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Luck Not the Sole Reason for the Caps’ 2nd Round Exit

Posted on 13 May 2016 by Ed Frankovic

There have been 41 Washington Capitals seasons and zero Stanley Cup Championships.

Those are the facts, there is no denying them.

2015-16 was supposed to be different. It sure felt that way, from the general manager to the coaches to the players to the fans and even some in the media. Heck, I was front and center putting myself out there saying this team and this season would be different.

In many ways, it was, and we’ll touch on that later.

But in the end, as Justin Williams, John Carlson, and many other Capitals players proclaimed on breakdown day on May 12, 2016, the season was a “failure” following a devastating overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in game six that allowed the Pens to win a very closely contested series, four games to two.

Pittsburgh scored 16 goals and Washington tallied 15 times in the series. Each Penguins victory, two of which came in overtime, was achieved by a single goal. Both teams had stretches where they dominated the play, but ultimately it was the Penguins who prevailed.

Did the Capitals deserve a better fate from the Hockey Gods?

Maybe, I mean how often do you see a goal scored off of the back of a player? That happened in game three for Pittsburgh, a game in which the Caps carried the large majority of the play, but managed to lose. Numerous times in this series the Capitals had themselves in position to bury a puck at a key moment, and somehow it bounced over their players stick. Surely luck was not on their side, and as Matt Niskanen noted on breakdown day, you talk to guys around the league who have won championships and they’ll tell you need luck along the way to win.

There is truth to that, around these parts there is no denying that the two Super Bowls the Baltimore Ravens won included some luck. Al Del Greco hit the upright on a field goal right before halftime and then a blocked Del Greco field goal, in the fourth quarter, landed right in the hands of Anthony Mitchell and he then returned it for the game winning touchdown in 2000 against the Titans. Joe Flacco’s Hail Mary pass to Jacoby Jones in 2012 went over the head of a Broncos safety that mistimed his play on the ball for the tying touchdown to set up overtime and an eventual huge Ravens upset. All of those plays included luck, but the Ravens were also good enough to put themselves in position to get the breaks.

You certainly need some luck to win and the Capitals received some of that in series one when Jason Chimera’s innocent dump in deflection traveled 100 feet and through the wickets of Steve Mason into the cage in game two. The Caps took advantage and raced to a three to nothing series lead and eventually prevailed, four games to two over the Flyers.

In series two, Washington didn’t get the bounces and lost by a goal, but it wasn’t bad luck that did them in.

We’ll get that to what ultimately doomed them in a minute, but first, let’s put some perspective on where this team has come from over the last two years.

After a disastrous 2013-14 season, the Capitals were an absolute train wreck and a Stanley Cup seemed to be mostly an unobtainable goal in the near term. Following the conclusion of that season, I was full of piss and vinegar and rightfully called for the ultra-conservative and often panic stricken general manager to be let go, along with the divisive bench boss who seemed to insist on being the smartest guy in the room. I was furious that the blue line continually was not properly addressed by George McPhee for over 10 plus seasons. Fortunately, owner Ted Leonsis and team President Dick Patrick saw the same thing, when many in the national media were once again calling for the core of the team, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, to be shipped out instead.

Enter Coach Barry Trotz and promoted General Manager Brian MacLellan to commence a massive turnaround. They immediately went to work on two things the club desperately needed, a blue line fix and an identity as a team.

“Last year when I came here, that was the first thing we did, was fix the defense. We got two outstanding players in Brooks [Orpik] and Matt [Niskanen] and we started the process of building a culture and it started by fixing holes, by going out and getting the best people that we felt could do that and getting people who have won, then the next phase of that was to develop our own people,” said Caps coach Barry Trotz to Nestor Aparacio and I on February 29th, 2016 at a WNST radio event at Buffalo Wild Wings in Belair to continue the fight against leukemia and support the bone marrow registry.

Those moves laid the foundation for a very successful 2014-15 campaign that saw Washington return to the playoffs, defeat the New York Islanders in round one, and then lose in painful fashion, in overtime, in game seven against the New York Rangers. The Capitals only allowed 13 goals in seven games, but could only muster 12 goals themselves and lost twice in overtime in the final three contests.

It was an awful defeat, they lost a three games to one series lead, but everyone knew that the main problem was the Capitals didn’t have enough talent up front to score consistently. The loss was rough, but things were rapidly moving in the right direction after utter chaos just a year earlier. My end of the season blog focused on the need to improve the top six forwards and sure enough, MacLellan pulled it off dealing Troy Brouwer for T.J. Oshie and signing Justin Williams to a two year free agent deal. Unfortunately, adding those guys and the need to pay goalie Braden Holtby what he was rightfully worth, put the team up against the salary cap. With it not possible to move Brooks Laich’s boat anchor of a contract in the summer, the team was forced to part ways with grinding forward Joel Ward and defensemen Mike Green, both key players on the squad that fell just short against the Rags. They were tough personnel losses to a team that had become super close.

But Oshie and Williams fit in perfectly and the Ward and Green losses faded to the back of everyone’s mind as the Capitals stormed out of the gate and blew the league away in the regular season pretty much clinching the Presidents’ Trophy by Valentine’s Day. Holtby was legendary in the cage and he tied the NHL single season victory total for a goalie with 48 (tied with hall of famer, Martin Brodeur). It was so much fun and the team seemed to get tighter as a unit as the season moved on. This was surely setting up to be the year for a Cup parade, but quietly the Pittsburgh Penguins were addressing some serious issues they had themselves.

They fired their coach, Mike Johnston, and replaced him with former Rangers assistant Mike Sullivan. But more importantly, general manager Jimmy Rutherford made some great moves to transform his roster. In the summer, he traded high draft picks to Toronto to acquire scoring winger Phil Kessel and he dumped the slow and plodding Brandon Sutter for speedy Nick Bonino. After the season began, he also swapped David Perron for super-fast Cap killer Carl Hagelin. Suddenly he had a line that could skate like the wind, but he still had issues on the back end. Rob Scuderi was old and slower than molasses, but Rutherford somehow convinced Stan Bowman, who is considered an excellent GM, to deal mobile defensemen Trevor Daley for the past his prime Scuderi. It was a fleecing or highway robbery of a deal, whatever you want to call it. From there the Penguins were the best team in the league from January on and Washington knew they’d have their hands full with them, at some point. The Caps had become somewhat complacent given their huge standings lead while Pittsburgh pressed madly to move up the standings after wallowing out of playoff position for much of the first 40 games.

While the Penguins were making all of these moves, MacLellan not only added Oshie and Williams, but he brought in Mike Richards as a depth center. That move was excellent and if not for some of Richards outstanding penalty killing skills, the Flyers might have won game six, as well as game two. Richards ability to read back door passes and get his stick in lanes on defense and while shorthanded was very much needed. The Caps suddenly were not only super on the power play, but also on the penalty kill.

With the Richards move, the Caps only real question marks appeared to be on defense. The loss of Green was a blow, no doubt, you don’t replace a player of that caliber easily, and the Caps plan, partly due to limited salary cap room, was to go with rookies Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt on the back end as a third pairing. When Orpik was injured in early November with a cracked femur, suddenly those guys were forced to play more minutes than originally planned. They played well, too, perhaps clouding the judgement of the Capitals brass as the trade deadline approached. MacLellan did add Mike Weber as a depth defensemen and he somehow masterfully moved Laich out for an upgrade in forward Daniel Winnik. The move also freed up money on the current salary cap, but more importantly for 2016-17 when dollars would be needed to retain Marcus Johansson, who was having a career year, and others like Tom Wilson. Some wanted the Capitals to use that extra dough to acquire another defensemen given Oprik’s health issues and the lack of experience on the back end. Dan Hamhuis, among other experienced defensemen, were still out there reportedly to be had, but Washington passed.

