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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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Holtby Delivers for the Caps in Winnipeg

Posted on 02 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Playing their third game in four nights in Western Canada, the weary Washington Capitals relied heavily on some timely scoring plays and their goaltender, Braden Holtby, to defeat the Winnipeg Jets, 3-2. It was the Caps third straight victory to finish their four game road trip after an opening loss in Edmonton last Wednesday. The win improves their overall record to 6-2-1 (13 points).

The Caps likely lose this game if not for the Holtbeast, who stopped 43 shots. Washington scored the game’s first two goals. Karl Alzner notched his 2nd marker of the season with a sweet shot from the top of the slot after Brett Connolly made a great hit in the corner to force a Winnipeg turnover. After #10’s super forecheck, Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) alertly grabbed the biscuit and swung it to Marcus “Red Hot” Johansson (1 goal, 1 assist), who then found Alzner all alone. King Karl put it precisely in the right top corner to give the Caps a 1-0 lead with 19:16 gone in period one.

Washington would double their lead in the middle frame, again as a result of a forced turnover. Johansson stripped the Jets of the puck in the neutral zone and fed Kuznetsov, who streaked down the left wing boards. Tom Wilson smartly made a bee line for the left side of the net and all of the Jets defenders went towards him thinking that Kuzy was going to try one of his patented no look, behind the back passes. To quote the great Ron White, “They were wrong!” and Kuzy carried around the cage and fed an all alone Jojo in the slot. #90 buried it at 8:15 of the middle stanza for his 6th goal of the season and his team leading 11th point.

From there the game went back and forth with the Jets firing a lot of pucks from the outside. Holtby did have to make a huge save on one sequence after Dmitry Orlov was beaten (again) on defense and then T.J. Oshie somehow played second goalie to keep the disc from crossing the red line. After that the Caps did a good job of holding the Jets to perimeter shots through 40 minutes.

But in the final stanza, the Capitals legs grew fatigued and they started reaching instead of moving their feet to play defense. The Caps were still up 2-0 with 10 minutes to go and per Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) the team was 71-1-6 under Coach Barry Trotz when leading at that point in the game.

Things were looking good; especially after Oshie hustled to draw a trip and take the Jets off of a power play. Shortly thereafter though, Nate Schmidt got outmuscled in a four on four situation and Alzner went down to block a pass putting himself out of position for a Jets rebound and the subsequent goal at the 13:04 mark.

No problem still, right? Well, not so fast. Washington was fading and when Brooks Orpik missed a hit on the right wing boards and John Carlson made a bad decision to try and hit Joel Armia, the puck was passed easily to Adam Lowry all alone in front of Holtby. He then deked the pride of Saskatchewan to the ice and deposited the biscuit in the basket to tie the game up with 2:25 left.

At that point, overtime seemed imminent, but Washington forced an offensive zone draw and Coach Trotz had Jay Beagle take the faceoff. Beags won the draw back to Carlson and then fought his way towards the net. Carlson’s point shot found #83 in front and he backhanded it past Connor Hellebucyk for the win with just 30 ticks remaining.

It was a huge goal and the first of the season for the Regal Beagle.

This was not one of the Capitals better performances, but that’s to be expected given the travel and schedule. They needed a top game from their all world goalie and they received it. In addition, there are several guys who are in the groove offensively, such as Oshie, Johansson, Beagle, and Kuznetsov and the Caps rode them to victory.

The line of Johansson, Kuznetsov, and Wilson has been really strong as has been the Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, and Oshie unit. Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and Justin Williams continue to try and find chemistry, but given how well the other three lines, to include Beagle, Connolly, and Zach Sanford are playing, Coach Trotz likely needs to let those stars work their way through it.

On defense, the Alzner and Matt Niskanen pair has been excellent. Carlson and Orlov have not been a duo you can wager your cash on so far this season and I put most of that on #9. He’s still deficient too often in his own zone. Orpik and Schmidt form a decent third pair since #88 is good at rushing the puck and #44 is sound defensively, but both made mistakes on the Jets goals in this one. Simply put, one has to think that GM Brian MacLellan is looking at potential defensemen to bring in in the event that things don’t improve on the back end.

