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Season Saving Win For Caps?

Posted on 08 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

For over 40 minutes on Saturday night, it sure looked like the Washington Capitals were headed for a fourth straight loss and about to sustain a serious blow to their playoff chances.

The Caps looked listless for the third straight contest and couldn’t find a way to get a goal, extending their scoreless streak to over 100 minutes. Making things worse was they were playing a strong defensive team in Phoenix with one of the top goalies in the NHL in Mike Smith.

But suddenly, a team that wasn’t working very hard to overcome some lineup holes, started doing the little things right, like getting pucks and bodies to the net.

Karl Alzner scored a seeing eye goal from the blueline that only finds the back of the cage because Troy Brouwer and Jay Beagle went to the front of the net and took their defenders with them. Keith Yandle managed to screen his own keeper with 10:15 to go and suddenly the Caps and the Verizon Center had life for the first time since before Dmitry Orlov’s awful hit last Sunday.

Joel Ward, Jason Chimera, and Brooks Laich then outworked the Coyotes down low and #25 found Brooksie all alone in front of the cage and he put it by Smith to tie things up just 32 seconds later.

The Caps instantly became a new team. Orlov then drew a penalty to put Washington on the power play and when Troy Brouwer potted the rebound of a great Nicklas Backstrom shot, the Capitals grabbed a 3-2 lead.

Then, instead of sitting back, Washington became an even more energized squad and dominated the last five minutes of regulation to salt away a huge victory.

Jaroslav Halak notched 31 saves to earn his first victory in his Caps debut and he can thank referee Tim Peel for a quick whistle that disallowed a Phoenix goal in period one. But that’s the breaks of the game, a Backstrom shot that appeared to be a goal last Sunday against Philly didn’t count and hurt Washington in that one, so it looks like things eventually evened up.

Halak was shaky early on and probably wanted at least one of the two goals back, but his save on Antoine Vermette in the third period on a one on one was absolutely a must and a key reason why the Capitals were able to overcome the two goal deficit. I’ve been saying all season long that goaltending is not the major issue for the Caps and I stand by it. Halak was good, but defensive mistakes and lapses in focus continue to plague this Washington club and is the primary reason they are on the outside looking in at the postseason, right now.

But that’s a story for another day, the Capitals are alive and still in the hunt after a huge rally over a good Phoenix team.

They started skating and doing the simple things and were rewarded.

The question now is can they keep this energy level up on Monday when they start a critical home and home with the Pittsburgh Penguins?

Washington gained some much needed positive vibes and confidence tonight that they need to carry into Monday’s tilt.

They will also likely get newly signed Evgeny Kuznetsov (2010 Caps 1st round draft choice) in the lineup for the game against the Pens. “Kuzy” will wear #92 and likely skate on the second line. He arrived in DC today and signed his entry level contract (two years) with the Capitals this afternoon. He will burn up that first year in less than 20 games and then will have another season left, but General Manager George McPhee called that aspect of the deal, “worth it.”

It’s hard to argue that because the Caps need skilled offensive players and Kuznetsov (just 21 years old), who carried the Russian squad to World Juniors Gold in 2011, has the potential to really improve the offense. But coming to North America and playing on the smaller rinks will be an adjustment. He is not “a savior” for the Caps season, but make no mistake about it, this club needs forward help with Laich playing through serious pain and Mikhail Grabovski still on the shelf due to a wonky ankle.

The road is not easy for the Caps as they have the hardest schedule in the NHL in their remaining 17 games, but rallying tonight and inking Kuzentsov at least gives them a fighting chance to pull off a seventh straight playoffs appearance.

Notes: Washington once again lost the face off battle for the fifth straight contest, 33-26. Losing draws makes it very difficult to win the puck possession battle. The Capitals will need to improve in this area if they are going to get on a run and make the playoffs…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time at 23:50 and he had an assist on the game winning tally.

 

 

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Caps Better Find Some Heart Fast, Or Its Golf Course Time

Posted on 05 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals had two games this week against the despised Philadelphia Flyers to try to turn their season around and move into a playoff position.

The final result of those two games: Flyers 4 points, Capitals 1 point.

After blowing a 4-2 lead and losing in OT on Sunday the Capitals went onto Broad Street on Wednesday and promptly laid a big colossal egg for 40 minutes. They were outskated, out hit, out coached, and outscored, 4-1, before staging a furious third period comeback that fell short, and they lost, 6-4.

The optimists will brag about the heart the team showed in coming back in the last frame.

I want to hear NONE of it.

This is the Flyers, the most hated team the Capitals have played since their inception in 1974. Playoff positioning was on the line against a team that plays as dirty as its’ smelly city.

