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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

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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Bruins Ramp Up Physical Play, Take Game 3

Posted on 16 April 2012 by Ed Frankovic

After the Caps won game two in Boston, Bruins Coach Claude Julien challenged his team to be tougher and more physical around Washington goalie Braden Holtby. On Monday night, his club responded by crashing the cage and playing an ultra physical game in a 4-3 victory at the Verizon Center. The Bruins now lead the best of seven series two games to one with game four on Thursday night in DC.

This game was there for the taking for the Caps as they opened up a 1-0 lead when their power play connected on its first try. Alexander Semin scored on a shot from the top of the circles with Brooks Laich running traffic on Tim Thomas with four minutes left in period one. Washington played pretty solid defense in that opening frame and Holtby was looking in great in net.

But Holtby finally blinked on a four on four situation and he let in a softie on Rich Peverley’s wrister. Alexander Ovechkin answered 13 seconds later and it seemed that the Caps were going to right the ship.

However, the Caps started to forget to do the little things, which is playing good defense away from the puck. That ability had gotten them the good showing in Boston but the defensive discipline started to slip away in the middle period and when Mathieu Perreault lost Daniel Paille in front of the net, #20 had a layup to tie the game up. Things then got worse in Washington’s own end as Laich allowed Brian Rolston to score again from in front early in period three. Laich would then tie it up with six minutes left scoring on a breakaway after a great feed from Nicklas Backstrom.

Boston received a questionable power play late, and I won’t even go there with the NHL referees who are having a tough playoffs across the board, but then Milan Lucic paid the price for his extra curricular physical play getting a four minute rough to just two minutes for Matt Hendricks. It seemed to be a good break for Washington but four on four has not been their game this year and the B’s took the lead late on Chara’s point blast that hit a Capitals stick on the way in. The Caps pressured late with Holtby pulled but couldn’t connect.

So Julien tried his coaching move and his team responded. The Bruins outhit the Caps 58-36. Washington is more skilled and doesn’t want to get into that type of game but the way this one was being called, it played right into Boston’s hands.

Now it is time for Dale Hunter to make adjustments. First thing the Caps need to do is not get into the post whistle scrums and focus on the play with the clock moving. That wrestling stuff seems to heavily favor Boston. Washington also needs to clean up their own zone again and watch the guys away from the puck. Finally, they must correct their neutral zone, as the Caps tried too many cross ice plays that were intercepted.

Simply put, the Caps have the speed advantage in this series and need to get back to using that by dumping the puck behind the slow Boston defense and employing their cycle game to generate chances. The neutral zone miscues give the Bruins more time to set up their physical play and pound the Washington defense. The turnovers and poor coverage are not a recipe for playoff success.

Your move Dale.

Notes: The Caps lost the faceoff battle 37-33.  Marcus Johansson was 1-5…Perreault only played 4:23 and his ice time suffered for his defensive lapse in period two…Laich had three points (1G, 2A)…Mike Green led the Caps in ice time with 26:35….Backstrom was given a match penalty for cross checking Peverley as time expired. That carries an automatic one game suspension unless it is rescinded. Replays seem to come to #19’s aid but with the NHL, who knows?!

 

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Caps Playoff Hopes Take Huge Hit

Posted on 27 March 2012 by Ed Frankovic

Washington Capitals Coach Dale Hunter called Tuesday night’s game against the Buffalo Sabres for eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings a “game 7” type of affair. Unfortunately, this one was like the game seven against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, a one-sided blow out by the visitors. The only good news on the night? Washington has five games remaining and still can make the postseason, but now they’ll need help.

The difference in this game started with the most important position in hockey, goalie.

Braden Holtby, who has performed nicely since his recall from Hershey last week, made a terrible stick handling mistake to give the Sabres an early easy goal then he struggled with his rebound conrol. His defense, notably John Carlson (-3) and Jeff Schultz (-2), went to sleep on him and the Sabres built a 3-0 lead early into the middle frame. That spelled the end of Holtby and on came Michal Neuvirth.

Alexander Semin scored to cut it to 3-1 and with Buffalo losing defensemen Christian Ehroff to an injury for the game and Andrej Sekera in the locker room for the end of the second frame, it looked like the Capitals had a chance to get back in it when blue liner Robyn Regehr was called for hooking with 3:07 to go. But Alexander Ovechkin misplayed a puck at the left point and Jason Pominville went in on a two on one and beat Neuvirth to pretty much end this game. The Sabres added a third period marker and left town 5-1 victors and control of their own destiny.

