Tag Archive | "Wilson"

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

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Holtby Excels Again in Win Over Bolts

Posted on 12 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

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

Braden Holtby has Saturday Night Fever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Braden Holtby, the NHL's 2nd star of the month for November, starts December off just as hot.

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Holtby Steals a Victory for the Caps at the Bell Centre

Posted on 03 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

You’ll often hear hockey experts state the following: “goaltending is the great equalizer.”

No truer words could be spoken about Thursday night’s Caps-Habs tilt in Montreal where Braden Holtby was stellar once again making 33 saves to lead Washington to a 3-2 win at the Bell Centre. At the other end of the rink, the Canadiens Mike Condon only stopped 16 of 19 shots and looked tired as the game went on to let his club down in a contest they very much should have won, if not for the Holtbeast.

Montreal was speedy and on the loose pucks all night, while the Capitals looked rusty, sloppy, and downright lazy, at times, in the first two plus periods, especially the middle frame. At one point, the shots on goal were 24-7 for the Habs before a late second period Caps flurry, which included T.J. Oshie’s first goal of the game that Condon misplayed off of his arm and into the cage. Oshie would also get the game winner deflecting home a Karl Alzner point shot with 11:43 remaining. T.J. now has eight goals on the season.

Washington opened the scoring at 2:26 after Holtby made a big early save and the Caps Brooks Laich worked hard on the boards and fed Tom Wilson with the puck in the slot. “Willy” fired it short side with a sweet wrister. Wilson continues to improve and he now has his only two goals this season in the last two games. #43 is doing a super job killing penalties and other parts of the 21 year olds game continue to develop. He is becoming more and more of a factor for Washington and that is very important. He’s a big body that can skate and hit and that is something many teams simply do not have.

Overall though, the Capitals did not play well. They turned the puck over repeatedly and much of that had to do with their positioning and effort. Their gaps between the forwards and the defensemen were too large making the passing lanes longer and tougher to navigate. In addition, they far too often tried diagonal and sometimes blind passes, which is a big no-no coming out of your own zone. Repeatedly, offensive zone shots were passed up for low percentage passes. That was disappointing given that the Caps caught a break facing Condon instead of 2014-15 Hart Trophy winner, Carey Price, who is out for six weeks with a knee injury. The Caps should have been shooting more and even with Oshie’s fluky up in the air and off of the goalies arm tally, Washington still didn’t realize that more pucks to the net were needed.

Overall the shot attempts were 73-43 for Montreal and shots on goal were 35-19. The Habs were far superior in this one in terms of chances and puck possession.

Fortunately Holtby was in the zone again and the only tallies he allowed were a Lars Eller stuff in front right after the Habs power play expired and a shorthanded breakaway goal by Brian Flynn. Max Pacioretty, the Habs captain and best forward, had nine shots on goal, many of them quality, but the Holtbeast had his number on this night.

On the positive side, the Capitals did play a super final seven plus minutes once again with a third period lead. They dominated that final portion and drew a power play with 1:53 remaining. That might have been trouble given that the Habs third period game tying tally came while the Caps were with the man advantage, but Coach Barry Trotz made sure to have two defensemen on the points and Washington outworked the Canadiens along the walls to close this one out. In fact, the only shot on goal Montreal had over the last 6:30 was an 81 footer from Pacioretty with 2:28 remaining. The Caps were like sharks in blood infested waters, they sensed they were on the verge of stealing a win and they did all of the right things down the stretch to close it out.

This was the Capitals sixth straight victory and Holtby’s career high eighth consecutive win. The Caps are now a stunning 18-5-1 and have retaken over first place in the Metropolitan Division. The New York Rangers also have 37 points, but the Caps have three games in hand and one more regulation or overtime win (ROW).

So in this streak, two of the victories have been total Holtby highway robberies, the Edmonton shutout on November 23rd and this one in hallowed Montreal on December 3rd. #70’s numbers over his eight game winning streak are amazing, a 1.88 goals against average and a .936 save percentage (h/t to Ben Raby). Those are some super figures and Holtby is clearly in the upper echelon of NHL goalies.

