Tag Archive | "Wideman"

Bruins Ramp Up Physical Play, Take Game 3

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Bruins Ramp Up Physical Play, Take Game 3

Posted on 16 April 2012 by Ed Frankovic

After the Caps won game two in Boston, Bruins Coach Claude Julien challenged his team to be tougher and more physical around Washington goalie Braden Holtby. On Monday night, his club responded by crashing the cage and playing an ultra physical game in a 4-3 victory at the Verizon Center. The Bruins now lead the best of seven series two games to one with game four on Thursday night in DC.

This game was there for the taking for the Caps as they opened up a 1-0 lead when their power play connected on its first try. Alexander Semin scored on a shot from the top of the circles with Brooks Laich running traffic on Tim Thomas with four minutes left in period one. Washington played pretty solid defense in that opening frame and Holtby was looking in great in net.

But Holtby finally blinked on a four on four situation and he let in a softie on Rich Peverley’s wrister. Alexander Ovechkin answered 13 seconds later and it seemed that the Caps were going to right the ship.

However, the Caps started to forget to do the little things, which is playing good defense away from the puck. That ability had gotten them the good showing in Boston but the defensive discipline started to slip away in the middle period and when Mathieu Perreault lost Daniel Paille in front of the net, #20 had a layup to tie the game up. Things then got worse in Washington’s own end as Laich allowed Brian Rolston to score again from in front early in period three. Laich would then tie it up with six minutes left scoring on a breakaway after a great feed from Nicklas Backstrom.

Boston received a questionable power play late, and I won’t even go there with the NHL referees who are having a tough playoffs across the board, but then Milan Lucic paid the price for his extra curricular physical play getting a four minute rough to just two minutes for Matt Hendricks. It seemed to be a good break for Washington but four on four has not been their game this year and the B’s took the lead late on Chara’s point blast that hit a Capitals stick on the way in. The Caps pressured late with Holtby pulled but couldn’t connect.

So Julien tried his coaching move and his team responded. The Bruins outhit the Caps 58-36. Washington is more skilled and doesn’t want to get into that type of game but the way this one was being called, it played right into Boston’s hands.

Now it is time for Dale Hunter to make adjustments. First thing the Caps need to do is not get into the post whistle scrums and focus on the play with the clock moving. That wrestling stuff seems to heavily favor Boston. Washington also needs to clean up their own zone again and watch the guys away from the puck. Finally, they must correct their neutral zone, as the Caps tried too many cross ice plays that were intercepted.

Simply put, the Caps have the speed advantage in this series and need to get back to using that by dumping the puck behind the slow Boston defense and employing their cycle game to generate chances. The neutral zone miscues give the Bruins more time to set up their physical play and pound the Washington defense. The turnovers and poor coverage are not a recipe for playoff success.

Your move Dale.

Notes: The Caps lost the faceoff battle 37-33.  Marcus Johansson was 1-5…Perreault only played 4:23 and his ice time suffered for his defensive lapse in period two…Laich had three points (1G, 2A)…Mike Green led the Caps in ice time with 26:35….Backstrom was given a match penalty for cross checking Peverley as time expired. That carries an automatic one game suspension unless it is rescinded. Replays seem to come to #19′s aid but with the NHL, who knows?!

 

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Caps Coming Together As A Team At Right Time

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Caps Coming Together As A Team At Right Time

Posted on 14 April 2012 by Ed Frankovic

After Thursday’s tough 1-0 overtime loss to the Bruins, something happened, in defeat, with the Washington Capitals that spoke volumes to me. The Caps, with captain Alexander Ovechkin as one of the leaders, came out and mobbed rookie goalie Braden Holtby almost as if the team had won the game instead of leaving #70 to skate off by himself while the rest of the players filed off of the bench and down the tunnel, like typically happens more often than not around the league in overtime playoff losses.

What did that tell me? That this hockey club, that has had an extremely tumultuous season, is coming together as a team, at the right time. Today, they backed that feeling up for me with a gritty, 2-1, win in Boston in double overtime to tie this best of seven series up at one game apiece.

Holtby (43 saves) was excellent in goal again and so far he appears to be the catalyst for the Caps recent bonding. The rookie goalie is making timely saves so the team has confidence in him and as a result they are giving the defending Stanley Cup Champions fits so far. After Boston carried most of game one, the Capitals came out and more than held their own in this contest. Ovechkin (1 assist) had a much stronger effort and he relied more on his power than finesse, in this tilt. In fact, his strong play on the wall led to Troy Brouwer’s goalmouth tally that gave the Caps a 1-0 lead late in period two. It was a sandpaper type of goal and one Washington needed to prove they could find a way to get a puck past Tim Thomas (37 saves), who has been playing phenomenal, as well.

Even after Benouit Pouliot scored with just under eight minutes left in regulation to tie the game up, on a play where he bowled over Holtby after tipping the puck by him, the young goalie and his club didn’t appear panicked. Washington stuck to Coach Dale Hunter’s game plan of being responsible in their own zone and it worked.

Playoff games are often won or lost on special teams or on faceoffs. With both teams still failing to score on the power play in this series, it was an offensive zone draw that proved decisive for the Caps. Patrice Bergeron actually won it, but Nicklas Backstrom managed to push the puck below the goal line where Marcus Johansson corraled it. With three Boston defenders focused on MJ90, the young swede slid the puck to a wide open #19 in the slot, who fired one past Thomas for the game winner.