After the trade deadline, at the WNST event with Coach Trotz on February 29th, I specifically asked him about the decision to go with the two players who had zero playoff experience on the back end.

“We talk about that, the blessing this year with Brooks being out for a long period of time, Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt were in the lineup for 50 some games. We already know what they can do and it’s been really beneficial for us. I think by adding Mike Weber we’re eight deep at the NHL level,” explained Trotz on the rationale of where the organization stood on their blue line.

It seemed like a viable plan at the time and Weber certainly seemed like the type of guy who could fill in for an Orpik or even a Karl Alzner if there was an injury. But Oprik came back healthy down the stretch and despite the fact that Carlson missed 12 games with a cracked ankle/foot in March, the Caps only played Weber in 10 of the 21 contests that occurred before the post season began. Basically, the Capitals decided to ride Orlov, Schmidt and Taylor Chorney instead of Weber. #6 was a seven year veteran with more playoff experience (seven games) than the other three combined, but he spent most of the time in the press box becoming rusty. As anyone in hockey will tell you, performing in the regular season is one thing, but doing that in the playoffs is another story, so the Capitals were really taking a risk on the Orlov-Schmidt-Chorney trio.

When Orpik was concussed and injured his neck in game three against the Flyers, I remarked to MacLellan after that tilt that “this was the reason you went out and got Weber.” The GM seemed to nod his head in agreement, yet somehow it wasn’t until a series clinching victory in game six that Weber finally got a sweater for the Caps? The coaching staff went with Chorney over a more physical Weber against a chippy and dirty team like the Flyers. Weber, to that point, had never received the repetitions he really needed to play at a top four level that would be required when Orpik went down.

That leads me to where this season broke down. Yes, the Penguins were the faster team, but you can deter speed by keeping it to the outside and wearing it out with proper execution. The Bonino line, with seven goals, was the difference in the series and while they were fast, several of those goals came from right in front of the net following turnovers. Oprik’s terrible hit on Olli Maatta that took #3 out of three games and #44 too, as a result of a suspension, turned the entire series around, as well.  The Caps were flat the rest of game two and lost home ice. In game three, Schmidt made a costly turnover and then was manhandled in front by the small Hagelin for the eventual game winning goal. He would not play in two of the final three games. Orlov was benched for a game and the Caps only won once with Chorney in the lineup (game five of the Pens series). Weber did get a jersey for game four and played decently, but the game winning goal went off of his stick to Patrick Hornqvist and he was banished to the press box once again.

When Alzner’s groin, that he initially injured in the Flyers series, finally popped in game six, the Caps had little left on the back end other than Carlson and a tiring Niskanen, who played all 82 games and every playoff game with King Karl, to that point. After #27’s injury, Orpik took another awful penalty, a careless double minor for high sticking on Hornqvist with the puck 50 feet away in period two, and the Caps great penalty killing unit was suddenly forced to play both Chorney and Orlov in succession. Two goals in 29 seconds was the result and that put the Caps in a deep hole, 3-0. It was a terrible penalty that Orpik could not afford to take, once again, and it was especially bad knowing that Alzner was done for the game. In short, as much as I like Orpik and what he can bring to the Capitals, he had a nightmare 2015-16 season with his injuries and bad penalties. Simply put, the Penguins were faster, but they also were able to get to the front of the Capitals net, and most of those occasions came when members of the bottom half of the Washington defense were on the ice.

Now the encouraging part of the story is that this is where this Capitals teamed proved to be different.  Instead of folding tent like the 2009 Caps did in game seven against Pittsburgh when they went down 3-0, they fought back and forced overtime in game six showing tremendous fortitude and resolve. They probably should have won too, but failed to capitalize on a late power play that they received. At that juncture they seemed a little too comfortable at that moment at just being tied up, something that occurred too frequently during this season and in the Flyers series, as well.

On to overtime we went and the Capitals, who rode the top six forwards and Carlson and Niskanen on the back end heavily, were out of gas. Niskanen was forced to play with guys he wasn’t used to being paired with and miscommunication happened on the game winning tally, which was another goal that once again came from the doorstep on a rebound.

In a nutshell, the Capitals lost on their lack of defensive depth, something they thought they had, but really didn’t.  They put too much stock in the abilities of Orlov and Schmidt based on their regular season success and they failed to take advantage and develop or possibly misevaluated what Weber could bring to the lineup. It was a waste of a third round draft pick the way it all played out. The Penguins found their way through the Washington back end too easily and Holtby couldn’t prevent all of those second chance tallies.

In addition, their season long tendency to sit back and not take control of games cost them dearly. They didn’t attack in game two and show that killer instinct to seize a critical contest and the series. That lack of killer instinct also allowed a Kris Letang-less Penguins team to steal game four. The Pens gained confidence to win in those first 30 minutes when the Capitals needed to step on their throats and not allow them to believe they could prevail without their best defensemen. It was a major opportunity lost.

Finally, the Capitals loss of Ward took away a player who routinely went to the front of the net in the postseason to get ugly goals. Washington didn’t have much of that against the Penguins outside of a couple of Williams tallies (but one was with the goalie pulled). The Caps need their bottom six forwards to chip in with more greasy goals.

So where does that lead us heading in to 2016-17?

Obviously the team is extremely disappointed that they let a major chance to win a championship slip by once again. The lack of true defensive depth, killer instinct, and inability to add in some rebound goals was what ultimately cost them the series against what should become in June, the 2015-16 Stanley Cup winning Penguins.

Some will call for panic and to try to blow things up, like the San Jose Sharks nearly did following a loss to the Kings in 2014 after owning a 3-0 series lead. Two springs later, the Sharks are in the hunt for the Cup and credit for that goes to hanging on to their core, the addition of Ward up front, and bringing in Paul Martin on defense.

Washington needs to find a Paul Martin type on the back end because running out the same seven guys again, particularly the four after Carlson, Niskanen, and Alzner, carries significant risk.

Johansson will be the top offseason priority to sign to a long term deal. He’s a key piece to this team and had a remarkable regular and post season. He was one of the guys going to the net against the Flyers and scoring tough goals. He also brings a major element of speed.

Wilson is next on the priority list as a restricted free agent. #43 made significant contributions this year on the penalty kill and defensively. In some games, such as game five against the Penguins, he was a difference maker by drawing penalties and keeping the opponent out of the offensive zone. Still, he needs to develop his offensive skills so that he could possibly fill that Ward type of role in front of the net. His improvement is a must and the coaches need to aid that by playing him more. If they prefer not to do that or think he can’t do that, then a move is needed.

Orlov is a restricted free agent, as well, and he and Schmidt are similar players, along with Chorney. The Caps management team needs to determine if that is indeed the way to go to win a Stanley Cup on the back end. My recommendation would be to move at least one of them and upgrade the blue line, especially since Oprik is adding another year and he has an injury history.

Ovechkin is about to head into his 12th season and the Capitals need to win soon (Steve Yzerman’s first Cup came in his 14th season). The Gr8 was superb in these playoffs and downright dominant in several games, such as game five against the Penguins. Oshie, Williams, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Alzner are all free agents after next season and will require more dollars. Carlson has two more years to go at the deal of the century, a contract just under $4M per season. He was the Capitals best player in the post season and will command $7M plus in 2018-19.

Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky are two young players that had super regular seasons, but as a result of playing all 82 games, didn’t have the legs they had in 2015-16 when they were playoff difference makers. They need to learn from that and be better prepared physically next spring. They need to add strength and learn to get some ugly goals in front.

