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The Caps widen their lead in the Metropolitan Division to an astounding 17 points with a 5-2 win over New York.

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Caps Williams Pots Hat Trick in Win over the Blueshirts

Posted on 17 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

When this Washington Capitals team is focused, boy they sure are good!

After the top two lines and several defensemen took Saturday night in Buffalo off (a non-spirited 4-1 defeat to the Sabres), the Caps had everybody geared up and revving against their archrivals, the New York Rangers, on Sunday evening at the Verizon Center.

In a shaky first period, in which Braden Holtby (20 saves) kept the Capitals close, Washington tied things up on Alexander Ovechkin’s 27th goal of the season on a power play. Seven minutes and eighteen seconds into the middle stanza, Marcus Johansson then tapped home a power play layup off of a sweet Nicklas Backstrom feed after T.J. Oshie did a nice job of drawing the Rangers defender to him to create the passing lane. Justin Williams would then score his first goal of the game to make it 3-1 deflecting a Taylor Chorney blast after Andre Burakovsky set it up with some nice moves and a good pass.

The Caps then stormed the castle on the Rangers for several shifts in a row, but somehow couldn’t get that 4th marker past Antti Raanta (19 saves) to gain a three goal cushion. Noted Capital-killer Chris Kreider then scored from in front late in period two and suddenly everyone got extra nervous as Holtby exited the game due to dehydration with it 3-2, Capitals.

But this Caps roster is very deep, including in net, and Philipp Grubauer came in to make two late second period stops and then he thwarted all nine shots on goal in period three. Washington stymied New York and won, 5-2, as Williams added a layup off of an amazing passing play with Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov (3 assists) just 4:51 into the final frame. “Stick” then banked one into the empty net off of a Rags skate to end the official scoring with 1:51 left.

The Rangers appeared to make it 5-3 on a power play goal, but the play was challenged by Caps Coach Barry Trotz and correctly overturned due to New York entering the zone offside. All that did was allow Holtby to keep the victory he deserved for his stellar first period. Grubauer did his part too, though.

Now comes the fun part of this blog, the game analysis as well as the Caps record.

Let’s start with their overall record. It’s now 34-8-3 for a staggering 71 points and a 17 point lead over the New York Islanders in the Metropolitan Division and 18 points over the third place Blueshirts. They have won 12 straight games at the Verizon Center, the longest such streak in the NHL this season. They lead the Eastern Conference by 14 points and own a seven point cushion over the Blackhawks for the best record in the NHL, they also have two games in hand on Chicago.

As for the analysis, the first part is simple. This team is really good, especially when they come to play and use their size, skill, and speed. They have three strong lines and with the addition of Mike Richards, now have a fourth line that can hang with opponents better lines, as evidenced by their play on Saturday night in Buffalo.

Richards, who was excellent in his debut at the First Niagara Center and the Caps first star in my book on Saturday, was really good again on Sunday. He nearly scored in the first period and it took a great stick save by Raanta to prevent that. Against the Rangers, he had 11:47 of ice time, including 3:00 of penalty killing time, was 14-6 on draws, and tied for the team lead in hits. And guess what? He’s just going to get better as he gets his hands and legs all the way back to NHL speed. To quote Count Floyd once again, “That’s Scary Stuff, Kids!”

Oshie was just an under the radar terror on the New York defense all night. He drove the Rags D-men crazy with his relentless skating and active stick on the walls. He won so many loose puck battles and even though he had no points in a very high 23:21 of ice time, he was a huge factor on both of the Caps first two goals. This guy is one heck of a hockey player and he’s a perfect fit for Ovechkin and Backstrom.

On the back end, Dmitry Orlov (1 assist) responded well after he was pretty bad against the Sabres. His ability to skate the puck out and use his adept ability to avoid the forecheck was huge against the Rangers.

Overall, the Caps really carried the play most of the last 40 minutes after New York had the edge in the first frame. The shot attempts may have favored the Blueshirts, but I thought the Capitals had the better of the quality scoring chances and deserved to win this game.

This is three wins in a row now on New York and the season series is at that number Caps fans hate in the playoffs, 3-1.

I’ve been saying all season this is the best Washington hockey team ever assembled and so far they are proving it. But it won’t matter until the spring, regardless of what I say.

However, I like the way this team is able to rebound from losses and I especially love the way they keep improving their game. The breakouts and passing are becoming cleaner and they know when to play the body and put pressure on opposing defensemen. Sure they’ll have nights like Buffalo over the last 37 games where they just don’t seem to be invested in the game, but you can bet it will be against the lesser opponents.

This team is awfully hard to beat when they are motivated. They proved that on Sunday at the Verizon Center against the despised Rangers.

Notes: Holtby has had dehydration issues in the past and Coach Trotz noted that the Holtbeast has been working with Gatorade to get things figured out. Credit #70 for not putting his team in jeopardy by staying in a contest he wasn’t 100% able to continue in. That’s unselfish and putting the team first…the Caps still don’t have John Carlson or Brooks Orpik on the backend. They could use Orpik’s size and Carlson’s overall everything because Matt Niskanen, Karl Alzner, and Nate Schmidt have been logging a lot of minutes. Luckily Coach Trotz held #2 to just 25:16 on Sunday evening…Washington won the faceoff battle, 42-29, mostly thanks to Richards…the Caps are now 4-0 in their fabulous third jerseys. I love those things, it reminds me of my days working for the team in the 80’s and 90’s…next up are John Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday at 7 pm in that building with that freaking cannon.

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The Washington Capitals continue to improve as they dominate the NHL.

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Kuznetsov Shines as Caps Dominate the Canucks, 4-1

Posted on 14 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Another game, another Washington Capitals victory.

On Thursday night at the Verizon Center, it just didn’t seem fair as the Caps just thoroughly dominated a Canucks team that came in to town feeling pretty good about itself. As it turned out, if not for some stellar goaltending by Ryan Miller (36 saves), the Washington 4-1 triumph could’ve been more lopsided because the Caps played that well.

It’s getting scary how good Washington is, and they keep getting better.

The Caps out shot Vancouver, 40-30, out shot attempted them, 73-58, and would’ve blanked them on the scoreboard if not for a mid third period five on three power play goal by Radim Vrbata.

