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Caps Beat blues

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Caps Offense Stays Hot in 7-3 Win Over Blues

Posted on 19 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby stopped all 11 shots he faced in the first period when St. Louis carried the play and the Caps erupted for six goals in the first 40 minutes to turn Thursday night’s affair in the Midwest into a laugher.

Andre Burakovsky, Jay Beagle, T.J. Oshie, Brett Connolly, Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, and Evgeny Kuznetsov all lit the lamp for Washington as they buried the Blues, 7-3.

Believe it or not, this was not a good first 21 minutes for Washington. They were sloppy with the puck and Coach Ken Hitchcock’s squad was dominating them with an aggressive forecheck. The shot attempts in the first frame were 20-9 for the home squad and it was clear, after Monday’s defensive meltdown in the Steel City, that the Capitals were still clearly missing number one defensemen, John Carlson, on the back end.

The Holtbeast, who was chased in that mess of an officiating affair on Monday in Da Burgh, rebounded as he always does after a game in which he’s pulled to carry the Capitals through a very shaky first frame. The Blues put a lot of rubber on #70, but he did have a good look at most pucks and very few were from the prime scoring area.

At the other end, the Caps received Burakovsky’s 8th of the season on a shot Jake Allen (4 goals allowed on 10 shots) definitely wanted back. Then just 124 seconds later Tom Wilson made a great hit on the fore check and then Daniel Winnik made a sweet pass to Beagle in the slot and #83 buried it. Out went Allen and the Blues, who had carried the play in the first four minutes, started taking over again after those two Capitals goals. Carter Hutton came in for a couple of minutes, but then Hitchcock went back to Allen.

St. Louis looked like they were going to make a game of this one when Jaden Schwartz scored just 19 seconds into period two. Karl Alzner was tied up with Alex Steen in front and Holtby never saw the biscuit. Just over three minutes later, though, the Capitals top line had a great rush up the ice and Nicklas Backstrom fed Oshie (1 goal, 1 assist) in the slot and with Allen thinking the puck was going to be moved to Alex Ovechkin (2 assists), #77 backhanded it home easily. From there it was all Caps the rest of the frame as the Blues seemed to come undone by their goaltending problems.

Connolly made it 4-1 on a breakaway as he blew by Carl “boat anchor” Gunnarsson and beat Allen top shelf to send #34 to the bench. 11 ticks later Kuznetsov made a nice play on the wall to force the Blues into a turnover and Jojo gobbled the puck up and fired it by Hutton and the rout was on.

Williams would then score on the power play to make it 6-1 with 26 and a half minutes still to play. Kuzy would get the final tally and make it 7-1 six minutes and 20 seconds in period three before the Blues scored two late garbage time goals.

The big key for Washington in this one was a recipe that has worked well for them in 2017: getting pucks and bodies to the net at the right times. The Caps scored six of their seven goals from in the prime scoring area. You will naturally have a higher shooting percentage when you are getting your looks from the difficult to get to parts of the rink. Ovechkin had two assists, but he was a huge factor on three of the Capitals tallies. St. Louis was keying on him, the Gr8 did have a hat trick in this barn last April, and that opened up lanes for other players, particularly Williams on the power play and Oshie’s goal that really took the wind from the Blues sails.

Washington continues to get great work from their third line of Connolly, Lars Eller, and Burakovsky. They were each +2. The fourth line also had a big early tally so the bottom six, which was great in Pittsburgh on Monday and has been playing well during this 10-0-1 run the Caps are on, is more than doing their share.

Bottom line, despite the shot attempts ending up 48-29 for the Blues, this game came down to one team getting to the prime scoring areas of the ice better than the other and one team having far superior goaltending. It was a victory the Capitals needed to erase the memory of the zebra aided loss to the Pens in OT on Monday. The win also came on the first half of the annual “Dad’s” trip and on Friday in Dallas, there will be a lot of laughs after this laugher of a contest.

The Caps are now 30-9-6 (66 points) and they lead the Columbus Blue Jackets (30-10-4) by two points in the Metropolitan Division, Eastern Conference, and the NHL standings. The Capitals plus 48 goal differential is also tops in the best pro sports league on Earth.

Notes: Steen and Schwartz each had three points for the Blues…the Caps got creamed on draws, 35-23, but Beagle was 9-7…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 21:12…Coach Barry Trotz had a huge lead so he just rolled the lines, which keeps guys fresher and reduces the chances of injury…Oshie, Brooks Orpik, and Kuznetsov were also +2 like the 3rd line….the Caps only took one penalty and killed it off. They were 1 for 2 with the man advantage…next up for the Caps are the Stars in Dallas on Saturday at 8 pm.

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Beags hawks

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Beagle and Holtby lead the Caps to their 8th Straight Win

Posted on 14 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Chicago Blackhawks came to the Verizon Center on Friday night as the top team in the Western Conference and were riding a four game winning streak.

After 20 minutes they trailed, 3-0, and were pretty much destroyed by the Washington Capitals after three periods, 6-0. Braden Holtby made 24 saves, many of which were of the ten bell variety in the middle frame when Chicago was trying to get back in the contest, while Karl Alzner went +4 in his team record 500th straight game and Jay Beagle had two goals to lead the offense.

Simply put, this was a beat down and the Capitals turned in one of their finest first periods of the season out shot attempting Coach Joel Quenneville’s squad, 30-11.

The Caps, who earned their eighth straight victory and are now 28-9-5 (61 points) overall, have steadily been improving their game and over the last 8 days it has really come together in huge wins over Columbus, Montreal, Pittsburgh and Chicago by scores of 5-0, 4-1, 5-2, and 6-0. Keep in mind that those four clubs are among the top five in the NHL (the Caps are the other). As Holtby said afterwards, the Capitals were motivated to play those teams and when they’re motivated they are a much better team.

Following last spring’s bitter defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Caps Coach Barry Trotz and GM Brian MacLellan both talked about the need to play faster to keep up with “PIT,” as the Caps bench boss calls them. MacLellan traded with Montreal to add Lars Eller at center and he signed free agent wing Brett Connolly to a one year deal. Since the Caps brass has decided to stop experimenting with some of the younger guys from Hershey and gone with the best 12 skaters, this team has taken off. A big part of that has been the emergence of the Connolly-Eller-Andre Burakovsky unit as a fast and dangerous third line. In addition, Evgeny Kuzentsov has elevated his play significantly.

On the backend, rearranging the defensive pairs has given Coach Trotz what he calls a balanced group of six versus focusing on having a top four and that strategy, along with rolling all four lines, has paid off. The Caps are fresher and as a result the coach states that his club has extra energy to back check more effectively. This club is doing that part of the game significantly better than it ever has in the Alex Ovechkin era. They are turning good defense into offense and on Friday night it paid off with five tallies off of the rush. Speed kills in the NHL and the Capitals are starting to really find that part of their game.

