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Ovi Old School

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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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Kuzy Canucks

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Caps Win 10th Straight At Home in 3-1 Triumph Over Vancouver

Posted on 09 January 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals scored three goals in a span of 10 minutes and Philipp Grubauer stopped 37 of 38 shots as the Caps reeled off their 10th straight victory at home to defeat the Vancouver Canucks, 3-1, at Capital One Arena on Tuesday night.

Washington, who will face Carolina in a home and home matchup on Thursday and Friday, have just those two tilts to play before their five day “bye” break begins on Saturday. With the triumph over Vancouver, the Capitals improve to 27-13-3 (57 points) and they lead the Metropolitan Division by a season high four points over the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have played one more game. New Jersey is five points behind the Caps, but they have two games in hand.

The Canucks destroyed the Capitals back in October, 6-2, when Washington wasn’t playing good hockey and were missing some top players (Matt Niskanen and Nicklas Backstrom). Since then, though, the Caps have been one of the league’s best squads while Vancouver has turned into the doormat I and many others expected them to be this season. Coach Travis Green’s club is now 16-21-6 (38 points) and only the Arizona Coyotes have fewer points than the Canucks in the Western Conference.

On paper, this looked like a mismatch, but the game started well for the visitors. Washington was sloppy with the puck giving the Canucks more shot opportunities. Grubauer didn’t have to make many big saves early, but a Devante Smith Pelly lazy offensive zone infraction put Vancouver on the power play. Coach Barry Trotz’ improving PK unit looked ready to kill it off, but when Chandler Stephenson jumped over the boards and battled for the puck before Tom Wilson could get to the bench, the Caps were boxed for too many dudes. That gave Vancouver a five on three and it was pretty much a five on two when Jay Beagle was hobbled after blocking a shot. The huge manpower difference for the Canucks resulted in a Daniel Sedin tip in of an Alex Edler point shot at 8:23.

With a 1-0 lead, Nikolay Goldobin nearly made it a two puck advantage, but Grubauer made a big save on #77 and then he hit the pipe with the rebound. It was one of those quality high danger stops at a key time that Washington has gotten a lot of this season from their stellar goaltending duo of #31 and Braden Holtby.

Just two minutes after that, John Carlson tied the game when he fired the puck on net from the right wing boards and it went five hole on Jacob Markstrom (33 saves). The big goalie was likely distracted by the net coming up in the air just beforehand along with Michael Del Zotto standing right in front of him messing with the cage. Green challenged the goal for goalie interference, but there was none of that and the tally stood.

Washington continued to press the play and less than three minutes later they took the lead when Madison Bowey gave Lars Eller a nice neutral zone feed. Eller then headed up the middle of the ice with speed and using the Vancouver defender as a screen, Lars shot from just inside the blue line and it beat the goalie, who was suffering from an obstructed view, top shelf. That goal, on a heck of a snipe, made it 2-1 with 2:08 left in the opening frame.

In the middle stanza, Washington was downright dominant controlling the puck for the majority of the period. Evgeny Kuznetsov increased the Capitals lead to 3-1 at the 4:57 mark when he took a feed from Niskanen just outside the offensive blue line and skated in with Erik Gudbranson charging towards him. Kuzy shot the puck and Markstrom batted the rebound in the air into the slot. Both Kuznetsov and Gudbranson swatted at the puck, but it was the stiff #44 who put it into his own net with his glove. The marker gives #92 13 goals for the season.

The Capitals were relentless in their pursuit of the puck and it was wave after wave of Washington players storming into the offensive end in period two, one in which the Caps have really struggled in this season. That was not the case on Tuesday and if not for a lot of over passing, this game should have gotten out of hand. Once again, the Capitals were trying for the perfect play, which was kind of silly considering the way they scored their first three goals, which were on pucks just directed at the net. As fun as it was to watch, the Caps skill and Harlem Globetrotters like play resulted in zero goals the remainder of the period. That was disappointing because Coach Trotz’ crew was really skating and working, but they again suffered from being too fancy.

The passing up of shots, especially from the high danger area of the ice, has to change if Washington wants to advance deep into the playoffs and reach their ultimate goal. This squad has a TON of skill and talent, but sometimes they out think themselves in trying to be too perfect and it allowed a crummy hockey team like Vancouver to stick around in this affair.

In the third period, the Canucks had 20 shots on net as they tried to come back, but 11 of those came in the last nine plus minutes and there weren’t many quality chances. Grubauer made some nice glove saves, but those were on shots he clearly had a great sight line on.

This was really a mismatch, but the Caps couldn’t finish. They often passed themselves out of a scoring chance or they waited too long to shoot and with Markstrom taking up so much cage with his size, they had trouble getting biscuits behind him. The NHL is a shoot first and shoot quick league, but the Caps seem to forget that, too often, and it takes away from their offense. Washington has the puck a lot, but based on shot attempts, you wouldn’t think so. The fact is this team is so focused on the perfect goal play that they decrease their chances of scoring. If they can get away from the extra cross ice pass in the offensive zone and focus on hard shots on net that either go in or produce rebounds, they will score even more.

Overall, this was a solid victory. Grubauer was very composed and poised in net. You never felt like he was going to give up a goal that would get Vancouver back in the contest. The Canucks didn’t have the puck a ton despite their 73-65 edge in shot attempts. Coach Green’s team often just throws the puck on net from everywhere, but the Capitals kept them on the perimeter quite a bit. On the flip side, the Caps got into the interior on offense, but they too often didn’t seize the right moment to fire on net. That’s why the scoreboard stayed close, despite the on ice domination that Washington displayed.

Notes: Jakub Vrana had a very active game with six shots on net. He was really moving his legs and opening up space on the ice…Brooks Oprik had a semi-breakaway in period three and was drilled by a Ben Hutton elbow to the head (no penalty was called) and sent flying to the ground. Smith-Pelly came in, immediately went after Hutton, and threw some good punches to let the Canuck know that the questionable hit was not well received by Washington. Orpik had a strong night going +1 in 20:49 and he had four shot attempts…Alex Ovechkin had six shot attempts and an assist in 19:25…the Caps were 0 for 2 on the power play while Vancouver was 1 for 3. I didn’t think Kevin Pollock and Kendrick Nicholson called a good game, they missed several infractions on the Canucks, but perhaps they were too busy focusing on offside since linesman Greg Devorski left after the first period due to an illness?…the Capitals won the faceoff battle, 33-28. Kuznetsov was 10-6…Wilson was very impressive with six shots on goal and seven hits…Bowey had an assist in 14:44 and he was much cleaner with his puck management…T.J. Oshie had 0 shots on goal in 17:39. His hands seemed to be betraying him in this affair…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 24:16.

