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Caps Over Pens Nov 2017

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Caps Get Total Team Effort in Victory Over Pittsburgh

Posted on 10 November 2017 by Ed Frankovic

When 20 men all row the boat in the same direction, good things happen.

On Friday night at Capital One Arena the Washington Capitals played, by far, their best game of the season to knock off the two time defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins, 4-1.

John Carlson, T.J. Oshie, Chandler Stephenson, and Jakub Vrana scored for the Caps and Braden Holtby stopped 27 of 28 shots to improve Washington to 9-7-1 (19 points).

Without further adieu, here are nine detailed thoughts and analysis on this huuuuugggggeeee victory.

  1. Nicklas Backstrom came into this game with a seven game scoreless streak and his linemate, T.J. Oshie, had not netted a goal in eight straight contests. In a smart attempt to shake the lines up, Coach Barry Trotz bumped Vrana down to the third line and added a player who works hard on every shift, Stephenson, to the mix. That trio was superb all evening and they spent a lot of time up against Sidney Crosby’s line. Nicky held Sid the Kid pointless and even broke his pointless drought with a great feed to Stephenson in the slot to make it 3-1 with 6:18 left. Crosby would play 18:58, have only three shot attempts, lose 14 of 22 draws, and ended up a minus two. It was a vintage two way game by Backstrom, one of the NHL’s best centers. Oshie also broke his slump with a sweet deflection of a Carlson point shot on the power play with 1:51 to go in period two. The Osh Babe also had great net presence on Carlson’s opening marker that hit Tom Kuhnackl’s stick and went in. #34 was trying to tie up Oshie and he was not successful.
  2. Speaking of Carlson, what a beast he was, once again! #74 had a goal and an assist in 28:43 of ice time. He has simply been sensational while Matt Niskanen has been out. The Caps have rode Carly and Brooks Orpik on the back end heavily and are 6-6 in Nisky’s absence. However, four of those six losses came on the tail end of back-to-back affairs. I attribute a lot of those losses to the lack of depth caused by the expansion draft, salary cap casualties, and key injuries. With #2 due back in the next week or so, that will alleviate a lot of pressure on Carlson and Orpik and really help get Dmitry Orlov back on track, too, since he’ll have his favorite d-pair partner again. Orlov has been very inconsistent and he tipped in the only Penguins goal in this one due to some bad defensive zone coverage.
  3. Sticking with the blue line, I thought this was Christian Djoos’ best game of his very young NHL career. His speed and ability to skate and move the puck provides a great match up against the Penguins and he was rock solid in 13:18 of ice time. Rookie Madison Bowey had a few giveaways in 15:44 of action, but he’s getting better and better. As I mentioned to Caps General Manager Brian MacLellan on Monday when we last chatted, the blessing in disguise of Niskanen’s injury will be the sped up development of both Djoos and Bowey. Those two kids have really improved and assistant coach Todd Reirden deserves credit for helping turn these guys into capable NHLers. Washington suddenly has more depth on the back end than they did on October 1st. I’d like to see Bowey stay up when Niskanen returns and Djoos, as well. Taylor Chorney should be the 7th defensemen and he’s been really good the last two weeks.
  4. The Andre Burakovksy injury (fractured thumb) was another big blow to the Capitals forward lines since he was expected to take over the production of Marcus Johansson this season. Vrana was gifted into the top six when #65 went out and he just hasn’t produced. His compete level and decision making was lacking and he deserved the demotion he received. Stephenson has taken full advantage of his opportunity and that has been a pleasant surprise. Any team could’ve had this guy right before the season for nothing and now he has five points in eight games. Washington really needed someone to step up with the Burakovsky, Brett Connolly, and Tyler Graovac injuries and he’s been one who has done that.
  5. After Thursday’s practice, Coach Trotz noted that with guys close to returning from injury he now has five lines of forwards and four defensive pairs practicing and he likes that because it brings competition. Well, I think it is no surprise that many players increased their compete level and were structured, strong on the walls, and won numerous one on one battles in this contest against the Penguins. When players are comfortable and aren’t pushed, they don’t do the hard work and little things necessary to win hockey games. Now that jobs are on the line, suddenly every guy with a Caps sweater on in Friday’s tilt was giving everything they had. There’s another example of socialism not working!
  6. I’ve been tough on Vrana and Alex Chiasson during the early part of this season. Both have had their on-ice issues and they have struggled to contribute in a substantial way. On this evening, both made a key play in an important situation that helped the Caps win. On Stephenson’s goal, Chiasson went to the net and created havoc in front of Matt Murray (27 saves). While he doesn’t have the best set of hands and his skating needs a lot of work, #39 at least knew to crash the cage there and what is likely keeping him in the lineup is his penalty killing. As for Vrana, he needs to compete harder and getting out there with Lars Eller and Tom Wilson is a good fit for him. #13 still can perform better and he needs to bury some of his chances, but his play on the empty net clincher was a combination smart decision and pure speed.
  7. Special teams have been a problem area for the Caps so far this season. The power play had become stagnant and the penalty kill was struggling having to kill too many opportunities. On Friday, both of those units were big reasons the Capitals were victorious. Caps assistant coach Blaine Forsythe added some new wrinkles to the power play and they connected twice in six opportunities (9:11 of man advantage time). Oshie gets a lot of credit for creating havoc in front of the net, but the passing was crisper and there was some good rotation. Alex Ovechkin (1 assist) had a great chance a couple of minutes before #77’s goal on the man advantage, but he shot wide. Perhaps the biggest story though, was the way Washington handled the Penguins power play, which is one of the deadliest in the league. The Caps did a great job of keeping the Pens on the perimeter and keeping the crease clear so that Holtby could see the puck. The Holtbeast was superb and was a major reason Pittsburgh went 0 for 4 with the man advantage.
  8. Liam O’Brien, who was called up a week ago, only played 4:36, but it was an important stretch. In the first period, one of the toughest guys in the league and lead agitator, Ryan Reaves, was trying to intimidate the Caps and help give the star players on the Penguins more room on the ice. Reaves was jawing at Tom Wilson from the get go in this one and he hit O’Brien on an early shift. #87, recognizing that Reaves was trying to set a tone and get Washington off of their game, took Ryan on and got beat quickly in a fight. However, he took Reaves off of the ice for five minutes and after that #75 was nowhere to be found and became a non factor in the contest. Well done, Liam, way to take one for the team.
  9. Finally, an immense amount of credit for the Capitals staying afloat during this early stretch with key injuries goes to Holtby. Braden is now 9-3 with a .924 save percentage this season. He’s been outstanding and the team’s MVP playing behind a much more inexperienced defense. The Holtbeast won his 200th career game on Friday and became the 2nd fastest goalie to 200 wins (319 games) since the legendary Ken Dryden did it with the Montreal Canadiens in 311 tilts (h/t Tarik El-Bashir of NBC Sports Washington).

In summary, this was a gritty and gutsy effort by the Caps on Friday night. They played structured and strong hockey and won a lot of little battles all over the ice. It was a team effort and they played the way they’ll need to in order to be successful this season.

It was their best game.

Notes: Pittsburgh is now 9-7-2 (20 points) and has a -17 goal differential. They’ve lost key depth, too, due to the salary cap and have yet to win on the tail end of back to back games, as well. They had not played since Tuesday, though, like the Capitals. Historical Cap killers Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, and Matt Cullen are no longer wearing the black and gold and Washington benefited from that…the Caps outhit the Penguins, 30-17…shot attempts were 59-56 for Pittsburgh, but the Caps got more on the cage, 31-28…the Caps won the face off battle, 34-26. Jay Beagle was 13-4 and Backstrom went 7-4…Orpik played 21:38 on the back end and had one of his best games of the season. He kept Patrick Hornqvist and company off of the Holtbeast all night long…next up for the Caps are the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday night at 7:00 pm at Capital One Arena.

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Carlson GWG AZ

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Caps Rally from an Early Hole to Win, 3-2

Posted on 07 November 2017 by Ed Frankovic

John Carlson notched his first tally of the season with 45 seconds left in overtime to give the Washington Capitals a hard earned, 3-2, victory over the Arizona Coyotes at Capital One Arena on Monday night. The win is the Caps third in a row, their longest such winning streak of this young NHL season, and improves their record to 8-6-1 (17 points).