And this is the effort you put out for a rabid fan base who has been supporting you with over 200+ straight sellouts?

This entire team, including the coaches, needs to look in the mirror after these two games and collectively figure out where each can improve to make this group of players better than the sum of its parts.

Right now, despite the obvious roster issues on defense, they are still underachieving.

It is unacceptable and it starts with effort.

You cannot play one period in a hockey game and expect to win. In the 6+ periods of this home and home the Capitals played hard in two of them, the first period on Sunday and the last on Wednesday. It wasn’t close to good enough against a mediocre, at best, Flyers club.

It is pitiful. There are too many mental mistakes along with the lack of effort.

It is maddening to watch and disappointing considering some of the high end talent on this club.

The entire crew should feel shame.

The overall effort stinks and there is not enough focus and that borders on being unprofessional.

A few more performances like this one and the only thing these guys will need to focus on for mid-April and beyond is tee times at their local country clubs.

The season is getting late and the Caps are on the outside looking in. It’s going to take some serious commitment from every guy on this team and the coaching staff to find a way to get on a run to make the post season.

The schedule is really tough, but with poor efforts and the lack of focus seen in the last two games, it doesn’t matter who you play, you will likely lose.

They’ve dug themselves a deep hole with this awful two game set that they gave away to the armpit squad of the Metropolitan Division.

I’m disgusted.

I sure hope the players and coaches are too.

Now excuse me while I go find some Swami Baha records to listen to in an attempt to try and cheer myself up.

One with the universe…

Notes: Today the Caps traded Michal Neuvirth and yesterday’s acquisition, Rotislav Klesla, to Buffalo in exchange for goalie Jaroslav Halak… General Manager George McPhee was unable to swing a deal that made sense for defensive help…the best news with all of the trades over the last two days is that the Capitals now have $17+M of salary cap space available for 2014-15.

 

 

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Caps Gift Wrap One for the Despised Flyers

Posted on 02 March 2014 by Ed Frankovic

A day after getting a huge victory in Beantown, the Washington Capitals were just over 10 minutes away from a win on home ice against the despised Flyers to leap frog Philadelphia into third place in the Metropolitan Division. The Caps, who played an outstanding first frame only to see Philly goalie Steve Mason keep his club in the game, had weathered an early third period Flyers storm and seemed to have everything calmed down and in hand. It was going to give them a five game winning streak and momentum heading into Wednesday’s rematch on Broad Street.

It all looked good for the guys in red, who appeared to be taking another step towards turning the corner on a very up and down hockey season.

But then the dark clouds came in and Dmitry Orlov, who played well for the first 2+ periods, lost his head and took a terribly stupid penalty on Brayden Schenn after the Flyer had cleanly checked him behind the net just seconds earlier. #81 charged and left his feet hitting #10 square in between the numbers and into the boards. It was as easy of a major boarding call as you will ever see and there will likely be a suspension tacked on this week. Orlov’s brain fart instantly turned the game, and possibly the Capitals season, on its head.

His selfish play, and he has a history of being just that (see his early season trade demand), put him in the box for five minutes leaving Coach Adam Oates with just five defensemen to try and stop a very good Flyers power play. Washington was able to only give up a single tally on that major, but the damage was done as Braden Holtby was the only reason Philly didn’t have 2 or 3 more on that sequence. The Caps were out of energy and had no burst when the major expired and it was Orlov again failing to do his job as Claude Giroux deflected home the biscuit with 65 seconds remaining after the Flyers pulled Mason for the extra attacker.

You know what happens next, Vinny Lecavalier scored off of Karl Alzner’s shin pad to win it in OT and the disliked team in orange and white left town with a stolen two points and more importantly, a two point lead on the Caps in the playoff race.

If you are a Caps fan, you are likely livid tonight. You are mostly ticked at Orlov but deep down you know this was bound to happen given the Capitals weaknesses on the blue line. Let’s face it, all season I’ve been blogging that the team would not be consistent until the defense was upgraded. It has not been and the trade deadline is 3pm this Wednesday.

Yes, the Caps received a point today, but this game was one they should have had two and the Flyers had none. They wasted an outstanding effort from Mike Green (3 assists) and superb goaltending from Holtby (31 saves). Joel Ward (assist, +3) was also excellent once again. There wasn’t a lot of good to point out after those three.

Washington’s power play was bad going 0 for 6 and gave up a shorthanded tally. The Caps second goal did come just seconds after Luke Schenn’s minor penalty expired, but overall the Flyers kicked the Capitals rears on special teams in this game. The Flyers were 2 for 4 with the man advantage. Adding in the shorty, that’s a +3 on special teams.