The Caps bench erupted and instead of going down 2-0, Washington is more than in this series.

The Bruins are still the favorites right now. After all, they have a ton of experience from last season to fall back on. They are a deep team with an excellent goalie. They play a physical game. They are supposed to win.

But the Capitals are healthy at the right time at forward and on defense, and the young Holtby is seizing a huge opportunity in goal to provide a backbone for this team. He is making key saves and also helping his defense out with his superior stick handling skills.

The kid is playing well but the pundits are still backing the defending champs.

But with those expectations comes more pressure for Boston. The Caps have internal pressure to win, but the media has mostly written them off.

It seems the lack of belief in them, along with some timely health, and the emergence of Holtby in net has allowed this Capitals club to come together as a team at the right time.

The key will be keeping it up by sticking together, listening to their coaches, and putting the team first. That is how you win playoff games and a series.

Notes: Karl Alzner and John Carlson were outstanding on defense today and that is four really good games in a row for #74, who is peaking at the right time…Johansson was the game’s first star while Alzner got the second. #27 is super smart on the ice…the Caps won the faceoff battle 34-30 with Jay Beagle going 11-6. #83 has been dominant on draws in this series…Mike Green was +2 and he led all Capitals in ice time with 33:28. He and Roman Hamrlik are playing very well together…Dennis Wideman and Jeff Schultz were once again on the ice for the Boston goal and have been the weakest defensive pair for the Caps. Wideman’s ice time was just over 20 minutes, where it likely should be with the other two D-pairs playing so well.

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Rangers Lucky They Lost to Caps Today

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Rangers Lucky They Lost to Caps Today

Posted on 07 April 2012 by Ed Frankovic

John Tortorella should be thanking his lucky stars that Alexander Ovechkin scored his 38th goal of the season just 32 seconds into the game to pave the way for a Washington 4-1 rout over his New York Rangers.

Why? Because the number one seeded Rags weren’t going to beat the Capitals in a seven game series in the opening round of the playoffs, which would have been the scenario had the Rangers knocked off the Caps today.

The Caps OWWWWNNNN the BlueShirts since New York has no match for Washington’s skilled players. Ovechkin (1 goal), Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) and Alexander Semin (1 assist) light up when they see the slow Rangers defense and Henrik Lundqvist often has the task of trying to be the difference. On Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, King Henrik had no chance as the Capitals swarmed him in the opening frame en route to a 3-0 lead. Braden Holtby stopped 35 shots but most of them were from the perimeter as #70 made a strong case to be the first round starting goalie against the Boston Bruins, especially with both Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun not at 100% healthwise.

For the Rangers, they luck out and get the Ottawas Senators, which is a much easier matchup for them despite what Keith Jones of the Philadelphia Flyers, I mean NBC, thinks.

The Caps last chance to win the Southeast Division title went out the window when the Carolina Hurricanes laid down by playing goalie Brian Boucher in Florida. Give credit to the Cats though, they deserved the division title since the Caps were so inconsistent throughout the season. The Panthers take the #3 seed and will face the New Jersey Devils.

For Washington, a mostly miserable regular season is finally over. It started with a 7-0 run, included inconsistent play, a coaching change, and some key injuries (Backstrom and Mike Green) during the majority of it, while finishing with a 5-2 stretch to qualify for the post season. The Caps get the very difficult task of facing the Boston Bruins in the first round and they will be heavy underdogs.

The Bruins are good and experienced while the Capitals underachieved in the regular season. Add in the fact that Washington will be playing the goalie that is 3rd on the depth chart and on paper, this looks like a mismatch. Most of the national and local media will predict it that way, but that takes pressure off of the Capitals.

Still, they do have internal pressure to win. This team was picked to go far in the postseason back in October and owner Ted Leonsis won’t be happy with a first round exit, even if it does come against the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

For the Caps to find a way to beat Boston, they need to continue to do the things they did right on Saturday on Broadway. They need to go to the net and get traffic on the opposing goalie. They need to use solid defense to generate transition offense, like Roman Hamrlik did setting up a three on two for the Backstrom goal that made it 4-0. They also need good goaltending, like Holtby provided tonight.

What they need to improve on are some very important things. First, they still have a tendency to try to make the perfect or fancy play and that leads to too many turnovers in all zones. Coach Dale Hunter has to get the players to clean that up. The simple play is the one that works best in playoffs, not the “thread the needle” type passes that are tried too often by this hockey club.

In addition, the power play was 1 for 3 in New York but does anyone feel confident in it? The Rangers best chances to score came when the Caps were a man up because of poor decision making. Dennis Wideman had a terrible night manning the point. Green wasn’t much better and he certainly didn’t have his legs when chasing down Rangers on shorthanded semi breakaways in this one. If the Caps want to get the power play going then look no farther than how they scored against Lundqvist. John Carlson got the puck in the middle of the ice at the blue line and fired it on net. He didn’t look to pass, he simply sent the biscuit flying towards the cage where it was deflected home by a New York player. Good things happen when you shoot and the more the guys on the power play start to figure it out the more goals they’ll get and the number of shorthanded odd man breaks and goals against (the Capitals allowed 10 of them this year) will go down. It is a simple formula.

So 82 games are in the books and for the record the team went 42-32-8 for 92 points. They were 3-1 against the Bruins this year as well. But none of that means anything now, but what does matter is the Capitals need to improve in some key areas if they want to have a chance of winning against Boston and get a shot at owning the Rangers again in the post season in round two.