Let’s be honest, this team has a strong group of 13 forwards with the additions of Eller, Connolly, and Sanford, but the defense, which let them down when suspensions and injuries hit last spring is still a big question mark.

On Tuesday night in Winnipeg, however, the Caps were fortunate to have one of the game’s best goalies deliver them the two points.

Long live the Holtbeast!

Notes: Shot attempts were 61-48 for Winnipeg and shots on goal were 45-27…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:50…Ovechkin had 12 shot attempts, but only three made it on net…the Caps did dominate from the dot and that was key in the victory, going 37-28. Beagle and Backstrom were both 10-5…Connolly led the Capitals in hits with four and he was one of the best Washington players in this one…the Caps and Winnipeg will play again in their final meeting of the season on Thursday night at the Verizon Center.

 

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Caps Suffocate Islanders in Home Opener, 2-1

Posted on 16 October 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Daniel Winnik scored twice and Braden Holtby stopped 21 of 22 shots as the Washington Capitals won their home opener over the New York Islanders, 2-1, on Saturday night at a sold out Verizon Center.

The Caps used their superior depth to suffocate New York in the final frame. Coach Jack Capuano’s crew only had five third period shots on net and one of those came from center ice. The line of Jay Beagle, Tom Wilson, and Winnik totally throttled the Islanders top unit, which is led by superstar John Tavares. #91 was held to only two shots on goal in 18:38 and he was minus one for the game. Beagle and company excelled in the head to head matchup and produced far more scoring chances for the Caps.

“We had a lot of good chances and we felt really good and all of our legs were kind of going,” started Wilson, who also nearly scored a goal late in the third period on a two on one with Beagle.

“I was licking my chops, thought I had a wide open net and whoever it was, the back checker made an amazing play just to get his stick in between my stick and the net, so I don’t know what else I can do, maybe dive head first and bury it in the net?” joked Wilson afterwards.

Coach Barry Trotz noted that line, which played sparingly in the opening game in Pittsburgh, came to him on Friday and wanted more ice time. The trio earned it quickly notching the contest’s first tally at 11:58 of period one. Overall, the line logged over 10 minutes of even strength.

“The first game was a little bit of a tough one playing only five to seven minutes. Tonight we just wanted to do whatever we could every shift to earn our ice time. If the coach isn’t comfortable playing us, that’s our fault,” commented Wilson on the increased ice time.

Tavares, who will be seeing Beagle in his upcoming nightmares, will be pleased to know that the Islanders don’t play the Caps again until December 1st.

The Caps carried the play for much of the contest. The shot attempts were 58-51, but like they did in Pittsburgh on Thursday, they passed up some good shooting opportunities. Coach Trotz stated afterwards that he would like more shots from his club.

Another piece of evidence showing the Caps domination of play was the special team situation statistics. Washington had five power plays to just two for New York. The problem was the Islanders scored on their first chance while the Caps were blanked. For the season the Caps are now 0 for 8 with the man advantage and they’ve allowed a power play goal in both games.

On offense, they’ve struggled to get set up as both the Penguins and Islanders have been very aggressive on the penalty kill. The pass to Alex Ovechkin is being defended, for the most part, so it’s imperative that the Caps get some point shots with traffic from the middle of the blue line. They did that a few times on Saturday, with Dmitry Orlov being the most notable, and it resulted in some juicy rebound chances that weren’t able to be finished.

On the penalty kill, Holtby noted that the Islanders employed a different tactic. In the past, their strategy was to set up one timers from the flank, but in this contest they focused on just throwing pucks at the cage with traffic in front. It was their best weapon on Saturday.

Overall though, the Caps have played two good hockey games and have three of a possible four points. The gimmick loss in Pittsburgh easily could have been a victory. They’ve also done this with the Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, and Ovechkin line nowhere near their best, so the team’s depth has been very evident.

