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Bottom Two Lines & Holtby Lead Caps over Canes

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Bottom Two Lines & Holtby Lead Caps over Canes

Posted on 04 December 2014 by Ed Frankovic

There are no style points in the NHL, you can look it up.

So despite all of the complaints from your fan base on twitter for not being perfect, a win is a win is a win.

On Thursday night in Carolina, the Capitals did what they needed to do to get a victory they desperately needed against a division opponent.

They didn’t put a dangerous Canes team that features Eric Staal, Alex Semin, and Jeff Skinner on the power play, they received excellent goaltending from Braden Holtby (29 saves), and they got super performances from their defense as well as their bottom six forwards.

The win moves the Caps to 11-10-4 (26 points) and ties them with the New York Rangers for 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division.

With the Caps struggling with slow starts and nine of the next 12 games on the road, Coach Barry Trotz’ club desperately needed an early goal to start things out right.

Jay Beagle delivered that after Jason Chimera, who might have had his best game of the season, outraced the Carolina d-man and fired a hard shot on Anton Khudobin. The Canes goalie couldn’t handle the puck and #83 scooped it into the net just over two minutes into the contest.

It was exactly the start this team needed and they had some other chances in the next two periods but couldn’t convert. Carolina then tied the game early in the third frame after an Andre Burakovsky offensive zone turnover led to a Canes counter attack. #65 then lost Semin in the slot and #28 fired a nasty backhander up under the cross bar to beat his old teammate. It was another nightmare defensive zone coverage shift for Burakovsky, who seems to be having more and more of those lately.

The kid is only 19 so asking him to play 2C in the NHL, at this point, is treacherous. Burakovsky has enormous potential but he doesn’t know how to play defense and trying to learn it against the world’s best players is not an easy chore. Perhaps the team should look at moving him down to Hershey so he can properly learn the defensive side of the house while building up his offensive confidence? You don’t want to wreck a player that has such a huge upside. Detroit routinely over cooks guys in the minors and Nashville put Filip Forsberg, who was 19 last season, down on the farm and he’s averaging a point a game now and carrying his club offensively. The NHL is a man’s league and if you aren’t ready it will destroy you over an 82 game season. So GM Brian MacLellan and Trotz should seriously consider what’s best for this player from a long term development standpoint.

Now back to the hard earned victory in Carolina where Washington’s bottom two lines carried the day. The third unit of Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward would net the game winner with just under four minutes left as excellent fore checking pressure led to a Canes turnover and Fehr buried it top shelf. Had he not put the biscuit in the basket the Caps would’ve had a power play anyways, but Fehr rendered that point moot.

So as stated earlier, this was not a pretty victory, but it was a big step in the right direction from a work ethic standpoint. The Caps didn’t come out sluggish and they really carried a lot of the wall play and individual puck battles, something they have not done well since their torrid six game start. There is still sloppy play and the top two lines are woefully inconsistent, especially the second unit. The top line was mediocore, at best, on Thursday as Alex Oveckin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Tom Wilson looked very sleepy for most of the contest.

In addition, the Caps power play failed to connect on two tries. The Canes shadowed the Gr8 and the other four forwards didn’t read and react to that properly, so assistant coach Blaine Forsythe has some work to do with that crew.

But defensively, the Capitals didn’t give Carolina a whole lot of space due to a hard work ethic. When the Canes did get some room, Washington did a nice job of blocking shots with none bigger than Brooks Orpik’s block of Semin’s grade A chance in the slot with the Carolina goalie pulled.

A win is a win is a win and when you work hard, like most of the Caps did on Thursday, you get the two points you deserved.

Notes: Washington lost the face off battle 32-28. Michael Latta was 3-10 on draws…Orpik had seven hits, seven blocked shots and led the team in ice time with 25:13…Burakovsky only played 10:02, lowest on the team…Evgeny Kuznetsov was a healthy scratch….courtesy of Adam Vingan, this was the Caps first victory scoring two or fewer goals in a regulation game since March 11, 2012 (Dale Hunter was head coach)…next up for the Caps are the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night. Last time these two teams played the Devils won, 1-0, at the Verizon Center. So expect another hard working, low scoring game.

