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Ovechkin Wins It In OT After Backstrom Tied it Late

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Ovechkin Wins It In OT After Backstrom Tied it Late

Posted on 30 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Wow, what a finish, and I’m not talking about Auburn-Alabama.

The Washington Capitals, who could’ve put the game away in the second period by burying some golden opportunities, looked dead to rights after the Islanders took the lead with 1:51 left in the third period and then Mike Green was correctly whistled for an interference penalty just 41 clicks later.

But the Caps showed some serious resolve and mental toughness as Karl Alzner made a great pinch on the left wing boards to get the puck behind the net to Jason Chimera and then #25 hit a streaking Nicklas Backstrom in the slot and #19 one timed it by Islanders goalie Anders Nilsson with 49 ticks left in regulation for an unlikely shorthanded game tying tally.

The Capitals would then kill off those final 49 third period seconds of the Green infraction and then 50 more into overtime. Over a minute later, Alexander Ovechkin scored from the slot five hole on Nilsson after a nifty drop pass from Mikhail Grabovski and it gave Washington a huge two points on Long Island. It was Ovechkin’s league leading 21st goal and the 5th time he has scored in OT in his career to defeat the Islanders (h/t @ehornick). The victory improves Washington to 14-11-2 (30 points) and keeps them two points ahead of the third place New York Rangers.

Washington led 1-0 heading into the final frame thanks to a hard working goal by the Caps fourth line of Martin Erat, Tom Wilson, and Aaron Volpatti at 8:58 into period two. Erat got the puck into the slot where Wilson used his size and strength to get two shots on Nilsson before Volpatti slapped it home. After that goal the Caps had some golden opportunities to expand their lead but Backstrom and Green both missed the net from in close in the slot when all alone.

Those misses looked like they might haunt Washington after they gave up a shorthanded goal to Cal Clutterbuck at 3:59 of period three, who got a breakaway when Green let a puck get by him at the Islanders blue line. It was another dismal power play for the Caps in their only try of the night. When Vanek scored just inside the two minute mark after a goal mouth scramble that had Braden Holtby (37 saves) incensed, it sure looked like it would be a rough defeat in a game Washington deserved at least a point.

But Coach Adam Oates’ crew didn’t quit and Backstrom’s laser made up for his earlier miss. Ovechkin sealed the deal like a true assassin to provide a very huge win and give the Caps a two game winning streak heading into Tuesday’s tilt at the Verizon Center against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Defensemen Dmitry Orlov made his season debut on Saturday and was very solid in 13:41 of work. Hopefully 81′s agent wises up and rescinds his ridiculous trade demand. As for the other player demanding out, Erat played hard and assisted on the first tally but his offensive zone turnover helped lead to the Islanders shorthanded breakaway.

On defense, Alzner and John Carlson led the way again, playing 23:20 and 24:40, respectively. Overall, the Caps moved the puck much better with Orlov in for Alex Urbom on the back end. There are still improvements to be made, but Orlov looks more like an NHLer than some of the other guys who’ve been playing. He just needs to get some steady work now that he’s fully recovered from last year’s injuries. Dima wasn’t tentative at all tonight, like he was in preseason, so the time in the AHL definitely benefited him.

New York is a team that in recent years has given the Caps trouble because of their speed and a struggling Islanders club gave it all they had tonight, making it difficult for the Caps to put them away. Then it sure looked like Washington had handed the game to New York before Backstrom, Oveckhin, and company snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

There are no style points in the NHL, two points is two points.

But the way the Caps came back and showed mental resolve makes this victory feel like more than two points.

Time will tell if this kind of come back victory is one that propels Washington to improved play and a long winning streak, but for tonight, I’ll just leave you with a classic line from Baltimore broadcasting legend Chuck Thompson.

Ain’t The Beer Cold!

 

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Ovechkin Tallies Again, But Caps Lose in Shootout

Posted on 23 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

For the second straight night, the Washington Capitals ran into a hot goalie and lost a hockey game.

The good news, was that on Saturday evening, the Caps picked up a point since it took the shootout for the Toronto Maple Leafs to defeat Washington, 2-1.

There were lots of good things for the Caps in this one. They dominated the game and the shot totals, 50-28 in shots on goal and 101-54 in shot attempts. That’s some serious puck possession there, primarily because they played better getting out of their own zone. Alex Ovechkin scored late in regulation off a beautiful Mike Green sand wedge to tie this one after it looked like David Clarkson’s power play deflection tally might be the only one to hold up.

It was a very entertaining hockey game and James Reimer was the difference. Given that the Caps played the night before and didn’t get into the Big Smoke until the wee early hours of Saturday morning, Coach Adam Oates must be pleased with the effort he received. Oates inserted Eric Fehr into the lineup and took out 32 year old Martin Erat to add energy in a tough back to back situation. The move worked as Brooks Laich, moving down to center Joel Ward and Jason Chimera, had his best game of the season and the second line of Fehr, Mikhail Grabovski, and Troy Brouwer were strong too.