I typically wait several days before writing this blog to let the emotions of the playoff defeat die down, but I don’t think that will be possible this season. This was one tough loss and a major opportunity gone by the wayside. Everyone will feel the pain all summer and I certainly don’t want to be sitting here next season beginning my 2016-17 final blog with a 0 and 42 statistic.

I know the Capitals don’t want me to be doing so either.

Everything the Caps do between now and next April 15th has to be about the playoffs and winning the Cup. The team is tight and the culture is strong, but they need to develop that killer instinct. In addition, the management needs to address the personnel short comings on defense and the coaching staff needs to be quicker to adjust when things aren’t working.

The last thing management needs to do is panic and make radical changes, this team is ultra close, but more is necessary to get over the hump.

So the time is now for the Capitals to start getting at next year and doing everything in their power to make sure no stone is left unturned and no holes are left exposed when injuries or uncomfortable situations present themselves in the spring of 2017 playoffs.

There were a lot of things to like from this team this year, but the ultimate prize was not captured and the season was a major disappointment, or a failure, as many players called it.

The clock is ticking.

They must end this awful postseason losing cycle once and for all.

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Ovie Game 5 Pens

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Ovechkin, Holtby, and Oshie Help Caps Force a Game 6

Posted on 08 May 2016 by Ed Frankovic

With their season on the line, the Washington Capitals received huge performances from their stars in a 3-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.

Alex Ovechkin was an absolute beast in this contest with a goal and an assist, T.J. Oshie had the same, and Braden Holtby made 30 saves to force a game 6 at the Consol Energy Center on Tuesday at 8 pm.

Wow, what a hockey game!

Both teams left it all on the ice in this one and it was the battle of superb forechecks for the first 40 minutes. After a great start by the Caps, the Penguins put on a clinic with their 1-2-2 pressure forcing Washington into poor puck management and turnovers throughout the later half of the opening stanza. The shots on net were 12-4 for the Pens after 20 minutes, but shot attempts were 25-21 for Pittsburgh since the Capitals missed the net 10 times.

In the middle frame, the Caps did a better job of breaking out by swarming the puck and using the high glass or lob over the Penguins defense. That forced Pittsburgh to do more retreating and allowed the Capitals to carry the play. Washington out shot attempted the black and gold, 26-19, and took a 2-1 lead on Oshie’s rebound of another strong Ovechkin shot. Justin Williams then pounced on a Pens turnover and beat Matt Murray five hole to give the Caps their 1st two goal cushion of this series. The lead could’ve been extended more, but the Caps missed the net 12 additional times, including some great chances for Jason Chimera and Nicklas Backstrom.

In the third period the Capitals played smart using a 1-3-1 type of setup in the neutral zone and, as a result, Pittsburgh had to dump the puck in way more than they wanted. The Caps continued to swarm the loose biscuit and that helped them win a lot of the battles against a speedier team.

Pittsburgh didn’t have many quality chances in that last frame as the Caps played with desperation.

Desperation is what the Caps will continue to feel, because a Penguins victory on Tuesday closes this series out.

Pittsburgh got Kris Letang (30:11 of ice time) back after a one game suspension and his play stepping up in the neutral zone was a big factor early.

The Caps, however, will get Brooks Orpik back on Tuesday after his three game suspension. His veteran leadership and presence should help stabilize a Washington back end that has made too many big mistakes in this series.

On Saturday night though, the Caps defensemen were very solid and the only goal allowed by Washington was while they were shorthanded.

The Capitals received stellar goaltending from the Holtbeast, including back to back huge stops on Patrick Hornqvist (pad save) and Justin Schultz (glove save) late in period two. #70 was dialed in, like his teammates, and they’ll need to be in game six.

Pittsburgh still is in the driver’s seat in this series since the Caps have no margin for error. However, coming into game five, Pittsburgh was 8-0 lifetime against Washington in previous such occasions.

Washington will need to bring their best game if they want to have a chance at extending the series, once again.

Desperation, that’s what every Capitals player has to bring to every battle on every shift on Tuesday night.

Notes: Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 27:28. He was outstanding, along with Karl Alzner (25:02). John Carlson had an assist in 24:50. He was dominant, as well…final shot attempts were 69-58 for the Penguins, but that was due to 3rd period score effects…Tom Wilson only played 7:20, but he drew a key slashing penalty on Ian Cole that led to Oshie’s PPG. Willy also was super on the PK and late in regulation. The Caps were 2 for 5 with the man advantage while the Penguins went 1 for 2.

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Ovi Playoffs

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Table Set for the Caps As They Begin the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Posted on 11 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

“This is it…make no mistake where you are…This is it…your back’s to the counter…This is it…don’t be a fool anymore”Kenny Loggins

The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin for the Caps on Thursday, April 14th at 7 pm from the Verizon Center against the Philadelphia Flyers.

They are finally here.

The Washington Capitals organization and their fans have been waiting for this day to come since Derek Stepan’s puck went past Braden Holtby into the back of the cage in overtime of game 7 last spring, on May 13th, 2015.

334 days ago, to be exact.

I remember the frustration, anger, and pain that came immediately afterwards. It’s a feeling long time Caps fans know far too well.

My first tweet immediately, once that shot went in, was simple and to the point.

“Why must the Capitals always lose this way?”

It was agonizing for all who are emotionally invested in this team, to include the players and the entire organization.

But as that night progressed and the group healing began on Twitter, we all really knew, that the despite the bitter loss, this team was extremely close to much bigger things. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Jason Chimera, Karl Alzner, and many others had taken their game to new levels under Coach Barry Trotz and his excellent coaching staff. GM Brian MacLellan had rebuilt the defense in the summer of 2014 to continue to help turn a ship around that began steering in the right direction with the hiring of Coach Trotz.

For once a crushing Capitals season ending didn’t feel like an end all be all, once the analytic side of everyone took over.

MacLellan, the very next day, then said what everyone was thinking.

“We need to improve our top six forwards group.”

It was as transparent and refreshing of a statement as you could hear from the man calling the personnel shots. But saying it and then completing it are two entirely different actions.

But Mac pulled it off, landing Justin “Stick” Williams in free agency and then getting T.J. Oshie in a blockbuster trade with the Blues.

They were brilliant moves in July of 2015.

After those additions I felt, and then blogged before the season began, that on paper, this was the best Caps team ever.

The Presidents’ Trophy winning 2015-16 regular season, where the Caps were NEVER defeated back to back in regulation contests, confirmed just that.

Along the way MacLellan and Trotz added to the deck bringing in two time Stanley Cup Champion Mike Richards, in another amazing move that stabilized the bottom six forwards and penalty killing unit.

Kuznetsov continued his rise towards the NHL’s elite. Tom Wilson improved his game as both Coach Trotz and GM MacLellan had stated they needed after the loss to the Rangers. The Caps would then develop such a great standings points lead that they were able to manage their roster and ice times down the stretch so that it could be as healthy as ever entering the most important season.

That time is now here.

The playoffs are a totally different animal. The space on the ice is limited and the game is extremely physical and fast.

You have to play through your opponent.

It’s a shift by shift, period by period, game by game, and series by series struggle.

You must stick together as a team and play smart.

Discipline is paramount and you have to remain focused on and off of the ice.

So now the table is set.

The past stings for the Capitals organization, but now they have a great chance to change all of that.

It’s all there for the taking.

This is it!

