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Alex Ovechkin’s Hat Trick Helps the Caps Knock Off Carolina, 6-5

Posted on 14 December 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin notched his second straight hat trick to reach 28 goals in just 31 games and Jakub Vrana scored in the sixth round of the shootout to propel the Washington Capitals to a wild come from behind, 6-5, triumph over the Carolina Hurricanes. Braden Holtby, who yielded three power play goals, the last of which came on his own giveaway to Justin Williams, redeemed himself with some stellar work in the shootout allowing only one goal on six shots to give the Caps their fourth straight win. Washington is now 19-9-3 and lead second place Columbus by five points and third place Pittsburgh by seven with 51 games to go.

What a crazy and sloppy game, there are no two ways about that!

In addition, Chris Rooney and Brian Pochmara were downright horrible as your zebra duo on Friday night. They called some phantom penalties, such as the holding call on Ovi in period two and also didn’t call some obvious ones, like the Jonas Siegenthaler interference right before the Gr8’s second goal that made it 4-3. Simply put, the guys in stripes continue to struggle badly in this league so Gary Bettman and company need to stop counting their money and get on the task of fixing the poor officiating because it could ruin what is currently a very good product.

Rod Langway used to tell me back in the 80’s that everything starts with the goaltending and the defense and builds out from there. For the Caps, that is usually a strong point of their team, but for some reason in Raleigh they were off all over the place on the back end. The blueliners struggled with making passes nearly all night (perhaps it was what appeared to be bad ice?) and that put Washington on their heels quite a bit in period one. As a result, Holtby never really looked fully confident in the cage until the shootout.

John Carlson had three assists in this tilt and was +1, but he misplayed a puck on the Caps first power play in period one that took a crazy bounce to lead to a Sebastian Aho (two goals, two assists) goal on a Canes two on zero break. That shorty gave Carolina a 2-1 first period lead. After the ridiculous call on Ovi was converted by the Corsi Canes to make it 3-1, Tom Wilson took a bad interference penalty in front of the net and then Teuvo Teravainen scored on the power play to increase the lead for the home squad to three pucks with just over 33 minutes remaining.

Credit the Capitals for not quitting and when Wilson scored on the rebound of an Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 assist) shot with 7:23 remaining in period two, you could feel the momentum shift. Carolina had played the night before in Montreal and, according to the great Craig Laughlin, did not get back in town until 3 am so you knew their tanks had to be running low. Washington caught fire and Ovi made it 4-3 with 2:35 left in period two on the play where the zebras missed blatant interference on Seigenthaler. Hey, the Bad Zebras taketh and sometimes they giveth!

Just 44 seconds later, Nic Dowd picked up his third assist of the night by feeding John Carlson at the right point. Carlson fired on net and Travis Boyd was “Johnny on the Spot” in front and tipped the puck by Scott Darling (24 saves) for his third goal of the season. Suddenly, this was a brand new hockey game. Carolina almost took the lead back right at the end of the period, but the Holtbeast made a ten bell save with just over a second left.

In the final frame, the Caps power play, which was 0 for 1 while allowing a shorthanded tally, finally clicked. As I mentioned earlier, Carlson didn’t have his best night in his own zone, but the pass he made on the power play to Ovechkin to give the Capitals a 5-4 lead in the third period was as perfect as it gets.

Up by a puck with 10:11 to go, Washington started locking things down, and then T.J. Oshie took a careless offensive zone high sticking penalty to put the Canes on the man advantage. At that point they were two for four, but the Capitals were well on their way to killing this one off when Holtby made a mental error and tried to clear the puck out of the zone by himself from behind his cage. Unfortunately his attempt caught the back of the net and bounced right to Stick at the right post and Justin tapped it in to tie things up with 6:12 remaining.

Darling would rob Kuznetsov late in regulation after a super pass by Wilson and off to overtime this affair went. The Caps had puck possession early and Willy nearly won it, but missed the net high from in tight. Matt Niskanen was then boxed for tripping with 1:35 remaining, but it was another brutal call. The Capitals would kill it off and managed to not get Rooney Tuned into a loss. Again, boy was the officiating just plain bad in this affair!

In the gimmick, the first three shooters on each side could not connect with each goalie playing very well. Dougie Hamilton then scored on Braden using the Peter Forsberg move, but All Star Nicklas Backstrom answered for Washington. Holtby stopped the next two shooters before Vrana, who has been working his tail off to get better, sped in and beat Darling to end this wild and crazy game.

The bright spots for the Capitals were Ovechkin, of course, but also a fourth line that just keeps making positive things happen for Washington. Every time the team needed a momentum shift or energy boost, that unit brought it. On the night, Dowd (+3) had the three assists, Boyd (+2) had the tying goal late in period two, and Dmitrij Jaskin (+1) won a lot of individual and wall battles. The way they are going, there is just no way Coach Todd Reirden can break them up anytime in the near future.

This was not a pretty game and the Capitals had a schedule advantage getting what should’ve been a tired Canes team. Carolina, however, played hard and could’ve won. Washington did not have their best stuff, it wasn’t even close, but they found a way to win and that is what great teams do – come out on top when they don’t have anywhere near their “A” game.

As for Ovechkin, well everyone should just really enjoy what they are seeing from him. As Coach Reirden said in his post game presser, Alex is playing his best regular season hockey in recent years and just as importantly, his leadership has been stellar. The Caps bench boss, who is doing a fantastic job after taking over for Barry Trotz, said that it was the Gr8 who kept the bench up at the game’s midpoint when they were down three pucks. The 33 year old Stanley Cup Champion is truly a special player that is not sitting on his laurels, at all, and we are all blessed to watch him play game in and game out.

Notes: Ovechkin had 12 shot attempts in 21:10 of ice time…Wilson played 15:37 in his first game back from the concussion he suffered via the cheap shot hit by Ryan Reaves of Vegas on Tuesday, December 4th…Madison Bowey took two penalties in period one and was beaten several times, but at the end of the night he came out a +2 in 13:13 of ice time. Playing defense at the NHL level is the hardest position to learn for a young player so there will be mistakes. He’s has a lot of talent, but he’s played less than 82 games in “The Show.” Consistency has been an issue for #22 so far, but time is on his side…Defensemen Christian Djoos is out for a significant number of weeks, according to Coach Reirden, due to an emergency surgery he had to have on his thigh following Tuesday’s game. Siegenthaler played in #29’s absence. Brooks Orpik is back skating, but probably won’t be ready for at least another week or so, meaning a defensemen will need to be called up from Hershey for insurance. That will likely be Tyler Lewington…shots on goal were 29-27, but the Corsi Canes came out ahead in the shot attempts tally, 64-62…Carolina won the face off battle, 35-25. Dowd was 6-3 for Washington…the Caps were 1 for 2 on the power play while Carolina was 3 for 6. They also had a shorthanded goal, so it was not a good special teams night for the Capitals…next up for the Capitals are the Buffalo Sabres at 7 pm on Saturday night at Capital One Arena. The Sabres are 19-9-4 and off to a great start with Carter Hutton in net and former Cane, Jeff Skinner, leading the team in goals with 22. Jack Eichel is also playing some stellar hockey. Buffalo gets the schedule advantage in this one, so the Caps have their work cut out for themselves on Saturday.

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Caps Defeat the Coyotes on Burakovsky’s Late Tally

Posted on 07 December 2018 by Ed Frankovic

For the first time in three games, the Washington Capitals entered period three without a lead. The Caps and the Arizona Coyotes were knotted at two with 20 minutes left, but Andre Burakovsky buried a snap shot past Adin Hill with 4:42 remaining and then Alexander Ovechkin hit the empty net for his 21st goal to give Washington a 4-2 triumph in the desert to halt a two game slide.

This was an important victory for the Caps coming off of the blown four goal lead against the Dirty Ducks on Sunday and then the penalty ridden loss to the Golden Knights on Tuesday night where Tom Wilson was cheap shotted by Ryan Reaves, leading to a concussion for Willy when his helmetless head hit the ice. That left the Capitals without their top two right wings in Glendale (no Willy plus T.J. Oshie is still out with a concussion).

