-yard rip for a goal at 7:27.

Ryan Joseph, however, tied the game for Bucknell with a goal off Tom Black’s assist at 65 seconds later, but Sawyer’s goal at 4:47would put Loyola in front for good.

Nikko Pontrello fed Schultz from behind as Schultz was cutting to the middle of the field, and Schultz scored his second with 9:45 left in the first, and after a transition run, Kyle Duffy shot a cross-box pass from high-to-low to Pontrello who quickly shot low to score at 8:06.

Schultz completed his hat trick off another Ward assist at 4:54, sending Loyola into the locker room ahead by four.

Pontrello and Ward scored unassisted at 13:11 and 5:57 in the third quarter, and Tyler Albrecht fed Schultz for a goal from the right side at 5:22 to push Loyola’s lead to 8-1.

Peter Burke scored 55 seconds into the fourth quarter, snapping Bucknell’s scoreless drought, but Loyola responded with two quick goals.

Ward saw Sherlock make a diagonal cut, threw him a pass, and Sherlock used a right-handed sidearm shot to score at 13:07. Schultz was then the recipient of a Kevin Ryan pass for his fifth of the night with 11:00 left in regulation.

Two-straight goals by the Bison’s Sean Doyle, both unassisted tallies, pulled Bucknell within six with 7:56 left, but Schultz fired in his sixth at 7:28, rolling from behind and beating his defender to the crease.

Thomas Filbotte added a Bucknell goal at 3:34, but Laconi scored off Fletcher’s first career assist, and Pontrello used another dodge from behind to tally the game’s final goal.

Graham Savio had another efficient day at the faceoff ‘X’ for Loyola, winning 13-of-20 and picking up five ground balls. Loyola also used a 39-31 advantage in ground balls to control the possession game.

In addition to Fletcher’s game-high seven, Kyle Duffy had four ground balls, and Runkel, Crane and Fournier each had three.

The Greyhounds will have more than a week off to prepare for their next game, a Patriot League Championships semifinal on Friday, April 25. Loyola will host the Patriot League semifinals and championship game at Ridley Athletic Complex.

The Greyhounds will play Bucknell, Colgate University or the U.S. Naval Academy in a 4:30 p.m. semifinal that will be aired live on CBS Sports Network. Tickets for the championship weekend are available at http://loyo.la/PLmlax14.

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Ovechkin Sparks Caps Comeback Win in Carolina

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Ovechkin Sparks Caps Comeback Win in Carolina

Posted on 02 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It was 2-0 Carolina and they were totally dominating the Capitals as the game moved late into the first period.

<Cue the Jaws music>

Then Alexander Ovechkin took a sweet drop pass from Nicklas Backstrom and buried the biscuit top shelf, far side for a huge goal for the Capitals with just 39 seconds left in the frame.

It was a game changing and perhaps season changing tally as the Gr8′s club kicked it into high gear in the middle period scoring four times while allowing just one puck to take a 5-3 lead, which they would close out in the third period. They knocked off the Carolina Hurricanes for the second straight time in Raleigh after trailing by two goals and they move two points up on the Canes. In addition, they are now just two points out of the Southeast Division lead as the Winnipeg Jets lost to the New York Islanders on Tuesday night. Washington has two games in hand on the Jets, although Carolina has a game in hand on the Caps. The Capitals also hit .500 for the first time all season and their record stands at 17-17-2.

Just a week ago, after a terrible home loss to the Islanders, I blogged that the Caps had three options at tomorrow’s trade deadline:

1. Stand Pat

2. Become Buyers

3. Sell and build for the future

I can tell you that option three is totally out the window now after Washington grabbed five points in three road games while the teams in front of them in the Southeast Division went into full collapse mode. Add to the fact that clubs like Calgary, Buffalo, and Dallas have gone into total sell mode and there is just no way Washington can get in the bottom three or five in the standings and make tanking the season for a high draft choice worth it.