Alex Ovechkin was held pointless and the Flyers dominated shot attempt totals, 76-52. They also won 37 of 60 face offs.

Simply put, this Capitals club remains flawed. They have talent in certain places but the holes appear too much to overcome to pass the teams ahead of them in the playoff race. There continue to be mental and physical mistakes made by many of the same players. Oates continues to point that out and, at some point, you have to move the guys who aren’t getting it done.

This is where George McPhee comes in and its up to him to shake things up this week, but it won’t be easy. The trade market is over priced and making things more complicated is the Capitals difficult salary cap situation. Any dollars coming in have to be matched by dollars going out. That doesn’t put the team in a position of strength, at all.

But this is the situation they are in. They have made the playoffs six straight seasons.

If they want to make it seven years running, then they have to find a way to change certain parts of this roster because through 62 games in 2013-14 the guys currently here have not shown the ability to get this club over the hump.

Today’s loss was a microcosm of the teams struggles this season.

It just hurts worse because it was a gift wrapped victory to the despised Flyers.

 

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Neuvirth Great, But Caps Don’t Score & Lose 1-0

Posted on 04 February 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Michal Neuvirth was superb in goal tonight for the Washington Capitals against the New York Islanders, but it just wasn’t good enough, again.

The Capitals generated six power play chances but couldn’t get a biscuit by Evgeni Nabokov (22 saves) and lost a tough one at the Verizon Center, 1-0.

Only a screened point shot by Andrew MacDonald got by Neuvy at 2:16 of the third period and that was good enough for New York to get a win that the Capitals desperately needed. This defeat drops the Capitals to 25-23-9 and they are three points out of playoff position with just 25 games to go.

If you are a glass half full guy, which you might have to be these days to prevent yourself from stressing out watching this team, here are the positives from this game:

– Neuvirth was outstanding stopping 27 of 28 shots, including a penalty shot by Michael Grabner when it was 1-0 New York. Neuvy gave the Caps every chance in the world to win on Tuesday. Great performance. Goaltending is not the problem with this club, despite what others may think.

– The Caps did enough good things to draw six penalties. When you do that, you should win the game.

– Washington won the face off battle, 27-22.

– The Caps killed off all five Islanders power plays, including 12 seconds of 5 on 3 time.

– John Carlson played 29:13, had 3 shots on net, and four blocked shots.

– Tom Wilson had a great neutral zone hit in the 3rd period that led to some 5 on 5 pressure.

– The line of Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward had a great first period but unfortunately F16’s rebound try from in close on a 2 on 1 with Chimera hit the post.

After that, there wasn’t a lot of things that stood out positively. Washington was sloppy and played a sleepy game (the Islanders had the puck more, as evidenced by the 61-49 shot attempt advantage for New York). I am not sure if it was the ice or something else but the Capitals had a lack of energy and intensity in a game they really needed to win? It’s very disappointing.

Tyson Strachan had a rough 11:24. He screened Neuvirth on the only goal and he had an untimely first period fight with Matt Martin when Washington’s grind line of 25-16-42 were dominating play in the offensive zone. You have to pick your spots better.

Dmitry Orlov was a target all night by the Islanders as they ran him at nearly every turn. He was hit by Martin badly from behind in the middle frame but the zebras only called #17 for two minutes when it easily could’ve been a major. Orlov also took a big hit from Cal Clutterbuck in period three but if 81 had gotten rid of the puck much sooner, he doesn’t have to get plastered into the boards. Again, you have to be smarter on the ice.

Overall, this was a tough one to watch and lose. You can’t go 0 for 6 on the power play against the 30th ranked PK unit in the league. Doing that costs you hockey games, and possibly a playoff spot too.

Next up for the Caps are the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday at the Verizon Center. The Jets are 9-2 since Paul Maurice took over as their new coach.

 

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Ovechkin OT Goal Gives Caps Super Bowl Sunday Win

Posted on 02 February 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin, who shanked a one timer near the end of the first period that would’ve given the Capitals a 4-1 lead, made no mistake when given a second chance in overtime. The Gr8 took John Carlson’s perfect pass on a 4 on 3 power play and lasered it by Wings goalie Jimmy Howard to give Washington a 6-5, OT victory on Super Bowl Sunday.

The win improved the Caps to 25-22-9 (59 points) and puts them just a point out of a playoff spot.

This was one of those games that fans love and coaches mostly despise. There was lots of end to end action and numerous mistakes, which drives coaches nuts. But from a viewing perspective, it was exciting.

From a Caps angle, this game had several things to like.

