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Washington Holds Off Carolina’s Late Charge to Win Again

Posted on 27 December 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby made 28 saves and T.J. Oshie’s second period power play marker held up as the game winning goal as the Washington Capitals knocked off the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-1, on Thursday night at Capital One Arena. The victory improves the Caps to 23-10-3 (49 points) on the season and they lead the second place Columbus Blue Jackets by two points, but Washington has a game in hand.

Here are 10 thoughts, highlights, and analysis of the first game out of the 2018 NHL Christmas break.

Petr Mrazek has a history of playing very well against Washington going back to his Detroit days and he turned in a gem on Thursday night. The Czech goalie made 30 saves and kept his team in it late into the third period. The Caps should’ve been up by more than two pucks, but he was stellar in net.

Washington’s power play has been struggling over the last 10 games and were in a 3 for 31 funk when the Osh Babe deflected home John Carlson’s point blast to make it 2-0 late in period two. That was the Caps fourth man advantage of the night and they were struggling to score. The Ovi spot has been walled off lately by the opponents and the Capitals have been a little too stagnant with the extra player, but they finally got smart and simplified things with bodies and pucks to the net. Good things happen when you do that, and it paid off there. If Washington can get those type of goals off of traffic, then the opponents will have to pull their defensive players back down tighter to the net, which will open things up in Alex’s office, once again.

Chandler Stephenson put the Capitals up 1-0 in period two when the fourth line was all over the Canes with a vicious forecheck. Devante Smith-Pelly forced Calvin De Haan to cough the puck up the middle of the ice and #18 jumped on it in the slot and snapped one over Mrazek to start the scoring. That fourth line of Stephenson, Travis Boyd, and DSP was pretty good all game.

DSP had a strong outing and he was a big reason the Capitals penalty killing went 4 for 4. Carolina really didn’t have a whole lot of chances until their last power play, when they nearly tied the game. Washington is doing an excellent job of keeping the opposing power plays on the perimeter and allowing their goalies to see any shots.

With 8:21 the play that changed the game, but fortunately, not the outcome, occurred. Matt Niskanen was heading back into his own right wing boards when Justin Williams hit him well before Nisky could get to the puck. That’s interference, especially considering some of the other ticky tacky calls made by the zebras on this night. The hit by Stick knocked Niskanen to his right and then Clark Bishop came barreling in and shoved Nisky in the back slamming him into the boards with an extra push. That’s boarding. The very experienced Capitals TV play by play man, Joe Beninati, reacted immediately to the bad hit with concern. Fortunately, Matt was able to avoid direct head contact with the boards and after staying down for a minute or so, Niskanen was able to get up and skate to the locker room on his own power. Coach Todd Reirden did not have a post game update on Nisky, so his status for Saturday’s game in Ottawa remains unclear.

Following the injury, the Capitals looked stunned because one of their leaders was out on a weird play and they didn’t get the power play they thought they rightfully deserved. Compounding the matter, shortly thereafter Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Carlson all were a little careless with the biscuit in the offensive zone and that led to a Michal Ferland breakaway. The Holtbeast, who has been outstanding in those situations this season thanks to the work he’s been putting in with goalie coach Scott Murray, stopped the one on one opportunity once again, but his teammates didn’t get back and Sebastian “I own the Caps” Aho fired the rebound into the empty cage with 7:35 left in the game. Suddenly a sure triumph was in doubt for the Caps.

The officiating by Jon McIsaac and Ghislain “Send Him Back to Quebec” Hebert was head scratching at times, and none more so than on that play where Niskanen was injured, but the linesmen then made a major blunder that nearly cost Washington the lead. The Canes dumped the puck directly into the Caps zone from behind the red line and Michal Kempny was way ahead of any Carolina player, but somehow the linesmen wiped out icing. A few seconds later Kempny was jailed for high sticking and with 3:48 to go the Canes had a man advantage situation to potentially tie up what was once a near blowout. Again, the Capitals PK came through, but the guys in stripes certainly were doing their best to give Rod Brind’Amour’s team a chance to even the numbers on the scoreboard.