Grabovski though, had a scary moment catching Clarkson’s skate to the face after Joffrey Lupul used his stick to take Grabovski down to spring a Leafs 4 on 2 rush near the end of period two. Grabovski needed more than 20 stitches to close two cuts and is fortunate to not have lost his eye. I’m not sure what the referees were doing there, but the move by Lupul to take 84 down was clearly either any of hooking, high sticking or interference?

Fehr would score first in the shootout and it looked like Washington might get the win, but then James Van Riemsdyk tallied and Nicklas Backstrom’s attempt to win the game on his 26th birthday failed. Lupul, a big time Capitals killer (see game 7 in 2008), beat Braden Holtby and Troy Brouwer didn’t convert as Washington dropped to 5-2 in the gimmick this season. Overall the Caps are now 12-10-2 on the season, good for 26 points and second place in a tightening Metropolitan Division (the Rangers and Flyers both won again).

Ovechkin now has 20 goals in 22 games, so don’t tell me Oates can’t coach. The bench boss has turned the Gr8 back into the purest goal scorer in the NHL again.

As mentioned above, the biggest reason for the Washington domination was the play on the back end. Green had a really strong game and John Carlson was flat out dominant once again proving that he not only should make Team USA for the Sochi Olympic Games, but he just might be the best right handed defensemen on the team the way he is playing. Even more encouraging was the performance of Nate Schmidt. I’ve liked #88 since his first game in Baltimore back in September, but he probably would’ve have been best having a season in the AHL to hone his craft. Tonight though, Schmidt was outstanding with his decision making, stepping up in the neutral zone when necessary, and it culminated in his best game of the season. He’s playing due to injuries, but the rookie is doing all he can to help the team. Give credit to assistant coach Calle Johansson too, after Carlson, Green, and Karl Alzner, the other guys playing defense aren’t household NHL players but somehow Calle had these guys playing above their skill level on Saturday.

If there are some things not to like about this loss that featured a great team effort, it is probably the power play going 0 for 3 on the night (10 shots on goal) along with Washington’s inability to get a lot of traffic on Reimer. The Leafs were not going to let Ovechkin score with the man advantage and Brouwer and Ward didn’t capitalize on their opportunities. Oates and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe will need to adjust that unit again to get more traffic. Carlson had several point blasts but Reimer saw nearly all of them cleanly. One other thing to dislike were the face off totals. Toronto won that battle handily, 39-24.

So the Caps end up a back to back weekend against the Habs and Leafs going 0-1-1 despite carrying the play in five of the six periods. Peter Budaj and Reimer were the difference makers and the Capitals inability to get traffic and rebounds didn’t help the cause. That’s an area to work on going forward.

Still, the fact that Washington’s puck possession numbers were much better the last two nights is encouraging. I credit a lot of that to getting #52 back in the lineup. Green doesn’t get paid $6M+ per season for nothing. With Green and Carlson playing the right side for over 80% of the game, Washington is a different team than when they are only with one of them. In addition, the other defenders amped up their game and minimized their mistakes.

Notes: Washington’s next game is at home against the Ottawa Senators on Thanksgiving Eve…assistant equipment manager, Craig “Woody” Leydig, worked his 2,000th NHL game on Saturday night. Woody has been with the Caps since the 80′s and is one of those guys that just shows up and does his job every night. He’s a well known “good guy” around the league.

 

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Ovechkin Nets Winner as Caps Grind Out OT Victory

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Ovechkin Nets Winner as Caps Grind Out OT Victory

Posted on 13 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

“Every night is a grind.”

That was what Caps Coach Adam Oates had to say after his team rallied in the third period before winning in overtime on Alexander Ovechkin’s 14th goal of the season, 4-3, over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

As usual, the Washington bench boss is spot on.

Playing their fifth game in eight nights the Capitals had an up and down performance but grinded to get a much needed two points to push their record to 10-8-1. It wasn’t pretty as several players, including the Gr8 himself, struggled for much of the game. Mike Green and Marcus Johansson also had a rough go, but both found a way to make a play late in the contest that helped their team win. Green’s work on the boards with under two minutes left in regulation allowed Washington to tie the game on Mikhail Grabovski’s sixth goal of the season and MJ90 finally got his legs going and flew past a Columbus defender to set Ovechkin up for the OT winner.

It was a much needed victory after two defeats out West in two nights that included a lot of travel.

The travel played a role in this contest, the Caps played a solid first period carrying the scoring chance opportunities, but they couldn’t finish and as a result the first stanza ended, 0-0. As the game wore on, some players looked to be feeling the effects of the frequent flyer miles, however, one unit continued to carry the play: the third line of Grabovski, Jason Chimera, and Joel Ward. Those guys used their speed and gave the Blue Jackets fits all night. Oates was once again impressed with the unit, half jokingly calling them “the first line” in his post game presser. He also pointed out that he saw good chemistry between Ward and Chimera last spring and it has continued in the first quarter of this season.

As good as the third line was, there was no better player on the ice on Tuesday night than John Carlson. Hopefully someone from Team USA saw this one because #74 was flat out dominant against Columbus. He was winning every puck battle in every zone, he scored a big goal after a great feed from Martin Erat and he had the second assist on the game winner. Carlson logged 24:32 of ice time that was only bested by his d-partner Karl Alzner at 24:55. Oates praised Carlson’s game saying he’s been playing great hockey lately along with Alzner and reminded everyone that the duo is the first unit on the ice on every penalty kill.