The Caps did Tortorella and company a favor tonight, but the fiery Rangers coach will never admit it.

You’re welcome John and hope to see you in round two.

Notes: Hamrlik had two assists in 16:38 of ice time and I am saying that was his best game of the season. He looked confident and poised throughout the contest…Carlson was good too in 20:25 of ice time. That is two super games in a row for him and he deserves more power play time with his excellent shot…Laich centered the top line and won the key faceoff that got Washington rollling…Joel Ward returned and played solid on a 4th line with Mathieu Perreault and Keith Aucoin. Ward’s grinding style seems to be a good fit for the postseason and the Caps will need big things out of him to try to stop a potent Bruins club…the full playoff schedule will be announced Sunday at 1 pm on the NHL Network.

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Playoffs?! Playoffs?! Yes, the Caps Are Talking Playoffs

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Playoffs?! Playoffs?! Yes, the Caps Are Talking Playoffs

Posted on 06 April 2012 by Ed Frankovic

In a season that has seen a coaching change, some key injuries, and more than its’ share of ups and downs, the Washington Capitals finally made the playoffs with one game remaining, after a 4-2 victory over the Florida Panthers combined with the Philadelphia Flyers win over the Buffalo Sabres, 2-1. The Caps, believe it or not, still have a shot at the Southeast Division title and can finish either 3rd, 7th or 8th in the East, depending on the outcome of Saturday’s contests. Their first round opponent could be the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, or New Jersey Devils.

But back to Thursday night, where the Caps faced a must win in their biggest game of the season. They got the job done, but it was not without another injury, and it was not an easy victory. Washington started sloppily in the opening frame but thanks to a Jay Beagle tally on a rebound of a Troy Brouwer shot plus some super goaltending by Michal Neuvirth, the Caps were fortunate to have a 1-0 lead. But things took a bad turn at the 5:39 mark of period two. Panther forward Marco Sturm fell into Neuvirth and #30 fell back awkwardly with his left leg trapped under him. He was in clear pain and he had to leave the contest after stopping all 13 shots he faced, many of them quality scoring chances.

At that point, the game could’ve gone either way when Braden Holtby (12 saves) entered. Knowing that #70 came on cold with no warmup, the Capitals immediately picked up their play. In addition, they received a boost from Coach Dale Hunter’s line combination changes that he made after the opening 20 minutes. Hunts moved Brooks Laich (1 goal, 1 assist) to center Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal) and Marcus Johansson (1 assist) while moving Nicklas Backstrom with Alexander Semin (1 goal) and Jason Chimera. The switch triggered the Washington offense and Ovechkin and Laich tallied two minutes apart to give the Caps a 3-0 lead.

“He wanted myself on that line just to add a little bit more defensive responsibility. That opens up Marcus and Alex to go and attack. If they know that I am going to be third guy high and then try and win my battles low and get the puck to them, they’re both great skaters that if I can get the puck to them in our zone, they can skate it out. That was the only thought process, shortly after that they both come down and they score a goal. So, it’s good strategy by the coaches,” added Laich on coach Hunter’s line juggling to start the second period.

Washington has struggled with leads lately and tonight saw another round of that start to occur. When five guys swarmed the puck after the Panthers crossed the Caps blueline, Sean Bergenheim alertly fed a streaking Mikael Samuelsson, who was all alone coming down the left wing. #26 fired a laser top shelf by Holtby and suddenly the Cats had life. Florida would pressure Washington, who had several stretches where they could not get the puck out of their own zone, for the rest of the period,  but after 40 minutes it was 3-1.

But just 43 seconds into the final period, the Caps failed to dump the puck deep and Florida took advantage getting an easy entry into the zone as the Capitals forwards changed. Then with the Caps defenders running around, Ed Jovanovski fired from the middle of the point and it went through a maze of players before getting by Holtby. At that point every Capitals fan had to think, “We’ve seen this movie before!” and for the next nine minutes it seemed like only a matter of time before the Panthers were going to tie it up. Luckily, the Caps finally found their legs when the Beagle line generated a super forecheck and from there on out Washington carried much of the play with Semin closing the deal with his 21st goal of the season with 1:02 to go.

It was another game where the Capitals looked like world beaters for stretches and then there were other periods where they seemed like the worst team in the league. When they struggled their breakouts were not crisp and they were lazy, at times, in the neutral zone, and that allowed Florida to get more offensive zone time. They did not play well away from the puck at all during those downturns and it was especiallly apparent that they were sitting back in the first 10 minutes of the third. Defensemen Karl Alzner (1 assist) commented on why they struggled early in the third period but were better down the stretch.

“I think we relaxed a little bit more and started getting a little bit of confidence back. We were talking about that on the bench, if there is a play to be made, make the play. Play with confidence, play still on the offensive with what made us get that lead. And that is what happens with all of the teams, you tighten up and you play too much defense and then we get picked apart through the neutral zone. So it was just getting a little bit of our swagger back, I think,” added King Karl on the problems the Caps have had lately when they get a lead and how they adjusted on Thursday.

At the end of the night though, the Capitals achieved their first and most important regular season goal: to make the playoffs. It is a different feel this spring as Washington is likely not going in as a favorite in their series. Because of the injuries and coaching change, they still have not played their best hockey either. They have been wildly inconsistent and their confidence needs boosting. Alzner’s point about getting their swagger back is an important one, Washington needs to find that right balance to be successful in the confidence department.

