Tag Archive | "Wideman"

Season Saving Win for Caps?

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Season Saving Win for Caps?

Posted on 08 March 2012 by Ed Frankovic

After 40 minutes, in a game they had to win, things looked terribly bleak for the Washington Capitals.

They had just parlayed a 1-0 lead into a 2-1 deficit following a lackluster middle frame that saw them take three bad penalties, shoot on net just three times, and allow two power play goals. It was hardly the type of effort and production you would see from a team with their season likely on the line.

But Dale Hunter apparently tore into the team in the intermission and Washington came out strong with one of their best periods in a long time to tie the game up with just under four minutes left on Marcus Johansson’s goal off of a Tampa turnover after a super play by Dennis Wideman. Alexander Ovechkin then buried a sweet pass from Dmitry Orlov in OT after Jason Chimera did the work in the corner to win it for the Capitals.

“His message was basically just to man up. Play hard and play as a team. We had a lot of one-on-one play and a lot of turnovers. It was one of the ‘keys’ that we had on the board, was no turnovers. He yelled at us pretty much for one of the first times that he has ever yelled at us and the guys just snapped out of it,” Karl Alzner told the media after the game on #32′s rare display of emotion.

“We knew that if we could get two points tonight it puts us in a good spot to contend for a playoff spot here, but if we weren’t able to pick up these two points, we’d be on the outside looking in and in a real tough place to get back in,” added forward Troy Brouwer on the win.

Brouwer is absolutely correct. Had the Capitals lost this game in regulation they would’ve still been in it but would have finished a key home stand with just three points. Instead they go 2-2-1 (five points) at the Verizon Center on the five game stretch and with teams around them losing and also suffering more injuries (Buffalo lost Tomas Vanek to injury against Boston) they are still alive. Add in the fact that the Florida Panthers got smoked, 5-0, in Philadelphia on Thursday and have to travel to Pittsburgh on Friday night and the Caps could find themselves with a chance to tie for the Southeast Division lead with a victory in Boston on Saturday afternoon.

It was a strange turn of events and Tampa Coach Guy Boucher has to be kicking himself for taking his foot off of the Capitals throats following the defeat. After all the man who was labeled a genius last spring had a 2-1 lead, the best goal scorer in the league in Steven Stamkos, and was employing a rookie playing his first full NHL game in goal. The Bolts had dominated Washington in the second period yet Boucher chose to go to the 1-3-1, which allowed the Caps to get the first 11 shots on goal in the third period? Terrible coaching and Hunter’s crew worked hard to take advantage of the tactical error despite the strong play in goal by Dustin Tokarski (29 saves).

At the other end of the ice, the Caps should be thankful that Tomas Vokoun kept his club in it when the Bolts were actually trying to score. Hunter and company will need many more of those performances from #29 if they want to stay in the playoff race.

As for Ovechkin, it once again was not one of his better games but he rose to the occassion in overtime. Chimera would have been the goal scoring hero had he finished off a great pass from the Gr8 on a two on one just seconds before Ovechkin’s game winner. But #25 didn’t get down and his hustle was what allowed Orlov and Ovechkin to win it.

It was a win the Capitals absolutely had to have, and they found a way to get it.

In closing, I will leave you with my final thoughts on tonight’s victory:

Feel the city breakin’
And ev’rybody shakin’
And we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
- Barry Gibb

Notes: The Caps had 68 shots attempted to just 45 for Tampa. The imbalance came from the Bolts going into a shell in the final frame, something I am sure Stamkos (1 assist), Martin St. Louis (1 assist), and Teddy Purcell (1 goal, 1 assist) were not happy about…Mike Green had a big hit on Brett Connolly in the middle frame. #52 went in to cut off #14 as he was coming behind the net. Connolly got hit by Orlov and lost his balance causing Green to catch him in the head with his upper arm. After the game Connolly called it a “hockey play” and blamed himself (h/t Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune)…Johansson’s goal was his 13th of the season and he beat Tokarski five hole…MJ90 has been asked to do a lot this year and he has given 100% effort at it. He hasn’t always produced but the 21 year old has a bright future…Keith Aucoin had a sweet deflection of an Alzner blast on the 1st Caps goal…the Caps have a busy weekend taking on the Bruins in Boston on Saturday at 1pm followed by a game on Sunday at the Verizon Center at 5pm against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

 

 

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Boneheaded Hockey Costing Caps

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Boneheaded Hockey Costing Caps

Posted on 07 March 2012 by Ed Frankovic

To win in sports, you not only have to work hard, but you also have to play smart.

On Tuesday night at the Verizon Center the Washington Capitals had the first part of the above equation firing 49 shots on goal on Carolina goalie Cam Ward (46 saves). However, they failed several times to make the correct decision on “hockey plays” and lost, 4-3, in overtime to the Hurricanes. It was the Caps third straight defeat, in a game they sorely needed, and they stay in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, two points behind the Winnipeg Jets, with 16 games remaining.

