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Carlson Beats Stars

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Carlson’s Late Tally Gives the Caps a 4-3 Win Over Dallas

Posted on 21 March 2018 by Ed Frankovic

John Carlson rifled a puck past Kari Lehtonen with 4:59 remaining in regulation to give the Washington Capitals a huge 4-3 victory over the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night at Capital One Arena. Alexander Ovechkin scored his league leading 44th goal in the middle frame and Braden Holtby stopped 24 of 27 pucks in the triumph.

The win improves Washington’s record to 42-24-7 (91 points) and puts them four points clear of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who lost to the Islanders on Tuesday, for first place in the Metropolitan Division with nine games remaining in the regular season. Columbus has tied the Pens in points at 87 by virtue of their 5-3 defeat of the Rangers, but Coach John Tortorella’s streaking squad only has eight games left to play.

For the Caps, this was their first triumph over the Stars in DC since November 30, 2006 (h/t to the great Mike Vogel). In addition, Lehtonen had pretty much owned the Capitals in his career coming into this tilt with a 18-6-3 record and a .921 save percentage in 27 career appearances (thanks again, @VogsCaps).

On a snowy and icy night in DC, Washington finally turned the tables on the Stars.

How did they do it?

First off, at even strength, the Capitals outplayed Dallas and out shot them, 26-18. The Caps were missing star center Evgeny Kuznetsov for the second straight game due to an upper body injury, but they still generated the majority of the chances. T.J. Oshie scored his 16th goal of the season, and his fourth tally in his last four games, on a rebound to tie this affair at one early in period two. Just over a minute later, Matt Niskanen notched his sixth marker of the year on a point shot that hit a Dallas stick on the way in. Brett Connolly provided some good traffic in the high slot on that one.

Next, with the game tied at two just past the midpoint of the contest, Oshie won a faceoff cleanly back to Carlson, who then put the disc on a tee for the Gr8 and he rocketed the biscuit by Lehtonen (28 saves) on the power play to give the Caps a 3-2 lead.

Around those three Washington tallies, the Stars scored a trio of goals. The first two were directly attributable to Capitals penalties. Nicklas Backstrom took a bad offensive zone tripping infraction that led to Tyler Seguin’s 39th of the season in the first frame and then just five seconds after Michal Kempny came out of the box following an offensive blue line interference penalty, Alexander Radulov tipped home a John Klingberg shot from the point to tie the game at two.

After Ovechkin’s laser to reclaim the lead on the power play, the Gr8 nearly had his 45th of the season after a fine play by top line Tom Wilson. Willy fired on net, got his own rebound, went around the cage, and fed a wide open Ovi at the top of the paint, but Alex was unable to lift the puck past Lehtonen. That inability to finish would prove costly when Jamie Benn skated past Dmitry Orlov to beat Holtby with 1:45 left in the middle frame. Benn never sees that one on one rush, where he had initial speed on his side, if Lars Eller makes a smarter play in the neutral zone and gets the puck deep. Instead #20 tried a play that will be a recipe for death in the playoffs, he slowed down and tried to cut to the middle of the ice before the offensive blue line and Benn stripped him clean like he was working the streets as a pick-pocket specialist back in the day on the south side of Chicago.

With the game tied at three heading into period three, things were very tight and the Stars really needed this one to keep pace in the Western Conference playoff race. The Capitals, however, are in a tight race of their own and they more than matched the Stars desperation and found a way to nudge ahead in a four on four situation. Brooks Orpik, who missed Sunday’s debacle in Filthy against the Flyers along with #92, returned to the lineup after a lower body injury and brought the physicality needed on the back end to keep the paint clear for the Holtbeast. While doing that job in the final frame, Radek Faska thought it would be cute if he poked at #70 after he covered the puck. The man called “Batya” (father) by his teammates then put Radek in a headlock as the duo wrestled to the ice. Both were sent to the box for two minutes to feel shame. This put the game in a four on four speed situation with 6:12 remaining.

73 seconds later, Coach Barry Trotz’ team took the lead for the final time shortly after Carlson smartly fired the puck on net from center ice to start the goal sequence. Rookie blue liner Christian Djoos won a race to the puck in the left wing corner and fed Eller for a great chance in front. Lars hit the post and then had another shot blocked. Ovechkin won a battle, then Eller passed the disc back to #74 at the right point and with Ovi causing havoc in front of Lehtonen, Carlson’s shot hit the twine for the game winning goal.

Overall, this was a solid victory for the Capitals. They made some bad decisions with the puck, at times, and the four power plays they allowed before the game was 30 minutes old is something that can’t happen in April and beyond. However, they played well, especially at even strength, to outwork and earn two very important points against a team that had everything to lose. Washington overcame their early penalty problems and finally found a way to knock off the team from the Lone Star State in the Nation’s Capital. This contest didn’t set up well for the Caps, especially with Kuzy out, but they found a way to get it done and the Metropolitan Division title is within their grasp as we head into the home stretch.

Notes: Kuznetsov skated on Monday and is traveling to Detroit (Thursday), Montreal (Saturday), and Madison Square Garden (vs. Rangers on Monday) for the Caps upcoming three game road trip…the Caps have won five of their last six games. The loss to Philadelphia on Sunday was a real poor effort and with #44 out of the lineup, the Flyers crashed the cage relentlessly with no fear of real retaliation. The Caps have won five in a row with Orpik in the lineup (but, Corsi!)…the Capitals won the faceoff battle, 35-26. Jay Beagle was 13-4…shots on goal were 32-27 for the Caps. The Stars had eight shots on goal on their four power plays…Wilson was dominant in this one and he really hit Dallas’ D all night (9 total hits!). #43 is skating well and he was back to carrying the play after having a few tough games after suffering a broken nose in California. Willy had six shots on net in 21:06 of ice time…Ovi had eight shot attempts and a goal and two assists in 22:13. He now has 81 points on the season (44 goals, 37 assists).  12 of Washington’s 32 shots came from their two power forwards, Ovi and Willy…Holtby looked good in net. He made some key saves when the game was in doubt, especially when Dallas had the man advantage due to bad penalties by the Caps.

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Osh Babe Burra NYI

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Caps Light the Lamp 7 Times in Brooklyn; Rout Islanders

Posted on 15 March 2018 by Ed Frankovic

T.J. Oshie scored twice and Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 2 assists), Dmitry Orlov (1 goal, 2 assists) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (3 assists) each had three points as the Washington Capitals offense kicked it into high gear at the Barclay’s Center in a 7-3 rout of the fading New York Islanders. Philipp Grubauer was rock solid in the cage, once again, stopping 35 of 38 shots en route to his 11th victory of the season.

This was the Caps third consecutive “W” and their first streak of this length since early January. The win, combined with Pittsburgh’s triumph over the Canadiens in Montreal, keeps both teams tied for first place in the Metropolitan Division with 87 points. The Capitals are now 40-23-7 while the Pens are at 41-26-5, so Washington has two games in hand.

Below are several thoughts and analysis of a game that didn’t begin well for the good guys.

No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn – New York is a notoriously fast starting squad, as evidenced by their 20-7-5 record coming into this tilt when tallying first. So when Washington started like they were still asleep and allowed the first goal just 2:19 into this affair via poor defensive zone coverage, it looked like this could be a long night. The Islanders were faced with the task of pretty much running the table to make the post season, so they were supposed to be the more desperate hockey team. Coach Doug Weight’s squad started that way, but the wheels started coming off of the bus when Lars Eller scored on a sweet pass from Jakub Vrana from behind the cage with Brett Connolly parked in front at 10:32 of period one. Just 57 seconds later, the Osh Babe notched his 13th tally of the season on a great feed from Andre Burakovsky on an odd man rush to totally erase New York’s fast start and really put the heat on the home squad.

Pressure – Down 2-1, Billy Joel’s classic song, Pressure, was appropriate for how the team that made no moves at the NHL trade deadline had to feel, at that point. The Islanders would take advantage of an Orlov pinch and Matt Niskanen’s failure to cut off the pass to Andrew Ladd on a two on one break to tie the game up just a minute later. New York lives off of the rush game and they are very good when they get odd man situations. Washington was not playing smart hockey up to that point, and they need to learn that turnovers at the offensive blue line against fast teams are a recipe for heading to the golf course in the spring. Playing the Islanders is good training, in that regard, for a possible playoff matchup with the Penguins. Against speedy clubs, it is imperative that the puck move north-south until it is deep in the offensive zone.

John Cougar’d – Rookie goalie, Christopher Gibson, stopped 50 shots on Sunday night in an Islanders win over the Flames, so he was riding high coming into this affair. Against Alex Ovechkin (1 assist) and company, the walls would come tumbling down in a hurry. With the Gr8 parked at the top of the paint, Orlov scored short side from a severe angle to give the Caps a 3-2 lead after 20 minutes. Just 3:22 into the middle frame, Burakovksy tipped home a Jakub Jerabek point shot with Oshie screening in front to make it 4-2. When Cal Clutterbuck took a stupid penalty for slashing Tom Wilson, who had run into Casey Cizikas earlier in the game, the Capitals went for the jugular on their only power play of the night. Backstrom batted home a puck Kuznetsov intended back door for Ovechkin, that was swatted into the slot by Gibson, to give Washington a three goal advantage. Young Gibson was pulled, for Jaroslav Halak, after allowing five goals on 12 shots. New York had 18 shots on goal, at that point in the game.