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Ovi Canes

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Ovechkin’s Late Heroics Leads to Caps Win in Raleigh

Posted on 02 January 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby once again teamed up to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat for the Washington Capitals. In a game in which the Caps treated the puck like a hot potato and turned it over more times than a Cleveland Browns quarterback, Ovi and the Holtbeast (34 saves) made just enough plays to rally Washington to a thrilling 5-4 overtime win in Raleigh.

With the triumph, the Capitals are 25-13-3 (53 points) at the season’s halfway point and are in first place in the Metropolitan Division. They won’t play again until Sunday afternoon against the St. Louis Blues at 3 pm at Capital One Arena.

Without further adieu, here are my thoughts and analysis on a huge two points for Coach Barry Trotz’ squad.

Ripken-like Dedication Ovi and Holtby were certainly the major reasons the Caps won, but #1 center Nicklas Backstrom, who missed the morning skate due to feeling sick, gutted it out and suited up in a key contest. It was #19 who positioned himself properly to make the intercept and feed on Ovechkin’s game tying tally. Backstrom also had the only assist on Alex’s game winner. Per Caps analyst Alan May, since Coach Trotz put 8 and 19 back together the Capitals are 13-3-2. In those 18 games, Ovechkin has 13 goals and 10 assists (23 points) and the Super Swede has five goals and 13 assists (18 points).

Trench Warfare Everyone knows the Caps have a deadly attack led by stars Ovechkin, Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, and Evgeny Kuznetzov, but it was the role players from the trenches who really stepped it up to help Washington win a game they were very sloppy in. The Caps first goal was something that has to make you smile because it was just simple hockey. Chandler Stephenson carried the puck up the left wing boards and free agent Alex Chiasson smartly went hard to the net with his stick down and put home #18’s pass behind Cam Ward after John Carlson had gifted the Hurricanes the game’s first tally on an unfortunate flubbed pass. Devante Smith-Pelly, another low cost offseason free agent acquisition like Chiasson, then scored a sweet goal to make it 2-1 Caps when he fired from the right wing circle with most people on the ice thinking he’d force a pass to Ovi to his right. Good things happen when you play simple and shoot and those two goals were key for the Capitals in a first period where they were getting out played and out shot (13-7).

Stud on the Backend Dmitry Orlov continues to play fabulously on the blue line for Washington. With Matt Niskanen out day-to-day with another injury, #9 had to step up for the Caps in this affair and Dima did just that. In the middle frame with Carolina buzzing the tower but the Holtbeast holding things at bay, Orlov skated up the ice with speed and fired on Ward (21 saves). The rocket hit the goalie in the blocker, then came off of the backboards to Cam’s right, and like Moses Malone tracking a basketball off of the glass, Orlov skated through the Canes D and deposited his own rebound into the cage to make it 3-1 just shy of the game’s midpoint. For the night, Dmitry played 21:13, blocked three shots and was +2.

Turnover City The Capitals, who had two straight days of practice, were extremely sloppy with the puck in this affair! Zone clears were often off of the mark and there were some really lousy passes in the Caps own end with Carolina getting many grade A chances as a result. When Madison Bowey was stripped of the biscuit by Sebastion Aho in the corner to generate Teuvo Teravainen’s weird goal with just under 13 minutes left, one had to think this would be a loss for the guys in white given the way they had unceremoniously handled the biscuit in this tilt. Clearly not having Niskanen hurt the team on the back end, but that’s no excuse for the squad to execute so poorly.

Second Line Struggles Kuznetsov had one of the worst games I’ve seen him play. Not only did he fail to attempt a single shot, he took two lazy penalties, the first of which allowed Carolina to get back in the game at 3-2 on the power play. Then he was abused by Jeff Skinner in his own end on the sequence that led to Elias Lindholm’s tying tally just 5:40 into the third period. #92 is back to a pass first mentality and his play has dropped off sharply, as a result. In addition, he is playing a Land O’Lakes style when defending, soft as butter. He’s not moving his feet and putting his shoulder into his opponent to strip him of the puck. As for Oshie, well he just hasn’t looked right since coming back from the Joe Thornton cheap shot. He’s still making some good stick checks on the wall, but his timing seems a half of a second off. The Osh Babe needs to get his head clear and start shooting more. Jakub Vrana had three giveaways, but he did use his speed to draw a penalty late in period two. That was pretty much the only good shift that unit had all night. They were terrible and it might be time to break that trio up and give Andre Burakovsky, who was scratched for the second straight contest, a shot to play some top six minutes.

Stars Shine Bright At the end of the day, it was the Holtbeast who made some huge stops to give Washington any chance at all of getting to the Ovechkin magic show. Carolina had 72 shot attempts to just 46 for the Capitals and many of the 38 the Canes put on net were high danger ones, including a Justin Williams chance late in the game from the slot after a terrible turnover. Holtby also made a big save late in regulation with the Hurricanes on the power play. As for Ovi, well he just seems to find another gear at important times. On his game winning goal he was on the ice for 91 seconds yet he somehow found the energy to come into the offensive zone like a locomotive and back off the Carolina defender enough to laser one by Ward. I’ve said this many times this season, but Ovechkin’s dedication to getting in better shape and playing faster in the offseason is a big reason why Washington is in first place at the season’s midpoint. Ovi now has 26 goals in 41 games. Finally, Carlson, despite the bad early turnover, was a rock star on the back end logging 30:51 due to the Niskanen injury. The guy is playing some great hockey and should get some Norris Trophy attention.

Overall, this was a win that Washington likely didn’t deserve, Carolina was better for the majority of the game, but the scoreboard is all that matters and when you have the greatest goal scorer ever on your team and an all world goalie, you can find ways to come out on top when you probably should have lost. That was the case on Tuesday night in the Tar Heel state.

All hail Ovi and the Holtbeast!

Notes: Washington lost the faceoff battle, 30-27, Kuzy was a dismal 2-8, but Backstrom was 10-9…the Caps were 0 for 2 on the power play and killed off three of four Carolina power plays. All four penalties the Capitals took were bad and were not to disrupt a scoring chance, just lazy and/or poor decisions. It’s not often you win when losing the special teams battle and have so many defensive zone mistakes…Christian Djoos played 17:41 and was +1. His skating ability was big against a fast Canes squad…Taylor Chorney received 13:28 of time and was +1. It was one of his better outings.