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Tom Wilson makes his last day as a 21 year old count with the game winning goal that gives the Caps the Presidents' Trophy

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Caps Clinch the Presidents’ Trophy in Win Over Columbus

Posted on 29 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Tom Wilson notched his first career game winner on the eve of his 22nd birthday and Braden Holtby stopped 21 of 22 shots as the Washington Capitals scored three times in the third period to defeat the Columbus Blue Jackets, 4-1, at the Verizon Center on Monday night.

AND THE CAPS HAVE WON THE FEDERAL LEAGUE!!!!

Well, not exactly, Slap Shot and hockey fans, but this victory improves Washington’s record to 54-16-5 and gives them 113 points on the season to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy. It’s not the team’s ultimate goal, but nonetheless, it is a valuable piece of hardware, and more importantly, the Capitals are assured of home ice advantage in each round they play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There was a lot to like about this triumph on Monday night. The Caps scored the first goal, by Justin Williams, after John Carlson made a super play in the offensive zone to keep the puck until he could find an open teammate. #74 came from behind the net along the left wing boards and fed Nate Schmidt in the middle of the point just inside the blue line. The Minnesota native then faked a shot and fed the biscuit back to Carlson, who one timed it into Sergei Bobrovsky’s pads and right to “Stick,” about five feet back from the far post. The man with the crazy hair then promptly buried the puck into the yawning cage. Williams was outstanding again in this contest and he almost always seems to be in the right spot on the ice. His hockey sense is off of the charts.

Washington’s lead would not last long (1:36) as Dmitry Orlov, for the second straight contest, made a terrible giveaway into three Columbus players and Cam Atkinson snapped one by Holtby. Afterwards Coach Barry Trotz called that turnover “a pizza that ended up in the back of our net.” It was clear the bench boss was not happy about the mistake and he said he doesn’t have any patience with those types of miscues. It should be noted that #9 did not receive a single shift over the last 7:21 of period two, clearly as a result of his defensive mistakes piling up recently. Those types of plays can kill a team in the post season, so Orlov has some serious cleaning up to do in his own end.

The second period was pretty much a snooze fest as both teams looked like they were in preseason form, but Washington was better, outshooting the Jackets, 8-4.

In the final frame, the Caps showed why they have dominated that period all season long putting on relentless offensive pressure. Washington fired 18 shots on goal to just six for Columbus. Wilson scored his game winner at the 3:46 mark when the Caps had a three on two rush that was made even easier when a Blue Jacket defender broke his stick. Both Daniel Winnik and Mike Richards assisted on the play and Willy did a super job of going to the net, being patient, and burying the rebound that Richards created with his own net drive. Afterwards, Coach Trotz commented on where #43 is at in terms of his progression.

“I think there’s growth in Tom’s game, he’s turned out to be a pretty good penalty killer for us, he’s got an increased role and ice time, the offensive part of the game is slowly coming. That’s probably the next thing we’ll have to check off and move forward with. His maturity, his dealing with the referees is coming around. Before last year, he’d get a call and the arms are up and he’s in the referees face and trying to show him up. I think that part of the maturity of his game, he’s dealing with the referees much better. He does have a little bit of a target on his back as a reputation and it’s going to take him awhile. He is playing a cleaner type of game.”

The winning tally has to do wonders for Wilson’s confidence and I don’t know about you, but I’ll cut him some slack if he’s dancing around his room cranking Taylor Swift’s “22” after his big marker on Monday night.

Following the Wilson tally, the game would stay a one goal affair until Brandon Dubinsky took a goalie interference penalty by crashing into Holtby. It was nice to finally see the zebras call this type of infraction and the Capitals made John Tortorella’s squad pay immediately as T.J. Oshie tipped home a Matt Niskanen point blast for his 24th goal of the season just eight seconds into the Washington’s fifth man advantage of the evening. Nicklas Backstrom would add an empty net marker with 2:25 remaining to close out the scoring.

The Holtbeast earned his 46th victory of the season and is now just two wins shy of Martin Brodeur’s NHL all time single season record. Braden had a relatively easy night, except for Dubinsky slamming into him, but it was nice to see the referees finally call that, and it was also good seeing Brooks Orpik take exception to the infraction and shoving Dubinsky into the net in retaliation. It was one of those, “Stay the bleep off of my goaltender” moves that make a goalie feel good to have that player in his corner.

“No, I didn’t see anything at all. I just remember getting hit, somehow,” started the Holtbeast when I asked him about Orpik’s reaction.

At that point I then described what #44 did to Dubinsky and Braden certainly liked what he heard.

“That’s not surprising from Brooks, he’s a leader, a great teammate, and always sticking up for guys. I’ll have to thank him for that,” added the man who is now 46-9-4 this season.

There were lots of other strong performances in this tilt as Washington tightened up in their own end as the contest progressed. Karl Alzner was fabulous in this affair and was +2 in 21:48. #27 was around the puck all night and won a large majority of the one on one battles he was involved in. His defensive partner, Niskanen (two assists), was also +2 in 25:14 of work. Carlson (1 assist), in just his 3rd game back after missing a dozen due to injury, continued to look really strong on his skates in 21:10 of work.

So now it is on to Philadelphia for an 8pm grudge match with the despised Flyers on Wednesday night on NBC Sports Channel’s rivalry night. It warmed my heart afterwards hearing Coach Trotz get excited discussing the upcoming contest with the boys from Filthy. He stated that he and the club were really pumped up to face the Flyers, especially given that General Manager Ron Hextall’s crew is fighting for their playoff lives. The team formerly known as the Broad Street Bullies is 7-2-2 in their last 11 games and is playing their best hockey now, so this will be a very good test for Washington. The rivalry with the Flyers goes back to 1974 and I don’t have to tell any of my loyal followers what a win against those guys always means given my long history of being around and working for the Capitals franchise.

Notes: Washington was 1 for 5 with the power play while the Blue Jackets went 0 for 3…Columbus did not have the injured Brandon Saad in the lineup…the Caps won the face off battle, 33-27. Oshie was 4-0 on draws…Jason Chimera and Niskanen led the Capitals with five shots on goal apiece…Alex Ovechkin had two shots on goal and was +2 in 17:06 of action…the Caps are 33-2-0 when scoring first this season.

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The Caps improve to 13-0-1 this season in the game immediately following a regulation loss.

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Ovechkin’s OT Tally Helps the Caps Hit 50 Wins

Posted on 16 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin scored in overtime off of a nice “sauce” pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Braden Holtby stopped 25 shots as the Capitals defeated the Carolina Hurricanes, 2-1.

The extra session is supposed to be “sudden death,” but that was not the case on this evening as the Canes challenged the game winner stating that the Capitals were offsides on the zone entry. After a minute or so review, replays seemed to indicate that Kuznetsov came across the line before he brought the puck in, but somehow the goal stood and Washington walked away as winners of their 50th game of the season through 69 tilts. In doing so they clinched a playoff spot and they are the first NHL team to do that in this campaign and they still have 13 more games remaining.

That playoff spot was a formality and at this point, sitting at 50-14-5 (105) points, their magic number to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy is 11 points as only the Los Angeles Kings, if they happened to go 13-0, could reach 115 points. So winning that piece of hardware is a formality, as well. As I’ve said all season, this is the best Capitals team ever and they are only the 6th team in NHL history to win at least 50 out of their first 69 games.

Other milestones on this night included the Holtbeast setting the franchise record for wins in a season with 42. Olie Kolzig had won 41 back in 1999-00. In addition, the Gr8’s winning tally was his 17th career overtime goal and he leads the NHL in overtime markers since 2005-06.

Overall, the Caps played a very solid game against a club that is fighting for a playoff spot. Carolina is weak on talent with Justin Faulk out of the lineup on defense and forward Eric Staal now donning a Blueshirt, but they play a structured game and are well coached by Bill Peters.