 

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Backstrom, Ovechkin Help Caps Survive Canes

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Backstrom, Ovechkin Help Caps Survive Canes

Posted on 09 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

After blowing a two goal third period lead as a result of a bad turnover and poor goaltending, the Washington Capitals needed their star players to step up and bail the team out.

Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom did just that with 14 seconds left in overtime as #19 fired home the long rebound of a rocket of a shot by the Gr8 that Carolina goalie Anton Khudobin (35 saves) had no chance to handle cleanly. The 4-3 victory was the second win in two nights for the Caps and they improve to 6-5-3 (15 points).

This was a game the Capitals could not afford to lose and they came out ultra strong, out shooting the Canes, 18-3, in the first frame. But Khudobin was pretty good in net and the Capitals gave up a late power play goal and only led 2-1. The second period went okay for the Caps and Eric Fehr scored to give Washington a 3-1 advantage heading into the final frame. But except for Washington’s second line, much of the play was spent in Washington’s own end and Carolina out shot the Caps 14-8 to scratch and claw their way to OT.

Still, if Fehr doesn’t get stripped by Jeff Skinner to lead to Eric Staal’s tally and Peters doesn’t allow a long goal off of a d-zone face off loss, Washington wins in regulation. But things have not been easy for the Capitals early this season. It seems that any little mistake they make results in a goal against right now.

The good news is this team overcame the errors and earned a much needed win. Overall they dominated Carolina over the 64+ minutes out shot attempting them 74-56. The Caps also won 38 of 69 draws, although they lost some key ones in their own zone in the final frame.

On the bad side of the ledger, Peters (24 saves) is not giving the team the solid backup goaltending it needs. His last two starts have been struggles and he was fortunate to get a victory tonight. Two of the three goals were of the long range variety. In addition, Tom Wilson left in the second period with an apparent lower body muscle injury. This news was not needed after it was learned that Brooks Laich was injured once again (upper body) Friday in Chicago and will need to be re-evaluated.

The Wilson loss hurts the rotation as he was fitting in nicely with Ovechkin and Backstrom. Coach Barry Trotz’ second line of Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky, and Troy Brouwer played extremely well on Saturday and the Gang Green line of Fehr, Joel Ward, and Jason Chimera has been really good too. So if Wilson is out for Tuesday’s game, Trotz has a tough dilemma on his line combinations against Columbus. Jay Beagle filled in for Wilson after the injury, but despite a goal on Saturday (before he was with 8 and 19), he’s not a top 6 forward. So to me, the best option is to put Beagle on the Gang Green line at center and move Fehr up with Backstrom and Ovechkin. The other option would be to slot Evgeny Kuznetsov somewhere in the top nine.

Injuries are a part of the game, so Trotz and company will just have to battle through up front and be happy they have some decent depth.

On the back end, the team continues to be really solid. Nate Schmidt is playing some excellent hockey so the top six defensemen have been very strong. Because all three pairs have been mostly consistent, Trotz can keep the ice time fairly close and not worry about performance drop offs in back to back contests. It’s a nice luxury to have a deep and quality blue line, something this club has not been able to accurately say for several years.

So the end result on Saturday was another dominating puck possession game for Washington. They haven’t been able to translate those into easy wins, though. On Saturday, a key turnover and some shaky goaltending prevented that. In addition, the Capitals are struggling to finish off their grade A chances. 3 of the 4 goals involved lucky bounces so that made up for not converting on the quality opportunities.

However, the Capitals got the key finish when they needed it by Backstrom. Ovechkin’s decision to shoot, and fire hard, was a great one. Good things happen when you put the puck and bodies on net. Washington is getting better in that department. So if they keep maintaining puck possession, they could reel off a nice winning streak if they limit turnovers, penalties, and get some consistent goaltending.

Notes: Oveckhin led the Caps in ice time with 23:39. John Carlson (two assists) was next with 23:35…Backstrom was 16-9 on draws and it looked like the linesman didn’t drop the puck fairly on the draw he lost that led to the tying goal (and Peters needed to make that save)…Kuznetsov only played 9:23, but because of his skating ability (OT is 4 on 4 play), he did receive a shift in overtime…the Caps will not practice on Sunday and they play Columbus at home on Tuesday at the Verizon Center.