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Burkie Holtby

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Burakovsky Delivers for the Caps in the Lone Star State

Posted on 20 December 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Caps welcomed back T.J. Oshie into the lineup after he missed six games due to a Joe Thornton cheap shot, but the real welcome back on Tuesday night in Dallas should go to Andre Burakovksy. The Swedish winger, who missed 20 games with a fractured thumb and had been struggling since returning to the lineup 10 days ago, scored twice, including the game winner just 1:51 into overtime. Burkie also assisted on the game tying tally with 3:36 remaining in regulation when he outworked Dallas defenders in the left wing boards and then set up Brett Connolly in the high slot, who fired a quick laser past Ben Bishop (24 saves) to tie the game at three.

Wow, what a hockey game!

This was a physical and fast paced game. Dallas was downright cheap with some of their play, including an Antoine Roussel hit to Oshie in the first period that no one in the Capitals organization liked.

All game the Stars tried to be physical and there were several extracurricular scrums following whistles. It was vintage Ken “I learned to coach in the Flyers organization” Hitchcock.

Washington, however, would not back down in this affair. They started the scoring 10:35 into this game when Connolly made a great play in his own end to get the puck out, then with Lars Eller (+3) smartly driving the net, #10 fed a sweet backhanded cross ice pass to Burakovsky (two goals, one assist, +3) and he buried it quickly. It was a great shot and it came with none of the recent hesitation we’ve seen from Andre.

The Stars would tie the game up on a power play they received when the turtling Roussel jumped Wilson on a centre ice faceoff, then fell on his back and covered up. Willy received four minutes to just two for the Stars player in a call by Steve Kozari and Furman South that left many heads scratching.

As has been the case lately, especially on the road, the Capitals struggled in the middle frame. The biggest problem is that with the long change they don’t simplify their game and they turn too many pucks over at the offensive blue line. Instead of getting pucks deep and wearing out their opponent, the opposition gets the disc and goes the other way and exhausts Washington.

Dallas would take the lead at 11:09 of the middle frame and they held a large possession advantage in that period. After the goal though, Caps captain Alexander Ovechkin seemed on a mission and he was flying on the ice and using his body to throttle Star players. Suddenly Washington came to life and Dmitry Orlov scored a beauty of a goal when the Stars defenders thought for sure #9 was going to drop pass to the Gr8, who was barreling in the zone right behind Dima. Orlov then faked the pass, backhanded the biscuit through his skates, toe dragged the disc, and then flew around John Klingberg to score a goal top shelf that was reminiscent of Paul Coffey’s end to end rushes with the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980’s. Boy was that tally sweet!

In that middle frame the Capitals were outshot 14-5 and the shot attempts through 40 minutes were 50-31 for the Stars. The reason the Caps were able to stay in this game, once again, was because of their all world goaltender, Braden Holtby (33 saves). The Holtbeast made a huge save on a Stars four on two rush when it was 2-1. If it goes 3-1, Washington probably loses this contest.

In the third stanza and overtime, the Caps came to play, out shot attempting Dallas, 25-20, but a neutral zone turnover and poor gap control allowed the Stars to take a 3-2 lead with 4:07 left. After playing such a good road game to that point, you would have thought the team would be deflated and feel like the Big D curse was going to strike again, but not this Washington bunch. The third line came out and had a completely dominant shift with Burakovsky winning some big one on one battles on the wall to set up Connolly for a great tally just 41 seconds after Hitchcock’s chippy Stars thought they were going to get two points.

In overtime, Holtby made a great stick shaft save on a Stars three on two to get a defensive zone faceoff and then Washington went the other way with the puck and worked their cycle game in the offensive zone. Burakovsky actually had two other opportunities to shoot, but he passed up the openings and kept circling. Burkie and John “Norris Trophy Worthy” Carlson worked a nice overlap play that gave #65 a straight line to the net and he roofed one by Bishop to give Washington an amazing victory in Dallas, their second straight 4-3 overtime win in two years in the Lone Star State.

In summary, this was a gutsy effort by the Caps. Jakub Vrana stuck up for Oshie early on before Wilson could announce his presence to that punk Roussel with authority. In addition, the Osh Babe sacrificed his leg to block a shot late in the game, but he eats rocks for breakfast and came back out for his next shift. This was a tough game and the Stars brought their intensity that often crossed the line. But this Capitals squad continues to come together and work as a team. The young rookies on defense, Christian Djoos (1 assist) and Madison Bowey are getting better and better and the forward lines are starting to really take shape. Alex Chiasson had another good game despite being moved to the fourth line while the third line was the difference in this affair, along with Holtby.

The Caps have now won four games in a row, are 22-12-1 (45 points) and are back in sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division. The division race is really tight and every game matters. The scary thing is that this Capitals club, which is winning games despite injuries and rookies scattered across the lineup, can still get a lot better.

On Thursday night, however, they can sit back and enjoy this win over the chippy and cheap Hitchcock led Stars. Scoreboard Hitch!

Notes: Carlson was outstanding again on the back end logging a team leading 27:07. He had an assist on the GWG and he was +2…Orlov is playing super on defense, as well. His only mistake was backing up a bit too much on the Stars third goal. Dima played 23:54. He’s been super since Halloween…Connolly is now up to seven goals on the season and if that 3rd line can gel like it did last January, look out!…Ovi had eight shot attempts and no points, but he continues to fly on the ice. His speed and tenacity is making a difference out there. I thought his play after the Stars took the lead in the middle frame helped turn the Caps fortunes around. Dallas knew they couldn’t contain him and over focused on the Gr8, opening up the lanes for others, and Orlov took full advantage of that. Wow, I’ll say this again, what a goal that was by Dmitry!…Final shot attempts were 70-56 for Dallas. Shots on goal were 36-28 for the Stars…the faceoff battle was tied at 28 apiece. Jay Beagle went 11-6…the Caps were 0 for 3 on the power play while Dallas went 1 for 4. Next up for the Capitals are the Coyotes in Arizona on Friday night, then they play the Vegas Golden Knights in Rock Vegas on Saturday night before they go on a three day Christmas break from December 24th through 26th.

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Holtby Bruins

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Chiasson Scores Twice as Holtby and the Caps beat the Bruins Again

Posted on 14 December 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Chiasson scored two third period goals and Braden Holtby made 34 saves, many of them of the high quality variety, to give the Washington Capitals their 11th straight victory over the Boston Bruins, 5-3, at TD Garden in Beantown.