Ryan Miller stopped 44 of 45 shots for the Sabres but the Caps rarely got to the net for rebounds. Miller is one of the best netminders in the league and he has been on the top of his game as Buffalo has put together a meteoric rise to seize the last playoff spot with less than two weeks left in the regular season.

The Caps, who recently had a successful critical road trip at 2-2-1, followed that up with a dud of a three game home stand going 1-1-1. With games at Boston, Tampa, and the Rangers plus two home games against Montreal and Florida, things are not looking good for General Manager George McPhee’s crew. The Capitals will have to go 5-0 or 4-1 to likely make it as Buffalo faces Pittsburgh and Toronto on home ice while traveling to Toronto, Boston, and Philadelphia. With the way Miller is going in net, they might not lose.

As for Washington, this team has been wildly inconsistent and as I’ve chronicled here all year, they will continue to be that way with their weak play up the middle of the ice. Nicklas Backstrom has been cleared to return but the question remains, is he ready for NHL action at the most intense time of the year? It seems risky to put #19 back in but it may be the Capitals only hope because the crew of Brooks Laich, Mathieu Perreault, and Marcus Johansson have not done the job at the pivot spot to allow this club to put a winning streak together.

The bottom line now is the Caps need at least four wins, and possibly five in a row to make the post season. Given what we’ve seen for the first 77 games, that seems highly unlikely, but that is why they play the games.

Backstrom back or not, they’ll need top notch goaltending and better play from their defensemen. On Tuesday night they did not get that and now their season is totally on the line.

Notes: the Caps won the faceoff battle 37-23 and outshot the Sabres 45-31 but Buffalo made the most of their quality scoring chances…the Caps went 0 for 4 on the power play and gave up a shorthanded tally. The Sabres were 0 for 1  with the man advantage…Washington’s next game is in Boston on Thursday. The Sabres play the Penguins in Buffalo on Friday night.

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Bad Decisions Cost Caps Again

Posted on 24 March 2012 by Ed Frankovic

When you are up 3-0 in hockey, you should win the game. On Friday night at the Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals managed to give a critical game away to the desperate Winnipeg Jets, 4-3, in overtime. It was a costly loss as the Buffalo Sabres, by virtue of their victory over the New York Rangers, are now tied with the Caps for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Both teams have 82 points with just seven tilts remaining. In defeat, the Capitals wasted a two goal effort from Alexander Ovechkin (34th and 35th of the season) and some decent goaltending from Michal Neuvirth (38 saves).

After losing in the shootout to the Flyers on Thursday night, this was a worrisome game given that the Jets were in town waiting while the Caps went up and down I-95 the last two days prior to puck drop. But Washington came out as the stronger team dominating the play in the first 25 minutes. When Ovechkin scored top shelf on Ondrej Pavelec (20 saves) just 5:47 into the middle frame to put the Caps up three pucks, it looked like the rout was on. The Caps were outskating the Jets and playing with confidence. Only Pavelec’s stellar play in goal kept the Jets in it, at that point.

But a couple of things changed the entire course of the game in a matter of seconds. First, fourth liner Ben Maxwell scored when the Capitals had a major mental breakdown in their own end. Four Caps were back on the play as Tim Stapleton carried the puck into the Washington zone. Three defenders went to Stapleton with the fourth, Roman Hamrlik, also staring at the puck carrier. Bad decision number one as Stapleton found an all alone Maxwell in front for an easy goal. Then, on the ensuing face-off, third line center Jiri Slater goaded Washington first line center Brooks Laich into a fight. Bad decision number two as Washington was now forced to go without their top pivot for five minutes, which basically helped take red hot Ovechkin out of the game. That also sparked the Jets even more and they scored 71 seconds later to make it 3-2 with over 30 minutes left in regulation.

The Caps would then, for the first time this season, lose a game they were leading heading into the final frame (were 22-0-0, thanks @JapersRink & @ngreenberg). Shift after shift the energized Jets kept putting it on a tired Capitals club, but somehow the Caps held the lead, despite no shots on goal, until just under four minutes left in regulation. At that juncture, Jeff Halpern won a defensive zone draw but both John Carlson and Jeff Schultz failed to get to the biscuit and also did not cover their respective men. The result was a tap in goal and when the contest headed to OT, it was pretty obvious a tired Capitals team had run out of energy against a desperate Winnipeg club.