Alzner, who rightfully gave himself credit for allowing Carlson to play more aggressive given his defensive style, said that Carlson getting his first goal 10 days ago against Florida allowed #74 to get his confidence going. King Karl pointed out that “Carlson can win games for us” and that he was a “huge, huge factor” in the victory. Carlson now has four goals in his last six games.

Braden Holtby earned the victory in this one stopping 24 of 27 pucks thrown his way. He can’t be faulted on any of the three goals. Two were one on one situations and the other was a deflection in front where #70 didn’t have much of a chance to see the biscuit. Holtby also took a skate to the top of his head after that goal and said he had to “shake the cobwebs out” afterwards. 

Braden is only 24 years old, but it is evident he is becoming a team leader, much like Olie Kolzig did when he was the Washington goalie. Following the game, Alzner pointed out that the bench was mad after Columbus took the lead and that allowed them to respond and come back. Holtby partially agreed with the “mental toughness” aspect of that, but also was quick to note that it took a couple of shifts before things turned around as Columbus had a three on one break right after the goal and had they scored there, this one would have been a loss. Holtby certainly isn’t afraid to hold his teammates accountable, and that is the mark of a leader. This team needs that given its tendency to forget about their own zone, at times.

Oates was clearly happy to get two points on this night, but he wasn’t thrilled about some of the mistakes his club made, particularly the third Columbus goal. Many will point to Green missing the puck as it took a Washington Wizards hop over his stick allowing Cam Atkinson to get a breakaway tally, however, the Hall of Fame coach was upset with the team’s decision making in the offensive zone. Nate Schmidt pinched down to take a shot and he didn’t hit the net, which was compounded by some of Washington’s forwards not being in position to help cover for #88. Oates said his team broke “one of their rules” in that situation. You can bet that will be addressed on Wednesday.

The coach also likely isn’t pleased with his power play, which went 0 for 3 and allowed a short handed goal. Luckily, though, the penalty was a perfect 3 for 3 and scored too.

The PK excellence is what you need to do to get two points when your big guns aren’t clicking for much of the night.

You have to find a way to grind it out, and that’s what the Caps did on Tuesday to get the victory.

Notes: The Caps outshot Columbus 34-27 and the attempts were 57-55 overall for the game…the Caps were crushed on face-offs, 36-22, but Michael Latta went 3 for 3 centering a fourth line that played just over five minutes but performed extremely well when they had their numbers called…Alzner discussed defensive zone positioning with me afterwards and noted that part of the issue with goals being scored on passes from behind their net was that he and Carlson were still learning when Johansson is going to chase or stay back. On Tuesday night, you could see that the trio was doing a better job of communicating and executing. Columbus didn’t sneak into any gaps for quick shots on passes from behind the net. MJ90 didn’t play center at all last spring so it’s been awhile since 27 & 74 have had to play D while #90 is playing the pivot spot, which explains some of the recent issues…next up for the Caps are the Red Wings in Motown on Friday night…six of the eleven NHL games on Tuesday were decided in OT or the shootout which shows just how close the league is and why every night is “a grind.”

 

 

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Caps Destroy Dirty Flyers, 7-0

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Caps Destroy Dirty Flyers, 7-0

Posted on 01 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals, coming off two straight road losses, had the tough task of going into Philadelphia to take on a Flyers team without the services of injured captain Alexander Ovechkin.

For the first 15 minutes, things didn’t look too good for Washington as the Flyers came out strong, aided by two early power plays, but Braden Holtby (30 saves) made some big stops, including one that earned a much needed faceoff after Brooks Laich broke his stick while killing a penalty. Shortly after that save, the Caps would get a goal from Nicklas Backstrom and then add five more in the second period to take a 6-0 lead into the third frame.

Then, as predicted on twitter, Philadelphia brought out the Oggy Oglethorpe style for the 3rd period because all those knuckleheads from Broad Street know what to do when down four or more pucks in the third period is fight. Things got ugly with Steve Downie going after Aaron Volpatti, but #24 one punched him into a concussion. Then when Wayne Simmonds plowed over Martin Erat and rookie Tom Wilson fought #17 to protect his teammate, goon goalie Ray Emery skated the length of the ice to jump Braden Holtby. According to Chuck Gormley of CSN, Holtby said he didn’t want to fight so Emery told him to protect himself, and then he started hitting #70. Talk about embarrassing for the NHL and by the way, isn’t that assault?!

Anyways, that’s what some of the boltheads in Philadelphia like to see and the Flyers fans finally started cheering for something because they still think it is 1975.   But the joke is on the the Flyers and their entire organization. They are so bad that they still couldn’t get a puck by Holtby, even after Emery kept hitting #70 while a terrible referee stood there and just allowed it to happen (Emery and Francois St. Laurent should both be suspended after that incident). This is not the publicity the league needs but the Flyers are so mismanaged by Ed Snider and Paul Holmgren that this is what happens when a team made up of goons and thugs can’t play the game.