 

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Fluke Goal Costs Caps in Overtime Loss

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Fluke Goal Costs Caps in Overtime Loss

Posted on 05 November 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The hockey gods are clearly testing the Washington Capitals.

Despite dominating a very hard working Calgary Flames team for nearly 55 minutes, the Caps found themselves in a tie game on a bizarre play I’m not sure I’ve seen since the Caps inception in 1974.

An errant Washington pass put the puck in the slot in front of Braden Holtby. Marcus Johansson, who was in perfect defensive position, did the smart thing and tried to quickly knock it out of harms way. In the process, the puck went off of Troy Brouwer’s skate and bounced back five feet or so into the net behind Holtby for the tying tally with 5:10 to go in regulation.

Are you kidding me?

After all of the hard work and effort the Capitals put into this contest surely they deserved better at that point, right?

They had played a text book 3rd period and all evening their puck support was excellent. Colossal defensive turnovers, like we’ve seen too much of recently, were not present in this game and the Caps generated lots of offensive zone time and chances.

Unfortunately the Caps struggled to bury many of those chances, totally missing the net on some that were of the grade A variety. That’s been a trend during their losing skid, which is now at five straight games (and they’ve lost six of their last seven). They did, however, manage to get a point in this loss when they were defeated, in overtime, 4-3.

Afterwards Coach Barry Trotz was not upset at all, except for the outcome. His team had come to play hard and stick to the system and for the most part, they did.

The players were clearly frustrated afterwards with Matt Niskanen telling me that “losing sucks.” But he also knew that the team had played the game the right way on Tuesday night.

Alex Ovechkin picked up two assists to seize the franchise all time points lead from Peter Bondra and he nearly set up the game winner late in regulation when he blocked a Dennis Wideman point shot, skated down the ice and found Nicklas Backstrom streaking towards the net. Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) would take a nice cross ice pass from Ovechkin and feed Tom Wilson on the door step, but “Willy” was unable to lift the puck and Jonas Hiller (31 saves) made the stop of the game to send the tilt to OT.

Looking at the stats, Washington was dominant. They out shot attempted the Flames 68-48 and they won the face off battle 42-30 with Michael Latta going 13-6. It was a very strong effort.

The glass half empty folks will point to Mike Green’s -4 and Holtby allowing 4 goals on only 23 shots. I didn’t think either one of them played a bad game. Green was tripped on the first Calgary goal and interfered with in the neutral zone on the second, but the zebras chose not to call a Flames penalty. I’m not sure how Holtby could possibly have saved the 3rd goal? Finally, on the Flames game winner, Niskanen lost an edge in the neutral zone and that allowed Calgary to set the winning play up.

But the naysayers will likely be out in full force and as Taylor Swift says, “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate..” and there will be many that pile on Green and Holtby.

Hopefully the players tune it out. In fact the whole team needs to do what they did after the third goal, show resolve and play harder. There was no moping or hanging of heads after that flukey third Flames goal, which is encouraging. Losing stinks and this team is probably wondering what they need to do to get a win.

To me, it’s pretty simple, just keep focusing on playing the right way and not try things out of your comfort zone, which they did too much of against Arizona on Sunday.

Trotz noted after the game that “usually the harder you work, the luckier you get.” Calgary has been working hard and Barry noted they are one of the hardest working teams in the league. Trotz felt that the Caps worked harder than Calgary on Tuesday night, but his club wasn’t rewarded.

That’s hockey. You hope during the course of 82 games that things will even out, especially if you are working hard and playing the right way.

So at this point all the Caps can do is keeping working harder within the framework of their system and as the main part of that songs says, just “Shake it Off.”

N0tes: Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:48. He and Karl Alzner had a very strong game. Wilson had an assist in 13:28 of ice time and was a physical presence. He did get juked badly by Mark Giordano, who is a top pair defensemen, on the Flames second goal…Joel Ward scored his sixth goal of the season on a 5 on 3 Caps power play in the middle frame. ..next up for the Caps are the Chicago Blackhawks in the windy city on Friday night. The Capitals then come home on Saturday against a Carolina squad that’s won three games in a row after a horrible start. The return of Eric Staal has helped get the Canes going.