Some will blame the coach for the loss and the way the Caps played in the third period, but Dale Hunter’s troops didn’t get it done. When you have four guys back against two or three opponents, there should be no goal against, but that happened on the Jets first tally. Also, Laich decided to go with Slater on his own, likely a carryover from the previous week’s physical tilt in Manitoba. Brooksie is a hard worker, super teammate, and good guy, but #21 has to be smarter there and not take himself off of the ice in that situation. It was an important point in the game and to have their best pivot in the sin bin for five minutes really hurt the Capitals. Poor coverage was the problem on the game tying tally that came directly off of a won draw, that is bad execution, not coaching.

At the end of the night, the Jets are still likely done with both the Caps and the Sabres up four points on them. But Washington let another key point go by the way side. They made mental mistakes, took their foot off of the gas, and then lost confidence while Winnipeg got stronger as this game went on. The inevitable happened in the final frame, but fortunately for the Caps, they did pick up a point.

Still, they should have won up 3-0, despite being fatigued. Now they have Minnesota at home on Sunday evening before an all important matchup with Buffalo on Tuesday at the Verizon Center. Both contests are must wins, in my book.

 Notes: Not a good night for Marcus Johansson. The young Swede had one of the poorest games of his career. He was -3 and was pushed around in just 12:37 of ice time…Jay Beagle was 11-4 on draws and played 20:10…Ovechkin had 18:51 of ice time, not enough in my book. Part of the problem for Hunter though was he doesn’t have many decent options at center right now and when Laich is in the box he is forced to put either Johansson or the smaller Mathieu Perreault with the Gr8…Alex Semin returned to the lineup and had a strong game. He had an assist and was +1 in 16:13 of ice time. As good as 8 and 28 are though, with the major holes up the middle of the ice this Capitals team, as I’ve blogged many times since Nicklas Backstrom was injured, is going to be inconsistent. On Friday night, they received subpar play at center and that contributed mightily to the lack of third period forecheck, and ultimately the loss…Winnipeg went 4-1-1 against Washington this season while the Caps were 2-2-2 in the season series.

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The Caps do the improbable, they win in Detroit, 5-3.

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Ovechkin Steps Up in Motown

Posted on 19 March 2012 by Ed Frankovic

Just when the Washington Capitals appeared to be in big trouble in the race for the playoffs, their star players finally put together a huge effort as the Caps went into Motown and stunned the Detroit Red Wings, 5-3, behind 30 saves from Braden Holtby. This Wings team set an NHL record for consecutive home victories this season (23 games) and they’d only lost on home ice in regulation four times in 2011-12.

But Alexander Ovechkin (two goals) and company had no need for history on this night and a huge first period, one in which the Caps outscored Detroit 3-0, resulted in one of the biggest victories of the season for Washington. The win keeps them in eighth place, just two points ahead of a streaking Buffalo Sabres team and four points ahead of 10th place Winnipeg. The Caps also pull within three points of the Southeast Divison leading Florida Panthers, who are in Philadelphia tomorrow night to take on the Flyers. It is hard to believe, but Capitals fans will be cheering for Danny Briere, Jaromir Jagr, and company on Tuesday night.

After a terrible first period in Chicago on Sunday night, this Capitals team looked totally different in Detroit. Washington came out skating and they drew a couple of early penalties. Ovechkin scored twice with the man advantage by moving into prime scoring position. On the first tally, Marcus Johansson gave him a sweet feed in the slot and the Gr8 went upper left top shelf. Mike Knuble then scored following a great breakout pass from Mike Green that led to some sweet passing between Mathieu Perreault and Jason Chimera before Papa Knoobs buried the biscuit setting the stage for Ovie’s 32nd goal of the season. Ovechkin fired the puck from the top of the slot but he alertly, like a basketball player, followed up his shot and went to the net for the rebound. Brooks Laich kept it alive and the Gr8 banged home the puck to give the Caps a huge early cushion.

