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Rangers Lucky They Lost to Caps Today

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Rangers Lucky They Lost to Caps Today

Posted on 07 April 2012 by Ed Frankovic

John Tortorella should be thanking his lucky stars that Alexander Ovechkin scored his 38th goal of the season just 32 seconds into the game to pave the way for a Washington 4-1 rout over his New York Rangers.

Why? Because the number one seeded Rags weren’t going to beat the Capitals in a seven game series in the opening round of the playoffs, which would have been the scenario had the Rangers knocked off the Caps today.

The Caps OWWWWNNNN the BlueShirts since New York has no match for Washington’s skilled players. Ovechkin (1 goal), Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) and Alexander Semin (1 assist) light up when they see the slow Rangers defense and Henrik Lundqvist often has the task of trying to be the difference. On Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, King Henrik had no chance as the Capitals swarmed him in the opening frame en route to a 3-0 lead. Braden Holtby stopped 35 shots but most of them were from the perimeter as #70 made a strong case to be the first round starting goalie against the Boston Bruins, especially with both Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun not at 100% healthwise.

For the Rangers, they luck out and get the Ottawas Senators, which is a much easier matchup for them despite what Keith Jones of the Philadelphia Flyers, I mean NBC, thinks.

The Caps last chance to win the Southeast Division title went out the window when the Carolina Hurricanes laid down by playing goalie Brian Boucher in Florida. Give credit to the Cats though, they deserved the division title since the Caps were so inconsistent throughout the season. The Panthers take the #3 seed and will face the New Jersey Devils.

For Washington, a mostly miserable regular season is finally over. It started with a 7-0 run, included inconsistent play, a coaching change, and some key injuries (Backstrom and Mike Green) during the majority of it, while finishing with a 5-2 stretch to qualify for the post season. The Caps get the very difficult task of facing the Boston Bruins in the first round and they will be heavy underdogs.

The Bruins are good and experienced while the Capitals underachieved in the regular season. Add in the fact that Washington will be playing the goalie that is 3rd on the depth chart and on paper, this looks like a mismatch. Most of the national and local media will predict it that way, but that takes pressure off of the Capitals.

Still, they do have internal pressure to win. This team was picked to go far in the postseason back in October and owner Ted Leonsis won’t be happy with a first round exit, even if it does come against the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

For the Caps to find a way to beat Boston, they need to continue to do the things they did right on Saturday on Broadway. They need to go to the net and get traffic on the opposing goalie. They need to use solid defense to generate transition offense, like Roman Hamrlik did setting up a three on two for the Backstrom goal that made it 4-0. They also need good goaltending, like Holtby provided tonight.

What they need to improve on are some very important things. First, they still have a tendency to try to make the perfect or fancy play and that leads to too many turnovers in all zones. Coach Dale Hunter has to get the players to clean that up. The simple play is the one that works best in playoffs, not the “thread the needle” type passes that are tried too often by this hockey club.

In addition, the power play was 1 for 3 in New York but does anyone feel confident in it? The Rangers best chances to score came when the Caps were a man up because of poor decision making. Dennis Wideman had a terrible night manning the point. Green wasn’t much better and he certainly didn’t have his legs when chasing down Rangers on shorthanded semi breakaways in this one. If the Caps want to get the power play going then look no farther than how they scored against Lundqvist. John Carlson got the puck in the middle of the ice at the blue line and fired it on net. He didn’t look to pass, he simply sent the biscuit flying towards the cage where it was deflected home by a New York player. Good things happen when you shoot and the more the guys on the power play start to figure it out the more goals they’ll get and the number of shorthanded odd man breaks and goals against (the Capitals allowed 10 of them this year) will go down. It is a simple formula.

So 82 games are in the books and for the record the team went 42-32-8 for 92 points. They were 3-1 against the Bruins this year as well. But none of that means anything now, but what does matter is the Capitals need to improve in some key areas if they want to have a chance of winning against Boston and get a shot at owning the Rangers again in the post season in round two.

The Caps did Tortorella and company a favor tonight, but the fiery Rangers coach will never admit it.

You’re welcome John and hope to see you in round two.