When they do have breakdowns, and believe me against a quality team like Chicago there were several of those – especially in period two, the Holtbeast has been downright stellar in net and he’s had 3 shutouts in his last five starts. In fact, you have to go back to the Toronto game on Tuesday, January 3rd to find an instance where he allowed an even strength marker to his opponents. Holtby is dialed in and as I tweeted during period two, in that frame, on a scale of 1 to 10, the Holtbeast was an 11.

There was a lot to like in this game, the Beagle line, which struggled at times against the Penguins, was just dynamite on Friday. Tom Wilson had one of his best outings and on the score sheet it resulted in a goal and two assists. #43 continues to play superbly on the penalty kill and #83 was such a hound dog on the two Chicago power plays that after one of those shorthanded shifts the crowd gave him a well deserved ovation. Beagle had a game high eight shots on goal in 13:24 of action.

Washington’s top line had another quality game and pumped in two goals. Ovechkin made a slick pass to T.J. Oshie who subsequently fed Nicklas Backstrom for an easy lamp lighter just 13 seconds after the Caps opened the scoring. That goal was a thing of beauty and deflated the Hawks. The Caps then showed killer instinct and Burakovksy’s great hit and steal on the right wing end boards allowed him to feed Eller for an in close shot. Corey Crawford (5 goals allowed on 30 shots) made the initial stop, but Connolly, who is such a smart hockey player, was right there at the far post for the rebound to put the Blackhawks three pucks down and in serious trouble.

Chicago threw the kitchen sink at the Caps early in period two and they did score, but the tally was correctly wiped out when Coach Trotz successfully challenged for goaltender interference. The replay clearly shows Marian Hossa hitting Holtby’s blocker, which prevented #70 from sliding over to stop the back door shot. Washington would survive that onslaught, thanks primarily to Holtby and then after killing a Nate Schmidt holding penalty, the Caps went the other way and scored. Eller made a great bank pass off of the right wing boards to #88 in the neutral zone. As Schmidty was halfway into the offensive zone, he lost an edge and started falling backwards. Nate then alertly fired the puck towards the slot and it nicked Brian Campbell’s stick on the way over and ended up on Wilson’s twig. Willy buried it to make it 4-0 with 2:59 remaining in the middle stanza.

At that point, it was pretty much game over and Oshie and Beagle added third period tallies to close out the scoring, with the last goal by #83 coming against Scott Darling (3 saves).

This run by the Capitals has been super impressive, but again, we are still in January; the playoffs are three months out. But what’s different from last season is that this club is deeper. They have four lines and an experienced group of defensemen that allows Coach Trotz to manage ice time and reduce the chance for injuries. In addition, there should be plenty in the tank for Ovechkin and Backstrom come April given the reduced average ice time they’ve been receiving.

Things are certainly looking up in Caps land. Now they just need to stay healthy and keep working on the details and habits, as Connolly calls them, in their system.

Notes: Washington crushed Chicago in face offs, 31-12. Backstrom was 9-2 and Eller was 9-1…Ovi only played 16:09 and Backstrom just 14:59…the Kuznetsov line was the only one to not score, but they had 7 shots on net out of 34 total for Washington..Final shot attempts were 60-55, for the Caps…15 of the 18 Capitals skaters were at least +1 (Marcus Johansson, Kuznetsov, and Justin Williams were not on for a goal)…the Capitals had 0 power plays on Friday night and in two games against the Blackhawks, have had no man advantage situations….Chicago was 0 for 2 on the power play…that’s 8 straight games where the opposition has had more PPs than the Caps…next up for the Caps are the Flyers at 1 pm on Sunday afternoon. The game will be televised on NBC…Washington is still in second in the Metro Division and in the NHL since Columbus defeated Tampa, 3-1, on Friday night.

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Kuzy Habs

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

Posted on 09 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now he just needs to keep the train rolling…

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

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

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Chorney scores

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Chorney and Alzner Tally as Caps top the Sens, 2-1

Posted on 02 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals followed up their 6-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon, which was one of their better efforts in recent weeks, with another strong outing against the speedy Senators on Sunday night at the Phone Booth.

Ottawa, who currently sit in 2nd place in the Atlantic Divisions and were in DC resting while the Caps came back from New Jersey early Saturday evening, brought a tenacious energy and gave the Capitals all they could handle.

Washington, however, after trailing 1-0 on a Kyle Turris goal at 12:41 of the second period, found a way to claw back and pull out a 2-1 victory behind 23 saves from Braden Holtby.

It was far from easy and the Caps had to overcome some penalties, but their stellar PK, which went nine for nine on Saturday at The Rock, was four for four at the Verizon Center on Sunday night, including killing off a full two minute five on three advantage midway through the final frame. Brooks Oprik (1 assist) was jailed on a questionable tripping call on Bobby Ryan along the right wing boards and then Evgeny Kuznetsov compounded the situation with a pretty clear slash during the delayed penalty sequence. The Senators power play, which has some serious firepower, including Norris Trophy winning defensemen Erik Karlsson, was held in check by some great work by Jay Beagle and Nicklas Backstrom up front and superb defensive play from Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and Taylor Chorney down low. Beagle was out there for 1:28 of the two minutes and continues to do whatever it takes to win, including sacrificing his body to block three Senators shots. Last, but not least, if not for a big save by the Holtbeast on Mike Hoffman, this game likely heads to overtime.

The penalty killing also played a huge role in the Caps tying this game up late in period two. Ottawa received their second man advantage of the contest when Backstrom was whistled for holding. With the score 1-0 and the Senators really pushing the play, it was a critical juncture for the Capitals. But the unit coached by Lane Lambert was aggressive and outstanding and Justin Williams received a breakaway right after the penalty to #19 expired. “Stick” went in alone on Mike Condon (26 saves) and was denied, but Mr. Hustle, T.J. Oshie, came in and collected the rebound. #77 then skated around the back of the net and spotted King Karl coming down the left wing boards. Oshie then placed it perfectly on a tee for Alzner to blast the biscuit into the cage with 20 seconds left in period two.

It was a huge momentum swing for the Capitals and they built on it early in the third period when Chorney scored his first goal of the season on a point shot that Condon never saw, thanks to a superb screen by Tom Wilson. Beagle was also in front as the Caps continued to put an emphasis on getting traffic on the opposing goaltender, like they did so successfully in Saturday’s blowout triumph over the Devils.