Now back to the contest, the Caps would go on to win, 7-0. Joel Ward notched a hat trick, Jason Chimera had a goal and three helpers, Mikhail Grabovski had three assists, and Nick Backstrom had two goals plus one assist in an offensive onslaught by Washington. The second frame was by far the Caps best period all season as they took their intensity to the level it needs to be at regularly for the team to be successful.

Even better, the Capitals stuck together when things got physical in the 3rd period and responded as necessary. Luckily Holtby appears to be okay because he’s Washington’s best goalie. Holtby is also in the  “Eats Rocks for Breakfast” club.

Overall it was a win for a team that badly needed one, and it came in convincing fashion. The Caps weathered the early storm and started playing with energy. The passing was much improved, especially coming out of their own zone, which is encouraging. Several players had big nights and Eric Fehr  (2 assists) really stepped up taking Ovechkin’s spot on the top line with Backstrom and Erat (2 assists).

The key for the Caps now is to build on this win. Washington has been looking for a spark to get them going this season.

Perhaps kicking the Flyers rears on the ice will finally do that?

Notes: Ovechkin could play on Saturday against Florida and will likely be a morning decision…Washington won the faceoff battle, 34-31…Emery received 29 minutes in penalties for his buffoonery…one of the Flyers media members voted Emery as the 3rd star of the game, seriously…former Caps forward Craig Berube is the current coach of Philadelphia and the Flyers could be on their 3rd bench boss this season real soon.

 

 

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Caps Take Step In Right Direction With Convincing Victory

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Caps Take Step In Right Direction With Convincing Victory

Posted on 14 October 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals got a much needed 4-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night at the Verizon Center to push their overall record to 2-4. This was a game the Caps had to have to get things turned around in the right direction after three defeats in a row. Alexander Ovechkin notched the game winner scoring his sixth goal of the season and he added his third assist of the young campaign too, which gives him nine points in six contests.

Braden Holtby stopped 28 shots, many of which were key when this tilt was close for the first 30 minutes, and delivered the best goaltending game of the year for Washington. When a team is struggling, like the Caps have been in the early going, you need a goalie to step up and turn in a top notch performance, Holtbeast did just that on Monday night and he was a major reason the Capitals won the game.

The offense rose from the dead in this one against a weak Oilers team as Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, and Joel Ward all got their first tallies of the season, with Ward’s and Brouwer’s both coming on the power play. The Caps were 2 for 3 with the man advantage and were also 3 for 3 on the penalty kill. When you win the special teams battle by a +2 margin, you often win the game.

Still there are issues that need to be worked out. Edmonton really carried the play in the first period using their speed to put Washington back on their heels. The Caps seemed a step slow and they also were not moving the puck well at all. Too many passes were going east-west and in players skates. In addition, the Caps were not moving their feet and were caught reaching with their sticks in compromising positions. The Oilers were able to strike first after a neutral zone turnover and some poor coverage by the first line, once again. Down 1-0 and having trailed for most of the season, the Caps were in a sticky spot.

Fortunately, Steve Oleksy was skating well on the ice and paired with Nate Schmidt, they were arguably the best Caps d-pair in this affair. Shortly after Edmonton tallied, Oleksy alertly jumped on an Oiler turnover in the offensive zone and fed Laich for the game tying goal and that play seemed to get the giant piano off of the Capitals back. The team suddenly found their legs and started to exert more pressure on the Oilers defense.

With the Caps skating well in the middle frame, the Oilers got into penalty trouble and Washington sandwiched two man advantage tallies around Ovechkin’s sweet goal in the slot with Nicklas Backstrom screening (3 assists) goalie Jason Labarbera (16 saves). Marcus Johansson had his best shift of the game to help set that one up with some hard work on the boards and earned his 100th NHL career point in the process.

Coach Adam Oates and his team should feel some relief after getting this victory without having to sweat too much at the end. The offense came alive and that seemed to lead to an increased confidence level for Washington. Anyone who has ever played hockey, at any level, but especially in the NHL, will tell you that confidence is the most important part of a team’s game. The Caps seemed to finally get some confidence on the ice on Monday. The passing still needs to be crisper and the players have to realize that keeping their wheels moving is so important to their success. When they go back and watch the tape of this one, that should be evident.

Next up is an important affair against the Rangers at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night at 8 pm on the NBC Sports Network. The Caps need to start winning Eastern Conference games and especially those in their own division at home. They also would like to get some payback for losing to the Rags in the playoffs last spring.

Notes: Shot attempts were 48-45 in favor of Washington…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 28-26…Oates was able to spread the ice time around with the 3 goal third period lead. John Carlson led the team in ice time at 21:35 while Tom Wilson was the lowest at 8:02. Martin Erat had 11:50 and played well…Schmidt was very solid in 19:13 of ice time on the back end. #88 skates well and continues to improve.

 

 

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Caps Start 2013-14 With High Expectations Once Again

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Caps Start 2013-14 With High Expectations Once Again

Posted on 29 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It is awfully difficult to win a championship in professional sports but heading into 2013-14 that is once again the goal of the Washington Capitals, who have yet to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup since their inception in 1974. The Caps, who have made the playoffs the last six years, have another quality team as they prepare to open their season against the defending champs, the Chicago Blackhawks, in the Windy City on Tuesday night at 8pm on NBCSN.