Washington came out flying and played their best first period in quite some time. They worked hard, got the puck deep on the Canes defense, and generated numerous scoring chances. Unfortunately they couldn’t finish, hitting the iron at least three times in frame one and on at least five occasions over the course of the entire game. Eddie Lack (29 saves), was good for Carolina in net, but he also had luck on his side, too.

Coach Barry Trotz pulled a Reg Dunlop and shuffled his lines around before this contest moving Jay Beagle up to right wing with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. He also put T.J. Oshie with Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky. Then in an attempt to get the third line going, Justin Williams was paired with Marcus Johansson and Jason Chimera while Mike Richards centered Daniel Winnik and Tom Wilson on the fourth unit.

The moves certainly generated a spark and when Williams put home a great feed from Chimera just 1:30 into the middle frame, the Capitals had scored first for the first time since the Toronto game on March 2nd. Scoring first has been nearly a guaranteed victory when the Caps do so and they are now 30-2-0 when that happens. Coach Trotz stated that the Chimera-Johansson-Williams line was the best for his club against Carolina and it would be hard to argue that one. Chimera and Jojo both performed as well as they have in several weeks.

However, the Canes weren’t going to let this one be easy and Coach Trotz noted that after his club scored, the shift immediately afterwards was not good and that gave Carolina hope that they could stick around. They did just that scoring at 10:50 of period two when Dmitry Orlov gifted the puck to Jordan Staal in the slot right after it looked like the Hurricanes had too many men on the ice.

Following a scoreless third period in which Carolina received a power play, the game went to the extra portion and Coach Trotz started with Beagle, Backstrom, and Matt Niskanen in the three on three format. That was a new overtime configuration and both Nicky and Beags kept several pucks alive in the offensive zone making it tough for the Canes to change players. Those three Caps were on for close to a minute before the three Russians, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, and Orlov, came on to win the contest.

Carolina was clearly not happy that the goal stood, and they might have a beef, but the zebras didn’t have the best night missing some obvious infractions on Capitals scoring chances, not calling the too many men right before the Canes goal, and ignoring Lack touching the puck outside of the trapezoid in the third period. But that’s hockey and Washington certainly carried enough of the play to deserve the two points and get closer to locking up the Presidents’ Trophy and home ice for the playoffs.

Ovi’s goal was his first in six games and he now has 42 goals this season. He’ll need eight tallies in 13 contests to reach the 50 goal plateau, but I don’t think he really cares much about any individual achievements, at this point. It’s all about winning the Stanley Cup.

On Tuesday night, the Caps certainly had the proper effort from the outset to calm the “bad start” fears that were persisting around this club and its fan base. They didn’t bury the Canes in the goal department, but they certainly dominated the quality scoring chances and shot attempt totals (56-48).

They are also a resilient crew, as evidenced by their 13-0-1 record following a regulation loss this season.

Next up are the Nashville Predators at the Verizon Center on Friday night at 7 pm.

Notes: Holtby stated afterwards that he thought his best save was his first one, on Jeff Skinner, early in the contest. The Holtbeast was dialed in on Tuesday and I thought another great sequence he had was in the third period when he made a sliding save on a Canes power play chance and kept his body in control and in position for any rebound attempt…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 24-20, Kuznetsov was 8-5…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:27. No Washington player logged less than 11 minutes as Coach Trotz did a nice job of spreading around the ice time….Ovechkin led the Caps with 12 shot attempts and seven shots on goal….Brooks Orpik had seven hits to lead all players on both teams.

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A furious Capitals rally from a three goal deficit forces overtime, before Jeff Carter ends it for the Kings in the extra session.

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Caps Rally from Three Down But Fall in OT to the Kings, 4-3

Posted on 10 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Do not go to sleep on the Washington Capitals, ever.

On Wednesday night, the Caps rallied from a 3-0 third period hole to force overtime at the Staples Center before losing, 4-3, on Jeff Carter’s goal when a Capitals player headed to the bench on a bad line change giving the Kings an odd man rush.

Wow, what another thriller!

The Caps, who played the first period like they were still shopping on Rodeo Drive, trailed by three pucks after just 13:26. Washington once again was penalized by the zebras early in a game for the 10,000th straight time and after a failed clear on the penalty kill, a pinballing puck shot from the point hit notorious Cap killer Vinny Lecavlier on the way to the net and past Braden Holtby (26 saves). It was the 12th time in the last 14 games that the opposition scored on the Caps first.

The Holtbeast made several other big stops in the opening frame, but with the Capitals over pressing to tie things up, they made an offensive zone blue line turnover that allowed the Kings to get a three on two rush. Defensemen Jake Muzzin jumped up in the play and Tanner Pearson gave #6 a nice drop pass that he snapped top shelf by Holtby to make it 2-0.

Shortly thereafter, with the Capitals again trying to press the play, Karl Alzner lost the puck down low and the forward covering for him, Evgeny Kuznetsov, decided to freeze at the top of the right wing circle instead of turning and heading back on defense, as he is supposed to do. The result was a three on one for the Kings that Milan Lucic buried for his 16th goal of the season.

Perhaps you could partially fault Holtby on the second goal, but not the other two. He also made several other big saves on Los Angeles quality chances, otherwise it would’ve been at least four or five to zip.

It was another dud of a first frame for Washington, there’s no two ways about. They were outskated, outshot (14-6), and outplayed.

But in 2015-16 Capitals fashion, they never gave up. They had some super chances in period two, but couldn’t connect as the biscuit was just not bouncing their way. The shots on net after 40 minutes were 21-13 for the guys in black, but it was 7-7 in the middle stanza, so the tide was turning.

Three goals down heading into the final frame at 12:30 am, it’s time to go to bed on the east coast, right? I mean this Capitals team isn’t coming back from three down against one of the best squads in the NHL, right?

Since the Caps were in LA, I think it’s only fitting that we quote the great Jack Nicholson from a Few Good Men here, “You’re <blankety blank> right they did!” [Sorry, this is a kids friendly blog, so I won’t give you the exact quote, but you get the message, right?]

Shame on you if you bailed, because the Caps totally stormed the castle in that third period getting back in it on a goal just 1:46 in from T.J. Oshie on their only power play of the game, to three for the Kings (thanks for nothing Francois “You really should be selling ties” St. Laurent). Marcus Johansson made a nice play in front, after a Matt Niskanen shot, to keep the puck alive before #77 snapped it home.

Washington continued to swarm like bees around honey and with just over nine minutes remaining, Oshie made a brilliant pass to Alexander Ovechkin in front of Jonathan Quick (29 saves). Ovi was cut off so he tried a spin move and the fired puck hit off of the Kings defender in front right to Nicklas Backstrom. Nicky promptly buried it to end his 18 game goalless drought and put all LA fans at the Staples Center on edge, as they rightly should’ve been at that point, against the powerhouse Capitals.

Kuznetsov (1 assist) then had a glorious chance in the slot to tie the game up, but Rob Scuderi made a sprawling dive to cut #92 off and send the puck wide of the net. The Caps would not let up and their relentless pressure paid off soon after as Dmitry Orlov tied the contest with 3:22 to go on as pretty a play as you will see. Kuznetsov carried the puck in the zone and fed Justin Williams, who hit Orlov at the right point. #9 then weaved his way through several Kings defenders with amazing grace and stick handling before putting a quick, but deadly backhander past Quick. It was an amazing tally.

The Caps would then pressure the Kings for the last three plus minutes of regulation, but couldn’t convert on the game winner.