Carlson, who logged a team high 27:41 of ice time, now has a goal and 11 assists in Washington’s first 15 games and he’s been a work horse on the back end with Matt Niskanen missing the last 10 contests due to a hand injury. #74 will continue to have to carry the load for awhile because Nisky isn’t close to returning to the lineup yet.

Here are Nine Thoughts and Analysis on Monday’s win in which the Caps had to be patient and overcome adversity:

  • Braden Holtby (24 saves) gave up goals on his first two shots. Clayton Keller beat him in tight on a two on one rush where Holts and Brooks Orpik miscommunicated and then Christian Fischer scored from the door step before the game was seven minutes old to make it 2-0. At that point the Caps had 10 shot attempts and the only two that the Yotes had were deposited into the cage. Washington dominated the puck possession early on and had some great chances, but it was Arizona who lit the lamp the first two times.
  • Lars Eller and Dmitry Orlov each made mistakes on the two Arizona goals. Eller had a shot block which produced the two on one rush that Keller scored on and Orlov was beaten on the blue line by Christian Dvorak on the Fischer tap in. Both players made up for their miscues on the Washington first tally, just under two minutes after it was 2-0. Orlov carried the puck up the ice nicely to lead the rush, alertly dumped it behind the net when he didn’t have a clean pass, and then raced Yotes goalie, Scott Wedgewood (37 saves), for the biscuit. #9’s pressure forced Wedgewood to throw the puck up the boards and it went right to Eller high on the right wing wall. Lars smartly fired the puck towards the cage, but Oliver Ekman-Larsson (OEL) blocked it. Johnny on the spot, Devante Smith-Pelly, gathered in the loose change and put a sweet backhander past Wedgewood to get the Caps on the board.
  • With the score 2-1 and Washington dominating, the Coyotes nearly scored on their third shot on goal, but the Holtbeast delivered with what he called “his best save of the game.” Had that shot gone in from Brad Richardson, this game could’ve gotten ugly, but #70 was dialed in and continues to give his team a chance to win with stellar netminding.
  • Coach Barry Trotz harped on the Capitals poor special teams play heading into this contest and on Monday night he received better results. Washington’s penalty killing unit was a perfect three for three, including two big third period kills. The Caps also drew several penalties on the Coyotes because they were dominating the play and they had six opportunities to score, however, they only did so once, in period two to tie the game up with just over five minutes remaining. Alex Ovechkin buried his 12th goal of the season from his office on a one time blast following a sweet feed from Carlson. Washington was extra fortunate there because one of the Arizona players broke his stick, so it was effectively a five on three. The Caps had a lot of zone time with their power play on Monday night, but it still has work to do. Passes were in players skates and there needs to be more net presence.
  • Washington’s top six has struggled to score in recent games and Nicklas Backstrom has now gone a career high six straight contests without recording a point. Nicky, T.J. Oshie, and Jakub Vrana combined for 15 of the Caps 75 total shot attempts on this night, but that is just not enough. For some reason Oshie didn’t have his hands in this affair, he had three giveaways and couldn’t finish some chances, but he kept working hard and it was his strong backcheck on OEL that led to the turnover that set up the winning goal. Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) carried the puck in after the turnover and fed a streaking Oshie in the slot. As the Osh Babe was going to shoot, OEL stuck his stick in and forced T.J. to fan on his shot. However, he managed to slide the puck to Carlson, who was down low off of Wedgewood’s right post, and #74 gave Washington a happy ending.
  • Kuznetsov had two assists, but there are things that are not good in his game right now. He’s too fancy and not hard enough on the puck. #92 is losing too many one on one battles and his decision making on shot vs. pass needs some serious refining. Early in overtime he fed Oshie for a rush into the Coyotes zone and #77 gave him a perfect drop pass that Kuzy should 100 times out of 100 shoot. He did not and instead forced a bad pass into the corner. Arizona went the other way and it took a great shoulder save by the Holtbeast to keep this game alive. Simply put, Kuznetsov needs to use his very good shot more often. As Coach Trotz often says, “It’s a shoot first league.” Kuzy needs to follow that wisdom because his over passing is hurting the team.
  • Madison Bowey was nicked up in period two and missed several shifts, but he came back to play 3:11 in the final frame. In the opening minute of period three he drew a slashing penalty on Jordan Martinook. Christian Djoos had one of his better games logging 16:24 of ice time and putting two shots on goal. I’d like to see Djoos firing the puck towards the net when he has an opportunity inside the blue line and he’s positioned in the center of the ice. Shots from those areas provide the greatest opportunity to either score or produce a rebound.
  • Chatting with former Flyers player and current scout, Dave Brown, in the press box on Monday night, he pointed out the parity in the league due to the expansion draft and the salary cap. Dave stated that to win games on a regular basis, “You really need your star players to carry you.” As I mentioned above, the Capitals top six forwards have been struggling, but it was those guys who delivered goals two and three in this come from behind triumph.
  • The Capitals are in Buffalo on Tuesday night at 7 pm and so far this season they are 0-3 in back to back games. Philipp Grubauer will get the start for Washington. Coach Trotz said that he is much more worried about mental fatigue than physical exhaustion for the Sabres game. Trotz pointed out that his club has to simplify their strategy and make sure they get pucks deep in this affair. Turnovers can compound things quickly for a tired team and make staying in the game much tougher. So far this season, the Caps have not shown the mental toughness for a full 60 minutes to be victorious in the second half of back to back tilts.

Notes: the Caps out shot attempted Arizona, 75-49. Ovechkin had 10 shot attempts after having 0 in the first 20 minutes…the Capitals won the face off battle, 34-24. Jay Beagle was 11-2…Tom  Wilson beat up Luke Schenn, once again…Liam O’Brien only played 5:58. Nathan Walker was scratched again…Orlov played 24:19 and Orpik was third in blue line time on ice for the Caps with 23:18…Taylor Chorney hit iron twice in the first period…OEL led all skaters with 31:13 of ice time.

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Willy Bruins

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Tom Wilson Helps the Caps Plow by Boston, 3-2

Posted on 04 November 2017 by Ed Frankovic

For the second straight game, the Washington Capitals got big performances from their third line and goalie Braden Holtby (31 saves) to win a hockey game by a single puck.

Tom Wilson scored twice and Alex Ovechkin notched his 11th goal of the season as the Caps defeated the Boston Bruins, 3-2, in Beantown on Saturday night.

Unlike their most recent win against the Islanders, Washington deserved this victory as a team where it was really the Holtbeast and subpar netminding from Jaroslav Halak that gifted the Capitals two points on Thursday.

The Caps were more physically engaged in this affair and they announced their presence with authority in the first period, jumping out to a 2-0 lead. One of the Capitals biggest problems is passing up shooting opportunities, but in this game they earned their early two puck advantage by putting the biscuit on net. Wilson would open the scoring after a shot resulted in an offensive zone faceoff. Lars Eller battled for the ensuing draw along with linemate Chandler Stephenson and the disc bounced free to Willy near the goal line and he alertly snapped it quickly on the cage. The shot eluded Tuukka Rask and just 7:01 into this one, the guys in white had an early lead.

Ovechkin would then nearly make it 2-0 on a clean breakaway. Evgeny Kuznetsov made a sweet feed out of the Washington zone to spring the Gr8. Rask, however, had other plans and thwarted Ovi’s attempt to go five hole. Alex was clearly ticked off at not finishing, but he channeled that frustration into some hard wall work and he seized the puck behind the Boston net. He then wheeled it around the boards back to the point and from there the puck made its way to Dmitry Orlov at the left point and he went cross ice nicely to Kuzy, who then found a seam to Ovechkin, who had moved all alone in the slot. The Gr8 then pounced like a shark in blood infested waters and rifled a one-timer by Rask to make it 2-0.

That first frame was a dominant one for the Capitals and things were looking good, but then the Bruins came to life in the middle stanza. David Pastrnak got behind the Capitals defense and scored five hole on the Holtbeast just 3:37 into the period. From there the Bruins stormed into the Washington end as if “the British were coming.” It was wave after wave of black and yellow jerseys but Holtby, as he usually is against the Bruins, was dialed in and held the fort.