Burakovsky was promoted to the first line for this affair with Ovechkin and All Star Nicklas Backstrom, a place Andre has had success in the past, and despite an early turnover that led to the Coyotes first tally, #65 played well. He moved his feet and worked hard. He will never be his big brother Top Line Tommy, but Andre has some serious ability and as in game 7 against Tampa in the post season, he scored a huge goal when his club really needed one. Kudos Burky!

This was Matt Niskanen’s 32nd birthday and he had a whale of a night with defensive partner Dmitry Orlov. Nisky scored the goal that tied this one at two late in period two after a nice feed from Travis Boyd, who received a sweater with all of the injuries up front. Matt’s point blast at the net hit the skate of Jakob Chychrun, who was tied up with Dmitrij Jaskin in front, and it went past Hill for a huge tally after the Yotes had dominated the majority of the first 36 minutes. Good things happen when you put pucks and bodies to the net. Arizona took the lead at 2-1 on one of those plays, a rebound goal by Lawson Crouse, and Washington paid them back with a good ole hard working tally. When some of your key players are out, those are the kind of goals you need to grind out a W.

For the evening, Niskanen and Orlov were both +3 logging 22:35 and 23:19 of ice time, respectively. It was really good to see that duo have a strong game given their recent struggles.

Jakub Vrana had the best night of any Washington skater scoring his ninth goal from the slot to tie this affair up at one in the opening frame and then he earned a penalty shot just 16 seconds into period three. Vrana toe picked on his attempt, but he was flying all game and opened up space with his speed. He had Arizona on their heels on each of his shifts. That’s three goals in two games on this road trip for the Czech forward and he has really blossomed into a weapon on the ice for Coach Todd Reirden.

In net, Pheonix Copley really stood tall and kept the Caps in this one for the first 40 minutes. He faced a penalty shot of his own after Brett Connolly shoved a dropped stick into an opponent possessing the puck in the defensive zone. Referees Dan O’Rourke and Kendrick Nicholson correctly called a penalty shot there, but Richard Panik shot high trying to pick the corner on the large Capitals net minder. For the night, Pheonix made 27 saves and ran his record to 6-2-1 this season. He’s really taken away any worries anyone had about the backup goaltending situation coming into this season. Losing Philipp Grubauer was not something to be taken lightly entering 2018-19, but Copley has really stepped up between the pipes.

As for Ovi, he was on the ice from the 1:57 mark until he hit the empty cage from the defensive zone with three seconds left. This was due to several icings against the Caps, but he, Backstrom, and Kuzentsov all gutted things out to seal the deal. Niskanen and Orlov were out there for the last 42 seconds of that 1:44 shift and were stellar, as well.

The win puts the Capitals back in first place in the Metropolitan Division at 16-9-3 (35 points). They will face second place Columbus on Saturday night in Cannonville without their top two right wings, once again. Oshie is skating at the practice rink in Arlington, while Wilson is still with the team, but I’d imagine the Caps want to take no chances with #43’s upper body injury. This will be the first time the Caps have faced the Blue Jackets since they eliminated them in the first round back in April, so you can bet John Tortorella’s team will be fired up for this one.

Every team that the Capitals play this season, however, will be fired up because Washington is the defending Stanley Cup Champions. It comes with the territory and the Caps will need to be ready to go from puck drop, once again. They had a rough start in Arizona, but found a way to avenge the ugly loss they had at home versus the Yotes on Veterans Day. Copley was strong in net and Washington had some luck to hang around. In the final frame, the Caps found their legs and carried the play, and that’s why they came out on top.

Notes: John Carlson led the Capitals in ice time with 24:27. He was +1 and had seven shots on goal…shots on goal were 29 each. Shot attempts were 63-60, for Arizona…the Yotes were 0 for 2 on the power play while the Caps were 0 for 1. Both teams missed a penalty shot. The zebras actually did a very good job on Thursday, it was the best officiated Capitals game in over a month…Clayton Keller, who has owned the Caps in his young career, was -2 in 20:51 of ice time. He was shut down on this night…the Capitals were creamed on faceoffs, 31-20. Backstrom was 3-13, but did win a key late draw. Derek Stepan went 16-4 for Arizona.

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Carlson’s 3 Primary Assists Lead the Caps Over the Rangers, 5-3

Posted on 24 November 2018 by Ed Frankovic

How do you spell Norris?

On Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden following a tremendous three assist, +4 performance in a team leading 24:40 of ice time, and the game’s first star in a Capitals, 5-3, triumph, it is really simple:

C-A-R-L-S-O-N.

John Carlson turned in a gem of an outing in the second half of a back to back situation for Washington and it came on game one of the mentors’ trip in New York. Carlson had the primary assist on three Caps tallies, the first as a result of a beautiful deflection of his point shot by Nic Dowd just 31 seconds after the Rangers took a 2-0 lead, the second on a sweet pass to Alexander Ovechkin on the door step for the Gr8’s 17th goal of the season that gave Washington a 3-2 late second period edge, and then a whale of a cross ice feed that Brett Connolly sweetly one-timed home for the game winning goal at 13:36 of the final frame. They were all stellar plays made by an elite NHL defenseman. Carlson would not be on the ice for any of the three New York tallies and he received his final plus for the day when Tom Wilson made a great defensive zone hit, grabbed the biscuit, and then rifled it the length of the ice into an empty cage from the left wing circle with 1:08 to go.

Washington started slowly in this affair despite two early power plays and it was at the end of the second one that the Blueshirts took the lead. The Caps had four guys pressing down low as Jimmy Vesey’s penalty for high sticking was expiring and Kevin Hayes took a great bank pass by Brady Skjei off of the defensive zone boards and went the other way, two on one on the Capitals. A back checking Jakub Vrana tried to catch Hayes, but went to the wrong side of him and Hayes alertly fed Jesper Fast trailing the play in the high slot. Fast had a chance to shoot from the primary scoring area, which froze Pheonix Copley (27 saves) and defenseman Matt Niskanen, then Jesper slid the puck to Vesey on his right, and Jimmy shot it into the yawning cage.

The Capitals were very careless with the biscuit in the first period and as a result they were outshot, 12-6, by the young and recently red hot Rangers. Washington was looking better in the second period, but then a Skjei rocket on the rebound of a Brendan Smith shot off of the backboards gave the home team a two puck lead. The local crowd was rocking to a goal song that certainly grates on the visitors and was feeling very good about their hockey team, at that point.

Everything then changed on the next shift as the line of Dowd, Connolly, and Vrana outworked New York in the offensive zone to get the puck back to #74, who fired on net setting the stage for Dowd’s second tally of the season. The Caps then evened this one up on the speed, determination, and amazing hands of Vrana, who blew by Brett Howden like he was an orange road cone with 3:33 left in period two and put a dazzling backhander past Alexander Georgiev (23 saves), top shelf, to the far post. Wow, what a goal that was!

After Ovechkin gave the Caps the lead with 30 seconds left in the middle stanza, the Capitals had some chances to make it a two puck game again early in period three, including Dmitri Jaskin, who had his best outing in weeks (11:25 of ice time, four shots on goal and two missed shots), hitting the post on a great chance in the slot. The Rangers would make those misses hurt when they outworked Washington’s top line and the duo of Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov on the wall to set up Ryan Strome’s second goal of the season on a sweet wraparound tally after Copley was caught cheating to his left, just 5:30 into period three.

It was anyone’s game in the final 15 minutes until Vrana made a super diving pass to Carlson in the neutral zone setting up Carly’s rush and beautiful cross ice feed to Connolly for the game winner with 6:24 to go. It was Brett’s 4th goal of the season and Conno is playing some quality hockey this season (13 points in 23 games).

For the Caps, this was their fifth win in a row and also the first time this season they’ve won both ends of a back to back game situation. It also moves them into first place in the Metropolitan Division at 13-7-3 (29 points) pending the result of the Blue Jackets-Penguins game in The Burgh on Saturday night. Columbus is 13-7-2 (28 points).