It was the men versus the boys for most of the night and Evgeny Kuznetsov (two goals, one assist) was the primary star, once again. #92 scored the opening tally on a two on one with Dmitry Orlov after #9 made a great play at the Capitals defensive blue line to turn things the other way. Karl Alzner would make it 2-0 on a long bomb heading into the final twenty minutes following a sequence where the Canucks lost their focus in the corner.

In the third period, Kuznetsov helped increase the Caps lead to 3-0 with one of his absolutely sick, no-look, behind the back passes to Tom Wilson in the slot and Willy one timed it home for his 4th goal of the season. It was a goal of beauty and Andre Burakovsky (two assists, +3) deserved applause as well for his work down low on the boards to get the puck to Kuzya. Kuznetsov would then close out the scoring with an empty net goal with one second left to make it 4-1.

Washington is now 33-7-3 (69 points) and they’ve won five games in a row and 11 straight at the Verizon Center. So how could they possibly still be getting better?

Well, let me explain. Remember how this Caps team often found itself having to chip the puck out of their own end last season? That strategy ultimately doomed them in game seven against the Rangers.

This season, with the additions of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, plus the emergence of Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, Wilson, and Burakovsky to go along with superstars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals have a high talent level that can make the proper passes to get the puck going into the offensive zone as quickly and efficiently as possible. Add in a speedy Jason Chimera plus a very mobile defense that has benefited from the addition of Orlov and the rapid ascension of Nate Schmidt and you’ve got yourself one heck of a puck moving hockey team.

In the last few weeks we’ve seen that ability to go from defense to offense take off and I asked Williams about the keys to the Washington breakout and its strategy after the victory over Ottawa on Sunday night.

“First of all, we want to play a quick game. And if we want to stretch it out, we’ll stretch it out. I think that everybody wants the puck on the ice and that’s great because when you want the puck you are calling for the puck. That makes it easier for the guy who has the puck if he can’t see you, to make a play….that happens all throughout the ice, communication,” stated the three time Stanley Cup winner on the secrets of the Caps success.

What Williams says sounds so simple, but it is not. It takes five guys on the ice working together and communicating to make the magic happen. In game 43 of 82, the Capitals sure seem to be getting better and better at this and they seemingly had the puck on a string all evening against the Canucks.

They can beat you with skill.

They can beat you with speed.

They can beat you with power.

Sure I read a lot of Dr. Seuss in the day, but the Caps seem to possess so many key facets to being able to win and they just keep iterating on their game and improving. It is really a scary sight for the rest of the league and they are doing this without John Carlson, Brooks Orpik, Jay Beagle, and newly acquired two time Stanley Cup Champion Mike Richards.

On Thursday, all four lines were going. The Gr8 was held pointless but he, Oshie, and Backstrom were dominant. Ovechkin had 11 shot attempts (five on net), and many were quality chances. Again, Miller is the reason this wasn’t a 7-1 affair, like on Sunday against Ottawa.

It seems that everyone on this team is playing “the system” as Coach Barry Trotz likes to call it. They skate, they push the pace, and they punish you. The Caps had 20 hits to Vancouver’s eight and Washington had the puck most of the game!

It is heavy hockey with talent and skill at a very fluid pace.

That’s one scary combination and the Capitals still feel like they can keep improving.

Right now I’m not sure there is a better group of top nine forwards in the league and the mobile defense continues to make plays that allows the forward group to excel.

It’s enjoyable hockey and tons of fun to watch.

Notes: Ovechkin was honored before the game with a lengthy video tribute from many other prominent NHL 500 goal scorers, including a wonderful closing sequence from The Great One, Wayne Gretzky. Caps owner Ted Leonsis and Team President Dick Patrick presented Ovi with a golden stick listing all of his goals up to 500…the Caps dominated face offs going 34-20. Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and Johansson all had five more wins than losses from the dot…the Caps were 0 for 2 on the power play while the Canucks were 1 for 3…Braden Holtby made 29 saves and played well. He’s now 20-0-2 in his last 23 starts…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time at 28:28. Alzner logged 24:59…the Capitals are in Buffalo on Saturday at 7 pm before coming home to take on the Rangers at 5 pm on Sunday.

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Alex Ovechkin, the man who saved hockey in this area, reached a major milestone on Sunday night

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Ovi Hits 500 Goals in Fifth Fastest Time in NHL History

Posted on 11 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, Brett Hull, and now there is Alex Ovechkin.

The Gr8 scored on the power play at 16:19 of the second period to notch his 500th career NHL goal and become the fifth faster player in NHL history to reach that plateau. Oveckhkin needed 801 games to achieve it, and he also added #501 in the third period.

But when the aforementioned players hit 500, they did it in a different era when games were higher scoring making it easier to achieve that amazing feat a bit quicker. Gretzky did it 575 games, Lemieux in 605, Bossy in 647, and Hull in 693.

Once the Gr8 notched his tally off of a nice feed from Jason Chimera (three assists), his teammates all poured off of the bench to congratulate him while the Verizon Center went absolutely nuts.

Having attended Capitals games since 1974, the year of their inception, I’d have to put Ovi’s 500th goal in the top five or no worse than top 10 great home game moments in Caps history. The Dale Hunter goal against the Flyers in 1988 is likely number one followed by the Fedorov series winning goal in 2009, Kuznetsov’s series winning tally last spring, and perhaps the Southeast Division clinching regular season win in 2008 over Florida. Sunday was a significant event in Washington hockey history and Ovechkin agreed.

“It is a special moment. It is nice to be in that category. It is really hard to score in this League right now system-wise… If you get to 30 goals, 35 goals, you’re lucky. Without my teammates help, without the system, how we play, it is very hard to do,” said the man who seemingly can get a shot directed on net from just about any position in the offensive zone.

As for the game itself, well it was a rout with Washington winning, 7-1. The Caps jumped off to a quick 2-0 start and they totally dominated Ottawa in that opening frame with a goal from Justin Williams after a sweet feed from Andre Burakovsky (two assists). Then the Capitals received a power play and with the Sens shading towards Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie received a super pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov and buried an easy one from the slot.