First, the effort was superb from the outset. Washington, after getting thoroughly dominated in puck possession on Friday in Motown, owned the biscuit for the first half of this contest in racing to a 4-2 lead. The Capitals are scoring goals again because they are moving their feet and paying the price to get to the front of the opposition net. They are finally owning that portion of the ice and they are getting the gritty and greasy goals necessary to win. Joel Ward (2 goals, 1 assist) and Jason Chimera (1 goal, 2 assists) were the kings of that on Sunday.

Second, Washington’s forecheck generated turnovers and Martin Erat and Nicklas Backstrom’s pressure in the offensive zone directly led to a nice top shelf goal by Troy Brouwer that put the Capitals up 5-4 early in period three.

Third, the power play is clicking again and making life miserable for the opposition. The Wings tried to take Ovechkin away on the 5 on 4 and all Coach Adam Oates and company did was adjust and get two power play markers in what pretty much became 4 on 3 situations with the Gr8 blanketed. Ward tallied from the slot and John Carlson scored with a bomb from the point. Ovechkin’s game winner was on a real 4 on 3, so the Caps were 3 for 6 with the man advantage on Sunday.

Fourth, puck possession is easier to gain when you win the face off battle. Washington was 46-30 on draws and that forced Detroit to chase the Caps to try to get the biscuit for much of the game. Jay Beagle went 14-5 from the dot.

Finally, Michal Neuvirth, despite giving up five goals, was really good in net again. His pad save on Henrik Zetterberg (3 assists) with the game tied in the third period allowed the Caps to win this contest. Neuvy is in a groove and he told me afterwards he’s playing the best he has been all season. He feels comfortable and focused in the cage and he stated that the coaches have only made minor changes to his game, which allows him to play the way he’s always played.

So why did the Capitals do so many good things and still need overtime to win?

Well, let’s start with untimely penalties. Connor Carrick’s cross check in the opening frame turned a 2-0 lead into a 2-1 contest in just nine seconds. Worse though was Brouwer’s neutral zone slash with the score 4-2 late in period two. That is a killer infraction and one that gave Detroit new life when the Capitals were close to putting a stranglehold on this tilt. Brouwer has to be smarter in that situation as his penalty was selfish and lazy. I imagine Troy would be the first to tell you he hosed up there (and he did score a big goal in period three to help make up for it).

Next, the Caps defensive zone continues to have issues, particularly in coverage. After the game I asked Oates why they are giving up so many goals when it appears they have players in position to defend. The bench boss said it is simply a case of not winning the “one on one battles.” He’s right about that and it is a pattern we’ve seen too often this season. So is it a question of a lack of focus or an ability issue in their own end? My take is it is a combination of both, but I put more of it on the talent side as Washington’s defense is very inexeperienced after Carlson and Karl Alzner (Mike Green missed his second straight game due to injury).

Bottom line is this team is going to have to work super hard at both ends to overcome the defensive zone issues they have in order to climb their way into post season position. They also need to be more self disciplined by staying out of the box.

Last year the Capitals went on an amazing run down the stretch to make the playoffs by bringing a great effort each night and cutting down on penalties. That run came after a tough loss in Pittsburgh last March where the Caps played well and fell, 2-1. The Capitals fed off of the positives of that difficult loss. But this season, Chimera admitted that the loss to the Penguins on January 15th, a game in which the Caps carried the play, but lost, 4-3, took some time to recover from. Their efforts after that loss were not good for a few games until they turned the corner with a 5-0 win in Montreal.

Since Montreal (outside of the Columbus loss), Washington has improved offensively by getting more bodies and pucks to the net, so that is encouraging and they’ll need to keep that up in order to win their last three games against the Islanders, Jets, and Devils before the Olympic break.

All three tilts are at the Verizon Center and if the Capitals bring the effort they brought on Sunday, then they should be able to gain some ground in the Eastern Conference this week.

 

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Neuvirth, Ovechkin Steal a Point for Caps in Detroit

Posted on 31 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

A night after getting totally whipped in Columbus, the Washington Capitals went into Detroit to take on the Red Wings.

Granted this isn’t the vintage Wings teams that won four Stanley Cups from 1997 to 2008, but they still have a good hockey club and Detroit showed it by dominating the Capitals in puck possession (shot attempts were 81-54 for Detroit) and finally winning in a shootout, 4-3.

This game is 7-2 or worse if not for Michal Neuvirth (42 saves), who was absolutely outstanding throughout the night. Neuvy, who made several ten bell saves in regulation, stopped the first six shootout attempts but none of his teammates could dent Jimmy Howard in the gimmick and Patrick Eaves finally notched the game winner with a sweet glove high shot just inside the right post before Jay Beagle couldn’t convert in the 7th round.

