Tag Archive | "Trotz"

Washington gets lethal with the man advantage in a convincing victory over Tampa.

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Caps Dominate Lightning in 4-2 Victory

Posted on 27 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals power play has been generating a lot of chances in recent games, but had failed to cash in on numerous scoring opportunities. That all changed on Friday evening at the Verizon Center as the Caps man advantage caught fire going three for four allowing Washington to build a 4-0 in just over 45 minutes of hockey. From there the Capitals would go on to a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning, the 2014-15 Eastern Conference Champions.

As I blogged on Wednesday night, I expected the Capitals to be pumped up and focused for this contest and they were just that. Through 40 minutes they outshot the Bolts, 31-14, including 18 in the opening period, and thanks to two late second period tallies they opened up a 3-0 advantage. Seriously, it could’ve been five or six to nothing if not for the stellar goaltending of Andrei Vasilevskiy (33 saves), who kept his club hanging around until the dam finally broke in the last two minutes of that middle stanza.

Alex Ovechkin (12th), Jason Chimera (6th), and T.J. Oshie (6th) notched power play goals for the Caps and Marcus Johansson (4th) had the only even strength marker on a John Carlson (two assists) pass that banked off of his skate and into the cage. Good things happen when you go to the net. Evgeny Kuznetsov had another fabulous tilt with two assists, including a brilliant feed to Chimera for the second goal that really seemed to deflate Tampa. Chimera himself had a super assist on the Caps opening tally spotting the Gr8 open in the slot with the man advantage and Ovi buried it far post, top shelf at 7:09 of the opening period. That’s now four games in a row where the Caps have scored first, after nine straight yielding the game’s first marker, and they’ve won every single one of those contests.

Braden Holtby was strong in net, especially down the stretch when the Lightning put 17 of their 20 third period shots on the Holtbeast after it was 4-0. Holtby made a huge stop on Steven Stamkos with the Bolts on the power play and the game 4-2 late in the third period. Overall, Braden stopped 32 shots and improved to 14-4 on the season. He has now tied his career high winning streak at six games.

For nearly 50 minutes, this was arguably the best Washington has played all season. Every line was contributing and Andre Burakovsky, despite no points, had one of his better efforts carrying the biscuit and battling on the boards when he was on the ice with Chimera and Jay Beagle.

The Caps kept a speedy Bolts team at bay with constant puck pressure and when Washington had possession, they supported the play well making it hard for Tampa to get their excellent transition game going. Coach Barry Trotz had to be extremely pleased with the way his club dominated the Lightning until late in the third period.

With the win, the Capitals improve to 16-5-1 (33 points) and trail the Metropolitan Division leading New York Rangers by just a single point, since New York lost to Boston on Friday afternoon. The Caps have a game in hand. Both teams are in action on Saturday with the Rags hosting the Flyers in the afternoon while Washington travels to face the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Hockey Night in Canada at 7 pm. Earlier this month, the Leafs gave the Caps all they could handle at the Verizon Center and it took Nicklas Backstrom’s goal with one second left to tie the game and then Ovechkin’s goal in the shootout to earn a victory. Mike Babcock’s club did not play on Friday so they will be rested for the Capitals. I’d expect Philipp Grubauer to get the call in net for Washington.

Notes: Ovechkin logged 23:00 of ice time and had 11 shot attempts (6 SOG) and five hits…Oshie’s goal was a brilliant top shelf marker on the rush to make it 4-0, but he also led the Caps in hits with eight. One of those was a bone crushing smash of Victor Hedman on the back boards…the Caps outshot attempted Tampa 62-56, but most of the Bolts damage came after the game was over at 4-0…Washington won the face off battle, 41-33. Kuznetsov went 10-4…the Caps lost the first game of this five game home stand to Dallas, but then knocked off Colorado, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Tampa in succession to go 4-1. They are now 10-3-1 at the Verizon Center this season…This was Coach Trotz’ 1,300th NHL game. Only nine other coaches in NHL history have reached that milestone. Kudos Trotzy!

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Evgeny Kuznetsov dangles and dazzles again in another Caps victory.

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Kuznetsov Mystifies Winnipeg in Caps 5-3 Win

Posted on 25 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Evgeny Kuznetsov continues to put NHL teams on notice with his ability to make sensational plays when the game seems to matter most.

In a contest where the Caps played sluggish, at times, the star in the making took over a 3-3 hockey game to deliver a goal and an assist over the last 24 minutes and allow the Caps to win their third straight tilt, 5-3, at the Verizon Center.

Kuznetsov, who had an assist on Justin Williams’ tally that opened the scoring to notch another three point night, now has 8 goals and 16 assists in 21 games to lead the Capitals in scoring with 24 points.