Then with just 1:10 left in the period, Brooks Orpik made a huge keep in at the left point and he fired the puck towards the net. Wilson was in the high slot and he deflected it beautifully by Rask to give the Caps a two goal advantage heading into period three.

From there things got hairy as Coach Barry Trotz’ crew, who had been penalty free for the first 40 minutes, took four minors. Washington killed off the first three, but a late Wilson tripping infraction resulted in another goal for Pastrnak with 2:32 to go. The Caps would manage to hold off the Bruins with Orpik making a huge block just before the final buzzer.

It was a gritty victory in a tough place to play. The Caps do seem to have Boston’s number, much like the Penguins own the Capitals, and on this night Ovi and company earned a much needed triumph to improve their record to 7-6-1 (15 points).

Here are some thoughts and analysis on the Capitals second win in a row:

  • Wilson had a big donut hole in the goals column coming into this one, but he’s been playing well when slotted with Eller on the third line. In this affair he was the best player on the ice notching his first two tallies of the season and delivering some big time hits to the likes of Brad Marchand and others. He was just sensational on the penalty kill, as well, and nearly scored shorthanded to get the hat trick. I really like the way this Stephenson-Eller-Wilson line is playing. They are hard on the puck and skate well.
  • Getting a goal from Ovechkin was big because he had gone five games without one. What was even better was how it was scored. It was the result of hard work, especially by the captain. Winning the board battles is a big key to winning games, and that’s what Coach Trotz needs from his top lines.
  • Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie didn’t have any points in this affair, but both defended well against the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak. Jakub Vrana was their linemate for about half of their shifts (10:40 of ice time) and #13 just isn’t getting it done to help produce offensively. Vrana is playing too much of a perimeter game and needs to win more one on one battles so that Backy and the Osh Babe can start scoring again. Too many pucks are dying with Vrana right now.
  • The Caps power play was 0 for 2 and once again they moved the puck well around the perimeter, but didn’t shoot enough. The 1st unit was on the ice quite a bit for the second man advantage opportunity, but it was an offensive pass fest. Last season Marcus Johansson, along with Oshie, did a good job of getting to the front of the net for rebounds and tip in goals. With Jojo gone, no one is in there helping out #77 in front. That is something the coaching staff should probably look at. Do they want Backstrom and/or Kuznetsov getting to the front of the net to help Oshie? Seems like whoever is the low man on the power play on the opposite side of Ovechkin should be crashing that far post more often, much like Sidney Crosby does for the Penguins.
  • Holtby won’t be happy about the second goal he allowed, but he’s playing sensational. He not only made the first stops, but there were several rebound chances that he put himself in great position to thwart. There were numerous times in period two where the Bruins had a chance to equalize things and #70 said “No way, Jose.” The Caps knew they were going to have to rely on their goaltending this season with such a young defense, that has gotten even younger with Matt Niskanen out, and Braden has delivered. They don’t get these last two wins without outstanding goaltending.
  • Speaking of Niskanen, the Capitals are now 4-5 without #2 this campaign. Three of the five losses have come on the tail end of back to back game situations. On Saturday morning, Matt was skating with a stick and puck for the first time since his injury in New Jersey, so he’s getting closer to returning, but I think it’s a stretch to think he’ll be back for the game against Buffalo on Tuesday, the first one he’s eligible to play due to long term injured reserve. Even playing next Friday against the Penguins seems like a long shot right now. Madison Bowey has stepped up well in Niskanen’s absence and Christian Djoos was better defensively on Saturday night, so the young guys are handling the “baptism by fire” approach, so far.

Overall, this was a stronger performance from the Caps. They are doing a better job of defending in their own end and the younger players are gaining confidence. That should help when Niskanen returns to the lineup since the minutes being given to Carlson and Orpik right now are not sustainable long term.

Notes: the Caps now face Arizona at Capital One Arena on Monday night at 7 pm before immediately flying out to Buffalo for Tuesday’s date with the Sabres…Carlson played a team high 29:18 while the 37 year old Orpik was stellar in 25:08 of action. Orlov, who was much better in this affair, logged only 18:54, but they were very effective minutes. Coach Trotz needs consistency out of #9…Taylor Chorney had his best game of the season logging 15:23 on the back end. Bowey (+3) played 14:39 and Djoos was at 13:27…Backstrom led the forwards in ice time at 19:31…the Capitals lost the faceoff battle, 31-29. Eller (1 assist in 14:19) was 8-3…power plays were four to two for Boston. I have no gripe with the calls on the Capitals, but Ian Walsh and Chris Rooney missed several infractions on the Bruins, especially a high stick by Marchand on Orpik right before the second Bruins goal.

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Eller Isles

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Eller and Holtby Lead the Caps over the Islanders

Posted on 02 November 2017 by Ed Frankovic

They always say goaltending is the great equalizer in hockey, and Thursday night’s Caps-Islanders game proves that axiom.

Lars Eller scored two goals and added an assist as Washington’s third line was dominant all evening and Braden Holtby stopped 35 of 38 shots, many of them of the high danger variety, to give the Capitals a much needed 4-3 victory over the New York Islanders at Capital One Arena.

The Isles outplayed the Caps quite a bit in this one, outshot attempting the home squad, 72-48, including 38-19 in shots on goal for the game and 16-2 in the third period. Jaroslav Halak, however, was a sieve for New York in net while the Holtbeast bailed out numerous Caps turnovers and soft plays in this affair.

The triumph puts Washington back to .500 at 6-6-1 (13 points) and improves their home record to 2-3.

Here are eight thoughts on this ugly win.

  1. Chandler Stephenson, Eller, and Tom Wilson were the best line on the ice for the Caps. Not only did they score three times (Taylor Chorney scored the Caps 1st goal from the point with Willy parked in front of the net), they drew two penalties. Washington really needed some production from the bottom six and the third line delivered.
  2. Alex Chiasson hasn’t had much production in his short time with the Caps, but he did do something only a few guys were doing on Thursday night, he shot the puck. #39 had two of the Capitals 19 shots on goal (Eller had three) and his second period laser just 12 seconds after Anders Lee had knotted the game, gave Washington a one puck lead heading into the final frame. Chiasson still has a lot of work to do to deserve to stay in the lineup, most notably, he needs to be quicker and also do a better job of winning board battles. He’s basically playing right now due to injuries to Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky.
  3. Did I mention that Halak stunk tonight? I guess the Caps top six didn’t get that memo because they repeatedly over passed all game. This was not smart hockey. One time the Caps had a three on one break and didn’t even get off a shot on goal. This over passing pattern needs to cease and desist and it’s the top guys who are most guilty. Simplify your game and get the puck on net, especially when the opposing goalie doesn’t appear to be able to stop a beach ball! Halak gave up four goals on 19 shots. He was horrendous and cost his team the game.
  4. Speaking of not playing smart hockey, Washington was whistled for another too many men on the ice penalty and it took the Islanders just 21 seconds to tie the game at two. How does this keep happening this season? The coaches and players better figure out the line changes fast or people are going to lose their jobs over that type of brain dead hockey.
  5. In honor of Halloween, the Caps special teams should be featured on Count Floyd’s Monster Chiller Horror Theatre this week with Alan May filling in for the great Joe Flaherty. The power play was a train wreck with soft perimeter passing that the Islanders easily exploited with hard work. The best chance on the Capitals four power plays was a Casey Cizikas shorthanded breakaway that the Holtbeast fortunately gobbled up. Washington’s penalty killing unit continued to underwhelm going two for four. On the first Isles power play tally John Carlson doesn’t cover one of the hottest goal scorers in the league, John Tavares, off of the faceoff because he gets caught puck watching. #91 is initially denied by the great Holtby in close, but then he deposits the rebound since #74 is slow to arrive. “Scary stuff, Kids!!!” is the best way to sum up the Capitals special teams. Coach Barry Trotz and assistant Coach Blaine Forsythe better fix this mess quickly!
  6. If tomorrow was Christmas, I’d give Evgeny Kuznetsov a yo-yo because that’s the way his season has gone so far. One night he looks like the best player on the planet (see the Edmonton win) and then some nights he’s just invisible. I don’t think #92 won a single board battle against the Islanders. He looked out to lunch the whole game. It was a pitiful effort and inexcusable for a guy making $7.8M a season. It’s hard for Alex Ovechkin to do what he does best, score, when his center is continually making poor decisions or not working hard enough to get the puck for his team.
  7. Rookie Madison Bowey was really good again on the back end in 13:25 of ice time. His alert play and drive to the net on Eller’s first goal was just smart and talented hockey. Even though Lee scored the Islanders third goal with #22 covering him, he still played very well and was another reason the Caps had a chance in this affair. That Islanders third goal was primarily on the bad icing by Dmitry Orlov and then Kuznetsov losing a key defensive zone draw. When Matt Niskanen returns from injury, Bowey better not be the guy sent back to Hershey, he has proven to be a very solid right handed blue liner and he has four assists in eight games. I like a Niskanen-Carlson-Bowey right side of the ice on defense.
  8. A guy who takes a lot of abuse from the over Corsi focused crowd, but is playing some outstanding hockey is Brooks Orpik. With Niskanen out, #44 has really stepped up and he logged 24:33 of ice time and was +2 in this one. The 37 year old is in outstanding shape and is playing far more minutes than normal, but he’s getting it done. With the erratic play of Orlov since Niskanen went out injured and rookie Christian Djoos’ defensive zone weaknesses, Coach Trotz has turned to “Batya” to stabilize the back end and he’s done just that.