“The special thing about this group is we can win a game in a variety of ways. We have four lines that can play, a good D, and a great goalie. So if it’s going to be a shootout we can do that, we can pump goals into their net, if it’s going to be a low scoring tight affair, we can suffocate them like we did tonight,” finished Wilson.

Notes: Beagle had an assist, was +2, and went 11-4 in faceoffs…Ovechkin had 10 shot attempts in 19:07 of ice time, but only three made it on goal; six were blocked…the Caps have allowed only one even strength goal in 125 minutes of hockey…the Islanders won the face off battle, 29-27…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time (22:06) and shots on goal (six)…next up for Washington are the Colorado Avalanche at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night.

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

Posted on 13 May 2016 by Ed Frankovic

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

Those are the facts, there is no denying them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The clock is ticking.

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

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Ovie Game 5 Pens

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

Posted on 08 May 2016 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

Wow, what a hockey game!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Game Six Backy

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Caps Win the Series as Holtby Shuts Out the Flyers

Posted on 24 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby made 26 saves behind another dominating 200 foot performance from the Capitals, who made the only goal of the game from Nicklas Backstrom stand up to extinguish the Flyers in game six, 1-0.

The Capitals will now move on to play the red hot and fast Pittsburgh Penguins later this week while the cheap shot artist Flyers will have all summer to hone their tactics on the golf course. It is always fun to knock off that team, which promotes Neanderthal-styled behavior and hockey on the ice, but more on them later.

Washington won this series with team defense by allowing only six goals in six games. The Holtbeast had two shutouts and only permitted five non empty net goals, one of which came off of his own teammate in game five. The Caps top three defensemen, John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and Karl Alzner, were absolutely fabulous in this series. They were physical and Carlson showed why he’s a top ten NHL blue liner, in my book, with his defensive skills and offensive ability. He was downright sensational for Coach Barry Trotz in the six game series victory. Alzner is playing the best hockey of his career and Niskanen is just so good at both ends of the rink. His hitting ability is vastly underrated.

Another big part of the Caps team defense was the way their forwards were back checking when the puck came out of the Washington zone. The forwards routinely hauled back and stole puck after puck from the Flyers in the neutral zone or forced Philly into turning it over at the offensive blue line because the Capitals defensemen were able to step up and make plays. It was text book coverage all over the ice and Filthy had few odd man rushes in the series, as a result. They also had a minimal amount of quality scoring chances and the Caps set a franchise record with this performance in terms of fewest goals allowed in a seven game series (previous mark was 7 vs. Ottawa in 1998). Washington will need to maintain that type of defensive play against the offensively minded Penguins.

Michal Neuvirth was the single reason the Flyers were able to extend this series to six games. He was stellar in net in only allowing two goals in three games, one on a rebound by T.J. Oshie in game four and the Backstrom marker on Sunday, which he had no chance on. Alex Ovechkin made a super play at the blue line to get the puck to Marcus Johansson (six points in six games) and Jojo made a perfect pass to Nicky, who buried the shot into the yawning cage for the game winner at 8:59 of the second period.

Johansson was a big bright spot and a huge reason why Washington was able to finally bury the Flyers. The Caps had strong contributions up and down the lineup, especially from the bottom six forwards. Mike Richards, Tom Wilson, Daniel Winnik, Jojo, and Jay Beagle were all at or near the top of their respective games. Wilson was near perfect in game six and the Flyers were flat out afraid of him as the series went on. He opens up space on the ice for the Caps forwards. If he plays like that and stays out of the box, he is a real factor in the post season when the games are tight and hitting really matters.

If there was a down area in this series, it was the second line. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky had the puck quite a bit, but by the end of the series they looked tired and a bit timid, at times, as they were getting taken off of the puck too easily on the wall. Justin Williams was okay at even strength, save for his four penalty night in game five. This was a bad match up for that line against the physical Flyers, but I expect them to have more favorable results against the Penguins, and they’ll need to do so.