Dmitry Orlov had the winning tally late in period two after Kuzya circled the Winnipeg zone confusing the Jets defense. #92, after a lap and a quarter around the offensive zone, dropped the biscuit to #9 in the middle of the ice just inside the blue line and Orlov hammered another one home with Williams screening the Jets keeper, Michael Hutchinson (29 saves). That’s three goals in three games for Orlov, who was superb on this night. Kuznetsov then sealed the deal with a nice forecheck on overrated Winnipeg defensemen Dustin Byfuglien. That allowed Marcus Johansson to gather the puck and send Kuzya in all alone on Hutchinson and the Russian beat him five hole on the backhand. At that point, it would have been very appropriate for the Caps in game entertainment crew to blast the famed INXS song, “Mystify,” because that is what Kuznetsov did to the Jets on this night.

Braden Holtby (23 saves) gave up three goals, two of them were on grade A opportunities in the slot and the third he had no chance on, Mathieu Perreault’s power play tally that tied the game at three, because Blake Wheeler was standing directly in front of him. The Caps defense needed to do a better job of boxing out there or getting out and blocking that shot.

Recently the Capitals have been really strong at closing out games, a big part of which is due to their depth. Coach Barry Trotz can keep coming at you with four lines and three defensive pairs and eventually the opponent wears down. For the first seven minutes in period three it did not look like that would be the case in this one, but then Washington took over dominating the play over the last 13 minutes. In that stretch Kuznetsov provided the insurance tally and it was the Capitals relentless forecheck, cycle game, and physical play in the offensive zone that broke Winnipeg’s will. In fact, from the 13:40 mark of the third period until just 24 seconds remaining, the Jets only had TWO shots on goal. Now that is shutting a club down and displaying a killer instinct, something the Caps have been trying to build this season. They are well on their way to having that, from what I’ve seen in these first 21 games.

Overall, the Caps held the Jets to 26 shots on goal while they had 34 themselves. In shot attempts, the Capitals had the edge there too, at 62-57. Winnipeg is a big team and presented issues for Washington on this night, but ultimately Trotz’ crew got their legs moving and took over a hockey game that looked like it could go either way for about 35 minutes. I continue to like the way this team is handling the last 25 minutes of hockey games by taking control, stifling their opponents, and getting victories.

This triumph pushes the Caps to 15-5-1 (31 points) and with the Rangers losing to Montreal on Thanksgiving Eve, Washington is only three points back of first place in the Metropolitan Division, with a game in hand.

It wasn’t pretty, but it was another solid victory and now the Capitals will take on the Tampa Bay Lightning at 5 pm on Friday to close out their five game home stand. The Bolts were in the Stanley Cup Finals last spring, so I expect the Caps to be pumped up to show Steve Yzerman’s team just how good Washington is this season.

Notes: Alex Ovechkin notched his 11th goal of the season on the power play late in period one. The Caps had two different man advantage situations in that frame and the Jets received two power plays in period two. Both teams went 1 for 2 with the man advantage. I thought referees Kelly Sutherland and Chris Rooney let a few other Jet infractions go, but that’s hockey…John Carlson had two assists and led the Caps in ice time with 23:57. Byfuglien played 27:51 for Winnipeg and he ran out of gas in period three. He was -2…the Capitals lost the face off battle, 31-23. Michael Latta was 1-6…the Gr8 had 15 shot attempts (8 SOG) and five hits to go with his PPG in 22:02 of ice time…Orlov had an assist on Nicklas Backstrom’s 8th goal of the season, that made it 3-2. Nate Schmidt made a great pass across the crease to feed #19 on the doorstep for a layup…Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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Braden Holtby continues his dominance over the Edmonton Oilers in a Caps, 1-0, victory

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Holtby’s Shutout Steals Two Points for the Caps

Posted on 24 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

“He’s unbelievable. Honestly, we lose that game if he’s not in the net. If we have any other goalie in the league playing that game, then we don’t win that hockey game.” – Washington Forward Tom Wilson on Braden Holtby.

There aren’t many truer words spoken than those from Caps forward Tom Wilson following Braden Holtby’s stellar 33 save shutout victory against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night at the Verizon Center. The Holtbeast was downright incredible making several stops on odd man rushes and a glove save on Eric Gryba that will be shown all across hockey highlight shows this season.

Holtby’s heroics allowed the Caps to steal two points from the Oilers when Dmitry Orlov scored on a rocket of a shot with 6:32 remaining in regulation. The laser from #9 followed a series of hard working shifts by the Capitals, but it was fitting that the Washington fourth line of Brooks Laich (assist), Michael Latta, and Wilson (assist) were the plumbers who worked the wall and were able to get the biscuit in perfect position for the young Russian defensemen to tattoo the puck into the top right corner for his second goal in two games.

From there, the Caps really played well and had several chances to increase their lead, but either Anders Nilsson (29 saves) made the stop or the Capitals missed the net (which has been a problem in recent games). Edmonton pulled Nilsson late for the extra attacker, but Holtby made a couple of more quality stops on Taylor Hall (six shots on goal), in close, to seal the deal.

One of the few bright spots for Washington, other than their goaltender, was the Caps penalty killing unit. They went a perfect three for three on the night in 5:43 of PK time, including a four minute double minor situation that came as the result of a Nicklas Backstrom high stick. Often a team will gain momentum from a great job of thwarting back-to-back man advantage situations and score shortly thereafter, but that was not the case on this night.