The Wall – Up 5-2 heading into the third period, the Caps smartly went all Pink Floyd and walled off the front of their net, which pretty much forced the Islanders to shoot from the perimeter over the last 20 minutes. The guys in blue would send 20 biscuits to the cage over the last 30 minutes of this contest, but they only tallied off of a faceoff win on a Ryan Pulock rocket with 3:27 remaining. The score before Pulock’s tally was 6-2 since John Carlson notched his 13th goal of the season from the slot after a sweet pass by Ovi from the left wing corner with 4:19 to go. Alexander the Great is known for his goal scoring, but he can sure pass the disc, too.

Brick House – Grubauer made some big stops in this one, especially on a breakaway by Cizikas with six minutes left in period two when it was a three goal affair. If #53 scores there, the crowd gets into it and Weight’s crew perhaps feels like they can come back. The puck would roll on Cizikas, but #31 was non-committal in the net and gave the Islanders center really nothing to shoot at. As previously mentioned, New York threw a lot of rubber at the net, but Philipp was flashing his glove to make saves without any rebounds all evening. Simply put, he was mighty mighty in the goal just letting it all hang out. Every time the Islanders seemed to get some offensive zone pressure or momentum, Grubauer gloved the puck and held on for a face off. Slowing the pace down favored the Capitals and the German goalie, who has been excellent since November, knew that.

The Zoo – After three straight well officiated tilts, it was a return to the zoo with Eric Furlatt and Francis “Send Me Back to Quebec” Charron. This duo never really had a handle on this game and hooks and holds were allowed too often, especially on New York. The interference call on Niskanen was bogus as was Michal Kempny’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty following an Islanders slash on Grubauer after the whistle had blown. Wilson was speared by Clutterbuck, but the men in stripes called it a slash. A five minute major was easily warranted in that situation. Willy was also called for roughing Clutterbuck late in period two, and it was an undisciplined play by #43, but that should’ve been an interference call. Fortunately for the Capitals, the poor officiating was really not much of a factor because they dominated the scoreboard.

Red Light District – New York is a very dangerous offensive team, but in their own end, they lack attention to detail and that resulted in seven Washington goals (the last was an Osh Babe empty netter to close out the scoring). Coach Trotz put Backstrom, Burakovsky, and Oshie back together for the first time in awhile and they were the best trio on the ice. The Caps need to play smart in their own end on Friday night in the rematch at Capital One Arena and when they have the puck, make sure they go north-south with it and take advantage of the Islanders defense. If they play the right way, they should be victorious. In Thursday night’s affair, the Caps were opportunistic, and that certainly brought back memories of Eddie Murphy singing “Roxanne” in 48 hours.

“Roxanne…Put on the Red light…Roxanne…Put on the Red Light…Roxanne…”

Seven times the lamp went on for Washington on Thursday night.

Notes: Braden Holtby will get his first start in 10 days on Friday night…Christian Djoos is slated to return to the lineup and the question is will Brooks Orpik or Jerabek come out? It would probably be wise to give #44 a rest, especially against the fast Islanders, but that leaves the Caps a good penalty killer short on the back end…the Caps were 1 for 1 on the power play and a perfect 3 for 3 against a very good power play…shot attempts were 68-35, for New York, but a lot of that was score effects and long range shots. The Islanders had 20 shots on goal to just 10 for Washington once it was 5-2…the Capitals lost the face off battle, 32-30, but Backstrom was 8-5…the Capitals large lead allowed Coach Barry Trotz to balance out the ice time. Niskanen led the team with just 22:28. Connolly had a team low 8:18. Brett needs to shoot more, especially when he has the puck in the slot. He has a fast release, so he needs to employ that more often.

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Ovi 600

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Ovechkin Hits 600 Career Goals in Caps Thrilling OT Victory

Posted on 12 March 2018 by Ed Frankovic

With his wife in the building along with budding young super star, Patrick Laine, who had tied him for the NHL lead with 40 tallies coming into Monday’s night contest, Alexander Ovechkin took his game to another level notching his 599th and 600th career goals before Evgeny Kuznetsov scored on a breakaway in overtime to give Washington a 3-2 triumph over the very good and very fast Winnipeg Jets.

Philipp Grubauer made 26 saves for his 10th win of the season thanks in part to Chandler Stevenson’s diving break up of a two on one Winnipeg rush to set up Kuzy’s winning marker with 49 seconds left in overtime.

Wow! What a hockey game!

Below are my thoughts and analysis on this thrilling affair at Capital One Arena:

Back in 1st Place, Baby! – Washington’s win improves their record to 39-23-7 (85 points) and they leapfrog the Penguins back into the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. The Caps have a game in hand on the Pens with 13 contests remaining in the regular season. More importantly, the Capitals opened up a four point lead on the Flyers, who lost to Vegas on Monday night and have also played one more game than Coach Barry Trotz’ squad.

Nobody Does It Better – He isn’t a Russian spy, no, he’s a Russian goal scoring machine. Granted I never saw Rocket Richard or Bobby Hull play back in the day, but I’ve been watching hockey since the early 70’s and given the way the game is played now and the quality of goaltending, Ovechkin is, for my money, the greatest goal scorer I’ve ever seen. He has a sensational shot that he can get off in so many different ways. His first of the night was a low snapper from the point that found its way through Tyler Myers, T.J. Oshie and then Connor Hellebuyck (40 saves) and into the net for a five on three power play marker to give the Capitals an early 1-0 lead. Then, after Nikolaj Ehlers tied the game just 58 seconds later by stealing a poor back pass by Lars Eller, the Gr8 became the 4th fastest player in NHL history to score 600 goals when he tallied 3:53 into period two (only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Brett Hull have reached the 600 mark faster). Matt Niskanen made a great keep in on the left wing boards and he fed Kuznetsov in front just outside the right post. Kuzy shot, but the puck bounced to Tom Wilson in the slot. Willy fired the puck on net and Hellebuyck stopped it, but he couldn’t control the rebound. Ovi came in strong on the left post side and then whacked at it twice over a falling Dustin Byfuglien and finally, on his third try, he lifted the biscuit into the basket over a sprawling Hellebuyck to spark bedlam in the arena. It was clear from the outset of this game that Alex was on a mission to get 600 and help his team earn two critical standings points. His stat line for the night is monstrous: two goals, 15 shot attempts, eight shots on goal, five hits and 0 turnovers in 23:07 of ice time. With that, it’s time to cue the Carly Simon.

”Nobody does it better, makes me feel sad for the rest, nobody does it half as good as you, baby, you’re the best…”

Pivot Patrol – Once again, the Capitals received super play from their top two centers in Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist) and Kuznetsov (1 goal, 1 assist). Backstrom had six shots on goal, a takeaway, and was 10-8 in faceoffs in 20:58 of ice time while Kuzy had four shots on net, two takeaways in 23:13 of time. It was #92 who once again centered Ovi and Willy while Backy was the pivot man for Andre Burakovsky and Brett Connolly. Eller had a rough first period with his poor back pass in a four on four situation that led to Ehlers goal, but Coach Trotz received a strong game from Jay Beagle, who was 13-4 on draws logging 10:02. After losing to the Jets in OT on February 13th, the Washington bench boss made a smart adjustment by having #83 take the opening draw in the extra session and he won it cleanly back to John Carlson. From there Kuzy took the puck up the middle of the ice and drew a slash from Bryan Little that put the Caps on a 4 on 3 power play just 19 seconds into overtime. Washington would not convert despite some great looks, especially Oshie’s rebound attempt in front that somehow Hellebuyck got his glove on. When #19 and #92 are engaged, the Capitals are very hard to beat.

Jet! – It’s no surprise that Winnipeg is a Cup contender out west with the speed and talent they have in their lineup. Adding Paul Stastny at the trade deadline to go with a crew of amazing forwards that includes Laine, Ehlers, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, and the currently injured Mark Schiefele really puts them in the elite of the Western Conference with the Nashville Predators and the surprising Vegas Golden Knights. With Hellebuyck playing well in net, and he was the main reason the Caps didn’t win in regulation, they have a legitimate chance to make the Stanley Cup Finals. Speaking of the kid, Laine, the young man was outdone by the his boyhood hero, the Gr8, but he did get his 41st goal of the season in the third period after a terrible set of turnovers by Washington in their own zone following a sequence where Ovechkin decided to pass up a great shot opportunity that could’ve given him the hat trick and his team a two goal lead. Winnipeg is very talented and as I said in the opening salvo, a very fast squad. I seem to always get that great Paul McCartney tune in my head when I see the Jets fly up and down the milky ice these days.

All the Right Moves – The Caps had 43 shots on net and 73 shot attempts to 28 and 62, respectively, for the Jets. Washington built on the way they played in San Jose by getting more pucks and bodies to the net. It’s simple hockey and there were fewer occasions where I muttered to myself or tweeted “so and so should’ve shot the puck” in this affair. On defense, the Caps held one of the best offensive teams in the league to under 30 shots on goal and that’s now five straight games they have done so. As I wrote after Saturday’s win, Washington needs to play this style of hockey to do well in the post season. More shots directed towards the net and solid team defense. With the additions of Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek the blue line has been stabilized. Carlson seems to gel well with Kempny, who excels at breakout passes and Brooks Orpik turned in his second high quality performance in a row paired with Jerabek, who also is adept at getting the puck out of the Caps end quickly. Orpik logged 18:43, including a tied for the team high 3:54 on the PK (Niskanen). #44 was a big factor in Winnipeg going 0 for 3 with the man advantage. The team defense improvements are allowing Grubauer to see the shots and #31 is so dialed in right now that you can see Washington’s confidence in their own end building. GM Brian MacLellan’s low cost additions on the blue line have started to really work with time. Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey are going to be very good players in this league, but they are still rookies and realistically, the Caps aren’t going to go deep in the post season with two very green players on the blue line. While Kempny and Jerabek don’t have a lot of NHL experience, both have played at least eight seasons professionally, something Alan May astutely pointed out in the Caps pregame show.