 

 

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Grubauer Helps Ovechkin Net 400th Career Goal

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Grubauer Helps Ovechkin Net 400th Career Goal

Posted on 20 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin scored his 400th NHL goal on Friday night in the Caps huge 4-2 victory in Carolina. The Russian superstar became the 6th fastest (634 games, h/t Jeff Kryglik) to reach that number in NHL history.

Afterwards, the Gr8 knew exactly who to thank for the reaching the milestone on this night: rookie goalie Philip Grubauer.

The young German netminder, who Ovechkin termed the Caps “best player in the game,” was fantastic stopping 39 of 41 shots, many of the quality chance variety and it was his goaltending along with three Washington power play goals that gave the Caps a late 3-2 lead. With the Canes pulling goalie Cam Ward (25 saves), Nicklas Backstrom (4 assists) moved the puck off of the boards where the Gr8 could out race the Carolina defender and notch his first empty net tally of the season to seal this one for Washington. It was “Good morning, Good afternoon, and Good night Carolina,” as the great John Walton says, at that point.

The victory improves the Caps record to 19-13-3 (41 points), which gives them a five point cushion over the Flyers, who are in 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division.

The analysis of this one is pretty straightforward: Grubauer was the difference in this game like Justin Peters was the difference maker for Carolina just over two weeks ago when the Canes came in and stole a game in Washington. Tonight, for some reason, Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller chose to go with Ward over Peters, who totally owned and frustrated the Capitals at the Verizon Center on December 3rd.

Muller also set up his penalty kill to take away Ovechkin and it totally backfired. Caps Coach Adam Oates and assistant Blaine Forsythe adjusted to the tactic by putting a body in front of Ward and as a result, they notched the three extra man markers. Typically a team has two defenders in front of the net on the PK, making it harder for the offense to get bodies in front, but with the Canes shadowing Ovechkin, it was easy for the Caps to stand in front of or around Ward when they had the man advantage.

Sure Muller did a nice job of exploiting the Capitals defense with stretch passes all night, but overall Oates won the coaching match up in this tilt.

Washington’s neutral and defensive zones were below average in this contest. The spacing between the two defenders was off most of the game. In addition, the gaps between the defensive pair and the forwards was too great, giving the speedy Canes too much time and space.

Luckily, Grubauer was outstanding and the Caps defense did do a great job of clearing any rebounds. In addition, Backstrom was super in this contest and he now leads the NHL in assists with 33. Not too shabby for the underrated Swede.

In hockey, it is nice to have highly skilled players who can score, the Caps have that in Ovechkin and Backstrom.

Washington was mostly outplayed, but the great equalizer, goaltending, was the game’s determining factor.

Grubauer was greater than Ward, which allowed Oates to be greater than Muller in Raleigh on Friday night.

Notes: Shot attempts were heavily in favor of the Canes, 86-42, OUCH!…Marcus Johansson, who had a super second period, got hurt in that frame and left with a lower body injury…Johansson, John Carlson, and Troy Brouwer had the Caps first 3 goals…the Caps went 3 for 4 on the power play while Carolina was only 1 for 5…Next up for the Caps are the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night at the Verizon Center.

 

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Caps Make a Statement By Whipping the Rangers

Posted on 08 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The King is Dead.

Well not exactly, but after 200+ minutes of failing to score a goal on Henrik Lundqvist, dating back to game 5 of last season’s playoffs, the Washington Capitals erupted for four goals to beat the $59.5M goaltender and his Rangers squad, 4-1, at Madison Square Garden.

This game was not close after the first 10 minutes as Washington continued it’s improved play and dominated the Rags from the mid point of the first period on. The Caps moved the puck really well from the back end and it resulted in several good chances on King Henrik. Washington totally outworked New York in this one, something that the Blueshirts typically pride themselves on doing. But the Caps had too much speed for a slow Rangers D that is now without Marc Staal and add in the hard work of guys like Jason Chimera and Joel Ward and it was the perfect recipe for a butt whipping of New York.