Notes: Hamrlik had two assists in 16:38 of ice time and I am saying that was his best game of the season. He looked confident and poised throughout the contest…Carlson was good too in 20:25 of ice time. That is two super games in a row for him and he deserves more power play time with his excellent shot…Laich centered the top line and won the key faceoff that got Washington rollling…Joel Ward returned and played solid on a 4th line with Mathieu Perreault and Keith Aucoin. Ward’s grinding style seems to be a good fit for the postseason and the Caps will need big things out of him to try to stop a potent Bruins club…the full playoff schedule will be announced Sunday at 1 pm on the NHL Network.

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Playoffs?! Playoffs?! Yes, the Caps Are Talking Playoffs

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Playoffs?! Playoffs?! Yes, the Caps Are Talking Playoffs

Posted on 06 April 2012 by Ed Frankovic

In a season that has seen a coaching change, some key injuries, and more than its’ share of ups and downs, the Washington Capitals finally made the playoffs with one game remaining, after a 4-2 victory over the Florida Panthers combined with the Philadelphia Flyers win over the Buffalo Sabres, 2-1. The Caps, believe it or not, still have a shot at the Southeast Division title and can finish either 3rd, 7th or 8th in the East, depending on the outcome of Saturday’s contests. Their first round opponent could be the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, or New Jersey Devils.

But back to Thursday night, where the Caps faced a must win in their biggest game of the season. They got the job done, but it was not without another injury, and it was not an easy victory. Washington started sloppily in the opening frame but thanks to a Jay Beagle tally on a rebound of a Troy Brouwer shot plus some super goaltending by Michal Neuvirth, the Caps were fortunate to have a 1-0 lead. But things took a bad turn at the 5:39 mark of period two. Panther forward Marco Sturm fell into Neuvirth and #30 fell back awkwardly with his left leg trapped under him. He was in clear pain and he had to leave the contest after stopping all 13 shots he faced, many of them quality scoring chances.

At that point, the game could’ve gone either way when Braden Holtby (12 saves) entered. Knowing that #70 came on cold with no warmup, the Capitals immediately picked up their play. In addition, they received a boost from Coach Dale Hunter’s line combination changes that he made after the opening 20 minutes. Hunts moved Brooks Laich (1 goal, 1 assist) to center Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal) and Marcus Johansson (1 assist) while moving Nicklas Backstrom with Alexander Semin (1 goal) and Jason Chimera. The switch triggered the Washington offense and Ovechkin and Laich tallied two minutes apart to give the Caps a 3-0 lead.

“He wanted myself on that line just to add a little bit more defensive responsibility. That opens up Marcus and Alex to go and attack. If they know that I am going to be third guy high and then try and win my battles low and get the puck to them, they’re both great skaters that if I can get the puck to them in our zone, they can skate it out. That was the only thought process, shortly after that they both come down and they score a goal. So, it’s good strategy by the coaches,” added Laich on coach Hunter’s line juggling to start the second period.

Washington has struggled with leads lately and tonight saw another round of that start to occur. When five guys swarmed the puck after the Panthers crossed the Caps blueline, Sean Bergenheim alertly fed a streaking Mikael Samuelsson, who was all alone coming down the left wing. #26 fired a laser top shelf by Holtby and suddenly the Cats had life. Florida would pressure Washington, who had several stretches where they could not get the puck out of their own zone, for the rest of the period,  but after 40 minutes it was 3-1.

But just 43 seconds into the final period, the Caps failed to dump the puck deep and Florida took advantage getting an easy entry into the zone as the Capitals forwards changed. Then with the Caps defenders running around, Ed Jovanovski fired from the middle of the point and it went through a maze of players before getting by Holtby. At that point every Capitals fan had to think, “We’ve seen this movie before!” and for the next nine minutes it seemed like only a matter of time before the Panthers were going to tie it up. Luckily, the Caps finally found their legs when the Beagle line generated a super forecheck and from there on out Washington carried much of the play with Semin closing the deal with his 21st goal of the season with 1:02 to go.

It was another game where the Capitals looked like world beaters for stretches and then there were other periods where they seemed like the worst team in the league. When they struggled their breakouts were not crisp and they were lazy, at times, in the neutral zone, and that allowed Florida to get more offensive zone time. They did not play well away from the puck at all during those downturns and it was especiallly apparent that they were sitting back in the first 10 minutes of the third. Defensemen Karl Alzner (1 assist) commented on why they struggled early in the third period but were better down the stretch.