Holtby was very good once again, he didn’t have to make a lot of quality saves, but the ones he had to deny were of the ten bell variety. He continues to be stellar on breakaways and the only goal he allowed was because the five skaters on the ice hung him out to dry.

With the NHL shut down for three days for Christmas, Carolina had to travel from Raleigh on Thursday morning for this tilt. That was an advantage for the Caps and again, they dominated this game, but Mrazek kept it close. Fortunately All Star Nicklas Backstrom won a neutral zone faceoff directly back to Carlson with just under a minute to go and #74 rifled it from inside his own blue line into the empty cage to seal the deal for Washington. Brind’Amour gambled with the neutral zone draw by keeping Mrazek on the bench for the sixth attacker and he rolled snake eyes there.

The Capitals lead the Metropolitan Division by two points over Columbus and they have a game in hand on John Tortorella’s team. Pittsburgh is five points back and Washington has a game in hand on the Pens, as well. In fourth place are the Islanders at 40 points, so the Caps are nine points clear of a playoff spot here in late December. I expect the top three teams in the Metro to pull away from the pack and the question remains if Coach Barry Trotz’ crew can beat out Montreal or perhaps Boston for the last playoff position. Bottom line, barring any crazy injuries, the Eastern Conference playoff race is turning into a nine teams for eight spots race with the top six (Tampa, Toronto, Washington, Columbus, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh) looking solid. There are still 46 games left for the Caps, though, so let’s not count the chickens before they hatch, although it is very tempting to do so.

Notes: The Corsi Canes out shot attempted the Caps, 57-56, but the quality chances were clearly in Washington’s favor, by a good margin…Carlson led the Capitals in ice time with 25:05. Niskanen left after logging 16:54. With Kempny in the box late, Madison Bowey and Jonas Siegenthaler had to kill off part of the penalty and they did so in fine fashion. That is encouraging for the Caps as they build defensive depth. Brooks Orpik is expected back in the lineup very soon, perhaps as early as Saturday in Ottawa, and that’s a welcome sign, especially if Niskanen is out for any length of time. Tyler Lewington was recalled as the 7th defensemen for Thursday’s game after being sent down following last Saturday’s shutout victory in Ottawa to save some salary cap room…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 33-27. Backstrom was 12-4.

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Pheonix Copley Gets His 1st NHL Shutout in Caps Win Over Ottawa

Posted on 22 December 2018 by Ed Frankovic

“By the time I get to Phoenix, she’ll be rising…” – Glen Campbell

One night after Braden Holtby had me singing Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall,” Capitals backup goalie Pheonix Copley turned in an absolute gem of a performance making 35 saves at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa in a Washington whitewashing of the Senators, 4-0. It was Copley’s first NHL shutout and he certainly earned it. Naturally, I now have that country smash hit by the late, great Campbell in my head as the Caps move into the Christmas break at 22-10-3 (47 points) overall and a four point lead over the second place Columbus Blue Jackets.

Coach Todd Reirden’s club has now won 14 of their last 17 games and a HUGE reason for this great run has been the stellar play of their two goalies, the Holtbeast and Copper. For the season, Holtby is 14-8-2 with a .914 save percentage and Copley is now 8-2-1 with a .912 save percentage. Pheonix’s numbers are impressive and he’s perhaps been the biggest surprise of the season for the Caps given that Washington, due to salary cap constraints, had to part ways with backup Philipp Grubauer after winning the Cup. Copley, who fittingly at this time of year hails from North Pole, Alaska, is very good at making the first save and his team has become very adept at making sure the rebound isn’t ending up in the back of their net. That was a major key to Saturday night’s triumph in Ottawa because the Senators had their share of quality chances. Capitals goaltending coach Scott Murray continues to do an outstanding job with his keepers.