Coach Dale Hunter was brought in last November primarily to try and get the Capitals to play better defensively. Hunter instituted a system that was designed to allow fewer odd man rushes against. For the most part it has worked, but on this night, it didn’t matter what system the team was playing because the team had key mental breakdowns in crucial situations.

  • On the third Canes goal Dennis Wideman, with defensive partner Mike Green already up by the opponents cage, chose to take a Baltimore Oriole like swing at a bouncing puck at the Carolina blue line instead of backing up. Naturally #6 missed like the O’s normally do and Brandon Sutter went in on a breakaway to give the Hurricanes a 3-2 lead just 105 seconds into the third period
  • Then after the Caps rallied to tie the game on a beautiful passing play between Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson with just under three minutes remaining, Wideman in overtime decided to go after another less than 50-50 puck in the offensive zone. He was once again unsuccessful and as a result the Canes had a two on one break to score the game winner when Green didn’t play it correctly and allowed the puck carrier to make a pass for an easy shot.
  • You can add to the list a complete defensive zone coverage breakdown that occurred just 40 seconds after the Caps took a 2-0 lead. Matt Hendricks and Troy Brouwer both got caught watching the puck carrier and Jirl Tlusty received a pass from Jerome Samson for a tap in goal.
  • Less than four minutes after that, Alexander Ovechkin tried too much one on one play in the offensive zone and turned the puck over. The Canes would go the other way and score when Green lost Chad Larose at the side of the net. It was another goal Michal Neuvirth (32 saves) had no chance on. Had the Gr8 simply passed the puck to an open point man, the Capitals likely would have kept possession of the puck in that sequence and Carolina doesn’t take advantage of a bad Caps turnover. Again, another mental mistake.

This pattern is what I call “boneheaded” hockey. What makes it more troubling is it is coming from players who have been in the league quite a bit. Some will try and blame Hunter for this but at this stage the players should know better. Case in point, with the Caps up 1-0 early in period two, rookie defensemen Dmitry Orlov had to make a split second decision on a puck in the offensive zone. #81 correctly chose to back up instead of gambling and seconds later Washington got the puck back and Orlov’s shot was put home by Jay Beagle. Smart hockey there by a rookie, so if he has it down don’t tell me the coaches aren’t teaching it. The mental mistakes are on the players and they have to decrease them drastically if Washington wants to claw its’ way into the playoffs.

This loss puts the Caps 1-2-1 with one game left on this five game homestand. Washington needed a minimum of six points on this stay at the Verizon Center and even with a win over Tampa on Thursday night, they will only get five points. That is not going to be an easy task as the Bolts have been rolling thanks to the play of Steven Stamkos (48 goals). The Capitals may catch a break though, as Lightning goalie Mathieu Garon was injured in a 7-3 loss to Ottawa on Tuesday night. Tampa’s weakness all season long has been goaltending.

So the Caps have a chance to expose an opponents weakness to obtain a key win on Thursday night. But Washington has weaknesses too and one big one right now is bad decision making. It is time for the boneheaded hockey to stop if the Caps want to have any chance of participating in the post season this spring.

Notes:  The Caps were buried from the face-off dot, 44-27, by Carolina…Ovechkin had 20:04 of ice time and five shots on net but he was held pointless for the third straight game…Orlov was slew footed by Jeff Skinner but the zebras missed it and in the melee that ensued, #81 pushed the linesman and received a 10 minute conduct. During that stretch Hunter only had five d-men and with Green and Wideman paired together the Sutter breakaway occurred. 6 and 52 were also on the ice together for the Canes game winner. Those two don’t seem to make smart decisions when paired together so hopefully Hunter avoids that d-pairing in the future…Keith Aucoin had an assist in 5:25 of action…Mike Knuble was scratched…Eric Staal (1 assist) extended his point streak to 12 games but overall Karl Alzner and John Carlson did a very good job of holding #12 in check.

 

 

 

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Caps Rolling Dice With Current Crew

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Caps Rolling Dice With Current Crew

Posted on 27 February 2012 by Ed Frankovic

In one of the quietest NHL trade deadlines ever, Washington Capitals General Manger George McPhee decided to not make any deals. Therefore, the Caps will play the final 20 games of the regular season and then hopefully the playoffs, with their current roster. The one added bonus to the equation would be if center Nicklas Backstrom is able to return, at some point, from his concussion. Noone knows the answer on if and when #19 will be back.

Those who saw McPhee’s press conference would be hard pressed to argue with anything the GM had to say. It was clear there were no big trades out there to make as evidenced by the fact that the biggest deal was likely Cody Hodgson going to Buffalo from Vancouver in exchange for Zack Kassian. The only move that would have made sense for GMGM, in my mind, was to add a top six forward. That type of player clearly wasn’t available for anything less than a first round round draft choice. When a third line center like Paul Gausted is moved for Nashville’s 1st round pick you know the prices are too high. If you can’t figure that out then hum a few bars and I’ll sing it for you.