Neuvirth, however, would have gotten the loss if not for a late push from the Caps that saw Alexander Ovechkin tie the game with seven seconds remaining after a nice feed from John Carlson (two assists). Joel Ward did a super job in front of the net on the tying tally.

Another Cap that had a good outing was Casey Wellman, who scored a huge goal to knot this one at two. Wellman took an excellent stretch pass from Ovechkin (1 goal, 1 assist), skated in on Howard and fired three shots before the last one finally hit the twine. Jason Chimera (1 goal, 1 assist) had a strong game along with Carlson and Karl Alzner.

Sadly, after Wellman’s great individual effort, John Erskine blew a tire in the offensive zone and that allowed Gustav Nyquist to beat a screened Neuvirth for what looked to be the game winning goal until the Gr8 late game magic.

Ovechkin now has 39 goals on the campaign and he rebounded after a poor outing in Columbus. The Caps worked harder against Detroit but they were outclassed by the Wings, which is a concern.

The Caps, without Green on the back end, had to rely heavily on Carlson (31:18 of ice time) and Alzner (23:19) on the blue line, and hope that Dmitry Orlov, Tyson Strachan, John Erskine, and Connor Carrick could hold the fort as the bottom four defenders. Unfortunately the Erskine & Carrick pair struggled and finished -2 on the night.

So an important five game road trip ends with the Capitals getting five points. The Caps are two points behind third place Carolina in the Metro Division and two points in back of the Wings, who own the 8th and final Eastern Conference playoff spot currently. Washington now has four straight home games, including Super Bowl Sunday’s tilt against the Wings. Given that the Capitals are 13th in the conference, one would have to think they need to win at least three of the four contests on home ice this week before the Olympic break hits to stay in playoff contention.

They were fortunate to get a point in Motown on Friday night. They can thank Neuvirth for this one along with some late game heroics from Ovechkin.

Notes: The Wings played without star center Pavel Datsyuk and forward Johan Franzen while the Caps didn’t have Mike Green or Mikhail Grabovski, due to injuries. According to Katie Carrera of the Washington Post, Coach Adam Oates confirmed that Green is undergoing concussion protocol and in addition, Brooks Laich was shut down for the third period due to “tightness.” Finding healthy bodies to play continues to get tougher for Washington…five Washington forwards didn’t even ATTEMPT a shot tonight (Martin Erat, Marcus Johansson, Eric Fehr, Beagle, and Tom Wilson), that is not good at all.

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Ovechkin, Neuvirth Rally Caps Past Leafs, 3-2

Posted on 10 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Michal Neuvirth, playing his first game since late November, had every right to be upset after Karl Alzner’s stick deflected a Phil Kessel shot from a weak angle by him to give Toronto a 2-1 lead just 54 seconds into the third period.  But #30 didn’t sulk, and in more important fashion, Neuvy made a game changing save on Mason Raymond, who was wide open in the slot, just 65 ticks later. If Raymond’s shot goes in, the game is pretty much over as Washington would’ve gone down 3-1. But Neuvirth made a great glove save.

Shortly thereafter, the Capitals started to take the play after slightly being outplayed by the visitors, to that point. Nicklas Backstrom would tie it at the 4:36 mark after strong work in the offensive zone and then Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal, 1 assist) made a great pass to Marcus Johansson, who then fed Joel Ward in the slot, and #42 buried the game winner just after David “Overpaid” Clarkson’s penalty expired.

Washington then closed out the final 8:09 of time and won their second straight contest in regulation to improve to 22-16-6 (50 points), which puts them in a second place tie with the Flyers in the Metropolitan Division.

With both teams having played the previous night, the first period had a sleepy feel to it and neither club dented the twine. But that changed in the middle frame and boy did the intensity pick up after Dion Phaneuf and John Erskine had a roughing match with the linesman sandwiched between them. #4 would end up getting the extra minor, a call that had Coach Adam Oates as mad as I’ve ever seen him on the bench. The Caps killed the extra minor and then Ovechkin scored his 32nd of the season after great work by Mike Green in the corner and a super pass by Mikhail Grabovski.

But, as usual, the Caps couldn’t stand prosperity and the Leafs’ James van Riemsdyk scored on the power play just 2:29 later. Then the intensity went to an even higher level, fueled by the Phaneuf-Erksine spat and likely also by a shaky hit from behind by Nazem Kadri on Alzner along the Caps bench. For some reason Toronto’s Carter Ashton then decided it would be a good idea to fight rookie Tom Wilson and talk about a bad plan, #43 pummeled the son of former NHLer, Brent.

That undercard bout would lead to the main event, Colton Orr vs. Erskine and Big John pounded Orr in a decisive victory. Unfortunately the fight wins didn’t translate into goals on the ice as the Leafs carried more of the play from then until the Kessel tally early in the third period.