Ovechkin could’ve had his 18th goal of the season into another empty net late in the game, but he tried a toe drag move on the right wing offensive zone boards when a quick flick of the puck towards the cage probably would’ve sealed the deal. However, the outcome was decided at that juncture and the Gr8 had himself SEVEN HITS in 21:10 of ice time, including one on Vladislav Nemestnikov in the offensive zone corner that started the whole sequence for Alexander the Great’s net crashing tally. On that goal, the key was that Alex kept his stick on the ice as he went to the paint.

As for Wilson, well the team is now 6-1 since he returned from his suspension, with the last five triumphs coming without Evgeny Kuznetsov or T.J. Oshie in the lineup. Willy logged 20:24 of ice time and was +2 with four hits.

The Capitals definitely need both Kuzy and the Osh Babe back, they aren’t going to keep winning long term without them, and their five on four power play went 0 for 2 on Saturday and is really struggling, especially the top unit. Caps Coach Todd Reirden told the assembled media before the tilt at MSG that Kuznetsov is on the two game road trip and the closest to returning, while T.J. is still in DC recovering (you just wait until March 10th, Josh Morrisey!). Washington will now move on to Long Island to face their former bench boss, Stanley Cup Champion Barry Trotz, and the New York Islanders on Monday night at 7:00 pm. The Isles are 11-8-2 (24 points) heading into Saturday night’s contest against Carolina.

Washington will spend Sunday afternoon with their dads and other mentors in the Big Apple and then try to extend their winning streak to six in Brooklyn at a barn made for basketball.

Notes: Vrana’s goal and helper upped his point total to 14 in 23 games and he’s an impressive +9. When he moves his feet he is deadly on the ice…shots on goal were 30-28 for the Rags, but the Capitals had more shot attempts, 54-47…the Caps were creamed at the dot, 27-15…the Capitals were two for two on the penalty kill… Jonas Seigenthaler was inserted for Madison Bowey on the third defensive pairing and looked solid in 14:49 of ice time. Everyone plays at least one game on the Dad’s trip and Jonas made the most of his opportunity…Coach Reirden did a SUPER job of distributing ice time after the team played on early Friday evening. Only Andre Burakovsky (-2) played under 10 minutes (9:51)…I’d like to personally extend my condolences, as well as thoughts and prayers, to the McGeough family, who lost former NHL referee, Mick, this week after a fatal stroke at age 62. Just last spring I had a great conversation with Mick when he was in town as a supervisor of officials for the playoffs. He was a very nice and honest man. RIP, Mick.

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Tom Wilson Wild

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Tom Wilson’s Return Sparks the Caps to Victory

Posted on 14 November 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Tom Wilson was signed to a six year, $5.17M annual salary by the Washington Capitals this past off-season for a reason.

As T.J. Oshie tweeted on Tuesday afternoon, it was “Free Willy 3, The Rescue” for the Caps once Tom and the team found out that the neutral and independent arbitrator, Shyam Das, reduced Wilson’s 20 game suspension to just 14 overall. Unfortunately for the Capitals, 16 games have already passed, but Das, who cited George Parros’ incorrect math as the biggest reason for the reduction, did allow Top Line Tommy to recoup over $375K in salary by slicing the length of the punishment.

The Osh Babe was spot on that this was “The Rescue,” because a lifeless and blah Capitals hockey team that lost to Arizona, 4-1, on Sunday at Capital One Arena was turned into a group of energizer bunnies in a 5-2 thumping of the Minnesota Wild on their home rink.

Caps sensational play by play man, Joe Beninati, stated after the game that you could feel the buzz around the Capitals in the morning once the great news on Wilson came to light. Anyone on Twitter on Tuesday morning also felt the vibe. Suddenly the fan base was energized with their young leader coming back into the fold.

Speaking of the lineup, Coach Todd Reirden immediately went back to the three forward units that the Caps used in the Stanley Cup Final to defeat Vegas and suddenly Washington looked more like that club that defeated the Golden Knights in five games. Andre Burakovsky (one goal, one assist), Brett Connolly (one assist, +2), and Lars Eller (two assists) were flying from the get go and that gave Wild Coach Bruce Boudreau matchup issues because the Capitals finally had a deadly top nine on the ice, once again.

Eller would make a great play to set up Dmitry Orlov for his first goal of the season 6:33 into this tilt. Orly has been pretty inconsistent for most of the campaign, but in this affair, he was outstanding. Dima was skating and carrying the puck with confidence. After scoring the opening marker, he made a super pass to Wilson late in period one for a net crashing goal by Willy. That tally came with 28 seconds left in the first frame and put the Caps up, 2-0. Somehow, though, the clowns in stripes called Wilson for goalie interference after the puck went in, but it was Ryan Suter who shoved #43 into Devan Dubnyk (28 saves) and the Wild defensemen compounded the damage by hitting his own keeper in the head with his skate, knocking the goalie’s helmet off. It was just flat out horrible officiating by Kyle Rehman and Tom Chmielewksi, who did not have a good night. In fact, I think Chim Chim from the old Speed Racer cartoon could’ve done a better job than either of those two zebras.

Fortunately for the Caps, the officials didn’t matter despite giving Minnesota six power plays, because Washington played such a strong game. With Pheonix Copley (26 saves) in net, the Capitals had a committed defensive outing and allowed their goalie to see the opponents shots. They also blocked 20 attempts and cleared away five or so (according to the great Craig Laughlin) rebounds. Rebound control is the one area that #1 needs to keep improving on, but he used his positioning and size to thwart several Wild quality chances in this contest. Pheonix’s steady net minding, especially in period two when Minnesota had a bit of a push, prevented the Capitals from coughing up a multiple goal lead.

Once it was 3-1 heading into period three, Washington used its speed and talent to score two rush goals and put this one out of reach, at 5-1. Orlov notched his second goal of the night off of a great feed from Alex Ovechkin on a three on two. That easy finish was all set up by Wilson driving to the net and taking the Wild defensemen with him. Jakub Vrana made a dazzling play using his speed through the neutral zone and into the offensive end to feed Nicklas Backstrom in the high slot, who then put one on a tee for the Osh Babe to deposit the biscuit into the practically empty cage with Dubnyk out high expecting a shot from Backy. That goal with 10:12 to go pushed the lead to four pucks and from there it was just a question of how many power plays the Wild would get down the stretch (the correct answer is three).

The story of the night, however, was the intensity from Washington. The last time they played with passion that translated into winning the majority of the puck battles and solid back checking was opening night against Boston. Since that game way back on October 3rd, there has been a lack of a spark from this club. That all changed with the return of Wilson – as I tweeted before the game, every guy in that Capitals locker room loves Tom because of the energy and effort he brings to the room. He’s a battler on and off of the ice and he’ll protect his teammates at any cost. You simply can’t quantify what he means to the team, but all you had to do was watch Tuesday’s victory and you certainly can understand it.

It was definitely fun watching the Capitals play hockey again, and you’d be hard pressed to not give Wilson the majority of the credit for the amazing and quick turnaround.

Notes: Shots on goal were 27-14 for Washington after two periods and 33-28 for the game…the Caps were 0 for 2 on the power play while Minnesota was 1 for 6…Orlov led the Capitals in ice time with 24:20. John Carlson (+3) logged 23:35 and Matt Niskanen played 22:47…Eller had the most ice time of any Caps forward with 19:23…the Wild only blocked nine shots to the Capitals 20…Washington won the face off battle, 30-29. Eller was 11-8…the Caps are in Winnipeg on Wednesday night at 8 pm EST and Braden Holtby will be in the cage.

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Carlson Vrana Canucks

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Caps Dominate Canucks in 5-2 Win; Ovechkin has 4 points

Posted on 23 October 2018 by Ed Frankovic

“There were no passengers tonight.”

That was the game summing up phrase uttered by the Caps superb television analyst, Craig Laughlin, as the horn sounded on a dominant 5-2 victory for the defending Stanley Cup Champions in Vancouver on Monday night.

No truer words could be spoken; Locker hit the nail on the head as Washington played their second best game of the young season (opening night) to improve to 4-2-2 overall (10 points).