The win improves the Caps to 20-12-1 (41 points) and they remain tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for first place in the Metropolitan Division. CBus defeated the Islanders, 6-4, on Thursday night and they have a game in hand on Coach Barry Trotz’ crew.

Here’s my thoughts and analysis of a sleepy game that the Capitals were fortunate to win:

Boston played on Wednesday night late in Detroit and won in overtime. They then had to fly home, fighting a snowstorm to get out of Michigan, before getting into their beds early Thursday morning. So the Caps naturally took advantage of a tired hockey team and ran them out of the rink, right? WRONG! The Bruins were actually the better team in this game, in my opinion. They worked hard in the one on one battles and it resulted in a 74-45 shot attempt differential. Sure, some of that is score effects with the Caps having the lead most of the last 40 minutes, but Washington had too many passengers in this game and they rode some hot plays at the right times.

Who was dialed in for the Capitals? Well, let’s start where we pretty much always start these days, with their goaltender, the Holtbeast. In the second period, the Caps were outshot, 13-3, and the Bruins were all over Washington, but after a Patrice Bergeron snipe on the power play tied the game early in period two, #70 held the fort until the Caps scored on a power play of their own. Holtby’s save percentage for the night was .919, but it should’ve been better had the Capitals not given up two goals in the last five minutes, including another power play tally by Bergeron late where it looked like David Krejci may have tied up Holtby’s stick. But that didn’t matter, Boston lost primarily because Braden kept the door shut for the first 56 minutes while the Caps dialed up a 4-1 lead.

Hot plays at the right time were the difference makers for the Caps. First, Jakub Vrana used his blazing speed to split the Boston defense to give the Caps a 1-0 lead at 17:34 of period one. It was Jakub’s 10th goal of the season and he continues to shine since that healthy scratch back on November 16th. You really have to be impressed with how he’s played with Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 assist). He keeps going to the net like that and he’ll score a bunch of goals this season.

Going to the net was so important to this win, like it normally is in hockey. Lars Eller had what looked to be an early goal less than two minutes into this tilt when he put home the rebound of a Christian Djoos shot, but it was correctly overturned because the Caps were offside on the zone entry. That’s the type of early goal you like to see and had the Capitals kept going to the net and getting pucks there early and more often, this one may have gone much more smoothly.

Still, it was the net drive that would eventually give Washington the breathing it room it needed down the stretch. After Nicklas Backstrom’s power play goal off of a sweet Kuznetsov pass made it 2-1 in the middle frame, the Bruins really came hard at the Caps in period three. Holtby did his usual job to hold off the Bruins and then 7:52 into the final stanza, Djoos made another great play to beat the B’s defender and get the puck to the net. Parked in front was Chiasson and he put the biscuit in the basket.

Boston, who has to be sick and tired of losing to the Capitals, would not go away and they pressed the play and received a power play with 8:41 to go. Shortly after the faceoff, Chiasson blocked the point shot of Torrey Krug and then he pulled away from #47 on the shorthanded breakaway and buried the disc past Anton Khudobin (17 saves). The Bruins goalie had come into this one hot, having gone 7-1-2 this season with a .922 save percentage, but he had Capsitis, a disease that often impacts Boston goalies.

Boston cut it to 4-2 with 3:40 to go after some Washington turnovers, but then Ovechkin, who had an assist on Backstrom’s power play goal, received his 22nd goal of the season when his pass to Tom Wilson in the neutral zone did not connect and fortuitoulsy banked off of the boards and into the middle pocket at the other end to make it 5-2 with 1:29 to go. That NHL goal leading tally (he’s tied with Nikita Kucherov of Tampa as of this post) ultimately ended any suspense on the final outcome. The Bruins would get that 3rd goal with 27 seconds left, though, after Eller took a bad cross checking penalty.

There wasn’t a lot of things to like in this one for the Caps. They did do a good job of keeping Boston on the perimeter, but they were still sloppy with their passes and they just didn’t seem to have their legs. Yes, this was their third game in four nights, so they have a slight excuse. I did like some of the shifts the fourth line had in this one, especially the effort they put in to draw the power play that set up Backstrom’s tally which gave Washington the lead it would never relinquish. Chandler Stephenson used his speed to go by Chalire McAvoy on the left wing boards and he was forced to hook #18. Washington’s fourth line is playing well and if T.J. Oshie comes back for Saturday’s game, I would not break this trio up; they are doing too much good on the ice.

Chiasson should not be scratched either considering that he had two goals in this one and he’s been good on the PK (the Caps gave up two power play goals in five tries, but #39 added a HUGE shorty). You aren’t scratching anyone on the top line, although they did not have a good game in Boston, both Ovechkin and Wilson just didn’t seem to have their speed going, at all. So that leaves someone on the third line to go out of the lineup if the Osh Babe is ready and based on what I saw on Thursday, Andre Burakovsky is my pick to sit. #65 was totally weak on the wall in this affair and lost board battle after board battle. He also is taking too long to get his shot off, once again. Kuznetsov fed him nicely in period one for an open net opportunity, but instead of a quick release that would have had half of the twine to hit, he pulled the puck back with his long drawn out release and the shot was blocked en route to Khudobin. Simply put, Burakovsky needs a reset after just four games back in the lineup. You would have thought 20 games out injured would do that, but so far, outside of a play or two here or there, he’s been MIA. I’m not trying to be mean to the guy, but this is big boy hockey and Andre needs to get it going, this team is counting on him and he’s not playing near his potential. Fortunately, guys like Vrana and Chiasson are stepping up to deliver big tallies while the organization waits for the $3 Million man to get untracked. Washington isn’t going anywhere in the playoffs without Burakovsky, so now is the time to get him refocused and playing like #13 is doing. Burakovsky needs to use his legs to open up lanes on the ice and he must find a way to release the puck quicker on his shots.

Overall though, the Caps have won three of their last four games despite some really ugly stretches where they turn the puck over or don’t move their feet. They are living off of their all world goalie and some timely offense. You’d like to see them dominate more of the play, but it’s hard to be really upset when they’ve won nine of their last 11 games. Boston had done that coming into Thursday’s game against Washington, but once again the Bruins lost to the red, white, and blue.