But Neuvirth (32 saves) came through with the huge stop on Raymond when this game was in question and saved his club.

It was a big victory, granted it was over a struggling Leafs squad, but Washington needs wins now and Neuvy allowed his club to finally wake up and grab the contest.

So that is two strong goaltending performances in a row for the Caps. Philipp Grubauer was super in Tampa on Thursday and Neuvirth was excellent on Friday against Toronto. #30 still wants to be traded, but with a grueling stretch coming up, Oates is gonna need his keepers to play well.

What also helped Neuvirth tonight was the Caps clamped down in the neutral zone and avoided offensive zone turnovers. As a result the Leafs did not get any two on ones or breakaways. At best, they may have had one or two three on two’s. That is real progress for Washington, granted it was against a team that struggles to own the puck. The Capitals still allowed 34 shots on net and 66 attempts to the Leafs against 35 and 68 for the Caps, respectively, so they did not totally dominate puck possession.

Overall, it was a pretty even game but Neuvirth made some big stops when needed and the Capitals top players, Ovechkin and Backstrom, delivered down the stretch to help Washington eke out a victory.

Notes: Washington was 0 for 4 on the power play and afterwards Oates blamed much of that on the Verizon Center ice, calling it “terrible tonight”…the Leafs went 1 for 3 with the man advantage…the Caps lost the faceoff battle 39-34 and Toronto’s first goal came right after a defensive zone loss by Brooks Laich on the PK…next up for the Caps are the Buffalo Sabres at 3pm at the Verizon Center on Sunday. Ryan Miller made 49 saves last time these two teams met in Buffalo.

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Grubauer Helps Ovechkin Net 400th Career Goal

Posted on 20 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin scored his 400th NHL goal on Friday night in the Caps huge 4-2 victory in Carolina. The Russian superstar became the 6th fastest (634 games, h/t Jeff Kryglik) to reach that number in NHL history.

Afterwards, the Gr8 knew exactly who to thank for the reaching the milestone on this night: rookie goalie Philip Grubauer.

The young German netminder, who Ovechkin termed the Caps “best player in the game,” was fantastic stopping 39 of 41 shots, many of the quality chance variety and it was his goaltending along with three Washington power play goals that gave the Caps a late 3-2 lead. With the Canes pulling goalie Cam Ward (25 saves), Nicklas Backstrom (4 assists) moved the puck off of the boards where the Gr8 could out race the Carolina defender and notch his first empty net tally of the season to seal this one for Washington. It was “Good morning, Good afternoon, and Good night Carolina,” as the great John Walton says, at that point.

The victory improves the Caps record to 19-13-3 (41 points), which gives them a five point cushion over the Flyers, who are in 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division.

The analysis of this one is pretty straightforward: Grubauer was the difference in this game like Justin Peters was the difference maker for Carolina just over two weeks ago when the Canes came in and stole a game in Washington. Tonight, for some reason, Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller chose to go with Ward over Peters, who totally owned and frustrated the Capitals at the Verizon Center on December 3rd.

Muller also set up his penalty kill to take away Ovechkin and it totally backfired. Caps Coach Adam Oates and assistant Blaine Forsythe adjusted to the tactic by putting a body in front of Ward and as a result, they notched the three extra man markers. Typically a team has two defenders in front of the net on the PK, making it harder for the offense to get bodies in front, but with the Canes shadowing Ovechkin, it was easy for the Caps to stand in front of or around Ward when they had the man advantage.

Sure Muller did a nice job of exploiting the Capitals defense with stretch passes all night, but overall Oates won the coaching match up in this tilt.

Washington’s neutral and defensive zones were below average in this contest. The spacing between the two defenders was off most of the game. In addition, the gaps between the defensive pair and the forwards was too great, giving the speedy Canes too much time and space.

Luckily, Grubauer was outstanding and the Caps defense did do a great job of clearing any rebounds. In addition, Backstrom was super in this contest and he now leads the NHL in assists with 33. Not too shabby for the underrated Swede.

In hockey, it is nice to have highly skilled players who can score, the Caps have that in Ovechkin and Backstrom.

Washington was mostly outplayed, but the great equalizer, goaltending, was the game’s determining factor.

Grubauer was greater than Ward, which allowed Oates to be greater than Muller in Raleigh on Friday night.

Notes: Shot attempts were heavily in favor of the Canes, 86-42, OUCH!…Marcus Johansson, who had a super second period, got hurt in that frame and left with a lower body injury…Johansson, John Carlson, and Troy Brouwer had the Caps first 3 goals…the Caps went 3 for 4 on the power play while Carolina was only 1 for 5…Next up for the Caps are the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night at the Verizon Center.