Chimera, Steve Oleksy, Mikhail Grabovski (penalty shot), and Nate Schmidt all tallied before Benoit Pouliot finally deflected the biscuit by Philipp Grubauer with 1:53 to go. Grubauer, who got the nod from Coach Adam Oates to give Braden Holtby a rest (Michal Neuvirth is injured), was excellent in gaining his first NHL win. He made a big save on Ryan Callahan’s backhander early in the contest then did his job as the Caps repeatedly owned the puck and kept any Rangers pressure to the outside.

It was a thorough team win and the Capitals dominated the Rangers, showing that they are improving as a puck possession club. To me that all starts from the back end and the addition of Dmitry Orlov to the defensive rotation has certainly made a difference. Oleksy fared well in his first game in several weeks too.

Credit Oates for inserting Grubauer and Oleksy after a win on Saturday. Both the Rangers and Capitals were in action Saturday with Washington having to travel to the Big Apple after they defeated the Predators while the Rangers played at their barn again. But the Caps had more energy and they used that along with their speed to put New York on its heels. Washington could have been up 6 or 7 pucks if not for some stellar glove saves by Lundqvist along with some assistance from the post.

The Caps were that good in this one in an important Metropolitan Division matchup. They improve to 16-12-2 (34 points) and now own a three point lead in second place over the Rangers and Carolina, who each have 31 points.

It was a win on the road against a club they’ve struggled with in recent times.

To me, that’s a statement victory.

Notes: John Carlson led the Caps in ice time at 23:57…the Caps out shot New York 36-31…both teams went 0 for 2 on the power play…Next up for the Caps are the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday at the Verizon Center.

 

 

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Team USA Should Choose Caps John Carlson for Sochi Squad

Posted on 16 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

With less than three months until Team USA plays its first game on February 13th vs Slovakia in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, things are heating up in the battle to make the team.

The rosters for many of the countries will be finalized over the next four to six weeks and make no mistake about it, earning a spot on a team is a big deal to NHL players.

Washington Capitals fans will have both Alexander Ovechkin (Russia) and Nicklas Backstrom (Sweden) to watch in Sochi, but there is another Caps player that is making a strong case to be on an Olympic roster, USA’s John Carlson.

That Carlson is in the running for a spot on the team is no surprise to Caps fans. #74 has been flat out dominant over the last few weeks and his 32:26 of ice time on Friday night in Detroit, including an eye popping 4:19 of play in the five minute overtime is quite telling. Carlson is a major reason that Washington is 6-1-1 in the month of November.

Team USA’s GM is David Poile and he is the ultimate decision maker for the roster, but he will get help from others to include Team USA’s head coach, Dan Byslma and Pens GM, Ray Shero.

Two quality NHL hockey writers, Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside, handicapped the Team USA roster on November 7th. In that post they list the following four players as locks to make Team USA’s defense:

Ryan Suter (Minnesota)

Paul Martin (Pittsburgh)

Jack Johnson (Columbus)

Ryan McDonagh (New York Rangers)

Given that there are likely going to be eight players chosen on defense, that leaves four roster spots remaining.

In the mix to make the roster, based on who attended Team USA’s camp last August, in addition to Carlson are:

Kevin Faulk (Carolina)

Kevin Shattenkirk (St. Louis)

Keith Yandle (Phoenix)

Brooks Orpik (Pittsburgh)

Dustin Byfuglien (Winnipeg)

Zach Bogosian (Winnipeg)

Matt Carle (Tampa Bay)

Cam Fowler (Anaheim)

Seth Jones (Nashville)

Danny DeKeyser (Detroit)

Erik Johnson (Colorado)

According to LeBrun and Burnside, they have Yandle, Shattenkirk, Faulk, and Orpik as the next four on their list. Carlson was further down on their rankings, but again, that list was done on November 7th and nine days later, we have more data.

The key for Poile is to have a crew that is playing as well as possible when February 13th arrives.

When talking to the former Caps GM out at Kettler IcePlex last August, it was clear to me that Poile is very concerned about the lack of success the Americans have had in the Olympics outside of North America and he pinpointed their ability to play on the Olympic sized ice, which is wider than the NHL rinks. This changes the game and puts a larger premium on skating ability.