Notes: Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:20…Matt Niskanen was good in this game and he was +3 with two assists in 22:58. He and Dmitry Orlov (+2 in 21:33) continue to be a super top defensive pairing. Orlov does so many things well, even though he’s not piling up points…Chiasson now has six goals, he logged 12:49 in this affair…Vrana only received 9:09 of ice time. The Caps taking five penalties didn’t help his ability to get more opportunity…next up for the Caps are the Anaheim Ducks at Capital One Arena at 8 pm on Saturday night. Corey Perry will not play for the Ducks due to injury…if Oshie practices on Friday, then there’s a good chance he will return against Anaheim. The Caps need his tenacity on the ice, they aren’t winning the board battles like they typically do when fireplug #77 is in the lineup.

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Willy Rags

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Tom Wilson’s Late Game Eruption Leads the Caps over the Rangers

Posted on 08 December 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals scored a goal just 14 seconds into the game and then tallied twice in the last four minutes to knock off the New York Rangers, 4-2, at Capital One Arena on Friday night.

The victory, the Caps seventh in their last eight games, was their fourth straight on a five game home stand against some very good hockey clubs. The triumph improves Washington to 18-11-1 (37 points) and they are now tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for first place in the Metropolitan Division. CBus has a game in hand (18-10-1), though.

Tom Wilson took over this hockey game late setting up the winning goal by Matt Niskanen and then adding an insurance marker at 18:28 after the Rangers had clawed their way back into this affair from a 2-0 hole. Nicklas Backstrom notched Washington’s second goal after a bad turnover by Michael Grabner midway through period two, beating Henrik Lundqvist (36 saves) with some top shelf cheese. For the night, the Caps top trio of Alex Ovechkin (1 assist), Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist), and Willy (1 goal, 1 assist) were +3 and a major reason why they won the game. Ovi hit the post late on an empty net attempt, so it could’ve easily been plus four.

That line, which was dynamite against Chicago and has been since they were put together by Coach Barry Trotz, had 19 of the Caps 67 shot attempts. They are physical and relentless on the fore check. Wilson had six hits and as #19 stated in his television interview between periods, #43 opens up space on the ice for Ovi and Backy and they are using their talents to make the opposition pay.

Jay Beagle opened the scoring on the game’s very first shift after Chandler Stephenson knocked the puck away from former Capital Kevin Shattenkirk on the left wing boards in the offensive zone. Devante Smith-Pelly swooped in to grab the disc and then fed Beags streaking to the net in the right slot area. #83 smartly shot quickly and it beat Lundqvist.

Washington would continue to play well the remainder of opening frame and they fired 17 shots on King Henrik, who kept his club in this one. Braden Holtby (27 saves) also was very solid to start this tilt stopping all nine shots he faced, but at least a handful of them were really good opportunities.

In the second period, the Caps ran into turnover problems, once again. They continually made poor decisions coming out of their own end and in the neutral zone. Too often the puck was going east-west instead of north-south. The Capitals lucked out, though. They didn’t have much sustained pressure for the first 11 minutes of the stanza, but then Grabner’s turnover was an early Christmas gift for Backstrom and the Caps.

Washington looked like they might escape the first 40 minutes up two pucks, but then Niskanen was hesitant with the puck and it was stolen from him leading to an easy tally in the slot for Grabner with 57 seconds to go in period two. It was a really shaky period by the Caps, they were outshot, 13-8, and Backstrom was clearly not happy while doing his interview between the second and third periods.

Coach Trotz’s crew actually played a very strong game in the last 20 minutes, overall. Yes, there were more turnovers, but they were up 10-4 in shots on goal yet the game became tied when Jesper Fast scored on a pass from former Capital Paul Carey with 10:23 left. Carey outworked Madison Bowey for the puck behind Washington’s net and when Brooks Orpik didn’t cover Fast tightly, #17 received the puck from Carey and fired a shot through #44, who was screening his goaltender.

At that point, one had to figure the Capitals would sag and the Rangers would gain momentum and energy and find a way to win.

Give the Capitals credit, though, they didn’t turtle and they amped their game up with five more shots on net. Wilson was the difference maker using his speed and size to go around the Rags defense twice. Top line Tom now has five goals and 10 assists in 30 games.

There were things to really like in this game, such as the Caps putting 40 shots on Lundqvist and Washington’s domination on faceoffs (34-20). The Capitals are successful when they are putting pucks and bodies to the cage, and they did both of those things well on Friday. Evgeny Kuznetsov had six shots on goal and his line with Jakub Vrana and Alex Chiasson played pretty well despite being on the ice for both Ranger tallies. Vrana is going to the net and using his speed and it’s great to see. Kuzy is shooting the puck and opening up the ice. #39 is just a fill in until T.J. Oshie, who was hurt Monday by Jumbo Joe Thornton,  can get back in the lineup, but that doesn’t sound imminent given that the Osh Babe is still not even skating.

Andre Burakovksy returned to the ice after missing 20 games with a fractured thumb playing on a line with Brett Conolly and Lars Eller. Burky played 14:08 and was clearly trying to shake off the rust, but Coach Trotz will need that trio going when Washington takes on the Islanders in New York on Monday night.

There are still things to clean up in the Capitals play, the turnovers need more attention, but when they put out the effort and move their feet, they dominate on the ice. They also don’t get into penalty trouble when they have the wheels going and on Friday, the Blueshirts only had three man advantage situations. Washington killed off all of them while the Rangers did the same to the Caps on their four power plays.

This game was decided at even strength and the Capitals, thanks to their top line and the Holtbeast, prevailed.

Notes: John Carlson once again led the Caps in ice time with 25:52. Niskanen was a close second at 24:04. Bowey (10:34) and Christian Djoos (9:21) only had a dozen and 11 shifts, respectively…Eller was 10-5 on face-offs…Tyler Graovac cleared waivers and was sent to Hershey, along with Travis Boyd, to make roster and salary cap room for Burakovsky…Carlson had seven shots on goal. He’s playing extremely well and with the NHL announcing that next season’s salary cap will increase to between $78M and $82M you can bet that General Manager Brian MacLellan will be working on a long term deal for the Caps best blue liner. The Caps are now five points up on the Rangers, but they have two games in hand…per NBCSW, the Capitals are 38-1-6 lifetime when Beagle scores a goal.

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Grubi Sharks

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Grubauer and Ovechkin Help End Caps Drought vs. San Jose

Posted on 05 December 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The San Jose Sharks came into Capital One Arena for their annual meeting in the District with the Washington Capitals and, in recent years, you could steal a line from the classic movie, Spinal Tap, to characterize the way those matchups have gone for the Caps.