From there it was hang onto to your seats as the inevitable Wings full court press was due to come. In the second frame they cut it to 3-1 but then Keith Aucoin buried one in front after some super work by Alexander Semin and Roman Hamrlik on the boards. When Todd Bertuzzi made it 4-2 just 36 seconds in to period three, the Wings assault ramped up even more. Dan Cleary scored after a Knuble giveaway with just over seven minutes left but Holtby closed the door and Chimera hit the empty net for the final marker.

It was an impressive victory and many players turned in solid efforts. The Caps need Ovechkin to carry them down the stretch and he did it on this night. Laich, after a subpar outing in Chicago, was excellent as 1st line center and when the Gr8 has someone playing well at the pivot position for him he can be lethal. Semin had two assists and put in his best game in weeks while Green finally looked totally comfortable on the ice. He was making great breakout passes, ended up with an assist, and was +2 in 22:52. All four of those guys, Ovechkin, Laich, Semin, and Green have to be good in the last nine games for the Capitals to make the playoffs.

Holtby got the call with Tomas Vokoun nursing a creaky groin and Michal Neuvirth having played the night before. #70 had the tough task of going against a team that creates traffic in front of the opposing goaltender better than any other club in the NHL, so kudos to Braden for staying strong in his crease and playing a big role in the Caps win. Goaltending is ultra important in hockey and Holtby delivered that on Monday night.

So the Caps come home late tonight to their own beds but will practice at least once at Kettler IcePlex before going to Philadelphia for a date with the Flyers on Thursday night. This five game road trip, that looked to possibly be a disaster after Sunday’s blowout in the Windy City, is now 2-2. They have a chance to make it a huge success on Broad Street on Thursday, but Philly is playing well, so a victory there won’t be easy.

But for tonight, the Capitals did the improbable, knocking off one of the best teams in the NHL in their own building. Good things happen when you crash the net and the Capitals stars delivered on a night when they were sorely needed.

Notes: The Caps defensive pair of Jeff Schultz and John Carlson were on the ice for all three Detroit goals. #55 did not play well while Hamrlik (+2) did, so we’ll probably see Dmitry Orlov back in for Sarge on Thursday in Philly…Chimera’s empty net goal came on the power play so Washington was 3 for 4 on the evening while the Wings went 1 for 3…Joel Ward was scratched and Jeff Halpern returned to the lineup. Halpern was 3-2 on face-offs but the Wings won 32 of the 56 total draws.

 

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Another weak start dooms the Caps in a 5-2 loss to Chicago.

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Poor Start Dooms Caps on Road Again

Posted on 18 March 2012 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals needed a good start in Chicago on Sunday night after losing a tough contest on Friday night in Winnipeg. They did not get that at all at the Uniter Center. The Blackhawks fired the first 12 shots on net and potted two goals in a dominating first period.

In the middle frame, the Caps came out strong and cut it to 2-1 on a Mike Knuble goal after a nice interception by Keith Aucoin. But defensive zone breakdowns, which have plagued this club all season long, showed up time and time again and when John Carlson fanned on a pass the Hawks scored to make it 3-1. They would go up 4-1 before Alexander Ovechkin scored a pretty goal going around Duncan Keith to make it 4-2. With 20 minutes left the Caps needed two goals to tie, but they couldn’t muster much offense and ended up losing 5-2, with an empty netter providing the final margin.

Simply put, this team has not played well early on in games when they’ve had the previous day off this season. It took the Caps far too long to get their legs in this one and with their weaknesses up the middle of the ice, that poor start was just too much to overcome. The poor opening frames and weak pivot play has led to much inconsistency since Nicklas Backstrom went out in early January. #19 has been skating and appears set to return at some point, but the question might be, will it be too late to save this season?

As I am typing this, the Caps are still in eighth place in the Eastern Conference with the Winnipeg Jets playing at home against Carolina. If the Jets win, they tie the Caps in the standings. But Winnipeg would have some serious momentum and the Capitals go to Detroit on Monday night and Philadelphia on Thursday night. On paper, those two contests both appear to be losses.

So a five game road trip that now stands at 1-2, could easily become 1-4 if Washington does not start playing a full 60 minutes of hockey.

On Sunday they weren’t ready for puck drop and the Blackhawks buried them for it.

There are 10 games left in the season and if they don’t start showing some urgency from the opening face-off, they just be might smacking Titleist’s instead of pucks come April 9th.