It also, in my mind, puts more emphasis on having right handed players play the right side and vice versa with the left. Looking at the four locks to make the team in the ESPN article, one thing to note is that all four of those defensemen shoot left. So of the remaining four spots, one would have to think that at least three of them should be right handed shots.

The right handed shots on the above list are: Carlson, Jones, Erik Johnson, Kevin Faulk, Kevin Shattenkirk, Zach Bogosian, and Dustin Byfuglien.

Is Carlson in the top three or four on that list?

With the way #74′s played over the last month, absolutely!

Carlson’s four goals leads all USA defensemen (tied with McDonagh) and his 23:38 average time on ice puts him sixth overall out of the 16 players mentioned as possibilities. Carlson, and his defensive partner, Karl Alzner, routinely play against the top line of the opposition. So he’s no stranger to top players like Sidney Crosby, Geno Malkin, Eric Staal, Martin St. Louis, and John Tavares that will be donning the uniforms of Team USA’s opposition. There’s a reason Carlson gets those assignments game in and game out, he’s considered Washington’s top right handed defender in his own zone.

Another reason Team USA should choose Carlson is his skating ability. The 2010 World Junior Championship hero for Team USA is extremely mobile and that is something Poile’s team absolutely has to have in Sochi. I’m not sure a guy like Orpik is as effective on the big ice as he’d be in an NHL sized rink. Jones is a generational player and a raw talent, but he’s only 19 years old and is only just this year playing against the top competiton in the NHL. It just seems too risky to choose him now with so much pressure on the Americans to medal. Seth will eventually be there, but now is not the time. I’d also pass on a guy like Byfuglien who has had conditioning issues in the past and isn’t a super skater. He’s another guy more suited to NHL sized rinks. Bogosian, with all of the potential he brought when drafted high in Atlanta and his great skating ability, just hasn’t been consistent. Erik Johnson was super in Vancouver in 2010, but his game has been up and down recently and he is another much more suited to the NHL sized rink.

That leaves Carlson, Faulk, and Shattenkirk as my top three right handed shots. Carlson not only kills penalties but he also has a hard shot to bring to the power play. You can’t play 4:19 of a five minute overtime without being in great shape and #74 routinely is one of Washington’s best conditioned players. Overall, there is just no downside to putting Carlson on Team USA. He’s played in big games at the NHL level and in junior competitions in enemy rinks.

Carlson is playing the best hockey of his career right now and he deserves a really good look from Poile, Bylsma, and Shero (the Penguins are in town on Wednesday). If they see what we’ve seen Carlson do over the last several weeks, win the loose puck battles in all zones, get his shots to the net, and shut down the top line of the opposition, they should come to the same conclusion I’ve come to:

John Carlson deserves to be on the Team USA roster for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.

 

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Will Ovechkin & Caps Avenge 2012 Series Loss to Rangers?

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Will Ovechkin & Caps Avenge 2012 Series Loss to Rangers?

Posted on 28 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

For the Caps organization and their fans, the memory of last spring’s Eastern Conference semifinal game five overtime defeat to the Rangers that ultimately led to a series loss in seven games still stings. Washington was basically twenty five seconds away from a win on enemy ice with a chance to wrap the series up at the Verizon Center, but an unfortunate double minor for high sticking turned that whole storyline around. Instead of moving on to play the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals the Caps headed to the golf course.

But just one year later, Alexander Ovechkin and the Caps have a chance to avenge that crushing defeat against a Rangers team that many predicted to win the Stanley Cup before the season started. The addition of Rick Nash to the Rags lineup seemed to give them that big time gun they lacked and on paper they had two nice scoring lines in Nash, Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan, and Carl Hagelin. But the game isn’t played on paper and the war between Gaborik and stubborn head coach John Tortorella ultimately led to #10 being shipped to Columbus. GM Glen Sather went out and added left wing Ryane Clowe from San Jose at the trade deadline to give Torts a player that better fit his dump and chase, grinding style. New York, despite losing top four defensemen Marc Staal to an eye injury, played well down the stretch and moved up to the six seed to face Washington in a series that will begin on Thursday night at the Verizon Center. However, they lost Clowe to an injury last Thursday in Carolina and it is unclear if he will be able to go against the Caps. Thus it looks like the Rangers could possibly start the series without a top 4 D man in Staal, a top 6 forward in Clowe as well as a depth forward in injured Brian Boyle.

