Tag Archive | "washington"

natspark

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Finale of Orioles-Nationals series postponed due to rain

Posted on 11 May 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles will have to wait to conclude their 2017 season series with the Washington Nationals after Thursday’s game was postponed due to rain.

The game will be made up on June 8 at 7:05 p.m. with tickets for Thursday’s game at Nationals Park being honored on that date. Baltimore will squeeze in that makeup game between a two-game home set with Pittsburgh and a three-game weekend series at Yankee Stadium beginning on June 9.

Though clubs never want to lose a scheduled off-day, Thursday’s postponement doesn’t come at the worst time for a pitching staff that’s endured plenty of hardships over the last two weeks. From the abbreviated starts turned in from Kevin Gausman and Wade Miley last week to the unfortunate recurrence of All-Star closer Zach Britton’s left forearm strain, the Orioles have answered plenty of challenges to continue to hold one of the best records in baseball. However, an undermanned bullpen gave up five runs in the final two innings of Wednesday’s 7-6 defeat to the Nationals.

The Orioles prevailed in the first two games of the series at Camden Yards earlier this week.

The inclement weather also allows Thursday’s scheduled starter Dylan Bundy to receive an extra day of rest, which isn’t a bad idea for a young pitcher currently ranking seventh in the American League in innings pitched and still in his first full season as a major league starter. With Bundy starting the opener in Kansas City, Chris Tillman’s second start of the season has now been pushed back to Saturday and Kevin Gausman will start the finale on Sunday afternoon.

A roster move could also be coming on Friday as The Virginian-Pilot’s David Hall reported that left-handed pitcher Jayson Aquino was scratched from his Thursday start for Triple-A Norfolk and would be joining the Orioles in Kansas City.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 5-4 win over Washington

Posted on 10 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles earning their sixth straight win in a 5-4 final over Washington in 12 innings, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles snatched a comeback victory from the jaws of defeat when Mark Trumbo singled in the winning run. It’s been a rough start to 2017 for the major league home run champion from a year ago, but the liner into left was his second walk-off hit of the season.

2. Trumbo’s heroics wouldn’t have been possible if not for J.J. Hardy tying the game with an RBI single with two outs in the ninth. The shortstop’s offense hasn’t been pretty, but he came through in a big way after stranding two in scoring position in his previous at-bat.

3. Logan Verrett is making a name for himself in extra innings as he tossed three scoreless frames less than two weeks after pitching two scoreless in an 11-inning win at Yankee Stadium. Unlikely contributions from pitchers on the Norfolk shuttle continue to make a big difference.

4. Ubaldo Jimenez deserves plenty of credit for pitching into the eighth inning against the best offense in baseball so far this season. Considering the defending NL Cy Young Award winner was dealing on the other side, he answered the challenge and then some for his club.

5. It’s fair to question Buck Showalter leaving Jimenez in to surrender a pinch-hit three-run homer to Adam Lind, but he’s trying to preserve the long-term health of a bullpen without All-Star closer Zach Britton and already a pitcher short overall due to a five-man bench. It just didn’t work out.

6. You have to feel for Max Scherzer, who was brilliant over eight innings for Washington. Amazingly, that was the 10th time he’s taken a no-hitter into the sixth since joining the Nationals in 2015. His slider is a thing of beauty and fetched 13 of his 22 swinging strikes.

7. Just when it looked like the Orioles were in real danger of being no-hit, Seth Smith delivered a one-out home run to right-center to tie the game in the sixth. I continue to be impressed with how consistently calm he is at the plate to have great at-bats.

8. It didn’t feel like it mattered much at the time, but Adam Jones homering off Scherzer in the eighth put the Orioles in better position to tie the game an inning later. He also got a great read going first to third on Manny Machado’s single in the 12th.

9. Considering the bullpen was short and it took great execution on Bryce Harper’s throw home to Matt Wieters in the 11th, I didn’t have nearly as much of a problem with Bobby Dickerson sending Hardy — as slow as he is — as most fans reacting on social media.

10. Even with Britton expected to miss more than a month and the real danger of overworking the likes of Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, and Mychal Givens, I’d still happily take the Orioles’ relief concerns over the Nationals bullpen. What a mess for an otherwise great team.

11. Daniel Murphy’s home run in the second gave the Orioles their first deficit since the fourth inning of last Thursday’s game at Fenway Park. It doesn’t get much better than that over a six-day period.

12. Despite their well-documented problems and so much weirdness to start the season, the 2017 Orioles currently have the best record in baseball and are 12 games above .500 faster than any other club of the Showalter era. Talent is paramount, but never question their intestinal fortitude.

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trumbo

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 6-4 win over Washington

Posted on 09 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning their season-best fifth game in a row in a 6-4 victory over the Washington Nationals, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. With the recent challenges for his pitching staff, Buck Showalter wanted to see Kevin Gausman go deep into the game and couldn’t have asked for much more against the best statistical offense in the major leagues. This was the Gausman we saw over the final two months of 2016.

2. Gausman had his best fastball command of the season, especially over his first four innings as 41 of his first 53 pitches were fastballs. He had some difficulty with it leaking to his arm side after that, but he finished strong with a 1-2-3 seventh inning.

3. His seven innings, 116 pitches, and eight strikeouts were season highs, but the most encouraging statistic was only one walk issued. His 5.2 walks per nine innings over his first seven starts were unseemly for a pitcher who rarely had control issues over his first four seasons.