Simply put, General Manager George McPhee needs to try and add a top six forward to this club if they want to really increase their playoff chances. As I also wrote last week, hockey is a business and there is lots of playoff money and hockey department bonuses on the line. So everyone wants to get into the dance, especially owner Ted Leonsis who generates millions in revenue off of a playoff appearance. Factor in that a Southeast Division title yields the third seed and a likely date with either Toronto or Ottawa while avoiding the Pittsburgh Penguins until the Eastern Conference Finals and the motto has to be:

Southeast Division Title or Bust!

The question is who to buy after big names like Jarome Iginla (Penguins) and Jaromir Jagr (Bruins) went off the market in trades. Add in guys like Derek Roy (Vancouver) and Ryane Clowe (Rangers) to the already moved ledger and the rental pickings to improve a club are pretty slim. But there are teams that have players under contract for another year that might make sense. Why not kick the tires in Calgary and see if Jay Feaster might be interested in moving left handed shooting Mike Cammalleri? The Flames forward is a sniper who would fit nicely with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom but he comes with a 2013-14 price tag of $6M. But if you can move some salary back to Calgary in the deal it would make sense. Let’s be honest, Mike Ribeiro is not going to be dealt tomorrow now and he will likely hit the open market come July 1st. But he earned that and Washington will probably lose him so they will be down another top 6 forward. So why not add one for this year and next year on Wednesday, if you can?

Anyways, Wednesday’s deadline day, which ends at 3pm, shapes up to be interesting for the Caps.

But back to Tuesday’s big win. Mike Green (2 goals) was just outstanding in this game at both ends of the rink. He not only scored but he moved the puck well on the back end and his 3rd period penalty kill shifts were downright dominant. If #52 stays healthy, this is a totally different hockey team.

In addition, Backstrom was sensational with four assists and even Marcus Johansson played one of the best contests of his young career and had two helpers by playing solid positionally and using his stick and speed to generate counter attacks.

Last of all, let’s not forget Braden Holtby (31 saves), who continues to make the big save when Washington needs it. The Caps defense continues to be very loose in stretches and Holtbeast wouldn’t allow Carolina to get too far ahead early and he didn’t give up a momentum changing tally once the Capitals seized control.

It was a huge victory and it all turned on the Gr8′s first tally. Ovechkin then poured in what became the eventual game winner and he now has 20 goals and 37 points in 36 games. He has points in nine straight games and goals in eight of them. The Gr8, Backstrom, and Holtby are carrying this hockey club and Ovechkin is once again quieting his critics.

On that note, I’ll leave you with one thought that I’ve tweeted many times in recent weeks on twitter after Ovechkin goals:

Where’s Milbury?! Hahahahahaha

Notes: The Caps next game is against the Islanders on Thursday at home. New York is 2-0 against Washington this year and their team speed gives the Capitals fits…Carolina won the shot attempt tally 65-43 and the face-off battle, 34-32, but they gave up too many odd man rushes and their goaltending is subpar…John Erskine finally returned to the lineup and logged 13:32 on defense. Jeff Schultz was scratched while both Dmitry Orlov and Tomas Kundratek were sent to Hershey…Michal Neuvirth was healthy enough to back up Holtby (Philip Grubauer was sent back to Hershey on Monday)…Finally, in honor of Caps radio play by play man John Walton’s birthday on Tuesday, ”Good morning, Good afternoon, and Good night Carolina!”

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

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

Posted on 31 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Caps & Ovechkin Stayin’ Alive After Shootout Win

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Caps & Ovechkin Stayin’ Alive After Shootout Win

Posted on 30 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Caps GM McPhee faces very critical week

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Caps GM McPhee faces very critical week

Posted on 27 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee is arguably facing his most critical week in his 16 year tenure.

His Caps sit at 15-17-1, 11th place in the Eastern Conference and 23rd overall in the NHL, with the trade deadline just one week away on April 3rd at 3pm.

It is waters they have not chartered since 2006-07 and a team that won four straight Southeast Division titles from 2008 to 2011 with 94, 108, 121, and 107 points, respectively, and had 92 points and finished eighth in the East last season, is currently moving towards a location often called “No Man’s Land.”