As for Washington, well they are a much different team than the one they had in last year’s series. The Caps were offensively challenged from a system and player standpoint last spring but General Manager George McPhee brought in new coach Adam Oates, who plays the up tempo style that better fits Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. In addition, the GM has assembled a true second scoring line, something Washington hasn’t had in the post season since 2009. Center Mike Ribeiro was added in a deal with Dallas and then at the trade deadline McPhee brought in speedy left winger Martin Erat from Nashville. With the emergence of Marcus Johansson and the improvement in the Caps power play in Oates’ system, Washington is a very dangerous offensive team once again.

In the bottom six forwards department, the Caps have a super crew that has gotten a big boost from a healthy Eric Fehr. At some point the Caps will also get Joel Ward back too. Washington has a chance to win this series if their bottom six forwards can outplay the respective crew from New York.

On defense, the Caps have Mike Green playing as well as ever and paired with Karl Alzner he is not getting run in the corners as often. That will be something that Oates must continue to avoid, the big hits on his defense because that is the way the Rangers like to play, dump the puck below the goal line and wear you out down low. The Caps may have lost Dennis Wideman on the back end to free agency last summer but from one to six, they are a more improved club from last spring. John Erskine is playing super with John Carlson and the third defensive pair of Jack Hillen and Steve Oleksy is solid and mobile. Washington has more depth on the back end than New York, who prefer to give their top four of Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan McDonagh, and Anton Stralman a ton of minutes. John Moore and former Capital Steve Eminger are the third pairing.

In net, you’ve got a super battle between Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby. Last spring was #70′s first NHL playoffs and he performed extremely well. Outside of game one in New York, Holtby was outstanding. Holtby is a year more experienced and his puck handling still makes a big difference for Washington. Oates has used #70′s skills in that area even more than former coach Dale Hunter did and they will need it to combat the Rangers dump and forecheck style.

Behind the bench you’ve got the abrasive but very experienced Tortorella versus the technically savvy Oates. Oates knows the Rags very well from his coaching days with the Devils last spring, so he is very familiar with what Torts wants his players to do. Torts will try to work the referees and manipulate the New York media to put the pressure on him, instead of his players. But both teams are under pressure to win now, so those tactics are just a waste of time and energy. Oates seems to be the type that doesn’t bother getting caught up in that stuff.

In the special teams department, the Caps have the best power play in the league (26.8%) while New York has struggled (15.7%), but in a seven game series, anything can happen. But this Washington team can play well at five on five too and my take is that the more five on five action there is, the more it favors the Caps given their superior depth. The Rangers have some very skilled players so staying out of the box is paramount. The Caps penalty killing finished 27th in the NHL at 77.9% during the regular season.

This is the fourth post season meeting between these clubs in five years. It is the tightest Eastern Conference matchup and a battle of two surging clubs with different styles of play.

The complete series schedule is listed below:

Thursday, May 2 7:30 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington  TV: CSN, NBC Sports Network, TSN

Saturday, May 4 12:30 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington  TV: NBC, TSN

Monday, May 6 7:30 p.m. Washington at NY Rangers  TV: CSN, NBC Sports Network, TSN

Wednesday, May 8 7:30 p.m. Washington at NY Rangers  TV: CSN, NBC Sports Network, TSN

*Friday, May 10 7:30 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington  TV: CSN, TSN

*Sunday, May 12 TBD Washington at NY Rangers  TV: TBD

*Monday, May 13 TBD NY Rangers at Washington TV: TBD

* – if necessary

Notes and Assorted Musings: The Caps ended the regular season with 164 power plays to 163 for their opponents. Why is this important? Well for the first time in 16 seasons Washington finally had more power plays than their opposition in a season. Overall they are down 471 power plays over the course of the streak, which coincides with McPhee’s tenure as GM. People always say that “the calls even out” so given that, shouldn’t we see more balance in the power play totals? Clearly it is not the case here and to give you an idea of the odds of this happening, it is akin to flipping a coin 15 straight times and getting heads for each result. The odds of that happening are 1 in 32,768! (s/t to Mike Vogel of the Caps for pointing out the power play stats in his blog last night)…it has been reported that Brooks Laich did indeed undergo surgery this spring and he is targeting a return in the second round of the playoffs, if the Caps can advance that far…down on the farm, the Hershey Bears won both games 1 and 2 versus the Providence Bruins over the weekend and can win their best of five opening round series with a victory at the Giant Center this weekend in either game three or four.