In the past, the Caps have gone into the post season having had long stretches of solid play during the latter part of the regular season. Maybe they’ve been overconfident in past years, but that won’t be the case this year. Also one could argue that the last four seasons, the Caps had already played their best hockey going into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Again, that certainly is NOT the case this year.

Will it make a difference in the post season results this year? We will find out, but one thing is for sure, there are plenty of things the team needs to work on before the first round starts. There is lots of room for upside and improvement and they’ll need to do so, especially if both Tomas Vokoun and Neuvirth aren’t healthy for the playoffs. Right now it looks like it is Holtby’s net, but #70 seems ready to handle that pressure.

In closing, there is one regular season game left at Madison Square Garden on Saturday against the Rangers (6:30 pm start). A win by the Caps and a regulation loss by the Panthers gives the Caps the Southeast Division title, home ice, and a date with the Devils. If the Cats get at least a point, the Caps win, and Ottawa loses in regulation, then Washington goes to Boston as the 7th seed. Finally, if the Caps lose or both Florida and Ottawa get at least a point, then it is the eighth seed and another series against John Tortorella and the Rangers.

Whoever they face, the Capitals have the potential to be a dangerous team, especially if they improve their play with the puck as well as away from it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rangers would prefer facing either Florida or Ottawa instead of a team that underachieved in the first 82 games and finally has a healthy set of skaters, especially if they find their game and get their swagger back.

Notes: Semin’s ice time was increased to 19:19 after #28 only played 14 minutes on Monday. Smart move by Hunter to get the hard working winger more playing time…John Carlson logged 20:05 and had his best game in weeks, maybe even in months…Ovechkin now has 37 goals on the campaign…the Caps lost the faceoff battle 29-32, with Beagle (1 goal, 18:35 of ice time) going 10-6. #83 has been one of the most positive stories of the 2011-12 season and the coaching staff continues to use him in a key role on this team…Neuvirth is reportedly day to day with a lower body injury so expect the Caps to call up Dany Sabourin from Hershey if Vokoun isn’t ready yet…Joel Ward should be closer to returning and they will need #42 to play like he did for Nashville in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs…the Sabres loss put the Panthers in the post season for the first time since 1999-2000.

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Caps Can’t Close in Tampa

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Caps Can’t Close in Tampa

Posted on 02 April 2012 by Ed Frankovic

Just when the Washington Capitals had a chance to put themselves on the brink of making the post season, they found a way to mess it up. After tying the game on a late Jason Chimera tally, the Caps lost a defensive zone faceoff and allowed Bolts sniper Steven Stamkos to score on a rebound from the doorstep with 1:03 remaining for the game winner. Stamkos would add his league leading 58th goal into an empty net to make it 4-2.

It was an opportunity blown for the Caps, who now have to sit back and root for the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday before taking on the Florida Panthers at the Verizon Center on Thursday night. If the Buffalo Sabres win tomorrow, they tie the Capitals in the standings with two games remaining, but the Caps own the tiebreaker (more regulation or overtime wins).

This was another sloppy game and it started slowly for the Capitals. Part of that was their inconsistent play but another reason was the officiating tandem of Kelly Sutherland and Frederick L’Ecuyer. Those two zebras gave Tampa two early power plays while missing some obvious infractions committed by the Bolts. It would go that way most of the night despite Washington carrying the play. Tampa received four power plays to just two for Washington and there were some questionable non-icing calls that went against the Caps late in regulation. They might as well have put Buffalo Sabres or Florida Panthers jerseys on the referees tonight because they were anything but objective.

But the Caps did not play well enough to win despite the bad officiating. They made key mistakes at the wrong time. Mathieu Perreault made a great pass to set up the first Caps goal by Alexander Semin (goal, assist), but he then made a terrible giveaway in his own zone shortly after Mike Green was robbed by Dwayne Roloson (31 saves) with a dandy glove save that would have made it 2-0, Washington. Perreault’s horrible turnover forced Dmitry Orlov to take a penalty and then Teddy Purcell scored on the power play to tie it up. 25 ticks later the Bolts scored again.

Chimera’s late goal (3:17 left) off of a rebound of a Semin shot after Green skated through the Tampa defense seemed to be the type of marker that would propel the Capitals to a victory, or at least a point. But Jay Beagle lost the draw to Stamkos with 1:15 to go and #91 provided the dagger. It was another late loss for Washington and if they miss the playoffs they have a whole slew of these contests to go back and revisit from 2011-12.

So now the Caps will have to sit and wait until Thursday to play again, with the hope that Buffalo loses on Tuesday against the Leafs or on Thursday in Philadelphia. Otherwise they’ll need a win vs the Panthers and a victory against the Rangers on Saturday to be sure to qualify for the post season (assuming the Sabres win in Boston on Saturday too).

Notes: The Washington coaching staff has got to get the power play going. Right now it is just terrible. There is too much passing at the top and not enough shots with traffic. Why not move Alexander Ovechkin down low or at least on the half wall again?…Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, and Troy Brouwer were all -2. The Caps need those guys scoring if they are going to win their last two games…Michal Neuvirth (26 saves) was in goal and he was outplayed by Roloson. He needed to stop the Purcell shot. The other two were the result of long shots with traffic…speaking of traffic, the Capitals need to get more of that in front of the other clubs goalie. Washington makes it too easy on opposing netminders too often.