So where do the Caps go from here? McPhee is counting on his team to make the post season and with Mike Green’s return the defense is much stronger. This is the first time since the beginning of the season that Green, Dennis Wideman, and John Carlson are all in the lineup together. That is a pretty strong right side of the ice, especially from a puck moving standpoint. The key will be to keep #52 healthy and with #6 staying and not getting moved, then the “One Man Breakout” will likely only log 22 to 24 minutes a game instead of the 28 to 30 he used to play when after Carlson there weren’t many other righthanded options on the point.

Up front, the team is rolling the dice with a couple of smallish centers. Both Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault are being asked to do a lot. If Backstrom were back the dynamic changes because 20 to 22 minutes a game is then covered by #19 and MJ90 and MP85 are only playing a combined 25 to 28 minutes instead of the 34 plus they are getting now. Coach Dale Hunter has no choice but to ride on with these two young, scrappy players. They will have their ups and downs so it is imperative that Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Troy Brouwer, and Brooks Laich have strong finishes. If they don’t then the Caps will be on the links come Masters time.

Some wanted to see McPhee move Mike Knuble and Roman Hamrlik, two players who are sitting right now and aren’t very happy. When I hear that keeping them “poisons the room,” I strongly disagree. There isn’t a hockey player in the league who is happier sitting than playing, except for maybe Jaromir Jagr, in some instances. Hunter is a straight shooter and he doesn’t care about a players feelings, it is all about winning to him. There were people who complained when he sat Jeff Schultz and then there was an uproar when goalie Michal Neuvirth wasn’t played in back to back contests a couple of weeks back. Both players got the message, worked their rears off in practice, and are now playing at the top of their respective games. Knuble and Hamrlik may very well be needed at some point so to simply dump them for a lower level round draft pick made zero sense. The Caps expect those two to be professionals and focus on getting better, not providing sound bites to the local scribes.

So now it is time to move forward and see if the Capitals current crew can get on a roll and win the Southeast Division. They certainly have the talent on the roster to do it despite the lack of strong centermen. But every team in the Eastern Conference has flaws.

It is a wide open race and once the dance starts, anything can happen (see Montreal over the Caps and Penguins in 2010).

The trade deadline is over and there is no cavalry coming in to save the day. It is up to every player on the Caps roster to determine how bad they want to make the post season and then succeed if they get in.

 

 

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Time to Buy for the Caps

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Time to Buy for the Caps

Posted on 26 February 2012 by Ed Frankovic

Hockey fans, it’s time to stop the presses! Why? Because the Washington Capitals have finally won back to back games for the first time since mid January.

All kidding aside, the two victories this weekend over Montreal and then at Toronto, while against subpar teams, is significant because it shows that this club still has a decent chance to make the playoffs. More importantly, if they can add some help up front, specifically in the pivot position, and get Nicklas Backstrom back from injury before the playoffs, then anything can happen.

The Caps have been really struggling on the road and given that they played on Friday night, flew to Toronto, and had to clear customs might have indicated that Washington was ripe for the pickings against a desperate Maple Leafs crew. But that theory went totally out the window, thanks to Marcus Johansson’s wraparound tally in the game’s first minute. For once the Capitals could finally play with a lead on the road and the goal definitely energized them. Before four minutes had elapsed, Alexander Semin would score off a nifty steal and from there the Caps built a 4-0 lead through 40 minutes and won fairly easily.

Michal Neuvirth was outstanding in net with 28 saves. The 2006 second round pick has always been underrated and those who have followed him closely know that he is mentally strong. The young Czech netminder, instead of feeling sorry for himself and pouting following coach Dale Hunter’s decision to sit him against San Jose on February 13th, has worked even harder since and in the games he’s played this week has been extremely strong in goal. Hunter may have made the wrong short term decision to sit Neuvirth against the Sharks, but in the long run, it worked because #30 has taken his play to the next level. Sometimes coaches tell it like it is or play head games with players in attempt to make them stronger and improve their performance. Whether Hunter was trying that or not with his goaltender in that instance, that sequence of events has gotten results.

As for the rest of the team, much of the inconsistency in their play over the last month has stemmed from many factors. The Nicklas Backstrom injury has been extremely difficult to overcome given the lack of quality centers on the depth chart after #19. Johansson is only in his second year in the league and he is more suited to play third line center. Mathieu Perreault has been practically written off several times due to his size and lack of steady results. Both players have been forced to take on increased roles and they’ve had good games and bad ones. On Saturday night both had solid outings but to think they can continue to keep it up, in Backstrom’s absence, is asking an awfully lot.

In addition to the talent gaps up the middle of the ice, the team’s inconsistent play has led to a serious lack of confidence and anyone that has played hockey knows that if your mind isn’t right when you step out onto the ice, you are pretty much beaten before taking a single stride. The Caps have had confidence problems, especially after that terrible fluky loss to Winnipeg at home back on February 9th. But these two wins could get their minds right and if General Manager George McPhee can move some of the dead weight on his current roster and bring in some reenforcements, then it becomes an iterative process of better play and increased confidence, a mode a hockey team wants to be in down the stretch. We’ve seen the Caps do this before from the trade deadline on but can they find a way this year with Backstrom likely on the shelf for at least a couple of more weeks?