Notes: Michal Neuvirth got the start in net with Tomas Vokoun dealing with a nagging injury. Braden Holtby was recalled from Hershey and was the back-up…the Caps finally received a power play in the third period but as expected, without much in game work, it looked pretty bad…not many guys were good tonight, except for Knuble and perhaps Aucoin. Neuvirth received no support and Jeff Schultz had his worst game on defense since playing his way back into the lineup. Dennis Wideman was  a -3 and not very good either.

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Down 2-0 late in the 3rd period, the Caps rally to defeat the Islanders 3-2 in overtime

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Caps Steal Victory From Jaws of Defeat

Posted on 28 February 2012 by Ed Frankovic

You can call it lucky. You can call it the result of hard work. Or you can call it the hockey gods finally smiling down on the Caps.

Whatever you want to call it, it was two points for the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night as they rallied from a 2-0 hole in the final four minutes to tie the game before Alexander Ovechkin scored in overtime to lift the Caps to a 3-2 victory over the New York Islanders.

If ever there was a game that this club needed a win in, it was on this night when they opened up a crucial five game homestand. The win over the Isles moves the Caps into 8th place in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of Winnipeg, and Washington has two games in hand on the Jets. With the Florida Panthers winning in Toronto, Washington still trails the Cats by three points in the Southeast Division and the Panthers have a game in hand.

The Caps carried the play for much of the night but Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov (31 saves) was really good and the Capitals also weren’t doing the little things necessary to score, like getting bodies to the cage. Washington outshot New York 13-3 in the opening frame but it was the Islanders who led 1-0. The four time Stanley Cup winning organization would go up 2-0 in period three and things looked bleak for the Caps. They had dominated much of the action but allowed two goals because Washington defenders left their feet in their own zone. Jeff Schultz was the culprit on the first Islanders tally while Matt Hendricks made the mistake on the second goal, that came just over two minutes into period three.

But this Capitals team kept working and found a way to fight back and cut the deficit on what looked like a routine play. Jason Chimera outworked Mark Streit for the puck in the left wing corner and Mathieu Perreault corraled the biscuit and fired it to Troy Brouwer at the top of the crease. #20 tapped it by Nabokov and the Verizon Center crowd came alive. Then it looked like the Caps were going to lose but Streit fired the puck in his own bench with 31 seconds left giving Washington an offensive zone face-off. Coach Dale Hunter smartly put out Jeff Halpern and #15 won the draw. Brooks Laich would fire on net and Brouwer tipped it home.

The comeback seemed rather easy and it took a simple formula: put pucks AND bodies to the cage and good things happened.

After that the stage was set for the dramatic Ovechkin to win it on one of his patented end to end rushes. The Gr8, who struggled to hit the net on several earlier shots, got this one through d-man Travis Hamonic and five hole on Nabokov to send the 136th straight sellout crowd out happily onto F street.

So the Caps have 19 games left and now sit at 69 points (32-26-5). The key now is to stay ahead of the Leafs and Jets and also make sure a team like Tampa doesn’t rally to catch them. If they do that they would grab at least the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference but this team really wants a fifth straight Southeast Division title (would bring the 3rd seed). A win like tonight surely helps that cause but with four more contests at the Verizon Center upcoming, the Capitals can’t afford to giveaway any games. Friday’s tilt with the New Jersey Devils should be a good one and is another nearly must win for Washington.

Notes: Schultz and Joel Ward had the lowest ice times for d-men and forwards, respectively. Both are slower skaters. Speaking of slower skaters, Mike Knuble, Roman Hamrlik, and John Erskine were the scratches. It is clear that Hunter is going to play guys who can play at a high pace and tempo…Hendricks had a poor game tonight by obstructing Michal Neuvirth’s view (22 saves) on the second goal and taking two minor penalties, one of which was late in the third period. #26 works hard but sometimes he is not very smart on the ice…the Caps were a perfect 3 for 3 on the penalty kill but their power play went 0 for 4 and if it doesn’t start connecting is going to eventually cost the club victories. Washington had two PP’s in the opening frame and couldn’t cash in, that is a momentum killer.

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Caps fall a goal short in New York as power play fails miserably.