He won this game tonight and once again his teammates owe him dinner. Perhaps they oblige on Friday night in Winnipeg, where the Caps will take on the Jets on Saturday afternoon in a 3 pm matinee?

Notes: Alex Ovechkin had an assist on the game winning tally and was also on for the second Caps tally. However, he was one of the guilty parties on the Habs shorthanded game tying goal. Ovi only had 1 shot on goal and four overall shot attempts. That is way down for the Gr8…Montreal won the faceoff battle, 32-24. Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist) was 10-10…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:59. P.K. Subban led the Habs with 26:44…Brooks Orpik missed his 10th straight game with a lower body injury, although he has been skating and is along for this two game Canadian road trip.

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

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

Posted on 28 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Braden Holtby continues his dominance over the Edmonton Oilers in a Caps, 1-0, victory

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Holtby’s Shutout Steals Two Points for the Caps

Posted on 24 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

“He’s unbelievable. Honestly, we lose that game if he’s not in the net. If we have any other goalie in the league playing that game, then we don’t win that hockey game.” – Washington Forward Tom Wilson on Braden Holtby.

There aren’t many truer words spoken than those from Caps forward Tom Wilson following Braden Holtby’s stellar 33 save shutout victory against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night at the Verizon Center. The Holtbeast was downright incredible making several stops on odd man rushes and a glove save on Eric Gryba that will be shown all across hockey highlight shows this season.

Holtby’s heroics allowed the Caps to steal two points from the Oilers when Dmitry Orlov scored on a rocket of a shot with 6:32 remaining in regulation. The laser from #9 followed a series of hard working shifts by the Capitals, but it was fitting that the Washington fourth line of Brooks Laich (assist), Michael Latta, and Wilson (assist) were the plumbers who worked the wall and were able to get the biscuit in perfect position for the young Russian defensemen to tattoo the puck into the top right corner for his second goal in two games.

From there, the Caps really played well and had several chances to increase their lead, but either Anders Nilsson (29 saves) made the stop or the Capitals missed the net (which has been a problem in recent games). Edmonton pulled Nilsson late for the extra attacker, but Holtby made a couple of more quality stops on Taylor Hall (six shots on goal), in close, to seal the deal.

One of the few bright spots for Washington, other than their goaltender, was the Caps penalty killing unit. They went a perfect three for three on the night in 5:43 of PK time, including a four minute double minor situation that came as the result of a Nicklas Backstrom high stick. Often a team will gain momentum from a great job of thwarting back-to-back man advantage situations and score shortly thereafter, but that was not the case on this night.

It was not a pretty win and the Caps did not play well for roughly the first 50 minutes. Coach Barry Trotz did not like their will along the boards nor their compete level in the opening two periods. There were far too many odd man rushes against caused by mental mistakes, poor execution, and suspect positioning.

Wilson noted that the Caps weren’t doing the things that allow them to be successful for the first two plus periods of hockey.

“We weren’t playing very well, we weren’t getting pucks in. I think you saw the tilt in the ice a little bit at the end when we got desperate…it was by no means our best game,” said the 21 year old power forward.

Washington was able to stay in the game and find a way to win, once again. Their best frame was the third period when they out shot the Oilers, 15-10, in those 20 minutes. That’s been another nice development this season, strong and dominating third periods.

Overall, the Caps didn’t deserve two points on Monday night and yet they got them. Last Thursday they certainly deserved a win or at worst a point against the Dallas Stars and came up empty, but that’s the way the hockey gods work sometimes.

Everyone credited the Holtbeast for the victory, and rightly so. Coach Trotz summed up Holtby’s night perfectly afterwards.

“He absolutely deserved the shutout. He’s been one of our top players all year. Tonight he was by far our best player. There wasn’t anybody in the same universe as him.”

Again, no truer words could be spoken.

Notes: Holtby has won four straight games and is 12-4-0 this season with a 1.88 goals against average and a .926 save percentage. This was his second career shutout against Edmonton (last one on March 9, 2011)…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 26:18…Coach Trotz noted afterwards that he hasn’t liked his teams consistency over the last eight or nine games…the Caps won the face off battle, 31-22. Backstrom was 14-7…Shot attempts for the game were 68-54 for the Oilers, but it was 25-18, Caps, in the 3rd period…Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with five shots on goal. He also led the team in hits with seven…next up for the Caps are the Winnipeg Jets at the Verizon Center on Wednesday at 7 pm.