 

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Caps Rally From 3 Down To Best Flyers in Shootout

Posted on 15 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

If you attended or watched the Caps-Flyers contest today, you saw one wild hockey game.

After a strong start by the Capitals, Philadelphia rebounded to tie the game late in the first period, dominated the second frame, and scored two quick goals early in the third period to take a 4-1 advantage. The third of those four goals came from Sean Couturier from the corner and behind the goal line. He shot the puck off of Philipp Grubauer and into the cage for a goal that deflated the Caps and the crowd. Then when Jakub Voracek deflected a Michael Raffl shot home at 3:32 of the final frame (74 seconds after the third goal), it looked like the Flyers would avenge the 7-0 drubbing they took from the Capitals back on November 1st.

But not so fast with the 2013-14 Capitals, who had already come back four times after two periods to win contests this season. The Caps started getting pucks and bodies to the net and Mike Green’s goal with 8:40 left gave Washington life. After a failed power play, the Caps kept the pressure on and Dmitry Orlov lasered one by Steve Mason with 3:31 to go after a face off win and suddenly it was a one goal hockey game. The Verizon Center crowd went nuts and the Capitals kept on coming with wave after wave like they were storming the beaches of Normandy. With Grubauer pulled and the extra attacker on, Mason decided to try and play the puck behind his own net but he gave it right to Joel Ward. #42 then found a streaking Alex Ovechkin in the slot and the Gr8 doesn’t fail in the clutch, snapping one by Mason giving the Capitals their third goal in just under eight minutes to send the game to overtime.

The Caps would go on to win, 2-1, in the gimmick and improve to 18-12-3 (39 points), good for a four point lead over the third place Carolina Hurricanes in the Metropolitan division.

Trying to make sense of this game, quite honestly, makes little sense. Green told me afterwards that the vast swings in play were simply typical momentum shifts you see in games. He said that there are real no answers for it. #52 is probably right.

Both the Caps and the Flyers wanted this game very badly and were giving all they had at various times. Washington did manage to get those last three goals by getting pucks to the point for shots with traffic. Green stated afterwards that the coaches and players noticed that Philly was sagging back and that the forwards were reminded that the defensemen were getting room to shoot. With big guns like Green, John Carlson, and Orlov on the point, it made sense for the Caps to “simplify” as Marcus Johansson (1 goal, 1 assist) called it and get shots with traffic on Mason. Clearly it worked and the Flyers were likely guilty of thinking they had the game won when they were up 3 pucks.

With the Caps offensive skills, they are rarely out of a game these days.

Once the game goes to the skills exhibition, it’s anyone’s to win. However, Grubauer said that he watched video of the two previous shootouts this week and he learned some things from it. He said that his objective was not to commit and make the first move because it gives the shooter an advantage that they often capitalize on. Only world class forward Claude Giroux got one by the German goalie while Eric Fehr and Nicklas Backstrom scored for the Caps in the shootout. Grubauer made 24 saves plus the two shootout stops and is now 3-0-1. He made some great saves at other times during this contest, but would definitely like the second and third goals back. With the Caps going to Philadelphia on Tuesday for round three of the season series, I’d imagine that Braden Holtby gets the nod in the cage given his good record on Broad Street.

As for Ovechkin, he had a sweet pass to set up Johansson for the first goal on the power play and his tying tally was his 27th goal of the season. He had seven shots on net in 25:08 of ice time. He, Green, Johansson, and numerous others were way better than they’d been in Florida on Friday and that was a big reason the Caps came back. The Flyers let off the gas and appeared to run out of energy too. Perhaps they used up too much fuel when they seized the middle portion of the game?

Who knows? Like Green said, there are no easy answers for it.

One thing for sure, though, is this Capitals team has character and does not fold the tent when down. Five of their victories have now come from third period rallies and that is very impressive.

The naysayers will complain about too many wins coming from shootouts or state that they are in a weak division, but this team has been in nearly every game this season. They are still figuring out the best way to play on the back end under Oates’ system and that has been complicated by a rotation of different personnel on defense. The coach told me after the game that he prefers that his defensemen move the puck within the first five feet once they get it, and that has to be an adjustment for guys like Green and Orlov, who like to carry the biscuit. Perhaps that is why #52 has been very up and down this season?

Former Coach Bruce Boudreau called Green the “One Man Breakout” and Orlov has that capability too. But if your head coach doesn’t prefer that style, one would have to think that would cause mistakes and an adjustment period? It’s something to continue to watch as the season progresses. Do the players adhere to Oates’ preferred method or is there a give and take between players and coaches to maximize some seriously strong defensive puck handling ability on the back end that the Caps could and probably should take advantage of? After all, what if Glen Sather told Paul Coffey he couldn’t skate with the puck more than five feet, how would that have worked out in Edmonton?