The Caps out shot attempted Ottawa, 22-13, in the first period. The second period started not as well as the Capitals were a bit sloppy and Mike Hoffman scored his 20th goal of the season after a Washington offensive zone turnover. The Senators had a good chance or two to tie things up, but Philipp Grubauer (32 saves) came through with some clutch stops. Zach Sill, returning from a two game suspension, would answer the Senators push, scoring his 1st goal of the season just two and half minutes later after a weird bounce in front of goalie Andrew Hammond (29 saves).

Washington then settled down and Dmitry Orlov ripped one home with Ovechkin screening in front to make it 4-1 before the game was halfway over. An Ottawa tripping penalty by Mark Stone then set the stage for Ovi’s milestone tally that pushed the lead to four goals.

With a 5-1 lead, the Capitals didn’t sit back and Tom Wilson and Ovechkin scored before the 10 minute mark of period three to increase the margin to 7-1. The last 10 minutes pretty much became glorified preseason hockey as Coach Trotz chose to spread the ice time around.

With the victory the Capitals improved to a staggering 32-7-3 (67 points) and lead the Dallas Stars by five points in the NHL standings, with two games in hand. In the Eastern Conference they are 11 points up on the Florida Panthers, who despite winning 12 straight hockey games, can barely gain any ground on Washington. In their division, the Caps are 18 points up on both the second place Rangers and Islanders. It’s amazing to think where their record could end up after 82 games, but Williams was having none of that talk after the contest.

“It’s not about winning 50 or 60 games this year, it’s about winning the last game this year.”

Coach Trotz’ crew continues to win hockey games despite playing so many times without their full lineup. John Carlson, Brooks Orpik, Marcus Johansson, Jay Beagle, and Mike Richards will hopefully all find themselves playing when things matter in the spring, but the bench boss noted that he jokingly told those guys that “they better not screw it up” when they get back in.

Seriously, though, this is a very good team and Washington has been able to develop some depth while key players have been out of the lineup. It is something that is not easy to do, but it’s been necessary for the Caps.

“It’s a tough thing to do in this league because it such a good league, to win and develop players at the same time. The good thing is they are developing because they are shown the right way. It starts with leadership, and the group pulls the guys into the fight or practice habits. And it pays off in a lot of ways for us,” said Coach Trotz when asked about the development of blue liners like Aaron Ness and Taylor Chorney, among others.

It has been a magical ride so far and Ovechkin’s fireworks just past the midpoint of the season were truly special. He is not only playing well individually, but he’s constantly a leader for his club on a daily basis.

“Knowingly or unknowingly, he improves everybody’s demeanor. Once you see Ovi, he’s got this smile on his face. He’s always happy to be around. He love scoring goals and it’s infectious. It carries on and he’s playing some great hockey,” finished Williams.

The Caps are having fun and they keep piling up the victories, however, there is only one goal for this Washington team this year, as Williams stated above, so stay tuned.

Notes: Nicklas Backstrom had three assists in just 16:09 of ice time…Burakovsky was injured on a hard shoulder to shoulder hit in the right wing corner in period two. He played just 34 seconds in period three and did not return. Coach Trotz said he’d know more about his status in the next day or so…Matt Niskanen played 9:30 in the first period, but thanks to the Caps big lead, he logged only 12:17 the remaining 40 minutes, which was important because he’s been overloaded in Carlson’s absence…Nate Schmidt led the Capitals in ice time with 22:21…Washington will not practice on Monday and will be back on the ice on Tuesday. Their next game is Thursday at the Verizon Center against Vancouver.

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There is nothing Alexander Ovechkin can't do when it comes to hockey.

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Ovechkin Scores 499 to Win It in Overtime for the Caps

Posted on 09 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

It’s hard to see a hockey game end any more exciting than that one did.

Wow!

Alexander Ovechkin, after Braden Holtby made a big save on Rick Nash and Nate Schmidt followed it up with a game saving block of Derek Stepan’s empty net bid, took the puck in three on three overtime, went end-to-end down the left wing beating both Nash and Ryan McDonagh with blazing speed, and ripped the 499th goal of his career by King Henrik Lundqvist to give the Washington Capitals an amazing comeback 4-3 victory after they had surrendered a 2-0 third period lead.

Once again…Wow!

I’m practically out of breath after this amazing game.

Washington carried most of the play over New York for two periods and seemed to have things in control heading into the final frame. However the Caps looked a little lethargic and tired while the Rangers, off since Tuesday night, came storming back to seize the lead, 3-2, with three goals in less than 10 minutes of play. Washington made too many defensive zone mistakes during that stretch and with just over five minutes to go it looked like New York was headed to its fifth win in the last six games against the Capitals.

But this Caps team is just too proud, too determined, and too tight of a unit to allow their archrivals to stick it to them again in a dagger like fashion. The Capitals put on a furious assault on Lundqvist and nearly tied the game on an Andre Burakovsky shot that hit iron. During that stretch, with 3:50 to go, the Rangers did get a two on one break and Nash fed McDonagh for what looked like a layup, but he either shot it wide or the Holtbeast (23 saves) just got a piece of it as the biscuit slid wide.

Still, with less than 30 seconds left the Caps were on their last life, but Ovechkin did a great job to gather a puck in the left wing corner and instead of firing on net, he fed Matt Niskanen at the left point. #2 saw that there were several Blueshirts in his lane so he slid the disc over to Justin Williams. The super smart Williams saw all star Nicklas Backstrom in front of King Henrik and he fired a shot on net with #19 screening. Lundqvist made the first save, but he couldn’t corral what he couldn’t see, and then Nicky put the rebound home with just six seconds left!

The Caps bench went nuts and then overtime came. It was a wild three on three affair and the Rangers looked to win it off of an offensive zone faceoff, but Holtby made the huge stop on Nash in the slot and #88 made his magic stick block on game seven hero Stepan setting the stage for the Gr8.

Ovechkin, who definitely has a flair for the dramatic, made no mistake about this one and after scoring he slid on his knees and did a spin in front of the Washington bench as his teammates stood by ready to mug him in celebration. Schmidt and Holtby embraced, as well, and this close knit group clearly enjoyed getting a victory in amazing fashion when it looked like the curse of the Rangers might live on.

Have I said “Wow!” in this blog yet?

Wow!