In game six, the Capitals wanted to be more disciplined, and they were. Unfortunately, a friendly fire high stick by a Flyers player on Ryan White was called a double minor on Backstrom just four minutes after the Flyers had killed off a five on three for the Caps early in the second period with the game scoreless. I’ll give the zebras some benefit of the doubt because it happened so fast, but the replay clearly showed it wasn’t Backstrom or any other Caps stick that hit White in the nose. Shouldn’t the officials be able to use replay there to get the call correct? I’m all for automatic review of high sticking calls in the post season, especially the double minor kind. So please fix this NHL!

This incorrect call came at a critical juncture and it was made worse when the referees mistakenly whistled Matt Niskanen for hooking Wayne Simmonds right off of the ensuing face off in front of Holtby. Watch the replay of that one again, that’s just good defense there.

Coach Trotz’ crew was suddenly down two men for infractions that weren’t committed by them, but credit the mental toughness of this Capitals team. They didn’t flinch one bit. They worked hard and killed off the four minutes, including two minutes of five on three by only allowing three shots on goal, which the Holtbeast turned away. Beagle, Carlson, Alzner, and Richards were just superb on those kills. Richards, as he has done repeatedly in this series, was so good at dropping down to cover the back door on Flyers power play opportunities. His stick prevented Jakub Voracek from giving the Flyers the lead on the five on three.

With momentum gained on that crucial kill, the Capitals scored just two and half minutes later to set the stage for the final frame, where the Caps just kept the Flyers to the outside to preserve the victory.

When the horn sounded, this was one sweet victory for the Capitals and their fans over their arch rivals since 1974. Washington now owns a 3-2 lifetime playoff series advantage on the Flyers (wins in 1984, 1988, and 2016; losses in 1989 and 2008).

After the Caps domination in game five in a 1-0 loss that allowed Philly to pull within 3-2 in the series, there were factions in the media and the fan base that immediately shifted into the “Here We Go Again” and “Caps are Going to Blow It Again” mode. The “Capitals are Cursed” mantra was thrown around far too much for my liking. I’m not surprised by it coming from some of the media, that’s their job to stir it up, but it was frustrating and disappointing to see so many fans fall blindly into it. To quote Bruce Springsteen, many in the fan base need to simply “Show a little faith.”

I’ve been steadfast all season in my belief that this team is different from past Capitals teams and they have shown that throughout the season. This is the best Caps team ever assembled and coached, period. Yet the first sign of trouble we had too many breaking their legs jumping off of the bandwagon.

Where’s the mental toughness?

Fortunately this Caps team has it and it is different. There are eight players who weren’t on this roster last season when they lost to the Rangers in May; Oshie, Williams, Richards, Winnik, Dmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt, Taylor Chorney, and Mike Weber (who was excellent in 8:48 of ice time in game six). Those players have helped upgrade the talent and closeness of this club. Williams and Richards bring a wealth of experience (five Stanley Cups), too. There will be bumps in the road and it is the teams that stick together that fight through tough stretches and prevail. Again, show a little faith fans.

Finally, let’s talk about what it means to beat the Flyers.

Forgive me for not heeding Tim McGraw’s advice to “Always be humble and kind” here, because when it comes to the Flyers, all bets are off. They are despised by many and unlike the Pittsburgh Steelers, who the Ravens fan base very much despises, Philadelphia is not respected, where the football team that is run by the Rooneys in Steeltown is respected. Flyers owner Ed Snider passed away right before this series began and the people who work for him have always pretty much been first class to me off of the ice from Joe Kadelec, Gene Hart, Bobby Taylor, Bobby Clarke, and Dave Brown on down, including Gene Prince, who used to run the Spectrum and Wells Fargo Center press boxes.