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The Caps score first for the first time in 10 games in their 7-3 victory over Colorado

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Caps Score Early and Often in 7-3 Victory

Posted on 21 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals played well on Thursday night in a tough, 3-2, loss to the Dallas Stars, but they rebounded strongly with their best first period of the season in a 7-3 beat down of the Colorado Avalanche at the Verizon Center on Saturday evening.

The Caps needed this type of win, one in which they broke their nine game streak of not scoring first and one in which they raced out to a big lead. It was 4-0 after one period, but 4-2 after 40 minutes since Patrick Roy yanked Reto Berra for Calvin Pickard to start the middle frame. Pickard was superb early on and the Capitals were also guilty of not connecting fully on their shots and over passing the biscuit, which allowed the Avalanche to hang around.

But as they’ve done fairly consistently this season, the Caps put the hammer down in the third period and salted this one away with three goals against a single Colorado tally. The Avalanche only had seven shots on goal in the final 20 minutes and finished with 27 shots on net for the game.

This was a total team effort as evidenced by the fact that 14 of the 18 Washington players had points in this tilt, including three assists for Jason Chimera and a goal and two assists for Evgeny Kuznetsov. There were contributions from Caps players up and down the lineup. Alex Ovechkin notched his 10th goal of the season off of another amazing Nicklas Backstrom pass and also added an assist. T.J. Oshie had an assist on Karl Alzner’s goal to give the Capitals a full touchdown in this contest, but #77 could have had at least three goals on this night with all of the grade A chances he had.

Colorado is fast up front, but their defense is not very good and the Caps took advantage of that. All four lines looked solid and Tom Wilson was in the Avalanche players heads all evening. Unfortunately, due to some bad writing from the Great White North and some whining from opposing GM’s that have influenced the zebras, Willy wasn’t able to put the Caps on the power play via his two incidents when clearly his club should’ve received a man advantage. I’ve been a Jarome Iginla fan his whole career, but he played like a beaten thug on this night and somehow only incurred four PIMs. It might be time for the old man to finally hang it up.

Defensemen Nate Schmidt, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, and Alzner all scored goals on this night as the Washington blue line did a super job of getting shots to the goal and jumping up in the play when the time was right. Orlov’s goal that made it 6-2 was one in which he just totally blew by the Avalanche defense and alertly got his own rebound to end up with a practically vacant cage to deposit the puck into. GM Brian MacLellan and Coach Barry Trotz have to be pleased with where both Schmidt and Orlov are at through 19 games into the season. There are no more questions about the 3rd defensive pair and that’s with Brooks Oprik missing the last five games. If there is any nitpicking to do, it would be on the Caps ability to clear the front of their own net, especially on the PK. That’s an area that #44 specializes in. But it is more important for Orpik to get totally healthy; November games don’t matter a ton to a veteran D who will be a critical component of this team in the spring.

Up front, Coach Trotz benched Andre Burakovsky (one point in last 11 games), bumped Justin Williams up to the second line, and inserted Stan Galiev on the 3rd line. Galiev did not look out of place and certainly earned a sweater for Monday’s tilt against the Edmonton Oilers at the Verizon Center at 7 pm. Burakovsky needs to watch the film of the Caps win over the Flyers last Thursday and play more like he did that night. Against Filthy, he was strong on the boards and was not shying away from contact, in fact, he was initiating it and Philly couldn’t move him off of the play. The Flyers three penalties that night were all drawn by Burakovsky. We’ll see if he’s back against the Connor McDavid-less Oilers, but I’m not sure who would come out if he goes back in?

So the Caps now sit at 13-5-1 and have 27 points. They trail the first place Rangers by five points and lead the third place Penguins by three points. Washington has a game in hand on both clubs.

Still, it’s a long season and the key is for the Capitals to keep improving, especially in their own zone, which is where you win and lose playoff games.