That was some game and this team just keeps finding ways to get it done. Ovechkin opened the scoring on the power play with a layup after a Dan Girardi givewaway to move to 498 career goals. Williams pushed the lead to a pair in the middle frame on a breakaway after a big Gr8 hit on McDonagh allowed Schmidt to get the puck and send #14 in all alone on the King. Williams pin balled it in on a diving Lundqvist and it looked like from there the Caps would cruise to another win.

But New York, who has really struggled since the season’s quarter pole, didn’t quit either, so give them credit for racing back into the game and grabbing the lead.

The Rangers, however, have to feel decimated after this one. They couldn’t hold a late lead and Washington increased their Metropolitan lead over them to 16 points at the season’s halfway mark. New York is now tied with their cross town rival, the Islanders, for second place (Caps have a game in hand on the Isles).

With Marcus Johansson out due to suspension (he is eligible to return Thursday against Vancouver) and Jay Beagle, Brooks Orpik, and John Carlson all injured, the Caps knew they needed big games from their top two lines on Saturday afternoon and they received just that. The Gr8 had two goals and was +2, Backstrom had his tally and was +2 while Williams notched a goal and assist (+1).

On the back end, Schmidt was the star with two assists and the big shot block in 21:20 of ice time, but Niskanen had a big assist on the game tying tally in 28:34 while Karl Alzner blocked seven shots, including one with his head in period two. King Karl eats rocks for breakfast.

Wow!

So now on Sunday night at the Verizon Center, the Ovechkin 500th goal watch is in full effect. The Caps, who just finished a stretch of six road contests in seven games, went 5-1-1 to put a stranglehold on their division. They will now have to play for the third time in four nights against Ottawa, but at least it will be at home, which should be rocking with the Gr8, the man who saved hockey in this area, on the cusp of another major milestone.

Do. Not. Miss. It.

Notes: The Caps were 1 for 3 on the power play while New York went 0 for 3, but the Rangers tying goal came right after a Washington power play expired. The Capitals clearly missed Johansson’s ability to get clean zone entries with the man advantage which, at numerous times, made the PP look out of sync…several on the Caps bottom two lines had their struggles in this one in the last 20 minutes…Mike Richards skated on Friday but won’t play for awhile. He needs to get in hockey shape and a conditioning stint in Chocolatetown is not out of the question…Washington won the face off battle, 31-28, with Backstrom going a dominating, 15-7…see you for Ovie’s 500th on Sunday night, so be there or be square!

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Braden Holtby defeats Boston once again as Evgeny Kuznetsov turns in another stellar performance.

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Kuznetsov Dazzles as Holtby Stops the Bruins

Posted on 05 January 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Who own da Bruins?

Braden Holtby owwwwnnnnssss the Bruins.

The Holtbeast stopped 25 of 27 shots, including a big one on Zdeno Chara late in the game, to preserve a 3-2 victory for a banged up Capitals team at TD Garden in Boston. The Bruins, who are also dealing with an injury to star forward David Krejci and a suspension to knucklehead Brad Marchand, put on a strong third period push after falling behind, 3-1, but it wasn’t enough.

The star for the Caps on this night was, you guessed it, Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Russian wizard set up Andre Burakovsky for a sweet top shelf marker in period one and then when the Capitals finally abandoned forcing the puck to Alex Ovechkin on the power play, the slick stickhandling Kuzya skated in from the right wing circle and snapped one by Tuukka Rask to make it, 2-0. Rask, who probably desires a contract clause that prohibits him from playing against the Capitals, had a strong outing (26 saves) and kept his club in it through two periods.

The Caps were dominant, leading the shots on goal, 23-14, in those opening frames and their only big hiccup in the first 40 minutes was a bad coverage situation that allowed Lou Eriksson to cut the lead in half on a play that Holtby had no chance on.

Marcus Johansson, who was great centering Tom Wilson and Jason Chimera despite missing some time in the middle frame, had the game winner by going to the cage and putting home a rocket of a shot by Dmitry Orlov that hit the pipe and ricocheted in front with just over nine minutes remaining. Jojo only played 12:12, but that new line that Coach Barry Trotz put together in Columbus since Jay Beagle is out for six weeks looks really good.

Burakovsky has also taken advantage of the lineup change playing with Kuznetsov and “Mr. Stick” Justin Williams. That trio was super and Washington received stellar performances from their second and third units. Kuznetsov and Williams were both around 20 minutes of ice time and Burakovsky played 16:56 in one of his best games of the season. That’s important because the Capitals really need him to gain confidence in time for the playoffs.

As for the first unit, well they are in a bit of a funk right now, and it was an ill timed giveaway after it was 3-1 that led to a Matt Niskanen (27:19 TOI) penalty with 8:47 remaining. That bad shift and infraction just 32 sections after the Caps grabbed a two goal cushion proved costly when Patrice Bergeron tallied on the rush with 8:08 remaining.

But Washington would do a good job of not giving up any real quality chances down the stretch and despite the fact that the Caps looked a little gassed once again, they held on, with some solid netminding from #70 to boot.

With their top defensive pair out in John Carlson (day to day) and Brooks Orpik (week to week), Orlov (20:06) and Nate Schmidt (18:43) have really stepped up and done a nice job as the second duo. The third pair of Taylor Chorney and Aaron Ness were solid on Tuesday, as well. Coach Trotz didn’t have to hide anyone on the blue line with Ness logging 12:55 and Chorney at 15:46. Those are decent ice times for a third pairing and the injuries have helped Washington develop some back side depth.

The victory halts a two game losing streak, although the second was in the gimmick so the Caps received a point, and pushes their overall record to an NHL leading 29-7-3 (61 points). They have a 12 point lead over the second place Islanders and a 13 point lead over the third place Rangers, in the Metropolitan Division. Those two teams are their next two opponents in New York on Thursday and Saturday, respectively. Washington has a game in hand on each team, as well.

It seems unlikely that #74 will be in the lineup on Thursday, and the Capitals have no need to rush him back with the lead they have overall in the standings (including a nine point cushion over the red hot Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference, who have won 10 in a row and lead the Atlantic Division). The Islanders recently lost top pair defensemen Johnny Boychuk for 4 to 6 weeks so they have no injury sympathy for the Caps. New York will be fired up for this one, given it is the first meeting since Washington defeated the Isles in game seven of last spring’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, this contest will take place in Brooklyn since the Islanders moved out of Nassau Coliseum over the summer.