4. After hearing about how potent the Washington offense has been so far, the Orioles hit three home runs in the first to remind us of their firepower. Staking any pitcher to a 4-0 lead is a plus, but it meant more for one who’s struggled over the first five weeks.

5. Mark Trumbo would be the first to tell you that the result didn’t stem from a conventional approach or pitch location, but his first-inning tomahawk shot was nothing short of amazing to watch.

6. Caleb Joseph collected his first four-hit game since Aug. 31, 2014 and his fourth RBI of the season. Regular playing time has certainly helped his cause with Welington Castillo on the disabled list, but he’s beginning to show respectable offense more in line with what he did in 2015.

7. I can’t help but wonder if having Joseph behind the plate is a positive for Gausman right now. It’s not a knock on Castillo, but someone with more familiarity catching the struggling young pitcher might have been just what he needed to get back on track.

8. Gio Gonzalez entered Monday with the best ERA (1.64) among qualified NL starters, but you wouldn’t have known it watching him against the Orioles. The six earned runs and three homers surrendered by the Washington lefty were one shy of his season totals in each category.

9. Of course Trey Mancini was going to hit a long home run on his T-shirt giveaway night at Camden Yards. His production continues to be critical with Trumbo and Chris Davis not providing their usual power in the middle of the order so far.

10. Brad Brach turned in a shaky ninth inning, but he still converted his eighth save in nine chances. Before panicking too much, remember he’s filling in for a closer who was in the midst of a historic stretch. That’s an unfair standard for someone still adjusting to a new role.

11. Even if you’re not familiar with the TOOTBLAN acronym, you won’t see worse baserunning than what the Nationals exhibited in the ninth inning to bail out a pitcher on the ropes. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, right?

12. Matt Wieters received the great reception that he deserved in his return. A video tribute in the first and a standing ovation for his first at-bat were perfect. He never became the next Johnny Bench, but he helped leave the Orioles much better off than they were when he arrived.

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Jojo SWG

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Johansson’s OT Tally Wins the Series for the Caps

Posted on 24 April 2017 by Ed Frankovic

It took six close games, five of them decided in overtime, for the Washington Capitals to finally extinguish the Toronto Maple Leafs with Marcus Johansson tallying his second goal of the night to give the Caps a 2-1 victory 6:31 into the extra session. The Caps will now move on to face the Pittsburgh Penguins in round two, starting on Thursday night at the Verizon Center, in what is a rematch of last spring’s second round battle.

Like game five, this was another tight defensive battle with strong goaltending. Neither team scored through 40 minutes, with the Leafs owning the lead in the shot attempt totals, at 47-38, but the Caps had the better of the scoring chances, especially their second line.

In the third period, it was anyone’s game, but Washington started to take over with their depth. The Capitals had several good scoring chances, but then a weird bounce and a missed defensive assignment cost them the first goal.

Morgan Reilly dumped the puck in to the Caps end and it took a crazy carom off of the glass into the slot. Auston Matthews, who is already a star in this league at age 19, jumped on the puck and went in alone on Braden Holtby (37 saves). The kid from the desert went top shelf on the Holtbeast to make it 1-0 just 7:45 into the final frame. It was a fortuitous break for Toronto, but the goal was preventable. Had Evgeny Kuznetsov kept skating instead of gliding at the Caps defesnsive blue line, he could have beaten Matthews to the puck. It’s a good lesson for #92 and the whole team to learn in the playoffs – a single missed stride can cost your team a goal.

In the past, the Matthews tally might have devastated the Caps bench, but not this year. No, this team amped their game up and started taking the play to the Maple Leafs and just over five minutes after #34 had all of Yonge Street thinking there was going to be a game seven, the Caps tied it up.

Lars Eller made a strong offensive zone entry on the left wing boards and he fed a streaking Johansson in the slot. Marcus pushed the puck ahead to escape the Leaf defender and then he pinballed one in off of Frederik Andersen (34 saves) into the net with just 7:09 remaining. It was a monstrous tally and it came because the Capitals started to push the play.

Washington would continue to do that and then in the overtime, they took their game to 11.

The Caps had no thoughts of sitting back on Coach Mike Babcock’s squad and they thoroughly outworked and dominated a young Leafs team in the overtime. They had several scoring chances, Comcast’s Alan May had it 7 to 1, with Jojo getting his second of the night and the series winner on a play where he simply did what he had done all season long to score a career high in goals (24), he went to the front of the net.

A Leafs icing forced Babcock to leave a tired crew on the ice, which included game one goat, Martin Marincin, as well as his fourth line (Kasperi Kapanen-Brian Boyle-Matt Martin). Coach Barry Trotz took his third line off and inserted Johansson, Kuznetsov, and Mr. Clutch, Justin Williams. Kuznetsov, who like many other Caps centers struggled on draws all game, won a huge face off against Boyle. When Stick received the puck from John Carlson on the right wing half wall, he smartly fired it on net. Jojo was parked in the slot above the paint and he appeared to tip the initial shot into Andersen’s pads and then fought off Marincin to bury the game and series clincher.

Wow, what a game and what a performance by the Caps once they were down, 1-0! They pushed the play and looked like the team that won the Presidents’ Trophy this season. It’s the way they’ll need to play in the second round if they want to defeat the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

Winning the first round is always the toughest; ask any hockey player, coach or executive and they’ll back me up. It was even harder for Washington because everyone picked them to win quickly and the Leafs had nothing to lose. Simply put, there was a TON OF PRESSURE on the Capitals to win this series and move on to face the Penguins for the rematch from last spring.