No Man’s Land is a spot in the NHL where you aren’t good enough to contend for the Stanley Cup, likely won’t make the playoffs, but also aren’t bad enough to land one of the top three spots in the draft. It is a position where it is very difficult to get better quickly, just ask the Calgary Flames or the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have been the President and Vice President of No Man’s Land in the NHL the last several years. Those teams, who have rabid and demanding fan bases, have recently routinely gone with the mind set that they are only a player or two away from the playoffs or contending in them. Both have been reluctant to take a critical step back in order to possibly move two or three steps forward (that might finally be changing in Calgary this spring, but is it too late?).

The Capitals were headed to No Man’s Land once before, in the days of Jaromir Jagr, but owner Ted Leonsis and McPhee went the “blow it up” route and started over. For the most part, especially from a business standpoint, they had success and it landed them Alexander Oveckhin, who is worth the price of admission on most nights, all by himself. It is important to note that hockey is first and foremost a business to many owners. So the bottom line is vital. Thus the push to just get into the playoffs can often be the difference between being in the red or black. The bottom line can drive an approach that constantly looks at the short term solution instead of the bigger picture.

This is a danger I see for the Caps right now. They are a team that has an incredible home sellout streak of 169 games and the marketable product in Ovechkin. But everyone knows in the Baltimore/DC area that winning is your most marketable item. This region demands a winner and when a club can’t consistently do that, the fan base erodes exponentially (see the Baltimore Orioles for 14 years). So owner Ted Leonsis surely is leery of what the impacts of a losing season or missing the playoffs would do to his club that generates full building after full building these days. So it can be a risk to have a losing season.

Clearly the Caps would love to make a run and reach the postseason this year but after last night’s loss to New York Islanders, they are seven points out of first place in the Southeast Division and four points behind the Rangers for eighth place overall in the Eastern Conference. With no Western Conference matchups, it is very difficult to make up ground. To reach the post season, the Capitals will likely need to go 11-4 or something along those lines. Is that really doable with this team, one that is finally healthy and still couldn’t beat John Tavares and company, at home, in a very important game?

That is a question that McPhee needs to ask himself because the way I see it right now he has three options over the next week:

1. Stand pat and do nothing

2. Become a buyer and try to make the post season

3. Sell off some assets ensuring a post season miss but put yourself in position to snag one of the elite players in what appears to be a draft with some impact players at the top.

In option one it will be difficult to make the postseason and the Caps likely end up 9th or 10th in the East. They would have low odds to win the new draft lottery to pick first overall and probably would draft around the 10th to 14th spot in New Jersey in June. In addition, unless they sign Mike Ribeiro, they likely lose him to unrestricted free agency after the season.

In the second choice, McPhee would really need to add an impact player to get this team to go 11-4 down the stretch. It would have to be a top line winger and to do that they have to give something up, likely their first round pick this year or perhaps one of their recent first round picks (Evgeny Kuznetsov, Filip Forsberg, or Tom Wilson). It is a mortgage the future type of move that might get them in the postseason but likely doesn’t put them in a real position to contend for the Stanley Cup given what the Pittsburgh Penguins roster looks like now after acquiring Brenden Morrow and Doug Murray. Making the playoffs would help the bottom line but would the price be too great? Then they’d still have the issue of trying to sign Ribeiro along with the asset they acquired at the deadline. The Caps currently have only $15M of salary cap space for 2013-14 with just 15 players under contract. Two top six forwards would eat up much of that and McPhee still has to sign defensemen Karl Alzner who is a restricted free agent, as well as some other players. Sure the competitor in me would like to give it a shot but depending on what you have to give up this season for a top six forward asset, doesn’t appear to make a lot of sense.

Therefore, option three seems to be the smart move. Signing Ribeiro is going to be awfully tough to do and with number 9 at 33 years old and wanting a five year deal, it just doesn’t seem like a wise option on his terms. Remember Michal Nylander? That signing in 2007 arguably cost McPhee the salary cap space he needed in 2009 to shore up a Washington defense that was likely the biggest thing holding them back from beating the Penguins in 2009 and going on to win the Stanley Cup. So why hamstring yourself with a big contract to an aging player and risk that scenario all over again when you are planning on contending again?