Both teams received a point and off to overtime we went. It was a sensational extra session with both teams having great chances, including Johansson just barely missing top shelf on a quality chance. As is usually the case, those misses cost you and the Kings scored on their ensuing possession after Jojo made a bad decision to change without his team having the puck, giving Los Angeles a three on two that Carter finished off.

Wow, what a game!

This Capitals team just never quits. It doesn’t matter how bad they start, they always seem to find the extra gears to get back in the contest to either win or at least salvage a point. They do that by wearing their opponents out, which should not happen when you are playing your sixth game in nine nights or seventh in 11!

But this team is great.

Sure it was a loss, but given the way they battled back to force overtime, it feels like a win. If they can just get some better pregame locker room tunes going so they start games off stronger, then they might never lose again. So somebody please yank the Barry Manilow CD or whatever other bad music (Kanye West?) is in there out of the boom box before puck drop in San Jose on Saturday night (10:30 pm on Comcast Sportsnet).

So the Caps finished off their seven games in 11 nights stretch going 4-2-1.

To quote Max Cherry from the 1997 movie Jackie Brown, they are like The Delfonics, “They’re pretty good.”

In there was a string of four games in five nights, plus a west coast flight. This squad should have had no gas left in the tank for a comeback on Wednesday night, but they somehow did. They have perseverance and incredible pride. They know that if they right the ship and start playing the “north-south” game their coach desires, they will eventually get results.

On Wednesday in LA, they took a costly 20 minutes off from playing Capitals hockey, but kudos to them for never quitting and putting one heck of a scare into a two time Stanley Cup winning hockey club.

Notes: Johansson and Oshie led the Caps with five shots on goal each. Ovechkin had four, three of which came after the first 40 minutes…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 28:22…the Caps lost the face off battle, 37-29…shot attempts were 60-53 for the Capitals, thanks to the furious third period rally when the Caps out shot Los Angeles, 18-6, in shots on net…the Kings presented separate video tributes to both Williams and Mike Richards, who each played their first game as visitors in the City of Angels since winning two Stanley Cups for Coach Darryl Sutter …Washington is now 49-13-5 (103 points). The league should have the Presidents’ Trophy engraved already.

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In a thrilling late night game in Cali, the Capitals emerge victorious in the shootout, 2-1.

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Braden Holtby Ends the Ducks’ 11 Game Winning Streak

Posted on 08 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby allowed a goal to Ryan Getzlaf that he probably wanted back just one minute into the game on a delayed penalty call on Alex Ovechkin, but that was all the Ducks would get the rest of the night. Washington’s Andre Burakovsky tied the contest just 41 seconds into the third period and after overtime solved nothing, the Caps won in the shootout to halt Anaheim’s 11 game winning streak, 2-1.

Wow. Wow. Wow!

That was one incredible hockey game that was well worth staying up for!

It was physical; there were great end to end rushes, quality scoring chances, and some outstanding goaltending at both ends of the rink. John Gibson made 31 saves, robbing Justin Williams at least four times in this one, to carry the Ducks to the gimmick. Holtby held up his end of the bargain, as well, stopping 27 shots and he looked like early season Holtbeast. He made several huge stops, at key times, and he didn’t give up many rebounds. It was easily his best game since at least the all star break.

Williams, who was Comcast’s player of the game, did get an assist on the tying goal by Burakovsky. That second unit was all over the Ducks the entire evening and their only flaw was failing to pull the trigger when they had some great looks. Both Evgeny Kuznetsov and Burakovsky were guilty of overpassing on several occasions.

Each team played well and it is easy to see why the Ducks had been on a tear. They are extremely good and play a style that is conducive to lower scoring games. They have speed and size, just like Washington, so this was really an even matchup.

Mike Richards and his linemates, Daniel Winnik and Jay Beagle had another strong contest, especially in the third period when the Caps carried most of the play. #10 picked off a “D to D” pass with a minute to go and nearly won the game on a sweet backhander. Gibson, once again, kept his club in it.

The overtime saw the Caps carry the majority of the possession as they worked their three man cycle and overlap style very well. Matt Niskanen nearly won the game again for Washington with a sweet move to the net, but Gibson stopped his backhander in tight. The Capitals received a power play in OT when the Ducks were called for too many dudes, but just 16 seconds into that T.J. Oshie was called for closing his hand on the puck. Three on three continued without a decision, although the pace was frantic and heart pumping.

In the shootout, Holtby had two snazzy glove saves while Oshie made one of his sick head fake, then backhand roof job moves to give the Caps the edge early. Kuznetsov then had a chance to win the game, but despite beating Gibson, he shot wide. Corey Perry would deliver for Anaheim with a sweet backhand move of his own with the game on the line. Enter Nicklas Backstrom, who skated in calmly and coolly, faked going blocker side to open up the Ducks goaltender like a can of beans, and then #19 slid the puck on the ice between Gibson’s legs to silence the Honda Center. The Swedish assassin was quiet and deadly with his work and Washington earned another big victory against one of the NHL’s elite.

The exhilarating triumph improves the Caps to a 49-13-4 record, good for 102 points. That is just out of this world and even more impressive is that this was the Capitals fifth game in seven nights and they navigated that stretch at 4-1, including flying cross country on Sunday.

This group is clearly special and they once again shook off a rocky start to improve as the game went on. They were emotionally involved in the contest after the opening shift and they were winning many of the loose puck battles against a super hockey club.

There was just a ton to like about this victory, and perhaps, most importantly, was the way their goalie rallied after allowing an early goal to close the door with numerous ten bell saves.

Yes, the Holtbeast was back on the prowl on Monday night in a huge Capitals victory in Anaheim.

Notes: Burakovsky now has 23 points in his last 25 games…both teams went 0 for 4 on the power play in 6:16 of time. Washington’s PK was outstanding holding Anaheim to just 1 power play shot! The Caps man advantage efforts in regulation were superb and generated seven shots on goal, but Gibson was the difference…the Ducks won the faceoff battle, 29-22, although Kuznetsov went 8-6…Ovechkin had 0 shots on goal through 40 minutes but had four in the third period and one great chance in overtime that was denied by Gibson…Williams also had five shots on net…Niskanen played 27:05 to lead all skaters…Mike Weber had eight hits for the Caps. Brooks Orpik and Dmitry Orlov also had five each. The Ducks were credited with 43 hits to 33 for Washington…next up for the Caps are the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center at 10:30 on Wednesday night.

 

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Brooks Orpik is no wood man, and he proves it by scoring the game winning goal for the Caps.

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Orpik Leads the Caps Over the Devils

Posted on 20 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

“He’s not like a wood man.” – Evgeny Kuznetsov, on Brooks Orpik, from his article in The Players’ Tribune

No, Brooks Orpik is not a wood man. #44, just three contests back into the lineup after missing 40 games, helped set up the game tying goal and then scored the game winner through traffic on Cory Schneider (28 saves) to give the Washington Capitals a come from behind, 4-3, victory over a hard working Devils squad.

Orpik, who’s been paired with Russian defensemen Dmitry Orlov since he’s returned, took another awesome Kuznetsov feed and alertly fired it on net. With Alex Ovechkin and a host of Devils in front, Schneider never saw it and it hit him in the shoulder and into the top corner of the cage with 3:58 remaining.

From there the Capitals gave the Devils nothing. In fact, after the Devils took the lead with 8:56 left they had only four shot attempts (two on net) the rest of the way.

Washington was very streaky in this contest. In the first period they played the wrong way with careless cross ice turnovers that led to several New Jersey quality chances. Coach Barry Trotz was not happy with that first frame and stated afterwards that the Capitals gave up eight or nine scoring chances, which was more than the Islanders had in the whole game on Thursday in Brooklyn.