“I think we relaxed a little bit more and started getting a little bit of confidence back. We were talking about that on the bench, if there is a play to be made, make the play. Play with confidence, play still on the offensive with what made us get that lead. And that is what happens with all of the teams, you tighten up and you play too much defense and then we get picked apart through the neutral zone. So it was just getting a little bit of our swagger back, I think,” added King Karl on the problems the Caps have had lately when they get a lead and how they adjusted on Thursday.

At the end of the night though, the Capitals achieved their first and most important regular season goal: to make the playoffs. It is a different feel this spring as Washington is likely not going in as a favorite in their series. Because of the injuries and coaching change, they still have not played their best hockey either. They have been wildly inconsistent and their confidence needs boosting. Alzner’s point about getting their swagger back is an important one, Washington needs to find that right balance to be successful in the confidence department.

In the past, the Caps have gone into the post season having had long stretches of solid play during the latter part of the regular season. Maybe they’ve been overconfident in past years, but that won’t be the case this year. Also one could argue that the last four seasons, the Caps had already played their best hockey going into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Again, that certainly is NOT the case this year.

Will it make a difference in the post season results this year? We will find out, but one thing is for sure, there are plenty of things the team needs to work on before the first round starts. There is lots of room for upside and improvement and they’ll need to do so, especially if both Tomas Vokoun and Neuvirth aren’t healthy for the playoffs. Right now it looks like it is Holtby’s net, but #70 seems ready to handle that pressure.

In closing, there is one regular season game left at Madison Square Garden on Saturday against the Rangers (6:30 pm start). A win by the Caps and a regulation loss by the Panthers gives the Caps the Southeast Division title, home ice, and a date with the Devils. If the Cats get at least a point, the Caps win, and Ottawa loses in regulation, then Washington goes to Boston as the 7th seed. Finally, if the Caps lose or both Florida and Ottawa get at least a point, then it is the eighth seed and another series against John Tortorella and the Rangers.

Whoever they face, the Capitals have the potential to be a dangerous team, especially if they improve their play with the puck as well as away from it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rangers would prefer facing either Florida or Ottawa instead of a team that underachieved in the first 82 games and finally has a healthy set of skaters, especially if they find their game and get their swagger back.

Notes: Semin’s ice time was increased to 19:19 after #28 only played 14 minutes on Monday. Smart move by Hunter to get the hard working winger more playing time…John Carlson logged 20:05 and had his best game in weeks, maybe even in months…Ovechkin now has 37 goals on the campaign…the Caps lost the faceoff battle 29-32, with Beagle (1 goal, 18:35 of ice time) going 10-6. #83 has been one of the most positive stories of the 2011-12 season and the coaching staff continues to use him in a key role on this team…Neuvirth is reportedly day to day with a lower body injury so expect the Caps to call up Dany Sabourin from Hershey if Vokoun isn’t ready yet…Joel Ward should be closer to returning and they will need #42 to play like he did for Nashville in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs…the Sabres loss put the Panthers in the post season for the first time since 1999-2000.

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Caps Can’t Close in Tampa

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Caps Can’t Close in Tampa

Posted on 02 April 2012 by Ed Frankovic

Just when the Washington Capitals had a chance to put themselves on the brink of making the post season, they found a way to mess it up. After tying the game on a late Jason Chimera tally, the Caps lost a defensive zone faceoff and allowed Bolts sniper Steven Stamkos to score on a rebound from the doorstep with 1:03 remaining for the game winner. Stamkos would add his league leading 58th goal into an empty net to make it 4-2.

It was an opportunity blown for the Caps, who now have to sit back and root for the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday before taking on the Florida Panthers at the Verizon Center on Thursday night. If the Buffalo Sabres win tomorrow, they tie the Capitals in the standings with two games remaining, but the Caps own the tiebreaker (more regulation or overtime wins).