After a big save by Braden Holtby on the opening shift, the Capitals raced to a fast start in this one scoring on a John “Norris” Carlson goal just 2:02 into this affair. The tally came on a four on four sequence with Michal Kempny and Dominic Roussel off for roughing. The goal was set up by some great skating and then a sweet pass by Jakub Vrana. Vrana had already won the face off to start the four on four and that winning draw set up a quality chance for Dmitry Orlov.

Overall, the Caps played very well in the opening frame as the whole team skated and they were more physical than the other games so far this season. The shots on goal were 13-6 and the shot attempts came in at 24-10, all for the good guys. Carlson was absolutely the best player on the ice and he logged 8:59 of ice time in that period.

Washington’s fourth line had two really strong shifts with Andre Burakovsky laying a big hit on Troy Stecher. It was the Caps best first period since the home opener and the lead could’ve been multiple pucks.

Prosperity wouldn’t last too long as the start of the second period was very sloppy for the Caps. There were too many soft and fancy passes that were picked off very easily by Vancouver. The Canucks had eight of the first nine shots in the frame and finally scored 7:30 into the period when the Caps fourth line couldn’t clear the puck. A point shot by Troy Stecher hit Nic Dowd’s glove en route to the cage and went in. There was nothing Holtby could do on that one and if it wasn’t for some super saves by the Holtbeast this game would’ve been tied up sooner.

Shortly thereafter, T.J. Oshie drew his second penalty of the night by going to the net and taking a cross check from Erik Gudbranson. The Caps deadly power play scored on a Kuznetsov rocket when the Canucks overplayed Ovechkin and opened up all kinds of room for #92 on the left side of the ice. Kuzy’s laser to the short side of Anders Nilsson (28 saves) came just under two minutes after the Canucks had evened things up.

After that power play marker, the Caps started playing better again. The fourth line had two good shifts and then late in the frame, Nicklas Backstrom made a sweet move to get around a defender at the blue line, carried the puck in deep down the left wing and fired it on net. Oshie, who once again was crashing the cage, backhanded the biscuit on goal and it pin balled around in front and Johnny on the Spot, Ovi, had the puck go in off of his leg for his seventh marker of the season with just 26 seconds left in period two. Good things happen when you get pucks and bodies to the net!

Backstrom took a late penalty in period two and the Canucks cashed in just 20 seconds into the final stanza on a rebound goal to make it 3-2. Washington would respond by drawing two straight power plays. Matt Niskanen was blatantly interfered with by Alexander Edler on a Vancouver rush, but the Capitals couldn’t get the power play set up at all and failed to get a decent scoring chance. The Caps fourth line continued their solid night by drawing a trip (Stecher took down Dmitri Jaskin) and this time Coach Todd Rierden’s squad made Vancouver pay. Backstrom passed to Carlson at the top of the point and Carly fired towards the cage, but Markus Granlund blocked the shot and broke his stick in the process. The puck went right to Ovechkin. The Gr8 and Carly then played give and go with Alex rifling one by Nilsson to restore the two goal lead and notch his eighth goal in eight games. All Star Backstrom picked up his 600th career assist on the important tally.

From there the Capitals really looked like the club that locked down leads last post season and Oshie hit the empty net on a great feed from Ovechkin to close out the scoring. It was an unselfish play by the Gr8, who could’ve gone for the hat trick, but being the team guy he is, the smart play was the pass to the Osh Babe for the game clincher and he did just that.

This was as solid of a triumph as Washington has had since the 7-0 thumping of the Bruins on banner raising night. Everyone was moving their legs, with Vrana being the most impressive with his wheels. Burakovsky wasn’t far behind him and if #65 keeps playing like that by moving his skates and using his size to win puck battles, more ice time and the points will start coming his way. Up and down the lineup the Capitals battled in this one. Each line contributed and the defense was rock solid, especially Carlson, who played a game high 26:06. He is a special player, like Oshie, and I’m super happy that the Caps took my advice each of the last two off seasons to reward guys I repeatedly referred to with the moniker, “Pay the Man!”

When the totals were added up for the night, Ovechkin had four points (two goals and two assists), Carlson had a goal and two assists, and Backy had three helpers to reach 601 for his career. The Osh Babe also had a goal and an assist and seemed to win just about every puck battle he was involved in.

Simply put, this game was all about speed and effort. Washington had their legs going and they were using their size to dominate puck possession. To steal from Aerosmith, “The train kept a rolling all night long” and that’s why the Caps were victorious.

Now it’s on to Edmonton to take on Connor McDavid and the Oilers on Thursday night at 9:00 pm Eastern Daylight Time.

Notes: The Holtbeast was very good in net despite some minor rebound issues, at times. The Capitals were much better in coverage in front of their own cage and in the slot, outside of the first eight minutes of period two when it was turnover city…the Caps were 2 for 5 on the power play while Vancouver was 1 for 3…I thought officials Justin St. Pierre and Gord Dwyer were fabulous. The game was called consistently and properly…the fourth line had one bad shift all night and it resulted in a goal against, but when the coaches review the film, they’ll really like what they saw from that unit…the Caps lost the face off battle, 28-25, but Dowd went 5-2…shot attempts for the game were 55-35 for Washington.

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Kuznetsov Dazzles in Caps 5-2 Victory over Vegas

Posted on 10 October 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Evgeny Kuznetsov put on a show notching four points, including three amazing setups for goals, two of which went to Alexander Ovechkin, and Braden Holtby was superb in net with 29 saves to lead the Capitals to a 5-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday night at Capital One Arena. It was the teams’ first meeting since the Caps skated Lord Stanley’s Cup at T-Mobile Arena back in June.

The win, which followed a nice rally in Pittsburgh to steal a point last Thursday night and then five days off, moves the Capitals to 2-0-1 (five points) on the season. They will face the New Jersey Devils at The Rock on Thursday night at 7 pm.

What follows are the highlights and analysis of a typical October game where defense and hitting were optional, most of the time.

It was clear that Coach Gerard Gallant’s squad was fired up for this one and they fought mightily throughout the contest, but at the end of the night, they lost for the same reason they were defeated in the Cup Final – they simply don’t have the high end offensive talent that Washington possesses. General Manager George McPhee has put together a nice team that works hard and plays their system, but he does not have an Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, or Nicklas Backstrom in his lineup. But not many teams in the NHL have that either. The 2017-18 Stanley Cup Champions are a very talented bunch and they still have room to improve. As the Great Count Floyd would say, “That’s scary stuff, Kids!”

For the last couple of years, I rode Kuznetsov hard in my blogs because I knew that with his talent, he had the ability to take over hockey games, like we saw from him in the World Juniors shortly after he was drafted. Kuzy did just that this past spring and was a major reason the Capitals won the Cup. He moved into the superstar category with his play, leading the NHL in post season points (32). The Russian center has now moved into elite status with the way he’s dominating out on the rink this October. His two-way game continues to improve and because he’s been shooting the puck more often and scoring goals, additional passing lanes are opening up for him. Those two feeds to Ovechkin for goals were just sensational. He’s a joy to watch.

Ovechkin is now up to four goals in three games and is really skating well. Ovi is so clutch when the Caps need it and with seven shots on goal, he easily could’ve notched a hat trick on Wednesday. After re-inventing his game last season with more speed, the Gr8 has picked up right where he left off.

Brett Connolly has been called upon to take Tom Wilson’s spot during Willy’s suspension. On the Capitals first goal, which came on the power play, Conno makes a great hit in the corner to keep the puck alive. Brett doesn’t have #43’s size, but he can skate and isn’t afraid to put his body in on the wall. If he keeps playing like that, the loss of Wilson, which is big for Washington, is partially mitigated. Connolly had two assists in this affair.

Backstrom had a goal and an assist to give Nicky six points in three games. The Jakub Vrana-Backstrom-T.J. Oshie line makes the job of matchups for the opposing coach very difficult night in and night out.

Washington went two for four on the power play to continue its torrid start to the season (5 for 10). The Caps had some issues with generating speed out of their own zone on their first man advantage situation because Vegas was very aggressive with forechecking pressure, but once they figured that out and got things set up, the magic began. You won’t see two prettier passing plays than the goals by Kuznetsov and Backstrom.