Shark Sandwich. S—t Sandwich.

San Jose goalie Martin Jones held a 4-0 lifetime record against the Caps and to top it all off, he had NEVER allowed a goal in the Washington barn.

On Monday night, everything changed.

After a sluggish start that saw the Sharks get seven of the games first eight shots, the Capitals started taking over. During that stretch they had nine of the last 10 shots on goal recorded in the opening period, including a beautiful tip in of a John Carlson shot by Devante Smith-Pelly that gave the Caps a 1-0 lead with 3:11 to go in the first frame. The goal ended Jones’ lengthy Capital One Arena shutout streak and seemed to provide the home team with some confidence.

In the middle stanza, the Caps came out strong and a sweet steal by Alexander Ovechkin on Brent Burns in his own end led to a breakaway for the Gr8. Alex would go in all alone on Jones and beat him with a backhander to make it 2-0 with 7:11 gone in period two. Shortly thereafter the Capitals nearly grabbed a three puck lead, but Carlson’s shot on a three on one rush hit metal. San Jose, as you’d expect, then became the more desperate team and put pressure on Washington in their end. The Caps would have a series of turnovers on consecutive shifts and that shoddy play resulted in a Timo Meier tally after a bad giveaway by Matt Niskanen.

The Caps then settled the ship and started playing well again, although Philipp Grubauer (24 saves) did make some very big stops at key junctures. Things were still dicey when Evgeny Kuznetsov took a delay of game penalty for putting the puck over the glass, but the Capitals had a super penalty kill. Late in the PK, however, T.J. Oshie was injured when he threw the puck down the right wing offensive boards and while trying to finish his check, he made a hit and went down awkwardly. With the puck long gone, Jumbo Joe Thornton came in and with his fat rear crushed the Osh Babe’s head against the boards. #77 went down and then left the game for the night.

Washington received a power play shortly thereafter when Brenden Dillon took a high sticking minor. With Oshie in the locker room, Brett Connolly received the bump up to the first unit and he took advantage of the situation. Kuznetsov made a great play carrying the puck into the offensive zone and while taking a hit and falling to the ice, he managed to swing his stick with one hand and whack the puck to a wide open Ovechkin on the left wing boards. The Gr8 nicely used his skates to kick the puck to his stick and he spotted Connolly heading to the net ahead of the Sharks defenders. Ovi made a super backhand pass to #10 and he made a sweet move and buried the puck on the backhand to make it 3-1 (although the zebras didn’t immediately signal goal and then there was a five minute delay while San Jose challenged that the goal was a result of an offside zone entry).

In the third period, after the Caps failed to score on the power play they received when the Sharks unsuccessfully challenged the third goal, San Jose had some more great looks, but Grubauer shut the door.

Thornton then had to pay for his unnecessary hit on Oshie by taking on Tom Wilson. Willy won the bout quickly and easily with a punch to Jumbo Joe’s head that floored the big man. Both players received seven minutes in penalties, which was a good trade for the Caps. The Sharks started to get chippy after that and a teal parade to the penalty box ensued. Washington extended their lead to 4-1 when Jakub Vrana notched his eighth goal of the season from the doorstep after some excellent power play work by Wilson with 8:24 remaining.

The victory improves the Caps to 16-11-1 (33 points) and they are just two points out of first in a very tight Metropolitan Division that has the top five teams all within two points of each other.

Below are some thoughts and analysis on a huge Capitals win against a squad they defeated in regulation for just the second time in their last 26 meetings (h/t to Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) for that stat).

As they did on Saturday against Columbus, the Capitals rode the biggest strength of their team for this win, goaltending. Grubauer was just superb in this affair and he made many quality saves at key times.

Ovechkin was flying in this tilt and he could’ve easily had a hat trick. Ovi had seven shot attempts, but I recall at least four quality scoring chances. The goal he scored doesn’t happen last season. His offseason conditioning change continues to pay dividends, he is at least a step faster than in 2016-17 and he now leads the NHL in goals with 20 in just 28 games (59 goal pace). As Drew Doughty stated last week when the Kings snuck a win out over Washington, the Ovechkin line (Ovi-Nicklas Backstrom-Wilson) is so hard to play against. Burns found that out on Monday night and he was outworked by the big and skilled trio.

The Oshie injury is a major concern. It’s upper body and hopefully not a serious concussion. The Osh Babe, along with Kuznetsov and Vrana, have been a dynamite second line trio and they’ve dominated play. T.J. is so good at winning the one on one battles, so not having him in the lineup will be a blow to the Capitals. It’s not clear how long #77 will be out, but Andre Burakovsky is due back within the week, so that should help.

Several right wingers stepped up in this game with Oshie out. First was Connolly, who has scored in two straight games. He’s playing with confidence and looks more like the guy who potted 15 tallies last season. This is a very encouraging development. Wilson also is performing well and Coach Barry Trotz loved his effort to help set up Vrana’s power play marker. It was a dirty and gritty goal and the first one for the second power play unit all season. Perhaps Willy deserves more time on that second unit based on how well he played on Monday? I also liked Smith-Pelly’s game on Monday, it was one of his best, in just 10:34 of action.

While the Capitals came out victorious in this game, Coach Trotz said afterwards there are still things that need cleaning up in their play. There were numerous bad clears in their own zone and too many offensive zone cross ice passes for my liking. The Caps had 16 giveaways, four of them from Carlson.  If they can focus on getting pucks to the net or behind the net, they’ll be even more successful and find that holding leads are much easier. Washington out shot attempted the Sharks, 21-12, and, 12-9, in shots on goal, in the final frame. After getting out shot, 17-3, in the last 20 minutes against Columbus on Saturday the Capitals did a better job of handling this two goal lead. There are still better decisions to be made with the biscuit when they are in front, but Monday represented some serious progress.

Overall, the Caps have now won five of their last six games and they will face the Chicago Blackhawks at home on Wednesday night. Puck drop is at 8 pm. The game is on NBC Sports Channel.

Notes: Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 27:34, including 7:11 of power play time…the Caps were 2 for 6 with the man advantage while San Jose went 0-1…Washington won the faceoff battle, 34-24. Kuznetsov was 11-4. Since the Calgary loss, he’s played very smart and solid hockey.

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Ovi Backy Leafs

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Alex Ovechkin’s Spectacular Night On and Off the Ice Leads the Caps over Toronto

Posted on 25 November 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals were “Oh for” on the second half of back to back games this season, as in zero wins in four previous situations.