As you recall, it was Kuznetsov who scored the series winner in dazzling fashion to send the Islanders to the links last April. On Tuesday in Beantown, #92 was the main reason the Capitals won once again, giving Holtby his 25th victory of the season.

Notes: Ovechkin had only six shot attempts, including two on net. He’s looked sluggish the last few games, but fortunately the Capitals have a deep lineup and can still win when he’s not scoring…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 27-26, and Jojo went 6-4…Wilson left for a bit in the middle period when Johansson was out too, but he still played 13:42. It was when those two were out that the 4th line gave up the Bruins first tally with some poor back checking and coverage…the Caps were 1 for 3 on the power play while Boston went 1 for 4…Zach Sill had five hits in 7:57, one of them was a missed boarding penalty, though…Stan Galiev only played 5:42 and was -1.

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Despite losing two players to injury, the Caps go "Next Man Up" to defeat Buffalo, 5-2

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Ovechkin, Kuznetsov Carry Banged Up Caps to their 9th Straight Victory

Posted on 31 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Injuries are a part of sports, there is no denying that, but it’s how a team reacts to them that’s important.

So with the Washington Capitals trailing, 2-1, after 40 minutes on Wednesday night to the Buffalo Sabres at the Verizon Center, and with both Nicklas Backstrom (upper body) and Jay Beagle (upper body injury that will require surgery) having to leave the game, Coach Barry Trotz needed his big guns to step up.

They did just that as Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists), reunited with Alex Ovechkin (two goals) and T.J. Oshie (one assist) to reform the TKO line, caught fire to lead the Capitals to a four goal final frame and a 5-2 victory, their ninth straight win. Kuznetsov, the game’s number one star, put on a clinic on the ice on how to shred a defense with dazzling moves and superior puck management. The young Russian made a super pass to the Gr8 just 1:24 into the 3rd period to tie the game up. Then, after the Caps lost the initial draw on a power play, Oshie outworked two Sabres in the left wing corner to get the puck to Kuzya. After trading passes with Matt Niskanen (1 assist in 25:40 of ice time), #92 fed Marcus Johansson in front for the game winner with 11:28 remaining.

Johansson (1 goal, 1 assist) was another of the players who really stepped up in the third period moving to the center position after having played wing for most of the last several seasons. Jojo, with Backstrom out for the third period, logged a season high 20:11. Andre Burakovsky took advantage of his opportunity, as well, and had a huge goal just 84 seconds following the Johansson tally. After a successful Brooks Laich offensive zone forecheck, Johansson was able to grab the puck and feed #65 in the slot for Andre’s third goal of the season and his first since October 23rd. Ovechkin would add an empty net goal, his 20th of the season, with 1:13 remaining to close this one out.

It was a very strong final 20 minutes and Coach Barry Trotz commented afterwards that the whole team really did step up. The Coach called it “Next Man Up” and the resilient Capitals out shot attempted the Sabres, 28-20, in that period to take full control of the hockey game.

“We got it from our top people, and I thought we got it from everybody. Our lines are all messed up, obviously, with a couple guys out, especially in the middle, and I thought Jojo [Marcus Johansson] stepped in and played center. I thought Ovi [Alex Ovechkin] and the big line really stepped up. I thought our defense core as a whole really got resilient. A guy like Zach Sill came in and did a really good job. I just thought everybody said, “hey, let’s find a way to win, it doesn’t bother us, just go.” It’s an opportunity for guys to step up and they did,” added the man whose team now leads the NHL with a 28-6-2 record (58 points).

Overall, this was a strong game for Washington, save for some sloppy sequences where they over passed the puck in the middle frame, which led to some Sabres quality scoring chances. Even with multiple turnovers and the occasional extra pass, the Capitals dominated with 43 shots on goal and 76 shot attempts to just 27 and 55, respectively, for Buffalo.

“It’s a fine line, you don’t want to discourage skill, guys are making those plays where sometimes you’re looking for a better shot and when it works a lot of times they’re the ones that go in because the goalie has to move from side to side. So I understand the reasoning behind it, but you’re kind of flirting with danger there when you’re making those cross ice passes and when there’s extra guys jumping in the rush you open yourself up to odd man rushes the other way, as well. You don’t want to discourage it, but I think just recognize how the game is going and be smart about it when you try those plays,” said Niskanen on the Caps skill and their tendency, at times, to pass up shots for another pass.

Coach Trotz, when talking about the over passing, stated that he’d like to see more shots, as well, even though he pointed out they did have 43 of them on Wednesday, but he doesn’t want to stifle the creativity and high end skill that many of his players possess. To him, the key is “game management” and knowing the situation you are in, much like what Niskanen stated.

With John Carlson out of the lineup for the second straight contest, and Trotz stated afterward that #74 will not travel to Carolina and Columbus for the next two games, the defense was forced to step up, too. Niskanen was outstanding leading the club in time on ice while Nate Schmidt (23:23), Dmitry Orlov (21:53), and Karl Alzner (20:24) all logged significant minutes. Taylor Chorney played 13:12 and Connor Carrick (-2), who only logged one third period shift before Ovechkin’s empty net goal, chipped in with 11:04.

Braden Holtby won his league leading 24th game of the season and is now a staggering 16-0-1 in his last 18 tilts with two shutouts, a 1.76 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage. #70 was at his best in the second period, and he also received some good fortune on two pucks that hit iron, making several big stops. In the final period he didn’t have to do too much as Washington dominated play and didn’t allow many quality scoring chances.

So now it is on to Carolina for a game in Raleigh at 6 pm on New Year’s Eve. The speedy, well skating Hurricanes will once again be rested against a Capitals team that will have played the night before. Last time this sequence occurred, Philipp Grubauer stole a win for Washington. Given that the Caps play in Columbus on Saturday, you can expect #31 to be in the cage again versus the Hurricanes. He also might have to steal another win given the list of Capitals now in the infirmary. Backstrom will travel to Carolina and hopefully can play, as well as Michael Latta. But you can expect a forward and defensemen call up from Hershey as a precaution for Thursday’s game.