Notes: Shot attempts were 62-46 for Washington. The Caps were 1 for 4 on the power play while they gave up a goal to the Avs in their only shorthanded situation…the Capitals buried Colorado at the dot, 39-21. Michael Latta, who drew a penalty after a clean hit in the 3rd period, was 8-1 while Jay Beagle went 10-4…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:38…the Caps had 32 shots on goal while Braden Holtby stopped 24 of 27 shots. One of them was a huge save early in period three with the score, 4-2…Ovechkin, who set the Russian goal scoring record at 484 in Thursday’s defeat to Dallas, only needed 7:15 into this contest to get to goal number 485.

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The Caps get contributions from up and down the linuep in a dominant victory over the Flyers.

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Chimera Helps The Caps Pound the Flyers in Philly

Posted on 12 November 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After being shut out in Motown on Tuesday night, 1-0, despite 15 shots on goal from Alex Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals rebounded with a thorough whipping of the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night, 5-2.

All season long the Caps players have talked about how good teams bounce back after a loss and how they are heavily focused on winning the next game after suffering a defeat. So far that’s four losses this year for Washington and four wins in the contest immediately thereafter. That’s the mark of a good team.

The win moves the Caps to 11-4 and what continues to be impressive is how they keep the shot totals against low and how they lock games down in the third period. Philadelphia only had 20 shots on goal, and they had four power plays in the game’s first 22 minutes! The Flyers would score their only tally on that fourth power play early in period two, which came as the result of a Tom Wilson charging minor, but they only had two shots on goal across all four man advantages. That’s impressive stuff.

On the flip side, the zebras finally started giving the Caps some well earned power play time in the second frame and they scored three times in three tries. The only problem was the last one didn’t count, which would’ve been Ovechkin’s record breaking 484th goal, but the play was correctly called back due to offsides on Justin Williams via the coaches challenge. It was disappointing for the Gr8, who had his fiancé in attendance, but the team didn’t get down and earned the much needed win. I expect Ovechkin to break the record on Friday night against the Flames, coaches challenge permitting!

As for the first two power play tallies, well you can thank the coaching staff for that success. With the power play in the doldrums, coach Barry Trotz put Jason Chimera out to get some net presence and he scored on a great feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov (2 assists) to tie things up at two near the midpoint of the game. Chimera then set up an even strength goal with his speed, this one went to Williams on the door step with an assist from Jay Beagle, who was battling in front. Then Chimera provided the dagger again. Wilson made a nice zone entry on the right wing boards with the man advantage and dropped the puck to Chimera, who fed Matt Niskanen for a point shot. Both Wilson and “Chimmer” went to the net and #25 was awarded the goal on a deflection. The coaches move to add net presence clearly paid dividends.

The Caps would close this one out in the third period when Wilson (two assists) made a great offensive zone hit and steal behind the Flyers net. “Willy” then fed Marcus Johansson in the left portion of the slot and “Jojo” slid a sweet 90 degree pass to Nicklas Backstrom for an easy marker. Boom, game over!

Overall, this was a solid road game by the Capitals. They can’t routinely take four penalties in the first period and they also need to do a bit of a better job of not allowing odd man rushes in the third period if they want to keep winning away from the Verizon Center. But despite those issues, they did so many other things well and really just thumped a weak Flyers team that is struggling. The Caps were physical and dominated the wall play. Andre Burakovsky (drew three penalties) was outstanding along with Chimera.

On defense, with Brooks Orpik missing the game due to a lower body injury, Nate Schmidt stepped up and played with John Carlson. #88 had another excellent effort in 17:23 of ice time. His ability to skate and get the puck out of the defensive zone was very evident.

You can go up and down the Caps lineup in this one and find contributions, including the first goal by T.J. Oshie after a patented no look pass from Kuznetsov.

Yes, this was an important win. The Flyers are the Caps biggest rival since the inception of the franchise in 1974. The other two are the Rangers and the Penguins and the Capitals are 0-2 against them this season, so far. Burying Philadelphia, who appear headed for the NHL draft lottery, in their barn is always delightful and it was more special to hear the Filthy faithful booing their squad off of the ice when the game ended. The Caps lost three of the four games to the Flyers last season so this victory makes the fan base much happier. No Caps fan ever likes losing to Philadelphia.