Overall, the Capitals should be thankful that Holtby was superb and Halak was a hunk of swiss cheese in this game because the Caps were outworked and probably deserved to lose.

There are a lot of things that need fixing in the Capitals game and it starts with effort from some of the top guys. Special teams are on the list shortly thereafter. They are 3-5 without Niskanen and it’s not clear, at this time, if he’ll be able to return next Tuesday in Buffalo when he’s eligible to come off of long term injured reserve. Matt’s absence is putting pressure on the team’s depleted depth that took a big hit with the expansion draft and the salary cap restrictions. They are 0-3 in back to back games and they will do that again next week when they face Arizona on Monday and then the Sabres in Buffalo on Tuesday. Before that happens, though, they’ll face Boston in Beantown on Saturday night.

Those three squads aren’t exactly world beaters, but neither are the Capitals the way they are playing right now. More guys need to get dialed in and work harder and smarter, otherwise the teams in their division will start pulling away in the standings.

There is definitely room for concern with this club right now, and it isn’t all due to a reduced level of talent, there is plenty of it there to win games.

They are very lucky, right now, to have an all world goalie in Holtby, because he was the difference on Thursday night.

All hail the Holtbeast!

Notes: Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 27:28…Ovechkin had only six shot attempts and just two shots on goal. A winger needs his center to get him the puck. Kuzy didn’t do that on Thursday…Chorney scored a goal, but took a bad penalty in the third period. He only played 12:16, lowest of all Caps defensemen…the Caps were at least good overall in face-offs going 32-20. Eller was 9-3. Kuznetsov was 8-3, but had the costly lost draw after an icing in the final frame that led to the Islanders third goal…Devante Smith-Pelly had four hits and Wilson had three, one of #43’s was a neutral zone doozy…Stephenson had two assists, including a “Backstrom-esque” feed on Eller’s first goal.

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Ovi Detroit

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Ovechkin’s OT Tally Helps Caps Right the Ship

Posted on 20 October 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals were less than three minutes away from losing their fifth game in their last six tries and falling below .500 for the first time in forever, and then everything changed.

Detroit’s Dylan Larkin took a careless delay of game penalty and T.J. Oshie scored on the power play, with Braden Holtby on the bench for the extra attacker, with just 1:01 remaining to send this tilt to overtime.

In the Caps first ever visit to the new Little Caesar’s Arena, Alexander Ovechkin drew a tripping penalty and then scored his first career goal on Wings goalie, Petr Mrazek, to win the game for Washington, 4-3. The Capitals are now 4-3-1 on the season and more importantly, they halted a two game slide. Had they lost this one, they would’ve been 0-3 without the injured Matt Niskanen in the lineup.

For most of this game, the Capitals played well, especially at five on five, but they took too many penalties, once again (five). Detroit used the last one, a terrible delay of game penalty on John Carlson, to grab a 3-2 lead with 6:15 left in regulation. The goal by Tomas Tatar, which came just over seven minutes after he scored his first of the night on an unbelievable deflection to tie the game up at deuces, came on a power play rush. Good things happen when you get pucks to the net and that’s what the Red Wings did on their first 3rd period tally that came just under four minutes after Jay Beagle’s shorthanded breakaway gave Washington a 2-1 lead just 84 seconds into the final frame.

Things were looking bad for the Caps trailing by a puck with just six minutes left and they didn’t help themselves by trying too many East-West passes when they were coming across the Detroit blue line. Washington tends to get into this habit too often. Good things happen when you get pucks and bodies to the net, the Tatar first tally was proof of that, so why the Capitals keep forcing cross ice feeds just inside the opposing blue line is a head scratcher?

Larkin’s mistake allowed the Caps to finally realize what they needed to do to succeed – go North-South and get to the net. Coach Barry Trotz pulled the Holtbeast (34 saves) and put Ovechkin, Oshie, Carlson, Evgeny Kuznesov, Nicklas Backstrom, and Andre Burakovsky on the ice. Burakovksy, who has been really struggling, had more jump in this one, especially after he tied the game up late in period two with a sweet snipe off of a great feed from Dmitry Orlov. #65’s laser was able to elude Mrazek thanks to a beauty of a screen by Backstrom.

It would take the Capitals 102 seconds to tie the game with Larkin in the box. Backstrom made a great play along the wall to carry in the puck and fight off two defenders before getting the puck to Kuznetsov down low. With Burakovsky and Oshie crashing the net, #92 found #65 all alone in front of Mrazek. When the Wings goalie totally committed to Burkie’s shot, Andre slid the puck over to the Osh Babe, who made no mistake about depositing it into the open cage for his sixth goal in eight games. It was text book hockey – get pucks and bodies to the net and you drastically increase your chances to score.

The goal then set the stage for the Gr8. Backstrom made a SUPER zone entry using his body, or big fat ass as Mike Babcock calls it, to shield the biscuit from two Wings defenders. The Caps then got set up four on three. With Oshie in front, Backstrom, Carlson, and Ovechkin all rotated around and confused the Detroit PK trio. #19, moving to his right, then slid an all world pass back across the ice to Ovi, and the league’s best goal scorer buried it far post for his 10th goal in just eight games.

Game over!

Wow, what a comeback!

This was a huge win because the Capitals finally received some balance in the goal scoring department. They had two goals from players in their bottom six in Beagle and Burakovsky (dropped down to the third line for this tilt) and when the chips were down and things looked lost, the Osh Babe and Ovi showed up to save the day.

It was a much needed victory in a season that will see the Eastern Conference very tightly bunched for most of the campaign. Giving points away now makes things harder to overcome later in the season, so this was a monumental triumph.

