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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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Ovechkin Scores Twice, Caps Rout Islanders

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Ovechkin Scores Twice, Caps Rout Islanders

Posted on 06 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin returned to the Capitals lineup on Tuesday night after missing a pair of games and notched two power play goals and an assist, Nicklas Backstrom had three helpers in another dominating performance, and Braden Holtby made 34 saves as the Caps smoked a good New York Islanders club, 6-2, at the Verizon Center.

Through 15 games, I’ve chronicled the lack of effort on certain nights from this Caps squad. On Tuesday evening, that was definitely not the case. Washington played by far their most complete hockey game of the young season and dominated a very fast Islanders team, routing them in the process. The Caps came out strong in the opening frame and even though they trailed after 20 minutes by a single tally (1-0), one felt that if they returned to play the second period like they did the first than the game would turn in their favor.

Boy, did it, as they scored five times in the middle stanza.

Washington was relentless in this contest doing “all of the little things” as Backstrom described it to me following the game. The Caps repeatedly won the loose puck battles. They came out of their zone with solid passes on the majority of the occasions, and they kept their feet moving. They played with passion and energy. It was refreshing and the results spoke for themselves. Coach Adam Oates afterwards perhaps gave the most telling remark when he said, “that looked like last year.” Last year, the Capitals won 15 of their last 18 games of the season playing with intensity, desperation, and passion. We saw the intensity and passion on Tuesday as Washington imposed their will on New York.

All four Capitals lines played well. The Backstrom-Ovechkin-Martin Erat unit set the tone and #10’s strong play along the boards and savvy decision making helped Washington get out of their own zone much easier. The fourth unit set up a goal for defensemen Alexander Urbom, with forward Tom Wilson getting his first NHL point via a beauty of a pass while sliding on his rear end. Wilson would also garner his first NHL goal on the power play late in the third period, for which he received a shaving crème pie in the face from Ovechkin following the contest. Speaking of the power play, it went from dangerous to deadly with the Gr8 back in the lineup. Ovechkin had two markers with the man advantage, one of which came as a result of a super feed from Marcus Johansson down low that gave Alex an empty cage to shoot at. Johansson himself chipped in a power play goal as well by going to the net and potting a rebound. Overall, the power play was 4 for 6!

The Caps penalty killing was really good, going 5 for 5, although the first Islander goal by John Tavares came just as Mikhail Grabovski’s minor penalty was expiring. Washington’s PK continues to allow the goalies to see the shots, which limits rebound chances. This is the best the Capitals have killed penalties in a few seasons, however, Oates would like to see the number of power plays allowed per game diminished. In the last two games they’ve had to kill off six and five opponent man advantage situations, respectively. That is just too many (although I thought the 3rd period tripping call on Urbom was completely bogus).

The victory, their third in a row, pushes the Caps to 8-7 overall and in sole possession of second place in the Metropolitan Division. During the winning streak they’ve been getting excellent goaltending from both Holtby and Michal Neuvirth. As much fun as the 7-0 pounding of the Flyers was on Friday, this victory was far more impressive. The Islanders have one of the best lines in the league in Thomas Vanek-John Tavares-Kyle Okposo and even though that trio had the two tallies, they were outplayed by Washington. John Carlson, who started the Caps scoring by keeping a puck in at the offensive blue line and lasering one by Evgeni Nabokov (33 saves), played solid defense with partner Karl Alzner. That duo is back to routinely facing the opponent’s top trio and performing well.

So the Caps received a well-earned victory over a playoff likely Islanders team on Tuesday night by putting forth an excellent effort, something Holtby was questioning as recently as last week too. Backstrom believes that this victory is something the team can build on going forward. There is a lot of talent on this Capitals team, especially up front, as evidenced by the fact that Eric Fehr, who has been playing extremely well, was a healthy scratch on Tuesday with the Gr8 returning from injury.

When you combine talent with the effort the Capitals displayed on Tuesday, they are an awfully tough team to beat. Just ask the Islanders after this one.

Notes: Wilson played 10:05 and in addition to the goal and an assist, he had 12 PIMs. Matt Carkner, who is one of the toughest players in the league, gave #43 a couple of cheap shots near the end of the game to try and entice Wilson to go for the “Gordie Howe” hat trick. The 19 year old rookie declined to fight garnering praise from his head coach, who termed his decision a “smart play.” Wilson knew who Carkner was and didn’t lose his temper. He showed maturity with his level headed demeanor, and more importantly to me, he showed that he is doing the preparation necessary to get ready for games at the NHL level…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 36-38…Shot attempts were 66-60 in favor of Washington…next up for the Caps are the red hot Minnesota Wild at the Verizon Center on Thursday night. The Wild have star defensemen Ryan Suter and are being led in scoring by forwards Zach Parise and Jason Pominville.