It’s once again “Next Man Up,” especially if the Capitals want to extend their winning streak to 10 games.

Notes: Justin Williams had the Caps first goal into a vacant net after a furious forecheck in which he and Kuznetsov forced goalie Chad Johnson (38 saves) to turn the puck over…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 33-30, which is no surprise with their 1st, 3rd, and 4th line centers out for the third period and more…Sill, recalled from Hershey on Wednesday, was only 3-9 from the dot in 10:08 of ice time…Ovechkin had 10 shots on goal and 15 shot attempts…notorious Cap killer Evander Kane had six shots on net and 10 shot attempts total for Buffalo…rookie Jack Eichel had 13 shot attempts (six on goal) and two assists to earn the game’s third star.

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Alex Ovechkin scores his 18th goal of the season and Braden Holtby shuts out the Sabres in the Caps 8th straight victory.

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Holtby, Ovechkin Lead Caps over Chippy Sabres, 2-0.

Posted on 29 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Buffalo Sabres thought they could play heavy hockey with the Washington Capitals on Monday night in the first meeting of the season between these two clubs.

Boy, were they wrong.

The Caps received an early second period goal from Alex Ovechkin and then Jay Beagle scored with just over seven minutes remaining in period two to notch the only two tallies in a physical, and at times, dirty effort on the part of Buffalo, in a Washington 2-0 victory.

This was a game in which there was the potential for a Capitals letdown. The Sabres are a mediocre team and the Caps are arguably the best squad in the NHL. Washington not only can beat you with skill, but they also have size and will punish you physically. If there is a style that doesn’t fit the Capitals, it is usually a high speed, end to end type of contest. On this night, for some reason Buffalo thought they could intimidate Washington. That wasn’t going to happen.

The Sabres, who seemed to get more and more frustrated with their inability to score on Braden Holtby (31 saves) as the game went on, routinely sent players into the crease area in an attempt to disrupt the Holtbeast (and possibly injure him). Yet somehow none of the sequences where the Sabres crashed into Holtby, to include Tyler Ennis late in period three and Johan Larson in period two, were whistled for goaltender interference penalties? Bylsma and company were basically playing cheap hockey to try and stay in the contest.

Speaking of cheap, Nicolas Deslauriers, who had only three goals and four assists heading into Monday’s tilt in 34 games, roughed Justin Williams in the face in the neutral zone in period two and then clipped #14 with his stick as Williams fell to the ice after the clear roughing infraction. Justin was bleeding heavily and had to go to the locker room for repairs. That was six penalty minutes that could have easily been called, but referee Dave Lewis, who was looking directly at the play, called nothing!

Michael Latta would rightly stick up for Williams and take on a bigger Deslaueries a few shifts later. The Sabre won the fight in a decision, but judging by his circus type reaction, you’d have thought he knocked out Muhammad Ali. What a clown and between the cheap hit on Williams and the fight, that rough stuff seemed to really galvanize the Capitals.

As a result, Washington picked up their intensity and threw the body around themselves, cleanly and effectively, rattling a young Buffalo squad.

The good news is despite the cheap stuff and the lack of Sabres penalties the Caps were easily able to defeat both the zebras and the dirty Sabres on this night. Buffalo rarely had quality scoring chances while the Caps had some grade A opportunities that they just couldn’t bury either shooting wide or due to pucks bouncing over their sticks. In addition, they tended to over pass themselves out of potential shot attempts on several occasions. That’s a recent trend that needs to be corrected.

But after the rough stuff really was initiated by Buffalo in period two, I knew the Caps would not back down nor be intimidated and intensity would not be an issue the rest of the way. I was right, this team sticks together, and the Capitals pretty much gave the Sabres nothing over the last 25+ minutes to win once again.

Buffalo’s best chance came with 1:01 left and the goalie pulled when Evander Kane appeared to have an easy back side goal with a seemingly open net only to see the Holtbeast snag the shot out of the air with his glove. It was vintage Holtby, who won his NHL leading 23rd game and completed his 2nd shutout of the season.

Washington’s winning streak now stands at eight games and they improved to 27-6-2 (56 points). The Capitals have a dozen point lead over the Rangers in the Metropolitan Division, with two games in hand. They were able to win on Monday in Buffalo without John Carlson, their #1 defensemen, who was unable to play due to a lower body injury.

Perhaps Bylsma felt that his club could play physical with Carlson and Brooks Oprik out and young Connor Carrick in the lineup? If so, he forgot that the Caps have their own forwards that can pound the opposition to include Ovechkin and Tom Wilson. Again, bad strategy by the Sabres.

Simply put, when it was all over and done, it was Barry Trotz’ men left standing vs. Disco Dan Bylsma’s boys when it came to who was the best at heavy hockey in this affair.

Now the two teams will get it on again on Wednesday at the Verizon Center. Coach Trotz will have last change and you can bet that Washington will be motivated to defeat the Sabres once again given the chippy nature at which Buffalo played on Monday.

Notes: Wilson had an assist on Beagle’s goal, his third in two games. #43 retrieved a loose puck in the offensive zone and fired it at the cage. It struck a Sabre defender en route and ricocheted off of the back boards right to #83, who deposited it into the empty cage behind Linus Ullmark (24 saves)…the Caps first goal by Ovechkin came after a furious forecheck from the Gr8 and his linemates, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. Both #19 and #77 earned an assist on the goal…Lewis and the other official, Chris Rooney (aka, Rooney Tunes), were clearly not watching the same contest I was viewing and at the end of the night, the power plays were three to one for the Sabres; that’s pathetic…officially, shot attempts were 56-50 for Buffalo, but the Caps had 9 giveaways and Buffalo had 9 takeaways…Latta didn’t return after his fight due to injury (upper body, but not the head, per @VogsCaps)… Carrick played less than 10 minutes while Matt Niskanen logged a game high 27:25. Karl Alzner played 26:23, Nate Schmidt 23:07, and Dmitry Orlov had 19:45. Taylor Chorney’s ice time was just 12:14.

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You can not stop the Washington Capitals right now, in fact, you can't even contain them.

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Caps Dig Early Hole, Then Demolish the Rangers, 7-3

Posted on 20 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

In case you’ve been living under a rock since October, I have a memo for you:

The 2015-16 Washington Capitals are really good.