Another thing to be happy about is the play of Mike Green. #52 has steadily improved since coming back from hernia surgery and he’s stabilized the defense. With Green getting more minutes, Dennis Wideman, who has had many good games but then his share of clunkers this season, has seen his ice time reduced.

So Saturday’s victory puts the Caps at 31-26-5 (67 points) with 20 games remaining. The Southeast Division is wide open between the Caps, Florida Panthers, and Winnipeg Jets with the winner getting the 3rd seed in the playoffs in the East. Surely if McPhee can add some help, and Hunter is likely looking for some size and definitely speed (note it has been the slower skaters who have been routinely getting seats in the press box), then the Capitals could be poised to win their fifth straight division crown.

That is why this team has to be buyers, at this point. Washington needs help up front to get to where they want to go, fortunately it appears that the prices for forwards are not at as high a premium as we’ve seen with defensemen, based on this week’s trades.

This has been a disappointing season so far for the Caps, but McPhee has a chance to turn it all around with the right moves on Monday. It won’t be easy, but given what is at stake for him and the organization, the next two days are going to be extremely important for his and the team’s future.

Notes: Alexander Ovechkin had two assists in a fairly strong performance. His one big mistake though was turning the puck over on the power play in the third period with the Caps up 4-1. The Gr8 can’t make those type of mental miscues. Neuvirth bailed him out with the breakaway save so Ovie certainly owes #30 dinner…Green had 23:00 of ice time and Jeff Schultz logged 21:40. Give #55 credit for working hard and improving his game with assistant coach Jim Johnson the last couple of months. He has gotten tougher to play against despite his lack of speed…Karl Alzner and John Carlson both played over 22 minutes while Wideman and Dmitry Orlov were essentially the third d-pair in this tilt…The Caps next game is Tuesday at the Verizon Center against the Islanders. It is the start of a critical five game home stand. It will be interesting to see what moves McPhee makes between now and the trade deadline at 3pm on Monday.

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Victory Inches Caps Closer to Playoff Spot

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Victory Inches Caps Closer to Playoff Spot

Posted on 24 February 2012 by Ed Frankovic

If only the Washington Capitals could play the Montreal Canadiens every night?

In a game the Caps had to win, they came out hard and dominated the Eastern Conference last place Habs en route to a 4-1 victory. It was Washington’s third straight win over Montreal this season and the combined score between the two teams is 10-1.

There were lots of good performances from Washington forwards to include Alexander Semin (1 assist, +2), Jason Chimera (1 goal, 1 assist, +2), Mathieu Perreault (1 goal, +1), and Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal). The Gr8 provided a spark by returning from his injury and his skating looked very good in period one when Washington needed him most.

On the back end all six defensemen were solid playing their role. Mike Green (+1), despite some turnovers, looked very good skating and moving the puck while Dmitry Orlov (1 assist, +1) had his best game in recent weeks. #81 was strong on his skates and he dealt out some nice hits. He has the occassional bad giveaway but he is playing extremely well for a rookie. I also thought Karl Alzner was superb and he did a nice job of getting pucks away from Washington’s net and moving it out of the defensive zone.

As important as the return of offense was for the Capitals, they also received excellent goaltending from Michal Neuvirth (30 saves). #30 didn’t give up many rebounds and the only marker he allowed he had little chance on (Rene Bourque’s shorthanded one timer).

But before getting too carried away about this victory, the real deal is that the Caps won at home against a team that is a mess. However, it was two points and that is what matters right now for Washington, who jump into ninth place in the Eastern Conference, just a point behind eighth place Florida (the Panthers have two games in hand on Washington) and only two points behind Southeast Division leading Winnipeg (the Caps have two games in hand on the Jets). 

The Capitals now go to Toronto for Saturday’s Hockey in Night in Canada against a team they are fighting with for a playoff spot (the Leafs have 65 points as well). After going 1-3 on their most recent road trip Coach Dale Hunter’s crew really needs a victory away from the Verizon Center. There are just 21 games left in the season and Saturday’s tilt from the Air Canada Centre is the last one before Monday’s 3 pm NHL trading deadline.

As I’ve mentioned in my last couple of blogs, the buy or sell decision has not totally been made, but a victory would likely shift the focus to buying. Had they lost tonight like they did in Carolina or Ottawa, the white flags may have been waved. But after Friday’s win, the Capitals have inched closer to a playoff spot and the players have another game to prove to GM George McPhee, and possibly more importantly to ownership, that they deserve a shot to save their season in the last quarter of it.

Notes: Slow skating Roman Hamrlik and Mike Knuble were two of the three scratches on Friday night. It is quite possible that both could be moved by Monday’s trade deadline…shots attempted were 53-50 in favor of the Caps, who carried the play for two periods before giving the Habs too much room in the final frame…Brooks Laich appears to be nearly over his knee injury and logged 21:54 of ice time. He was 11-7 on faceoffs…Ovechkin played 7 minutes in the opening frame and 17:43 overall. The Caps need him to step up and carry this team down the stretch. Friday night was a good start to that.