Here are some other random thoughts on Friday’s big OT win:

  • Orlov was just stellar in this game and he led the Capitals in ice time at 27:37. When #9 has the puck he really is able to drive possession and he did just that in Motown.
  • I liked the move of Tom Wilson up with Backstrom and Oshie. #43 is a big physical presence who can really skate. He caused havoc for the Wings most of the night. If Tom can get his hands to cooperate this line could really take off because Backy and Osh are playing so well. It really is unbelievable just how good #19 is at both ends of the ice.
  • Ovi had a terrible giveaway on the Wings first tally, a shorthanded goal by Darren Helm on a two on one rush. Holtby was hung out to dry a bit, but I bet #70 would like to have that shot back. He won’t like being beat short side there.
  • Burakovksy had three shots on net, all of which were very good chances. He still needs to work on adding a very quick snap shot to his arsenal. Too often he has to cradle the puck before firing and that gives the goalie and opponents time to adjust.
  • Madison Bowey played the fourth highest minutes for Caps defenders and he performed very well. #22 logged 15:50 and was +1. He is very sound positionally and he has the size, speed, and skill to be a top four defensemen in this league in due time. As much as it hurts to have Nisky injured, being able to bring Bowey up now will end up being a blessing in disguise for Washington later in the season. This kid can play.
  • Carlson had 10 shots on net in 27:07. He’s playing a ton of hockey and his subpar third period was likely the result of too many minutes. Coach Trotz is going to have to try and find a way to keep him under 25 minutes overall going forward until Niskanen returns.
  • Shot attempts for the game were 69-65 for Washington, but at even strength shots on goal were 29-23 for the Capitals. The Caps can still do better in the offensive zone with the puck. Did I mention there were a lot of offensive zone giveaways on bad decisions?
  • The Holtbeast is now 4-2 this season with a save percentage right around .93. Once again, the Capitals will need their star players to shine this season, and so far Holtby, Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Oshie are doing just that.
  • Alex Chiasson hasn’t done much for the Caps in seven games, but his play to set up Beagle’s shorthanded tally was some good ole fashioned hard work and sacrificing of his body on the penalty kill.

Next up for the Caps are the Florida Panthers at Capital One Arena in DC on Saturday night at 7:30. Both teams played on Friday night with the Cats losing at home to the Penguins, 4-3.

Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle, 33-27. All Star Backstrom was 10-5…Taylor Chorney had the fewest minutes on the blue line with just 11:53 of ice time. Forward Devante Smith-Pelly only played 6:02 and Chiasson saw just 9:56 of action…Philipp Grubauer will get the start for the Capitals on Saturday night. Florida will likely go with James Reimer since Roberto Luongo injured his right thumb against the two time defending Stanley Cup Champions on Friday night.

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Burakovsky’s Bout Spurs the Caps to a 5-2 Win in New Jersey

Posted on 13 October 2017 by Ed Frankovic

“You mess with the bull, you get the horns.”

That was the message the New Jersey Devils received from the Washington Capitals on Friday night at the Prudential Center.

Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and three helpers, T.J. Oshie had two goals and an assist, Alex Ovechkin had his league leading 9th goal of the season and a gorgeous assist on Backstrom’s tally, and Evgeny Kuznetzov had two assists in a 5-2 Capitals victory that improved their record to 3-1-1 (7 points) and put them in sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Braden Holtby made 21 saves in the cage in a solid performance and overall Washington played their most complete game of the season.

Tom Wilson returned from a bogus George Parros imposed four game suspension to bring physicality and energy to the lineup and that jump started the third line allowing the Washington stars to take over the contest. Jakub Vrana tipped in a shot from Devante Smith-Pelly late in period two for a critical tally that made it 3-1, which was big because the Caps needed some strong contributions from their bottom six forwards (Vrana is in the top six, but DSP is on the fourth line).

Perhaps the biggest development of the night, though, was Andre Burakovsky’s first fight that came 2:33 into the final frame with the Capitals clinging to a one goal lead. Blake Coleman dangerously took out Dmitry Orlov’s legs and sent him slamming hard into the boards. A penalty was being called, but #65 wasn’t about to just walk away without letting Coleman know he crossed the line. Burkie dropped his mitts and went after the bigger Devil and lost the fight, although he didn’t take any hard shots to the head. Instantly the Capitals bench stood up and applauded the “good ole fashioned guts” from Andre “Killer” Burakovsky. It was a moment of team toughness and togetherness that this club displayed and you can bet that Andre will get a lot of “ataboys” from his teammates on the way to Philadelphia for Saturday night’s tilt against the despised Flyers.

Shortly after the Burakovsky bout, Lars Eller took a high stick to the face and that’s when Osh Babe, Ovi, Backy, and Kuzy made sure that young Andre’s first NHL fight wouldn’t go for naught. The Caps scored two pretty power play goals on the double minor to salt this one away.

Then it was payback time.

With 7:29 remaining, Coleman manned up and fought Wilson. Blake was whipped so badly that “Rag Doll” by Aerosmith would’ve been a fitting song to pipe through the public address system at that moment. Simply put, Willy let it be known that Coleman wasn’t walking out of the arena nearly injuring Orlov and beating up on the previously undefeated prize pupil, Burakovsky.

This is the kind of stuff that brings an already tight team even closer together. You can see that this Caps club is in it for each other. Everyone around the league and even many in town are already writing these guys off and foolishly trying to tie the local DC baseball teams post season failures to this hockey franchise. It’s pathetic, if you ask me. Baseball has nothing to do with hockey, period.

Anyone who really knows hockey sees the immense talent on this team despite the off season subtractions due to the salary cap. Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and Oshie are all top NHL players. Combined they have 37 points in just five games. To quote a famous movie from the mid-90’s, yes, “37!” These guys are good and they are still a work in progress with Vrana as a new piece in the top six and Burakovsky moving up as well for the departed Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson. Many are convinced that Oshie can’t score 33 goals again this year because of his high 2016-17 shooting percentage, but as I pointed out all summer, that shooting percentage didn’t including shots that missed the net. Oshie gets a lot of in close chances because of the guys he’s playing with and with the Gr8 on absolute fire, he’s getting more room and hitting the corners with his attempts so far. He’s notched five goals in five games, which is amazing, but when Alexander the Great already has nine, yes nine goals, it’s easy to overlook #77’s production. Last year I often wrote, “Pay the Man!” Boy am I glad the man got paid. Thanks Brian MacLellan.

Getting Wilson back reignited the third line and Brett Connolly and Eller had one of their best games of the season. When you have at least three lines going, it makes it very difficult for the opponents to match up. The Caps needed a presence from the bottom six forwards and they delivered on Friday.

On defense, things got tough with Matt Niskanen exiting the game on what appeared to be a missed slashing call by the inconsistent zebras. It was the second critical missed opponent slash in two tilts. On Wednesday night the referees failed to call a Carter Rowney slash on Kuznetsov on a rush late in that contest that would’ve given Washington a power play and a chance to tie the game.

Nisky will be reevaluated tomorrow, according to Coach Barry Trotz. That slash, with the Caps shorthanded, allowed the Devils to score on the power play and get within one goal with 3:32 to go in period two.

After Smith-Pelly’s key goal made it 3-1, things got close again in the first minute of period three when Kyle Palmieri took a great pass from Damon Severson and split Christian Djoos and Orlov for a breakaway marker.

When Orlov got dumped into the boards and stayed down on the next shift, things were looking bad for Washington, but then “Killer” Burkakovsky stepped in and took one for the team and the Capitals star players made sure to make the Devils pay the price on the scoreboard the rest of the way.

This was a feel good victory against a division opponent that was 3-0 and had just defeated the talented Toronto Maple Leafs earlier in the week.

Impressive messages were sent this night by the Capitals on the scoreboard, with their fists, and with their hearts.

On to the “City of Brotherly Love.”

Notes: Given the Capitals salary cap situation, if Niskanen can’t play on Saturday night in Filthy, it’s likely that Taylor Chorney will get a sweater because calling up Madison Bowey, a deserving right handed shooting blue liner, would require someone else to be sent to Hershey, unless #2 has to go on long term injury (which would be a bad scene)…the Caps were for 3 for 5 on the power play while New Jersey went 1 for 4…John Carlson led the Capitals in ice time with 27:26.  Niskanen only played 12:18 before exiting the contest so the other four guys played extra minutes than in a normal situation. Brooks Orpik logged 22:04, Orlov 21:12, Djoos 16:47 and Aaron Ness played 13:38…shot attempts were 52-46 in favor of the Caps…New Jersey won the faceoff battle, 39-27.  Jay Beagle went 8-5…Backstrom got hit with a puck in warmups and then notched four points…expect Philipp Grubauer to get the start in net against the Flyers on Saturday night.

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Ovechkin Does it Again in Caps Rout of Habs

Posted on 08 October 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Leave it to Alexander Ovechkin to do something that hasn’t happened in 100 years of National Hockey League action – score a hat trick in each of his first two games of the season.