Ottawa, coached by former Tampa Bay Lightning bench boss Guy Boucher, plays a 1-3-1 scheme that forces opponents to focus on putting pucks behind the Senators defenders or risk turnovers and odd man rushes against. Washington was fairly disciplined on Sunday night and pretty much took what was given to them. The Capitals received another excellent outing from the third line of Brett Connolly, Lars Eller, and Andre Burakovsky. Since being recently scratched for three games, Burakovsky has returned to the lineup with a vengeance and has looked like a completely different player. Gone is the hesitation and poor decision making from his game. He is playing faster and bigger and paying the price to make the right play. On one sequence in period one he had the puck in the neutral zone in front of the Ottawa bench and two Senators were closing in on him. Instead of peeling off or making the soft play and turning the puck over, #65 knew he was going to get hit and he put the puck in along the right wing boards before getting crunched. That play led to a Washington scoring chance and is an example of competing the right way. Coach Trotz was certainly pleased with how “Burky” handled that situation and the way he’s upped his game since returning to the lineup.

After the contest, Connolly spoke about the way his line is going.

“It’s fun…I feel like when me and Lars played together [earlier in the year] we were good. It’s just one of those things and I think now we are solidifying a little bit of an identity there with me and Burky. I think we’ve been good every night and tonight I thought we were good again, we had some chances. We’re playing good defensively, playing for each other, so if we can keep doing that we’re going to get some goals, we’re going to help out defensively, there’s no question we’re getting chances every night, we’ll have one game where if we keep playing the way we’re playing we’ll break out and go from there, but it’s fun.”

With the third line looking like a keeper and the solid play of the fourth line of Wilson, Beagle, and Daniel Winnik, it’s up to the Caps top two lines to carry this club over the top. On Sunday, the first line of Backstrom, Oshie, and Alex Ovechkin was good despite not scoring any goals. The Gr8 drew a key late penalty on the Senators when he outhustled the Ottawa defensemen and that forced Mark Stone to hold him as he was getting a scoring chance. Washington would not score on the ensuing power play, but they took a valuable two minutes off of the clock.

As for the second line of Marcus Johansson, Kuznetsov, and Williams, they were okay. Kuzy did have three shots on goal, but there were some other instances where he should have put the puck to the net and instead tried a low risk pass that caused issues. On one occasion in the third period, he incorrectly chose not to throw the puck on goal while at the side of the net and his attempted pass then missed the Washington point man. If Holtby doesn’t alertly come out to play the puck there, Ottawa has a breakaway. #92, who has only four goals in his last 68 games, has to stop being so pass focused. This is a shoot first league and if he wants the ice to open up for him again, he has to fire more often and also go to the more populated areas of the ice instead of peeling away from traffic and slipping into the softer areas of the rink. Coach Barry Trotz needs him to get back to producing goals and if he doesn’t do that, Washington’s chances of going far in the playoffs greatly diminish. There are still 46 games remaining, but it would be nice if Kuznetsov started playing the right way, more often.

With the victory, the Caps improve to 22-9-5 (49 points) and they will take on the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night at 7 pm. The Leafs beat them badly on a difficult travel weekend for Washington back in November. That was the night the Holtbeast voiced his displeasure with his squads effort following the defeat.

On Sunday night, just like Saturday afternoon, the Capitals effort couldn’t be questioned and they found a way to get two big victories and four standings points. They played the right way over the weekend, and as a result they were successful. Now they need to carry that process going forward.

“I wasn’t here last year, but I think it was really easy for the guys here last year. This year we’re getting teams best games every night, they’re not going to let up on us based on the big year we had last year and the players we have here. We just have to find our game at the right time of the year, we have to keep working on things, it’s not going to be perfect every night, and we’re going to lose some games, for sure, its hockey, it’s a weird sport. But we’ll correct some things, we’ve got some good leaders in here, it just comes down to habits with this team. I think if we can find our habits, we can be a winning team. I think that’s the one thing we need is to have our habits every night, we have to be doing the little things, we can’t be turning away from pucks, we’ve got to come back to our own end, play in our own end, play hard for Holts, if we can do that we can be fine, but that’s what we’ve got to focus on, our habits,” summarized Connolly on the key to success for Washington.

Notes: the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 33-21. Beagle noted that the Senators had a lot of righty centers so that made things tough for the Capitals, who have three left handed pivot men…shot attempts were 63-57 for Ottawa. The Caps blocked 23 shots with a committed effort. Beagle, Winnik, and Alzner led the team with three blocks each. Connolly noted “We’re getting a lot of big blocks from those guys” on the PK…Orpik led the Caps with seven hits, including burying Curtis Lazar in the second period…Ottawa’s fourth line barely played. Chris Neil logged 6:35, Lazar played just 5:57, and Casey Bailey only saw 4:41 of ice time. One would have to think the fact that the Caps roll four lines helped them in the final frame when they played their best period…Chorney played 13:45 and in addition to his goal, made a super play in period one where he broke up a Senators four on two rush with a great stand up at the Capitals blue line…Eller led the Caps with four shots on goal…the Caps forechecked well and also didn’t get frustrated with the way the game was called, which was a big reason they won.

 

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Carlson Bolts

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Carlson Scores Twice as Holtby Blanks the Bolts

Posted on 23 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

John Carlson scored twice in the first period and Braden Holtby stopped all 23 shots he faced as the Washington Capitals snapped a two game losing streak to defeat the depleted Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-0, at the Verizon Center on Friday night.

Let’s be honest, given all of the injuries the Bolts have, including starting goalie Ben Bishop, top goal scorer Steven Stamkos, top point earner Nikita Kucherov as well as Ryan Callahan and Ondrej Palat, it was going to be very difficult for Tampa to knock off the Caps. Add in the fact that Coach Jon Cooper’s crew played in Tampa on Thursday night and then had to fly to Washington in the wee hours of the night for the game and it was a recipe for a Capitals rout.

That pretty much was the case as Washington raced out to the lead just 55 seconds into the contest when Karl Alzner made a nice cross ice pass to Carlson at the offensive blue line. With Jay Beagle screening in front, the Carlson blast went off of Tampa goalie Andre Vasilevskiy’s glove and into the cage. It was a simple goal, but that type of shot and net presence is how you best beat NHL goalies these days.

The Capitals would dominate the first 10 minutes and the Bolts struggled to get a shot on goal, garnering just a total of two for the period. With 4:18 remaining in the opening frame, Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) made a strong play along the boards in the left wing corner and fed the puck to Marcus Johansson behind the Bolts cage. From there Jojo spotted Carlson all alone creeping in from the right point and #74 tattooed the pass past Vasilevskiy into the net to give Washington a two goal cushion.

That first period by the Caps was what they needed, although the Lightning did get two power plays, and Washington did a good job of making the hill very hard for Tampa to climb early in this one on Friday.