Good Day at the Zoo – I’ll admit that Jean Hebert and Dean Morton aren’t my favorite zebras, but I have to tip my hat to them for a job well done in a very fast paced hockey game. All seven penalties called in this affair were spot on and it took guts for Hebert to blow the whistle on Little in overtime, but he clearly got Kuznetsov on the glove and deserved to go to the box and feel shame. The referee duo set the tone early that stick infractions and trips were not going to be allowed and they stuck to that mantra. Any stick put on an opponent in the glove area was correctly whistled in this one. They allowed physical contact to take place and they were consistent. You can’t ask for more than that and that’s three games in a row where I’ve felt that the guys in stripes were spot on, well done zebras!

Notes: The Caps will be in action on Thursday in Brooklyn before coming home to face the Islanders at Capital One Arena on Friday in a back to back set. I’d expect Grubauer to start in New York while Braden Holtby gets back in the cage on Friday at home…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:14…Byfuglien logged 30:56 for Winnipeg…Devante Smith-Pelly had six hits to lead Washington in that department…the Caps were 1 for 4 on the power play. They failed to score in OT and they also took themselves off of it right after Ovi scored his 1st goal when Oshie was called for slashing. Shortly thereafter Eller made his mistake in the 4 on 4 and the game was tied…Ovi has 600 goals and 509 assists in 1,109 games. He’s a sure fire 1st ballot Hall of Famer. Nobody does it better…

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Backy Sharks

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Caps Get Rare Regulation Victory in San Jose

Posted on 10 March 2018 by Ed Frankovic

For nearly 25 years, the Washington Capitals have not known the way to winning in regulation in San Jose. On March 10th, 2018, Philipp Grubauer stopped all 24 shots he faced and Nicklas Backstrom turned in an all world performance, including notching the only non-empty net goal, in a Caps 2-0 victory at the Shark Tank. It was the Capitals first win without extra time against the Sharks at SAP Center since October 30th, 1993.

“Do you know the way to San Jose…”

The Caps do now, and the way they won was with solid team defense, strong goaltending, and a committed effort to getting pucks deep and towards the net, especially over the last 40 minutes.

The victory improves the Caps record to 38-23-7 (83 points) and combined with the Leafs 5-2 triumph over the Penguins on Saturday night it puts Washington back in 1st place in the Metropolitan Division by a point. The Caps have a game in hand on the Pens and third place Philadelphia has also played 68 games like the Capitals, but trail by two points.

Here are nine thoughts and analysis on a humongous win in a state that has not been kind to Washington.

California Dreamin’ – Coming into this matinee, the Caps had lost seven straight games in the Golden State. Last season, with seemingly the best roster, on paper, ever assembled in franchise history, the Presidents’ Trophy winning Capitals went zero and three. La La land was not good to Coach Barry Trotz and his team this week either as they suffered a 4-0 defeat in Anaheim, a game that they looked like they were sleeping through, and then a tough 2-1 loss to the Kings on Thursday. The Caps played much better in that affair, but they could not put the biscuit in the basket. Saturday’s victory against a third straight California team that is desperate for points was one of the most sound defensive performances by the Capitals all season.

Hey Nineteen – When Washington gets strong play up the middle of the ice, they are an extremely tough team to beat. Many Capitals struggled in the first two games of this road trip, but Backstrom was near the top of that list. After his terrible turnover in period one in the City of Angels, he was a total non factor in the loss on Thursday. On Saturday, however, Nicky was the best player on the ice. His compete level was through the roof and he repeatedly won puck battle after puck battle playing with Brett Connolly (1 assist) and Andre Burakovsky in a newly configured trio. Connolly’s pass to Backy with 1:28 left in period two was a superb one, but #19’s slap shot was even better and he ripped it over Martin Jones’ glove into the top shelf. That tally is Backstrom’s 17th goal of the season. I’m of the opinion that several Caps are trying to pace themselves so that they can peak their game in April, when the postseason starts. Backstrom is definitely one of them, but on Saturday, the Caps needed a win badly in a tightening playoff race, and Nicky announced his presence with authority all afternoon.

Meet in the Middle – It’s no secret that Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan has focused the build of this team up the middle of the ice. In addition to Backstrom’s outstanding game against San Jose, pivots Evgeny Kuznetsov (+1 in 20:05) and Lars Eller (goal, +1 in 17:04) were excellent. Since Coach Trotz went all Reg Dunlop and shuffled his lines around, Kuzy centered the Gr8 and Tom Wilson while Eller was flanked by Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie. The change certainly helped Burakovsky and Connolly the most since there aren’t many centers better than #19 in this league. However, I liked how Oshie, who is rounding back into form and is long overdue for a goal, and Vrana played with Eller. Vrana has really improved his defensive zone play and he used his speed to get the puck out of the Caps own end a couple of times. All three of the Caps top centers were playing well in San Jose and Lars was rewarded with an empty net tally with 1:49 remaining to put a dagger in the Sharks.

Letting Them Play – For my money, the last two Washington games have been the best officiated tilts I’ve seen all season. In both affairs, the referees didn’t call a lot of penalties and let the teams play. However, stick infractions or obvious trips, clips, and interference were whistled. It was clear that the players for the Caps, Kings, and Sharks all knew how the games were going to be officiated and they played accordingly. There was lots of hitting and good end to end skating. The one constant in both contests was Trevor Hanson. The Richmond, British Columbia native is in his sixth season in the NHL and he’s quickly becoming one of the best zebras. Gord Dwyer and then Dan O’Rourke was the other referee in the Kings and Sharks games, respectively. The Caps had a three to one power play advantage on Thursday while the Sharks had two man advantage situations to none for Washington on Saturday. Both penalties on the Capitals at the SAP Center were well deserved infractions by Wilson. Simply put, I’d certainly like to see Hanson doing more Caps games.

Shoot to Thrill – Making the right decisions inside the offensive blue line has been a problem area for the Capitals this season, and in years past, especially in the playoffs. Those brain cramps have cost Washington a lot of odd man rushes and goals against this campaign. Poor offensive zone play is a big reason the Caps goals against average has gone up in 2017-18. In the first period of the Sharks game, the Caps forwards made a few mistakes in the offensive and neutral zones that San Jose turned into quality chances. Fortunately for Washington, Grubauer was at his best in a scoreless first frame where the Sharks had the better of the play. In the middle stanza, however, the Capitals really played the right way for the first time on this road trip and made sure to get pucks deep and towards the net. The result was a 12 to 3 margin in shots on goal in the middle twenty. When trailing 2-1 on Thursday at Staples Center, a House of Horrors for the Caps, Washington only put five shots on net in the third period. Connolly passed up a great look in the center of the ice and that’s just not a good choice given his super shot. Oshie and several others have been guilty of not firing the puck on net from the high danger areas, too. Coach Trotz, in his first two seasons in Washington, used to constantly utter the mantra, “This is a shoot first league.” He’s right and many of the goals are scored on rebounds or quick ones where the goaltenders don’t have time to get set. It would behoove the Caps to maintain the mentality they displayed in the second and third periods in San Jose, because that type of hockey is how you win in the spring. To reinforce the thought process, I recommend that AC/DC’s Shoot to Thrill be blasted in the Caps locker room before EVERY period.

Blue Line Reconfiguration – After the loss to the Ducks on Tuesday, Coach Trotz and assistant coach Todd Reirden made changes on the back end. Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov were still together while John Carlson was paired with Michal Kempny with Brooks Orpik and Jakub Jerabek forming the third duo. Things went okay in LA, except for the game winning goal where Jerabek failed to keep a puck in the offensive zone and then Trevor Lewis went around #44 like he was an orange road cone to score on his third shot in succession. It was a poor play by Orpik, who has struggled pretty heavily since the all star break, but Jerabek and Grubauer didn’t exactly shine in that sequence either. You can certainly put some of Orpik’s issues on being paired with rookie Madison Bowey, a future top four defensemen, who was understandably starting to have trouble with the intensity and speed of the game post January 1st. Against San Jose, a team that typically gives the Capitals fits, Brooks turned in arguably his best game in three months. He was physical with five hits and he had no giveaways in 17:04 of action. He was also part of a penalty killing unit that allowed only one power play shot in four minutes of man advantage time. Orpik must continue to play the way he did on Saturday and it would probably be wise for the coaching staff to give him some days off before the playoffs commence to keep him healthy and fresh, especially in back to back tilts.