This was another sloppy game and it started slowly for the Capitals. Part of that was their inconsistent play but another reason was the officiating tandem of Kelly Sutherland and Frederick L’Ecuyer. Those two zebras gave Tampa two early power plays while missing some obvious infractions committed by the Bolts. It would go that way most of the night despite Washington carrying the play. Tampa received four power plays to just two for Washington and there were some questionable non-icing calls that went against the Caps late in regulation. They might as well have put Buffalo Sabres or Florida Panthers jerseys on the referees tonight because they were anything but objective.

But the Caps did not play well enough to win despite the bad officiating. They made key mistakes at the wrong time. Mathieu Perreault made a great pass to set up the first Caps goal by Alexander Semin (goal, assist), but he then made a terrible giveaway in his own zone shortly after Mike Green was robbed by Dwayne Roloson (31 saves) with a dandy glove save that would have made it 2-0, Washington. Perreault’s horrible turnover forced Dmitry Orlov to take a penalty and then Teddy Purcell scored on the power play to tie it up. 25 ticks later the Bolts scored again.

Chimera’s late goal (3:17 left) off of a rebound of a Semin shot after Green skated through the Tampa defense seemed to be the type of marker that would propel the Capitals to a victory, or at least a point. But Jay Beagle lost the draw to Stamkos with 1:15 to go and #91 provided the dagger. It was another late loss for Washington and if they miss the playoffs they have a whole slew of these contests to go back and revisit from 2011-12.

So now the Caps will have to sit and wait until Thursday to play again, with the hope that Buffalo loses on Tuesday against the Leafs or on Thursday in Philadelphia. Otherwise they’ll need a win vs the Panthers and a victory against the Rangers on Saturday to be sure to qualify for the post season (assuming the Sabres win in Boston on Saturday too).

Notes: The Washington coaching staff has got to get the power play going. Right now it is just terrible. There is too much passing at the top and not enough shots with traffic. Why not move Alexander Ovechkin down low or at least on the half wall again?…Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, and Troy Brouwer were all -2. The Caps need those guys scoring if they are going to win their last two games…Michal Neuvirth (26 saves) was in goal and he was outplayed by Roloson. He needed to stop the Purcell shot. The other two were the result of long shots with traffic…speaking of traffic, the Capitals need to get more of that in front of the other clubs goalie. Washington makes it too easy on opposing netminders too often.

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Sloppy Caps Win in Shootout

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Sloppy Caps Win in Shootout

Posted on 01 April 2012 by Ed Frankovic

With the out of town scoreboard being the Washington Capitals friend on both Friday and Saturday night, the Caps found themselves in a struggle with the Montreal Canadiens, the last place team in the Eastern Conference, in their own building. Dale Hunter’s crew put out a decent effort, but the Caps over passed and shot wide on their chances plus they had several sloppy stretches in Nicklas Backstrom’s return to the lineup for the first time in 40 games. Fortunately for Washington, Michal Neuvirth was very good in net (39 saves, 2-2 in shootout) and Matt Hendricks and Alex Semin made super moves in the gimmick as the Capitals escaped with two points.

It was a huge victory on paper as the Caps moved two points ahead of the Buffalo Sabres, who lost on Friday at home against Pittsburgh and then Saturday in Toronto, with just three games remaining. Because the Capitals hold the tiebreaker over the Sabres (regulation or overtime wins), Washington’s magic number, which is points gained by the Caps or points lost by Buffalo, sits at four. In addition, if the Florida Panthers lose in regulation to the Detroit Red Wings in Hockeytown on Sunday, then the Capitals control their own destiny with respect to the Southeast Division title. The Caps are in Tampa on Monday, come home to face the Panthers on Thursday, before closing out their regualar season at Madison Square Garden on Saturday against the Rangers.

Things are shaping up nicely for the Caps standings wise, but if they want to close the deal, and more importantly, advance in the post season, they have to clean their game up. Washington squandered too many opportunities in this one. Alexander Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson (3 giveaways) played with Backstrom in his return. #19 was very good but his linemates were woefully inconsistent and that prevented them from connecting. Brooks Laich, another guy this team needs going to win regularly, was also sloppy on this night (4 giveaways) and was yet another reason the Capitals couldn’t sustain anything after a very good first 16 minutes or so.