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Buy or Sell Decision Still Not Clear for Caps

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Buy or Sell Decision Still Not Clear for Caps

Posted on 22 February 2012 by Ed Frankovic

The Buy or Sell decision, on paper, looks like an easy one right now for the Washington Capitals.

Sell.

With Nicklas Backstrom showing no signs of returning in the regular season from his concussion the holes up the middle of the ice appear to be too much for Washington to overcome. On Wednesday night that was apparent once again as the Ottawa Senators raced to an early 2-0 lead, extended it to 4-0 after 40 minutes, then fought off a late Caps rally to prevail 5-2 on an empty net goal.

The Caps played without Alexander Ovechkin, who was injured in Carolina on Tuesday in the second frame, but came back to play in the third period. The Gr8 missed practice yesterday and was scratched Wednesday with an undisclosed lower body injury. To say it has not been a good year, healthwise, for the Capitals is an understatement.

With Monday’s NHL trade deadline looming and just two games left for Washington before then, the Caps remain two points outside of the eighth and final playoff position. They are also only two points behind division leading Florida, who now have two games in hand on the Capitals. But this club has been unable to put together consistent efforts and if the two road games this week are any indication, the team has run out of gas with their most important player, #19, still out of the lineup.

Given that unrestricted free agents Tomas Vokoun, Dennis Wideman, Alexander Semin, and Mike Knuble might yield some good returns surely going the sell route is a no-brainer for general manager George McPhee, right?

Not so fast. The Capitals just announced that ticket prices for next season are going up, on an average of 8%, so for the club to conduct a mini sale and pack it in could significantly hurt season renewals. In addition, there is very likely pressure on McPhee from ownership to not only make the playoffs, but actually go deep into the them. So if the above are the deciding factors then shouldn’t Washington be buyers?

Again, not so easy to decipher and Washington’s salary cap predicament makes it hard for the GM to add assets without moving salary out. In addition, it is even more of a buyer’s market than normal this year, especially when a defenseman like Kyle Quincey goes for a first round draft pick (traded from Tampa to Detroit).

One thing is for certain, this team lacks confidence on the ice. They are not a hard team to play against at all, something that was expected to improve under coach Dale Hunter. At this point, it is clear coaching isn’t the main problem. Both Hunter and Bruce Boudreau have their strengths and weaknesses but the holes on the roster are making it too difficult for any bench boss to keep the team consistent once an injury or two hit.

The question now is can McPhee do something in the next four days to save the season? He has two first round picks in the this year’s draft available to bargain with, but again, he’d likely have to move salary with it in order to take on a top player in return. McPhee has been reluctant to trade 1st round picks in the past so why would this year be any different, especially in a season where the NHL entry draft is supposedly very good? The difference could be the job pressure he has to be feeling, but then again, who is to say that ownership may not give him full reign to make those short term yielding type of trades?

One thing is certain, the next four days are going to be very interesting because everything appears to be a possibility right now for the Caps, from buy to sell to simply standing pat.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I’ll be on the WNST Morning Reaction with Drew Forrester at 7:35 am on Thursday talking Caps hockey. Listen on 1570 AM in Baltimore or live via WNST.NET

 

 

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Caps Not Paying the Price for Victory

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Caps Not Paying the Price for Victory

Posted on 13 February 2012 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals outchanced and outshot the San Jose Sharks on Monday night at the Verizon Center yet still lost, 5-3. Sure there were some crazy bounces that went San Jose’s way, but when you go back and watch the goals again the common theme on the large majority of them were players in front of the net. When it came to that battle, the Sharks won handily, and that is why they are leaving town with two points while the Capitals continue to fail to capitalize on chances to move up in the standings.

This was a difficult loss to take because at one point the score was 2-0 for the visitors yet the Caps had 11 scoring chances to just six for the Sharks (h/t @ngreenberg). Washington is not finishing plays, but more importantly, they aren’t getting the type of “greasy goals” you need to win hockey games. In the NHL the goalies are VERY good and if they see the shots, they are gonna stop them. The Caps did have some open looks but continue to shoot wide. They are in a slump and trying to pick corners, and as a result the back glass is getting a work out instead of the red light.

Where the goals must start coming from is Washington’s power play. The Caps had four man advantage situations in the first 32 minutes and couldn’t capitalize. Lack of shots with bodies in front of Tomas Greiss (39 saves) was the problem and had the Capitals gotten a goal or two from their power play this contest may have gone differently. Speaking of special teams, the Caps penalty killing allowed three goals in six tries and was also a major factor in the loss. Sure the first goal was a lucky deflection at the blue line that skipped off of the Verizon Center ice past Braden Holtby (30 saves in 1st 2011-12 NHL start), but the second tally was a terrible breakdown in coverage by Washington. John Carlson overcommitted on the boards and was beaten, then Karl Alzner left his feet to try and block a pass and missed (if he stays up he likely thwarts it with his stick), and Jeff Halpern doesn’t slide down and take out Joe Pavelski (two goals, two assists), who scored on the doorstep.