Solid as a Rock – Braden Holtby has not had a good post all star break stretch and former Caps goalie Brent Johnson stated on Twitter that he believes fatigue, which ultimately then led to a drop in confidence, has been the issue. After #70 gave up three goals in the first half of the Ducks game, and all of those certainly weren’t on him, Coach Trotz has gone with Grubauer in net. #31 had a decent game against the Kings in a loss, but against San Jose he was superb in the opening frame until the Capitals got their game in gear. The Sharks hit a couple of posts early, as well, but Washington has been due for some breaks. In earning his second shutout of the season, Philipp improved to 9-8-3 this year and his save percentage is up to .925. Grubauer will be starting on Monday against the Jets at Capital One Arena and he’ll likely split the back to back games with the Holtbeast against the Islanders later in the week. The German keeper has certainly earned the cage right now with his solid play. He has been steady and he came up with some big saves early against the Sharks.

Closing Time – Overall, this was a much needed victory for Washington made more impressive by their style of play. This was a very important game to the Sharks and the Capitals matched San Jose’s compete level and desperation. It was a tight checking affair that is very reminiscent of how the game will be played in April and beyond. To win this way, with much improved team defense and better offensive zone decision making, bodes well for the Caps down the stretch.

Notes: Alex Ovechkin had 10 shots attempts and six shots on goal. His best chance to score his 41st of the season and 599th of his career was on a third period semi-breakaway, but Jones stopped him with his glove…Orlov led the Caps in ice time with 24:22. Carlson is getting a lot of press for his play this season, and deservedly so, but #9 has been very consistent since late October/early November on the back end…the Caps won the face off battle, 33-20. Kuzy was 10-8 after going 1-10 against the Kings. Eller was 6-1, Backstrom went 8-5, and Jay Beagle won six of nine draws…Wilson, who has been outstanding most of the season, took a puck to the head in the second period in LA but returned in that contest. On Saturday, he played, but looked a little off timing wise. He took two penalties and did not get a hard shot off on a good pass from Ovechkin in tight…Brent Burns led the Sharks in ice time with 26:01…congratulations to MacLellan for receiving a well earned contract extension from Caps ownership…it will be Washington vs. Winnipeg on Monday night at 7 pm from Capital One Arena. The Jets will definitely make the post season and they appear to be a lock for second place in the Central Division.

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Kuznetsov and Eller lead the Caps to a 4-2 Victory over Columbus

Posted on 10 February 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Evgeny Kuznetsov and Lars Eller each notched a goal and an assist and Braden Holtby made 35 saves to lead the Caps to a 4-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night at Capital One Arena. The back to back wins over Coach John Tortorella’s squad improves Washington to 32-17-5 (69 points) and puts them 11 points ahead of the Blue Jackets with 28 games remaining. The Penguins, who were defeated in a shootout, 4-3, in Dallas late Friday, are in second place. Sidney Crosby and company are five points behind the Capitals and the Caps have two games in hand.

These two clubs met on Tuesday at Nationwide Arena and it was the Blue Jackets who dominated play in the game, but thanks to great goaltending from the Holtbeast and some timely scoring, the Caps escaped the state of Ohio as 3-2 winners.

On Friday, Columbus played a very desperate style, but they once again came up short. Washington, while getting outshot, 37-17, and outshot attempted, 79-50, played a much better game in their home barn.

The Caps first period was cleaner in terms of puck management and John Carlson scored just 5:09 into this affair on the doorstep following two super passes from Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana. The Capitals carried the majority of the play in period one and they stretched the Blue Jackets out, which provided wider passing lanes for their zone exits. Coach Barry Trotz attributed the strong first period to his team “skating well.” The shot attempts were 21-20 for Columbus, but Washington had the scoring chance edge. Unfortunately for the Caps, Coach John Tortorella’s club tied the game up at the 6:28 mark when Tom Wilson’s intended pass to Carlson behind the Washington net hit an uneven spot in the left wing corner boards. The puck caromed into the slot and Pierre-Luc Dubois gobbled it up and quickly whipped it past Holtby.

Washington, however, seized some late momentum when Kuznetsov scored with two seconds left after coming out of the penalty box. Lars Eller and Tom Wilson killed the end of the Blue Jackets power play and then they rushed the puck into the Columbus zone. After the puck went below the goal line, Matt Niskanen fetched an errant clear on the right wing boards. Nisky fired it at the net, the disc hit Eller at the right post and then bounced far post where Kuzy was there to pot the rebound.

The Caps, however, could not keep the momentum as Artemi Panarin deflected home a Seth Jones point blast just 27 seconds into the middle frame. Jones, who led all skaters with 25:32 of ice time, was able to get the puck when Dmitry Orlov missed a breakout pass on the left wing boards. At that point, the contest could’ve gone either way, but Washington potted what would be the game winning tally when Jay Beagle outworked Jones in front of the net to notch his sixth goal of the season. This was one of those tallies generated by good ole fashioned hard work. After a sequence of puck cycling by the Caps fourth line, Devante Smith-Pelly took a feed from Orlov on the high left wing boards and he alertly fired the puck at the cage. The shot hit Chandler Stephenson en route to the net and Beags closed the deal on the rebound just 4:38 into period two.

On the ensuing neutral zone faceoff, Lukas Sedlak was whistled for high sticking Nicklas Backstrom and that put Washington on the power play. The Caps couldn’t score with their first unit, but they connected on a rush with part of the second unit on the ice. Eller, T.J. Oshie (assist) and Alex Ovechkin had a three on two and with the Osh Babe going to the net far post, Eller caught Sergei Bobrovsky cheating a little to his right and #20 beat him short side at 6:06. That was six goals in just over 26 minutes of hockey, but that would be all of the red lights for this night.

With the Caps up two pucks, they focused on keeping the Blue Jackets to the perimeter, but in the last 10 minutes of period two, they were not very successful. Columbus had a number of good looks, especially on a late power play with Wilson in the box for tripping, but they were either stopped by the Holtbeast, missed the net, or blocked. Holtby was at his best during this stretch.

In the final stanza, the Capitals limited scoring opportunities for Columbus and they forced their opponents to have to settle for a lot of long range outside shots. The Caps team defense was solid and they didn’t allow the Blue Jackets to get any tipped or screened goals, something they live off of. Washington was outshot attempted 29-14 in period two and 29-16 in period three, but a lot of that is score effects, although winger Brett Connolly thought they needed to be attacking a bit more.

“I think we spent a little too much time in our own end in the third, I think you want to go at teams, but sometimes they push and you’ve just got to be in good position defensively. You try to get in front of pucks and Holts was good a couple of times there to make saves. I thought we were better tonight than in Columbus, a little more solid all around,” said the winger who has 13 goals this season.

Connolly is correct and afterwards Coach Trotz stated that there were “no passengers” on his bench for this one. Washington did skate well, especially early, and the top player in this tilt was Kuznetsov. When he is on, he is flat out dominant and that was the case on Friday. Linemates Vrana and Oshie also performed extremely well. Vrana employed his speed and he was engaged physically in his own end, something the Caps bench boss noted to the media afterwards.

Special teams provided an edge for the Caps, just like it did on Tuesday. Washington went one for four with the man advantage while the Capitals PK unit was a perfect three for three. The Caps generated five of their 17 shots on goal for the game on the power play. At one point in period two, the Capitals had four goals on “Bob” in 11 shots. Volume of shots isn’t something coach Trotz is overly concerned about; he’s more focused on quality shots. He was pleased with the goals and said any time you get four on [Bobrovsky] you should win.

This was a big triumph against a very desperate club that works hard, throws a lot of pucks on the net, and tries to generate ugly goals. The Capitals kept the Blue Jackets off of and out of the line of sight of Holtby. It was another victory that wasn’t pretty. There are no style points in the NHL, but the Caps were better than they were on Tuesday and they had to be to knock off a club that is fighting for their playoff lives.

Notes: Alex Ovechkin had five shot attempts, but none were on net…Kuznetsov was the #1 star. He had two points, four shots on goal, and logged 20:16…Alex Chiasson took the scratched Andre Burakovsky’s spot on the third line. He played only 9:05…Washington lost the faceoff battle, 32-27. Beagle was 6-5…the Caps next game is against the Detroit Red Wings at 3:00 pm from Capital One Arena on Sunday afternoon.

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Holtby Mutes the Cannon in a Caps 3-2 Victory

Posted on 07 February 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The Columbus Blue Jackets are probably most known for the loud cannon that goes off after every goal they score in addition to another explosion at the end of the game, when they win, at Nationwide Arena.

On Tuesday night in the college hometown of the great Jack Nicklaus, Braden Holtby provided some sensational goaltending and Nicklas Backstrom tallied with 42 seconds left after a sweet feed from T.J. Oshie to prevent that freaking cannon from going off for the third time of the night. The 3-2 Washington triumph over Coach John Tortorella’s squad, which afterwards he called “a gut punch,” improves the Caps to 31-17-5 (67 points) and preserves their four point lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins, who defeated Vegas, 5-4, on Tuesday. The Capitals have two games in hand on Sidney Crosby and company.

Here are seven thoughts on this win, which improved the Capitals to 9-1-2 against Columbus in their last 12 meetings. The teams will meet again on Friday night at Capital One Arena.