As Coach Barry Trotz told me, Nestor Aparacio, and the great crowd at Greenmount Station back on March 20th, every series takes a piece out of you. Toronto took some pieces out of the Caps. Karl Alzner didn’t play after game two due to an upper body injury, Nazem Kadri put a cheap shot on Alex Ovechkin and knocked Ovi out for two plus minutes of game five (but the Russian Machine Never Breaks), and Leo Komarov put a dirty hit on Nate Schmidt late in game six (but the 88 car also returned to play four shifts after the hit, including being on the ice for the game winner).

Luckily the Gr8 and Schmidt, plus T.J. Oshie, who I could see mouth “I’m all right” to Caps trainer Greg “Smitty” Smith after blocking a shot right before the winning goal, should be ready for Thursday night’s game one against the Penguins at the Verizon Center. The Leafs may have taken some pieces out of the Caps, that’s still to be determined how much, but in my book, Washington was able to ramp their game up to a tempo they’ll need to be at against Pittsburgh. I’m not sure they get to that pace level in a series against the Bruins or Ottawa. So I’m still glad the Capitals faced the Leafs. It was a very hard series, but they overcame an inordinate amount of pressure and persevered.

Anyways, the Penguins series should be one heck of a rematch. The Caps have waited a whole year for it, but we’ll talk more about it as the week progresses, but let’s hope there’s a Rocky 2 type of ending this spring.

Notes: Final shot attempts were 70-67, for Washington. It was all Caps after the Leafs marker…Ovechkin had 12 shot attempts, including seven on goal, in 22:45…the Caps lost the face off battle, 39-22, but they won some key ones, including right before the series winning tally. Kuznetsov was 6-8 (best Caps percentage)…Oshie had another strong game with five shots on goal in 19:35…the Caps were shorthanded for just 22 seconds and they had 2:22 of power play time…the Holtbeast was outstanding in this tilt, which included a huge save on Komarov, who was all alone after he took his run at Schmidt and #88 limped to the bench…Dmitry Orlov led the Caps in ice time with 25:38 and his partner, Matt Niskanen, logged 25:15. They played the hard minutes and that allowed Carlson and Schmidt to help the Capitals drive the play when they were on the ice…the Caps won the last three games of this series, which came after Coach Trotz tweaked his forward lines right before game four (bumped Tom Wilson up to the third line).

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Caps Beat Stars

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Caps Rally to Win in Overtime in Dallas

Posted on 22 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Capitals may want to think about bringing their “Dad’s” along in the post season this spring.

Washington tallied twice on the power play in the 3rd period after trailing, 3-1, and then Jay Beagle scored from the paint 19 seconds into overtime after a super feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov to give the Caps a 4-3 victory in Dallas over the Stars.

It was the first time the Capitals have won in the Lone Star State since October of 2008 and their all time record on the “Dad’s/Mentor’s trip” is now 12-5.

Clearly this club, which plays it’s best when highly motivated, reached down deep to pull out a victory that they may not have achieved had their collective group of “old men” not been present. Down two pucks, they killed off a double minor high sticking penalty on Dmitry Orlov that carried into the start of the final frame, and then an Alex Ovechkin laser followed by T.J. Oshie’s deflection of Matt Niskanen’s (3 assists) rocket from the center of the ice squared things up in Big D with 14:34 remaining in regulation.

Philipp Grubauer (32 saves) would then make one of the best saves of the season for Washington on a Stars late power play when he somehow got his blocker on a shot by Tyler Seguin that was targeted for the twine. It was an incredible stop and #91 dropped his stick afterwards in disbelief.

That set the stage for the short overtime that began with Beagle winning the draw for the Caps. Possession is so important in three on three overtime and #83 is Washington’s best face off man.

The Caps started out fast in this one and received another first goal from Andre Burakovsky and the smoking hot third line. Brett Connolly fired a shot from the high slot and with Lars Eller screening in front, Kari Lehtonen struggled with the rebound and that allowed #65 to bang the biscuit home just 2:17 into this one.

But the prosperity would be short lived as the Capitals took back to back delay of game penalties and the Stars had a 1:22 five on three. Washington would kill that off with some great work by Brooks Orpik and Karl Alzner on the blue line with Nicklas Backstrom and then Beagle up front. They then worked off the remaining time on the five on four. Unfortunately, just 38 seconds after the game was back to five on five, the Stars scored on a point blast by Jordie Benn that Adam Cracknell tipped and Grubauer never saw.

Washington would get outworked by an ornery Stars squad that started two fights in three seconds midway through period one. Dallas picked up momentum from those bouts and they outskated and outhit the Capitals for the remainder of the period, but they couldn’t take the lead.

The strong play by Dallas would not change in period two and the scoreboard would indicate that, as well. Patrick Eaves scored on a rebound 6:47 into the middle stanza and then after Connolly was jailed for boarding, Jamie Benn made it a two goal cushion at 15:59, just two seconds before #10 was due to exit the sin bin. The Caps had only four shots on net in period two.

With it 3-1, Orlov took the careless double high sticking minor on Benn and it was looking like there would be no post game Caps dancing in this one.