But if you can get a number one draft pick or more this year for Ribeiro, then you should deal him. Sure you will definitely miss the playoffs but you also now have two first round picks and could package them to possibly move up to number one, two, or three and get one of Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, or Jonathan Drouin. Jones, according to my sources, is the best player in the draft and NHL ready now. He very likely will be a number one defensemen on a team in the NHL in a couple of years. He’s a team changer. Snag him and you suddenly have options to possibly move some of your other defensemen, like Mike Green, who you are paying $6M a season now.

In addition to Ribeiro or Green, there are other guys on this roster that teams might be interested in such as Marcus Johansson or Joel Ward or one of the three goalies (Braden Holtby, Michal Neuvirth, or Philip Grubauer) at the trade deadline.

What McPhee and his staff need to do is work to the Baltimore Ravens model of “Right Player, Right Price.” You have to know the value you place on every player on your team and in the league and make moves accordingly. Washington’s pro scouts will really need to be doing their jobs well and feeding the GM the info he requires to make some hard decisions. If you do it right you don’t overpay for your own guys and can end up with better players at or below that price (see the Ravens getting Elvis Dumervil, Chris Canty, and Marcus Spears for the same overall amount the Cleveland Browns paid for Paul Kruger).

McPhee has made some very smart decisions on players before, such as Semyon Varlamov, who he traded for a 1st and 2nd round pick. The 1st rounder is now Forsberg while the Capitals haven’t taken any hit at all in the goaltending department. Sergei Fedorov for Theo Ruth was another blue ribbon deal by the GM that made the Caps a legit Stanley Cup contender for two straight springs. But he’s also had some not so good decisions (re-signing an aging Tom Poti for two years, the four year deal for Jeff Schultz, and the two years given to an aging Roman Hamrlik). Those contracts have impacted Washington’s salary cap while not yielding quality results on the ice.

With Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, and John Carlson having long term deals clearly they are the guys for McPhee to build around going forward. Everyone else should be up grabs. It is Asset Management 101 at this point for Washington. They need to do what they can to transform a team that was one of the best in the league from 2008 to 2010, but has steadily declined, back into a Cup contender.

Sure its a risk from a marketing standpoint, but the fans in this area recognize when you are going in the right direction and will have the patience to endure a reshaping of the roster, especially if they believe it will eventually lead to Washington’s first Stanley Cup. So it’s a low risk play and if the moves are done right and there is a championship in the next few years or so, then you have people locked into your team long term (see the Philadelphia Flyers, who still sell out despite not winning a Cup since 1975).

So this is a huge week for McPhee and one he has three roads he can possibly take. They aren’t easy decisions and only he and his staff really know what options are going to be available to him in return for his current assets.

The path he ultimately chooses will likely make or break his and the Capitals future.

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With Caps Struggling Will McPhee Make A Move to Help Oates?

Posted on 24 January 2013 by Ed Frankovic

We are only three games into a 48 game season and the Washington Capitals look like a broken hockey team.

After coming out and playing a solid first period, the Caps got into penalty trouble and gave up two goals to the Canadiens in the first five minutes of period two.

Gone went any confidence this team had built up in the opening frame and anyone who has ever played hockey knows that confidence is one of the most important attributes you need to play the game.

From there it just snowballed as Montreal expanded their lead to 4-0 after 40 minutes. With Washington’s shut down defensive pair from last season, Karl Alzner and John Carlson, struggling mightily, it becomes harder to turn things around. Coach Adam Oates response in the third period to that problem duo was to move Alzner with Mike Green and Carlson with Tom Poti.

Up front, there isn’t much good news either. Alexander Ovechkin still doesn’t have a goal and the power play can’t finish. There were some good chances but the forwards aren’t paying the price in front of the net to either deflect pucks home or put away rebounds that were there for the taking by Carey Price. Currently this forward crew is playing too much on the perimeter and appears soft. There isn’t enough hitting and looking at some of the players on the forward roster, that is not surprising.

In net, neither goalie looks totally sharp but with the continual breakdowns in front of them, their confidence has to be shot too.