It was not a pretty win and the Caps did not play well for roughly the first 50 minutes. Coach Barry Trotz did not like their will along the boards nor their compete level in the opening two periods. There were far too many odd man rushes against caused by mental mistakes, poor execution, and suspect positioning.

Wilson noted that the Caps weren’t doing the things that allow them to be successful for the first two plus periods of hockey.

“We weren’t playing very well, we weren’t getting pucks in. I think you saw the tilt in the ice a little bit at the end when we got desperate…it was by no means our best game,” said the 21 year old power forward.

Washington was able to stay in the game and find a way to win, once again. Their best frame was the third period when they out shot the Oilers, 15-10, in those 20 minutes. That’s been another nice development this season, strong and dominating third periods.

Overall, the Caps didn’t deserve two points on Monday night and yet they got them. Last Thursday they certainly deserved a win or at worst a point against the Dallas Stars and came up empty, but that’s the way the hockey gods work sometimes.

Everyone credited the Holtbeast for the victory, and rightly so. Coach Trotz summed up Holtby’s night perfectly afterwards.

“He absolutely deserved the shutout. He’s been one of our top players all year. Tonight he was by far our best player. There wasn’t anybody in the same universe as him.”

Again, no truer words could be spoken.

Notes: Holtby has won four straight games and is 12-4-0 this season with a 1.88 goals against average and a .926 save percentage. This was his second career shutout against Edmonton (last one on March 9, 2011)…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 26:18…Coach Trotz noted afterwards that he hasn’t liked his teams consistency over the last eight or nine games…the Caps won the face off battle, 31-22. Backstrom was 14-7…Shot attempts for the game were 68-54 for the Oilers, but it was 25-18, Caps, in the 3rd period…Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with five shots on goal. He also led the team in hits with seven…next up for the Caps are the Winnipeg Jets at the Verizon Center on Wednesday at 7 pm.

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The Caps get contributions from up and down the linuep in a dominant victory over the Flyers.

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Chimera Helps The Caps Pound the Flyers in Philly

Posted on 12 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After being shut out in Motown on Tuesday night, 1-0, despite 15 shots on goal from Alex Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals rebounded with a thorough whipping of the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night, 5-2.

All season long the Caps players have talked about how good teams bounce back after a loss and how they are heavily focused on winning the next game after suffering a defeat. So far that’s four losses this year for Washington and four wins in the contest immediately thereafter. That’s the mark of a good team.

The win moves the Caps to 11-4 and what continues to be impressive is how they keep the shot totals against low and how they lock games down in the third period. Philadelphia only had 20 shots on goal, and they had four power plays in the game’s first 22 minutes! The Flyers would score their only tally on that fourth power play early in period two, which came as the result of a Tom Wilson charging minor, but they only had two shots on goal across all four man advantages. That’s impressive stuff.

On the flip side, the zebras finally started giving the Caps some well earned power play time in the second frame and they scored three times in three tries. The only problem was the last one didn’t count, which would’ve been Ovechkin’s record breaking 484th goal, but the play was correctly called back due to offsides on Justin Williams via the coaches challenge. It was disappointing for the Gr8, who had his fiancé in attendance, but the team didn’t get down and earned the much needed win. I expect Ovechkin to break the record on Friday night against the Flames, coaches challenge permitting!

As for the first two power play tallies, well you can thank the coaching staff for that success. With the power play in the doldrums, coach Barry Trotz put Jason Chimera out to get some net presence and he scored on a great feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov (2 assists) to tie things up at two near the midpoint of the game. Chimera then set up an even strength goal with his speed, this one went to Williams on the door step with an assist from Jay Beagle, who was battling in front. Then Chimera provided the dagger again. Wilson made a nice zone entry on the right wing boards with the man advantage and dropped the puck to Chimera, who fed Matt Niskanen for a point shot. Both Wilson and “Chimmer” went to the net and #25 was awarded the goal on a deflection. The coaches move to add net presence clearly paid dividends.

The Caps would close this one out in the third period when Wilson (two assists) made a great offensive zone hit and steal behind the Flyers net. “Willy” then fed Marcus Johansson in the left portion of the slot and “Jojo” slid a sweet 90 degree pass to Nicklas Backstrom for an easy marker. Boom, game over!

Overall, this was a solid road game by the Capitals. They can’t routinely take four penalties in the first period and they also need to do a bit of a better job of not allowing odd man rushes in the third period if they want to keep winning away from the Verizon Center. But despite those issues, they did so many other things well and really just thumped a weak Flyers team that is struggling. The Caps were physical and dominated the wall play. Andre Burakovsky (drew three penalties) was outstanding along with Chimera.

On defense, with Brooks Orpik missing the game due to a lower body injury, Nate Schmidt stepped up and played with John Carlson. #88 had another excellent effort in 17:23 of ice time. His ability to skate and get the puck out of the defensive zone was very evident.

You can go up and down the Caps lineup in this one and find contributions, including the first goal by T.J. Oshie after a patented no look pass from Kuznetsov.