On Sunday, Caps General Manager George McPhee made several moves to help put some clarity to the opening night roster culminating with a trade of center Matheiu Perreault to the Anaheim Ducks for a 4th round pick and AHLer John Mitchell. In addition, several players were sent to Hershey, including defenesemen Tyson Strachan and Dmitry Orlov. For now, here is what the Caps roster looks like:

Goalies (2): Braden Holtby, Michal Neuvirth

Defensemen (7): Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, John Erskine, Jack Hillen, Steve Oleksy, and Connor Carrick

Forwards (14): Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Mikhail Grabovski, Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, Martin Erat, Tom Wilson, Eric Fehr, Joel Ward, Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera, Aaron Volpatti, and Michael Latta

The move of Perreault was predicted here last week and makes sense from a hockey and salary cap standpoint. This Caps team needed to get bigger and more powerful up front and Wilson’s outstanding camp made keeping him up with the main club, rather than shipping him back to a weaker league (OHL), an easy decision. The 19 year old, who was the 16th overall pick in the 2012 NHL entry draft, brings a dimension that this Washington team needs more of in the post season: size and the ability to score the tough goals in close. Six months with Coach Adam Oates and some highly talented teammates is what is needed for Wilson to continue his development, the OHL is just not going to help him get any better.

As for the rest of the squad, the strengths appear to be in goal and up front. Braden Holtby has established himself as a number one goalie and has the chance to move into the elite category with a very strong season. As McPhee told the media last Tuesday, to win the Stanley Cup you have to have great goaltending. #70 is the guy being counted on to deliver that, but Neuvirth is a more than capable net minder and will be needed to play well so that Washington can qualify for the post season in a very competitive Metropolitan Division.

At forward, the Capitals have some serious depth on the wings but still aren’t sure who is going to be the third line center. Backstrom has the first line locked up with Grabovski manning the second unit. The club could go with Beagle as the 3rd line center and Latta pivoting the 4th to start the season, but that depends on the health of the others, primarily Laich, who has been battling a hip flexor issue. Right wing is just loaded up with Ovechkin, Brouwer, Fehr, Wilson, and Ward. Both Fehr and Erat were tried at center this preseason by Oates with some success, so the head coach has lots of options. Johansson could play 3rd line center at some point too. The Caps have not had as talented a crew of forwards to start the season in many years and with the players they have there is lots of room for flexibility.

On defense, the top three is awfully good with Green, Alzner, and Carlson. After that, it gets dicey. Erksine was super last spring in the regular season but is he really a top 4 d-man? #4 will have a chance to prove it starting this week. Oleksy came out of seemingly nowhere to take a 3rd pair spot in the spring and Hillen overcame an early season injury to play a lot of quality minutes last year. Carrick was the biggest surprise of training camp, has great offensive skills and his hockey IQ is high. Learning to play defense in the NHL is harder than any other position so Washington has to be careful to not put too much on the 19 year old, who has incredible potential. The organization still has high hopes for Orlov, but given his injury situation last season, starting him in Hershey made too much sense. The 2009 2nd round pick will play top pair minutes in the AHL and can hone his craft for what appears to be an inevitable jump back to the NHL at some point during the 82 game season.

Special teams will be an important component of Washington’s success. Last season the Caps were #1 in the NHL with the power play (26.8%). You can expect it to remain at least top 5 and Oates and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe will continually be tweaking things to counter opposition tactics. As for the penalty kill, Laich stated on Tuesday that is one of the areas this Capitals club will have to improve in if they want to do well in the regular season and playoffs. The PK has been one of the team’s weaknesses the last few years and it was 27th out of 30 in 2012-13 with a success rate of only 77.9%.

In summary, the expectations are high for this Capitals team. The playoffs are not a given, but if this club can stay relatively healthy, then they have the talent to compete for the division title. Every team in the Metropolitan Division has its issues. The Penguins are the pick of many but their goaltending and team defense certainly has its question marks. Will the Rangers respond positively to a new coach in Alain Vigneault? How will the Devils do with the departure of Ilya Kovalchuk? The Flyers added Vinny Lecavalier but will Ray Emery or Steve Mason step up and be a top goalie in a pressure packed Philly market? Are the Islanders ready to take the next step up the ladder or was their playoff run last spring a one time deal? Is Columbus going to play like the team that nearly qualified for the post season last spring or the cellar dweller crew that started 2013? Finally, will Cam Ward returning in net for Carolina propel them to a winning season? Nothing is set in stone heading into the season and in the salary cap era every team has holes and/or issues. What is important is that the Capitals get off to a good start since coming from behind in the standings is not going to be as achievable as it was in the Southeast Division.

 

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Handicapping the Caps Opening Night Roster

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Handicapping the Caps Opening Night Roster

Posted on 24 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals held their annual media day luncheon on Tuesday at Kettler IcePlex and both Owner Ted Leonsis and General Manager George McPhee made it clear that winning the Stanley Cup was once again their barometer of success.  The Caps, who have made the playoffs in six straight seasons, will not have the benefit of getting into the dance via a Southeast Division title in 2013-14. Instead they will be in the Metropolitan Division competing with the likes of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Carolina Hurricanes, and Columbus Blue Jackets. It is a tougher task, but Leonsis and McPhee both feel that this year’s club is deeper than they’ve had in several years.