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Sloppy Caps Win in Shootout

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Sloppy Caps Win in Shootout

Posted on 01 April 2012 by Ed Frankovic

With the out of town scoreboard being the Washington Capitals friend on both Friday and Saturday night, the Caps found themselves in a struggle with the Montreal Canadiens, the last place team in the Eastern Conference, in their own building. Dale Hunter’s crew put out a decent effort, but the Caps over passed and shot wide on their chances plus they had several sloppy stretches in Nicklas Backstrom’s return to the lineup for the first time in 40 games. Fortunately for Washington, Michal Neuvirth was very good in net (39 saves, 2-2 in shootout) and Matt Hendricks and Alex Semin made super moves in the gimmick as the Capitals escaped with two points.

It was a huge victory on paper as the Caps moved two points ahead of the Buffalo Sabres, who lost on Friday at home against Pittsburgh and then Saturday in Toronto, with just three games remaining. Because the Capitals hold the tiebreaker over the Sabres (regulation or overtime wins), Washington’s magic number, which is points gained by the Caps or points lost by Buffalo, sits at four. In addition, if the Florida Panthers lose in regulation to the Detroit Red Wings in Hockeytown on Sunday, then the Capitals control their own destiny with respect to the Southeast Division title. The Caps are in Tampa on Monday, come home to face the Panthers on Thursday, before closing out their regualar season at Madison Square Garden on Saturday against the Rangers.

Things are shaping up nicely for the Caps standings wise, but if they want to close the deal, and more importantly, advance in the post season, they have to clean their game up. Washington squandered too many opportunities in this one. Alexander Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson (3 giveaways) played with Backstrom in his return. #19 was very good but his linemates were woefully inconsistent and that prevented them from connecting. Brooks Laich, another guy this team needs going to win regularly, was also sloppy on this night (4 giveaways) and was yet another reason the Capitals couldn’t sustain anything after a very good first 16 minutes or so.

The Caps never sat back in this game, in fact, the two Montreal goals came in transition as Washington was trying to push the pace. Max Pacioretty blew down the left wing late in the first period and when Karl Alzner over committed to help out his defensive partner, Dennis Wideman, Erik Cole was all alone in front and scored. The Habs second goal came when Thomas Plekenac just abused Roman Hamrlik one on one and then fired a sweet shot upstairs to beat Neuvirth (39 saves).

In overtime, the Capitals struggled once again on four and four because they couldn’t keep up with Monreal’s speed. That was disappointing given that the Habs played the night before in New York and should have been the tired club. The Caps are fortunate their goalie was on his game on this night and Neuvirth certainly showed that he can be the guy the way he played on Saturday. Last year #30 was very instrumental in Washington winning the Eastern Conference in the regular season and with Tomas Vokoun’s creaky groin, Neuvy needs to step up again for the Caps to win the division/make the post season.

At the end of the night, despite the fancy play that led to too many turnovers, the Caps come out on top and they are in a nice position to make the post season after things looked troublesome following the blowout loss to Buffalo on Tuesday. There are still three games to go and Washington must play better if they want to close things out and avoid an early trip to the golf course. The Southeast Divison will be likely there for the taking after Sunday’s slate is complete, but the Caps will need to win all three remaining games to pull that off and they won’t get that done if they perform like they did against Montreal.

Notes: Overall shot attempts were 68-68 but the Habs did a better job of getting theirs on goal…Mathieu Perreault scored the first Caps goal off of a nice feed from Semin and Jay Beagle scored the second after a sweet pass from Hendricks…those four players had good games but #85 only had 10:05 of ice time…Washington won the faceoff battle 38-28 with Backstrom going 12-6…Mike Green had 24:24 of ice time to lead the Caps…both teams did not score on the power play. The Caps had five chances to the Habs four. Washington must start connecting with the man advantage if they want to do post season damage.

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Ovechkin Propels Caps Back into 8th

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Ovechkin Propels Caps Back into 8th

Posted on 25 March 2012 by Ed Frankovic

As I walked out of the Verizon Center on Friday night after the Caps gave up a 3-0 lead to lose to Winnipeg in overtime, there were a lot of non-believers in this Capitals team with just seven games remaining in the season. Personally, I wasn’t even close to being on the ledge following the defeat and felt that Washington just ran into some bad luck (see Mike Knuble missing one from the doorstep), faced great goaltending early on, and had bad execution playing on an empty tank due to back to back games.

Sunday night, the Capitals certainly helped confirm my thoughts as they received great goaltending from Braden Holtby (28 saves) in the opening frame, then dominated the Minnesota Wild en route to a 3-0 victory. The win, which featured a lot of excellent plays by Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal, 1 assist in 26:19 of ice time), puts them back into eighth place in the Eastern Conference with the Buffalo Sabres, who come to town for Tuesday night’s HUGE tilt at the Verizon Center. Both clubs have 84 points but the Caps hold the tiebreaker due to more regulation and overtime victories (36 to 30). The Caps are also just two points behind seventh place Ottawa and with Florida losing at home in the shootout to the Islanders, they are just three points in back of the Southeast Division leading Panthers (FLA has a game in hand).