Yes, this was an important win. The Flyers are the Caps biggest rival since the inception of the franchise in 1974. The other two are the Rangers and the Penguins and the Capitals are 0-2 against them this season, so far. Burying Philadelphia, who appear headed for the NHL draft lottery, in their barn is always delightful and it was more special to hear the Filthy faithful booing their squad off of the ice when the game ended. The Caps lost three of the four games to the Flyers last season so this victory makes the fan base much happier. No Caps fan ever likes losing to Philadelphia.

So on Friday, the air will seem cleaner, the drinks will go down smoother, and the food will taste better for Caps fans. It always does after a victory over the despised Flyers!

Notes: The Caps will take on the Calgary Flames at the Verizon Center on Friday night at 7 pm…Washington out shot the Flyers, 32-20. Braden Holtby earned the win with some solid goaltending…the Caps won the face off battle, 33-26. Beagle was 12-4…Beagle led the team in hits with six and Wilson had five…Karl Alzner was fabulous in this one going +2 in 23:28 of ice time. He was physical and positionally sound all evening. Great game by #27…Niskanen (1 assist, +2) led the Caps in ice time with 25:12.

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Alex Ovechkin scores his 7th goal of the season to help lead the Caps over Boston.

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Ovechkin Goal Jump Starts Caps in 4-1 Win Over Boston

Posted on 06 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After playing too loose, falling behind early, and ultimately losing, 5-2, to the Rangers on Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals really hoped to have a strong start against the Boston Bruins at the Verizon Center on Thursday night.

They did not get one.

The Bruins repeatedly put pucks deep on Washington early and throttled the Capitals in their own end with a vicious forecheck over the first 10 minutes. Luckily for the Caps, goalie Braden Holtby (28 saves) was razor sharp and the Caps were able to keep things scoreless.

Shortly after the 12 minute mark though, Justin Williams turned a puck over in the neutral zone while shorthanded and that gave the Bruins a three on two rush that they converted off of a fluky bounce. Suddenly Boston had scored for the first time since the spring of 2014 on Holtby (the Caps shut the B’s out three times in 2014-15) and they had a 1-0 lead.

But that’s all the Bruins would get as the Caps made some adjustments to get the puck out of their own end and from there things started to go their way.

“We just started doing what we were supposed to do from the start, we were too slow. We weren’t getting close enough to their high guy for their shots. We know they like to play a triangle game. We weren’t winning the races to the pucks and then it seemed like we got our legs a little bit,” said defensemen Karl Alzner.

That they did and with four minutes left in the opening frame, the line of Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom, and Williams had a dominant offensive zone shift. Then the Caps top line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and T.J. Oshie built off of that momentum and buried one with the Gr8 scoring a greasy goal in front. Ovechkin would take a couple of cross checks in the back and slide one past Tuukka Rask (27 saves) to tie the game up. The Tim Kerr/Dino Ciccarelli type of goal absolutely lifted the spirits of the Capitals and those in attendance at the Verizon Center.

“Ovi [Alex Ovechkin] scores those highlight reel goals all the time. We talk about this is a team [Boston] that has a good goaltender. Their physical [defensive] core and you got to go to those hard areas to score goals against them. When one of your top scorers is known for his one-on-one and great shot, goes to the hard areas and gets one of those grinder, blue paint goals, it’s great,” said Coach Barry Trotz about the turning point in the hockey game, Ovechkin’s seventh goal of the season.

The Caps took the lead just 4:10 into period two when Brooks Laich scored his 1st goal of the season by doing what Ovechkin had done earlier, going to the front of the net. Dmitry Orlov’s point blast hit Laich en route and got by Rask. Washington increased the lead to 3-1 on a five on three power play with Backstrom saucering a sweet pass to John Carlson for a one timer. It was Carlson’s third goal of the season to go with nine assists and the way the Capitals players rotated to confuse Boston was a nice, new power play wrinkle.

From there on in, the Capitals clamped things down and gave the Bruins pretty much nothing the rest of the way. The Caps improved to 6-0-0 this season when leading after two periods by playing a nearly flawless final stanza. They held Boston to just one quality shot, which is impressive.

“I was really happy with the way we handled the third… We understood that they [Boston] were going to come with their d [defense] getting active, and we just stayed to the game plan, and just making sure we were making them come 200 feet and being on the right side of pucks when they got jammed up, and we protected the slot,” added Coach Trotz on the third period success.

“I think we were responsible, we changed our system a little bit, I think maybe gave them a different look and threw a wrench in their plans and we just played smart with the puck,” added Alzner, who sealed this one with an empty net goal with 1:50 remaining to close it out at 4-1.

One thing the coaching staff did for the third period that really worked was a juggling of the lines. Coach Trotz moved Andre Burakovsky up with fellow Swedes, Backstrom and Johansson, and he bumped Williams over with Jay Beagle and Jason Chimera. As a result, Boston was stymied getting only seven shots on the cage over the last 20 minutes. During the offseason Washington talked about developing a killer instinct and this third period performance was a big step in that direction.