Best Goalie in the NHL – Time and time again this year the Holtbeast has bailed the Caps out and won games for them, it’s a big reason, along with the outstanding play of Alexander Ovechkin, why Washington is in first place in the Metropolitan Division. I’d chronicle all of the big stops that #70 made in this affair, but to quote the great Mark Ratner from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, “That would take too long.” The Caps have largely gone with a blue line of two rookies all season so the amount of high quality shots Braden has faced this year has increased drastically. Tuesday was more of the same, especially in periods one and two when the Capitals were terribly sloppy with the puck and allowed 28 shots on goal, including 17 in the middle frame. To hold Columbus to just two goals given the opportunities they had is incredible. The Holtbeat is now 27-10-2 on the season with a .915 save percentage. He’s the best goalie in the NHL, in my book.

MVP, MVP, MVP – The Gr8 turned in another superb performance on Tuesday with two assists, 12 shot attempts, and eight shots on goal. Sergei Bobrovsky absolutely robbed Ovi a couple of times, but Alex was able to still make a huge difference in this game with his passing and shooting. On Washington’s second goal, he takes a nice drop pass from Christian Djoos and feeds Tom Wilson all alone in the slot. Top line Tommy then makes a gorgeous move to beat Bob on the backhand for his seventh goal of the season. Then, with the game tied in the last minute, Ovechkin does what he does best; he fired the puck on net from the left wing boards. It was not a high scoring chance opportunity, but when you have a shot like Ovi’s, putting it on the cage is never a bad thing. The Gr8’s high smoker handcuffed Bobrovsky and the disc bounced to the goaltender’s right. There the Osh Babe won a very key puck battle and then fed Backstrom behind his back for his open net game winning tally. All night it was Ovechkin’s line, which smartly included Backstrom and Wilson for most of the evening, and Oshie in a couple of key spots, that was dominant. Alex was on for all three Capitals tallies and was a +2 in this affair. He was not on the ice for either Columbus marker. He now has 32 goals and 26 assists (58 points) in 53 games. Don’t let any clowns on the internet tell you he isn’t MVP material because they are just biased haters. Alex is the biggest reason why Washington leads the Metropolitan Division with 29 games to go.

Cleanup on Aisle Four! – Man oh man, what is with all of these turnovers in the Caps own end? I’m not sure what is going on, but the coaching staff has to do something to fix these issues whether it’s just poor execution or a scheme change is needed or a combination of both. The opponents are getting too many great chances and add in the fact that this team doesn’t handle the opposing rush very well plus they too often are caught puck watching on rebounds and you have a total mess in the defensive zone. On the first goal, Holtby makes the initial save, but the five Capitals players on the ice don’t cover anyone and the Blue Jackets pot the rebound through traffic. Perhaps Coach Barry Trotz should take these guys out on the basketball court and teach them how to box out on a rebound so that they can take those fundamentals to the ice? We’ve seen too many easy goals lately where there are Caps defenders right in the area to make a play to prevent a goal, but they don’t. This disturbing trend needs to stop and if not for Holtby we’d be talking about a bunch of goals against, after the 11 allowed in the previous two tilts, and a third straight loss.

Big Mac Victory – Five on five play is so important in hockey, but sometimes you need your special teams to win a game. After losing Friday’s tilt to the Pens because of three power play goals allowed, the Capitals rebounded with a perfect three for three on the penalty kill and one for one on the power play at Nationwide Arena. John Carlson’s laser through a Blue Jacket screen tied the game up in the first five minutes, but more importantly, the Caps killed off two Columbus power plays in the last 10 minutes, one of which would have given their opponents the lead. Brooks Orpik had a humongous block as the last CBus power play was expiring and that allowed the puck to go to the other end where Ovi, Oshie, and Backstrom worked their game winning goal magic. Washington’s special sauce in this win was the play of their penalty kill and power play units.

Clueless in Columbus – With one of the two linesmen having to bail out due to sickness, Dean Morton and Graham Skilliter had to call both penalties and monitor a blue line. I sure hope that is what they are using for their excuse for missing some key infractions on the Blue Jackets. In period two, Seth Jones got away with a blatant slash on Ovechkin’s right hand and even worse, just before the Columbus game tying goal late in period three, Devante Smith-Pelly’s stick was slashed in half by a CBus defender, but the zebras didn’t call a penalty. That was ridiculous and Morton should probably be working down at the local high end restaurant asking you how you’d like your steak cooked.

A Near Gordie – It’s no secret that Top Line Tommy is having a great season. Reunited with Backstrom and Ovechkin, Wilson was once again a force on the ice. He scored a goal and beat up top line winger Josh Anderson. Anderson was pretty much invisible after that first period bout and he finished the game a -2. #43 continues to drive the play and bring a much needed physicality (five hits) to the Capitals offense. All Wilson needed on this night was an assist to get the Gordie Howe hat trick, but he fell short.

Add It Up – In summary, the Capitals pretty much stole two points on Tuesday night thanks to Holtby and some of their stars, to include the Gr8. They were outshot attempted 67-48 and shots on goal were 39-25. It’s been awhile since the Caps have played a complete game. There is lots of room for improvement and Andre Burakovksy (-1 in 6:34 of action, including no third period shifts) remains on a milk carton. Coach Trotz tried reuniting #65 with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly on the third line to get him going, but once again #65 brought the line down. His shot takes too long to get off and he skates with his head down, too often. Jones flattened him easily in the first period at the Caps offensive blue line on one instance. As we head into the February 26th trade deadline, GM Brian MacLellan has a tough decision to make on this player who just isn’t stepping up as needed. The organization gave him a two year, $6M bridge contract last summer but when I go all Violent Femmes and try to add it up, maybe it’s got something to do with luck, but he’s not giving the team the necessary production. Actually, it’s not luck, Andre just isn’t doing the things necessary to be successful and the sand in the hour glass could be running out on his time in Washington.

Notes: Matt Niskanen led the Capitals in ice time with 23:17 and Oprik logged 22:56, including 4:38 of PK time. Jones led all skaters with 27:31 TOI…the Caps won the face-off battle, 28-26. Backstrom went 11-8.

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Ovi Sid GHog Day

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Eight Caps Thoughts After a GroundHog Day Loss in Pennsylvania

Posted on 03 February 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals wasted two goals and an assist from NHL MVP Alex Ovechkin on Friday night in a sloppy 7-4 defeat to the two time defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The loss drops the Caps to 30-16-5 (65 points) and they now lead the second place Pens by four points (29-21-3), but the Capitals have two games in hand.

Without further adieu, here are eight detailed thoughts on this game played on Groundhog Day at the Consol Energy Center.

Dana Carvey’d – Coming into this game, the Capitals knew they had a disadvantage in the special teams department and that’s how this one played out. The Pens went 3 for 4 with the man advantage while the Caps were a great big Dunkin Donuts hole, 0 for 3, with their power plays. “Well, isn’t that special!” to quote the great Saturday Night Live Church Lady. Pittsburgh’s penalty kill was very aggressive on Washington, although the Caps had seven shots on goal while up a man. On the flip side, the Penguins are just deadly and confident when they have the puck. Patrick Hornqvist, who left this game with a lower body injury after being crushed on a clean hit by Brooks Orpik, was a force in front of the net on the Pens third goal and all three power play tallies came on shots from in front, mostly on rebounds. With the contest 4-4 in the final frame, Lars Eller had a simple PK clear that he flubbed and the Penguins cashed in right after the turnover to seize momentum and pull away down the stretch. There’s no doubt that the difference in this contest was the special teams, and I’ll have more on the zebras later, don’t you worry!

Smoked at Texas Hold ‘Em – The Capitals are at their best when they go up and down the ice in a five man structured unit. If this was a poker game, the Caps ability to do that on Friday night could be labeled a flop! The Penguins do an excellent job at spreading the Caps out and Washington’s back end was very poor all night, too. There isn’t a single blue liner that I thought brought anywhere close to their A game in this affair. Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov were woefully out of position on Phil Kessel’s game opening goal, the ninth straight time Washington has allowed the first tally. On the second goal, Christian Djoos made a spectacular cross ice pass in his own zone to Carl Hagelin that Braden Holtby had little chance on. Rookie mistake there by #29 and to use the words from the bench boss in Major League, I hope Coach Barry Trotz or Assistant Coach Todd Rierden told the young blue liner, “Good try kid, but don’t ever bleeping do that again!” The right play there was to put the puck up the left wing boards quickly. There has been talk that Hagelin is on the trading block in Pittsburgh. The Caps have to certainly hope he’s moved because he’s killed Washington throughout the years whether he’s been with the Rangers or the Penguins. Finally, on Evgeni Malkin’s marker just a minute into period three, John Carlson stood prone in the slot like an orange road cone as Geno, who was an absolute beast in this game with two goals and two assists, shot on the Holtbeast and then in Moses Malone-like fashion, he buried the biscuit on the rebound. There were three Capitals there and no one boxed #71 out, but #74 deserves the most blame in that instance. Getting into a rush game with the Penguins was not wise given how fast and skilled they are and Washington might just need to switch up tactics if they meet up again in the playoffs. Wait a minute, it’s Groundhog Day, right?! Of course the Caps and Pens will see each other again, likely in early May. Caps stellar TV analyst Alan May pointed out that fire wagon hockey against the Penguins is not a smart decision and that a strategy of employing five men at the Caps defensive blue line to slow the Pens down and then counter attack, might be a configuration worth trying. The Capitals are a good rush team too, see Ovi’s first goal where he abused Kris Letang, but Washington is very poor in defending the rush. They tend to over pursue coming back, puck watch, and leave opposing players wide open for great looks. I’ve seen the stacked blue line deployment work very well in the past, the Flyers defeated a more talented and faster Capitals team in 1989 in the first round by doing just that (Pete Peeters also stunk in net for the Caps in that series, but that’s a story for another day).