Clearly the Brooks Laich injury is a big issue but a single hockey player can’t fix this mess right now. Unfortunately, Oates doesn’t have the luxury of having a few days to work things out in practice as Washington plays six games in the next 10 days.

So the coach’s only option now is to mix the combinations up and perhaps put some of the current scratches back in the lineup. I imagine we will see Eric Fehr at forward and perhaps John Erskine and/or Jeff Schultz on defense in New Jersey on Friday night.

Oates also has to find a way to get the players to work harder and smarter, then somehow hope they get some positive results and regain their confidence.

If that doesn’t happen, this could get ugly fast. A loss to the Devils would put the Caps at 0-4 in this short season with a hot Sabres team coming in to the Verizon Center on Sunday.

Two Sundays ago after the team’s initial practice, Caps GM George McPhee, when asked by the media if he was going to make any moves stated,  “I like our team.”

I wonder if he’d still give the same answer after watching these first three games?

To me, the results speak for themselves.

So the question now is will McPhee make a move or two to try to shake things up and get this season back on track?

Notes: Joey Crabb scored late in the final period to close the book on the Caps 4-1 loss…Carlson has been on the ice for 9 of the 14 goals against this season…Washington did win the faceoff battle, 30-25, so they got that going for them…Ovechkin had one hit and three shots on goal in 22:26 of ice time. The Gr8 needs to find a way to be more physically involved.

 

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Ovechkin

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Predicting the Caps Season Is As Clear As Mud Right Now

Posted on 18 January 2013 by Ed Frankovic

 

The Washington Capitals start their short but jam packed 48 game season in Tampa Bay tomorrow night when they take on the Lightning (7 pm CSN).

Since the magical run in the spring of 2008, I’ve felt like I’ve had a pretty good read on this team and could accurately say before the season started that the Caps were definitely a playoff team each of the last four campaigns.

Last year’s club struggled through a coaching change and key injuries to Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green before squeaking into the dance and then coming a game away from a date with the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Championship.

This season, I have no idea how this team, with a new coach and system, will respond in a season where taking a game or two off is just not an option.

Hockey starts in net and Washington will go with youngsters Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth. Personally, I am pretty confident in that duo right now, especially given the way those two compete. Holtby’s ability to play the puck certainly is an advantage I expect coach Adam Oates to put to use frequently.

On defense, Dennis Wideman departed in free agency (Calgary) but with a healthy Mike Green and an emerging John Carlson, they didn’t need him at the dollars he was looking for and received. With Karl Azner in the mix as the Caps most solid defensive defensemen to go with the aging, but savvy Roman Hamrlik, Washington has a decent top four. After that it is a crap shoot with Jeff Schultz, John Erskine, Jack Hillen, and a 35 year old Tom Poti, who miraculously is back after missing two years due to groin and hip injuries. Dmitry Orlov would probably be my number five d-man on this club, but he is hurt right now. So this defensive crew could be really good or teams could expose the third pair, if it doesn’t step up. Any two week or more injury to either Green, Carlson, or Alzner could be devasting.

Up front, the Capitals have three legitimate top six forwards in Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Ribeiro. Luckily two of those three are centers, something the Caps haven’t been able to say since 2009. The question though, is who is going to be the wingers to fill out the top two lines? Troy Brouwer, because of his net presence is clearly the best answer on the roster. Brooks Laich would be your next best bet but he is out injured and may not play for the first two weeks. General Manager George McPhee is taking a flyer on forward Wojtek Wolski, who was signed off of the scrap heap this past summer. Wolski is 6-3 and 210 and he will need to play “big” if he wants to stick around in the top six.

Third year man Marcus Johansson is on the top line right now with the Gr8 and Backstrom. MJ90 has a lot of speed but he puts no physical fear into opposing defenders and he was often rubbed off of the puck easily in the corner in his freshmen and sophomore campaigns. Playing the third year Swede on the top line is asking a lot of the youngster.