What is more amazing is that he tallied four times on Saturday night in the Capitals home season opener at Capital One Arena with Evgeny Kuznetsov notching an assist on each marker. The Gr8 now has seven goals in just 125 minutes of hockey and Kuzy has a helper on each one of them.

This tilt became a blowout rather quickly with Ovechkin scoring on an amazing top shelf spin around shot after some great forechecking by Jakub Vrana and Kuznetsov. The snipe by Alex on Carey Price came just 20 seconds into contest. 

Before Montreal knew what had hit them it was 2-0 just 26 seconds later. Washington’s other top line of Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky, and T.J Oshie did the damage with the Osh Babe scoring his 1st goal of the year on a rebound of a Backstrom shot after a super steal by Burakovsky on the forecheck.

Things were about to get even worse for the Habs after Ales Hemsky slashed Aaron Ness just 2:02 into this affair. 49 seconds into that man advantage, Kuznetsov made a sweet cross ice feed to the Gr8 in the Ovi spot and Alex lifted one top shelf to make it 3-0 with less than three minutes gone in the game.

With a minute and 50 seconds to go in the opening frame, Washington began putting the lid on Montreal’s coffin on this night. Ness made a nice feed to Kuznetsov just inside the offensive blue line and #92 fired the biscuit at the cage. Ovechkin was parked in front of Price and tipped the disc home to increase the lead to 4-0.

It was a dominant first period by Washington with the Capitals outshooting Montreal, 14-7.

When the Caps went on the power play just over three minutes into the middle frame, it looked like the rout would continue. Washington, however, lollygagged with the puck and after a couple of shorthanded chances for Montreal, Brendan Gallagher finally put the puck by Braden Holtby (38 saves) to close the deficit to three.

For the next 10 minutes, the Habs were all over the Capitals, but there was no denting the Holtbeast. The Caps netminder was stellar while Montreal dominated Washington by winning one puck battle after another. 

Luckily for Coach Barry Trotz, the Ovi-Kuzy duo stopped a long succession of bad Washington shifts with just over three minutes remaining in period two. Kuznetsov carried into the offensive zone on a three on two with Ovechkin and Oshie. Evgeny cut to the middle of the ice drawing the Montreal defensemen to him and he slid the puck to Ovi to his right. The Gr8 took the puck to the cage and his backhander pinballed into the net right before Oshie could get his stick on it at the far post.

That was one of the final nails in the Canadiens coffin with 3:14 to go in the middle stanza and just 79 seconds later, it was shut for good. Jay Beagle won a faceoff directly back to Devante Smith-Pelly and he fired it towards the cage. On the way to the net, it hit Nathan Walker and went past Al Montoya, who had replaced Price after 20 minutes. For Walker, it was his first goal in his first NHL game on an evening when he became the first Australian raised hockey player to make it to “The Show.” Well done, Nathan.

Wow, what a start to the season by Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, and Holtby! With the departures of several accessory lineup pieces due to the salary cap, the Caps really need their star players to be their star players in 2017-18. So far, the aforementioned trio has more than delivered. The Gr8 and Kuzy have seven points each, with six of those goals coming at even strength, and the Holtbeast is dialed in with a .930 save percentage and two victories. Ovechkin only had 16 even strength markers in all of 2016-17, so he is clearly focused to start this campaign and his new off-season training methods are paying huuuuugggeee dividends.

Other positives so far have been a perfect penalty kill, it’s gone nine for nine primarily thanks to #70. However, an average of four plus penalties per game is not something that Washington wants to get in the habit of doing, so starting Monday night in Tampa, the number of infractions by Capitals players must decrease.

On Saturday, the Caps also dominated from the dot, winning of 41 of 67 draws. Beagle was 11-3, Lars Eller went 12-7, and Kuznetsov was 8-5. It’s a lot easier to generate shots when you start with the puck and that’s what Washington did in period one. After they got the lead though, the Canadiens naturally fought hard to try and get back in the game. They hijacked puck possession in period two, firing 20 shots on goal on the Holtbeast. They would add 12 more in period three and for the night Montreal had a 39-23 edge in shots on goal and an astounding 70-37 advantage in shot attempts. Much of that, however, can be attributed to score effects.

The victory improves the Caps to 2-0, but they still have work to do to clean up things in their game. There are many new faces in the lineup to include Vrana, Walker, Smith-Pelly, Ness, and Graovac (scratched for Walker on Saturday) so this is a work in progress.

The good news is how well the mighty triumvirate of Ovi, Kuzy, and the Holtbeast are playing, and when those guys are on their game, the Caps are hard to beat.

Notes: Ovechkin had 10 of the Caps 37 shot attempts, including eight on goal…Walker played 11:23 and led the team in hits with four…John Carlson logged 23:08 in ice time to lead the Capitals. Coach Trotz was able to spread the minutes around with a big lead. Taylor Chorney played 17:39, which was five minutes more than he logged on Thursday in Ottawa…next up for the Caps are the Lightning in Tampa on Monday night.

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Caps Thoughts After the Season Opening Victory in Ottawa

Posted on 06 October 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin’s hat trick and shootout tally allowed the Washington Capitals to overcome 3-1 and 4-3 third period deficits to win, 5-4, in Ottawa on Thursday night in the Caps season opener. Evgeny Kuznetsov had three helpers and Braden Holtby made 28 saves, several of which came at key junctures in the hockey game.

Simply put, when your star players are your star players, you often win.

With that, here are nine thoughts on the Caps victory over a very good Senators team that was missing its best player in defensemen Erik Karlsson.

I predicted 50 goals for Ovi this year after he changed his offseason training and slimmed down. The Gr8 was super in this affair with 11 shot attempts, 3 goals plus a shootout tally. He also hit the post in period two. The Gr8, Kuzy, and Jakub Vrana were a very good line and when #13 keeps his legs pumping he opens up space on the ice for his teammates.

Brett Connolly has a good shot and he buried his 1st of the season from the high danger area. It was a great keep in and pass by Matt Niskanen at the offensive blue line and Lars Eller made a great feed to #10 on that goal. I really liked the way Eller went to the net and created space for Connolly to score.

It’s not often your goalie plays well giving up four goals, but the Holtbeast was strong in the cage. The 1st Sens marker was eerily reminiscent of the weird lamp lighters Toronto scored in the playoffs last season. Braden made several big stops, including a gem on Johnny Oduya early on. His best of the night was likely the shoulder save when Ottawa was on the power play in overtime.

Ottawa had five power plays to just one for the Caps, yet Washington out shot attempted them 62-56. Nine of the Senators 32 shots on goal came on the power play. Simply put, the Capitals were very good at even strength and the season opening performance in terms of puck possession is encouraging.

Washington won this game thanks to four even strength goals and a perfect 5 for 5 on the penalty kill. Holts was stellar in net while the team was shorthanded and the Caps did well with their clears. Brooks Orpik and John Carlson were super in shorthanded situations. Devante Smith-Pelly also did well on the PK stepping in for the suspended Tom Wilson (out for the first four games).

Three of the four Ottawa goals were off of bad turnovers (Carlson, Niskanen, and Smith-Pelly). Better puck management is paramount going forward. There were forced passes in the neutral zone and pucks sent up the middle of the ice in the defensive end. Both of those are no no’s. In the words of famed Charlestown Chiefs goalie Dennis Lemieux, “You don’t do that, never, never…”

Coach Barry Trotz rode his top players in the season opener. The top two lines each played right around 20 minutes. On the back end, Trotzy rode his top 4D hard. Orpik played 24:47 while Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen were each over 25 minutes. Carlson logged 27:45 to lead the club in ice time. I thought Orlov was fabulous in this contest and it’s amazing how much his game has progressed since he has been paired with Minnesota Matt. The third pairing of Aaron Ness and Taylor Chorney were right around 11 to 12 minutes of ice time.

The referees were Chris Lee and Frederick L’Ecuyer and the power plays were 5 to 1 for Ottawa. The league is supposed to be cracking down on certain things (slashing) yet Washington’s only man advantage was the result of Ottawa having too many dudes on the ice. Those are the facts. It was a bit of a head scratching game from a zebras perspective. Anyone seen Oliver Stone lately??!!