Oates is a smart hockey mind and I understand why he wants the puck moved up as quickly as possible. If a defensemen is coming with speed, he can pass the puck and then get it back from a player who is further up the ice. The puck moves faster than the players, at least that is the philosophy of the strategy, but if the forwards aren’t open or are being taken away by the opposition then the defensemen certainly have to adjust, right? It’s an interesting topic and I’m guessing that there have been many discussions on it between the head coach, assistant Calle Johansson, and some of the defensemen.

Whatever they end up doing, one thing is for sure: you can’t win hockey games with a bad defense. The Caps need to find a way to maximize the skills they have back there. Carlson and Karl Alzner are playing great hockey but the team needs Green and Orlov to play at a strong level too for Washington to be a puck possession dominating club.

Stay tuned.

Notes: Mikhail Grabovski didn’t play due to illness and that forced Oates to move Jay Beagle to center Troy Brouwer and Fehr while Michael Latta was recalled from Hershey and centered the fourth line. Nate Schmidt was sent to Chocolatetown to make room for #46, who ended up leaving the game early with a lower body injury. Latta did have a good scrap with Zac Rinaldo in period two. Steve Oleksy fought Wayne Simmonds early in period three, right before the third Philly goal…Washington had the shots on goal advantage, 33-28, but the Flyers won the shot attempt battle, 55-50…Washington was 40-29 from the dot, including some big offensive zone draw wins in the final 10 minutes…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 29:38.

 

 

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Grubauer Shines in Caps Shootout Loss

Posted on 13 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

After the Caps comeback win on Tuesday against Tampa, I blogged that Washington was lucky to win after a poor effort.

The next day I stated on twitter (@EdFrankovic) that I was more happy with the way they played against Carolina in a loss the previous week than in the victory over the Bolts and hoped that Adam Oates could get his team to play better heading into the weekend.

On Friday night in Florida, that did not happen. Washington was downright terrible through most of this game and if not for the goaltending of Philipp Grubauer and his 39 saves, some of which were of the ten bell variety, the Caps would have been smoked in regulation. But thanks to the performance of the young Caps goalie and a stupid and dirty penalty by Florida defensemen Erik Gudbranson on Eric Fehr, the Capitals scored two goals and managed to take this tilt to the 10th round of the shootout before losing.

The defeat drops the Caps to 17-12-3 heading into Sunday’s game against Philadelphia. Perhaps Washington was looking ahead to the Flyers game? After all, it is the first time these two teams will meet since the Ray Emery assault on Braden Holtby. In that win the Capitals beat the rear ends off of the Broad Street Knuckleheads, 7-0. So Sunday’s game is sure to a be a good one with lots of energy and intensity.

As for the game against the Cats, Washington had little energy or intensity after an early push that saw bad zebras Brad Watson and Jean Hebert disallow Mike Green’s goal due to mythical goalie interference and blow a quick whistle that cost Alex Ovechkin his 27th goal of the season. The referees were downright terrible in the opening frame and it took video review to get Joel Ward’s game tying tally late in period two to count, as well. In addition, several Caps players were not good to include Green, Ovechkin, and Marcus Johansson. All three of those guys, who are counted on to produce, had nowhere near their “A” games in Sunrise.

On the positive side of things, Dmitry Orlov was outstanding with his play. He skated well and moved the puck out of the Caps zone superbly when he was on the ice. #81 had 20 minutes of ice time and looked like the top 4 defensemen that GM George McPhee has been hoping he’d be since he selected him in the 2nd round of the 2009 NHL Entry draft.

A few other guys played hard and well in this one, Fehr and Ward fall into that category.

But overall, this was a stinky performance and the team did not work hard at all. Maybe they overlooked the Panthers with Filthy coming in to the Verizon Center on Sunday?

Right now, I don’t have the answers, but this effort after Tuesday’s weak one is a concerning mini trend.

In hockey, if you don’t bring the proper effort you will likely lose. The Caps have managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat the last two games and get three points when the effort hasn’t really been there consistently.

On Sunday, against the hated Flyers, there are no excuses for not bringing both intensity and effort.

Notes: John Carlson led the Caps in ice time at 26:02…Ovechkin played 24:51 but only had three shot attempts (2 on goal)…the Caps were outshot 41-25, including 37-20 at even strength…Fehr went to the locker room after the dirty hit but returned for the third period and appeared to be okay. Gudbranson will get at least two games for that cheap head shot.

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