I really like the third line of Jason Chimera-Jay Beagle-Joel Ward, especially now that we know Ward is not dealing with the hernia injury he had in 2011-12. The fourth line features heart and soul hard worker Matt Hendricks and likely a rotation of two of the following three players: re-signed Eric Fehr, Mathieu Perreault, and Joey Crabb.

Clearly this team will need above average to excellent seasons from Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Green if it is going to win the Southeast Division. None of them had even average seasons last year, although Green and Backstrom had injury excuses. So to predict this team is a lock for the postseason is no sure bet.

Many of the so-called experts are already giving the Stanley Cup to the New York Rangers since they added forward Rick Nash while giving up pretty much nothing. We all witnessed how smart the experts were in the NFL last week when Ray Lewis and company went in and won in Denver when practically every talking head out there had a “Brady vs. Manning” AFC Championship matchup set in stone. Yes, the Rangers look good on paper, but you have to play the games.

The bottom line is the Caps could be really good or they could fall flat on their faces. McPhee has been consistent this week in saying “I like our team.”

Well the games start tomorrow, then come rapidly at a fast and furious pace, so Caps fans are about to find out if their GM is on the mark.

 

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Mentally Tough Caps Even Up Series

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Mentally Tough Caps Even Up Series

Posted on 05 May 2012 by Ed Frankovic

For all of the talk out of the Big Apple about the mental toughness of the Rangers in their three overtime victory early Thursday morning, the Washington Capitals sure answered back on Saturday with a gritty 3-2 victory at the Verizon Center on Mike Green’s late power play goal. It was a huge marker for #52 and the Caps, who now have tied this series up at two games apiece as it moves back to Manhattan for game five on Monday.

If you were projecting the future based on Caps team history, this was a contest that Washington probably would have lost following a heart breaking defeat in game three. But we just might be seeing a different Capitals club that is doing their best to rewrite that book with a brand new chapter. 

Today’s victory was a combination of the Young Guns stepping up their respective games combined with more solid play from some of the key guys who helped win two straight Calder Cups in Hershey plus some true blue collar grit from several grinders. Simply put, there were many players who contributed their part to the win.

Let’s go down the list starting with the Young Guns:

Alexander Ovechkin scored in the first period to give the Caps an important 1-0 lead off of a Rangers turnover. Why was that goal so key? Well in 11 playoff games this spring that the Caps have played, the first goal has won 10 of them (including today).

Nicklas Backstrom was probably the best forward on the ice today. #19 was a BEAST. His play on the second goal was pure power and skill as he showed his amazing strength on his skates by knocking Artem Anisimov to the ice like he was a flea and then the Young Swede skated into prime scoring position, took a sweet pass from Jason Chimera, and beat Henrik Lundqvist top shelf.

Green is a player that I felt would be the difference maker in this series in my round two preview. Today #52 made it happen for the Capitals. Game Over Greenie was +1 in 22:08 of ice and his rocket of a shot past King Henrik with 5:48 remaining was just what he and the team needed.

Alexander Semin was pointless but he came close to making it 3-1 in the middle frame. #28 was inches away from making a big play to break this game open or give the Caps the lead a few times but just couldn’t get a bounce. Perhaps in game five he will be rewarded for what was a good 17:02 from him on Saturday?

Now to the Hershey crew:

Karl Alzner and John Carlson were as solid as rocks on the back end. Alzner is the team’s shut down d-man and Carlson was all over the ice again winning lose puck battles and being a physical force. #74 is playing the best hockey of his young career and it was his strong play on the offensive blue line that kept the puck in the zone and as a result Carl Hagelin took his critical slashing penalty. #62 broke Carlson’s stick and the zebras had to call it, otherwise Marian Gaborik has a breakaway (the Rangers were upset that an Ovechkin slash on Brian Boyle minutes earlier wasn’t whistled but given that it happened in a non-threatening area of the ice, they let it go. Besides, the Rangers received two power plays in OT on Wednesday to none for the Caps so they can whine all they want, but they’ve had their share of the calls in this series.)

Jay Beagle was super once again in his own zone and even though he was 5-13 on face-offs, some of those key wins were at the end of the game. #83 is one of the best stories of the Caps season.