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Margin For Error Getting Smaller for Caps

Posted on 12 February 2012 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals, who continue to play without Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green plus are going with a banged up Brooks Laich, did a lot of good things in a 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers today at Madison Square Garden. The Blueshirts have the best record in the NHL right now but they were barely able to hang on against a Caps team that is not even close to full strength. There is some comfort in the thought that if Washington were to get healthy they’d easily dispatch the team they ran out of the playoffs last spring once again, but moral victories really aren’t meaning much these days because the margin for error for the Caps is getting smaller.

The Capitals are currently sitting in 9th place, a point out of the playoffs, and after Monday night’s tough home tilt against the San Jose Sharks, they play four games on the road. Washington trails the Leafs in 8th by a point and have a game in hand while they are three points back of Ottawa in 7th with three games in hand. In addition, they are four points back of Southeast Division leading Florida, who occupy the third seed right now. All of those teams are well within reach but that only happens if the Caps stop making critical mistakes, start finishing more of their chances, and win more games.

Backstrom doesn’t appear to be coming back any time soon, Green might return later in the month, and when Laich only logs 12 minutes in an important game you know he isn’t close to 100% either. So Dale Hunter’s team needs to “pull up their socks” and start playing better. On Sunday they made a horrible defensive zone giveaway that led to poor positioning and an easy Ryan Callahan goal that gave New York a 1-0 lead after Washington had carried much of the play. That type of mistake is a killer and puts an offensively challenged team behind the eight ball quickly.

The Caps did battle back getting a sweet goal from Alexander Semin after Jason Chimera used his speed against a slow Rangers defense to open up a lane for 28 to unleash his deadly shot. However, they gave the lead back with another sequence where they went running around in their own end. Troy Brouwer eventually left his skates, something you only want to do as a last resort on defense, and that allowed Ryan McDonagh to beat Michal Neuvirth (25 saves) under the right arm.

When your lineup is missing key players, special teams become even more important and Washington cost themselves the game with their struggling power play in the third period. Trailing 2-1 with over 13 minutes left Alexander Ovechkin, John Carlson, and Mathieu Perreault all made bad decisions and as a result, the Rangers received a two on one break and Brandon Prust, who rarely scores, netted the eventual game winner (Carlson would score late to give the Caps a chance). Those mistakes, which were also the result of guys trying to do too much individually, were backbreakers and ultimately cost the Caps from getting at least a point, something they sorely need right now.

Ovechkin certainly didn’t have one of his better games and he should have been using his speed and power to get around an over rated Rangers defense more often. Instead the Gr8 seemed to battle a terrible ice surface and the puck all afternoon. The Caps need their star player to step up and carry this team right now if they are going to make the playoffs. He has to find ways to get more shots on goal and help his teammates be better. That did not happen against New York on Sunday. In his defense, a winger needs a playmaking center to get him the puck and he doesn’t have that with Backstrom out. Marcus Johansson has a bright future but he is being asked to do a lot in just his second year in the league. Perhaps Hunter might want to put Ovechkin back with Perreault and Semin to generate more offense because those are the two other most skilled offensive players in the lineup at this juncture?

Whatever Hunter decides to do, he needs to get this team playing better hockey quickly before they fall too far behind the teams they are chasing. They don’t have the skill to overcome in game lapses like they’ve been able to do in the past so the number of breakdowns on defense must decrease. In addition, the power play has to be better. Simply put, this team has to start being more efficient or they might find themselves golfing come mid-April. The margin for error is that small in a crowded Eastern Conference race.

Notes: The Rangers crushed the Caps at the faceoff dot, 31-19…Neuvirth got the start today due to Tomas Vokoun being sick. #30 was not the reason Washington lost, he had no chance on goals 1 and 3…the Caps hit at least three posts, by my count, so if it weren’t for bad luck lately they’d have no luck at all…Mike Knuble and Jeff Schultz were the Capitals scratches.

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The Capitals get a big 3-0 win over Montreal by playing solid defensive hockey.

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Lots of Positives in Caps Win

Posted on 04 February 2012 by Ed Frankovic

The Montreal Canadiens are not a good hockey team but just 10 days ago they destroyed the league leading Detroit Red Wings, 7-2, at the Bell Centre. In Montreal on Saturday the Washington Capitals did what they had to do and knocked off a reeling, but dangerous, Habs team, 3-0, behind 29 fairly ordinary saves from Tomas Vokoun. It was a game that the Caps had to win given where they are in the standings (9th place in the East heading into the game and three points out of first in the Southeast Division) and despite the fact that it wasn’t very pretty hockey coach Dale Hunter’s crew secured two points.