Vegas has a lot of heart and they just kept coming in this game. Washington was quite sloppy, at times, especially in the second and third periods. The Golden Knights cut two goal leads to one puck twice and thought they had a third one to make it 4-3, but that marker was wiped out by a clear offside challenge by the Caps video brain trust (well done Stretch and Timmy!). The Caps need to be smarter with the lead, they were lazy in their own end on several occasions and in the neutral zone and offensive blue line they made some poor decisions with the biscuit. If the Holtbeast wasn’t so rock solid in net, and he also had some help from the iron, this game could’ve been tied in the final frame. Coach Todd Reirden will have some good video to show his squad what not to do with the lead in this one.

Goaltending is so important in hockey and Holtby showed, once again, why he’s one of the best in the NHL. #70 was dialed in and made some very difficult stops, especially on William Karlsson, look very routine. Holts will get Thursday off and without Philipp Grubauer in net anymore, it will be up to Pheonix Copley to show that he can be a viable backup when he makes his debut against the Devils. The Capitals need Copley to start 25 or so games so that the Holtbeast is well rested for the post season.

Dmitri Jaskin, acquired from the Blues via the waiver wire, played solidly on the fourth line with Nic Dowd and Devante Smith-Pelly. Jaskin has size and goes to the net. That line had several scoring chances and looks like it could have some nice chemistry.

This was a nice win and the Capitals are hard to beat in a wide open game with all of the scoring punch they have. This type of hockey will be prevalent until the New Year, and then everyone will buckle down and start gearing up for playoff hockey. The bad news for the rest of the league is that Washington showed last spring that they can pretty much play any style and come out on top these days.

Notes: The Caps lost the faceoff battle, 38-36, but Dowd went 8-5…shot attempts were 68-51 for Vegas. Shots on goal were 31-29, also for the Golden Knights…Brooks Orpik was rammed hard into the glass by William Carrier late in period one. #44, who eats rocks for breakfast, didn’t play the rest of the period and went down the tunnel, but he did return for the last 40 minutes…John Carlson (two assists) led the Caps in ice time with 25:55…Michal Kempny returned from a concussion to make his regular season debut and logged 16:41. He did take two penalties, though.

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Caps Breakdown Day News, Nuggets, and Analysis

Posted on 13 June 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals held breakdown day on Wednesday afternoon and it was obviously the best one ever, given that this year’s session followed the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup victory. The players were clearly tired from two grueling months of hockey and then the post triumph celebrations, but were extremely happy.

Here are some of the major takeaways from the day at Kettler IcePlex:

Alexander Ovechkin, now clean cut thanks to his Gillette sponsorship, is a very happy man, and rightly so. The victory has clearly brought back the old Ovi that we saw when he was younger before some of the angry and hating national and even local media constantly crushed him forcing him to withdraw some of the best sides of his personality from public view. On Wednesday, the Gr8 answered questions for 30 minutes going above and beyond the call of duty. Ovi started by stating “I still can’t believe we won, I still can’t believe we did it. Right now we are realizing how special this win was.” He also added that “We lost some key guys last year, but all of the new guys played unbelievable.” Ovi noted that this was the best team he ever played on and whenever someone got hurt, felt bad, or were suspended, people stepped up. “It was a special group.” He also praised former General Manager George McPhee for “drafting half of the group” and ended with a very classy “Thanks George for what you did here.”

Nicklas Backstrom suffered two fractures in his right index finger in game five against Pittsburgh. He said he will not need surgery. Clearly Nicky was still hurting when he came back in the lineup after missing four games and to perform the way he did with that injury – shutting down the other team’s top center in each of the Tampa and Vegas series – is the stuff of legends. Backy will have his Cup celebration in his hometown in Sweden.

Brooks Orpik injured his hand in game two of the Columbus series and also had the tip of his right pinky finger detached when Erik Haula violently slashed him at the end of game two in the Stanley Cup final. Despite the injuries, Orpik played some of his best hockey in this postseason. When asked about the improvement in his skating this past season, Brooks noted that he is always tweaking his off season training regimen to seek improvement, but he also pointed out this was the first season in a few years where he did not have any ailments that impacted his wheels. Orpik told me he’d find out on Friday if he needed surgery on his hand.

Coach Barry Trotz had initial new contract discussions with General Manager Brian MacLellan on Wednesday morning. The Stanley Cup winning coach says he wants to be back because he likes this group while also stating that the area and setup has been good for his family situation. When asked if the rest of the entire coaching staff would be back next year, he said that is unknown, at this time.

John “Big Game” Carlson has not had any contract talks with the Caps yet, but said he loves this team and would love to be back, but there are a lot of factors involved. He will be having his Stanley Cup celebration in the DC area (his wife is from the DMV). The Capitals have an advantage in negotiations since they can sign number 74 for eight years, while others can only offer seven campaigns. There is no doubt that “Big Game” is the number one offseason unrestricted free agent priority for MacLellan and the Caps. The salary cap number for 2018-19 will be out from the league on Monday, June 18th and the higher it goes, the better it is for Washington ($82M would be really nice). Backstrom, when asked about Carlson stated, “John Carlson just keeps getting better and better. It’s impressive. Hopefully he stays here.” I’ll say this now, just like I did about T.J. Oshie last year, Pay the Man! He’s a legitimate number one defenseman and easily in the top ten in the NHL, in my opinion. You don’t let stud blue liners like “Big Game” Carlson leave. Losing him would be close to the magnitude of the Scott Stevens departure back in 1990.

Defensemen Michal Kempny and Dmitry Orlov gave a lot of credit to assistant coach Todd Rierden for helping them improve their respective games. Kempny noted that he had little confidence when he came over in February in a trade from Chicago and that Rierden immediately helped him regain it. The Czech defensemen stated that he had some bad games in the postseason, but that Rierden was always there to give him some keys to turning things around in the next contest. Kempny, who was very vocal about coming back because the Caps have “a great group of players, coaches, and trainers,” is an unrestricted free agent and given that he played as the number four defensemen in the postseason, he’s high up on the contract pecking order for MacLellan and the Caps. He only has 103 games of NHL experience, so that could help keep his price lower (he made $900, 000 in 2017-18 and will get a decent raise). Orlov, who had his hand badly injured in the World Championships in the spring of 2014 and missed the entire first season of the Trotz era (2014-15), said he was unsure he’d ever be able to play again at a high level. Rierden has certainly helped Dima out, but I also give Orlov a ton of credit for constantly working and striving to be better. It’s amazing how far he’s come since the 2016 playoffs where he struggled against the Flyers and Penguins. He’s a quality blue liner that breaks the puck out of his own zone incredibly well.

Oshie said he hasn’t won much since he was younger, so this Stanley Cup victory has been very exciting. Courtesy of the great Tarik El-Bashir, T.J. said he was healthiest at the start of the Stanley Cup Final. He won’t require any procedures this offseason. The Osh Babe, who is one of the most positive people you’ll ever meet, told Tarik that “I didn’t even need Advil” as the SCF started.

Tom “Future Captain” Wilson noted that he played up and down the lineup this season, but said when he played 10 games straight with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, instead of just one or two, his game really took off. Willy talked at length about how close this team was (is), but credited former Cap Justin Williams for encouraging the team to have fun and said it helped loosen the team up and bond them. Top line Tommy says he’s loved his five years here, stated he’s always done whatever he can to help the team, but also said there will be an element of business this summer for him (he’s a restricted free agent). Like Orlov and Evgeny Kuznetsov and some others on this squad, it’s amazing how much they have improved in the four years this coaching staff has been in place. The players clearly get the majority of the credit, but you can’t discount the way the coaches have enabled these players to blossom.

On the netminding front, courtesy of Isabelle Khurshudyan of The Washington Post, MacLellan said Philipp Grubauer wants to be a number one goaltender, but he’d like to keep both Grubi and Braden Holtby, be he’s going to explore a trade for Grubauer so he can do his thing. There is no doubt that the Capitals don’t win the Metropolitan Division without the stellar play of number 31 this past season. You need two good goalies in this day and age in the NHL to make it to the postseason. If Grubauer, who is a restricted free agent departs via trade, there could be a big dropoff to third string, Phoenix Copley. 2015 1st round pick Ilya Samsonov will be coming over to North America to play this fall, but he’ll need time in Hershey to become acclimated to the smaller rink. Bottom line, the best scenario for the Caps is to keep Grubauer, but potential salary cap room and a good trade return will likely be too hard to pass up. Goaltending coach Scott Murray and his staff, to include Olie Kolzig, will need to really get the other goalies in the system ready quickly should the German keeper move on.