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Ovechkin, Green, Holtby Help Caps Survive Islanders in Shootout

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Ovechkin, Green, Holtby Help Caps Survive Islanders in Shootout

Posted on 04 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It took 37 games, but the Washington Capitals are finally in first place in the Southeast Division after a 2-1 shootout victory over the speedy New York Islanders. The Caps, who started 2-8-1, are now 18-17-2 (38 points) and are tied with the Winnipeg Jets in the division (the Caps have a game in hand).

So that’s 16-9-1 over their last 26 games and with the addition of Martin Erat and the return to health of Mike Green and to some extent, Brooks Laich (more on that in a moment), I can honestly say I think this Washington Capitals club can be a called a “good team” for the first time in 2013. But there are still 11 games to go and it is up to this squad to maintain that label, win the Southeast Division title, and keep improving for the post season.

As for tonight’s win over the Islanders, man they are one tough match up for Washington. New York leaves town with a 2-0-1 season record against the Caps and they nearly got all six points by rallying and tying the contest on another late game defensive zone breakdown by the Capitals. But these Islanders are a different club in 2013 and they are a team on the rise. They have speed, skate extremely well, and pass the puck efficiently. John Tavares is a bonafide star and the addition of Evgeny Nabokov last year in goal has helped cover up some of their holes on defense. The future looks bright for that squad and they have a very good chance to make the postseason this year.

But back to Washington, Green had the game’s only goal and #52 continues to play at a very high level. He is showing once again that he is the #1 defensemen on this club with his play at both ends of the rink. He looks confident on the ice and when he is on, the Caps can play with just about anyone. Pray for his continued good health, Caps fans.

Speaking of health, it is very obvious that Laich is not 100% and I suspect he will need some type of surgical procedure when the season is over. Unfortunately he took a shot in a spot you don’t want to get hit in mid game and according to Coach Adam Oates was achy all over. Smartly, team trainer Greg “Smitty” Smith and Oates decided to shut #21 down with nine minutes to go in the game. Laich eats rocks for breakfast but even he has to be having a hard time playing through this injury he suffered overseas during that ridiculous lockout.

Alexander Ovechkin had a strong game despite only having two shots on net. He was on the ice when Green scored and his shootout attempt was the only one that found the back of the twine. It was a sick and unbelievable backhander top shelf on Nabokov that had the Russian goalie shaking his head. Not many players can do what the Gr8 did there. Unfortunately Ovechkin’s nine game point streak was snapped but the Gr8 would tell you he could care less on Thursday night because his club gained two points and finally took over the division lead.

The biggest reason the Capitals won is none other than Braden Holtby. #70 made numerous big saves and he was rock solid in the shootout. Holtbeast is the team’s MVP this season so far. The guys love playing for him and his stickhandling ability makes it very hard on opposing teams to dump the puck in on the Caps. That skill is very underrated.

So all seems right in the world again in Caps land. Washington is back in first in the Southeast and they have momentum. Once Erat gets some practice time to adjust, he should help this club even more. He had a solid first night’s work in a Capitals uniform playing on the third line with Mathieu Perreault and Joel Ward. I am looking forward to seeing him with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, at some point.

Summing the night up, it was a big two points against a squad that gives the Capitals fits. Washington controls their season the rest of the way so hopefully they seize the opportunity. It looks very optimistic right now as long as they don’t suffer any major injuries.

Therefore, Caps fans may want to start clearing their May calendars, something they probably weren’t thinking about doing three weeks or so ago.

Notes: The Islanders late third period pressure saw them jamming the boards on Washington’s breakout. The Caps didn’t adjust to that tactic quick enough and the Islanders finally made them pay on the tying goal…Green logged 26 minutes to lead Washington in ice time…Eric Fehr returned to the lineup and played only 7:22…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 28-22, with Backstrom going 12-6…shot attempts were 59-50 in favor of New York and shots on goal were 36-22 for the Islanders. They easily could have won this game if not for Holtby, although Nabokov made some quality saves on his end too…the Caps are in Florida on Saturday to take on the Panthers before returning home on Sunday to face the Lightning, who believe it or not, are still in the Southeast Division title race.

 

 

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