No Seconds Guys – In game six of last season’s playoff series the line of Andre Burakovsky, Nicklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie dominated the Penguins to force a game seven. That second line unit, in the several times that Coach Trotz has assembled it this season, has been unable to reproduce its magic. The biggest problem, from what I’m seeing, is the terrible play of #65. His defensive zone is a train wreck. He’s too soft on the wall and his ability to take a breakout pass and get the offense going the other way has disappeared. In the two games since the All Star Break, he’s been a turnover machine and a big reason why is because his fundamentals are off. You can’t take a pass and get moving quickly the other way when you have your back to the opposing defensemen. You’re an easy mark there and your only options are lateral or backwards. Burakovsky has to move his feet better, get his rear facing the boards, and put his stick in the proper position with force to take a breakout pass. This line needs to be changed, pronto!

Ovechkin the Great – It’s been an MVP season for the Gr8 and as stated above, he had two goals and an assist in this one. His 32 goals lead Malkin, who’s playing some incredible hockey, by four in the Rocket Richard Trophy race. Alex how has 56 points (24 assists) and he has the highest percentage of his team’s goals in the NHL, which is why he’s the most valuable to his club. Ovi is playing with speed and power. He totally turned Letang around on the goal that got Washington back in this one at 2-1. He assisted on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s goal that knotted the game at three in period two as he and Tom Wilson just muscled their way through the Penguin defense. After more Malkin heroics, Ovechkin tied this game back up at four just under two minutes into period three when he buried a sweet feed from #92. No matter who Alex is paired with this season, he’s been delivering on the ice. He’s had a great campaign to date and the only thing that’s really gone against him off of it was that partisan hit piece that The Washington Post did on him and his long time, well established, and very understandable relationship with Vladimir Putin, but we know the Democracy Dies in Darkness crowd, whatever that saying is supposed to mean, has a bit too much Russia on their collective minds. But again, that’s another story. [Aside: Speaking of great Russia stories, have you ever seen Sean Connery as James Bond in From Russia With Love? Now that’s a good story involving Russia.] Bottom line, the cuddly Ovi came to play, once again, but a lot of other players didn’t bring a quality game in the Steel City on Friday night; too many passengers.

Reg Dunlop Time – With so many guys floating against the Pens, it’s time for Coach Trotz to go all Reg Dunlop and shuffle his lines around for Sunday’s matinee against the speedy Vegas Golden Knights. The Rock Vegas hockey club skated all over the Capitals back on December 23rd when Washington was on their 3rd game in four nights. Well, turnabout is fair play and the Vegas Strong crew will be having their 3rd match in less than four days on Sunday in DC. Vegas Coach Gerard Gallant stated that “For the first time all season, we looked like a tired hockey team” (h/t to the great Vegas Golden Knights Twitter account) after his club lost 5-2 in Minnesota on Groundhog Day. Vegas has been traveling across the country all week. They rallied with three goals to beat Calgary on Tuesday, beat the Winnipeg Jets in OT on Thursday, and were run out of the Excel Energy Center on Friday. The Caps must jump on these guys with speed up front at Capital One Arena on Sunday at 12:30 pm. My proposed lines to try and get things going early are:

Ovechkin – Backstrom – Wilson

Jakub Vrana – Kuznetsov – Oshie

Brett Connolly – Eller – Burakovsky

Chandler Stephenson – Jay Beagle – Devante Smith-Pelly

Hung Out to Dry – Holtby has been stellar for the Caps this season and he made some huge saves early in this tilt just to keep the Caps in it. Braden gave up six lamp lighters and was pulled in period three, but the only one I thought he probably should have had was the sixth goal by Phil Kessel (two goals, one assist). The snipe beat the Holtbeast short side, but that was on a three on two and #81, next to Ovi, might have the second best shot in the league. So let’s cut Holtby some slack, although Caps Nation is very well known for overreacting on Twitter after losses, because the skaters in front of him had no real regard for defense in this affair outside of a few players (Ovi and Willy were good in all zones on Friday).

Burrito Salesmen – With a special teams game something the Capitals did not want to get into, those who follow me on Twitter (@EdFrankovic) knew that this was going to be a poorly officiated affair. By no means do I put this loss on the referees, the Caps were too loose and employed the wrong style to come out on top on Friday, but the performances by Chris Rooney and Tim Peel were terrible. Two of the Penguins power plays were the wrong calls, the clean hit by Wilson on a falling Ian Cole and Madison Bowey’s tripping penalty that was initally interference on the Penguins. The clowns on ice also missed several other infractions against the Penguins (for example, Burakovsky taking a stick from Cole to the face). Power plays were 4 to 3 for the Pens. Yes, the lazy offensive zone penalties by both Backstrom and Stephenson were spot on, but I don’t know what color the moon is on Rooney Tunes and Peel’s planet most nights they officiate games? Simply put, those two zebras remind me of a line from Damone in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, “I came this close to working at the 7-11.” In this case, both of those fools should be putting chili on hot dogs, microwaving burritos, and slinging slurpees at the local quick stop or 7-11. They are just awful at refereeing.

The Fabulous Thunderbirds Finish – Overall, despite all of the bad things the Caps did in this affair, it was not such a bad loss. Yes, they were sloppy and unstructured, but they battled back from 2-0, 3-1, and 4-3 deficits to put themselves in position to win the game when they didn’t have many guys clicking. There is a lot of talent on this Caps club, much like we see the Penguins display; and they are a great hockey team, but the three goal margin was not indicative of how close this contest really was, it could’ve gone either way. Nobody likes losing to one of their arch rivals, but its only game 51 out of 82. The playoffs are two and a half months away and things will change before these teams meet again in late April/early May. Washington will no doubt add a blue liner, I just can’t see this organization relying very heavily on two rookies and being successful in the post season. Plus, I’m sure Mario Lemieux and company will go all Don Corleone and offer a sucker team a deal that they can’t refuse that will bolster their squad while keeping them under the salary cap. But it’s all good and both teams badly want to win. Losing isn’t fun, especially when the Caps have become Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, losing to Pittsburgh so often. But that movie has a happy ending, so just maybe?! This was a fun game to watch, but a coach’s nightmare with the lack of structure. You have to take the bad with the good, so with that, wrap this one up, I’ll take it! I’ve got no choice.

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Chandler Flyers

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Caps Rally to Blast the Flyers, 5-3

Posted on 31 January 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Chandler Stephenson scored twice in 47 seconds early in the middle frame to erase a two goal deficit and Braden Holtby made 27 saves to lead Washington to a 5-3 victory over the despised Flyers on Wednesday night. T.J. Oshie notched the game winning goal on the power play in the third period and the Caps improved to 30-15-5 (65 points). They lead second place Pittsburgh by six points and have two games in hand.

Fresh after the five day All Star Break, the Capitals first period could be summed up in three simple Dr. Seuss like terms: Stink. Stank. Stunk.

The team played slow and there were turnovers galore. Both Flyers tallies came on the rush and Philadelphia would have had another goal if not for a dandy glove save by #70. It was ugly hockey and Coach Barry Trotz’ crew continued their trend of starting poorly coming out of a long break.

From the beginning of the second period on, the game was mostly a different story, especially after Stephenson scored his third and fourth goals of the season. In the opening frame, the Caps were pass happy and unwilling to throw the puck on net against a career backup in Michal Neuvirth. Credit Lars Eller for changing that pattern and igniting the Caps offense. #20 outraced a Flyer to negate an icing and he then sent the puck into Neuvy’s pads from the goal line. The Czech goalie, who was coming off a stomach bug, fumbled the disc in his pads and “Johnny on the Spot” Stephenson banged the biscuit home to give his team some life. Madison Bowey caught the Flyers in a bad line change and sprung #18 for a breakaway with a super long feed. Chandler then beat the Philly netminder five hole, like a rented mule, to tie this one up just 3:01 into period two.

After that, the Flyers had a quick push back, especially with the Capitals being sloppy in their own zone on several occasions. Coach Dave Hakstol’s team should’ve had the lead if not for two great saves by Holtby in the slot after another terrible Washington turnover. The Holtbeast made the first save and then stretched out his left pad to stop goal scoring phenom, Claude Giroux, at the left post. It was, once again, clutch goaltending from the best net minder in the league.

Washington would get the next two goals on the power play, but the first tally was a not so frequent one from the second unit. Once again, it was Eller who made a smart play instead of trying to thread the needle across the high slot to Alex Ovechkin. Lars spotted Andre Burakovsky parked at the top of the crease and his pass to #65 was deflected home at 14:32 of period two. The Caps would press the play towards the end of the second stanza, but couldn’t convert again.

As expected, the Flyers came out storming the castle in period three and Washington, who must’ve been listening to Air Supply’s Greatest Hits during the intermission, were sleep skating and guilty of turning the puck over multiple times. Burakovsky had two bad giveaways that led to Philly chances, but the Holtbeast bailed him out.

Tom Wilson then drew a hooking call on rookie Nolan Patrick just past the four minute mark and the Caps top power play unit made the Flyers pay dearly. Washington worked the puck around the perimeter and then Evgeny Kuznetsov gave Oshie a sweet feed in his diamond spot between the Flyers penalty killers that T.J. buried past Neuvirth on a one timer to make it 4-2. It was a much needed goal for the Osh Babe, who notched his 12th of the season, because it was his first goal since tallying in Arizona back on December 22nd.