Alexander “Oh”vechkin made sure that streak ended on Saturday night in the Big Smoke.

The Gr8 potted two first period goals, one of which was an end to end highlight reel marker and the other was a puck pounded through Leafs goalie Curtis McElhinney with John Daly like power off of a faceoff. Then Alex sealed the deal for the Caps with an empty net goal with nine seconds remaining to secure a 4-2 victory.

Ovechkin’s brilliance gives the Caps a nice three game winning streak heading into a stretch of four days off. Washington has now hit four games over .500 for the first time this season, with a mark of 14-10-1 (29 points).

This was the third straight solid effort by the Capitals and it was their third such game in four days, so there is no doubt they are a tired, but happy bunch.

Here’s my thoughts and analysis of an entertaining hockey game:

Ovechkin now leads the NHL in goals with 18 in 25 games (pace of 59 goals) and he has 13 even strength markers counting the empty net tally he notched on Saturday. I’ve mentioned this a few times in blogs and several times on Twitter, but there is no doubt that the change he made in off season training has changed his game for the better. Ovi is much faster on the ice and he has that burst that he used to display in his earlier days. His first goal was just a thing of beauty; great skating, super puck handling, and then unbelievable hands to fake the defensemen and goalie out with a laser of a shot that would’ve only been stopped if a piece of wood was covering the entire net. It was a “Wow!” moment and at that point, everyone in attendance had their money’s worth.

Ovechkin invited 13 year old cancer survivor, Alex Luey to the game on Saturday night, because the youngster stated that the Gr8 was his favorite player. Boy did Ovi make it special for his fan on this evening with a spectacular performance. Luey was so overcome with joy after the win that he cried and hugged his parents. Our good friend, Ian Oland, over at Russian Machine Never Breaks chronicled the story. Please read it, it’ll warm your heart, something we all need these days.

In honor of his three goals, Ovechkin gets another bullet point in this blog. He was fantastic in this affair and his line was great. Coach Barry Trotz even had faith in him at the end of the game defensively by putting him on the ice with a one goal lead in the waning seconds. Ovi made his bench boss look good as he got the “Hattie” as a result of some great work on the boards by Alex and his teammates. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the Capitals are three wins and zero losses since Trotz reunited Ovechkin with long time center Nicklas Backstrom (two assists).

T.J. Oshie had a nice night, as well, with three assists. He had the big face off win on the Caps power play that led to the second goal, a howitzer from Ovechkin, and made a sweet outlet pass to Jakub Vrana for #13’s breakaway tally that gave Washington a 3-0 lead heading into the final frame. The Osh Babe was a dynamo all night, once again, and he constantly wins board battles and keeps pucks alive. He’s just a truly fantastic hockey player.

Speaking of fantastic, he didn’t get mentioned in the top three stars of the game (Ovechkin, Oshie, and Nikita Zaitsev), but in my book, after Ovi, the most outstanding player on the ice for the Capitals was defensemen Dmitry Orlov. Orlov had zero points tonight (+2), but he played one of the best games I’ve ever seen him have. He carried the Caps in their own zone and led the team in ice time at 26:25. He was physical (4 hits), great with his decision making, and just superb at breaking the puck out of the Capitals end. To top it all off, his play on the right wing boards, his offhand side, on the defensive zone faceoff before Ovi’s ENG was just sensational hard work and determination. Orlov fights off two Leafs there to get the puck to Oshie, who then got it down the ice where Osh Babe, Backy and Ovi could close the deal. I’m giving a standing ovation for the play of Orlov in Toronto on Hockey Night in Canada, well done, Dmitry! Very Impressive!

With Philipp Grubauer getting the front end of the back to back situation for the first time this season, Braden Holtby was the starter in this tilt and the Holtbeast was a big factor in the victory, as well. Some of the most important things he did in period two, other than stopping the puck from going in the net, was to halt play at key times. On a couple of occasions in that middle frame, where the Capitals defense endures a long change, Holtby froze the puck after extended shifts instead of giving up a rebound. Those stoppages were important because it allowed Coach Trotz to get fresh legs on the ice, which was especially key in the back to back games situation. Down the stretch, when it looked like the Caps might fade and give up the three goal lead, the Holtbeast made some big stops, especially when the Leafs pulled their goalie.

Both the Capitals and Leafs played in the USA on Friday and had to travel to Toronto for Saturday’s game. The Leafs were at home and are a younger team, so going in, the edge had to be for the Maple Leafs in this affair. For forty minutes, it was mostly Caps and the older team was the one skating faster and getting the better scoring chances. Washington deserved that three goal lead.

In the first 10 plus minutes of the third period, the young legs of the Leafs appeared and they dominated that part of the game. Washington didn’t help themselves either with some poor decision making. Chandler Stephenson’s ill timed back pass to noone allowed Toronto to go down and cut the score to 3-2 with 13:51 remaining. Shortly thereafter Matt Niskanen carried the puck behind the Leafs net and then tried a low percentage pass to Oshie at the right point. #77 fortunately got his boot on the disc, otherwise it was an odd man rush the other way. When you are winning in the third period, you have to make the safe play, and putting the puck back behind the net if you don’t have a clear shot or pass is always the next best thing to do.

What a change we’ve seen in Vrana in just eight days! After coming out of his healthy scratch in Colorado to the third line, where he performed well, #13 was promoted to the second line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Oshie for Wednesday’s tilt with Ottawa. Boy has this line clicked and Vrana notched his seventh goal of the campaign on a breakaway where he just blew by the Leafs defender like he was an orange road cone. With Andre Burakovsky still out another three weeks or so following hand surgery, the Capitals really needed Vrana to come alive and he’s finally doing that. His progress over the last week or so has been extremely encouraging.

Overall, things are really starting to become clearer about this hockey team. The biggest key is getting both Kuznetsov and Backstrom to play well and that’s been the case since Coach Trotz went all Reg Dunlop again and shuffled up the lines. The Capitals have talent, but they have to have a work ethic that is strong to succeed in this very balanced league. Over the last three games they’ve brought the energy and determination to win so many one on one battles. Their puck support has been excellent, as well. That strong work ethic leads to fewer penalties and on Saturday they only took one, which was very important given the back-to-back games situation. Sure they’ll be patches where they look tired, like Saturday’s first 10 minutes of the third period, but that will happen over the course of the season. The key is how the team fights through those stretches. On Saturday night, they came out on top of a very good and young Toronto team.

