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Backstrom, Neuvirth Get Caps Back to .500

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Backstrom, Neuvirth Get Caps Back to .500

Posted on 02 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Coming off of a huge and emotional win in Filthadelphia on Friday night, the Caps were back at home to take on the Florida Panthers at the Verizon Center on Saturday evening. As one might expect, Washington had a bit of a letdown and didn’t play a very good game overall. However, thanks to a super performance from Michal Neuvirth (31 saves) and a dominating effort from Nicklas Backstrom, the Caps somehow managed to get two points by beating the Cats, 3-2, in a shootout.

The victory, while pretty ugly, is an important one this early in the season. It moves the Capitals to 7-7 overall and they managed to win again without injured captain Alexander Ovechkin (upper body injury).

The biggest problem for the Caps on this night was something they’ve struggled with most of the season: effort. Simply put, the Capitals are not skating hard enough throughout games. There is too much puck watching and gliding going on and as a result the other team is owning the puck more. In addition, by not skating well, the Caps have opened themselves up to taking more penalties. Florida had six power plays on the night and it wasn’t until they scored on a 4 on 3 with just over two minutes left that they were finally able to beat a Capitals PK unit that had killed 30+ straight man advantages situations. Washington’s penalty killing has been outstanding, but six minors is far too many and the last one was just a terrible retaliation move by Steve Oleksy so late in a one goal game. #61 has to learn you have to keep your head when points are on the line.

Washington’s power play also struggled without Ovechkin, going 0 for 3 on the night. Playing against a below average goalie in Scott Clemmensen the Caps should have simplified things and focused on getting pucks and bodies to the cage, instead there was far too much perimeter passing. The Caps were minus one on the evening in the special teams department and when you aren’t playing well, that is difficult to overcome.

But the Caps did do enough good things to prevail. Backstrom was by far the best player on the ice and he has such a good shot that he needs to keep using, even when the Gr8 returns to the lineup. Eric Fehr played well again with Martin Erat on that top unit. I also liked, despite only getting about six minutes of ice time, the way the fourth line of Michael Latta, Tom Wilson, and Aaron Volpatti played. Latta earned his first NHL point with a sweet cross ice feed to John Carlson in the second period that Captain America buried with a nice shot. Carlson was also one of Washington’s better players, along with Karl Alzner.

The Caps red hot trio of Mikhail Grabovski, Joel Ward, and Jason Chimera struggled, primarily because those guys didn’t move their feet. Grabovski did have a nice goal in the shootout, along with Brooks Laich (scored despite fanning on his move) and Backstrom in the gimmick. Laich does not look himself on five on five right now. He’s been super on the PK but he hasn’t developed any chemistry with any linemates this season so far. Brooksie needs to get his legs churning too, I see too much hesitation from him, especially coming out of his own zone.

On the back end, Mike Green still isn’t playing near peak performance. He’s making far too many turnovers in his own end and in the neutral zone. Washington will need #52 performing at a high level when they play the better teams in the league.

On Saturday the Caps showed up and managed to just do enough to win against a weak Florida team. There was far too much lollygagging for my liking again, but a bit understandable given Friday night’s events. The team got the victory and now have a day off on Sunday to rest.

Coming up though, the schedule will get tougher so it’s important that the Caps get their effort up, especially on Tuesday against a New York Islanders club that gave them fits last season.

Notes: Shots were 33-23 in favor of Florida…Washington won the faceoff battle, 35-31…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 26:15. Green played 25:47…Fehr had four shots on net and led all forwards in that department.

 

 

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Caps Destroy Dirty Flyers, 7-0

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Caps Destroy Dirty Flyers, 7-0

Posted on 01 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals, coming off two straight road losses, had the tough task of going into Philadelphia to take on a Flyers team without the services of injured captain Alexander Ovechkin.