For the second straight contest, the Caps put themselves behind the eight ball stinking up the first period and trailing, 3-1, in Madison Square Garden, before reeling off six straight goals to demolish the New York Rangers, 7-3. Sir Paul McCartney was in the house with his son and actually caught a puck in the 1st period when the Capitals, after taking an early 1-0 lead on a Justin Williams goal (2 goals, 1 assist), played a terrible final 10 minutes of the opening frame. During that stretch they were not physical, made turnover after turnover, and also took a bad penalty that yielded the third Blueshirts tally. Washington was out shot 15-7 in those first 20 minutes and it appeared that the New York curse over the Caps would continue.

But there were still 40 minutes to play and fresh off of their three goal rally on Friday night against Tampa, Washington knew if they settled down and played the heavy style their coach prefers, they would be able to get back in it. From the opening shift of the middle stanza, where Marcus Johansson hit the crossbar, this was all Washington. Shortly after killing off an early unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Tom Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsov scored after a Rangers turnover, that was pounced on by Dmitry Orlov (2 assists) in the slot. Wilson, who had just returned to the ice from feeling shame, went to the front of the net and distracted King Henrik Lundqvist on a goal that turned things around. Just less than two minutes later, Nicklas Backstrom (three assists) dumped the puck perfectly off of the right wing boards and the biscuit was picked up by T.J. Oshie, who buried it pass Lundqvist to tie the game just 7:01 into the 2nd period. Oshie went flying in the air on that goal and would miss some time in that period, but return and play the final 20 minutes.

At that point you could see the Rangers, who have been banged up and struggling, realize they were in trouble. The Capitals continued to pounce and drew two penalties (Andre Burakovsky and Wilson) that they finished thanks to outstanding power play feeds by Johansson (1 goal, two assists). Alex Ovechkin (17th goal) and Williams buried those passes and following 40 minutes, Coach Alain Vigneault pulled Lundqvist, who I’ve been suspected of being slightly injured for several weeks.

Ovechkin would take a hooking penalty early in period three, but the Capitals PK unit responded with Wilson chipping a puck out that gave Jason Chimera a breakaway on goalie, Magnus Hellberg. Chimmer made it look easy notching his eighth goal of the season to pretty much end this contest. Johansson would close out the scoring off of a sweet Kuznetsov feed from behind the net just over two minutes later and this one pretty much became a glorified preseason tilt from then on.

The musical legend McCartney would get up to leave late in the contest, presumably to go get his new Ovechkin jersey, and I couldn’t help but think that Blueshirt fans would’ve have liked him to crank out “Yesterday” seeing how the Caps have turned the tables totally on New York with the acquisitions of Williams and Oshie in the offseason.

The Caps are now 24-6-2 (50 points) and lead the Metropolitan Division by eight points over the Rangers with three games in hand. In the Eastern Conference, they are seven points up on Montreal with two games in hand and overall they are tied with the Dallas Stars for the best record in the NHL, but they have a game in hand. Bottom line, this team is really, really good.

But they can still get better, and that’s scary. Yes, they brought their “A” game over the last 40 minutes on Sunday, much like they did the last 20 minutes versus Tampa. Still, this team needs to get off to better starts and clean up some things in their own zone. When they do that and play a physical style, they are awfully hard to beat.

It was a huge victory for Washington on 33rd street on Sunday night with Manhattan fireworks that sent the Rangers faithful home after they thought they were going to get another big win versus the Caps. Barry Trotz and company played the role of “The Grinch” and buried a New York team that looks lost right now (3-9-2 in their last 14 games).

There has been a changing of the guard in the Metropolitan Division and the Caps own the keys to the castle with 50 games left in the regular season.

Notes: Washington plays its last game before the holiday break on Monday night in Carolina. The Hurricanes have been playing better lately (5-4-1), so this has the potential to be a trap game. Coach Trotz may very well go back with Braden Holtby (33 saves) given that the Holtbeast had that break on Friday night…the blowout win allowed the ice time to be spread out in preparation for Monday’s tilt in Raleigh. Taylor Chorney (1 assist, +3) logged 9:49 in the 3rd period and played a total of 18:40, a season high for him. Nate Schmidt, who had a key shot block that stung him early in period three, was able to be rested a bit and only played 15:19…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time at a low figure of 22:13. Matt Niskanen logged 21:27, but no other Capital played over 20 minutes…the Rangers won the shot attempt battle, 66-52, but it was 23-12, New York, after one period (h/t to Dan Rosen of NHL.com)…the Caps lost the face off battle, 35-30, but Kuznetsov went 11-7…Washington was 2 for 3 on the power play while the Rags went 1 for 5.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Be sure to listen to 1570 AM Baltimore on Monday since I’ll be on air talking all things Washington Capitals with host and station owner, Nestor Aparacio. Listen Live via WNST.NET on your computer or mobile device.

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Braden Holtby continues to own Saturday's. Caps hang on to win in Tampa, 2-1.

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Holtby Excels Again in Win Over Bolts

Posted on 12 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

“Feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’ And we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive”- Barry Gibb

Braden Holtby has Saturday Night Fever.

In a game that was dominated in the third period by the Tampa Bay Lightning, with some assistance from referees Tim Peel and Francois “Send Him Back to Quebec” Charron, the Holtbeast saved 14 of 15 shots in the final frame to preserve a 2-1 victory for the Caps. Overall, Holtby made 35 saves and is 10-0-1 in his last 11 starts.

He’s practically unbeatable, at least in regulation, on Saturday nights and the Saskatchewan native clearly loves being in the spotlight when it’s Hockey Night in Canada.

For the season, Holtby is now 18-4-1 with a .930 save percentage and a 1.90 goals against average.

If not for his play in recent weeks, the Caps don’t improve to 20-6-2 and claim first place in the Metropolitan Division, especially with Brooks Orpik out on the back end since early November with a lingering lower body injury.