Overall, this was an important bounce back victory after a disappointing result in New York on Tuesday. The Caps improved to 9-3 and matched the 1991-92 and 2011-12 teams for the best Washington starts to a season. That 91-92 squad I talk about often because I believe it was one of the Capitals all time best teams. The problem was the team that won the Cup in 1992, the Pittsburgh Penguins, were just a bit better, primarily due to their goaltending. Goaltending is a strength for the Caps these days and if they keep improving their overall play and stay healthy, this season should continue to be a fun and special one.

Notes: All three Caps defensive pairs played well with Carlson and Brooks Orpik leading the way in time on ice with 25:20 and 22:19, respectively. It was a super game for both and Carlson rightfully earned the first star…Orlov and Nate Schmidt both were excellent after being the best D pair against the Rangers. They logged 14:52 and 15:21, respectively. Each skates well and moves the puck out of the defensive zone quickly. The Caps have to be very pleased at the level of play they are getting from that pair so early in the season…Washington outshot Boston, 31-29, but were outshot attempted, 63-53. The Caps blocked 19 shots and did a good job of keeping the Bruins on the perimeter; especially in period three…Boston won the face off battle, 39-29. David Krejci was 11-3 for the B’s while Kuznetsov went 6-14 for the Caps…next up for the Capitals are the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7 pm on Saturday night at the Verizon Center. The Leafs are not good and are clearly one of the front runners in the Auston Matthews sweepstakes.

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Washington finds a way to win against a pesky Blue Jackets squad, 2-1.

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Oshie & Williams Score in Caps Victory Over Columbus

Posted on 30 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

When you play against a John Tortorella coached squad, the game is rarely pretty. That was the case at the Verizon Center on Friday night as the Capitals managed to do enough to defeat a pesky Columbus club, 2-1.

Justin Williams scored the first goal in the latter half of period two for the Caps. Karl Alzner did a super job of pinching in from the point and that allowed Marcus Johansson to feed Williams above the right circle for a shot that Sergei Bobrovsky didn’t really see, thanks to a Nicklas Backstrom screen. The Caps buzzed the tower in the last 10 minutes of period two, but somehow “Bob” (28 saves) kept his club in it.

In the third period, Columbus found some legs for the early part of the stanza before the Caps started to take over possession-wise with their first and second lines. It would be the first line who would give Washington a cushion it would really need down the stretch. Braden Holtby (29 saves) used his great puck handling ability to lift one high off of the glass for a clear on the left wing boards and that sprung Alex Ovechkin on a three on one break with Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. The Gr8 had a lane to the net, but instead of shooting he sent a beautiful pass that split the Columbus defense. The recipient of the pass, Backstrom, then teed it up perfectly for Oshie, who buried it under the cross bar with 8:01 left to make it 2-0.

The Blue Jackets would score at 14:45 in a goal mouth scramble that Coach Barry Trotz challenged. The Washington bench boss felt that Holtby was interfered with on the play. He was, and it was worse than what Jay Beagle was whistled for earlier in the season in the San Jose game, but go figure?

Fortunately, the Capitals clamped down and preserved the win to send Torts and company to a 2-9 record. Washington moves to 7-2 and will face the Panthers on Halloween night at 7 pm in Sunrise.

Backstrom, Williams, Ovechkin, Oshie, and Johansson had very strong games up front for the Caps. That second line was really the key to the victory. In addition, Matt Niskanen, Alzner, Nate Schmidt, and Dmitry Orlov were very good on the back end. Alzner got hit and shaken up early in period two and then came back to play a monster game. King Karl and Niskanen were downright dominant as a pair. Schmidt, who saw his first game action since the San Jose loss, performed better and better as the game went on. He was skating well and making solid clears. His only weakness is his size, which makes it tough for him in goal mouth scrambles. But #88 was really good against Columbus.

On the downside, the Capitals third line, which had to face the Blue Jackets best line, struggled for most of the night. Tom Wilson took two penalties that were unnecessary. You can add Brooks Orpik’s delay of game infraction to that list. #44 needed to make a pass in a situation where he had time with the biscuit. Instead, Columbus received an early third period power play when down just a puck.

However ugly it was, and a good chunk of the game was sloppy hockey, especially the first 30 minutes, the Capitals did what they had to do to defeat a desperate team. Good teams find ways to win close games and so far the Caps have been fairly good at that. 7-2 is an excellent start and another win in the division is important. The Caps are now 3-1 against their Metropolitan foes.

Notes: Andre Burakovsky was having a decent game and then he got hit in the head by Oshie’s stick and barely played in the third period. Overall, he only logged 7:09 of ice time…Michael Latta, who was back in after missing six games, only played 3:55 and Brooks Laich just 7:28. The performance of the 3rd and 4th lines is a bit of a concern right now…the Caps out shot attempted Columbus, 55-50, but shots on net favored the Blue Jackets at 30-28…Face offs were pretty much even, with the Caps short by one win (29-28). Beagle was 9-7, Backstrom 8-7, but Laich was 1-4.