Braden Holtby continues to be unflappable in net and he made some big stops (18 saves overall). The two tallies against him were the result of poor coverage and bad breaks. On the first goal the puck bounces off of Brooks Laich’s skates right to Anisimov, who received a layup. The second tally started with bad officiating from the linesmen. The back linesman, who was directly in #70′s sight line, was calling icing but when the puck went over Dennis Wideman’s head the near linesman, for some crazy reason, waved it off. Holtby didn’t hear or see that and had his arm up thinking one of the Caps would touch up the puck. Instead Anisimov beat Wideman to the biscuit and #6 and Jeff Schultz both made the cardinal sin of vacating the front of the cage. That allowed Gaborik to get a lay up. Poor communication there first by the linesmen, second between Holtby and his d-pair, and more importantly, it was terrible non-talk by #6 and #55 to not decide who was staying out front. Holtby told me after the game had it not been icing he would have definitely played the puck. Oh well, there is one of those zebra breaks that went New York’s way. Overall, the missed calls have pretty much evened out through four games.

As for the grinders, the list of hard workers that got it done is long.

Let’s start with Matt Hendricks who is doing ALL of the intangibles. #26 blocks shots, wins puck battles and just sacrificies like no tomorrow for his team. I can’t say enough good things about his determination and effort.

Laich, Troy Brouwer, Roman Hamrlik, Joel Ward, Chimera, Mike Knuble, and Keith Aucoin all did the little things necessary to win a tight hockey game. These guys all want to win badly.

So at the end of the day, Coach Dale Hunter has to feel good about his club. As he’s said and I’ve blogged about time and time again, special teams is such a huge factor in the playoffs. Today the Capitals started and finished strong with their power play (1 for 2) while they received two key penalty kills in the middle frame (2 for 2 overall). The PK’s were especially important because the Rangers dominated the first 10 minutes of that period but Alzner, Carlson, and Beagle all confirmed to me afterwards that Washington’s mid game turnaround was sparked by those penalty kills. If the Rangers go up 2-1 there, the series may have been squarely in the corner of New York, but they didn’t get that key go ahead goal and Washington went on to get a huge victory.

It was a win that showed their mental toughness and came after a rough defeat. Holtby and the Caps are now 5-0 after a loss in these playoffs.

They now head to New York on Monday to try and write a new chapter in Capitals history, one that could have a positive ending, for the first time in a very long time.

Stay tuned.

Notes: The Caps outshot the Rangers 26-20 but attempted shots were 52-40 in favor of the Blueshirts…Green’s goal came with he and Wideman on the points on the PP and Ovechkin down low, something I’ve wanted to see more of. On the replay of the goal you see the Gr8 with a free lane to the net and I can’t help but think that Lundqvist’s peripheral vision catches that and prevents #30 from totally squaring up on Green’s shot…Schultz blocked nine shots but was -2 and Marcus Johansson was -1 with a couple of giveaways. Both need to be better, especialy MJ90 who played on the top line with Ovechkin and Laich…I was thrilled to see the 8-19-90 line broken up before puck drop today. It lacked net presence on Wednesday and in the playoffs you need someone to crash the cage on each shift. Hunter’s four lines on Saturday all had that element with the Knuble-Aucion-Ward line doing that the best…for more of my take on the game, check out a post game video I did over at On Frozen Blog.

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Caps Squander Chance To Win Series

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Caps Squander Chance To Win Series

Posted on 22 April 2012 by Ed Frankovic

It was all there for the taking for the Washington Capitals on Sunday. They had a 3-2 series lead against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins and a chance to close them out in their own building.

And they blew it. Again.

Life as a Caps fan seems to be a never ending run of crushing defeats so why should 2012 be any different, right? That has to be what Capitals fans were thinking as they were filing out of the Verizon Center after the Bruins Tyler Seguin scored just over three minutes into overtime following a horrible attempted long pass up the middle of the ice by Nicklas Backstrom that was intercepted and turned around quickly on Washington. Seguin split Dennis Wideman and Roman Hamrlik, faked out goalie Braden Holtby (27 saves) one on one, then deposited the biscuit behind #70 to add yet another horrifying chapter to a book that could be distributed to many Capitals fans in this area and titled, ”My Life in Pain as a Caps Fan.”