Washington’s penalty killing, which has been fabulous this season, would step up and then the power play answered with two goals on two attempts. Actually, had the officials called things correctly, the Caps would’ve had another power play after Oshie’s game tying tally since Antoine Roussel’s high stick on Alzner drew all kinds of blood. Zebras Steve Kozari and Jon McIsaac ignored it despite Caps Coach Barry Trotz’ insistence that they look at King Karl’s face and note the red stuff flowing out of his mouth.

Overall, the Caps were not very good in this tilt. They were outshot 35-22 and out attempted, 62-50. Part of that was the six minor penalties they took and you can only really argue the Taylor Chorney hold in the third period, the others were all clear cut. Still, Dallas should’ve been jailed at least a couple of more times for minor infractions, but that’s hockey. Washington was able to even this game up thanks to their great special teams. They were five of six while shorthanded and a perfect two for two with the power play.

The Capitals clearly wanted this game and they found a way to prevail without anything close to their “A” game. They really miss John Carlson on the back end, too. Good teams find ways to win when they don’t have their best stuff and Coach Trotz’ crew did just that to move to 31-9-6 (68 points) and maintain their two point lead on Columbus. The Blue Jackets knocked off the Hurricanes, 3-2, on Saturday afternoon.

Those who follow the Capitals Twitter and Facebook feeds saw the video of Lars Johansson dancing and then doing “the bump” with Trotz to Hall & Oates after the win in St. Louis on Thursday. For 40 minutes on Saturday night it looked like there would no encore on the final game of this season’s “Dad’s” trip.

But a motivated Caps team clawed back and then won the contest setting in motion another post game celebration with ABBA’s Dancing Queen fittingly being the song of the night. Jojo’s dad once again didn’t disappoint and showed that he indeed is the Swedish Dancing King, with another assist from Coach Trotz.

The Dallas curse is over.

Notes: Orpik was +1 and now leads the Caps at +23 overall…Ovechkin now has 22 goals on the season. He had three shots on net in just 15:46 of ice time (low due to all of the PK time). He led both teams in hits with five…Niskanen logged 25:24 to lead the Caps in ice time. Orpik played 23:01 and was outstanding…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 32-31. Beagle was 13-8…Beagle has 10 goals and 10 assists on the season in just 46 games…Oshie now has 17 goals…next up for the Caps are the Carolina Hurricanes at the Verizon Center on Monday night.

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Kuzy Habs

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Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, and Holtby Lead Caps Over Montreal, 4-1

Posted on 09 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

“I said, Train kept a rolling, all night long, Train kept a rolling, all night long…”

Alex Ovechkin had a goal and two assists, Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the game winner just 54 seconds after Montreal tied the game up, then set up Brent Connolly’s 5th tally of the season to make it a two goal cushion, and Braden Holtby made 22 saves as the Washington Capitals played arguably their best road game of the campaign to knock off the Habs, 4-1, at the Bell Centre.

For the Gr8, he now stands at 999 career points and he has a date with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins on Wednesday night in an attempt at hitting four digits.

Before that big tilt takes place, however, the Caps can enjoy their flight home from Quebec after taking two games in the Great White North, a 1-0 win over Ottawa on Saturday in which the Holtbeast stole the show, and then Monday night’s dominating victory over a bit depleted Canadiens squad. These two triumphs increase the Capitals current winning streak to six games and they are now 26-9-5 (57 points) overall.

The Habs were without key players Brendan Gallagher, Andrei Markov, Andrew Shaw, and David Desharnais, but Washington was missing its top right winner, T.J. Oshie, who was injured thanks to one clean and one non-clean hit from Dion Phaneuf on Saturday in Canada’s capital city. Oshie did skate on Monday morning, so there’s a chance he could return for the Pens game on Rivalry night on NBC this Wednesday at 8 pm.

The Capitals were skating well in this contest against a speedy Montreal club that makes it very hard to get to the front of the net to disrupt all world goalie, Carey Price. Early on it was a chess match with both teams having good chances, but the Caps got on the board first when Karl Alzner made a strong pinch in the left wing corner and with the Gr8 covering the point, the puck went back to Ovi. Alex fired a hard, low shot on net and with Connolly screening in the high slot, Price (35 saves) could not control the rebound and all star Nicklas Backstrom backhanded the puck home at 11:03 of period one.

This game would then go back and forth for the next 35 plus minutes with Washington having the edge in quality scoring chances. The Caps, however, got into penalty trouble in the final frame and after Lars Eller took a bad neutral zone infraction trying to impede a Montreal rush, Tomas Plekanec scored with just one tick left on the man advantage via a goal mouth scramble. Holtby was contacted slightly by Paul Byron, but even more so by Brooks Orpik, who knocked over the Holtbeast while trying to clear out Byron. Coach Barry Trotz challenged for goalie interference, but the goal stood.

At that point the Bell Centre was hopping and a Caps team that had carried most of the play to that point, was at a critical juncture.

Enter Kuznetsov, who received a pass from Ovechkin in the neutral zone, worked his way strongly around Max Pacioretty to gain the offensive zone, then undressed Jeff Petry with a sweet outside in move, and finally chipped the puck by a stunned Price to give the Capitals a massive answer on the scoreboard after the Habs seemed to have all of the momentum. That goal, with 11:48 remaining, was like a shot of adrenaline to Washington and on Kuzy’s next shift, he took advantage of a Price miscue with the puck by his own net and fed Connolly in the slot to make it 3-1 with nine minutes remaining.