So on Friday, the air will seem cleaner, the drinks will go down smoother, and the food will taste better for Caps fans. It always does after a victory over the despised Flyers!

Notes: The Caps will take on the Calgary Flames at the Verizon Center on Friday night at 7 pm…Washington out shot the Flyers, 32-20. Braden Holtby earned the win with some solid goaltending…the Caps won the face off battle, 33-26. Beagle was 12-4…Beagle led the team in hits with six and Wilson had five…Karl Alzner was fabulous in this one going +2 in 23:28 of ice time. He was physical and positionally sound all evening. Great game by #27…Niskanen (1 assist, +2) led the Caps in ice time with 25:12.

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Washington finds a way to win against a pesky Blue Jackets squad, 2-1.

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Oshie & Williams Score in Caps Victory Over Columbus

Posted on 30 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

When you play against a John Tortorella coached squad, the game is rarely pretty. That was the case at the Verizon Center on Friday night as the Capitals managed to do enough to defeat a pesky Columbus club, 2-1.

Justin Williams scored the first goal in the latter half of period two for the Caps. Karl Alzner did a super job of pinching in from the point and that allowed Marcus Johansson to feed Williams above the right circle for a shot that Sergei Bobrovsky didn’t really see, thanks to a Nicklas Backstrom screen. The Caps buzzed the tower in the last 10 minutes of period two, but somehow “Bob” (28 saves) kept his club in it.

In the third period, Columbus found some legs for the early part of the stanza before the Caps started to take over possession-wise with their first and second lines. It would be the first line who would give Washington a cushion it would really need down the stretch. Braden Holtby (29 saves) used his great puck handling ability to lift one high off of the glass for a clear on the left wing boards and that sprung Alex Ovechkin on a three on one break with Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. The Gr8 had a lane to the net, but instead of shooting he sent a beautiful pass that split the Columbus defense. The recipient of the pass, Backstrom, then teed it up perfectly for Oshie, who buried it under the cross bar with 8:01 left to make it 2-0.

The Blue Jackets would score at 14:45 in a goal mouth scramble that Coach Barry Trotz challenged. The Washington bench boss felt that Holtby was interfered with on the play. He was, and it was worse than what Jay Beagle was whistled for earlier in the season in the San Jose game, but go figure?

Fortunately, the Capitals clamped down and preserved the win to send Torts and company to a 2-9 record. Washington moves to 7-2 and will face the Panthers on Halloween night at 7 pm in Sunrise.

Backstrom, Williams, Ovechkin, Oshie, and Johansson had very strong games up front for the Caps. That second line was really the key to the victory. In addition, Matt Niskanen, Alzner, Nate Schmidt, and Dmitry Orlov were very good on the back end. Alzner got hit and shaken up early in period two and then came back to play a monster game. King Karl and Niskanen were downright dominant as a pair. Schmidt, who saw his first game action since the San Jose loss, performed better and better as the game went on. He was skating well and making solid clears. His only weakness is his size, which makes it tough for him in goal mouth scrambles. But #88 was really good against Columbus.

On the downside, the Capitals third line, which had to face the Blue Jackets best line, struggled for most of the night. Tom Wilson took two penalties that were unnecessary. You can add Brooks Orpik’s delay of game infraction to that list. #44 needed to make a pass in a situation where he had time with the biscuit. Instead, Columbus received an early third period power play when down just a puck.

However ugly it was, and a good chunk of the game was sloppy hockey, especially the first 30 minutes, the Capitals did what they had to do to defeat a desperate team. Good teams find ways to win close games and so far the Caps have been fairly good at that. 7-2 is an excellent start and another win in the division is important. The Caps are now 3-1 against their Metropolitan foes.