The Caps never sat back in this game, in fact, the two Montreal goals came in transition as Washington was trying to push the pace. Max Pacioretty blew down the left wing late in the first period and when Karl Alzner over committed to help out his defensive partner, Dennis Wideman, Erik Cole was all alone in front and scored. The Habs second goal came when Thomas Plekenac just abused Roman Hamrlik one on one and then fired a sweet shot upstairs to beat Neuvirth (39 saves).

In overtime, the Capitals struggled once again on four and four because they couldn’t keep up with Monreal’s speed. That was disappointing given that the Habs played the night before in New York and should have been the tired club. The Caps are fortunate their goalie was on his game on this night and Neuvirth certainly showed that he can be the guy the way he played on Saturday. Last year #30 was very instrumental in Washington winning the Eastern Conference in the regular season and with Tomas Vokoun’s creaky groin, Neuvy needs to step up again for the Caps to win the division/make the post season.

At the end of the night, despite the fancy play that led to too many turnovers, the Caps come out on top and they are in a nice position to make the post season after things looked troublesome following the blowout loss to Buffalo on Tuesday. There are still three games to go and Washington must play better if they want to close things out and avoid an early trip to the golf course. The Southeast Divison will be likely there for the taking after Sunday’s slate is complete, but the Caps will need to win all three remaining games to pull that off and they won’t get that done if they perform like they did against Montreal.

Notes: Overall shot attempts were 68-68 but the Habs did a better job of getting theirs on goal…Mathieu Perreault scored the first Caps goal off of a nice feed from Semin and Jay Beagle scored the second after a sweet pass from Hendricks…those four players had good games but #85 only had 10:05 of ice time…Washington won the faceoff battle 38-28 with Backstrom going 12-6…Mike Green had 24:24 of ice time to lead the Caps…both teams did not score on the power play. The Caps had five chances to the Habs four. Washington must start connecting with the man advantage if they want to do post season damage.

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Caps Playoff Hopes Take Huge Hit

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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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Ovechkin Propels Caps Back into 8th

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Ovechkin Propels Caps Back into 8th

Posted on 25 March 2012 by Ed Frankovic

As I walked out of the Verizon Center on Friday night after the Caps gave up a 3-0 lead to lose to Winnipeg in overtime, there were a lot of non-believers in this Capitals team with just seven games remaining in the season. Personally, I wasn’t even close to being on the ledge following the defeat and felt that Washington just ran into some bad luck (see Mike Knuble missing one from the doorstep), faced great goaltending early on, and had bad execution playing on an empty tank due to back to back games.

Sunday night, the Capitals certainly helped confirm my thoughts as they received great goaltending from Braden Holtby (28 saves) in the opening frame, then dominated the Minnesota Wild en route to a 3-0 victory. The win, which featured a lot of excellent plays by Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal, 1 assist in 26:19 of ice time), puts them back into eighth place in the Eastern Conference with the Buffalo Sabres, who come to town for Tuesday night’s HUGE tilt at the Verizon Center. Both clubs have 84 points but the Caps hold the tiebreaker due to more regulation and overtime victories (36 to 30). The Caps are also just two points behind seventh place Ottawa and with Florida losing at home in the shootout to the Islanders, they are just three points in back of the Southeast Division leading Panthers (FLA has a game in hand).

I still could be wrong about this team, but the way Ovechkin and Alexander Semin are playing, the Capitals seem to be trending up. The Gr8 now has 36 goals when 35 once looked to be a pipe dream. On Friday, many criticized Hunter for having the team hang back and for sitting Keith Aucion and Jeff Halpern in the third period. I did not think the Caps purposely sat back, they just couldn’t get the puck out of their own zone to sustain any forecheck or offense. It was bad execution and Winnipeg was really clicking. Those of you who read what I wrote after Friday’s game though, did notice that I did call for the Gr8 and Semin to get more ice time. On Sunday, Hunter delivered that and the Gr8 double shifted most of the contest as ole number 32 went with just 11 forwards. Ovechkin made that decision look very smart. His hustle to slide and break up a Wild two on one shorthanded break after Dennis Wideman lost sight of the puck at the offensive blue line in the middle frame was a turning point in the game.