As of today, the Caps have over 25 players in camp with just one week to go until the regular season opener in Chicago on October 1st. An NHL club can carry up to 23 players but they also have to be under the $64.3M salary cap. Coach Adam Oates noted that you have to factor in the dollars as well as who could get claimed for nothing via other teams on the waiver wire when finalizing the roster. Via Capgeek.com, Washington currently has 22 players at a total of $63.6M. That list of 22 players includes 13 forwards, 7 defensemen, and two goalies (Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth). So who is going to make it and who likely won’t? Here’s a look at where guys stand, from what I’ve seen in the games and gauging from comments made by Oates today:

Goalies:

In: Holtby, Neuvirth

Defensemen:

In: Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, John Erskine

Likely In: Steve Oleksy, Jack Hillen

Bubble: Dmitry Orlov, Tomas Kundratek

Longshot: Connor Carrick

Forwards:

In: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich, Mikhail Grabovski, Troy Brouwer, Martin Erat, Joel Ward, Eric Fehr, Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera

Bubble: Mathieu Perreault, Aaron Volpatti, Tom Wilson

Basically, the club has some tough choices to make at defense and it gets even harder at forward. McPhee stated that they could keep 19 year old Wilson up and stay under the cap, but acknowledged he might have to move a player to do so. The GM stated that he doesn’t like to keep teenagers on the roster, but Wilson has shown he can play and is making the decision on the big right winger very difficult. Ideally, Wilson would start the season in Hershey but since he is an Ontario Hockey League draft pick, he cannot play in the AHL until he is 20 years old. It appears there isn’t much to gain for Wilson going back to his junior team (Plymouth). Sure he’d get power play time and could dominate, but he did that last season. To me, Wilson brings a dynamic this Caps team needs. The kid is big, can skate, hits, and he goes to the net. Six months under Adam Oates in preparation for the post season, in my book, is just too hard to pass up. The Capitals need another power forward who can wear opposition defenders down in the playoffs and Wilson is a player who can do that.

Keeping Wilson though, likely means a move elsewhere has to be made. That brings us to Perreault. With McPhee and Oates announcing today that Erat is going to play center in these last few preseason games, after Fehr had his trial at center last week, it sure looks like the team is looking for options other than #85 to play the pivot position. So would Perreault, who counts just over $1M on the salary cap, be the player moved if Wilson is kept up with the big club? That’s certainly one viable option. McPhee noted that the trade chatter has picked up in recent days but did acknowledge again, that making trades in the salary cap era is very hard.

On defense, it’s hard to see the six guys who finished the season in the spring not being the top six starting on October 1st. The question then is who do you keep up as the 7th guy. Orlov is a player that has an immense amount of talent but he’s coming off a difficult year healthwise. When asked about #81 today and his performance against Chicago last Friday night, Oates stated that he’s mainly looking for Dmitry to get fully comfortable in games again. To me that spells a ticket to Hershey to start the season where Orlov can get in total hockey shape before making what seems to be the inevitable jump up to the big club at some point this season. Orlov can still go to Hershey without having to clear waivers while Kundratek cannot. Thus it appears that Kundratek is the likely choice for 7th D, but given that Erskine is coming off of surgery in the spring the GM and coach may opt to keep a left handed shot around. That would give Orlov an opening. As for Connor Carrick, the youngster has had an outstanding training camp and opened a lot of eyes. He has great hockey sense and possesses some “Mike Green” like skills. The future looks bright for Carrick, but I don’t see him on the big club this season.

Another issue that needs to be factored into the roster decisions are injuries. Laich made it clear that he was not 100% today and despite playing 20 minutes in Monday’s tilt against Boston and feeling fine afterwards, he woke up this morning not feeling right. #21 says he has October 1 circled on his calendar but as Oates stated, he’s a little snakebit right now with injuries after playing over 300 straight NHL games in a row. In addition to Laich, Ward is nicked up too, so that complicates the roster decisions.

While McPhee and Oates have some really hard choices, both acknowledged that this is a good thing for the hockey team. The Capitals have some depth in their organization and Laich feels like, when healthy, the Caps will have three lines that can score. That is something Washington has not had in several years and if you can generate balance, then it makes it harder to gear a defense towards stopping Ovechkin’s line and Green on the back end. The Rangers used that tactic this past spring, especially after Erat went down with an injury early in game four, so the Capitals have to be looking for ways to have a multi-dimensional attack.

Notes: Laich stated that he’s been working with a new stick for the last six weeks and is still learning to adjust to it. The stick has a different lie and curve than what he used for the past 12 years, so this is a big change. Oates played a factor in Laich’s decision to switch and #21 talked about how passionate the head coach was on the issue. Laich joked that when you see that type of passion than “the person is either really smart or crazy!” I’ll go with the former on Oates, after all, he did go to RPI…Oates had the Caps power play clicking on all cylinders last season and when asked if he expects adjustments from other teams, he said “absolutely.” The bench boss pointed out that video is used extensively in the NHL, as much as in the NFL, and that teams will adjust to what the Caps are doing and it is on him and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe, who runs the power play, to adjust back accordingly.