In the second period, the Capitals continued to throw pucks at the Bolts backup goalie, who had played well in the past two post seasons when called on, but they struggled to solve him further. Finally at 10:48, they connected when Dmitry Orlov made a strong defensive play in his own zone to steal the puck and then he flipped it over the Bolts D to an all alone Alex Ovechkin, who snuck on behind the Tampa D when Brett Connolly changed. The Gr8 skated in and when Vasiliveskiy went for the poke check, Ovi went to his backhand and beat the net minder like a rented mule to make it 3-0 and pretty much end this affair.

The Bolts lost forward Jonathan Drouin to injury along the way and their best defensemen, Victor Hedman, also missed time due to an ailment. It was a bad scene for Cooper’s crew, who has to be thrilled that they have reached the NHL’s three day Holiday break.

The Capitals ended the scoring in the final frame when Johansson came out of the box and Backstrom sent him in all alone on Vasilevskiy with a sweet cross ice pass. Jojo made no mistake about the shot for his 13th tally of the season to end the scoring. At that point, Cooper cried mercy and put in Kristers Gudlevskis in goal to get him some work.

Overall, this was a workmanlike victory for the Caps and the Holtbeast didn’t need to do a whole lot to earn a shutout. However, the way Braden has been bailing the Capitals out so much lately, including earning them a point in Filthy on Wednesday in a shootout loss to the Flyers and keeping them in the game with the Habs last Saturday in a 2-1 loss, he deserved an easy win.

Up front, Caps Coach Barry Trotz had to be pleased with the play of the Brett Connolly-Beagle-Tom Wilson line since they were on the ice to set up two of the goals (Carlson’s first and the Ovi breakaway) and the play of the Johansson-Backstrom-TJ Oshie unit, who were responsible for the two other goals. The third trio, Jakub Vrana-Lars Eller- Andre Burakovsky, that was so dominant in notching the only two goals in the terrible shootout loss in Philadelphia on Wednesday, was just okay on this night. They were a bit sloppy.

On the backend, all three defensive pairs played well and since the switch up of Orlov and Carlson in early December, both have drastically improved their respective games. It’s not surprising, given that you now have an offensive minded blue liner paired with a defensive minded one. The third pairing of Brooks Orpik and Taylor Chorney was good, as well.

The Capitals penalty kill continues to roll on and Tampa had the equivalent of John Blutarsky’s grade point average in terms of shots on goal with the man advantage, Zero Point Zero!

Now, in honor of Festivus, it’s time to air the grievances.

Let’s start with the Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Justin Williams line. This group is just out of sync. Williams works his rear off, but #92, who pretty much was the reason the Caps lost in Philly on Wednesday due to his horrible defensive zone giveaways, is just making all kinds of wrong plays. That has led to long shifts in their own zone and Ovechkin’s uneven play hasn’t helped either. Like another famed Seinfeld episode, they have “low flow” right now and they are giving up too many good chances against because of poor decision making.

Finally, I’m not sure what game referees Kelly Sutherland and Ghislain Hebert were watching on Friday? Somehow, despite the fact that the Caps dominated possession and the overall play, the Bolts received three power plays to just two for Washington. It was ludicrous how many infractions those two missed on Tampa, including a blatant high stick on Orpik in the third period that led to Coach Trotz unloading with a mighty string of harsh words and likely expletives for Sutherland, who was clearly checking his unfinished shopping list throughout this one. It was a poor performance from the guys in stripes and they’re lucky that they weren’t victims to the feats of strength. The good news is the Caps played well enough that the clowns on ice didn’t matter.

At the end of the night, with 50 games to go, the Capitals did what they had to do, get two points. They are now 20-8-4 (44 points) and are six points behind the Metropolitan Division and NHL leading Columbus Blue Jackets, who have won 12 games in a row. On that note cue Bob and Doug Mckenzie’s Twelve Days of Christmas. Somebody get me a beer and a jelly donut…and take off you hosers!

Notes: the Caps scored all four of their goals at even strength…Carlson led the team in ice time with 23:50…Kuznetsov only played 13:40 and he was 3-8 on draws. He needs a “reset” so maybe this Christmas break will do that for him…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 31-28. Eller was 6-1…Orlov played 18:24 and was outstanding…Oshie turned 30 on Friday night. It’s too bad he didn’t get a contract extension for his birthday. He’s a tireless worker and there is no replacement for him in the entire organization. Sign the man!…Daniel Winnik, Zach Sanford, and Nate Schmidt were the scratches…next up for the Caps are the Islanders in Brooklyn on Tuesday night at 7:00 pm.

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Niskanen and Holtby Help Caps Win Their Fifth Straight

Posted on 14 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Matt Niskanen picked the right time to finally score his first goal of the season.

The Caps defensemen tallied to give the Caps an early third period 3-2 lead after some great board work by T.J. Oshie and then he closed the deal with 1:58 remaining in regulation on a power play with his second of the night and of the campaign.

Braden Holtby made 26 saves and several of them, which were all world stops, especially the two on Josh Bailey on the door step, occurred in the third period when it was 3-2. The Holtbeast, after Niskanen, was the biggest reason Washington won their fifth straight game and exited Brooklyn with a 4-2 victory over the Islanders.

This contest didn’t start so well for Washington. In net for New York was long time nemesis Jaroslav Halak (34 saves), who recently shut them out on December 1st at the Verizon Center, 3-0, with 38 stops. The Caps, who at times get caught up in a perimeter game, did quite a bit of that in a first period. Although they outshot the Islanders, 14-12, they trailed 1-0 when Anders Lee beat Holtby on a shot in the slot where John Carlson’s stick either caused a redirection or at least threw off the ability of Braden to track the shot. Overall, though, New York had the better of the play and their forecheck gave Washington problems in their own zone.

Period two was a totally different story. The Caps came out more determined to pin the Islanders back in their own end and their forechecking game was relentless. Time and time again Washington generated scoring chances on Halak, who did all he could to keep his team in the game. The Capitals were more physical than they’ve been in recent outings and the wear on the Islanders blue line became apparent as the game progressed.

The Caps got on the board when Lars Eller blocked a shot in his own zone and it sprung he and Brett Connolly on a two on one rush against a tired Nick Leddy. Connolly, who I’ve been wanting back in the lineup for quite awhile because of his forechecking skills and willingness to go to the net, went straight to the cage and tapped his stick on the ice signaling #20 to feed him the biscuit. Eller did just that and Connolly redirected it upstairs over Halak for his third goal of the season in 16 games, which is one more than the first time scratched Andre Burakovsky has put up in 26 games (and he has 0 goals in his last 25 tilts).