The Capitals refused to sit back after going up two pucks and they pressed the play. Ovechkin missed a wide open net on a one timer that would’ve made it a three goal margin, but that wasn’t troubling since shortly thereafter they earned more quality chances. They would eventually cash in when Christian Djoos took a sweet cross ice feed from Jay Beagle on an odd man rush and fired the puck on net. Devante Smith-Pelly was crashing the cage and the disc hit him and went into the twine to make it 5-2 with 10:54 remaining.

The Flyers would get a goal with 9:20 to go, but from there the Capitals clamped things down and gave Philadelphia very little chances. Holtby shut the door with the Caps doing a solid job of letting him see any remaining shots.

Overall, this was a big division victory after a really poor first frame. The Caps top line of Kuznetsov, Wilson, and Ovi were each a minus two in the game, but they did a lot of good things. Wilson drew an important penalty and they were physical. The key to the contest, though, was Eller showing the Capitals that firing the puck on a shaky goalie and then going for rebounds was the way to prevail. It’s simple hockey, but it works well in this league. Washington has some big bodies up front so it’s imperative that they use their size to get to the front of the cage and make life difficult on opposing keepers. That style, versus the Harlem Globetrotters exhibition the team tries to play too often, is one that wins playoff games and series.

At the other end of the ice, the club has plenty of work to do to clean up their zone exits and coverage as they work through a stretch of 15 games in 28 days. Fortunately on Rivalry Night on NBC their all world goalie bailed them out and held them in the contest until they found their legs.

As a result, my number one star for the tilt was once again the Holtbeast.

Notes: The Caps take on the Penguins in the Steel City on Friday night…Burakovsky had four giveaways…Matt Niskanen had a strong game, one of his best all season, and he led the Capitals in ice time with 24:03…the Capitals were 2 for 3 on the power play and 1 for 1 on the penalty kill…Alex Lyon replaced Neuvirth once this one went to a 5-2 margin in period three…the Caps lost the battle of the draws, 36-26. Nicklas Backstrom was 10-10…shots on goal were 30-25 for Philly, but shot attempts were 52-49 for Washington…the Caps were 0-1-1 against the Flyers coming into this affair…the win snapped a three game home losing streak…anytime the Capitals defeat their biggest rival since 1974-75 you can bet that the sun shines brighter, the air smells cleaner, and the food and drink taste much better. Enjoy your Thursday, Caps fans!

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Ovechkin Leads the Caps Past Florida, 4-2

Posted on 25 January 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Heading into the Thursday night’s game in Sunrise against the Florida Panthers, the Washington Capitals, losers of three straight contests, badly needed a victory.

Coming off of their bye week, they went 0-1-2 against the Devils, Canadiens, and Flyers while displaying some shoddy hockey in the process. Passes were off, the compete level was down from many players, and they didn’t even score a goal at even strength in their last two contests.

With two days of practice under their belts, the Caps hoped to get a win in the Sunshine State in their only contest in nine days due to the upcoming All Star break. They also wanted to play better.

Led by Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal and 1 assist – the 500th assist of his career), Washington did just that en route to a 4-2 victory over the Cats.  The win extends the Capitals lead in the Metropolitan Division to six points (29-15-5) and the teams in second place are now the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Columbus Blue Jackets (57 points). The Caps and Blue Jackets both have two games in hand on the Pens.

Things didn’t start well for Coach Barry Trotz’ crew in this affair. Washington took three minor penalties in the first 10 minutes, but they managed to kill each of them with some outstanding efforts. Unfortunately, the Caps didn’t turn the momentum they earned on the PK into a lead. Less than a minute after the third successful penalty kill, Nicklas Backstrom made a horrible decision to try a soft pass back to Christian Djoos in the defensive zone. The brain fart by #19 put the puck right on Jamie McGinn’s stick and he fed Denis Malgin for an easy tally.

From there, the Capitals started to wake up, and when MacKenzie Weegar was boxed for holding, the Washington power play connected. The Gr8 made a super diagonal pass to Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) at the far post and then Kuzy slid a sweet feed to Backstrom, who had his stick properly on the ice, which allowed him to bury the biscuit back door. That goal with 2:35 left in the opening frame seemed to relieve the pressure that was on Washington.

In the middle stanza, the Caps started to carry the play, but another defensive zone turnover led to a Florida tally. Backstrom and Andre Burakovsky made some very weak plays in their own end and the result was a back post tap in marker for Malgin at 6:40.

From that point on, this game was pretty much all Capitals. Ovechkin notched his 30th goal of the season tipping home a Brooks Orpik shot just 71 seconds after the Cats had taken the lead. Washington would storm the castle in the second period firing 17 shots on net, but it wasn’t until late in the frame that they finally forged ahead.

Top line Tom Wilson and Ovechkin kept the puck alive on the wall deep in the Florida end and when the disc came around the right wing boards, Kuznetsov gathered it and made a dandy of a move and pass to Wilson in the right wing circle. With Ovi in front of the net, Willy found John Carlson all alone in the slot and #74 buried the puck, top shelf.

Kuznetsov, who was fabulous in this tilt until getting injured in the third period with what is likely a groin injury, drew a penalty at the second period horn. That put the Caps on the power play again to start period three. Washington pounded the rock on Florida rookie goalie, Harri Sateri (42 saves), but it wasn’t until Brett Connolly scored on the rush with eight seconds left in the man advantage that they finally grabbed a two goal cushion. Burakovksy made a great play to set that one up and #10 shot quickly into the vacant left side of the cage for his 13th tally of the season.

The Caps had a chance to blow this one wide open when they received a two man advantage for a full two minutes at the 4:33 mark, but despite a ton of shots, they couldn’t score. They hit at least one post and Sateri made several big saves. Down the stretch the Capitals carried most of the play, pouring a total of 19 shots on net in the final frame. For the night, the shots on net tally were 46-34, for Washington.

Overall, the Capitals finally played a solid contest, their first since the win over Vancouver on Tuesday, January 9th. Braden Holtby (32 saves) was very good in net to earn his 25th win of the season and Ovechkin was the best player on the ice for Washington with #92 a close second. I’ve been very tough on Kuznetsov on Twitter, but that’s because I know he can play a lot better and he’s a key to the Caps dominating. On Thursday night, Kuzy was dominant, but unfortunately, he was injured late and if he’s out for an extended period of time, there’s a big hole up the middle of the ice. The All Star Break could not come at a better time since the Caps don’t play again until Wednesday, January 31st against the Flyers at Capital One Arena.

Notes: John Carlson had 10 shots on net and Ovechkin had eight. It’s good to see the Capitals shooting the puck and not overpassing. They were more of a north-south team in this affair and that’s how they must play to be effective. I didn’t like the soft defensive zone plays by the Backstrom line that led to the two Florida goals. Those type of mental lapses and lack of effort need to be cleaned up…the Caps were 2 for 6 on the power play and a perfect four for four while shorthanded…the Caps were creamed, 37-27, at the dot. Backstrom went 8-6…Ovechkin led the Caps in ice time with 24:54, Carlson was just three seconds behind the Gr8…Devante Smith-Pelly was the healthy scratch at forward…the All Star Game is in Tampa this weekend and the Caps will be represented by Coach Trotz, Ovechkin, and Holtby. The always fun skills competition takes place on Saturday night and on Sunday is the very exciting three on three tournament. Music will be provided by Kid Rock between the 1st and 2nd periods (games) on Sunday.

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A Detailed Look at the Caps After 45 Games

Posted on 15 January 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Following Jay Beagle’s stunning game winning goal with just over a second left in Carolina on Friday night, the Washington Capitals players headed to Atlantis, Florida, the Caribbean, Colorado, and other mostly warmer destinations for five days of rest and recovery during the team’s now annual bye “week.”

The victory improved the Caps to 28-14-3 (59 points) and they will remain in first place in the Metropolitan Division until they take the ice again on Thursday, against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center.

With the downtime, I’ve put together some lengthy thoughts on a hockey team that has once again positioned itself near the top of the NHL standings and is among the league’s best squads.

Shortchanged It’s called the “bye week,” but the Caps are only getting five days between games while most other teams are getting a six or seven day gap. In addition, the Capitals went into the break playing back to back games and will come out of it in the same fashion facing the Devils on the road and then the Montreal Canadiens at home on Friday evening. The bye break was something the players clamored for in recent years so that they could get away during what is a very long season. The downside of this plan, however, combined with the three day Christmas shutdown and the All-Star Break is a schedule made up of numerous back to back tilts and many three games in four night scenarios. This leads to a poor product on several occasions and a case in point was Washington’s 3-1 loss to Carolina last Thursday when it appeared that many on the squad were already on the beach.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes The 2017 summer saw some very important key Capitals players depart due to the NHL expansion draft and the rising salary cap to include defensemen Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt plus forwards Marcus Johansson, Justin Williams, and Daniel Winnik. How General Manager Brian MacLellan and Coach Barry Trotz would handle those personnel losses would hold the key to the 2017-18 season. The Capitals were 30-9-6 (66 points) after 45 games in 2016-17, so they have only seven points less than they were at this point in a Presidents’ Trophy winning campaign. Last year’s team was experienced, stacked and averaged 28.4 years old. This year’s club has relied on contributions from several rookies, to include defensemen Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos as well as forwards Jakub Vrana (10 goals) and Chandler Stephenson (10 points). The average age of the team has dropped to 28.0, which is a significant change considering that each returning player is a year older. Plugging those rookies into the vacated spots alone clearly could not fill the void left by so many quality players. Therefore, Coach Trotz and his staff had to shift to a “rely on the returning players” philosophy while bringing along the young bucks. Comparing ice times in 2017-18 versus 2016-17 shows a very telling picture.