Tyler Graovac only logged 6:22, a team low, and was a minus one. He didn’t get any PK time either. I’d expect that Nathan Walker goes into the lineup on Saturday night for the 7 pm home opener against Montreal. Congrats to Nathan on being the 1st Australian hockey player to make it to “The Show!”

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12 Caps Thoughts After Four Preseason Games

Posted on 24 September 2017 by Ed Frankovic

With the Washington Capitals completing four of their seven preseason tilts, I’ve written 12 thoughts on the Caps as we head into the final week of games that don’t count in the standings.

  1. Following Saturday’s 4-1 defeat to the Carolina Hurricanes at the Capital One Arena (formerly the Verizon Center), Coach Barry Trotz lamented about the team’s lack of even strength offense pointing out that his club has only one even strength tally in four contests (Devante Smith-Pelly’s game winner in Montreal on Wednesday night).
  2. The reason for the scoring problems are numerous, but first and foremost, has to be the instability on the back end. Puck possession begins with a defense that can get the biscuit out of its own end efficiently. Washington has two defensive openings and the coaching staff and General Manager Brian MacLellan are taking a look at several players, most of which have little to no NHL experience, for those slots. As a result, there has been a lot of turnovers and ragged positional play from the Washington blueline, thus far.
  3. The Caps have talked about promoting from within their organization and building a team with more speed. Having watched Nathan Walker play in both of his 2017-18 “auditions,” I think it’s safe to say this 23 year old, who has spent his last four seasons in Hershey, will be making “The Show” this fall. Walker’s speed opens up the ice for his teammates and creates scoring chances. His likely center, Jay Beagle, told the media on Saturday night that #79 is great with the puck and brings a lot of energy and grit to the hockey team.
  4. Also in the promoting from within department, the other pretty close to a lock to make the roster up front is 2014 first round pick, Jakub Vrana. So far #13 has a goal and an assist in three games and he’s had several quality scoring chances.
  5. Washington’s goaltending has been very solid in the preseason led by Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer. Both have high save percentages and they’ve looked sharp. They’re getting a lot of action because of the Caps issues in the puck possession department. Grubauer played the last 40 minutes on Saturday against Carolina and he was decent, but he did lose the third goal, by Julien Gauthier, because he struggled to pick the puck up as it left Gauthier’s long stick. As a result, Carolina received a high, short side lamplighter that pretty much ended this affair at the 2:35 mark of period three.
  6. Tyler Graovac, who was acquired this spring from the Minnesota Wild for the Caps 2018 5th round pick, was the best player on the ice in Friday’s contest against St. Louis. #91 is six foot five and can really skate. He is vying for one of the last forward spots on the roster with Smith-Pelly, Chandler Stephenson, and Alex Chiasson.
  7. Speaking of Chiasson, he had a power play goal in Saturday’s defeat to the Canes. On that tally, all five Capitals touched the disc before Chiasson deposited it into the cage from the “Oshie” spot in the slot in front of the opposing goaltender. #39 isn’t the fastest skater, but he has scored 50 goals in 320 NHL games, including 12 tallies in 81 tilts last season for the Calgary Flames. There is a very good chance that Chiasson makes the opening night roster.
  8. For the past two seasons forward Marcus Johansson, who is now with the New Jersey Devils, has been the primary forward to carry the puck into the opposing zone on the Capitals first power play unit. Now that slot belongs to Evgeny Kuznetsov and I don’t think you’ll see any drop off at all in quality zone entries. Through the first four games of this preseason #92 has been the best Cap and his skating has been stellar.
  9. There was lots of talk in the offseason that Alex Ovechkin had lost weight and was going to play faster. On the first day of training camp, the Gr8 stated that he did not lose weight, although his official roster weight is now 235 versus 239 that was listed last season. Ovi talked about training differently to get faster. It’s only been two preseason games, but so far, I’m not seeing the results of that training change. Perhaps Alex is just easing into the season? No cause for concern yet, but Washington is going to need him to be going full tilt from the get go in 2017-18.
  10. On the backend, the battle for the last two spots is fierce. Christian Djoos has been mentioned in that conversation quite a bit and on Saturday night against the Canes, he showed off his offensive talents. On one shift in the second period he displayed his ability to move around at the offensive blue line and even rush the net when given the opportunity. He did just that and ended up drawing a penalty. On the downside, though, his defensive zone needs work. On the Canes game winning goal, Djoos was outmuscled behind his own cage by Marcus Kruger and that one on one battle loss proved very costly. Djoos’ primary competition for one of the blue line spots is Aaron Ness, Madison Bowey, and Tyler Lewington.
  11. Travis Boyd, who is a bit of a long shot to make the opening night roster, drew two penalties on Saturday against Carolina. #72 will likely end up in Hershey to start the season, but I’m pretty sure he will get some NHL game action at some point in 2017-18.
  12. Tom Wilson didn’t play on Saturday night due to a two game suspension he received for interfering with the Blues Robert Thomas. #43 hit the Blues center along the boards a second or so after the puck was gone. Thomas really had no way to defend himself and “Willy” made the mistake of focusing too much on the man instead of the puck. This is Wilson’s first NHL suspension, although he’s been fined several times.

The Caps next preseason game is on Wednesday at 7:00 pm in DC against the New Jersey Devils.

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Caps Still A Contender Despite Off Season Losses

Posted on 03 July 2017 by Ed Frankovic

For the past three years Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan built a squad to compete for the Cup with entry level or bridge contracts working in his favor. Unfortunately, despite having a complete roster this past season, which led to a second straight Presidents’ Trophy, they did not get the job done.

The Caps had the best team on paper this past spring, but when it came down to it, they couldn’t defeat Pittsburgh, once again.

Bottom line, they couldn’t handle the pressure of the top seed and they under performed.

They choked.

There is no way around that, all you have to do is go back and watch the panic they displayed in game seven after the Penguins took a 1-0 lead.

But we’ve already dissected that loss and the disappointing end to the season, so it’s time to move on.

On this journey, however, MacLellan, while talking about what he called a two year championship window (2015-16 and 2016-17), also clearly pointed out that after those two years were up that roster changes were inevitable due to the salary cap.

As the Caps GM and anyone else that closely follows this team knew all along, they had 11 players from this past spring’s roster that were up for new contracts.

Eleven!

So there was NO WAY this team was going to be the same and they were going to lose many pieces, especially with the salary cap only going up to $75M after the NHLPA mistakenly didn’t take advantage of the full escalator clause. That error is now putting many veteran NHL players out of work and could force many of them to have to take major pay cuts just to stay in the league.

So with five unrestricted free agents, six restricted free agents and the expansion draft guaranteeing one unprotected player was going to be taken by Vegas, the Caps GM had his work cut out for him.

MacLellan wisely took a strategy that focused on keeping the core of the team intact while letting players be exposed, unsigned, or traded where they had other options in the pipeline at those positions, such as on defense and at wing.

For the expansion draft he took the 7-3-1 protection approach which left them most vulnerable with either their 4th defensemen (Nate Schmidt) or the backup goalie (Philipp Grubauer). Leaving just those spots exposed was good asset management, especially when the Capitals knew they were losing one good player NO MATTER WHAT. That turned out to be the very popular, but still relatively inexperienced Schmidt. The 88 car, who is a very good skater and a positive player, was an undrafted free agent that had yet to play a full 82 game season and playoffs as a top four defensemen. The Capitals clearly liked Schmidt and openly stated the plan was for him to have the first shot at the fourth blue line slot this upcoming season, despite not having lengthy experience in that position at the NHL level.

Vegas GM George McPhee, who knew Schmidt well from his days with the Caps, opted to take Nate instead of Grubauer and the first roster hole became official.

Immediately after the expansion draft, the T.J. Oshie signing occurred allowing Washington to keep the 33 goal scorer and top line right wing at a bargain price of $5.75M for eight years.

This past weekend, with the start of free agency on July 1st, MacLellan focused his efforts on signing his restricted free agents. He inked defenseman Dmitry Orlov to a six year $30.6M deal, winger Brett Connolly to a two year $3M contract, and center Evgeny Kuznetsov to an eight year $62.4M monster extension. Over the same period unrestricted Washington free agents Karl Alzner signed with Montreal, Kevin Shattenkirk went, as expected, to the Rangers, and Justin Williams received a high paying two year deal ($9M) to return to Carolina.