Jakub Vrana assisted on that marker and he also earned an assist on the second Caps goal, which came on the power play. Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) made a nice rush behind the offensive net and fed #13 in the slot. Vrana, who has a quick and deadly shot, fired the puck at the cage and it apparently hit Justin Williams on the way in. It was Mr. Crazy Hair’s fourth goal in five games and his sixth of the season. Good things happen when you shoot and go to the net.

After a Kuznetsov giveaway and bad coverage by that Caps line, the Islanders tied it up on a Leddy shot that went through a lot of traffic. That was one of the few New York opportunities in that frame.

With the score tied 2-2, the Capitals came out and really took it to New York to get the lead on Niskanen’s early final frame tally and then midway through the period the Islanders fought back and had a great push, but the Holtbeast would not be beaten. Washington then was relentless on the puck after those five or six Holtby gems, and Daniel Winnik drew a late penalty to set up the Niskanen insurance tally.

Winnik was really flying again in this one and he, Jay Beagle, and Tom Wilson have formed a great fourth line. Eller, Vrana, and Connolly gave Coach Barry Trotz a strong outing as well and with Nicklas Backstrom, Oshie, and Marcus Johansson playing so solid at both ends, it was easy to see how the Caps led the game in shots on goal at 38-28 and in shot attempts, 67-52.

The Caps, over the last three games, have really started to play their game. When they forget about being fancy and shying away from the hard areas of the ice and focus on using their speed and size to get to the interior of their opponents, they are very hard to beat. Once guys started going to the net in the second period on, life got really difficult for Halak. To me, the key to the victory was the second frame where Washington was all over the Islanders and wore them down.

At the other end of the ice, New York is pretty good at getting bodies and pucks to the net. There were certainly stretches where they did that and it was up to Holtby to save the Caps in those instances, and he did. But for most of the last 40 minutes, Washington did a very good job at limiting shots and quality chances.

The Capitals, with this victory, improve to 18-7-3 (39 points), and are now in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division, but only two points in back of the 1st place Penguins and Rangers. The Rags were beaten by Chicago, 2-1, at MSG on Tuesday evening. In third place are the Blue Jackets. Columbus won their seventh straight over Connor McDavid and company in Edmonton, 3-1, on Tuesday. It’s pretty clear the Metro is the best division in hockey this season.

Notes: The Caps will have a team build in New York on Wednesday and will then head to Raleigh for a Thursday practice and a rematch against the Hurricanes on Friday night (The Canes crushed the Caps, 5-1, back on November 12th in the Tar Heel State). Carolina put up eight goals in an 8-6 victory over the Canucks on Tuesday night…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:00. On his second goal, Coach Trotz smartly put two defensemen on the points (Carlson) on that late power play to protect the one goal cushion and Nisky’s blast to make it 4-2 made it look even smarter…faceoffs were tied at 32 apiece, but Beagle went 13-6…the Caps had 21 hits after only having eight against the Canucks on Sunday afternoon…Oshie had 0 points but was in front of the net on both Niskanen goals. Williams had great net presence on his goal and Niskanen’s last tally, too…Alex Ovechkin only had two shots on goal, but he did have four hits…the Caps were 2 for 3 on the power play while New York was 0 for 2…Connolly only played 7:05, but he had two hits and the goal…I expect Burakovsky to sit again on Friday since #10 earned a jersey in Raleigh, once again, with his strong play.

 

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Ovechkin Leads the Offense as Holtby Shuts Out the Canucks

Posted on 11 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

For the second straight game, there was a lot to like about the Washington Capitals performance in a 3-0 victory over the Vancouver Canucks at the Verizon Center on Sunday night.

Alex Ovechkin, who had picked up his play in recent outings, scored a first period power play goal and then assisted on Justin Williams’ tally that made it 2-0 early in the third period to lead the offense.

Braden Holtby stopped all 20 shots he faced and he was aided by some stellar Caps penalty killing, which went a perfect five for five and only allowed one shot on net in ten minutes of shorthanded time.

For the night, the Capitals team defense was excellent and they took advantage of the fact that Vancouver was playing their 3rd game in four nights. As Coach Barry Trotz mentioned following the win, there is a lot of parity in this league, and sometimes the schedule helps decide the outcome.

Agreed, but you also have to take advantage of that situation and unlike the Islanders game back on December 1st, Washington made no mistake about getting on a club that you figured would be tired.

On the Caps first power play of the game, they scored, and it was set up, once again, by a great zone entry by Marcus Johansson. Jojo, who is one of the best in the league at carrying the puck into the offensive end on a power play, used his superior speed to get across the blue line and then he made a nice pass back to Nicklas Backstrom. Nicky and John Carlson traded passes and then #74 slid the biscuit over to the Gr8 in his office and Ovechkin ripped it through Jacob Markstrom (26 saves).

That goal was huge and the Caps led 1-0 after 20 minutes, although it wasn’t the best of periods. They led in shot attempts, 20-17, but they were one for three with the man advantage and had as many giveaways as they did hits (four).

In the second frame, Washington really took over the contest, but couldn’t add to their lead. They outshot attempted the Canucks 23-9, which was amazing given that the Canucks had three full power plays in the period. The Caps four primary penalty killing forwards, Jay Beagle, Daniel Winnik, Lars Eller, and Tom Wilson were just terrific as were the four primary PK d-men, Brooks Orpik, Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen, and John Carlson. Add in the impenetrable Holtbeast and you have a recipe for an outstanding shorthanded unit.  The Capitals really carried the play over these 20 minutes, but a few times they were guilty of over passing.

Once the third period hit, you felt like Washington should really take over, given the Canucks fatigue situation, and they did. Five minutes into the final stanza, Ovechkin made a good rub out of the Canucks defensemen along the left wing boards and that allowed Evgeny Kuznetsov to the get the puck to the point to Dmitry Orlov. #9 rifled a shot towards the net that was shoved aside by Markstrom, but the Gr8 was there to corral it. Ovi fed Kuznetsov, who was all alone in the slot with only the goalie to beat. The whole right side of the net looked open too, but Kuzy chose to pass back across the ice to Williams, who luckily rifled it by two diving Canucks defenders and behind a sliding to his left Markstrom to give the Caps a much needed two goal cushion.

It was another case of over passing and afterwards Williams noted that the whole building was surprised that #92 passed there. Coach Trotz joked in his post game presser that he’s never surprised anymore when guys on his club give up great shots for a pass to a teammate.