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The Caps five game winning streak comes to a halt as the Pens win at the Verizon Center.

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Fleury and the Pens Stymie the Caps Offense

Posted on 28 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

When Evgeny Kuzentsov scored on a lucky bounce just 88 seconds into period three of a scoreless hockey game, it appeared the Washington Capitals would continue their winning ways against one of their three biggest rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins (Flyers and Rangers).

Instead, some costly breakdowns on the defensive side of the puck turned a Caps lead into a quick one goal deficit in a matter of less than three minutes.

Beau Bennett scored after a great stretch pass from Olli Maata to Nick Bonino allowed him to streak in on the right wing and fire two biscuits on Braden Holtby (22 saves) and even things up just 24 seconds after the Kuznetsov goal. On that play, Washington’s forwards failed to cut off the center of the ice to yield a successful pass that is typically intercepted at the red line, when played properly. Compounding the problem was Brooks Orpik was too far to the center of the ice as he was trying to stop Bonino and that gave Bennett the lane to the cage.

If that wasn’t bad enough, then just over two minutes later, after the Capitals got caught in deep in the offensive zone, the Penguins worked a perfect cycle game and Phil Kessel beat Matt Niskanen to the net for the game winning tally. Bonino then added an empty net goal late to make it a 3-1 final.

The Caps now fall to 6-2 and their five game winning streak was snapped.

There were some things to like for Washington in this game. They killed off a lengthy five on three early on and another Penguins power play in the first period to go a perfect three for three on the PK on the night. Holtby was especially strong early on. In addition, they out-shot the Pens, 34-25, and out-shot attempted them for the game, 66-55. Marc Andre Fleury (33 saves) was outstanding in this game, so he deserves much credit for the win.

On the downside, I thought the Penguins did a great job of pre scouting the Capitals breakout and power play (0 for 3). Washington had a lot of trouble generating speed through the neutral zone and when they did, the Capitals often over passed the puck. They had 34 shots, but turnovers in the offensive zone probably cost them another seven to 10 attempts to the cage. When the other goalie is hot, you have to get pucks and traffic on him and the Caps were only successful at that in spurts.

I’ve seen the talk of the Penguins possibly getting rid of head coach Mike Johnston from some who cover the game. I’m not sure if there is any truth to those rumors, but based on what I saw, and granted this was the first time I’ve seen the Pens all season, I thought he did a great job of getting his club ready to play against the Caps. They had bodies and sticks in the Washington lanes all night and their puck support was strong.

Overall, the Pens deserved this one for their superior play in the final frame. They took advantage of the Caps mistakes and their goalie was excellent.

It’s only October 28th and the Caps will learn from this loss. They were too loose, at times, in this contest and they couldn’t bail themselves out with offense. Coach Trotz will have lots of good videotape to show and use after this one.

There are 74 games remaining. The Caps have the makings of a powerful team and are picked by many to win the division. That will happen, more likely than not, but on Wednesday, they didn’t bring anywhere close to their “A” game and lost a close one to a good hockey team.

Next up are the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday. C-Bus is now coached by John Tortorella. Torts is 2-1 since taking over and they are riding a two game winning streak after starting 0-8. Expect a physical game and you can bet Columbus will be clutching, grabbing, hitting, and blocking shots. Tonight’s loss against the Penguins should be good preparation for that type of hockey since Pittsburgh did a fairly good job of keeping the Capitals to the perimeter.

So stay calm and be ready for Friday night.

Notes: The Caps lost the face off battle, 35-29. Sidney Crosby was held pointless but he was 18-8 from the dot…Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Oveckin both played over 22 minutes. John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:16 and Niskanen was close behind at 24:36…Brooks Laich only played 7:16 and Chandler Stephenson just 5:42. It was their line that got caught in the offensive zone on the game winner and allowed the Penguins to get a cycle advantage to set it up. Laich changed before the goal went in.

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The Caps destroy Calgary in the second period scoring three goals, en route to a 6-2 victory at the Saddledome.

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Caps Click on All Cylinders in Rout of Flames

Posted on 21 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

If you stayed up late on Tuesday night to watch the best pro sports squad in the Maryland-Washington-Virginia area, then you were treated to a total Washington Capitals team effort as they dismantled the Calgary Flames, 6-2 at the Saddledome.

After giving up the first goal in the opening frame, the Caps had to kill off two penalties shortly thereafter. At an important juncture in the game, Washington’s PK unit was stellar, barely allowing any Calgary chances. The Flames then tried to get physical on the Capitals, a style Calgary likes to play, but it backfired against a heavy and highly skilled Washington team.

Evgeny Kuznetsov deftly stripped Dennis Wideman of the puck and then made a behind the back, no look pass to Andre Burakovsky, who buried it past a stunned Karri Ramo (14 saves on 18 shots). That tied the game up with 3:58 left in the first period. The first 20 minutes ended tied with both teams having their share of opportunities.