Washington’s penalty kill would thwart the fourth Montreal power play of the night and then #92 drew a hooking infraction on his fellow Russian countryman, Alexander Radulov, with 3:56 to go. At that point the only thing that could get the Habs some life would be a shorthanded tally, but there would be none of that.

Coach Trotz went for the dagger putting out the regular number one power play unit and Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) fed Ovi at the top of the left circle and the Gr8 rifled it by Price just 32 seconds into the man advantage. Game over.

Wow, this was some hockey game and it is easy to see why Price and Holtby were two of the three goalies for Team Canada this past fall in the World Cup of Hockey. Holtby, who on Monday was named the NHL’s third star of the week, was outstanding once again. In his last three games he’s allowed just one goal on 82 shots! The Holtbeast is now 7-0-1 lifetime at the hallowed Bell Centre (h/t to Caps beat writer, Mike Vogel).

For the night, the Caps outshot Montreal, 39-23, and deserved this victory. They did a better job of getting bodies in front of Price, unlike the 2-1 loss they suffered to the Habs at the Verizon Center on December 17th where Coach Michel Therien’s club sealed off the front of the net extremely well.

The Caps are now 5-0 in January and Kuznetsov looks like the player who made the NHL All Star team last season. He is moving more into the tougher areas of the ice and Petry was likely fooled so badly because he thought #92 was going to do his usual peel to the wing and look for a pass play. Instead, Evgeny went hard to the net and he’s been doing that, along with shooting the biscuit, more frequently during this winning streak. As a result, the points are piling up for him and the wins are too, for the Caps. This is the Kuznetsov the Capitals will need in the spring if they are going to win the Stanley Cup.

Now he just needs to keep the train rolling…

“I said, Train kept a rolling, all night long, Train kept a rolling, all night long…”

Notes: shot attempts were 68-62 for the Caps…Washington was 1 for 2 on the power play while the Habs went 1 for 4…Matt Niskanen led the Capitals in ice time with 23:06…Coach Trotz spreads his ice time around because of the deep Washington roster, although Liam O’Brien, who made his 2016-17 debut, only played 6:08…Tom Wilson, who was hurt blocking a shot on Saturday, played 10:22 and that allowed Coach Trotz to hold Paul Carey, who had been recalled earlier in the day from Hershey, out of the contest…the Caps lost the face off battle, 31-27…Alzner blocked six shots…Wilson and Connolly each had three hits doing a super job on the forecheck… Connolly took Oshie’s spot on the top line and he played very well…Nate Schmidt played just 13:59, but was outstanding at breaking the puck up the ice with speed on the back end, especially in the first period when the Capitals set the tone.

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Caps End Streak

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Braden Holtby and the Caps End Columbus’ 16 Game Win Streak

Posted on 05 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The streak is over while another one continues…

Braden Holtby, aka The Holtbeast, stopped 29 shots and the Washington Capitals went to the net with authority for the fourth straight game to bury Columbus, 5-0, and end the Blue Jackets winning streak at 16 games while increasing the Caps victory run to four.

#70, who was pulled after 20 minutes against the Leafs on Tuesday, was dynamite in this one and several of his best saves came in the opening frame. About the only mistake he made was an early big rebound that he left in the slot which Brandon Saad shot wide. For the rest of the game, it was downhill for the Blue Jackets.

Nate Schmidt, who was scratched for two games, came to play and around the five minute mark his point shot found Jay Beagle parked all alone in front of Sergei Bobrovsky (18 saves). “Bob” made the first save, but Daniel Winnik made a great play to corral the rebound and put it behind the goaltender for a one goal Caps lead just 5:06 into this affair.

Just 20 seconds after that tally, Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) would take a terrible offensive zone penalty and the NHL’s best power play, at 28.3%, was looking to even things up. But the Caps penalty killing has been stellar this year and the only shot on net that CBus got was a 45 footer from Saad.

Washington then put the Blue Jackets down by two goals for the first time all season, according to Joe Beninati, as John Carlson scored off of his skate going to the net after both Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson made nice passes.

Despite the Capitals lead, Columbus carried the play and led in shots on goal, 11-6, after one period, but the Holtbeast was the big difference.

From there, the Capitals took over the game. Schmidt, who looked recharged after sitting out, received a great pass from Alex Ovechkin (1 assist) in the right wing circle a third of the way through period two. Two Blue Jackets went to the ice to block #88’s initial shot, they both missed, and then they went sliding by as the rebound went right back to Schmidt. Nate then fired it again as a third Columbus defender tried to block the shot and that player ended up deflecting it past Bobrovsky to make it 3-0. I’ve talked often about not leaving your feet on defense and Columbus, who thrives on blocking shots, did just that and it cost them.

At that point, you could see the Columbus energy start to diminish and Washington’s just getting stronger. It takes a ton of effort to maintain a long winning streak and with their hopes of tying the Pittsburgh Penguins NHL record dying, you could see the stress of it starting to zap the Blue Jackets.

The Caps third line then ended all doubt as Lars Eller and Brett Connolly put on a great forecheck/backcheck combination and that forced a Blue Jackets turnover. Carlson gathered up the errant pass just inside the offensive blue line and fed Andre Burakovsky in the slot, who snapped the biscuit by Bob at 16:27 of period two. At that point, the game was pretty much over.