But on the ice is a different story. Snider preached physical hockey and that’s okay, as long as it is done between the whistles. In this series, the Flyers crossed the line too many times. Simmonds cross checked Ovechkin in the back of the knee in game two and Brayden Schenn did the same thing to Kuznetsov in game four, with both coming well AFTER THE WHISTLE. They were bush league moves along with the intent to injure hit by Pierre-Edouard Bellmare on Orlov in game three, simply because the Flyers were being sore losers. The Capitals may have actually benefited by not hitting the empty net at the end of game six because it would’ve given the sore loser Flyer players time to get in at least another cheap shot or two.

Speaking of bush league and being sore losers, it was just two and a half years ago when goalie Ray Emery raced across the ice and jumped Holtby then started pounding him in a game the Caps would end up winning 7-0. It was disgraceful, but the dinosaur like fans in Filthy loved it and a media member made a bozo move naming Emery the game’s third star. That’s typical Philadelphia Flyer mentality. They’ve been setting the game back for 40 years on the ice, so they’ll get no praise from me.

Look, the Flyers overachieved this year and have some good young players, but they are cement heads on the ice and that leads to their overall reputation. As Niskanen repeatedly told me in this series, “it’s in their DNA.” They’ll continue to be nothing but losers until they clean that stuff up and shame on the NHL for allowing  too much of it to happen far too often. It also leads to many of their fans acting like babies and idiots on occassion, witness game three’s bracelet throwing spree. Simply put, on the ice, that team is pretty much classless.

But good for Coach Trotz for praising the Flyers season in his post game presser, he is a classy man as is Caps GM, Brian MacLellan. Those two know what they are doing and have assembled a roster that will go up against the vaunted Penguins, who own a 7-1 all time series record against the Caps. But none of that matters and the last time these teams met in the playoffs was 2009.

Again, this Capitals team is different. It is a challenging match up and Washington will need to play their game properly to win the series. This club is mentally tough and I’m not guaranteeing a victory, but the fan base needs to show a little faith, in fact a lot of faith, and stick by them as they go up against Sidney Crosby and company.

Oh, and one more thing, see ya Flyers!

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Caps Win Game 1

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Holtby Blanks the Flyers in a Caps Dominating 2-0 Victory

Posted on 15 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Any doubts about the Washington Capitals ability to ramp up their game for the playoffs were laid to rest on Thursday night at the Verizon Center as the Caps dominated the Philadelphia Flyers in a 2-0 victory in the series opener. Game two is Saturday night in Washington at 7 pm, once again.

Braden Holtby and the Capitals had to kill three first period penalties and in that frame the Holtbeast made 11 of his 19 total stops for the game, with a couple coming on quality scoring chances. He was challenging shooters and did a super job of gobbling up any loose pucks around his crease.

After that, the Flyers had a measly eight shots on goal in just 30 shot attempts, and limited scoring chances, while the Capitals got even stronger as the game went on. Washington had 53 of their 69 shot attempts after the opening stanza and 23 of their 31 shots on goal. If not for Steve Mason and the Caps missing the net on some chances, this one is a blow out.

“I thought we had a good, committed two-way game. We put pressure on them with the fore check. Got a lot of pucks back, I thought, generated a lot of shots from all kinds of angles. Good cycle game and guys were committed to coming back [on D]. When our forwards are back checking that well, we can hold the line and negate some of their rush game. Our breakouts were pretty good and we didn’t spend a lot of time in our zone,” stated defensemen Matt Niskanen.

John Carlson scored the game winning tally on the Caps third power play of the game at 16:21 of the middle frame. It was nothing fancy, just a simple blast from the point with traffic. Both T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom were in the slot and when the puck hit a Flyer defender, it skipped by Mason.

The final goal for the Caps came with 3:24 remaining. Marcus Johansson (two assists) stripped Flyers forward Jakub Voracek of the puck in the neutral zone and skated into the offensive right wing circle. From there Jojo hit the brakes and found Jay Beagle streaking down the slot. #83 said that he called for the puck and Marcus put it right on his tape. Beags then shot it far side by Mason and the VC went nuts knowing that game one was secured.