The Caps then dominated over the last 40 minutes. The Flames have struggled with goaltending all season and Alex Ovechkin (1 goal, 1 assist) took advantage of a bad rebound on his initial shot and backhanded the biscuit into the basket to give Washington a 2-1 lead just 30 seconds into the middle stanza. For the next several minutes the Caps stormed the castle without a goal, but then Brooks Orpik did a super job of keeping a puck in at the offensive zone. That allowed John Carlson to corral it on the right wing boards and #74 swung it to Justin Williams (two assists) behind the net. Williams, who is as smart as they come in the NHL, fed a wide open Nicklas Backstrom (two goals) in the slot and #19 buried it.

Less than a minute later T.J. Oshie went to the front of the net and pushed Doug Hamilton out of the way to finish a Kuznetsov feed and make it 4-1. The rout was on and Ramo was pulled for Jonas Hiller, at that point.

The Flames pushed hard early in the third period by activating their defense and Mark Giordano made it 4-2 just 3:09 into the final frame. Then the Caps burnt Calgary on an odd man rush with Jason Chimera beating Hiller high to the far post and it was pretty much game over. Backstrom would add a nice backhand goal on the rush after Williams made a great indirect pass to Nicky off of the boards to close out the scoring.

Overall, this was a complete game by the Capitals. They used their size and skill to throttle the Flames at every opportunity and it was the men against the boys in the second period. Kuznetsov dazzled generating three assists and Burakovsky had his best performance of the season. You could go up and down the lineup and cite the contributions from every single player in this contest, the Caps were that good and supported the puck so well that Calgary had no chance from the second period on.

Coach Barry Trotz will have a lot to like in this victory and to dominate in their first road game of the season is encouraging. The Caps are now 4-1 and head to Vancouver for a Thursday night tilt (10 pm), which has been a house of horrors for them in recent years. The Canucks, specifically Radim Vrbata and the Sedin twins, seem to always give the Capitals fits. They also have Ryan Miller in net, another player who seems to bring out his best against Ovechkin and company.

This will be another early test for a Washington Capitals squad that looked strong on paper heading into the season and has backed that up with its play on the ice through five games.

Notes: Ovechkin has six points in four games. He had 11 shot attempts (seven on net) in 17:35 of ice time…Taylor Chorney and Dmitry Orlov had their best outing of the season. Both played over 15 minutes and were +2 and +3, respectively…Orpik had six hits and an assist in 19:36 of time…the Caps outshot the Flames, 30-19…Johnny Gaudreau had two assists for the Flames. #13 was Calgary’s best player on Tuesday.

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Nicklas Backstrom has a goal and two assists in his return to the Caps lineup on Saturday night.

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Nicklas Backstrom Shines in His Caps Season Debut

Posted on 17 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

For those who routinely watch the Washington Capitals, they know just how good Nicklas Backstrom is at hockey. Just in case anyone forgot, Nicky took care of that quickly on Saturday night as he scored a goal and set up two others in his season debut, a 4-1 Caps victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. Backstrom’s performance in his first game back even impressed his head coach.

“A guy who hasn’t played any exhibition games and comes into the National Hockey League, in a fast game, against a fast team, and he looks like he didn’t miss a beat – we realize how good he is….it looked pretty easy for him,” said Caps Coach Barry Trotz following the win.

Saturday’s game really was as one-sided as it gets in terms of scoring chances. Washington was all over a Carolina club that played on Friday night and if not for Cam Ward, it could’ve easily been five or six to nothing after two periods. Amazingly the 2006 Stanley Cup Champion goalie stopped 26 of 27 Capitals shots through forty minutes and Washington was forced to sweat this one out a bit in the final frame.

T.J. Oshie, Backstrom, John Carlson, and Alex Ovechkin all scored against Carolina with the last three coming in the third period. The Caps first and third goals were on the power play, the only two opportunities they received all evening. Carolina had four power plays, including a 38 second two man advantage in the middle stanza, but Washington killed that sequence off. As is often the case, a team that fails to score on a two man advantage usually loses the hockey game.

With Backstrom back in the lineup, the Capitals moved Andre Burakovsky down to the fourth line. The 20 year old forward had struggled a bit at center in the first three games and with Marcus Johansson playing so well, #65 was the odd top six forward out. As I blogged after Thursday night’s win, the key will be for Burakovsky to just keep working hard and keep his confidence level up. He will be a big part of this team this season and the Caps will need him in the playoffs, when things really matter.

As for Johansson, well he was dynamite despite being held without a point. MJ90 has been doing a great job of going to the net and creating screens and the Caps don’t score goals two and three without “Jojo” doing just that. Marcus also had some quality scoring attempts in the game, but Ward was very strong on this night.

Oshie now has two power play goals and he is a huge upgrade over Troy Brouwer as the man in the middle with the man advantage. Eventually teams will have to shift more attention to him, which will open things up for Ovechkin and the others. Speaking of Ovechkin, he now has three goals in three games and he, Oshie, and Evgeny Kuznetsov were really good as a first unit, once again. Backstrom, Johansson, and Justin Williams formed a potent second line. Basically, trying to stop the Caps is going to be a lot harder this season now that GM Brian MacLellan has upgraded the skill on the top two lines.