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Have The Caps Put Themselves Back in the Playoff Race?

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Have The Caps Put Themselves Back in the Playoff Race?

Posted on 26 February 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals played their second consecutive quality hockey game on Tuesday in a 3-0 white washing of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Braden Holtby’s 33 saves and Nicklas Backstrom’s goal and assist paved the way for a solid victory after Alexander Ovechkin put on that great show on Saturday against the Devils.

Coach Adam Oates’ club is exhibiting some serious signs of being a much better hockey team than we saw in the early part of this season and their shot output over the last two contests certainly indicates that. Washington has dominated both of these last two matchups.

So the question now becomes, have the Capitals put themselves back in the playoff race?

At 7-10-1 the answer would often be a solid “no.” But then again, the Caps play in the Southleast, er, Southeast Division. At 15 points, Washington is only four points out of the division lead, which would yield a third seed in the post season.

The Caps are now 5-2 in their last seven games and the way Holtby is playing in net and the fact that Ovechkin and Backstrom have kicked their games up to the elite level certainly gives Washington and their fans cause for optimism.

Backstrom clearly was the best skater on the ice in this one and owned the puck and his opponent most of the evening. Ovechkin (1 assist) didn’t have any shots on goal but the Gr8 had three takeaways, four hits, and some superb passes that should’ve had resulted in more Capitals goals if only there were additional finishers on this club. John Carlson (1G, 1A) is playing his best hockey of the season and was a force on the ice, as well.

In net, Holtby is in a major groove and his two top stops were while the Caps were on the power play. The first was on an Alex Semin breakaway early in a scoreless game and then on Eric Staal on an odd man rush in the third period. If either of those chances go in, the game might have gone differently. But #70 is playing large in net and looks ultra confident in the cage.

Simply put, if those four players are playing near the top of their respective games, the Capitals are going to be in every contest. That is what has been happening over this seven game stretch. Add in Mike Green returning to the lineup after missing three tilts due to a groin injury and it appears that things are finally heading in the right direction for the Caps.

The question is, can they keep this up? Teams will look to take away Ovechkin and Backstrom along with Mike Ribeiro. Those three players are the heart of the Washington offense. It will be up to players like Troy Brouwer, Eric Fehr, Mathieu Perreault, Joel Ward, and Jason Chimera to convert on the great setups they are getting from 9, 19, and 8. What would make things even better is if the Caps could get Brooks Laich back in the lineup in the near future.

So are the Caps back in the playoff race? Given the current standings, you’d have to say yes.

But tough games in Philadelphia on Wednesday, then in Winnipeg on Saturday before coming home to face the Boston Bruins on Tuesday loom large. How this team does in these three upcoming contests will go a long way towards answering things for the Capitals management.

A 2-1 or better mark certainly has to make owner Ted Leonsis and GM George McPhee seriously think about finding a way to add a finisher or two to the forward crew to give this club a chance to take the division and try and make some post season headway. However, if they drop two of three in regulation then the pendulum swings back to the longer term where finishing near the bottom of the standings will very likely yield a prize prospect.

It’s a fine line for this hockey team right now, but there is no doubt they are back in the playoff race with 30 games to go.

Notes: The Caps lost the faceoff battle for the first time in seven games, 31-29…Green played 21:54 in his first game back and looked fairly good, although there were some tentative moments along the walls, which is to be expected…the Caps were 2-2 on the penalty kill and 1-4 with the power play. Their third goal came 28 seconds after a Canes penalty expired but it was the PP pressure that resulted in the tally as Carolina never recovered territorially after the initial two minutes were up.

 

 

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