It is those type of defensive zone mistakes that are costing the Capitals.

Some will tell you it is Hunter’s decision to bench Mike Knuble instead of Jay Beagle. Others will wonder why Joel Rechlisz was recalled when he all he did was play 1:59. You will also hear that Holtby shouldn’t have started over Michal Neuvirth (Tomas Vokoun is still ill). NONE of those decisions were what decided the game.

As I pointed out at the start of the game, “Recker” had a role to play and that was to let Brad Winchester know he wasn’t going to take liberties with Washington’s star players like he did out in California last month. Anybody notice Winchester tonight? Nope, I didn’t either. Rechlisz did his job which is more than I can say for several Capitals. On Joel’s first shift, early in the game, he actually created havoc in front of the Sharks net. There were 11 other forwards wearing red who could have followed #54′s lead the rest of the game but they failed to do so until it was 5-1.

Picking on Hunter for those three decisions is playing on the edges, in my opinion. This team has some gaping talent holes right now with Nicklas Backstrom injured, Brooks Laich going on 1 knee (played less than 10 minutes again), and Mike Green recovering from surgery. However, there is still ability on this roster and guys like Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Dennis Wideman, Alzner, and Carlson have to be much better than they were on Monday night. San Jose seemed to have an ”E-Z Pass” to the front of the Caps net all night. Washington didn’t make going there uncomfortable for them. That needs to change.

So let’s dig in the right place, the Capitals top end players aren’t getting it done and the entire lineup is not paying the price in front of either net to score and prevent goals. That area in front of the cages is where hockey games are won and lost. Right now the Capitals aren’t doing what is necessary and as a result the L’s are starting to pile up.

Notes: Washington does not play until Friday in Florida, which is the start of a four game trip that also takes them to Tampa, Carolina, and then Ottawa. It is a critical stretch in the Caps bid to make the playoffs. With three days off and the trading deadline nearing (3 pm on February 27th), there is a chance that General Manager George McPhee could make a deal to bolster the club before it is too late…the Caps won the faceoff battle 35-33.

 

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Caps Respond to Hunter’s Challenge

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Caps Respond to Hunter’s Challenge

Posted on 07 February 2012 by Ed Frankovic

On Monday and Tuesday, Washington Capitals coach Dale Hunter stressed the importance of Tuesday night’s game against the Florida Panthers, which was for first place in the Southeast Division, calling it a playoff game. With the Caps struggling with some key injuries and being losers of six of their last nine games, the big question was how would his team respond to his challenge?

After a 4-0 victory over the Cats at the Verizon Center, Hunter and everyone else had their answer. The Caps are still alive and kicking this season and have the horses to turn it on, when necessary. Washington made a statement that they aren’t the four time defending division champs for nothing. They stated that with authority by scoring 13 seconds into the game (Mathieu Perreault) and then Alexander Ovechkin tallied on the power play midway through the first period to stake the Capitals to a lead they never really had to worry about.

“We jumped on them early. It changed the game a bit when we got two quick goals. They had to play a different game and it ended up at our advantage. We knew what was on the line tonight. We’re battling with Florida. Every two points means a lot, ” said Hunter afterwards.

They received excellent goaltending from Tomas Vokoun (42 saves), who like Tim Thomas did to Washington on Sunday, made key stops in the opening frame when the Caps did have some major defensive breakdowns.

“Tomas [Vokoun] was sharp all night. We might not have had the lead in the first period if it wasn’t for Tomas [Vokoun]. They had a lot of breakaways and he came up big for us. He was one of the main reasons why we won. I thought Tomas [Vokoun] had a great game. They threw a lot of pucks from all angles and he had to be sharp all the time. He came up big and gave them no momentum. I thought he was a first star,” added Hunter.

Not only did Hunter’s “playoff” mantra seem to inspire the Caps, but the ability of Brooks Laich to be able to play after suffering what looked to be a vicious knee injury on Sunday had to amp up the rest of the Washington players. After all, if #21 is going to play through pain, shouldn’t the rest of the guys feel obligated to lay it on the line too? That is pretty much what happened as several Capitals used their strengths in this contest. Marcus Johansson was all over the ice displaying his speed to open things up for Ovechkin (2 goals), Troy Brouwer (5 hits) and Joel Ward (4 hits) were physical presences, and Jason Chimera was seemingly everywhere (1 goal, 1 assist, 8 shots on goal).

The Capitals were really good in nearly every facet of the game, outside of a few first period breakdowns. They won the special teams battle scoring on their only power play, shut down the Panthers on all four of theirs, and also scored shorthanded (Chimera). Vokoun was much better than Florida goalie Scott Clemmensen (20 saves). The Caps number one goalie saw a lot of rubber but not a significant number of quality chances in the last two periods. Most of the Florida shots, after it was 3-0, were from the perimeter or were with no traffic in front. When a goalie knows where the shots are coming from and he can see them, it is much easier to make the save and that is what is mostly happening for Washington in Hunter’s system.