Semin continues to play well despite taking more than his fair share of criticism. He now has 38 points (13 goals, 25 assists) and is +14 in 47 games since December 9th (shortly after Hunter took over as coach). He has helped Jason Chimera hit a career high in goals (19) and Mathieu Perreault likely isn’t in the NHL right now without #28. The Russian forward was all over the ice at both ends today and had 16:40 of ice time. He has been battling a lower body ailment but is fighting through it. I still would like to see him get more minutes but given Washington’s weaknesses up the middle of the ice, that might not happen until Nicklas Backstrom comes back (which could be soon).

Holtby certainly has taken advantage of an opportunity and was 2-0-1 allowing just four goals in 185 minutes of hockey this week. His ability to play the puck really helps his defensive crew, which has some slower guys back there. It is hard to see #70 not face Ryan Miller on Tuesday in likely the biggest regular season game for Washington since the season finale in 2008.

So the Capitals got a must win when they needed it and they continue to control their own destiny in their quest for the playoffs. Tuesday’s game is huge and then they have five more contests after that. Some of their poorer finishes recently (see Detroit and Winnipeg) have come in the second half of back to back tilts. Fortunately for Washington, they are done with those this season. That will allow Hunter to rely more heavily on his big guns like Ovechkin and Semin, and both need to continue to play at an elite level for this club to be successful.

Notes: Marcus Johansson (1 assist, +1, in 14:32 of action) rebounded from a bad contest on Friday with a strong one today. MJ90′s decision to not drop pass when coming across the blue line earlier in the shift helped lead to Ovechkin’s goal. Washington got the puck deep, sustained pressure, then took advantage of a Wild turnover in the neutral zone to put this game away…Hunter dressed seven defensemen (Wideman, Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Jeff Schultz, and Roman Hamrlik) with Schultz, Orlov, and Carlson all playing less than 12 minutes…the Caps lost the face-off battle, 30-23, but Perreault went 7-3…Perreault also had the 2nd Caps goal off of a nice feed from Troy Brouwer after Ovechkin kept the puck alive on the power play.

 

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Bad Decisions Cost Caps Again

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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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Caps Lose Shootout But Road Trip A Success

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Caps Lose Shootout But Road Trip A Success

Posted on 22 March 2012 by Ed Frankovic

Despite losing a tough 2-1 game to the Flyers in a shooout on Thursday night, the Washington Capitals can call this recent five game road trip a success. The Caps went 2-2-1 away from the Verizon Center against the Islanders, Jets, Blackhawks, Red Wings, and Flyers with their season on the line. They come home up a point in the race for eighth place in the Eastern Conference over the Buffalo Sabres. Friday night’s game against Winnipeg now becomes a huge one as the Capitals can pretty much knock the Jets out of it with a victory. The Jets are in 10th place, five points behind Washington.

The Caps played very well in regulation in Philadelphia but several missed opportunities came back to haunt them. Alexander Ovechkin, who scored just 26 seconds into the game, was stopped by Ilya Bryzgalov (30 saves) early in period two when the Gr8 appeared to have a ton of open net to shoot at, then Mathieu Perreault hit the right post from the slot and Keith Aucoin caught iron from in close in the middle frame, as well. Finally, Marcus Johansson received a penalty shot but Brygalov tripped him and the referees mistakenly didn’t give MJ90 another attempt.

Washington carried much of the play in regulation but the Flyers had some good looks too, but Braden Holtby (27 saves) was excellent in his second straight start and deserved a better fate than to lose in the gimmick. In overtime, the Capitals, with Nicklas Backstrom still out and Alexander Semin missing due to a lower body injury, struggled in four on four. Ovechkin did get a golden chance but Brayden Coburn made a good move late to force the Gr8 to shoot wide.

If you asked me before the road trip if I would take 5 points in 5 games, I would’ve snatched it and ran given the Caps road woes this season. But tonight was a chance to get greedy and get a sixth point and a bigger cushion in the standings. Washington played well enough to do just that but failed to finish. It is never fun to lose to the Flyers, especially when you out chance them.

In the big scheme of things though, a .500 trip against the teams they faced this late in the season was ultra important. The Capitals control their own destiny with five games at home and just three on the road. They can’t ask for much more than that at this point and they really need their fans to help them have a huge advantage at home, like the Winnipeg fans did last Friday night where every call pretty much went against the Caps.