I still could be wrong about this team, but the way Ovechkin and Alexander Semin are playing, the Capitals seem to be trending up. The Gr8 now has 36 goals when 35 once looked to be a pipe dream. On Friday, many criticized Hunter for having the team hang back and for sitting Keith Aucion and Jeff Halpern in the third period. I did not think the Caps purposely sat back, they just couldn’t get the puck out of their own zone to sustain any forecheck or offense. It was bad execution and Winnipeg was really clicking. Those of you who read what I wrote after Friday’s game though, did notice that I did call for the Gr8 and Semin to get more ice time. On Sunday, Hunter delivered that and the Gr8 double shifted most of the contest as ole number 32 went with just 11 forwards. Ovechkin made that decision look very smart. His hustle to slide and break up a Wild two on one shorthanded break after Dennis Wideman lost sight of the puck at the offensive blue line in the middle frame was a turning point in the game.

Semin continues to play well despite taking more than his fair share of criticism. He now has 38 points (13 goals, 25 assists) and is +14 in 47 games since December 9th (shortly after Hunter took over as coach). He has helped Jason Chimera hit a career high in goals (19) and Mathieu Perreault likely isn’t in the NHL right now without #28. The Russian forward was all over the ice at both ends today and had 16:40 of ice time. He has been battling a lower body ailment but is fighting through it. I still would like to see him get more minutes but given Washington’s weaknesses up the middle of the ice, that might not happen until Nicklas Backstrom comes back (which could be soon).

Holtby certainly has taken advantage of an opportunity and was 2-0-1 allowing just four goals in 185 minutes of hockey this week. His ability to play the puck really helps his defensive crew, which has some slower guys back there. It is hard to see #70 not face Ryan Miller on Tuesday in likely the biggest regular season game for Washington since the season finale in 2008.

So the Capitals got a must win when they needed it and they continue to control their own destiny in their quest for the playoffs. Tuesday’s game is huge and then they have five more contests after that. Some of their poorer finishes recently (see Detroit and Winnipeg) have come in the second half of back to back tilts. Fortunately for Washington, they are done with those this season. That will allow Hunter to rely more heavily on his big guns like Ovechkin and Semin, and both need to continue to play at an elite level for this club to be successful.

Notes: Marcus Johansson (1 assist, +1, in 14:32 of action) rebounded from a bad contest on Friday with a strong one today. MJ90′s decision to not drop pass when coming across the blue line earlier in the shift helped lead to Ovechkin’s goal. Washington got the puck deep, sustained pressure, then took advantage of a Wild turnover in the neutral zone to put this game away…Hunter dressed seven defensemen (Wideman, Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Jeff Schultz, and Roman Hamrlik) with Schultz, Orlov, and Carlson all playing less than 12 minutes…the Caps lost the face-off battle, 30-23, but Perreault went 7-3…Perreault also had the 2nd Caps goal off of a nice feed from Troy Brouwer after Ovechkin kept the puck alive on the power play.

 

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Bad Decisions Cost Caps Again

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Bad Decisions Cost Caps Again

Posted on 24 March 2012 by Ed Frankovic

When you are up 3-0 in hockey, you should win the game. On Friday night at the Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals managed to give a critical game away to the desperate Winnipeg Jets, 4-3, in overtime. It was a costly loss as the Buffalo Sabres, by virtue of their victory over the New York Rangers, are now tied with the Caps for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Both teams have 82 points with just seven tilts remaining. In defeat, the Capitals wasted a two goal effort from Alexander Ovechkin (34th and 35th of the season) and some decent goaltending from Michal Neuvirth (38 saves).

After losing in the shootout to the Flyers on Thursday night, this was a worrisome game given that the Jets were in town waiting while the Caps went up and down I-95 the last two days prior to puck drop. But Washington came out as the stronger team dominating the play in the first 25 minutes. When Ovechkin scored top shelf on Ondrej Pavelec (20 saves) just 5:47 into the middle frame to put the Caps up three pucks, it looked like the rout was on. The Caps were outskating the Jets and playing with confidence. Only Pavelec’s stellar play in goal kept the Jets in it, at that point.

But a couple of things changed the entire course of the game in a matter of seconds. First, fourth liner Ben Maxwell scored when the Capitals had a major mental breakdown in their own end. Four Caps were back on the play as Tim Stapleton carried the puck into the Washington zone. Three defenders went to Stapleton with the fourth, Roman Hamrlik, also staring at the puck carrier. Bad decision number one as Stapleton found an all alone Maxwell in front for an easy goal. Then, on the ensuing face-off, third line center Jiri Slater goaded Washington first line center Brooks Laich into a fight. Bad decision number two as Washington was now forced to go without their top pivot for five minutes, which basically helped take red hot Ovechkin out of the game. That also sparked the Jets even more and they scored 71 seconds later to make it 3-2 with over 30 minutes left in regulation.

The Caps would then, for the first time this season, lose a game they were leading heading into the final frame (were 22-0-0, thanks @JapersRink & @ngreenberg). Shift after shift the energized Jets kept putting it on a tired Capitals club, but somehow the Caps held the lead, despite no shots on goal, until just under four minutes left in regulation. At that juncture, Jeff Halpern won a defensive zone draw but both John Carlson and Jeff Schultz failed to get to the biscuit and also did not cover their respective men. The result was a tap in goal and when the contest headed to OT, it was pretty obvious a tired Capitals team had run out of energy against a desperate Winnipeg club.