Braden Holtby (21 saves) was strong early, stopping two Devils breakaways as well as the first six shots of the game, which all came from New Jersey. But #70 struggled a bit after that giving up questionable tallies on goals two and three. On both of the first Devils goals the Caps skaters looked like orange road cones and didn’t help their goaltender out. On the third one, it was from long range, but it might have deflected partially off of a Capitals stick. Still, Braden would tell you he must have those, especially in the last 10 minutes.

For the second straight contest the Capitals destroyed the opponent in terms of shots and possession in the middle frame. The Caps out shot the Devils 12-4 and scored the only goal, a Kuznetsov tally, after some great work by Michael Latta and Brooks Laich. Washington was physical and they were getting the pucks down below the goal line on New Jersey and that’s the heavy hockey style that Coach Trotz wants because the Caps are so good at that type of play. In fact, when they play that way, they are unbeatable.

With the score 2-2 heading into the third period, you’d think the Caps would continue that roll, and for the most part they did as New Jersey had only six shots on goal. When Holtby let in the softie, though, his teammates responded, to quote the great Nuke Laloosh, by “announcing their presence with authority” the remainder of the game. The heavy hockey style was amped up and Washington just manhandled a tired Devils club, who had lost to the Islanders at home the night before, over the last 8:56.

Orpik and Orlov were the stars on the backend as they continually made plays at the blueline and on the wall to keep pucks in the offensive zone. They were simply outstanding and earned their +4 individual totals on Saturday night.

Other Capitals were stellar, as well, including Ovechkin (38th goal and an assist), T.J. Oshie (17th goal), Kuznetsov (17th goal and 43rd assist), and Mike Richards. Yes, that’s fourth liner and 0 points in 14 games, Mike Richards. But there is more to the game than points and #10’s last two games have been his best. He’s winning key draws while controlling the play with his great stick and hockey sense. He’s also been very close to getting a point with his effort and strong positioning. This guy was a great pickup and he will keep getting better and the points will come, eventually. The organization has to be really happy with what they’ve seen from him so far, especially his “team first” mentality.

Orpik, or “Batya” as Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky call him, is another “team first” guy. He means so much to this club on the ice with his physical play, and he rocked several Devils players in this one, and off the ice with his leadership. Guys like Orpik, Richards, and Justin Williams are super leaders and respected voices in the room. They’ve won six Stanley Cups between them for a reason.

This victory gives the Capitals another three game winning streak and they are 43-10-4 overall (90 points). I don’t even look at the standings or reference them anymore because Washington is so far ahead of the league. They will win the Metropolitan Division, the Eastern Conference, and the Presidents’ Trophy. But who cares, right?

Every Capitals fan has heard this from other fan bases all season, and, at times, even from within the fan base, “The Caps have 0 Stanley Cups.”

Yes, we all get it. If Taylor Swift was a Caps fan (and who knows, she could be?), she’d probably respond with “Why you gotta be so mean?”

But, in reality, there is nothing anyone can do to shut them up right now. You can say this team is different, and I believe it is because of the quality acquisitions GM Brian MacLellan has made along with the outstanding coaching staff, led by Trotz. However, until they run the gauntlet in April, May, and June and deliver that silver beauty of a trophy, all you can do is just enjoy the show and focus on the process they are going through.

It’s all about building their game up to deliver when the good weather arrives. This team finally has the players to do it and the blue print is there from the best coaching staff this organization has ever had. Now they just need to stay healthy and be focused.

Notes: Hat tip to referees Kelly Sutherland and Wes McCauley on their job of officiating this one. It’s among the best zebra performances I’ve seen all season…the Caps were 0 for 3 on the power play while the Devils went 0 for 1…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 21:33, but Oprik had 21:02…Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner were -3 in this one. It was not one of their better nights, but those two, like Holtby, have carried this club on many other occasions, so they get a pass…Kuznetsov was +3…Nate Schmidt was the low blueliner in terms of ice time, but he still played 15:02. Great balance of ice time on the backend again by Coach Trotz and assistant coach Todd Rierden…the Devils won the face off battle, 29-24…Tom Wilson, who was also very good in this game, had eight hits while Orpik had five…Ovechkin had six shots on net, almost all from in close, which is a good thing. Schneider robbed him a couple of times…next up are the pesky Arizona Coyotes on Monday night at 7 pm at the Verizon Center.

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Caps win in OT, 3-2. The Islanders still cannot beat the Capitals.

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Ovechkin Scores Twice in Caps OT Win Over New York

Posted on 18 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Justin Williams blasted a shot from the blue line after a sweet feed from John Carlson and with Nicklas Backstrom in front, the biscuit found the back of the net to give the Washington Capitals a 3-2 overtime victory over the Islanders in Brooklyn on Thursday night.

The goal was credited to the man nicknamed “Stick,” but it very likely hit #19’s stick on the way in based on the replay angles I saw.

Either way you cut it, it was a Caps win and despite the fact that it was only by a goal in overtime, make no mistake about it, this was a dominant Washington performance.

The Capitals out shot the Islanders 35-22 and out shot attempted New York, 60-49. They also drew five power plays to just two for New York. But Isles goalie Thomas Greiss along with some crooked Caps shooting were the reasons this one went to overtime.

After an even first period in which John Tavares scored short side on Braden Holtby (20 saves), Coach Barry Trotz’ crew completely manhandled New York in the middle frame outscoring them, 2-0, and out shooting them, 14-4. Alex Ovechkin scored goal number 36 of the season on an empty cage when Evgeny Kuznetsov made another of his patented sweet passes from behind the net. It was a thing of beauty. On his next shift the Gr8 took a stellar drop pass from Backstrom and lasered it by Greiss, using #19 as a partial screen. That goal, Ovechkin’s NHL leading 37th, came just 87 seconds after his first marker.

From there the Caps totally carried the play and had numerous chances to score. Karl Alzner missed what would’ve been the third goal on a sweet feed from Matt Niskanen late in period two. In period three, New York struggled mightily to get out of their own end because the Caps were relentless with their forecheck. Somehow Greiss kept his club in it when they had no business hanging around and then a costly late turnover and a lucky bounce allowed Frans Neilsen to tie things up with 1:44 remaining.

It looked like New York might steal one on a goal that in the past would’ve deflated the Capitals, but not this Caps squad. Washington totally dominated the overtime. It took a non-call on an Islanders tripping infraction on Kuznetsov, that gave them a two on one rush, for New York to get their only overtime shot on goal. Ovechkin hit the iron in the overtime before Carlson, Williams, and Backstrom delivered the game winner.

There was a lot to like in this one. All four lines were going and just prior to puck drop the coaching staff juggled the top two units putting Ovechkin with Kuznetsov and Williams while having Backstrom center T.J. Oshie and Andre Burakovsky. Every line had their chances in this game and I thought Mike Richards played his best game of his short Caps career. All 12 forwards were going and Tom Wilson did his usual stellar job of living inside the heads of the Islander players. All night long New York seemed to want to get after #43 instead of playing hockey.

Washington’s only power play marker came after knucklehead Cal Clutterbuck took one of the stupidest penalties I’ve seen by leaping into Dmitry Orlov. #15 is just not a good player and he cost his team badly there as Ovechkin scored what probably should’ve been the game winner with him in the box feeling shame.

Defensively the Caps were mostly solid. The speedy Islanders live to generate chances off of the rush and they had a few of them, Tavares’ goal came on the rush, but it’s a shot Holtby would tell you he wants back. Nate Schmidt would likely tell you he can’t allow #91 to have that much room, either.