That goal came after the Capitals had squandered a four minute power play. Overall the Caps were 1 for 6 with the man advantage in 10:19 of time.

“I thought our power play was dangerous the first couple, lot of good looks. I thought we were pounding the pucks at the net and we had opportunities for tips and rebounds. Some of those from a distance can go in if you have traffic. They made a little bit of an adjustment on the four minute one on how their forwards play, which will happen in the series, so we’ll tweak things as we go,” said Niskanen, and it should be noted that the Carlson goal was from the point with bodies in front of Mason.

Long periods of this game were either scoreless (first 36 minutes) or just a single goal (21 minutes) lead for the Caps and the Flyers only needed a shot to go in on a lucky bounce or a spare scoring chance to knot it. But Washington was very stingy and did a great job of limiting the Flyers speed and preventing them from getting many opportunities, especially at five on five.

Following a Tom Wilson hit on Andrew MacDonald with 6:51 left, Wayne Simmonds completely lost his head and negated a Philly power play and also took himself off of the rink for the game by fighting #43. The call on Wilson was two minutes for boarding. On replay, MacDonald turns when he sees “Freight Train” Willy coming at him and he takes the hit and embellishes a bit into the boards. Coach Trotz said this happens in the game now and he would prefer #43 not make that hit with a one goal lead in the last 10 minutes.

Flyers defensemen Shayne Gostisbehere, also known as “Ghost,” then took a coincidental penalty with Andre Burakovsky and he came a bit unglued after the whistle.

A few minutes later, Voracek was pick-pocketed by Johansson and the Caps closed the deal.

At the final horn, after Brayden Schenn hit Alzner with an unnecessary check, the Flyers Ryan White then lost it. He went after Karl Alzner and Jay Beagle in a big scrum, but it was only White that earned a 10 minute misconduct. The Flyers have pretty much always been sore losers and get nasty when they are about to be defeated. On this night it was no different. But the Capitals didn’t bite and maintained their composure while Philadelphia’s squad melted down. Washington certainly seems to be in their heads after just game one.

“That’s historically part of the Flyers. They try to do things to change the momentum. So I thought we stayed fairly disciplined tonight, it was pretty good,” finished Niskanen, who led the Caps in ice time with 25:43.

The Minnesota native, who has made such a huge difference for the Capitals blue line, was spot on.

Overall, the Capitals played extremely well and dominated a Flyers team that spent a lot of energy just getting into the playoffs. In addition, forward Sean Couturier took a hit from Alex Ovechkin (11 shot attempts) in the 2nd period and didn’t return. After the contest he was declared out for the series with an A/C sprain of the shoulder. That is a huge loss for Philadelphia as #14 plays a strong two-way game.

Injuries are a part of sports and the hockey playoffs. Someone from the Flyers will try to step up and they’ll need even more out of Mason, who was darned good in game one, if they are to avoid a two game series hole.

Notes: Carlson logged 23:50, Brooks Orpik played 21:56, and Alzner had 22:19 of time on ice on defense for Washington. The third pair didn’t see a lot of ice (Dmitry Orlov, 11:18 and Nate Schmidt, 7:02) due to the the numerous power plays at both ends. Overall 18:19 of the 60 minutes were played with one team on the man advantage…the Flyers were 0 for 4 with the power play, but they won the face-off battle, 31-26. Oshie was 4-2…the Caps outhit the Flyers 29-26, but they had the puck most of the night, too. Washington was physical and played a “200 foot game,” as Coach Trotz likes to call it…shot attempts were 69-49 for the Caps.

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

Posted on 11 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

They are finally here.

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

334 days ago, to be exact.

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

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

“Why must the Capitals always lose this way?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They were brilliant moves in July of 2015.

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

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

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

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

That time is now here.

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

You have to play through your opponent.

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

You must stick together as a team and play smart.

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

So now the table is set.

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

It’s all there for the taking.

This is it!

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