Some will blame the coach for the loss and the way the Caps played in the third period, but Dale Hunter’s troops didn’t get it done. When you have four guys back against two or three opponents, there should be no goal against, but that happened on the Jets first tally. Also, Laich decided to go with Slater on his own, likely a carryover from the previous week’s physical tilt in Manitoba. Brooksie is a hard worker, super teammate, and good guy, but #21 has to be smarter there and not take himself off of the ice in that situation. It was an important point in the game and to have their best pivot in the sin bin for five minutes really hurt the Capitals. Poor coverage was the problem on the game tying tally that came directly off of a won draw, that is bad execution, not coaching.

At the end of the night, the Jets are still likely done with both the Caps and the Sabres up four points on them. But Washington let another key point go by the way side. They made mental mistakes, took their foot off of the gas, and then lost confidence while Winnipeg got stronger as this game went on. The inevitable happened in the final frame, but fortunately for the Caps, they did pick up a point.

Still, they should have won up 3-0, despite being fatigued. Now they have Minnesota at home on Sunday evening before an all important matchup with Buffalo on Tuesday at the Verizon Center. Both contests are must wins, in my book.

 Notes: Not a good night for Marcus Johansson. The young Swede had one of the poorest games of his career. He was -3 and was pushed around in just 12:37 of ice time…Jay Beagle was 11-4 on draws and played 20:10…Ovechkin had 18:51 of ice time, not enough in my book. Part of the problem for Hunter though was he doesn’t have many decent options at center right now and when Laich is in the box he is forced to put either Johansson or the smaller Mathieu Perreault with the Gr8…Alex Semin returned to the lineup and had a strong game. He had an assist and was +1 in 16:13 of ice time. As good as 8 and 28 are though, with the major holes up the middle of the ice this Capitals team, as I’ve blogged many times since Nicklas Backstrom was injured, is going to be inconsistent. On Friday night, they received subpar play at center and that contributed mightily to the lack of third period forecheck, and ultimately the loss…Winnipeg went 4-1-1 against Washington this season while the Caps were 2-2-2 in the season series.

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Caps Let Golden Opportunity Slip By in Loss

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Caps Let Golden Opportunity Slip By in Loss

Posted on 17 March 2012 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals had a chance to pretty much end the season of the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night but they let a golden opportunity slip by in a 3-2 regulation loss in the second tilt of a five game road trip.

The loss, which wasted a superb goaltending effort from Tomas Vokoun (25 saves), ends the Caps four game winning streak. Winnipeg has now won the last two meetings against Washington and trail the Caps by just two points in the race for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The Buffalo Sabres are just a point in back of Winnipeg. All three teams have 11 games remaining.

The Caps, who not only fought a desperate Jets team in a raucous MTS Centre, also had to play against the referees as well. Mike Leggo and Kyle Rehman were downright inconsistent in this one and they also missed a blatant head shot by Mark Stuart on Marcus Johansson that would’ve given Washington a 5 on 3 power play. Stuart should get one of those Brendan Shanahan tapes made on his behalf this weekend. In addition, Keith Aucoin was high sticked and was bleeding late but only two minutes were called. Add in several other missed hooks and holds (see Winnipeg winning goal) on the Jets against Alex Ovechkin and others, some of which were whistled on Washington the other way, and you have to wonder what these guys in stripes are watching?

But even despite the bad zebras, the Caps still had their chances. With 2:22 to go they received the power play they needed but curiously the coaching staff put Ovechkin and Dennis Wideman on the points with the goalie pulled instead of moving the Gr8 down low and putting Mike Green at the blueline. It was a move that doesn’t make any sense unless Green is not 100%. Ovechkin has been getting his goals from in close lately and with him in front of the net it opens up room for other Capitals players. It was a key sequence in the game and the personnel decisions were not up to par there, plain and simple.

On the plus side, Washington’s penalty killing was specatcular, and it had to be with ECHL calibre referees bowing to every whine from the Manitoba faithful (boy are those fans annoying, but they certainly helped their team on Friday). Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks, and Karl Alzner, along with Vokoun were outstanding during a 99 second sequence where the Jets had a 2-1 lead and a five on three power play. #83 blocked several shots and Vokoun flat out robbed Blake Wheeler at the side of the net. It was top notch penalty killing that unfortunately was wasted in the loss as the Jets went 0 for 5 on the power play.

In games like this one, where you have a chance to separate yourself from the teams chasing you in the standings, your top players need to produce. Ovechkin and Alexander Semin did not do that on Friday night. Yes, the Gr8 was clutched and grabbed most of the night but he is too predictable with the puck. When a mediocore defenseman like Grant Clitsome takes him out so easily on the boards it is clearly a sign that Ovechkin needs to find some new moves. In addition, the two-time NHL MVP’s free lancing style in his own zone cost the team a goal. With the game tied Ovechkin abandoned his man to chase the puck behind the net. At that point the entire d-zone coverage broke down and ultimately Ovechkin’s original man, Nik Antropov, potted the tally that put the Jets up 2-1 late in period two. Ovechkin has to work harder and be smarter in his own end. Semin only played 12:19 and was -2. That was one of his worst games since Dale Hunter took over behind the bench.

So there are three games left on this important road trip and the Caps have split the first two tilts. They had a great chance to put some spread between them and their pursuers, but they didn’t get the job done and now move on to take on the Blackhawks in Chicago on Sunday night. That will be a tough test followed by a quick turnaround in Detroit on Monday. It is time for the stars to show up in the Windy City and Motown.