On the Washington side of the ledger, the offense was humming and getting only four lamp lighters is probably a low total given the opportunities they had in this affair. Brett Connolly, whose overall game keeps rising in his third campaign with the Capitals, is having his best season ever. Conno tipped home a Jonas Seigenthaler point shot just 1:32 into the game to give Washington an early lead and a jump in their stride. Connolly is up to eight goals and 14 assists (22 points) in the first 35 games. Andre Burakovsky didn’t get an apple on Brett’s tally, but his wall work in the right wing corner against two Senators was “Oshie-like” and created the turnover that led to the goal. I’ve really liked the effort I’ve seen from Burky the last two nights and feel like if he keeps working hard and staying positive, he’ll start seeing some points pile up.

Evgeny Kuznetsov didn’t have a point on Saturday night, but he was really flying, once again. The Capitals second line of Kuzy, Tom Wilson, and Jakub Vrana is really clicking right now. Vrana just keeps getting better and better and after getting stopped on a first period breakaway, it was #13 who really cemented this victory with a great stick lift of the Senators defense that led to his unassisted goal at 9:05 of period two that made it 3-0. He also received a celebratory face wash from the Capitals captain after he skated by the bench following the beautiful play. Vrana now has 11 goals and 9 helpers (20 points) in 35 games and he’s +13 overall. Like Kuzy, Willy didn’t have any points either, but he had six hits and created havoc all night for the Senators defense.

After a rough game on Friday night against Buffalo, the Capitals top line was better against Ottawa. Alex Ovechkin made a nice breakout pass to All Star Nicklas Backstrom that gave the Caps a three on two rush up the ice late in period one. Matt Niskanen joined the rush and with Nicky carrying the biscuit down the left wing boards, Nisky made a bee line for the net with his stick on the ice. Nicky then put one right on the tape of #2 and Matt tipped it home for a 2-0 Caps lead with 2:04 left in period one. That was a huge goal, and fundamental hockey, to really put the home club behind the eight ball after 20 minutes considering that both squads played on Friday and then had to travel late into the night to the capital city of the Great White North.

Coach Reirden made two lineup changes after Friday’s win inserting Travis Boyd for Devante Smith-Pelly on the fourth line and he also gave Tyler Lewington his first NHL game on the blue line. Tyler acquitted himself rather well in 13:07 of ice time going +1 while paired with Seigenthaler (16:15, 1 assist). The coaching staff, with the early lead, was able to pretty much roll the lines in this game with John Carlson being the team leader in ice time with a low total of 23:21. Carly and his defensive partner, Michal Kempny were +2 on the night. It was Kempny who put this one out of reach with 6:16 remaining in period two when his point shot ricocheted in off of a Senators player past Mike McKenna to make it 4-0. Connolly had an assist there and Burakovsky didn’t get a point again, but he made a smart play to move towards the net taking his defender with him. Kempny’s shot hit the player covering Burky and hit the twine. Good things happen when you get pucks and bodies to the net and the Capitals did that well on Saturday night.

The referees in this game, Eric Furlatt and Peter MacDougall, pretty much let the teams play. Ottawa had two power plays and the Caps had three and the officiating was very consistent, which doesn’t seem to happen a lot these days. Washington was good on the penalty kill, and that started with a great neutral zone presence that prevented Ottawa from coming into the offensive zone with speed. The Sens are a rush team with guys like Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, and Bobby Ryan, but the Capitals really didn’t let them come flying into their end at all in their two man advantage situations. The Caps power play struggled again, for the most part, although the last one late in the game showed signs of life. Kuznetsov hit the post and Backstrom missed a wide open net from the left side of the cage on a quick redirect.

Simply put, the Capitals have become a very good even strength team and they don’t have to rely on their power play to win them games these days. That’s the mark of a really good hockey team and there is no doubt the defending Stanley Cup Champions are once again among the top teams in the NHL.