Luckily, in Orpik’s absence, Nate Schmidt has really stepped up and filled in nicely in the top 4 on D. On Saturday, Schmidt was fabulous (+1 in 21:20 of ice time), despite getting jumped by JT Brown in the middle stanza and being forced to fight when Peel and Charron ignored the roughing penalty from Brown that started it all by the Caps net. Peel and Charron were especially bad the last 40 minutes by failing to give the Caps a power play over that duration despite numerous Tampa infractions, including a high stick by Brown on Tom Wilson and a few clutch and grab hooks on potential Washington scoring chances. I thought that those were supposed to be out of the game??!!

But the Caps didn’t help themselves in the final period, either. A team that had really been successful at putting games away when leading this season reverted to how they looked, at times, last year. They were not skating and they struggled to string passes together. That was unacceptable against a Bolts squad that was down to 10 forwards once Ondrej Palat left the contest with an injury. I’m sure Coach Barry Trotz will focus on that on Sunday, especially after Thursday night’s poor effort, 4-1, loss in Florida.

On the positive side, Jay Beagle played a strong game with his hustle and he chipped in a goal to open the scoring by going to the net and putting home the rebound of a Stan Galiev shot from the corner. Beagle also had a great cycling shift, along with Wilson, late in regulation that bought the Caps a good minute or so when the previous several shifts they were really on their heels in their own zone. That forced the Bolts to wait until later to pull their goalie, Ben Bishop (18 saves). Beagle is a total bargain at $1.75M a year for his hustle, hard work, face off skills, PK ability, and the occasional timely goals.

Wilson was excellent in this one too (including drawing a penalty after a clean hit on Mike “Total Stiff” Blunden) and Evgeny Kuznetsov had a sensational tally that made it 2-0. That sweet goal eventually became the game winner. The Caps hit some posts early, most notably Alex Ovechkin and Andre Burakosky, but they just didn’t get enough pucks to the net; the shots on goal were 36-20 and shot attempts were a lopsided 77-49. That’s not good, at all.

Holtby was great not only late, but early too, robbing Valteri Filppula (4 shots on goal) on a couple of occasions in the first frame.

This was not one of Washington’s better efforts and they owe the win to a few skaters who excelled, but primarily the Holtbeast. You could pretty much crank the legendary BeeGees “Stayin’ Alive” track the entire third period because that’s what the Caps did as they relied on the man between the pipes to grab a victory.

Yes, Holtby clearly has Saturday Night Fever and thanks to him, Washington won for the 8th straight time after they’ve lost a game this season.

Notes: Matt Niskanen led the Caps with 24:28 of ice time…Justin Williams had five shots on goal, many of which were quality chances…Ovechkin (19:18) had an off night generating only six shot attempts and one on net…TJ Oshie led the Caps in hits with four…Washington was 0 for 2 with the man advantage while Tampa went 1 for 4…the Caps lost the face off battle, 38-32, but Beagle went 12-6…next up for the Capitals are the Penguins on Monday night at the Consol Energy Center. The Pens fired coach Mike Johnston on Saturday and replaced him with former New York Rangers assistant, Mike Sullivan. Pittsburgh will be without top offensive defensemen Kris Letang, as well.

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Braden Holtby wins on Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada once again.

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Holtby Helps Caps Win Fifth Straight & Take Over 1st Place

Posted on 28 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby owns Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday, plain and simple.

The Holtbeast made 32 saves, 15 of which came in a Maple Leafs first period shooting gallery, and held the Caps in the game until they got their legs going over the last 40 minutes. Washington recieved even strength goals from bottom six forwards Jason Chimera (7th) and Tom Wilson (1st) before adding two power play tallies by Marcus Johansson (5th) and Justin Williams (7th) to defeat Toronto, 4-2. Johansson’s goal came without him using his stick for the second straight night and as I’ve often said, good things happen when you go to the front of the net.

This was a very strange game for the first 25+ minutes before Washington took over the contest. Pucks were bouncing everywhere on a bad sheet of Air Canada Centre ice and some terrible turnovers by both clubs led to a couple of tallies.

Once again, the Capitals dominated a third period with a lead. They were up two pucks going into the final frame and despite the fact that the Leafs had 14 shots on net to just eight for the Caps, the margin was never in jeopardy. Most of Toronto’s chances came from far out on the perimeter after tired rushes up the ice, while Washington put on a cycling clinic in the offensive zone holding the puck for long stretches at a time. Normally shot attempts are indicative of puck possession, but this third period was not the case, the Caps totally wore the Leafs out with their big forwards and stifling puck support from their defense. It was another really solid final frame to salt away a victory.

Playing on back to back nights, Coach Barry Trotz elected to go with his elite goalie for the first time this season in that situation. The decision, criticized by some on twitter, paid off royally. Holtby was outstanding and won for a personal best seventh straight time. The Caps have now won five in a row and with the Rangers going in the tank this week by losing three straight tilts, Washington has stormed past them and into first place in the Metropolitan Division at 17-5-1 (35 points). They are a point up on New York and they also have a game in hand.

The Caps power play continues to generate chances and the last two nights it has gone an astounding five for seven. Washington is 12-0 this season when they score a power play goal.

Overall, the Caps have to be extremely pleased with where they are at standings wise. Some will say they’ve played a weak schedule, but my counter is you can only beat the teams that you’re slated to face by the league. This Washington club is very strong and still improving. I’m sure they’d like to clean up many of the turnovers they’ve had recently that have led to odd man rushes against.

This team is supremely talented and when they play the system, as coached, they are awfully tough to beat.

The Caps will now have Sunday off before returning to practice on Monday. They just finished a seven games in eleven nights stretch by going 6-1. Based on that, Coach Trotz may give the boys Monday off too since their next game is not until Thursday in Montreal. The Habs are really good and they drummed the Rangers, 5-1, last Wednesday despite losing goalie Carey Price to a knee injury in that contest. It’s doubtful last season’s Hart Trophy winner will face the Capitals at the Bell Centre.

Notes: Shot attempts were 57-52 for Toronto. Most of the Leafs advantage came in the first period, plus their third period shots were almost predominantly from three point range…Alex Ovechkin had an assist and 10 shot attempts (only three on net) in 21:57 of ice time…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:29 and John Carlson (1 assist) logged 23:27…Toronto won the face off battle, 31-29. Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist) went 12-13…Be sure to tune in to WNST 1570 AM in Baltimore on Monday morning as Nestor Aparacio and I do our weekly Caps segment. Listen Live at WNST.NET.

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