Notes: Johansson left for a portion of the contest after taking the hit from Stuart but did return. Stuart deserves three games for that hit, at least….Mike Knuble did not have a good game and his penalty late in period two was an awful decision and play…Beagle was outstanding playing 19:53 and winning 14 of 20 draws..the Jets are in town next week, so the Caps get another chance at putting the Winnipeg club away for the year.

 

 

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Hunter’s Latest Lineup Paying Dividends

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Hunter’s Latest Lineup Paying Dividends

Posted on 10 March 2012 by Ed Frankovic

Given that the Washington Capitals have struggled on the road all season long, it appeared, on paper, that Saturday’s tilt at Boston against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Bruins would be a loss for the Caps. But, as they say, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum or TD Garden, in this case. The Caps came up with one of their strongest performances of the season in a 4-3 victory over the B’s. It was a huge win for the Caps and it moves them within a point of first place Florida in the Southeast Division.

The Caps really came out flying and jumped to a 2-0 lead with some aggressive play. They then staved off two shaky penalty calls by Tim Peel and company and looked poised to exit the opening frame up a pair. But a bad icing by Troy Brouwer and a missed assignment on a faceoff with six seconds left led to a Milan Lucic goal. The question after that would be how the Capitals would respond to that late tally? When the Bruins tied the score on a breakaway by Brad Marchand that was caused by an Alexander Ovechkin giveaway while Dennis Wideman was heading to the bench on the long change, it looked like Boston had all of the momentum.

However, this Caps team seems to be getting mentally tougher and they responded with some outstanding hockey drawing three straight penalties. Jay Beagle would score off of a super feed from Alexander Semin just after the first man advantage situation expired and Brooks Laich re-directed home a Dennis Wideman feed on the third power play to make it 4-2 heading into the final frame. From there Washington did not give up any odd man rushes and forced the Bruins to shoot from the perimeter. After Mike Knuble missed an empty net that would have made it 5-2, Boston scored with 3:13 to go but Tomas Vokoun (30 saves), who was close to excellent in this one, slammed the door shut and the Caps left Beantown with two big points.

Dale Hunter’s crew has been playing better recently and is 2-0-1 in their last three games with the one loss coming to Carolina in overtime, a game in which they had 49 shots on goal. What has been the change that has turned things around? Is it an urgency to their game? Are they firing more pucks on net and battling to the cage? Are they playing desperate hockey? The answer to each of those questions is yes, for the most part, but that doesn’t explain it all.

To me, it is some recent lineup adjustments that has spurred this better play on. For the first time since Nicklas Backstrom went out with his concussion injury in early January, Hunter seems to be getting consistently solid play up the middle of the ice. The head coach moved Brooks Laich to center and Marcus Johansson to wing. In addition, Beagle’s role has been expanded and he is centering the third line. This configuration gives the Capitals bigger and stronger guys to fill the important low man role in Hunter’s man to man defensive system. Laich and Beagle are more solid on defense than the smaller Johansson, who can be moved out of position easier because of his lack of physical size. You still have Mathieu Perreault centering the second line but he is only playing 13 to 14 minutes. So instead of 35 plus minutes a game with a smaller center duo, Hunter now has Laich (21:48) and Beagle (18:10) playing above 35 minutes at the pivot. Huge difference at both ends of the ice, if you ask me.

The added bonus to this configuration is Johansson has played better this season as a winger and he doesn’t have so much pressure on him. It is a more balanced scheme. So why didn’t Hunter come up with this sooner, since it appears to be working so well? Well, Laich was playing a good bit of center shortly after Backstrom got hurt but then he injured his knee in the Boston game in early February. It took several weeks for #21 to get healthy and you can’t play the pivot position if your body isn’t right because the spot requires so much energy. As for Beagle, he missed 31 games due to a concussion and it’s taken him a couple of months since then to get in true hockey shape. He is a tireless worker and is finally back to the condition he was before he was knocked out by Arron Asham in October.

So it has taken time to develop, but Hunter’s best center configuration appears to have to include Laich and Beagle right now. Both are good defenders and among the hardest workers on the club. You can’t win in the NHL without centers and that was a big reason why the Capitals have struggled to find consistency since Backstrom went down. If Hunter sticks with Laich as top line pivot and #83 slotted in the third line position, and both stay healthy, then I think that gives Washington the best chance to do well over the last 14 games and win the Southeast Division. There may be some bad matchups along the way, but overall this lineup increases the Capitals win probability.

On Sunday at 5 pm the Caps are right back at it against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Verizon Center. A win would put them at 76 points with 13 contests left on the docket, including a five game road trip that starts Tuesday on Long Island. Saturday’s victory over the Bruins was important, but a loss against the Leafs would pretty much waste what would be a very big weekend for this hockey team.

So they can’t afford a let down, there is too much at stake, plus the Caps have some tough games coming up away from home.

Notes: Roman Hamrlik and Knuble were back in the lineup for the suspended Mike Green and scratched Jeff Halpern. Both were solid in their 13:29 and 11:26 of ice time, respectively…Matt Hendricks and Semin had the other goals. Both played excellent games with #28 getting two points and being a +2…Karl Alzner and John Carlson did a nice job against a red hot Boston line of Lucic, David Krejci, and Tyler Seguin. Both Krejci and Seguin were held off of the scoresheet…Washington finally won the special teams battle for the first time since 2/17 going 1 for 3 on the PP while killing both Boston man advantage situations (thanks to @JapersRink for that info).

 

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