The Capitals have given their fans another reason to smile this Christmas season, so everyone should enjoy the four day break!

Notes: Washington plays next on Thursday, December 27th at 7 pm at home against the Carolina Hurricanes…the Caps were creamed on faceoffs, 32-18.  Lars Eller was 7-8…Ovechkin had 11 shot attempts after only five on Friday night (he had 14 against the Penguins on Wednesday)…the Capitals blocked 16 shots to just nine for Ottawa.

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Ovi Canes 12 14

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Alex Ovechkin’s Hat Trick Helps the Caps Knock Off Carolina, 6-5

Posted on 14 December 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin notched his second straight hat trick to reach 28 goals in just 31 games and Jakub Vrana scored in the sixth round of the shootout to propel the Washington Capitals to a wild come from behind, 6-5, triumph over the Carolina Hurricanes. Braden Holtby, who yielded three power play goals, the last of which came on his own giveaway to Justin Williams, redeemed himself with some stellar work in the shootout allowing only one goal on six shots to give the Caps their fourth straight win. Washington is now 19-9-3 and lead second place Columbus by five points and third place Pittsburgh by seven with 51 games to go.

What a crazy and sloppy game, there are no two ways about that!

In addition, Chris Rooney and Brian Pochmara were downright horrible as your zebra duo on Friday night. They called some phantom penalties, such as the holding call on Ovi in period two and also didn’t call some obvious ones, like the Jonas Siegenthaler interference right before the Gr8’s second goal that made it 4-3. Simply put, the guys in stripes continue to struggle badly in this league so Gary Bettman and company need to stop counting their money and get on the task of fixing the poor officiating because it could ruin what is currently a very good product.

Rod Langway used to tell me back in the 80’s that everything starts with the goaltending and the defense and builds out from there. For the Caps, that is usually a strong point of their team, but for some reason in Raleigh they were off all over the place on the back end. The blueliners struggled with making passes nearly all night (perhaps it was what appeared to be bad ice?) and that put Washington on their heels quite a bit in period one. As a result, Holtby never really looked fully confident in the cage until the shootout.

John Carlson had three assists in this tilt and was +1, but he misplayed a puck on the Caps first power play in period one that took a crazy bounce to lead to a Sebastian Aho (two goals, two assists) goal on a Canes two on zero break. That shorty gave Carolina a 2-1 first period lead. After the ridiculous call on Ovi was converted by the Corsi Canes to make it 3-1, Tom Wilson took a bad interference penalty in front of the net and then Teuvo Teravainen scored on the power play to increase the lead for the home squad to three pucks with just over 33 minutes remaining.

Credit the Capitals for not quitting and when Wilson scored on the rebound of an Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 assist) shot with 7:23 remaining in period two, you could feel the momentum shift. Carolina had played the night before in Montreal and, according to the great Craig Laughlin, did not get back in town until 3 am so you knew their tanks had to be running low. Washington caught fire and Ovi made it 4-3 with 2:35 left in period two on the play where the zebras missed blatant interference on Seigenthaler. Hey, the Bad Zebras taketh and sometimes they giveth!

Just 44 seconds later, Nic Dowd picked up his third assist of the night by feeding John Carlson at the right point. Carlson fired on net and Travis Boyd was “Johnny on the Spot” in front and tipped the puck by Scott Darling (24 saves) for his third goal of the season. Suddenly, this was a brand new hockey game. Carolina almost took the lead back right at the end of the period, but the Holtbeast made a ten bell save with just over a second left.

In the final frame, the Caps power play, which was 0 for 1 while allowing a shorthanded tally, finally clicked. As I mentioned earlier, Carlson didn’t have his best night in his own zone, but the pass he made on the power play to Ovechkin to give the Capitals a 5-4 lead in the third period was as perfect as it gets.