On defense, the top two pairs were solid, but the third defensive pair is still working through things. Dmitry Orlov only logged 13:36 and Taylor Chorney played 15:31. Against an Auston Matthews sweepstakes team like Carolina, you’d like to see that pairing get more ice time, but until they earn it, Coach Trotz can’t risk victories for the team in order to develop that new duo.

Overall though, the Capitals look like a really strong team. Their three wins have come against hockey teams that played the night before, but you can only face the opponents as they are scheduled. Now at 3-1 after four home games, they head out to Western Canada for a three games in four nights road swing that starts on Tuesday night in Calgary (9 pm on CSN). This will be a good measuring stick to see how improved they are, last season the Caps went 1-2 on this trip with the lone victory against the Flames.

Notes: Braden Holtby made 18 saves. He had a scary moment in the middle period when the Canes had a two man advantage and his helmet was knocked off. Somehow the officials took several seconds to blow what should’ve been an immediate whistle and luckily a shot on net went over a covered up Holtby…Carlson led the Caps in ice time once again, at 23:26…Oshie now has two goals and two assists in the four games…the Caps outshot Carolina 34-19, Oshie led the Caps with six shots on goal…Brooks Orpik had five hits while Ovechkin had four…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 31-29.

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T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin score and Braden Holtby makes 26 saves in a Caps 4-1 rout of Chicago

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Holtby, Caps Top Line Throttle the Defending Champs, 4-1

Posted on 15 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After a clunker on Tuesday night against the San Jose Sharks, it was expected that the Washington Capitals would come out with energy against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night at the Verizon Center, and that they did. Washington received goals from T.J. Oshie, John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and Alex Ovechkin as they pulled away in the 3rd period for a 4-1 victory to improve to 2-1 on the young season.

Oshie scored on the power play at 8:48 after Viktor Tikhonov took a silly penalty. Tikhonov went after Tom Wilson after #43 hit Hawks captain Jonathan Toews in the defensive end and as is the case so often, if you take a bad penalty, the other team usually scores with the man advantage. The Caps only allowed one shot on goal in the first 10 minutes and only five in the first frame to get off to a much needed good start. Washington’s top line of Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Ovechkin was clicking and the third line of Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera, and Wilson was flying around creating energy and putting the body to Chicago.

The second period, however, would be where Chicago would make their push given that they played on Wednesday night in Philadelphia (a 3-0 loss). Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby had no interest in seeing his club lose the early lead and he was stellar stopping 17 shots on net, many of which were of the quality variety. Carlson notched his first goal of the season on a point blast that Scott Darling had no chance on because Marcus Johansson was running a perfect screen in front of him. That goal came shortly after a point blank Holtby save. Chicago’s efforts yielded no tallies, primarily thanks to #70.

In the final frame, the Caps looked more like the team from the first period throttling Chicago and holding them to just five shots on net. The lone Hawks goal came shortly after Niskanen’s tally, which was the result of a super pass from Johansson. “Jojo” did the dirty work behind the net and then found #2 all alone at the top of the slot. Chicago’s Victor Svedberg would be the only one to dent Holtby, who never saw the shot. But Coach Barry Trotz commented afterwards that he really liked the way his team didn’t panic and shut the Blackhawks down the rest of the way. Washington’s top three lines did a super job of hemming their opponents in their own zone and as a result the game became a relatively stress free win down the stretch.

Overall, this was an encouraging game. Granted the Blackhawks played on Wednesday and had to travel from Filthy, but they are still a strong team with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Marian Hossa up front and Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook on defense.

The Caps received strong performances from several players. Holtby was deservedly the first star, but Carlson, Kuznetsov, and Johansson were at the top of their respective games.

Andre Burakovsky had a rough first two periods, but the 20 year old is adjusting to the center position after playing mostly wing last spring. #65 seemed to have his best period of the season in the third frame and confidence is so important to that young man. He was finally skating well and playing his game instead of looking like he was over thinking things on the ice.

Chimera continues to pick up where he left off in the playoffs and used his speed to keep Chicago on its heels. Wilson has really improved and was a physical force creating space for his line mates. He does an excellent job of getting under the skin of his opponents.

The Capitals now face the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night at the Verizon Center with a chance to go to 3-1 before heading away on their western Canada trip. The Canes are in the Auston Matthews sweepstakes so if the Caps bring the energy and play smartly, they should win. There is also a chance that Nicklas Backstrom, who had offseason hip surgery, could make his season debut.

Notes: The Caps only took one penalty on Thursday (a questionable roughing call on Ovechkin) while Chicago was in the box only twice. Coach Trotz noted that the Blackhawks don’t take many penalties and he was happy that his club moved its feet and didn’t take any penalties of the lazy variety. Overall, referees Francois St. Laurent and Marc Joannette let the players play the game, and that was pleasing…shot attempts were 55-54 for Chicago and face offs were dead even at 23 apiece…Carlson led the Caps in ice time at 25:01 while Keith played 22:13 for the Hawks (he logged 9:01 in the first period alone).

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