About the only good news out of this crushing loss is there is still yet another contest to be played in Beantown on Wednesday night. But does anyone who has followed this team long term or even since the creation of the “Young Guns” feel like they will find a way to win? There probably aren’t a lot of takers given the black cloud that seems to follow this franchise around come each April and May.

So why did they fail to capitalize on a golden opportunity to win a series that has been ultra close for all six games (in fact, this is the first NHL series ever to go six games with each featuring one goal victories)?

To me, the focus has to be on the Young Guns. Let’s start with Backstrom, who made some super plays, like the setup of Jason Chimera for Washington’s second goal or the face-off win that allowed Alexander Ovechkin to tie the game with 4:52 to go in regulation. However, it was #19′s low probability feed to Marcus Johansson that utimately ended this one and the Young Swede who missed 40 regular season games due to a concussion probably doesn’t feel too good about his lack of backchecking on the Boston third goal. That tally was set up by an Alexander Semin turnover in the offensive zone after #28 tried to be too cute with the puck. Semin has been really good in this series but today he was below average. He took a bad penalty that led to the Bruins first goal and only their second power play goal of the series (now 2 for 20). He was -2 and did not register a point. Ovechkin scored the big tying tally but overall he looks out of sync. The Gr8 is trying to do too much himself and his defensive zone play still needs massive amounts of work. In addition, his performance on the point on the power play, which went 0 for 4 today, was less than stellar. About the only one of the four that had an okay game was Mike Green, who scored his first goal since October to tie the game up at one in the opening frame. But #52 only played 17 minutes, including not being put out on the first power play unit.

Instead of Green, the team is using Wideman on the right point and #6 didn’t do much good in over six minutes of power play time. In fact the first unit of Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, Keith Aucoin and Wideman needs to be blown up. There is not enough net presence with those five. I’d much prefer Ovechkin be moved on the half wall (of course I’ve been saying this for two years) with #19 on the other wall. Get Brooks Laich out in front or someone who will create traffic on Tim Thomas (36 saves) there. Finally, put Green back on the point and I’d even prefer John Carlson as the other blue liner instead of Wideman.

Playoff games are often won or lost via special teams and Boston was +1 in that department today. For the series, the Caps are 3 for 18 (16.7%) with the man advantage while they are 18 for 20 (90%) on the penalty kill. Game seven will likely be decided by special teams so it is paramount that Washington focus their efforts on those units in Tuesday’s practice.

Another thing Washington must do in game seven is to limit turnovers while staying out of the penalty box. Troy Brouwer’s decision to muck it up with Benoit Pouliot late in period two ended up putting the Caps in a 4 on 4 situation that quickly became a Boston 4 on 3. Somehow the Caps survived Zdeno Chara’s big shot in that instance but they may not be as lucky on Wednesday. Discipline is a big key for the Caps to have any chance.

So we move once again to a decisive game seven where the Caps overall franchise record is 2-7. They are 2-6 at home with the one away loss coming in Pittsburgh in 1995. Therefore, maybe since this one is on the road they may stand a better chance? After all, there is less pressure on the visitors and they don’t have ticket requests and distractions to deal with. They just have to show up and play hockey.

Show up and play hockey is exactly what they must do. They made too many mistakes on Sunday in a one goal loss, so if they clean up their act and the Young Guns perform at the level they are capable of, then anything can happen.

If they don’t, then we may have seen the end of the Young Guns along with some other big changes.

Notes: Defensemen Karl Alzner led the Caps in ice time with 24:21…because John Erskine only played 8 minutes and change, the Caps went mostly with five defensemen and that messes up the rotation…kind of hard to do this at this point, but perhaps Dmitry Orlov should get a sweater for game seven? He is more mobile than both Erskine and Jeff Schultz…Mike Knuble was +1 in only 5:58 of ice time but it was his work in front that allowed Green to score his goal. Seems like #22 has earned more minutes, no?

 

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