Notes: Andre Burakovsky was having a decent game and then he got hit in the head by Oshie’s stick and barely played in the third period. Overall, he only logged 7:09 of ice time…Michael Latta, who was back in after missing six games, only played 3:55 and Brooks Laich just 7:28. The performance of the 3rd and 4th lines is a bit of a concern right now…the Caps out shot attempted Columbus, 55-50, but shots on net favored the Blue Jackets at 30-28…Face offs were pretty much even, with the Caps short by one win (29-28). Beagle was 9-7, Backstrom 8-7, but Laich was 1-4.

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Is this the best Capitals team, on paper, ever?

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Caps Bury Islanders in Preseason Finale

Posted on 04 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals certainly made their preseason finale a good one.

Facing a New York Islanders team that was without John Tavares, Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, and Jaroslav Halak the Caps had their fastest start of the seven game preseason slate scoring three times in the first 7:10. From there, the Caps used their deadly power play to bury the Islanders with three man advantage tallies en route to a 6-2 rout.

Yes, the Islanders were missing some key players, but the Caps were without Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Orpik too. This game wasn’t even close, it was the men versus the boys and a deep team against a club that is in big trouble if any of the four players mentioned above get injured for any length of time.

Simply put, after a 5-0-2 preseason all of the hype and positive press the Caps received because of the offseason moves made by GM Brian MacLellan sure looks to be accurate.

I’ve watched this team since they began in 1974 and I can honestly say that this is the best Capitals team ever, on paper. Sure the 1985-86 and 1991-92 teams come close, but those clubs lacked goaltending and neither had a superstar of the magnitude of Alex Ovechkin, who had two more power play tallies on Sunday evening.

The additions of TJ Oshie and Justin Williams give this Capitals club a legit top six for the first time since perhaps 2008-09, the last year of Sergei Fedorov. Adding those two pieces shifts the other players into the proper spots in the lineup. I paid close attention to Williams and Oshie on Sunday and believe me; these two guys have significantly upgraded the forward group. Both have excellent offensive skills, but what also impressed me is their hockey IQ and drive to get the puck back once the Caps lose possession. Williams is so good at supporting the puck and being in the right place at the right time. His ability to read a play is uncanny. Oshie is so strong on the wall and having him in the middle of the power play, the spot where Troy Brouwer used to play, opens things up even more for the other players because TJ’s shot is so good teams have to slide down and cut off passes to him. Ovechkin certainly will continue to benefit from that.

In addition, goalie Braden Holtby (22 saves on 24 shots) commented afterwards on how much those two guys have helped the Caps off of the ice.

“Off the ice is pretty evident. In the locker room they fit in really well, easy guys to get along with. Very knowledgeable about the game and know how a team mentality works.”

Tom Wilson had another strong game with two assists as he attempts to solidify himself as the Capitals regular third line right wing. Washington will need his size to wear opponents out, particularly his ability to pound the opposing defense with his crushing checks. Wilson creates space on the ice for his teammates so it is imperative that he keeps developing his skill set and stays disciplined. He also gets under opponents skin and draws penalties. Coach Trotz does not need him playing the role of enforcer because he isn’t helping the team if he’s in the box for five minutes.

On defense, Matt Niskanen was back after missing Friday’s game due to the birth of his child and logged 22:00 of ice time. He and Karl Alzner were their usual steady self on the blueline. John Carlson played quite a bit with Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov was paired a good deal with Taylor Chorney. Orlov had an up and down game, but he just needs reps after missing 17 months of NHL action due to a wrist injury. Chorney is very solid and will see time as the seventh defensemen.

Overall, the team is in good shape health wise outside of Backstrom and Orpik’s injuries and Jay Beagle was nicked up with a lower body injury on Sunday. According to Coach Trotz, #83 could’ve returned but he was held out for precautionary reasons. Because of the depth that MacLellan has built up in just under 18 months, this club will be able to be patient with the Orpik and Backstrom injuries. That’s a luxury they have not had in recent years.

So now the real season begins on Saturday night against the Devils. Sure I’ve proclaimed this team the best Caps one ever to start a season, on paper, but the games are played on the ice. Coaching and execution will be key and staying healthy is likely the biggest thing to worry about.

It all shapes up to be a very good season and perhaps one that has a different end result than the first 40 years of franchise history.