Burakovksy backed up his “it will be fun to end the streak” talk from the AM skate with that goal and he and his linemates continue to look like the answer Coach Barry Trotz and GM Brian MacLellan have been trying to find with that third unit for several years.

The last nail in the coffin was then added by Justin Williams just 5:36 into the third period when Kuznetsov won a puck battle on the left wing boards and fed #14 in the left wing corner. Williams skated in on Bobrovsky, and roofed it to make it 5-0. That prompted Columbus coach John Tortorella to take out his #1 goalie and insert Curtis McElhinney.

The only question for the last 15 minutes was would the Holtbeast get a shutout? The zebras once again tried to help the Blue Jackets giving them a 76 second five on three with Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen in the sin bin. Washington, however, was fantastic on the kill with Holtby making three saves, including two in tight on Cam Atkinson. Tom Wilson, who had one of his best games of the season, then drew a tripping infraction on a two on one with Eller, who had just blocked a shot to spring it and any real scare was over with 5:30 remaining.

Columbus received one more power play, but the Holtbeast gobbled three shots up and he easily earned his number one star of the game award.

This was quite an effort from Washington and in arguably their two biggest games this season, home against the Penguins and on Thursday against the Blue Jackets, they have won by a combined 12-1. There is no doubt that this club, when focused and motivated, can play with any team in the NHL.

The bottom six forwards were outstanding in this affair and the Caps gap control was sensational all game. They throttled the Blue Jackets ability to generate quick scoring chances and after a rough first period, they dominated the boards and loose puck battles.

It was a huge victory to knock off the first place Blue Jackets, who had a very impressive 16 game run. Washington is now 24-9-5 (53 points) and is just five points behind Columbus, who have a game in hand.

For the Caps, this was an encouraging and dominating victory, especially from the second period until it was 5-0.

Everyone in hockey says that the NHL season really doesn’t begin until January.

So far in the first month of 2017 the Caps are 3-0.

Notes: Shots on goal were 29-27 for CBus and shot attempts were 51-50 for the Caps…Washington was a perfect 5 for 5 on the penalty kill, but were 0 for 4 with the man advantage…Carlson was the second star and Schmidt was the third star. Both were really good on the back end, as was Dmitry Orlov (22:42)…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:18…Williams now has 11 goals on the season, he’s on fire right now…Orpik and Schmidt were both +3…Kuznetsov had four shots on goal…Brandon Dubinsky was -4 for the Blue Jackets.

 

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Backstrom Saves the Day for the Caps in OT

Posted on 07 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

And then Nicklas Backstrom saved the day for the Capitals.

Nicky’s tally through the legs of Tuukka Rask 1:36 into overtime allowed to Caps to survive, 4-3, after they blew a three goal advantage.

Washington looked like gangbusters for the first 25 minutes building that 3-0 lead on the backs of two Justin Williams goals from the paint and then a sweet shot by Daniel Winnik on a two on one break after a superb feed from Jay Beagle. But with Matt Niskanen getting hurt on a dirty hit from Patrice Bergeron late in the first period and not returning, the Bruins took over the game physically and worked their way back into it. That hit by Bergeron only landed #37 in the sin bin for two minutes when it easily could’ve been called a major.

After Winnik’s marker, the Caps would then go 26 minutes and 27 seconds without a shot on goal. By then it was 3-3 with only 7:42 remaining in regulation.

Boston’s first goal was fluky. After Alex Ovechkin was picked off of the faceoff, the Bruins threw the puck on net. Brooks Orpik was pushing his man, Anton Blidh, away from the net while Holtby tried to clear the biscuit. Unfortunately he put it right on #81’s stick and he fired it off of the Holtbeast and Dmitry Orlov failed to tie up notorious Cap killer, Dominic Moore, and he deposited the puck into the open cage.

Then things got really hairy when Evgeny Kuznetsov, who set up the first two goals for Washington and played a super first period, made a terrible turnover at the offensive blue line with just over a minute left in the middle frame, and it led to a David Pastrnak breakaway. #88 beat Holtby through the five hole on the backhand and suddenly two goals in two minutes and 25 seconds late in period two made this a one puck hockey game.

With one of their top three defensemen out in Niskanen, the Caps were getting exposed badly. Boston simply amped up their game and physical play and the Capitals couldn’t match the push. That continued into the final frame and after an iffy penalty to Tom Wilson, Brad Marchand and Autin Czarnik set up Colin Miller in the slot and he lasered one by #70 late in the power play to even things up with 11:41 left.

About four minutes or so later, the Capitals finally started getting their legs going again and stabilized the ship, setting the stage for Backstrom’s OT heroics.

For the game, the Caps were outshot 34-20 and they allowed Boston to have too many easy outs from their own end. The forecheck and heavy hockey that earned them the 2-0 lead in the first frame disappeared. It was almost like the Capitals thought that they could just go back to the perimeter game and still win.

Luckily for them, they did, because they needed these two points. However, they cannot be happy about what happened after the first period. They once again forgot what makes them successful; winning one on one puck battles and using their size. The Caps typically handle the Bruins because the B’s employ a physical style that fits Washington’s lineup perfectly. But Coach Barry Trotz’s team quit playing and it was the Bruins who were doing the manhandling.

Holtby, who made 31 saves, was a big reason, once again, why this team was able to get a victory when they were outplayed badly for two periods.