Jay Beagle, when asked why the Caps won this year, pointed out that the Capitals “built their game all year and peaked at the right time. In past years we peaked in December and Janaury and then tried to hold onto it.” When questioned about Ovechkin not letting go of the Cup very much since they won, he stated that Ovi is invited to his Cup celebration, but he doubted the Gr8 would come to the Beagle farm. On Trotz, number 83 said “He’s always been a great coach since he’s been here, has brought in great people around him, and I feel like we have been the most prepared team in the league.” The unrestricted free agent, who has now won championships at the ECHL, AHL, and NHL level, hasn’t had any contract discussions yet and stated “obviously, I have to wait until the big guys get settled first” before receiving an offer. The hard working total team guy stated he could wait until after July 1st and that he’d leave things up to MacLellan. When I asked him if he’d leave if some team came along and threw money at him, said he’d have to see what was best for his family. The fourth line center who is great on faceoffs and the PK made $1.75M in each of the last three seasons.

As I wrote in my Cup winning blog, players such as Brett Connolly, Jakub Vrana, and Andre Burakovsky really upped their compete level, especially on the physical side of the house, and were important factors in the Caps playoff run. Burakovsky told El-Bashir that after three hand injuries over the past couple of years that he plans to have a conversation with CCM this summer about getting more substantial gloves. He told Tarik that two of the injuries could’ve been avoided with more protection. Washington will need each of these three guys to continue to progress, as they’ve done so far under Lane Lambert’s tutelage, if they are going to have a chance to repeat. Connolly, who for two years has confidently told me that the Caps have a very good team, summed up why this Championship ultimately happened for this squad.

“It was amazing, such a good group, such a committed group, such a highly skilled group. We really just came together at the right time, especially after that Pittsburgh series where we first really said we could win this. It’s such a big moment for all of us, we’re all just so happy that we could ultimately get this done for all of our fans, for our families, it was such a special moment.”

That quote from Connolly really summed up this team, who will forever be legends around this area, in a nutshell.

Notes: Matt Niskanen, when asked about all of the celebrations, said “It was great to see Brooks Orpik let his hair down.” So many players mentioned how business like number 44 is and that they don’t often get to see that side of one of the biggest leaders on the Caps…Alex Chiasson, who scored a huge goal to open the scoring in the game six triumph that closed out the Penguins, was hoping to come back to the Caps next season, especially given his close friendship that he has developed with Ovechkin, which apparently started from playing cards on the plane together…Beagle is leaving town on Thursday and noted it would be good to get back to reality…I’ll post a full transcript of my exclusive one on one session with Connolly out at WNST.NET on Thursday night…Backstrom, when asked about the team possibly breaking up, “It sucks, but when you look back on this 10, 15 years from now, we’ll always have this special group.”

Photo credit to Jacquelyn Martin of the Associated Press.

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Caps Will Face A Strong and Confident Vegas Squad in the Stanley Cup Final

Posted on 27 May 2018 by Ed Frankovic

For the first time in 20 years the Washington Capitals will be playing in the Stanley Cup Final. The last time they managed to win three rounds, in 1998, they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings, who would win their second straight title with a loaded team. In those days, there wasn’t an NHL salary cap, so many of the bigger market franchises were able to stack their rosters up with talent by spending more money. Go back and take a look at that Red Wings roster, coached by the legendary Scotty Bowman, and you’ll see the names of many Hall of Fame players such as Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Brendan Shanahan, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Larry Murphy.

In 2018, outspending other teams by wide margins is no longer the case with the salary cap in place along with last season’s NHL expansion draft. Former Capitals General Manager George McPhee, who knew he would be getting a good player from all 30 teams, did a marvelous job of assembling a roster that is big and fast. Not many picked the Vegas Golden Knights to make the playoffs, but they bonded together after the tragedy at the country music festival last October outside Mandalay Bay, rode goalie Marc Andre-Fleury to some early wins when they were outplayed, and then found a lot of confidence along the way en route to the Pacific Division title.

This Golden Knights squad is no fluke and their accomplishments should be celebrated, because they earned it defeating the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, and Winnipeg Jets in just 15 playoff games. Coach Gerard Gallant and his staff have done a masterful job of getting each player to buy in and play a north-south style of hockey with speed and size. Heading into the season, there were no star players on this roster, other than the three time Stanley Cup Champion goaltender, and each player arrived with a hunger to be a regular player and make a mark in this league. Boy did this squad stick to the script, turning a “Land of Misfit Toys” type group into the Western Conference Champions.

They have star players now, and it starts up front with their top line of William Karlsson (43 goals), Jonathan Marchessault (27 goals), and Riley Smith. Both Karlsson and Marchessault have had career years and moved into the star category this season. Those two have 14 of the 43 goals that Vegas has scored this post season and Smith also has added two tallies to go with his 14 assists. They are a formidable top line and the Capitals have to be careful not make mistakes against them because they will burn Washington with odd man rushes using their speed. The Caps need to continue to play a north-south style and avoid offensive zone blue line cross ice passes against the whole Golden Knights squad, but especially this top line. I look for Coach Barry Trotz to try and get Nicklas Backstrom’s line, with T.J. Oshie and Jakub Vrana and the Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen blue line duo out against the Marchessault trio, which averages right around 20 minutes a game in time on ice, as much as possible in this series.

Vegas’ second line at the end of the Winnipeg series was centered by the speedy Erik Haula and flanked by former Nashville Predator James Neal, and the big and superfast Alex Tuch. That trio has combined for 13 goals this post season. This line is downright scary in terms of speed and Tuch and Neal bring a lot of grit, too. They are great on the fore check and Neal is a supremely talented offensive player that knows how to go to the net. There are times, depending on the matchups, where Tuch gets moved to the third line and David Perron, who missed four playoff games due to injury, plays on the second unit. Either way, this is a line that you better not go to sleep on when they are on the ice.

Former Capital Cody Eakin and Ryan Carpenter are mainstays on the third line and complete the top nine for Vegas. Eakin is a very fast player, but is not big, while Carpenter, at six feet one, plays with size and is strong on the boards. It will be interesting to see if Gallant puts this line against the Caps top line of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, and Tom Wilson or he tries to match the Neal-Haula-Tuch unit against Ovi and company.

Rounding out Vegas’ forwards are Pierre Edouard-Bellemare, Tomas Nosek, Ryan Reaves, and former Red Wing, Tomas Tatar. Tatar has had pass success against Washington, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him promoted back into the lineup versus the Caps. Bellemare, a former Flyer, is a prototypical fourth line player that is strong on the puck and does a great job of killing penalties. Reaves is a big force and a protector, so the key for the Caps is to not have Wilson get engaged with the big man who scored the game winner that put Vegas into the Stanley Cup Final. Will Carrier, who has been out injured and practiced on Sunday in a non-contact jersey, could be back in later in the series to provide physical play on the fourth line, as well. The Capitals need Willy on the ice in this series and not in the penalty box.

On the back end, the Golden Knights are led by former Caps defensemen, Nate Schmidt. Schmidty is a popular guy who skates extremely well and moves the puck out of his zone quickly. He also has a strong shot and leads Vegas in average ice time in the playoffs (24:53 per contest). Number 88 is often on the ice with former Los Angeles King Brayden McNabb (average of 22:02 per game in the playoffs). Their second defensive pair is the physical former Penguin and Flame, Deryk Engelland, and Shea Theodore. Engelland fits the Brooks Orpik mold for Vegas in that he’s physical and is a penalty killing specialist. The blue line is strong for the Western Conference Champions as evidenced by a third duo of Colin Miller and Luca Sbisa. Sbisa is a very good puck mover, while the six foot one Miller brings size and a big shot on the power play.