But overall, this was just a superb effort and if not for some bad luck, they win in regulation. You will have games like that, especially in the playoffs, but the really good teams find ways to overcome it.

In the past, Capitals teams didn’t almost always find ways to win when they endured several bad bounces, but this club is different, as evidenced by their 42-10-4 record (88 points). Per Matt Williams of the Capitals public relations staff, those 88 points in 56 games are the most points of any NHL team since the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers (hey Flyers fans, you have something to cheer about, LOL!).

Washington is now 3-0 against New York this season and they’ve dominated both contests at the Barclays Center. The Islanders had won four in a row at home and Greiss has been super hot. He was again on Thursday night, so credit him for getting the Isles a point, because with Jaroslav Halak in goal, this one is at least 5-2 for the Capitals.

The Capitals wanted this game and they were not to be denied despite some bad breaks.

In the end, though, the Islanders still cannot beat the Caps!

Notes: Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 26:37. Orlov was the low blue liner in terms of TOI at 13:25, but keep in mind the Capitals had 7:11 of power play time and #9 only received 30 seconds in those situations…Washington dominated from the dot, 36-27. Richards was 8-4…Ovechkin had 16 shot attempts, including 10 shots on goal. Williams and Jason Chimera had four shots on goal, each…Brooks Orpik played 16:45 and looked good with his strong physical play. He was credited with two hits and three blocked shots…Wilson led the Caps in hits with six…Washington was 1 for 5 on the power play, including not scoring on a lengthy five on three (57 seconds) in period two. The Islanders were 0 for 2 with the man advantage…next up for the Capitals are the New Jersey Devils at the Verizon Center on Saturday night at 7 pm.

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The Caps play a terrible 2nd period that ultimately dooms them in Dallas.

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Caps Third Period Rally Falls Short Against Dallas

Posted on 13 February 2016 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals played, by far, their worst period of the season in the second frame on Saturday night in Dallas, giving up 17 shots on net and four goals to fall behind 4-0 after 40 minutes.

The Caps went totally against what makes them successful in that middle frame. They tried soft, cross ice passes instead of getting pucks deep. As a result, they could not take advantage of their size and skill down low which provided the super fast Stars with several odd man rushes that they capitalized on.

Braden Holtby did all he could to keep Dallas at bay, but he could not be faulted on all four of the goals against since two were on three on one breaks, one came from in front by one of the best scorers in the NHL in Jamie Benn when he was not covered properly, and the fourth tally was on a two man advantage power play where one of the Capitals penalty killers also lost his stick.

It was as ugly a period as the Caps have played all season long. It all started with a bad decision by the Caps inside their offensive blue line. Instead of dumping a puck down low and creating a two on one advantage situation, the Washington forward chose to go cross ice and Dallas was off to the races. That sequence started what seemed like wave after wave of Capitals turnovers leading to Stars chances.

Shortly after it was 2-0, the Caps Andre Burakovsky had a seemingly open cage to cut the lead to one and the shot was somehow stopped. Moments later the Stars were gifted another three on one when a Caps defenseman tried to carry the puck into the offensive zone and was pick pocketed. That made it 3-0, and then when Washington took two bad offensive zone penalties, the Stars cashed in late to make it 4-0.

Holtby, who deserved much better than the garbage play in front of him to that point, was relieved for the final frame to get Philipp Grubauer some work.

The reaction on twitter from several skeptics within and outside the Caps fan base was somewhat predictable during the second intermission. People were spouting off about how the Caps losing to Dallas, for the second time this season, showed they couldn’t beat the best teams in the NHL and that they weren’t for real.

Are you kidding me?

We can check the ledger with the court reporter, but if I’m not mistaken the team that has won three of the last six Stanley Cups, the Chicago Blackhawks, were defeated by the Caps in their only meeting back in October. But narratives rarely focus on the facts on twitter, especially from the haters and non-believers, so my message after 40 minutes to those who were bailing on the team after one bad period was: “Good riddance and don’t come back.” Washington, win or lose in Dallas, was still going to be the best team in the NHL.

“Best team in the NHL” is what showed up in the third period as the Capitals stormed back like Miracle Max had given them all magic healing pills. Alex Ovechkin started it with a laser from the Ovi spot on the power play to record his league leading 35th tally and get the ball rolling for Washington.

Justin Williams then atoned for his poor play on the first goal and made it 4-2 from in tight with just over 12 minutes to go. Then, after Ovechkin was flat out robbed by Kari Lehtonen (20 saves), Andre Burakovsky buried a sweet feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) to cut the deficit to just one puck with 6:06 left.

For the final six minutes the Caps had numerous chances and it took fortunate stops from “LUCK-onen” on Burakovsky, John Carlson, and Williams to maintain the Stars lead. Finally, with Grubauer pulled for the extra attacker, it took the right goal post on a Tom Wilson shot in the slot and then the linesman getting in the way after a face off win to take Ovechkin off of the puck with 30 seconds left for Dallas to escape with a 4-3 win.

The loss, just Washington’s 10th of the season in regulation, drops them to 40-10-4 (84 points). They still lead the NHL in points and are the best team in the NHL. The Stars have 15 regulation losses and no other club is closer in that department.

Losing was tough for the Caps and the critics will likely be out, especially those who despise Ovechkin and this franchise, but I don’t really care. Washington proved to all watching, and hopefully most importantly to themselves, that when they play their brand of hockey, which is getting pucks in deep on the opponent via proper zone entries, solid puck support, and strong, hard passes, that they are unbeatable.

That’s right; I said the Caps are unbeatable when they play the right way. In the second period, they played the wrong way. They tried the “easy game” where you don’t pay the price physically and mentally that’s necessary to win hockey games. You can’t play that way and beat anyone, let alone one of the top clubs in the Western Conference.

So on Saturday night, the Caps hopefully learned a good lesson or were simply reminded (after all, they’ve won 40 times this season in 54 games) about what is needed to be successful. Sure they received zero points, but when Coach Barry Trotz and his assistants show the team the tape of this one and point out the good and the bad, it will be clear as day as to how they need to play if they want to win the trophy I know they badly want in June.

In February, you can try the “easy game,” it probably won’t work, but when you have a big standings lead and are two months from the playoffs, it doesn’t hurt you in the near term. But playing the way they did in the 3rd period was a great reminder to Ovechkin and company that there is one recipe for success in the NHL and that is for a team to play to their strengths. For the final 20 minutes, it was “heavy hockey” city for Washington and that allowed their skill to take over the game. That’s the way Coach Trotz wants it drawn up and executed. When they do that, they win.

Yes, losing stinks, but on Saturday, the way this one went down might just be a really good thing, long term, for the best team in the NHL.

Notes: the loss halted the Capitals five game winning streak…Washington won the face off battle, 31-27. Mike Richards was 6-0 from the dot…the Caps were only credited with 15 hits, four by Ovechkin. Most of the physical play from Washington came in the final 20 minutes…Dallas was 1 for 4 on the power play while the Caps were 1 for 3…the Caps took their fourth “too many men on the ice” penalty in the last four games. That trend needs to stop, immediately…next up for the Capitals are the Pacific Division leading Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center. The Kings will be without forward Marian Gaborik (knee) and goalie Jonathan Quick’s status is up in the air, too. #32 was injured in a win over Boston earlier in the week. There is a very good chance that Brooks Orpik will be back in the lineup  for the Caps which likely means that Taylor Chorney will be scratched. Chorney was -2 in this contest and he and Dmitry Orlov were the defensive pair on the ice on both three on one rush goals by Dallas.

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