And Backstrom delivered another key goal, like he did in Tampa last Saturday night when he got the Caps to overtime, but this time he potted the game winner.

So on Wednesday night, which was NBC Rivalry Night, we saw the good from the Caps in the first period, the bad in the second period and parts of the third, but thanks to Holtby and Backstrom, we didn’t have to deal with the ugly, which would’ve been a loss after a great start.

Notes: Rask has still never won a game at the Verizon Center…Williams doubled his goal output of the year just 7:57 into the contest. The first goal came at the 23 second mark. Kuznetsov assisted on both goals. Ovechkin assisted on the first one, and likely deserves a helper on the second, as well…Niskanen was +2 in only 6:44 and his short night due to injury showed how thin the Washington back end is when it loses either he, Karl Alzner, or John Carlson. I have to think GM Brian MacLellan will be trying hard to add a top 4 D before the trade deadline…the Caps only had seven shots total after they went up 3-0. They scored on the only shot in OT for either team…Marcus Johansson and Nate Schmidt both made nice plays to set up the winning goal and each earned an assist for their effort…T.J. Oshie returned to the lineup after missing seven games with an upper body injury (shoulder). He got banged up in the lower body area early, but he eats rocks for breakfast and stayed in the game. He only played 15:11, though…Carlson played 25:04 to lead the Caps in ice time and Alzner was close behind with 24:04…final shot attempts were 62-44 for Boston. It was ugly after Niskanen left the game…next up for the Caps are the Sabres in Buffalo on Friday. There is no practice on Thursday, so we won’t know about the status of #2 until Friday. He has an upper body injury.

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Ravens not good enough to overcome coaching errors

Posted on 09 October 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman deserved a pass last season.

With a lack of speed at the skill positions and a run of injuries that made the offense look like a preseason unit over the final two months, how could you fairly critique the assistant in his first season in Baltimore?

But the red flags were there. The running game lacked productivity or commitment — or both — and the passing attacked often lacked rhyme or reason. A year later, the same problems persist as the Ravens offense turned in an embarrassing performance in being blanked over the final 44 minutes of a 16-10 loss to Washington, who entered Sunday ranked 29th in the NFL in total defense and 26th in points allowed.

It looked so promising early with a nine-play, 75-yard opening drive that resulted in a 7-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Crockett Gillmore. In the first quarter, the Ravens went 3-for-5 on third down, rushed 11 times for 74 yards, and accumulated 146 yards of offense.

If only the game had ended after Justin Tucker’s 31-yard field goal to give the Ravens a 10-6 lead to begin the second quarter.

Over the last three quarters, Baltimore went 0-for-10 on third down and ran the ball eight times, one of those a fourth-down scramble by Flacco on the final drive. Instead of continuing to try to gash the Redskins with the run, the Ravens appeared to go away from the ground game whenever they could as Flacco threw the ball 46 times for just 210 yards. The ninth-year quarterback has now thrown a whopping 98 times over the last two games for just 508 yards, an anemic 5.2 yards per attempt.

If the opponent is truly adjusting to take away the run, then the passing game is hopelessly broken to not be able to take advantage. There’s no excuse to fall apart after the 37-year-old Steve Smith exited the game late in the first quarter with a sprained ankle.

But as the passing game languished, Terrance West averaged 8.6 yards per carry on 11 rushes on Sunday.

Eleven.

He was responsible for the two longest plays of the game for Baltimore with runs of 35 and 27 yards while Flacco dropped back to throw 50 times and had nothing longer than a 15-yard completion on the day.

“We didn’t get first downs,” said head coach John Harbaugh when asked about the disappearance of the running game. “Eight rushes [after the first quarter] and how many three-and-outs? How many runs do you want? That’s the bottom line. You have to move the ball, you have to get first downs. We have to have more plays. How many plays did we have if you’re not going to count the two-minute drive? You just have to look at how many plays we had in those situations.

“I didn’t think we abandoned the run. I would’ve liked to have seen us score. Once we got the turnover down [in the red zone in the second quarter], we threw it and got nothing there. Maybe we could’ve run it there if I was going to look back.”

The weekly excuses for not running the ball are wearing thin, and the frustration was apparent in the post-game locker room. Trestman isn’t solely to blame as the offensive line is banged up, receivers are dropping too many passes and struggling to gain separation, and Flacco isn’t playing at his best. Players must execute and the opponent is also competing, but even the most even-keeled observer has to question whether the maligned coordinator is able to put this offense in the best position to succeed at this point.

Do changes need to be made?

“I’m not going to get into all that. We’re not playing well enough,” said Flacco, who added that it was “embarrassing” to play that way in front of a disenchanted home crowd. “We’re not making plays. Yeah, there’s probably only a couple plays, we’re only giving ourselves a couple of plays to be made, but when they’re there, we’re just not making them. We are running off the field way too much. Definitely, definitely not fun to be out there today after the first series.”

Of course, the offense wasn’t the only problem on Sunday.

The special teams continue to struggle as the Redskins scored their first touchdown on an 85-yard punt return by Jamison Crowder in the first quarter. A bad Sam Koch punt early in the third quarter set up Washington at midfield for its eventual second touchdown.

On defense, the secondary buckled too much in the third quarter and linebacker C.J. Mosley’s fumble through the end zone on what looked like a game-changing interception was a back-breaker, but too much pressure is being placed on a much-improved unit that allowed only 10 points on Sunday.