Tuesday’s victory was a feel good win and should give the team some confidence going into another important game against Winnipeg on Thursday at the Verizon Center. With Nicklas Backstrom out the Capitals have struggled to be consistent, so they now have a chance to build on several of the good things they did on Tuesday. As I blogged after Sunday’s loss to Boston, the Caps had their chances but didn’t finish them in a 4-1 defeat. On this night, Washington made sure they put the biscuit in the basket and the reward is first place in the Southeast Division, once again.

Notes: The Caps are now 28-21-4 (60 points). Florida is a point back but has a game in hand…Washington was much better on face-offs after getting smoked on Sunday by the B’s. The Capitals went 32-25 from the dot with Laich winning 7 of 8 of his draws…#21 only played 9:28…the Capitals outhit the Panthers 31-19.

 

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Lots of Positives in Caps Win

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Lots of Positives in Caps Win

Posted on 04 February 2012 by Ed Frankovic

The Montreal Canadiens are not a good hockey team but just 10 days ago they destroyed the league leading Detroit Red Wings, 7-2, at the Bell Centre. In Montreal on Saturday the Washington Capitals did what they had to do and knocked off a reeling, but dangerous, Habs team, 3-0, behind 29 fairly ordinary saves from Tomas Vokoun. It was a game that the Caps had to win given where they are in the standings (9th place in the East heading into the game and three points out of first in the Southeast Division) and despite the fact that it wasn’t very pretty hockey coach Dale Hunter’s crew secured two points.

There were lots of positives in this game. Brooks Laich continued his solid and consistent play and had two assists while Alexander Semin turned in a super third period assisting on Matt Hendricks goal that made it 2-0 before putting this one away on a penalty shot with 8:03 to go. #28 skated in on Peter Budaj (20 saves) and fired a slapper that went top shelf under the cross bar. Not many players have the skill to pull that move off but Semin’s talent level has never been questioned. It is pretty clear that Semin elevates his game when his close friend Alexander Ovechkin is in the lineup (back today after sitting out three games due to suspension) and he did it again in Montreal. The Gr8, after not playing in 13 days, was visibly rusty but just his presence in the game seemed to energize his teammates.

The Caps were outshot in this tilt, primarily because of a poor second period, but that didn’t matter today because the chances Montreal received were not grade A quality scoring opportunities. Washington put in a strong defensive zone effort and kept the Canadiens to the outside and away from prime positions on the ice. Outside of perhaps Tomas Plekenac’s late shorthanded semi-breakaway, I am not sure the Habs had a clear odd man rush the entire game. Achieving that is exactly what Hunter’s style of play is designed to accomplish and as a result Vokoun faced some rubber but not a lot of ones where Montreal had a really good chance to score.

In my opinion, the biggest positive on Saturday was the play of 22 year old John Carlson on defense. I thought this was by far his best game in weeks and he played magnificently. Part of that was because he was paired back up with Karl Alzner again, but #74 looked confident on the ice and he actually bailed out King Karl big time with the game 1-0 in the second period. After #27 made a bad pass up the middle of the ice, Carlson came flying out from behind the net and went down and blocked the shot. It was impressive stuff and it was the right time to leave your feet on defense, something you don’t normally want to do. Outside of that gaffe, Alzner was fabulous himself. He made play after play in his own end and the one time he had to leave his feet he also blocked perhaps Montreal’s best scoring chance of the day. Numbers 27 and 74 were outstanding on Saturday and their respective ice times of 22:01 and 22:30 were the highest on the team. The Caps certainly hope that Carlson builds off of this excellent performance because they need him playing well with Mike Green still out due to surgery.

On the down side, the power play was still terrible. In 4:31 of man advantage time the Capitals had just ONE shot on goal. Washington had trouble getting set up in the offensive zone and even when they finally did there was too much overhandling of the puck. Assistant Coach Dean Evason has to get these players to simplify once they get in scoring position and shoot the puck. With Green and Nicklas Backstrom out injured there is no doubt that two of Washington’s best puck handlers on the power play are missing but this unit still should be better. At a critical point in the game today in period two the Caps had a penalty shot stopped (Troy Brouwer) and they followed that up with a pitiful power play. A better opponent might have taken advantage of the Capitals missed opportunities but on Saturday the Caps were fortunate to be playing a falling apart Montreal club.

At the end of the afternoon, though, the good far outweighed the bad and Washington improved to 27-20-4 (58 points). The Caps need to get points right now and hope that Green, who skated four days in a row this week and appears to be on or perhaps even ahead of schedule on his surgery recovery, and Backstrom are back in the lineup at some point. The news on #52 was very good this week and they have a chance to go 2-1-1 in the four games since last Sunday’s all star game if they can find a way to defeat the Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins on Sunday at 12:30 at the Verizon Center (on NBC).