Notes: The Caps outshot the Islanders, 18-11, and outscored New York, 5-1, through 40 minutes. The third period was more of a “let’s just end this and get to the regular season” type of stanza…the Caps were 3 for 4 on the power play and a perfect 3 for 3 on the penalty kill…Washington won the face off battle, 29-22…final rosters to start the season are due on Tuesday afternoon and Coach Trotz noted afterwards that the club has pretty much made their final decisions.

 

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The Caps dominate the Canes and win 2-0 in their preseason opener.

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Expectations High as Caps Win Preseason Opener

Posted on 21 September 2015 by Ed Frankovic

Yes, it is only preseason, but thank goodness hockey is back!

Just over four months ago the Washington Capitals season came to a crushing halt in overtime against the New York Rangers, a series the Caps could have easily won. During the summer, Capitals 2nd year GM, Brian MacLellan, talked the talk and then walked the walk once again, upgrading his top six forwards like he stated he would by inking former Kings forward Justin Williams to a free agent contract and then trading Troy Brouwer, a 2nd round pick, and minor league goalie Phoenix Copley to St. Louis to acquire Team USA Olympic hero, TJ Oshie.

Needless to say expectations are high around here for the 2015-16 Capitals season, as they should be.

The Caps are in the second year of the Barry Trotz era and MacLellan has done his best to give the coach one of, if not the strongest roster in Capitals history.

The only downer of the off season have been the surgeries to first line center, Nicklas Backstrom (hip), and top left handed defensemen, Brooks Orpik (wrist). Orpik should be back by the start of the regular season on October 10th, while Backstrom is slated to return some time in the first 10 regular season games.

But the hockey season is a long, grueling marathon so it is best that these two take their time to get right because the Capitals Stanley Cup aspirations are linked to both of them, as well as the overall health of the team.

Simply put, on paper this roster looks extremely strong and the coaching staff is excellent.

So with that background, the Caps opened training camp on Thursday and on Monday night they took on the Carolina Hurricanes at the Verizon Center in preseason tilt number one of seven. Needless to say the opening period was anything but beautiful, as expected. The team looked sloppy and out of sync. The good news is $30+M man Braden Holtby was excellent in the cage thwarting all 11 shots he faced.

In the middle frame, the Capitals started to click and they fired 13 biscuits on Canes goalie Eddie Lack in the first 10 minutes. But Lack would stop all 22 shots he’d face in the opening two periods. Holtby could’ve spent the first 10 minutes of period two on twitter, since he only faced three shots and he exited just after the game’s midway point. Dan Ellis came on in relief and was a perfect 12 for 12, with a couple of dandy saves.

Overall, the Capitals really dominated the last 40 minutes and they finally broke through with two goals in period three. Tom Wilson, who is slated to play a bigger role this year, snapped a sweet shot by Drew Macintyre for the game winner and then rookie Stan Galiev (2010 3rd round pick) forced the Carolina defense into a turnover and Derek Roy, who MacLellan recently convinced to come to camp on a free agent tryout, scored to add the icing on the cake. Roy, who played the majority of his career as a top 6 six forward on the Buffalo Sabres, is 32, but looked very good. He had several quality scoring chances in 18:12 of ice time. It seems that if the Caps and Roy can agree on contract terms, there is a very good chance he’ll be wearing a Caps sweater on opening night against the New Jersey Devils. Roy can play center or wing and kills penalties, so he looks to be a nice fit and yet another shrewd move by MacLellan.

Alex Ovechkin had six shots on goal playing on a line with Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov. After the opening period of rust was worked out, that line performed well. Roy was with Galiev and 2014 first round pick, Jakub Vrana. All three had strong performances. Brooks Laich centered Wilson and Jason Chimera and they also carried the play when they were on the ice. Riley Barber, Carter Camper, and Sean Collins comprised the fourth line. On defense, Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner were the top pairing and excelled. Dmitry Orlov had a nice first game back from a year plus wrist injury and played well. His defensive partner, Connor Carrick struggled though, taking three penalties. The third pair of Christian Djoos and Aaron Ness were a pleasant surprise. Djoos had an assist and was on the ice for both Capitals goals.