Notes: Minnesota is in on Sunday while the Sabres are in town on Tuesday on the upcoming three game home stand…the Flyers only goal was scored by Claude Giroux right after Aucoin hit the post and Dennis Wideman blew a tire in his own zone allowing #28 to go in alone on Holtby…the Caps won the face-off battle, 30-24.

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Ovechkin Steps Up in Motown

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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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Caps Let Golden Opportunity Slip By in Loss

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Caps Let Golden Opportunity Slip By in Loss

Posted on 17 March 2012 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals had a chance to pretty much end the season of the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night but they let a golden opportunity slip by in a 3-2 regulation loss in the second tilt of a five game road trip.

The loss, which wasted a superb goaltending effort from Tomas Vokoun (25 saves), ends the Caps four game winning streak. Winnipeg has now won the last two meetings against Washington and trail the Caps by just two points in the race for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The Buffalo Sabres are just a point in back of Winnipeg. All three teams have 11 games remaining.

The Caps, who not only fought a desperate Jets team in a raucous MTS Centre, also had to play against the referees as well. Mike Leggo and Kyle Rehman were downright inconsistent in this one and they also missed a blatant head shot by Mark Stuart on Marcus Johansson that would’ve given Washington a 5 on 3 power play. Stuart should get one of those Brendan Shanahan tapes made on his behalf this weekend. In addition, Keith Aucoin was high sticked and was bleeding late but only two minutes were called. Add in several other missed hooks and holds (see Winnipeg winning goal) on the Jets against Alex Ovechkin and others, some of which were whistled on Washington the other way, and you have to wonder what these guys in stripes are watching?

But even despite the bad zebras, the Caps still had their chances. With 2:22 to go they received the power play they needed but curiously the coaching staff put Ovechkin and Dennis Wideman on the points with the goalie pulled instead of moving the Gr8 down low and putting Mike Green at the blueline. It was a move that doesn’t make any sense unless Green is not 100%. Ovechkin has been getting his goals from in close lately and with him in front of the net it opens up room for other Capitals players. It was a key sequence in the game and the personnel decisions were not up to par there, plain and simple.

On the plus side, Washington’s penalty killing was specatcular, and it had to be with ECHL calibre referees bowing to every whine from the Manitoba faithful (boy are those fans annoying, but they certainly helped their team on Friday). Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks, and Karl Alzner, along with Vokoun were outstanding during a 99 second sequence where the Jets had a 2-1 lead and a five on three power play. #83 blocked several shots and Vokoun flat out robbed Blake Wheeler at the side of the net. It was top notch penalty killing that unfortunately was wasted in the loss as the Jets went 0 for 5 on the power play.

In games like this one, where you have a chance to separate yourself from the teams chasing you in the standings, your top players need to produce. Ovechkin and Alexander Semin did not do that on Friday night. Yes, the Gr8 was clutched and grabbed most of the night but he is too predictable with the puck. When a mediocore defenseman like Grant Clitsome takes him out so easily on the boards it is clearly a sign that Ovechkin needs to find some new moves. In addition, the two-time NHL MVP’s free lancing style in his own zone cost the team a goal. With the game tied Ovechkin abandoned his man to chase the puck behind the net. At that point the entire d-zone coverage broke down and ultimately Ovechkin’s original man, Nik Antropov, potted the tally that put the Jets up 2-1 late in period two. Ovechkin has to work harder and be smarter in his own end. Semin only played 12:19 and was -2. That was one of his worst games since Dale Hunter took over behind the bench.

So there are three games left on this important road trip and the Caps have split the first two tilts. They had a great chance to put some spread between them and their pursuers, but they didn’t get the job done and now move on to take on the Blackhawks in Chicago on Sunday night. That will be a tough test followed by a quick turnaround in Detroit on Monday. It is time for the stars to show up in the Windy City and Motown.

Notes: Johansson left for a portion of the contest after taking the hit from Stuart but did return. Stuart deserves three games for that hit, at least….Mike Knuble did not have a good game and his penalty late in period two was an awful decision and play…Beagle was outstanding playing 19:53 and winning 14 of 20 draws..the Jets are in town next week, so the Caps get another chance at putting the Winnipeg club away for the year.

 

 

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