In net, the Capitals will try to defeat Fleury for the first time in the post season. Number 29 has given up lots of tallies to the Caps in the past, but when the chips are on the line, he’s 2-0 in game sevens allowing only two goals. He’s the single biggest reason that the 2016-17 Presidents’ Trophy Winning Washington Capitals squad lost to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Pens in round two. Fleury has been on fire in goal as Vegas has rolled through these playoffs and he clearly has taken his performance to a new level under former Capitals goalie coach, Dave Prior.

On special teams, the Golden Knights are a super penalty killing team (82.5% in the post season) and can burn you with shorthanded goals, if you aren’t careful. Karlsson is especially dangerous there. On the power play (17.6%) they rely a lot on shots from the top of the point with net presence. Both Schmidt and Miller have cannons and guys like Neal and Smith are strong at tipping pucks or potting rebounds. You also have to really watch Marchessault and Karlsson because they can pass the puck and have been successful finding that cross box seam play that has hurt the Capitals this postseason. Washington’s penalty killing crew is only at 75.4% in this playoff run, so the Caps must be better there to have a chance to win this series.

Vegas comes into this series as the favorites given their success that has led to supreme confidence, home ice advantage (only lost once at T-Mobile Arena this spring), and the fact that they are healthier and more rested than the Caps, who have played four more games. As has been the case in the past two Capitals series, having the lead by the game’s midway point will be crucial to the winner of each contest as both teams have very good goalies and a strong defensive posture that makes coming back from a deficit very difficult.

The outcome could go either way and one thing is for sure, one of these franchises is going to win their first Stanley Cup!

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Caps Overcome Adversity in 6-2 Rout of Tampa

Posted on 14 May 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals reeled off five unanswered goals to erase a 2-1 first period deficit to knock off the
Tampa Bay Lightning, 6-2, in game two of the Eastern Conference Final and the Caps will head home to the DMV with a 2-0 series lead.

Tom Wilson put the Capitals on the board just 28 seconds into this affair by tipping home a Matt Niskanen point blast. Washington came out fast and furious when the Bolts were supposed to be the more desperate team and they had some chances to increase their lead. On a rush to the Tampa net at the 6:48 mark, Wilson skated hard to the cage hoping for a back door pass, was hooked by Chris Kunitz and then spun around by Ryan McDonagh and crashed into goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and the goal frame. Referee Dan O’Halloran, who the Capitals were 0-6 lifetime as a zebra in the playoffs coming into this affair, ignored the Kunitz hook and McDonagh contact and instead called Willy for goalie interference. Tampa needed all of 20 seconds to tie it up on a Brayden Point shot.

Sure, that call on Wilson could’ve gone either way, and there are valid arguments on both sides, but then something happened that should never occur in a playoff game of this magnitude. Victor Hedman was hit in the face by a puck and T.J. Oshie, who put his stick up to try and get the biscuit, but never came close to contacting Hedman’s upper body, was boxed for a phantom high sticking penalty. How does that happen with two referees and two linesmen? Surely one of them had to see it was not high sticking? Anyways, that was a bad call, for sure, and Steven Stamkos scored back door late in that power play to give the Bolts a 2-1 lead at 10:22 that they certainly didn’t deserve.

At that point, it was really important how the Capitals players and coaches would react. Would they lose their minds and get caught up in the incompetent O’Halloran officiating or would they remain calm, stick to their game plan, and focus on getting even on the scoreboard?

Judging by the last 49 plus minutes, it was clearly the latter. Even in the final nine minutes of period one, the Capitals pushed the play and had several scoring chances drawing extensive praise from Mike Milbury on NBC and then Keith Jones and Eddie Olczyk between periods. Olczyk even disagreed with the call on Wilson, pointing out the missed hook on Kunitz on a scoring chance.

The Caps would not tie it up in period one, but the tone was set and early in period two they got even. John Carlson stole an errant Tampa pass and sprung Alex Chiasson, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Jay Beagle on a three on one rush. Chiasson fed DSP and Devante was able to one time home a puck that didn’t really settle on the ice for him. The biscuit hit the far post and went in behind Vasilevskiy to really give Washington a huge goal and momentum.

The remainder of the period was tense back and forth and the Caps were getting the better of the chances, but #88 was playing fairly well in the cage. At 15:48 of period two, Michal Kempny took an unnecessary interference penalty so the Tampa power play, which had scored three of the Bolts four goals in the series, had a chance to give the home squad the lead. Washington, however, would easily kill of the infraction and they immediately started pressing the Tampa defense again.

With just over a minute left in period two, Oshie went in on a fore check and forced Anton Stralman to turn the puck over. The speedy Jakub Vrana pounced on the loose disc and alertly fed a camped in front Lars Eller on the doorstep and #20 put the biscuit in the basket for a 3-2 Caps lead with 62 seconds to go in the middle frame. Speed kills, and Tampa was supposed to be the faster team, but a fresh Andre Burakovsky put massive pressure on the fore check on the Bolts and Vasilevskiy stuck his skate out and tripped #65 with 10 seconds remaining. Once again, the Capitals won a big offensive zone faceoff as Eller beat Tyler Johnson drawing the puck to Alex Ovechkin (1 goal, 1 assist) on the left wing boards. Ovi quickly wheeled it around the back boards to Evgeny Kuznetsov and with Eller crashing the cage, Kuzy fired on net from just above the goal line. The Bolts keeper was intent on stopping that pass to Lars, but Evgeny put a lot of mustard on it and it banked in off of his pads and into the cage for a 4-2 Washington lead with just three seconds left.

That last minute, like the last 10 seconds of period one on Friday night in game one, was a huge lift to the Caps and a major deflator for Tampa. However, there were still 20 minutes left and given how the Bolts responded with a strong third period in game one, the Capitals had to be careful and concerned.

It was Washington, however, that carried the even strength play in period three and just 3:34 into the final stanza they increased their lead to three pucks. Wilson made a great chip out past a pinching Braydon Coburn on the Bolts left wing boards getting the disc to Kuzy, who immediately recognized he had a two on one with Alexander the Great. When Stralman left his feet early to try and cut off the pass to Ovi, Kuzy skated in closer and slid the puck to Ovechkin backdoor. The Gr8 made no mistake about burying the super feed over Vasilevskiy’s outstretched pad.

At that point, only a Capitals turnover or penalty would allow Tampa to get back in the game and Kempny made another poor decision at 6:55 with a high cross check on Cedric Paquette in front of Braden Holtby. Washington, however, would do another stellar job on the PK and the Bolts found themselves constantly struggling to get through the maze of players the Caps had stacked in the neutral zone and on their own blue line. Time and time again the Bolts would rush up the ice and be swarmed by guys in white at the blue line. The result was lots of turnovers when Tampa didn’t dump the puck in. At 12:57, Washington would get yet another odd man rush and Eller fed a flying Brett Connolly in the high slot where #10 one timed it past the Bolts goaltender to make it 6-2. One of Connolly’s big strengths is his ability to get off a shot very quickly and his tally bit the hand that once fed him in Tampa.

This was a huge victory and in the series the Capitals are dominating the Bolts at even strength. Washington’s speedy forwards that include Burakovsky, Vrana, Kuzentsov, Eller, Chandler Stephenson, and Connolly are really forcing the Tampa defense into poor positioning and mistakes. In the series, the Caps have outscored the Lightning, 8-1, when the manpower is even.

The Caps are playing good defense and blocking a lot of shots, plus anything that gets through to Holtby (35 saves) is pretty much being stopped. Most of Tampa’s looks are coming from the perimeter while Washington is getting into the high danger scoring areas more often. Simply put, the Capitals have looked faster and fresher and getting both Burakovsky and Wilson back plus the emergence of Vrana and Stephenson have changed the offensive dynamic for Coach Barry Trotz. Nicklas Backstrom has yet to play in this series due to his injured right hand, but with Kuzy and Eller stepping up and then Stephenson centering a very good third line with Burkie and Connolly, this Caps team has a dangerous top nine. Everyone knew about the firepower of Ovechkin and Oshie, but the Capitals have pretty much everyone on those first three lines clicking on all cylinders. Add in some fourth line goals (Beagle in game one and DSP in game two) and it’s easy to see why the Caps are up in this series.