With the NHL moving to three on three overtime this season in an attempt to reduce the number of shootouts, each team will have three preseason contests in which, regardless of the final score, they try out the new format. The Caps and Canes did just that. Boy, was it fun to watch, despite the fact that Carolina scored on an odd man rush just 57 seconds into overtime to end the night. Kuznetsov had a two on one with Ovechkin and when his rocket of a shot missed the net, the Hurricanes went the other way and tic-tac-toe’d it into the net past Ellis.

In summary, it was a good night for the Caps to be on the ice. They were victorious, 2-0. On Tuesday, they face the Boston Bruins on the road and according to excellent Caps reporter, Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps), there will be a fresh lineup playing in Beantown. So Williams will likely be making his Caps debut. The game is not televised and neither is Thursday’s tilt with the Montreal Canadiens at the Molson Centre.

 

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Caps GM Brian MacLellan Completes Caps Top Two Lines by Landing TJ Oshie.

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MacLellan Strikes Again Landing Oshie in Trade with Blues

Posted on 02 July 2015 by Ed Frankovic

As if Caps fans weren’t happy enough after last night’s signing of three time Stanley Cup Champion Justin Williams, Washington GM Brian MacLellan struck again landing top six forward TJ Oshie from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for third line forward Troy Brouwer, minor league goalie Phoenix Copley, and a third round pick in 2016.

Oshie will count $4.175M against the Capitals salary cap, which is just over $500K more than they were paying for Brouwer.

Wow! What a great move by the aggressive GM who in 13 months, along with head coach Barry Trotz, have changed the dynamic, culture, and roster of a team that was headed downhill under ex-GM George McPhee and former head coach Adam Oates.

MacLellan has now brought in two top four defensemen in Brooks Oprik and Matt Niskanen and two top six forwards in Oshie and Williams. That’s impressive given the salary cap limits MacLellan inherited from his predecessor.

It’s clear that both Williams and Oshie are excited to be members of the Capitals organization based on their conference calls with the media on Thursday. Williams indicated that his seven year old son told him a month ago “to go to Washington so he can play with Ovechkin, he’s the best.” Justin said that his son was all smiles when he woke up and heard the news. Both were thrilled to be playing with such skilled centers as Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

What’s even more exciting is that for the first time since 2009 the Caps have a legit top two forward lines. Based on the media conference call held with MacLellan on Thursday, it appears those lines will be configured as follows:

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – TJ Oshie

Andrei Burakovsky – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Justin Williams

That is an impressive top six. Is it October yet??!!

The Caps GM will now hopefully get deals done with Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Marcus Johansson. MacLellan indicated that he’s flexible on term with Holtby, who is clearly priority one. After #70, the Capitals need to lock Kuznetsov down. As for Johansson, well his leverage just got significantly weaker. While his regular season stats have benefitted from him playing in the top six, his playoff performances and pass-first mentality is something that isn’t worth breaking the bank for. MJ90 will now play on the third line with the Caps, but he still should see power play time, if he is resigned and kept (a trade is a clear possibility).

Brouwer’s move is also significant because it opens up the third line right wing slot for Tom Wilson, who the organization expects to improve considerably, especially since he has a complete off season and training camp to get ready (Wilson was injured last summer). Third line center is still an open hole and it appears unlikely that Eric Fehr will be back to fill it. Joel Ward’s tenure in DC is clearly over too.

There are still cheap options out in the free agent market for a third line center, such as Shawn Matthias, but that will have to wait until at least Holtby and Kuznetsov are inked.

Coach Trotz told the media today that the fifth, six, and seventh defensemen spots are wide open. Dmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt, and Taylor Chorney will be the favorites to snag those slots, but depending on how negotiations go over the next few weeks, there could be money left for MacLellan to add another defensemen, likely a legit 3rd pair right handed d-man.

Overall, the last 24 hours in Caps land have been electric. MacLellan has proven to be very aggressive and has backed up his words every time he’s talked about the areas he’d like to see the Capitals improve in terms of personnel. He’s been transparent and refreshing. The second year GM clearly gets that the Caps have to win now given how close this club came in 2015 and he’s done it without mortgaging the future.

Dare I say it again, is it October yet??!!

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