The Capitals are certainly moving in the right direction and this short break is much needed to recharge the batteries so that they can take advantage of an upcoming five game home stand that includes important Metropolitan Division match ups with the Blue Jackets and the Rangers.

Notes: Niskanen logged 24:14 while John Carlson played 22:38. Nisky was good in the first two periods, but he had some bad passes in the third. He’s clearly still getting his timing back from being out for 13 games…the Leafs won the face off battle, 34-25…the Caps had 37 hits. Brooks Orpik led the team with six…the Leafs outshot the Caps, 29-21. Ovechkin had four shots on goal…the Leafs outshot attempted the Capitals, 56-43…the Capitals were 1 for 3 on the power play and a perfect one for one on the PK…Washington’s next game is Thursday night against the Los Angeles Kings at Capital One Arena.

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Caps Amp Up Their Effort Level in 5-2 Win Over Ottawa

Posted on 23 November 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Coming into Wednesday’s Thanksgiving Eve contest against the Ottawa Senators, the Washington Capitals had lost three of their last four games.

Why had they been losing?

Well, it’s not rocket science; they just weren’t working hard enough to be victorious.

In a nutshell, they were playing lazy hockey which led to bad penalties and in Monday’s loss to the Flames, the poor play resulted effectively in three power play goals against in a 4-1 defeat.

Simply put, it was a bad scene and Caps fans had to wonder which Washington team was going to show up against Erik Karlsson and company. Would it be the team that dominated the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night or the soft and seemingly out to lunch club that lost by a combined 16-6 to Nashville, Colorado, and Calgary?

In attempt to get things going offensively, Capitals Coach Barry Trotz made some big changes to his forward lineup after declaring before the game that there would be no moves up front. Most notably, he reunited Nicklas Backstrom with Alex Ovechkin and he put Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has been very inconsistent with his effort level from game to game, with a surging Jakub Vrana and the always hawking the puck, T.J. Oshie. Tom Wilson was promoted to the Backstrom line while Devante Smith-Pelly, who had a terrible giveaway that turned the Calgary game for the worse, was sent to the bottom six.

Coach Trotz pretty much pulled a Reg Dunlop by saying one thing and then doing another. To quote Slap Shot, Barry pulled the old “mind <bleep>.” Ottawa was preparing for one thing and the Caps showed up with a different plan.

The moves worked wonders, but most importantly, the Capitals brought their lunch pails to this affair and worked hard on every shift. Players were going in strong on the puck on the boards and battling. There was very little reaching and as a result, they didn’t take a single penalty until late in period two.

On offense, the personnel changes clicked and Washington raced out to a 4-0 lead by the game’s midpoint and then cruised to a 5-2 win. The Caps are now 12-10-1 (25 points) and continue to occupy the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Things are very tight standings wise and it will likely remain that way all season with so much parity in the league as a result of expansion and a slower salary cap escalation in 2017-18.

That’s why the work ethic is so important.

Washington’s most consistent hard worker is none other than the Osh Babe himself and T.J. had another stellar game on Wednesday night.  Oshie kept the puck inside the offensive blue line with great hustle and hands on the Caps first goal sequence beating two Senators in the process. Oshie gathered in the biscuit and fed Kuznetsov for a quality chance at the left post. Kuzy smartly shot, but Craig Anderson made a pad save, however, Vrana was there for the loose change and he deposited the disc into the cage to make it 1-0 just over 15 minutes into the game.

The Caps then extended their lead to two pucks with just five seconds left in the opening frame. Brooks Orpik made a huge defensive zone hit to separate the Ottawa player from the puck. That allowed Backstrom to gather in the biscuit in the corner and he made a sweet long zone exit pass to Alex Chiasson up the right side of the ice. Ovechkin then beat Codi Ceci down the rink and received an excellent feed from #39 to spring him on a breakaway. The Gr8 beat Anderson upstairs for a huge tally very late in the period. Ovechkin trained differently this past summer, focusing more on speed, and that goal proved that his off-season change is paying dividends. As I blogged after the Minnesota win, Alex is definitely faster this season. That goal does not happen last year.

In the middle frame, pesky Alex Burrows took a tripping penalty and Washington’s power play made the Senators pay. The Caps worked the puck around and John Carlson fired on net with both Oshie and Backstrom in front of the goal. Carlson’s shot hit Anderson in the pads and bounced into the slot. The Osh Babe beat four Senators to the disc and fed it back to Kuznetsov, who fired a laser just inside the far post to make it 3-0 at 7:41. Just over two minutes later Vrana scored his second goal of the night on a rush shot where he caught Anderson cheating and leaning to his left, which allowed #13 to beat the goalie high short side.

That was pretty much the game there and despite having to kill off a 76 second two man advantage late in period two, the outcome was never in doubt. After the Senators made it 4-2 late in period three, Chiasson closed out the scoring with a lengthy backhand shot into the empty cage with 91 seconds remaining and clinch this one for the good guys.

Overall, this was a much needed triumph for the Caps. They got big performances out of Kuznetsov (1 goal, two assists) and Backstrom, their top two centers. It’s no secret that when those two guys are good, the team typically wins, and vice versa. It is also good to see the progression from Vrana, who has gone from a healthy scratch against the Avs just six days ago to a productive spot in the top six of the forward lineup. The Vrana-Kuznetsov-Oshie line is a new combination, but it works well with #13’s speed and Oshie’s on the puck tenacity. Simply put, Oshie makes any line he’s on better.

Putting Ovi and Backy back together seemed to get #19 going, too. I’ve been calling for these two superstars to be put on the same line again and Coach Trotz delivered by reuniting the duo. They were superb on Wednesday night.

This was a stabilizing victory for Washington and they did it the Smith Barney way, they earned it!

Now they need to consistently bring the energy.

Notes: the Caps were 1 for 1 on the power play and a perfect 3 for 3 on the PK…Braden Holtby was rock solid in net (29 saves). His biggest and most important stop was on a tip by Jean-Gabriel Pageau when the game was scoreless. The Holtbeast continues to make the hard saves look routine…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time at 25:19. Dmitry Orlov played an outstanding 22:00 minutes and Orpik was dynamite in 21:54…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 30-24. Lars Eller went 10-2…next up for the Caps is the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday at 5 pm at Capital One Arena. The Bolts are the best team in the NHL right now.

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Caps Get Total Team Effort in Victory Over Pittsburgh

Posted on 10 November 2017 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was their best game.

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

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