Notes: Dennis Wideman scored the Caps first goal on a fluky, dipping slap shot after Laich won the offensive zone face-off…Roman Hamrlik went +2 and was significantly better than he had been in the two games in Florida…Jeff Schultz recieved 13:53 of ice time, the most he’s had in a game since December 5th…John Erskine and Jay Beagle were the scratches while enforcer Joel Rechlicz cleared waivers and was sent to Hershey…the Caps only took one penalty, a poor one by Mike Knuble, and they killed that one fairly easily against the worst home power play in the NHL…Washington lost the face-off battle, 29-24…Alzner and Carlson did get stuck on the ice for a 2:28 shift at the end of period two because the Caps forwards kept failing to get the puck deep. Part of Washington’s struggles in the middle frame were due to that and as a result the d-men can’t get off the ice with the long change…Budaj got the nod in goal for the Habs since Carey Price is playing on Sunday against Winnipeg.

 

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Defensive Breakdowns Cost Caps in OT Defeat

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Defensive Breakdowns Cost Caps in OT Defeat

Posted on 31 January 2012 by Ed Frankovic

Despite having to play once again without Alexander Ovechkin (2nd of three game suspension), Nicklas Backstrom (concussion), and Mike Green (hernia surgery) the Washington Capitals are finding ways to get standings points that they desperately need. The Caps, who trailed 3-1 past the halfway point in Tampa on Tuesday night, rallied with two goals before falling in overtime, 4-3, to the Bolts on a Steven Stamkos tally.

The Capitals continue to give a super effort every night but right now they are clearly missing their big guns, especially on the power play (0 for 3 in Tampa), and they also are making too many defensive breakdowns. Every Bolts tally on Tuesday was the result of poor play in Washington’s own zone. The primary culprits in this one were Roman Hamrlik (-3) and John Carlson (-4) but Mathieu Perreault failed to cover Teddy Purcell on the Lightning’s first tally after #44 backed up giving Steve Downie a clear passing lane. Coach Dale Hunter has instituted a defense first system that has taken time to implement and in this game the Caps made some big blunders that gave the Bolts too many odd man rushes, something that tactically should not happen with this style of play. I am sure tomorrow morning’s video session will be poignant.

On the positive side, Brooks Laich and Matt Hendricks turned in superb performances and were two of the primary reasons the Capitals got a point. Winger Troy Brouwer was solid as well and his goal after #21 forced an offensive zone turnover tied this one up just under six minutes into the third period. The Caps offense, even without the big guns, showed a lot of life at even strength and the 29 shots on net were the most for Washington in weeks. Perreault has done a nice job of stepping up centering Alexander Semin and Marcus Johansson to give Hunter a true scoring line.

In goal, Tomas Vokoun was a difference maker again and his save on Vincent Lecavlier in overtime is one you’ll see highlights of quite a bit over the next 24 hours. #29 is making the key stop, with his biggest actually being on Stamkos on a breakaway early in period three in a 3-2 game. If #91 scores there the game is over.

This Caps team is certainly resilient under Hunter and they don’t quit. It isn’t pretty hockey right now but they have managed to get four points in the last three games against good competition (Pittsburgh, Boston, and Tampa). Hunter’s club has to work hard every night to be competitive and so far they are doing it. They have Wednesday night’s first place in the Southeast Division showdown battle in Florida (8 pm start) to tackle before they get Ovechkin back on Saturday in Montreal. What is not encouraging is that Backstrom has skated only a total of five minutes over the last 25 days. Clearly if #19 is out even longer term (he’s missed 11 games already), Washington’s chances of making the playoffs or going deep in them, are severely weakened.

But this is pro sports and other players have to step up. Guys like Laich and Perreault are doing that right now and that is keeping the Caps afloat.

Notes: Martin St. Louis’ goal to make it 2-1 not only was clearly offsides, but Lecavalier interferred with both Hamrlik (took out his skates) and Carlson on the play. Not sure what the zebras were looking at there? However the men in stripes did allow Laich to put his free hand around Matt Gilroy as he was skating around the net and he gave the puck up to Brouwer for the game tying tally. So the refs taketh and giveth in this contest…Washington recalled Cody Eakin and Joel Rechlicz from Hershey for the game. Rechlicz only played two shifts and 1:49 but his presence on the bench clearly made a difference. Tampa’s chief pest and punk Downie was nowhere near as agitating or dirty as he had been in the past. Just the fact that #54 might come out on the ice to pound someone helped Washington, in my opinion…Karl Alzner was +3 and along with Dennis Wideman were the best defensive pair…Dmitry Orlov took Hamrlik’s spot with Carlson in the last portion of the game. #81 allowed St. Louis to go around him on the game winning goal and Carlson did nothing as Stamkos swooped in for the OT winner. It was a 2 on 4 for Tampa on the winning play. #74 needs to improve in his own zone pronto…Mike Knuble was -3 in 19:50 of ice time…Washington is now 26-19-4. They have a one point lead over the Panthers but Florida has a game in hand.

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