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Ribeiro OT Tally Gives Caps a 3-2 Series Lead

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Ribeiro OT Tally Gives Caps a 3-2 Series Lead

Posted on 11 May 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The New York Rangers had the Washington Capitals on the ropes early on in game five on Friday night.

Brian Boyle scored after a vicious forecheck just 53 seconds into the contest and then for the next 10 or so minutes New York was all over Washington. The Blueshirts received two power plays and were dominating play. But Braden Holtby (24 saves) made some big stops and the Caps rode the energy from the crowd at the Verizon Center until they could find their legs.

Then Coach Adam Oates, aided by his assistant coaches, made an adjustment that helped change the course of the game. Oates switched his defensive pairs moving a more mobile Jack Hillen with John Carlson on the second defensive duo while John Erskine slid down and skated with Steve Oleksy to start period two. The move, which Oates credited to assistant coach Calle Johansson, gave the Capitals some better matchups on the ice and they slowly started to take over the game. After trailing in shots late in the first period, 10-5, they would out shoot the Rangers 30-15 over the remainder of contest but it took Mike Ribeiro to tally in overtime to win, 2-1.

After game four I blogged about the importance of home ice, adjustments, and the influence of last change in the matchups. All three were a factor on Friday night. In addition to the defensive pair adjustment personnel wise, the Caps made a minor move on their power play that allowed Joel Ward to score just 14 seconds into their first man advantage and tie the game. Alex Ovechkin (9 shots on goal) was moved closer to the net and that seemed to confuse the Rangers, who were all set to once again deny both Mike Green and the Gr8 shots from higher up in the offensive zone. The shift created a 4 on 3 down low and opened up the passing lanes in the high slot, which is where Ward shot from to score.

Home ice was also critical, not just because the fantastic Verizon Center faithful were extremely loud and provided energy, but the Washington forwards could put their stick down second on faceoffs and Oates could work the matchups in his favor. In game four the Capitals were beaten soundly, 34-19, on draws but in game five Washington held a 42-30 advantage from the dot. Ribeiro was a super 19-8 and that was a big difference in the hockey game. That second line with #9, Troy Brouwer, and Eric Fehr was very strong for the Caps and they received right around 21 minutes of ice time each. Given that the Caps top line had its issues with getting out of their own zone for parts of the game, it was critical that Oates get production from his other lines. The Ribeiro line as well as the third unit of Mathieu Perreault, Ward, and Jason Chimera played well. Chimera used his speed, was a physical presence, and his hit on Ryan Clowe in the first period knocked the big winger out of the contest.

Speaking of physical, Tom Wilson made his NHL debut and looked very good in 6:24 of ice time. The rookie right wing, who was Washington’s 1st round pick (16th overall) last June, had four hits and helped wear down a Rangers defense that looked gassed in the third period and overtime. Oates and Ovechkin both praised #43 afterwards for his play and the Gr8 noted that with Wilson the Caps have four really big and powerful right wings in the lineup.

So home ice is 5 for 5 now in this very close series. Washington was able to withstand the early punches from New York and then wear the Rangers out and get a victory. The Caps fans were a big part of this game as they kept their energy up despite an early Rangers lead.  But you can bet that at Madison Square Garden the Rags will get big time support from their fans, as well. Oates feels that the Capitals will need to survive the first 10 minutes on Sunday in game 6 (faceoff at 4:30 pm).

If Washington wins, it is on to the second round with home ice. If not, game 7 is on Monday night at the Verizon Center.

Home ice has been a big key in this series and the Caps held serve on Friday night.

Now the pressure is on a Rangers team that many picked to go to the Stanley Cup Finals before the season started.

Notes: The Rangers had four power plays to just two for the Caps and the overall series tally is now at 21-14…shot attempts were 71-67  in favor of Washington…Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh both played over 29 minutes for the Rangers while Green played 29:16 to lead the Caps in ice time. Green’s partner, Karl Alzner, played 28:27.

 

 

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Caps & Ovechkin Must Adjust To Win Series

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Caps & Ovechkin Must Adjust To Win Series

Posted on 08 May 2013 by Ed Frankovic

On Sunday night, I blogged that the playoffs are all about adjustments. The Capitals were winning the series 2-0, at that point, and were dominating the play.

After two games in the Big Apple, the series with New York is now tied. Rangers coach John Tortorella made adjustments to his special teams’ units and with New York getting five extra power plays in the two games, it is no surprise everything is all knotted up heading into a crucial game five on Friday night at the Verizon Center.

The key words there are ”Verizon Center.”

Washington gets the last change and that gives Coach Adam Oates the ability to get the matchups he wants. In game four in New York, Tortorella put Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh out against Alex Ovechkin and the Caps top line repeatedly, and it worked.

As for the Caps power play, well they only received two of them while the Rags got four in game four. Jason Chimera, who took a bad penalty late in period two, was cross checked after the Caps third goal but no call was made. But zebras will be zebras and you have to rise above them to win hockey games. 