From there, the Canucks gave their final push and their best chance to get back in the game was when Andre Burakovsky took a careless high sticking penalty less than two minutes after the Williams tally. It was in the offensive zone and it was unnecessary. #65 should be buying the entire PK unit dinner because that lazy infraction could’ve put a tired team back in the game. But Wilson and company did their jobs and that set the stage for #43 to get his second goal of the season on an empty net marker with 52 seconds remaining. Wilson really deserved that goal because he was really going hard all night and was a big reason the Canucks got nada with the man advantage.

As for the five penalties, Coach Trotz didn’t like the number and said he’d much prefer only one or two. He noted that offensive zone penalties are typically a red flag for him, but that he’d go back and look at each of them on video. Of the five, the ones to be most concerned about were Burakovsky’s high stick and Orlov’s two neutral zone penalties. I can live with the Johansson ticky tack hooking call and there is nothing Jakub Vrana could really do on his interference penalty, the Vancouver player sold it well.

As for Vrana, well he had a strong game with four shots on goal and he also had two other great chances, but missed the net on each. The Vrana-Eller-Burakovsky unit showed signs of life on Sunday, but they couldn’t bury the biscuit, especially #65, who along with Winnik were the only forwards to not put the puck on Markstrom. Winnik, though, gets a pass because of his great PK work.

Overall, this was an excellent team effort and Coach Trotz made sure to praise the Backstrom line for shutting down the Sedin Twins, calling that hard work something that shouldn’t go under the radar.  He’s right and Backstrom certainly should be in the running for the Selke Trophy.

When you add it all up, it’s the fourth straight victory for Washington and another two points for the Capitals. They are now at 17-7-3 (37 points) and in crazy fashion, though, they are still in fifth in the division in points. They are just two behind the Penguins, Rangers, and red hot Flyers (39 each), and just one behind the scorching Blue Jackets. Yes, there are five teams within two points of each other in the best division in hockey, the Metropolitan Division!

Notes: the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 34-31, but Backstrom went 13-5…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 23:42 and he was superb…Niskanen (+2) returned from missing one game with an upper body injury. He played well and had an assist on the Wilson ENG, as did Winnik…final shot attempts were 58-41 for Washington, including 29-20 in SOG…Ovi had 12 shot attempts and five on net…Eller was 1-10 on faceoffs, ouch!…next up for the Caps are the Islanders on Long Island on Tuesday at 7:00 pm.

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Johansson Rallies the Caps Past Buffalo in OT

Posted on 05 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Marcus Johansson blasted a slapper past Robin Lehner 2:38 into overtime to give the Washington Capitals a 3-2 victory to end their three game losing streak. It was fitting that Johansson, who also scored the game tying goal with 6:18 remaining, tallied the game winner because he’s been outstanding all season and now has 11 goals on the campaign.

The Caps other goal on this night came from their most determined player, Jay Beagle, who tallied his fifth of the season on a redirection of a great pass from Brooks Orpik in the middle frame. That tied the game at one.

Beagle, Johansson, and the injured T.J. Oshie have been the hardest working and best Capitals forwards this season.

Unfortunately for Washington, lately the word “hard working” has not been a part of the game plan for many of the players. Since Oshie went down with a shoulder injury against the Red Wings on Friday, November 18th, the Capitals have missed his energy and aggressiveness that typically rubs off on the other players. Oshie is the best on the team at winning one on one puck battles. His absence has showed as the team was 2-3-1 without #77 heading into Monday’s tilt with the Sabres.

Buffalo was missing three key defensemen in Zach Bogosian, Dmitry Kulikov, and Josh Gorges, however, they came to play at the Verizon Center while the Capitals appeared to continue to take the “It doesn’t matter until the playoffs” mantra a little too seriously.

For several weeks, the Caps effort has been suspect and multiple forwards such as Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, and Tom Wilson have been underperforming in terms of production. After losing to the Penguins last spring, Washington seemed to get caught up a little too much in being a speed team at the expense of an aspect of their game that makes them elite, heavy hockey.

The Capitals forecheck has been MIA for weeks and the lack of hitting from a big hockey club has been evident. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that heading into this contest I had enough of the soft and uninspired play. Unfortunately, for 40 minutes on Monday, that trend continued.

After the second period, in which the Capitals trailed, 2-1, former Capital and stellar Comcast analyst Alan May summed up the Caps last 20 minutes of play, one in which they were outshot, 16-7, in a perfect seven words: “out hustled, out muscled, and out shot.”

You could take that statement and apply it to many of the periods the Caps have played since Oshie went down (and there were duds, at times, before #77 was hurt, too). They were downright awful and so far away from what had made them successful that they were getting manhandled by a cellar dweller team that was missing three NHL caliber defensemen.

Luckily for Washington, they have an all world goalie in Braden Holtby (31 saves), who once again, much like last Saturday in Tampa, kept the Caps in it until they could get their “you know what” together.

Apparently Coach Trotz finally reached a boiling point, as well, and according to Comcast Caps reporter Jill Sorenson he lit into the team after that second frame. It was well deserved because this club was playing as soft as butter.

The coach also tinkered with his lines and also shuffled up his defensive pairings, something I have been calling on for several weeks. John Carlson was reunited with Karl Alzner and Dmitry Orlov was paired with Matt Niskanen. Suddenly there was some stability on the back end now that you had an offensive minded defensemen paired with a solid defender in his own end on each of the top two pairs.

The fixes on the back end certainly helped support the forwards, who began playing with passion and were finally taking the body. Washington was relentless from the 13:00 mark of the third period on and it was because they were skating, hitting, and forcing turnovers. Even Kuznetsov, who has been shying away from physical play quite a bit, put a strong hit on Justin Falk to help force a neutral zone turnover and keep the pressure on Buffalo near the midpoint of the period.

Naturally, the results started coming once they played the way that fits them best. Fortunately, though, the opponents were a depleted Sabres lineup and they were able to get away with a 40 minute absence. That type of effort, though, won’t cut it against the better teams in the league.

Look, you absolutely cannot play “balls to the wall” hard every night in an 82 game season that’s followed by up to two months of playoffs, but you can’t keep taking nights off in a very balanced league. Washington had gotten too lackluster with their performances and heading into Monday found themselves in fifth place in points in the Metropolitan Division. Sure, they have games in hand on many of the teams above them, but given the trend of not showing up and being committed, things were getting dicey. For 40 minutes on Monday, there was little sign that Washington was going to break out of their funk.

Luckily they did, so it is okay to be pleased with the way the Capitals played in the third period and overtime. It’s good to know, like we saw when they blew the doors off of the Penguins, 7-1, a few weeks ago, that they can amp their game up. However, there are still guys on this roster who are struggling, and to get out of it they’ll have to be more committed to the physical aspects of the game and win more of the one on one puck battles. If they do that more consistently, the wins and points will come in bunches.