Up by a puck with 10:11 to go, Washington started locking things down, and then T.J. Oshie took a careless offensive zone high sticking penalty to put the Canes on the man advantage. At that point they were two for four, but the Capitals were well on their way to killing this one off when Holtby made a mental error and tried to clear the puck out of the zone by himself from behind his cage. Unfortunately his attempt caught the back of the net and bounced right to Stick at the right post and Justin tapped it in to tie things up with 6:12 remaining.

Darling would rob Kuznetsov late in regulation after a super pass by Wilson and off to overtime this affair went. The Caps had puck possession early and Willy nearly won it, but missed the net high from in tight. Matt Niskanen was then boxed for tripping with 1:35 remaining, but it was another brutal call. The Capitals would kill it off and managed to not get Rooney Tuned into a loss. Again, boy was the officiating just plain bad in this affair!

In the gimmick, the first three shooters on each side could not connect with each goalie playing very well. Dougie Hamilton then scored on Braden using the Peter Forsberg move, but All Star Nicklas Backstrom answered for Washington. Holtby stopped the next two shooters before Vrana, who has been working his tail off to get better, sped in and beat Darling to end this wild and crazy game.

The bright spots for the Capitals were Ovechkin, of course, but also a fourth line that just keeps making positive things happen for Washington. Every time the team needed a momentum shift or energy boost, that unit brought it. On the night, Dowd (+3) had the three assists, Boyd (+2) had the tying goal late in period two, and Dmitrij Jaskin (+1) won a lot of individual and wall battles. The way they are going, there is just no way Coach Todd Reirden can break them up anytime in the near future.

This was not a pretty game and the Capitals had a schedule advantage getting what should’ve been a tired Canes team. Carolina, however, played hard and could’ve won. Washington did not have their best stuff, it wasn’t even close, but they found a way to win and that is what great teams do – come out on top when they don’t have anywhere near their “A” game.

As for Ovechkin, well everyone should just really enjoy what they are seeing from him. As Coach Reirden said in his post game presser, Alex is playing his best regular season hockey in recent years and just as importantly, his leadership has been stellar. The Caps bench boss, who is doing a fantastic job after taking over for Barry Trotz, said that it was the Gr8 who kept the bench up at the game’s midpoint when they were down three pucks. The 33 year old Stanley Cup Champion is truly a special player that is not sitting on his laurels, at all, and we are all blessed to watch him play game in and game out.

Notes: Ovechkin had 12 shot attempts in 21:10 of ice time…Wilson played 15:37 in his first game back from the concussion he suffered via the cheap shot hit by Ryan Reaves of Vegas on Tuesday, December 4th…Madison Bowey took two penalties in period one and was beaten several times, but at the end of the night he came out a +2 in 13:13 of ice time. Playing defense at the NHL level is the hardest position to learn for a young player so there will be mistakes. He’s has a lot of talent, but he’s played less than 82 games in “The Show.” Consistency has been an issue for #22 so far, but time is on his side…Defensemen Christian Djoos is out for a significant number of weeks, according to Coach Reirden, due to an emergency surgery he had to have on his thigh following Tuesday’s game. Siegenthaler played in #29’s absence. Brooks Orpik is back skating, but probably won’t be ready for at least another week or so, meaning a defensemen will need to be called up from Hershey for insurance. That will likely be Tyler Lewington…shots on goal were 29-27, but the Corsi Canes came out ahead in the shot attempts tally, 64-62…Carolina won the face off battle, 35-25. Dowd was 6-3 for Washington…the Caps were 1 for 2 on the power play while Carolina was 3 for 6. They also had a shorthanded goal, so it was not a good special teams night for the Capitals…next up for the Capitals are the Buffalo Sabres at 7 pm on Saturday night at Capital One Arena. The Sabres are 19-9-4 and off to a great start with Carter Hutton in net and former Cane, Jeff Skinner, leading the team in goals with 22. Jack Eichel is also playing some stellar hockey. Buffalo gets the schedule advantage in this one, so the Caps have their work cut out for themselves on Saturday.

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