Player 2017-18 Avg TOI 2016-17 Avg TOI Delta
John Carlson 26:09 22:42 +3:42
Matt Niskanen 22:27 22:10 +:17
Dmitry Orlov 23:16 19:32 +3:44
Brooks Orpik 20:42 17:47 +2:55
Alex Ovechkin 19:42 18:21 +1:21
Nicklas Backstrom 19:40 18:15 +1:25
Evgeny Kuznetsov 18:54 16:57 +1:57
T.J. Oshie 18:40 17:51 +:49
Lars Eller 15:20 13:54 +1:26
Tom Wilson 15:29 12:55 +2:34
Brett Connolly 11:35 10:41 +:54
Jay Beagle 12:39 13:37 -:58
Andre Burakovsky 13:35 13:15 +:20


In a nutshell, the coaching staff is playing their key players more than last season when they could just roll four lines and wear teams down. There are some major changes in average time on ice on the back end, especially for Carlson, Orlov, and Orpik. Carlson, who is a Norris Trophy candidate despite two rocky games before the bye week break, has been outstanding, especially considering Niskanen has missed 14 games and has played less than 100% healthy in multiple others. As I’ve blogged on several occasions and GM MacLellan noted to The Washington Post last week, the unsung hero on the back end has been Orlov. Number nine has turned into such a strong two way defensemen and he continues to get better. The upside is still there, too, as he probably would have more points if he got more power play time. The concern is Orpik is playing nearly three minutes more than last season simply because he has to while Djoos comes up to speed. Without Brooks to carry a large load in the first 30 games while the rookies were learning and Niskanen was out, this team may have been sunk. Lately though, #44 has shown some wear on his wheels, so a January schedule that sees a lot of breaks should help him out. The improved play of Djoos and Bowey also will be critical in the second half of the season. I fully expect the Caps to add a defensemen at the trade deadline in late February.

Stars in the City There is no doubt that the “Coach’s Robot,” the Gr8, and “All Star” Nicklas Backstrom are a big reason why this team is still one of the best in the league. Ovechkin was overweight and not in ideal shape in 2016-17 and it showed during the regular season and the playoffs. He had only 33 regular season goals, most of which came on the power play, and he was slower and more prone to injury. Alex took management’s direction and trained totally differently this past summer and the results are blatantly obvious. He’s faster than he’s been since perhaps 2010, which has allowed him to generate better quality chances. He’s had several breakaway tallies and is leading the NHL in goals at 28 in 45 games (a 51 goals pace). 20 of those goals are at even strength this season, compared to just 16 in 2016-17. Backstrom had 86 points in 2016-17 and he’s on pace for 17 fewer this campaign, but most of that drop-off came when Trotz had the Gr8 on a different line. That experiment was smartly shelved and since the two have been Peaches and Herb’d, aka Reunited, the team has gone on a tear. There is no one on the planet who knows how to play better with Ovi than Nicky. Kuznetsov is a super talent, but he is so reliant on having the puck while Backstrom is such a strong two way guy that gets the biscuit from the opposition and allows Alex to get the touches he needs to score goals.

Carpe Diem With the departure of key forwards, several younger Capitals have seized the day and opportunity in 2017-18. Kuznetsov is playing nearly two minutes more a game (more on him in a minute), but looking at the average ice times for Eller and Wilson are very revealing. Willy is logging 2:34 more a night and at six goals and 18 points in 41 games he should shatter his career highs. Wherever Coach Trotz has put #43 this season he has produced and the nice thing is it’s been in a top nine role, no more fourth line Tommy. Eller, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer, has nine goals and 21 points in 44 games. He had 12 goals and 25 points in 81 total games in 2016-17. He’s playing 1:26 more a night and he’s become a better contributor, especially offensively, and that was sorely needed. The Washington third line, which was dominant last January when the Capitals were nearly unbeatable, has returned to play a big role in 2017-18. Eller and Connolly (10 goals) have been the staples there and there’s been a rotation of right wings to mostly include Oshie, Burakovsky, Vrana, and Wilson.

Not So Special In 2016-17 the Caps connected on 22.98% of their power plays and killed off 83.92% of their shorthanded situations. The league averages were 19.1% and 80.9%, respectively. In 2017-18, the power play has slowed to a 19.57% connection rate (NHL average is 19.4%) and is only thwarting 79.08% of their manpower disadvantages (NHL average is 80.6%). Simply put, the Capitals, unlike years past, have had to rely more on five on five goal differential to win games. This season they are +14 (91 to 77) in that category. There is lots of room for improvement on the special teams.

Dynamic Duo Looking at the team stats, the Caps have gone from outshooting opponents 30.4 to 27.8 per game in 2016-17 to being outshot 32.3 to 29 in 2017-18. That is a direct result of the change in personnel. Let’s be honest, the Capitals lost a lot of veteran players and are incorporating new blood into the squad. So why have they been able to still be successful? Well, outside of what has been mentioned already, the single biggest factor is the outstanding goaltending from Braden Holtby (24 wins) and Philipp Grubauer (7 quality starts in 12 games). The team save percentage has dropped from .925 to .917, but it’s clear that the quality of shots against has gone up a bit. These two continue to make the big save for Washington at the key time and goalie is the most important position in hockey.

Delivering the Overpass There’s a famous Bill Engvall “Here’s Your Sign” joke about a truck getting stuck with the punch line being, “Nope, I was delivering that overpass and my truck flat ran out of gas…Here’s Your Sign!” Perhaps the organization should bring the legendary comedian in to hand out “Here’s Your Sign” awards for all of those times the Capitals have tried to make an extra pass when they are in the high danger scoring areas? Guilty party number one on that list is Kuznetsov. When #92 plays the right way, and he’s had some nice stretches of that, the Caps dominate. He ranks second on the team in goals (13) and when he carries a shoot first mentality he is deadly on the ice because the defense has no idea what he is going to do, pass or shoot. Too often, though, he is in Harlem Globetrotters fancy pants mode, and that is much easier to defend. He needs to cut back on the circling pattern where he takes himself out of the high danger scoring area and eventually turns the puck over. That issue has crept into others on this team, to include Oshie, who I’d like to see shoot more. This is a shoot first league and with the goaltending being so good, rebounds or shots from high danger areas with traffic are the best way to beat them. Do the Caps think they have to make the pretty play so often because they practice against two of the best goalies in the league regularly? That could be a factor, but if they just looked at their recent tallies, many of them are just shots from the middle of the ice with players going to the net or using a defender to screen his own keeper. It’s not rocket science and it’s one of the big reasons the Caps are down in the shots on net and shots attempted statistics. They have the puck often, but many times they possess it for awhile and never generate a shot. They need to dump that habit and the cross ice pass at the offensive blue line if they want to go deep into the post season.

Where’s the Six Million Dollar Man? If you had told me on October 1st that Burakovksy would only have three goals after the Caps have played 45 games, I would have said the Caps would not be in playoff position. Luckily, I would’ve been wrong. #65 has played only 21 games due to injuries and overall malaise, but the man who signed a two year deal for a total of $6M is a very key cog in the wheel if Washington wants to challenge for the Stanley Cup. If I was Andre, the first thing I’d do after getting home from the Bahamas would be to pull out the tape of game six against the Penguins last spring and watch it. That’s the way Andre needs to play to be successful, very physical on the opposing boards and puck so that he can score and generate goals. He can be that player if he puts his mind to it and works hard. A return to form by Burakovsky is a must from now until June.

In summary, even with the personnel losses from last season, the Capitals have still positioned themselves among the best teams in the league. Despite what some statistics, such as Corsi, try to tell you, this positive outcome is not just pure luck. As I’ve chronicled, there’s been a method to the team’s success, which also includes a unique ability, much like the Pittsburgh Penguins have done the last two seasons, to counter attack and be deadly on the rush. Speed is an important aspect of hockey and the Capitals have improved in that department. Their save percentage is slightly down, but their goalies have been stellar and they aren’t living off of a higher shooting percentage. They are connecting on 10.5% of their shots, just like they did last season. The league average is around 9%, but the Caps have high end talent, unlike a Corsi loved team like Carolina, who throw a lot of pucks on net from everywhere, but don’t have the Ovechkins, Kuznetsovs, Backstroms and Oshies of the world who have great shots. Looking at another favorite analytic stat, PDO, which measures shooting percentage plus save percentage at even strength, it shows the Caps were at 102.4 in 2016-17 and this season they have dropped to 101.6 (meaning they’ve been less lucky). I’ve stated this axiom in blogs and on the air on WNST many times; it’s great to look at statistics, but in the grand scheme of things, hockey is a game of high skill and talent, it is non-linear and is chaos theory. The Washington Capitals have high end talent and the organization has structured the team around that. Now the question is can they continue to improve down the stretch so that they can peak in the post season?

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