But it was another coaching gaffe in the second quarter that stood out in the six-point defeat.

After linebacker Zach Orr forced and recovered a fumble inside the red zone, the Ravens failed to pick up a first down on three plays and lined up to try a 35-yard field goal to push the lead to 13-6. However, the Ravens called for their kicker to throw a pass despite the windy conditions at M&T Bank Stadium. Unsurprisingly, the pass to Gillmore was underthrown and fell incomplete.

Tucker said after the game that they had practiced the trick play — which included him initially lining up as a left-footed kicker — over the last five years, but there had been no discussion on the sideline about the crosswind potentially impacting the ability to run the fake. He maintained that the wind was not a factor on his throw and suggested that Gillmore may have slipped on the play, but the failure was neither of those players’ fault.

How you call a play for a non-quarterback to throw the ball in less-than-ideal conditions is baffling. We don’t know how the game might have changed if the Ravens had successfully kicked there, but they would have only needed a field goal to tie the game on their final drive if the score had been 16-13.

“You can second-guess it, but I’m not second-guessing it,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve stood up here for nine years and said we’re going to be aggressive. People are going to have to defend fakes, they’re going to have to defend us going for it on fourth down. That’s just the way we’re going to continue to play, because that’s what we believe in. We believe in giving our players a chance to make plays, and we’re going to keep doing it. We’re not apologizing for that.”

The head coach’s answer was predictable, but there’s really no defending the call.

Plenty went wrong in the loss and players must take their share of the responsibility, but the Ravens just aren’t good enough to overcome the type of coaching errors that were made on Sunday.

Harbaugh and Trestman needed to be better in what was a very winnable game.

Now, the Ravens are left to rebound from two straight home losses that have all but washed away the good vibes of a 3-0 start.

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Ravens-Redskins: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 09 October 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — For the second straight week, the Ravens have benched a starting player — at least sort of.

Struggling since a strong performance in the season opener, veteran cornerback Shareece Wright has been deactivated and will not play against the Washington Redskins on Sunday. This comes a week after the Ravens deactivated former starter Justin Forsett, who was released on Tuesday.

Roughly 15 minutes after the inactives list was released, however, the Ravens said Wright has been experiencing back spasms “recently” despite that not appearing on the injury report at any point during the week. That late announcement was understandably met with skepticism.

Candidates who could see time at outside cornerback include Will Davis and Sheldon Price, who rotated lining up with the starting defense during pre-game warmups. Veteran Jerraud Powers and rookie Tavon Young could also be in the mix there, but they are each better suited to play the slot corner spot.

With 2016 first-round pick Ronnie Stanley out for the second straight game with a foot injury and third-year reserve James Hurst faring poorly last week, Baltimore will shift rookie left guard Alex Lewis to left tackle. Of course, Lewis might have been the starter at left tackle in Week 4 if not for a concussion that sidelined him for most of the practice week ahead of the game against Oakland.

On Friday, Lewis expressed confidence in his ability to slide outside since he played left tackle at Nebraska and practiced quite a bit at the position during the summer.

The Ravens will also have a new left guard on Sunday as John Urschel will receive his first start of the season. The 2014 fifth-round pick entered training camp as the favorite to start there, but a shoulder injury sidelined him for an extended period of time and opened the door for Lewis to win the job.

This marks the Ravens’ third different combination at left tackle and left guard in as many weeks, which is far from ideal for the league’s 19th-ranked offense trying to get on track in 2016.

As anticipated and discussed throughout the week, rookie running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) is active and will make his NFL debut. He is expected to serve as a change of pace to starter Terrance West, but the Ravens are intrigued with the fourth-round pick’s potential if he can stay healthy.

Veteran return specialist Devin Hester (thigh) is active after missing practices earlier in the week.

Looking to clean up their shoddy special-teams play over the last two weeks, the Ravens have deactivated rookie linebacker Kamalei Correa and rookie wide receiver Chris Moore, who had played in each of the first four games. Tight ends Daniel Brown and Darren Waller are both active and figure to play substantial roles on special teams after being moved to the 53-man roster earlier this week.

Meanwhile, Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan (elbow) is active despite being listed as questionable on the final injury report. Washington will need him to help take advantage of a vulnerable left side of the offensive line for Baltimore.

The Redskins already ruled out starting cornerback Bashaud Breeland (ankle) on Friday.

The Ravens and Washington are meeting for the sixth time ever in the regular season with Baltimore holding a 3-2 advantage and a 1-0 record at home. However, the Redskins won the last meeting between these teams, a 31-28 overtime final at FedEx Field in 2012.

Baltimore will be wearing purple jerseys with white pants while the Redskins don white tops and burgundy pants for Sunday’s game. Uniforms for both teams will feature pink accessories as an initiative for Breast Cancer Awareness month.

Sunday’s referee is Ron Torbert.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore called for mostly sunny skies with temperatures reaching the mid-60s and only a slight chance of precipitation at kickoff. However, wind will be a factor at up to 22 miles per hour throughout the afternoon.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
CB Shareece Wright
OT Ronnie Stanley
WR Chris Moore
S Marqueston Huff
LB Kamalei Correa
DT Willie Henry
LB Matt Judon

WASHINGTON
QB Nate Sudfeld
WR Josh Doctson
CB Bashaud Breeland
CB Dashaun Phillips
S Su’a Cravens
OL Vinston Painter
DE Anthony Lanier

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