There were lots of positives in this game. Brooks Laich continued his solid and consistent play and had two assists while Alexander Semin turned in a super third period assisting on Matt Hendricks goal that made it 2-0 before putting this one away on a penalty shot with 8:03 to go. #28 skated in on Peter Budaj (20 saves) and fired a slapper that went top shelf under the cross bar. Not many players have the skill to pull that move off but Semin’s talent level has never been questioned. It is pretty clear that Semin elevates his game when his close friend Alexander Ovechkin is in the lineup (back today after sitting out three games due to suspension) and he did it again in Montreal. The Gr8, after not playing in 13 days, was visibly rusty but just his presence in the game seemed to energize his teammates.

The Caps were outshot in this tilt, primarily because of a poor second period, but that didn’t matter today because the chances Montreal received were not grade A quality scoring opportunities. Washington put in a strong defensive zone effort and kept the Canadiens to the outside and away from prime positions on the ice. Outside of perhaps Tomas Plekenac’s late shorthanded semi-breakaway, I am not sure the Habs had a clear odd man rush the entire game. Achieving that is exactly what Hunter’s style of play is designed to accomplish and as a result Vokoun faced some rubber but not a lot of ones where Montreal had a really good chance to score.

In my opinion, the biggest positive on Saturday was the play of 22 year old John Carlson on defense. I thought this was by far his best game in weeks and he played magnificently. Part of that was because he was paired back up with Karl Alzner again, but #74 looked confident on the ice and he actually bailed out King Karl big time with the game 1-0 in the second period. After #27 made a bad pass up the middle of the ice, Carlson came flying out from behind the net and went down and blocked the shot. It was impressive stuff and it was the right time to leave your feet on defense, something you don’t normally want to do. Outside of that gaffe, Alzner was fabulous himself. He made play after play in his own end and the one time he had to leave his feet he also blocked perhaps Montreal’s best scoring chance of the day. Numbers 27 and 74 were outstanding on Saturday and their respective ice times of 22:01 and 22:30 were the highest on the team. The Caps certainly hope that Carlson builds off of this excellent performance because they need him playing well with Mike Green still out due to surgery.

On the down side, the power play was still terrible. In 4:31 of man advantage time the Capitals had just ONE shot on goal. Washington had trouble getting set up in the offensive zone and even when they finally did there was too much overhandling of the puck. Assistant Coach Dean Evason has to get these players to simplify once they get in scoring position and shoot the puck. With Green and Nicklas Backstrom out injured there is no doubt that two of Washington’s best puck handlers on the power play are missing but this unit still should be better. At a critical point in the game today in period two the Caps had a penalty shot stopped (Troy Brouwer) and they followed that up with a pitiful power play. A better opponent might have taken advantage of the Capitals missed opportunities but on Saturday the Caps were fortunate to be playing a falling apart Montreal club.

At the end of the afternoon, though, the good far outweighed the bad and Washington improved to 27-20-4 (58 points). The Caps need to get points right now and hope that Green, who skated four days in a row this week and appears to be on or perhaps even ahead of schedule on his surgery recovery, and Backstrom are back in the lineup at some point. The news on #52 was very good this week and they have a chance to go 2-1-1 in the four games since last Sunday’s all star game if they can find a way to defeat the Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins on Sunday at 12:30 at the Verizon Center (on NBC).

Notes: Dennis Wideman scored the Caps first goal on a fluky, dipping slap shot after Laich won the offensive zone face-off…Roman Hamrlik went +2 and was significantly better than he had been in the two games in Florida…Jeff Schultz recieved 13:53 of ice time, the most he’s had in a game since December 5th…John Erskine and Jay Beagle were the scratches while enforcer Joel Rechlicz cleared waivers and was sent to Hershey…the Caps only took one penalty, a poor one by Mike Knuble, and they killed that one fairly easily against the worst home power play in the NHL…Washington lost the face-off battle, 29-24…Alzner and Carlson did get stuck on the ice for a 2:28 shift at the end of period two because the Caps forwards kept failing to get the puck deep. Part of Washington’s struggles in the middle frame were due to that and as a result the d-men can’t get off the ice with the long change…Budaj got the nod in goal for the Habs since Carey Price is playing on Sunday against Winnipeg.

 

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