Notes: Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 26:27…Johansson logged 20:00 and scored on his only two shots, the first of which was a power play deflection of a Carlson blast that was on net (#74 been struggling to do that for several games)…Alex Ovechkin played 21:57 and only had one shot on net. He hasn’t played well since the hat trick game against the Blues. Right before the Sabres made it 2-1, he was at fault on what would’ve been Buffalo’s 2nd goal when he failed to take a proper pass from Brooks Orpik on the boards. Luckily the Caps correctly challenged and won it since the Sabres were offside on their zone entry…Beagle led the Caps with six shots on goal in 17:24 of ice time, including 36 seconds on the 2nd power play unit…Wilson didn’t have a shot on net, but he made a great play on the PK late in the game when it was tied. #43 has been really good at killing penalties, but the Caps need him to be more physically involved at even strength…Brett Connolly was scratched, which was surprising to me given that he played great against Buffalo in the Caps last win before Monday and he had been getting lots of chances, plus he is a good physical fore checker…next up for the Caps are the Bruins at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night at 8 pm (NBC Rivalry Night).

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Grubauer and Connolly Lead the Caps over Buffalo, 3-1

Posted on 25 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan’s plan to upgrade the Caps bottom two lines following last spring’s bitter playoff defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins is starting to pay dividends.

On Friday night at the Verizon Center off season acquisitions Brett Connolly (goal and an assist) and Lars Eller (assist) formed a strong trio with 2016 trade deadine addition, Daniel Winnik (goal), to help lead the Capitals to a hard fought, 3-1 victory over the pesky Buffalo Sabres. Those three forwards all logged around 12 minutes of even strength ice time and at night’s end each had roughly 15 minutes overall. They were hard on the puck all evening and that line set a nice tone for the Caps, who started fast again, by outworking the Sabres and putting bodies and shots to the cage.

At just 5:08 into the contest they broke the ice for Washington when Eller came down the left wing and fired a hard shot on Anders Nilsson (29 saves), who put a juicy rebound into the slot. Connolly was cruising into the “point’s zone” and he got enough of the biscuit to push it towards the right post where a hard skating Winnik came around the net and buried it from a sharp angle.

The Caps would play a strong first period, outshooting the Sabres, 13-6, but only led 1-0, thanks to some stellar play by Nilsson in net.

At the other end of the ice, Philipp Grubauer (32 saves) was very sharp in his first home start in forever on the front end of a back to back contest situation (the Caps are in the Big Smoke on Saturday night at 7 pm to take on the Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada). Buffalo had a power play just two plus minutes after Winnik’s lamp lighter to open the scoring and they have a very good one. However, Grubauer was the primary reason the Sabres weren’t able to tie the game up. For the night, the Caps backup goalie was their best penalty killer stopping seven shots in eight minutes of Buffalo man advantage time.

“I think that’s the privilege we have of having two great goalies. Either one that’s in gives us a really good chance of winning. Grubi’s played phenomenal this year so far and it’s really unfortunate that we couldn’t get him the shutout,” stated Winnik, who in honor of Movember, has grown one of the best moustaches you’ll ever see and it’s eerily reminiscent of the one Johnny had in Slap Shot. Kudos Mr. Winnik.

Marcus Johansson scored what would turn out to be the game winning goal from the slot. Jojo earned his 8th tally of the year when the Caps had a three on two rush up the ice. Justin Williams, who had several more good chances but didn’t score, came down the right wing and tried to pass cross ice to Nicklas Backstrom on the left wing side. The puck fortuitously hit the Sabres defensemen in the skate and bounced right to a streaking #90, who fired it quickly past Nilsson for a 2-0 Washington lead just three minutes and 25 seconds past the game’s midpoint.

The Caps had a 25-18 shots on goal advantage after two periods and a 49-44 edge in shot attempts, but the Sabres would have 5:32 of extra man time in the final frame. As mentioned above, Grubauer was the primary reason Buffalo would get blanked with the man advantage. They did, however, cut the deficit to a single goal with 10:02 to go when Sam Reinhart fired a shot through a Ryan O’Reilly screen and into the cage at even strength.

The Sabres then had a power play when just down a puck, but Gruabauer and the Caps penalty killers, most notably Winnik and Tom Wilson up front, prevented Buffalo from any great chances.

Then with 4:20 left and the crowd finally buzzing after “Unleash the Fury” was played on the video board, the Sabres took a too many men penalty when Washington fired the puck into the skates of a Buffalo player trying to change. At first it didn’t seem like the referees were going to call the infraction, but the crowd wisely groaned very loudly and off to the box Buffalo went. That penalty would provide the dagger for the Caps as Connolly, who earned 1st power play time at a crucial moment in the contest, buried the rebound of an Alex Ovechkin rocket to close out the scoring. #10 celebrated heavily and deservedly so. It was a big goal and he put himself in the right position to score an important tally that allowed the Caps to go 4-1 on this five game home stand that concluded on Friday. The only blemish was a zebra aided 3-2 victory for Columbus on Sunday.

Overall, the Caps put out a strong effort as a team, especially the Eller line as well as Wilson and Jay Beagle. Zach Sanford only saw 6:37 of ice time, but he nearly scored his first goal of the season on a beautiful rush move around a Sabres defensemen in the first period. Unfortunately for Zach, Nilsson made an awesome glove save on his backhand attempt.

The Caps did make some mistakes in this contest; most notably they were guilty of some bad decisions where they tried low percentage cross ice passes. Some of them were picked off and normally that would lead to odd man rushes. However, as Coach Barry Trotz pointed out afterwards, the Caps commitment level was there and that attention to detail prevented Buffalo from getting scoring chances off of those mistakes since another Capital seemed to be always in position to cover for the mishap. Connolly talked following the victory about trying to find the right balance of trying for the cross ice passes versus getting the pucks deep.

“We have so many guys here that can make really good plays. Coaches always talk about blue line turnovers and we got guys that can make plays on those blue lines. Eight times out of 10 they’re making those plays, but if we can just find the right mix of when to make those plays and when maybe to cut your losses and get it deep, then we’ll be better moving forward,” said Connolly, who was certainly one of the best Washington players on this night and is making an impact.

Connolly is absolutely correct, if there’s one criticism of this team, it’s that extra pass just inside the offensive blue line where the puck should’ve been put on or behind the net. Good things happen when you shoot is my motto, and as Coach Trotz likes to say, “The NHL is a shoot first league.”

“If we can just focus on trying to keep the puck out of our net we’ve got enough guys on the team that can score. I think that’s kind of been an area that obviously the coaches have been working with and just trying to cut our losses and not make those high risk plays, but if we’re coming back hard and we’re focused on helping the goalie out and the D out then we’re going to get chances at the other end, it’s just a matter of time and I think that once we figure that out we’ll be even better moving forward, so we’re moving in the right direction,” added Connolly.