On the back end, all six defensemen are doing a great job of making solid breakout passes. There have been some hiccups, most notably a turnover by Niskanen that led to Johnson hitting the post when the game was tied in period two, but overall the pass out of the zone is allowing Washington to move into the Tampa end with speed and put a not so fast D that includes Dan Girardi, Coburn, and McDonagh on their heels. Dmitry Orlov has been sensational with his ability to turn defense into offense for the Capitals.

Add in some clutch goaltending and you can see why this series is at two games to nil.

But the series is not over until one team gets to four wins and Washington must stick to the script at home and play the same way they’ve done in amassing a 7-1 road record in this 2018 post season. The Caps can’t try to impress their fans with over passing and fancy plays. They must adhere to a game plan that is hard on the puck, swarms the Bolts in all zones, and is focused on north-south hockey. The cross ice passes, especially at the offensive blue line, are the ones Washington must keep out of their arsenal because the Bolts feast on odd man rushes. Finally, staying out of the box is paramount. O’Halloran and Brad Meier had a poor first period and it was nearly costly for the Caps. Even strength play has been good for the Capitals so far in this series, so it’s to their advantage to keep it that way.

Notes: Carlson had two assists and led the Caps in ice time with 25:01. Niskanen logged 23:10 and Orlov played 22:44…the Caps were one for three on the power play while Tampa went two for four…the face off edge went to the Lightning, 36-28, but the Capitals won that huge draw late in period two on the power play. Beagle was 11-7 and Eller went 10-9 from the dot…Orpik and Wilson each had six hits while Ovechkin had five…game three is Tuesday at 8 pm from Capital One Arena.

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Kempny Game 1

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Caps Dominate First 40 Minutes in a Game One Victory

Posted on 12 May 2018 by Ed Frankovic

For the first time since the second round of the 2015 playoffs, the Washington Capitals started a series on the road. The Caps played a textbook first 40 minutes racing out to a 4-0 lead and then closed out a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Friday night.

The Caps, who many experts have picked to lose this series, withstood an opening three minutes of pressure from the Bolts before they flipped the script and carried the play for the rest of the first two frames. Washington played fast and structured as they swarmed the puck and prevented the speedy Lightning from getting much time or space. Michal Kempny put the Capitals on the board at 7:28 on a point shot that went through a maze of players, including Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson, and past Andrei Vasilevskiy glove side.

After the goal, the team that is now 6-1 on the road in these 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, kept their foot down trying to increase their margin, but couldn’t convert. Then, with under 10 seconds remaining in period one, some wild stuff ensued. Matt Niskanen failed to get off a shot in the offensive zone and the Bolts sprung Nikita Kucherov one on one on Dmitry Orlov. The very talented Kucherov would score by outmuscling #9 and then tapping the puck by Holtby, but the linesmen immediately waved it off noting the very obvious six skaters in blue on the ice. Washington received a power play for the too many men infraction with eight seconds remaining and the Gr8 lasered one by Vasilevskiy with Lars Eller providing some traffic high in the slot just two ticks later. The whole sequence was set up by a big faceoff win by T.J. Oshie, who got the puck to Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists), and Kuzy quickly fed Ovechkin (one goal, one assist) for his rocket.

Washington outshot the Lightning, nine to two, in period one and in period two, they kept bringing it, outshooting the Bolts, 16-8. Just 2:40 into the frame, Jay Beagle put the rebound of a flubbed Brett Connolly shot past #88 to make it 3-0. Orlov made a nice play at the right point to set the quality chance up. Kucherov took a bad roughing penalty at 6:01 and 41 seconds later Tampa was down four pucks. Kuznetsov received a pass from Eller in the left wing corner and he rotated the puck to John Carlson at the top of the point. Carly slid one over to Ovi in his office for a one timer, but Alex didn’t get all of it and it “muffined” its way toward the net where Oshie (two assists) poked at it before Lars finally put the rebound home.

All four of the Capitals goals, which came in the first 26:42 of this affair, occurred with bodies in front and that’s a smart way to beat Vasileskiy, who was pulled for Louis Domingue for the third period. Washington did a lot of things correctly building the lead and only had a few shifts where they found themselves caught in a rush game with the Bolts. Up and down the ice is definitely the way Tampa wants to play and the Capitals settled down late in the middle frame to prevent Coach Jon Cooper’s squad from getting any momentum.

In the final stanza, the Bolts had some push and after a bad defensive zone shift, Alex Chiasson took a penalty to prevent a scoring chance in front of the net at 3:23. 22 seconds later it was 4-1 as Washington got caught puck chasing on the penalty kill and that allowed Kucherov to thread a pass through the outstretched Capitals PK box right to Steven Stamkos in his office for an easy back door marker. The Lightning seemed to come to life after that goal and when Chiasson lost his head and took an undisciplined roughing penalty on Kucherov by the Tampa bench at 8:59, the Bolts had a big chance to cut the margin to two.

This time, however, the Capitals had a super penalty kill and afterwards were pretty much in full control with nine minutes to go. Tampa kept pushing the pace, but Washington was doing a good job of clogging the neutral zone and preventing their opponents from getting set up in the offensive zone with a blue line wall and great back checking by the forwards. At that point, only an offensive zone mistake or a penalty would allow the home team to cut into the margin, and unfortunately for the Caps, the former occurred. After winning an offensive zone faceoff, Kempny was a little too greedy inside the offensive blue line and then he lost his footing giving Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat a two on one rush on Carlson with speed. Ovechkin tried to hustle back, but Palat beat Holtby short side with a sweet shot while #74 went down to block the pass. Suddenly, with 6:57 to go in regulation, this was a two goal game.

The contest appeared to still be in doubt, much to the delight of NBC’s Doc Emrick, but the Capitals stabilized themselves, got their legs moving, and then clamped things down. Washington had several good shifts that forced the Bolts to defend and it wasn’t until the dying seconds that Tampa was able to get another shot on goal. NBC’s Mike Milbury was effusive in his praise of how the Caps turned their effort up when they really needed to do so down the stretch.

For the Capitals, this was their first opening game triumph in three playoff series this spring and with Tampa feeling good about their chances coming in it was important for them to do so. Washington jumped on the Bolts with their speedy lineup that included the return of both Andre Burakovksy and Wilson. Willy had three shots on net in 15:09 and Burkie looked very strong on the puck in 14:02 of action. Nicklas Backstrom missed his second straight playoff tilt due to an injured right hand, but he did skate and stickhandle some on Thursday before the Caps departed for the Sunshine State. Coach Barry Trotz stated after the morning skate that Nicky is still day to day. Chandler Stephenson and Jakub Vrana logged 14:28 and 13:19, respectively, and used their skating ability to wear out a Tampa defense that has some slower defensemen. Vrana had five shots on net and really gave the Bolts defenders headaches.

Simply put, the way Washington played in periods one and two is how they have to perform to win this series. They have to continually be hard on the puck and committed to protecting their defensive zone against a very fast, up front, Tampa squad. Again, the Bolts, much like the Penguins, want a rush game where chances get traded at each end. The Caps would be wise to make sure they pressure the Lightning in their own zone, but also keep the third forward high in order to prevent odd man rushes against. Traffic and net presence was also a big factor in the victory and that must continue.

In round two, the Bolts were blown out of game one by Boston and then won the next four games to take that series rather quickly. Tampa will be looking to leverage that same recipe in game two on Sunday. Washington has the talent to skate with the Atlantic Division winners, but they have to be smart and play the right way, like they did in grabbing a big early lead in game one.

Notes: Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:48. Carlson logged 21:55…Eller played 20:35 to lead all Washington forwards in ice time…Bolts defensemen Victor Hedman led all players with 27:49, but he had no shots on goal…Domingue stopped all seven shots he faced in the final frame and some of them were on odd man rushes as the Caps were effective at generating some great counter attacks with the lead…Washington won the face off battle, 27-23. Beagle was 9-2 and Oshie was 3-0…Brooks Orpik had five of the Capitals 15 hits…game two is Sunday night at 8 pm.

 

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