On Washington’s man advantage the Rangers are selling out to not let Ovechkin and Mike Green beat them. With Mike Ribeiro and Nicklas Backstrom not shooting the puck, it was difficult for the Capitals to score. Hopefully Oates makes some adjustments there to get the man advantage going again. To steal a Tortorella term, the power play was ”too stagnant” at Madison Square Garden.

As for Washington’s penalty kill, it has been made tougher thanks to the adjustments the Rangers have made. Brian Boyle reeked havoc in front of Braden Holtby on his power play shifts (2:30 of PP time) and it made a difference on the goal that came after Chimera’s 2nd period infraction. That penalty and tally was a killer because Washington had all of the momentum at that point having tied the game in the last 30 seconds of the middle frame on Troy Brouwer’s backhander.

But overall, the Caps were just too sloppy once again. Holtby started that with a turnover that gave the Rangers a gift goal, which eventually was the difference in the game. #70 made some big stops but he’d probably want that pass and the third goal back. As for the other two markers, well you can pin those on poor defensive zone coverage. That is something that was not an issue in games one and two but was a big factor in New York.

What is also an issue is the potential loss of forward Martin Erat. #10 was hurt on a weird sequence that ended up with he and Ovechkin getting called for penalties on the same play in the first period. It appeared to be a left arm injury and with him out for the rest of the game, Oates moved Eric Fehr up with Ribeiro and Brouwer. That bumped Joel Ward up with Mathieu Perreault and Chimera. That third line was Washington’s best all evening and it was #42′s best game of the post season.

So the series now becomes a best of three, in four nights, no less. The Caps get two at home but they need to get back to playing the way they did in the first two games. They played poorly in both New York tilts but still had a chance to tie them up before the buzzer sounded. It’s a close series and injuries play a role. Erat is out and who knows who else in the Caps lineup is not 100% since injuries are never discussed come post season?

Long time, and now even short time Caps fans have been here before and know the team’s history in the post season. Washington left town on Sunday night with all of the momentum in the series, but heading into Friday, the Rangers have it.

The last change and special teams adjustments are the key, in my book, for the Caps to win this series.

Notes: The Capitals were beaten badly on faceoffs, 34-19…with Hershey losing to Providence on Wednesday night their season is now over so some players will be recalled to Washington as “Black Aces.” If Erat is out for Friday it will be interesting to see if Aaron Volpatti plays or rookie Tom Wilson gets a sweater in a huge game.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I’ll be on WNST’s morning show with Drew Forrester at 7:45am on Thursday talking Caps hockey. Listen Live at WNST.NET

 

 

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Caps Fail to Win Game Three Again, Lead Series 2-1

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Caps Fail to Win Game Three Again, Lead Series 2-1

Posted on 06 May 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The game three playoff nightmares continue for the Caps franchise when taking a 2-0 series lead.

A sloppy effort from the Washington Capitals on Monday night cost them a chance to put the New York Rangers season on the brink and they have noone else to blame but themselves.

Braden Holtby sensed in the morning skate that his team wasn’t focused and he was right (see Steve Whyno’s blog on it). The Caps, after taking an early 1-0 lead, stopped skating and as a result, took far too many penalties. The Rangers had six man advantages before the game was half over and they scored once with the power play while another came right after Joel Ward’s careless high stick expired.

The Capitals still managed to have some good moments at five on five to keep this one even at two heading into the final frame but the penalty killing duty took its toll creating some fatigue and the Rangers scored two goals off of their forecheck, something they struggled to do in games one and two. In addition, Washington’s defensive zone coverage gave New York too much space and the Caps had far too many turnovers. Yes, the ice was bad at that dump of a venue, but it’s the same for both clubs.

Alexander Ovechkin drew a late penalty and the Caps had the final 1:54 to score to tie the game, but with the goalie pulled for a 6 on 4 Washington failed to get a shot on net. Mike Ribeiro had the puck much of the time and he didn’t do a good job of making the Rags pay for overplaying Ovechkin and Mike Green in that sequence.

So now the Caps have a tough game four against a New York team that has new life and momentum. Washington did a lot of things wrong on Monday and lost only by a goal. But they must be focused for this next tilt. They took their eye off of the ball in game three early on and it cost them a potential sweep of a team that they were dominating.

We’ve seen these bad momentum swings go against Washington before in the post season and they have never won a game three up 2-0 in a best of seven series. They had a glorious opportunity on Monday to finally do that and they blew it.

Now they need to get back to work and do the things that made them successful in the first two games and that starts with skating and attention to detail.

This series is there for the taking but on Monday they got into some bad habits they had early in the regular season. Those must cease immediately.

It will be a mental test for this club to avoid the bad waves that come with a sloppy game.

Guess we’ll find out what this club is made of on Wednesday?

Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle 30-27 and out shot the Rags 31-30, but the scoreboard is what matters…Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson were on the ice for the game winner by Derek Stepan. The trio had chances to clear the zone but couldn’t get the biscuit past the strong Rangers pressure…the Caps goals were scored by Backstrom, Green, and Jay Beagle (Jack Hillen shot went off of 83 into the cage).

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