Connolly, who MacLellan was able to bring in at a bargain price of $850,000, is right about the focus of the coaches and since Coach Trotz arrived this team has gotten monumentally better at playing away from the puck, something that has killed them in the post season in the past. The Caps have only given up 44 goals in 20 games and only the Minnesota Wild have given up fewer (38). There is the saying that “Defense Wins Championships.”

“We’re playing pretty well. We’re getting better every day. Guys are working hard in practice and we watch a lot of video and are getting better. It’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint. We’ve got a good group of guys here, a good team. We’re going in the right direction,” finished Connolly.

20 games in and sitting at 13-5-2 (28 points) and on pace for a 115 point season, it’s hard to argue with what one of the newest Capitals had to say following a very nice win the day after Thanksgiving.

On to Toronto.

Notes: Buffalo’s O’Reilly was the best Sabre on the ice and he had five shots on net in 23:53 of ice time (led all players on both teams). Coach Trotz raved about #90 and said he is one of the most underrated players in the NHL. Winnik said of O’Reilly, “Phenomenal player, I played with him in Colorado. Really underrated guy who finally got the credit he deserved with the World Cup nod for Canada.”…Washington lost the face off battle, 37-30. Beagle did go 11-6…Oveckhin had zero shot attempts in a rough first period for his line, but he finished with six for the game, including an assist on Connolly’s game clincher…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:09, but John Carlson played 23:00…Taylor Chorney, who was only in the line up for the third time this season, played extremely well with Brooks Orpik. I could make a case that this was his best game since he’s been a Capital. He was very good in his own end and at breaking the puck up the ice…speaking of underrated, that’s Johansson, who played 17:16 and is such a good two way player…the Holtbeast will get the start in net on Saturday against Auston Matthews and company from the Air Canada Centre. The Caps are fired up to play the Leafs and Karl Alzner remarked afterwards, “We’ve been seeing all of their highlights on tv, so it will be fun to finally play them.”

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Holtby Helps the Depleted Caps Blank Detroit, 1-0

Posted on 18 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby made 25 saves and Jay Beagle scored on a rebound with 5:11 left to break a scoreless tie as a depleted Washington Capitals squad knocked off the Detroit Red Wings, 1-0, at the Verizon Center on Friday night.

Lars Eller, T.J. Oshie, and Andre Burakovsky all suffered upper body injuries in the first period and did not return. Eller played one shift, Oshie three, and Burakovsky just seven, meaning that Coach Barry Trotz’ crew had to go with just three lines for over 40 minutes of action. Oshie was clearly the biggest loss since he is the team’s number one right wing and is not replaceable in the organization. T.J. appeared to hurt his left shoulder on a neutral zone hit he was putting on Detroit’s Riley Sheahan. Oshie stuck his tongue out after the hit and then skated to the bench. He then went down the tunnel favoring his left arm. He, Eller, and Burakovsky will be re-evaluated on Saturday, but it sure looks like a call up or perhaps two from an injury riddled Hershey Bears team will be needed. Daniel Winnik, the lone forward scratch on Friday, will be back in the lineup on Sunday against Columbus, and there’s a chance we could see the NHL debut of Jakub Vrana? RW Christian Thomas, who had a strong preseason, LW Paul Carey (previous NHL experience), or center Chandler Stephenson (three assists on Friday for the Bears) are also possibilities to be in the show against John Tortorella’s squad at the Verizon Center (12:30 pm start), depending on the extent of the injuries.

Back to Friday’s game, it was a physical affair from the get go. Burakovsky hit the post early and then the Capitals received a five minute power play when Danny DeKeyser received five minutes for boarding Tom Wilson at the 8:29 mark. Willy went awkwardly into the boards, but luckily avoided a head, neck or shoulder injury.

Without Oshie, the Caps power play at five on four continued to sputter and they really didn’t get many good looks over the first four plus minutes. Justin Williams took a hooking minor with just 30 seconds left in the major and that put the Wings on the man advantage. Washington would kill off that penalty, with the Holtbeast being the primary reason. Detroit would have three morer power plays on this night for a total of 7:02 of man advantage time, but Braden was a wall in net for the Caps.

The Caps, down three forwards, played a smart game the rest of the way by doing what assistant coach Lane Lambert asked of them, which was to get pucks deep and make the Red Wings do the work in their own zone. Washington did a nice job of forechecking and brought a strong effort, but Jimmy Howard was solid in the cage for Detroit and this game took on the “first goal wins” mantra.

Fortunately for the Capitals, they found a way to manufacture a goal. Zach Sanford and Wilson did some great work down low and forced a Detroit turnover. As a result of the strong forward work, Dmitry Orlov was able to slide up to the top of the left wing circle and he one timed a shot on Howard. Jay Beagle and Sanford were in front and the rebound fell prone in the slot where #83 pounced on it and put the biscuit in the basket. From there the Caps kept the Wings to the outside and any rubber that made its way through was snatched or thwarted by Holtby.

Marcus Johansson drew a late penalty and the Caps skated away with a gritty victory after their thrashing of the Pens on Wednesday night.

This was going to be a tough one for the Caps after an intense affair with the despised Penguins on Wednesday. A let down was a possibility, but give credit to the coaching staff and team leadership since there was none of that. The bad news was the injuries up front, but the rest of the crew stepped up and played a solid game. Detroit didn’t have a ton of chances, but there were a few grade “A” ones and the Holtbeast was a major reason the Capitals were able to scrape out a victory.

The victory improves the Caps to 11-4-2 and they are now just two points behind the first place Rangers, who lost to Columbus on Friday night, with a game in hand. Pittsburgh is also tied with Washington. The Blue Jackets, who defeated the Capitals on Tuesday, are just four points behind Alex Ovechkin and company and they have two games in hand. Somehow Coach Trotz’ club needs to find a way to get themselves up for that game and they’ll likely need to do it with a player or so from Chocolatetown in the lineup.

Notes: Shots on goal were 28-25 for the Caps, who also led in shot attempts, 56-48…Ovechkin had four shots on goal and nine shot attempts. He also had four hits…the Caps had 31 hits in this contest while Detroit had just 18. Sneaky Nicklas Backstrom led the way with five. Brett Connolly, who has been strong on the fore check when in the lineup, had four hits…Washington plays better when they are physical since they are a big team and can wear their opponents out more effectively…the Caps lost the face-off battle, 31-23, but Beagle was 11-7…Beagle logged a season high 20:01…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:29…former Capital Mike Green led all skaters with 26:10 of ice time.

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