The problem with the Caps signings was that the Orlov and Kuznetsov numbers came in a bit higher, especially in Kuznetsov’s case, than originally anyone expected. Both had leverage with the KHL, primarily Kuznetsov, and with Washington thin at center in the organization, Kuzy had even more extra leverage to get a big pay day. After all he could bolt to Russia, play in the Olympics and KHL this season, log another year overseas and then become an unrestricted NHL free agent in the summer of 2019. With no clear top two centers in the Capitals organizational pipeline, MacLellan had no choice but to re-sign Kuznetsov, mostly on #92’s terms. At that point, with restricted free agents Andre Burakovsky and Philipp Grubauer still the only ones needing new deals, someone was going to have to be moved now or in the future to make the overall salary cap dollars work.

The NHL allows teams to carry up to 10% over the salary cap until final roster cut downs, but with so many veteran players on the market likely to be cheaper going forward due to the small salary cap increase (bad move again, NHLPA) it was clear that the trade market was going to be decreasing rapidly going forward. Add in the fact that most teams spent a lot of money to give big increases to their own players (see Connor McDavid and Carey Price) and you can see why there hasn’t been a big trade market since the NHL expansion draft.

Case in point, just last week Vegas GM George McPhee, who selected top four defensemen Marc Methot from Ottawa in the expansion draft, was only able to obtain from the Dallas Stars a 2020 2nd round pick and goalie Dylan Ferguson (a 7th round pick in the 2017 draft) for the blue liner. You read that correctly, it’s the year 2020 for that second round pick!

So with MacLellan needing to deal because the trade market was looking bleak going forward, the Caps GM had to pick a player to move for salary cap room while also finding a dance partner. Marcus Johansson, who carries a $4.583M cap number, was the most likely candidate, especially with Burakovsky and 2014 NHL first round pick Jakub Vrana in place and ready to move up the depth chart at wing. Luckily the New Jersey Devils, who had set aside money to try and lure Shattenkirk to their club on July 1st, but failed to do so despite likely offering more money than the Rangers, had remaining budget and needed to make a splash to improve their team and appease their fan base.

So on Sunday night, just after announcing the blockbuster Kuznetsov deal, the Caps traded Jojo to the Devils and received 2018 2nd and 3rd round picks for the forward who just completed a career year in Washington with 24 goals and 58 points. 19 of those 58 points came on a first power play unit with Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and Oshie, but Marcus did his share to earn those points by being the best on the team in man advantage zone entries (Kuznetsov will assume Johansson’s 1st PP spot going forward).

With the departure of the also very popular Johansson to go along with Schmidt and the three EXPECTED unrestricted free agent losses, some in the fan base and local and national media went nuts. This despite the fact that MacLellan had managed to pretty much ensure he’d re-sign six of the 11 players that needed new contracts for 2017-18 while also getting two draft picks for the departed Johansson to fill in holes that they had in the 2018 draft as a result of previously traded choices. Those draft picks should prove to be valuable going forward.

Following the Johansson trade, the fan response on Twitter and blog/Twitter posts of some in the local and national media were emotionally charged and a major overreaction in a negative sense. It seems that many conveniently forgot the facts, or chose to ignore them: the Caps were going to lose good players this off-season and when prices went up in the restricted free agent market, it likely cost them one more that they did not originally expect or could reasonably prepare for given the expansion draft.

Suddenly MacLellan, who along with Coach Barry Trotz and his coaching staff have done a wonderful job of turning around a team that was an absolute train wreck just three years ago, had become the village idiot on Twitter for losing Schmidt and Johansson. But in reality they are two replaceable players in the grand scheme of things when you look at the Capitals organizational depth. They have young quality defensemen in the organization and at wing both Burakovksy and Vrana are ready to move up to fill in the gaps left by the departure of Jojo.

Overall, the expansion draft and the upward costs of the restricted free agents resulted in the loss of those two players in addition to their unrestricted free agents (although MacLellan did keep Oshie from the UFA pile). In my opinion, however, you’d be hard pressed to pick any other two players from the 7-3-1 protected list and restricted free agent crew that make the dollars work while resulting in a better overall scenario for Washington going forward, especially given the other assets they currently have in the organization for replacements. Keep in mind that Vegas had the final say for the expansion draft, too, so the Caps did not get to choose who the Golden Knights selected. In addition, the idea of buying out Brooks Orpik was never a viable option and it would not have resulted in enough salary cap savings (only $3M) this season to allow all of the restricted free agent signings to occur (not to mention it would add wasted dollars to the salary cap for the next four seasons).

The Caps lost good players, but let’s get one thing straight in spite of everything that has transpired since the end of the season – the Capitals still have a VERY GOOD hockey team heading into 2017-18.

The projected line-up, based on input from the Caps GM during his Monday morning conference call, is now as follows:

Forwards:

Ovechkin – Backstrom – Oshie

Vrana – Kuznetsov – Burakovsky

Connolly – Eller – Wilson

TBD – Jay Beagle – TBD

Defense:

Orlov – Matt Niskanen

TBD – John Carlson

Orpik – TBD

Goalie:

Braden Holtby

Grubauer

The TBD’s at forward, right now, include the possibility of several Hershey players such as Chandler Stephenson, Nathan Walker, Travis Boyd, Riley Barber, or recently acquired players such as Tyler Graovac, Anthony Peluso or Devante Smith-Pelly (signed from New Jersey on Monday on a two way contract for the league minimum, $650,000). On defense, the TBD’s appear to be two of Taylor Chorney, Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos, Aaron Ness, and Tyler Lewington.

Yes, this is no longer a 118 or 120 point roster, but it’s still a good one, likely in the 100 to 105 point range given the strong centers, skilled scoring wingers, and quality goaltenders. In my opinion, Vegas not taking Grubauer will be a blessing in disguise for the Caps in 2017-18 because goaltending is the most important position in hockey. There will also be a lot less pressure on this team, the media and many fans have already written them off.

Finally, keep in mind that the other playoff teams in the Metropolitan Division have lost players too, due to the salary cap. In Pittsburgh, the two time defending champs saw Marc Andre-Fleury (expansion draft), Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, Trevor Daley, and Ron Hainsey all depart. Without Fleury, who was a great insurance policy for the oft-injured Matt Murray, the Capitals win that second round series this spring. The Rangers signed Shattenkirk, but they traded their number one center, Derek Stepan, backup goalie, Antti Raanta, and bought out defensemen Dan Girardi in the process of doing so. Columbus traded forward Brandon Saad to Chicago for Artemi Panarin, so they are still looking for a number one center to fill their biggest need. Bottom line, nobody has a roster without holes.

It’s clear the fact that the salary cap is impacting all teams gets lost in the noise when some look and analyze the Capitals.

Yes, they’ve become “top heavy” as MacLellan called them, but they are still a playoff team, at a minimum.

Fans are fans, though, so the negativity is to be expected, that’s just the way it is in professional sports. But you’d expect more out of the local and national media. Keep in mind, though, that there are critics in parts of the media who are fans, at heart, of other Metropolitan Division teams (for example, the Devils and the Flyers, to name a couple), or flat out just don’t like the Capitals organization, there’s no denying that. Then there are others who are just not experienced enough when it comes to the workings of the NHL or are trying to make their mark in their craft to move up the sports media ladder via page clicks – so please take their criticism and bashing with a grain of salt. They have an agenda.

In full disclosure, I won’t walk away from the fact that I worked for this organization for 11 seasons either, but my track record of calling the team out when they make mistakes is well documented (see my 2014 end of season fire McPhee and Oates blog or simply check out the first few paragraphs above). If I thought MacLellan did a poor job of handling this off-season, I’d call him out. But given what he was up against and the undeniable rising salary costs for the top players in the game, I think he’s done the best job he possibly could to keep the Capitals a playoff team and, depending on how the new players that make the lineup this fall pan out, still a Stanley Cup contender.

It’s now up to the Capitals star players, starting with Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and Holtby, to produce their best performances to help carry this club through the regular season and deep into the postseason.

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