For the first 15 minutes, things didn’t look too good for Washington as the Flyers came out strong, aided by two early power plays, but Braden Holtby (30 saves) made some big stops, including one that earned a much needed faceoff after Brooks Laich broke his stick while killing a penalty. Shortly after that save, the Caps would get a goal from Nicklas Backstrom and then add five more in the second period to take a 6-0 lead into the third frame.

Then, as predicted on twitter, Philadelphia brought out the Oggy Oglethorpe style for the 3rd period because all those knuckleheads from Broad Street know what to do when down four or more pucks in the third period is fight. Things got ugly with Steve Downie going after Aaron Volpatti, but #24 one punched him into a concussion. Then when Wayne Simmonds plowed over Martin Erat and rookie Tom Wilson fought #17 to protect his teammate, goon goalie Ray Emery skated the length of the ice to jump Braden Holtby. According to Chuck Gormley of CSN, Holtby said he didn’t want to fight so Emery told him to protect himself, and then he started hitting #70. Talk about embarrassing for the NHL and by the way, isn’t that assault?!

Anyways, that’s what some of the boltheads in Philadelphia like to see and the Flyers fans finally started cheering for something because they still think it is 1975.   But the joke is on the the Flyers and their entire organization. They are so bad that they still couldn’t get a puck by Holtby, even after Emery kept hitting #70 while a terrible referee stood there and just allowed it to happen (Emery and Francois St. Laurent should both be suspended after that incident). This is not the publicity the league needs but the Flyers are so mismanaged by Ed Snider and Paul Holmgren that this is what happens when a team made up of goons and thugs can’t play the game.

Now back to the contest, the Caps would go on to win, 7-0. Joel Ward notched a hat trick, Jason Chimera had a goal and three helpers, Mikhail Grabovski had three assists, and Nick Backstrom had two goals plus one assist in an offensive onslaught by Washington. The second frame was by far the Caps best period all season as they took their intensity to the level it needs to be at regularly for the team to be successful.

Even better, the Capitals stuck together when things got physical in the 3rd period and responded as necessary. Luckily Holtby appears to be okay because he’s Washington’s best goalie. Holtby is also in the  “Eats Rocks for Breakfast” club.

Overall it was a win for a team that badly needed one, and it came in convincing fashion. The Caps weathered the early storm and started playing with energy. The passing was much improved, especially coming out of their own zone, which is encouraging. Several players had big nights and Eric Fehr  (2 assists) really stepped up taking Ovechkin’s spot on the top line with Backstrom and Erat (2 assists).

The key for the Caps now is to build on this win. Washington has been looking for a spark to get them going this season.

Perhaps kicking the Flyers rears on the ice will finally do that?

Notes: Ovechkin could play on Saturday against Florida and will likely be a morning decision…Washington won the faceoff battle, 34-31…Emery received 29 minutes in penalties for his buffoonery…one of the Flyers media members voted Emery as the 3rd star of the game, seriously…former Caps forward Craig Berube is the current coach of Philadelphia and the Flyers could be on their 3rd bench boss this season real soon.

 

 

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Ovechkin, Holtby Pace Caps Over Oilers

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Ovechkin, Holtby Pace Caps Over Oilers

Posted on 25 October 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin and Braden Holtby are both red hot right now.

The Gr8 notched a goal and an assist and Holtby stoned (30 saves) the Oilers until two minutes remaining in regulation as the Capitals played a strong road to knock off Edmonton, 4-1, on Thursday night.

The victory moves the Capitals to 5-5 on the season and into 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division. It was a win against a weak club, but the Oilers came out hard in the first frame and once Washington seized the lead on Ovechkin’s NHL leading 10th goal of the season, they gradually took over and eventually put a stranglehold on the contest.

Washington’s top line of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson had a brutal first shift but after that they were the story of this tilt. They dominated at all ends of the ice playing easily their best defensive game of the young season. Ovie and company used strong play in their own zone to ramp up their transition game and by the third period the Oilers were out of gas. The Gr8′s goal once again came directly off of a faceoff and that’s at least three goals in that fashion for Ovechkin this season. Ovie now has 15 points in 10 games.

Outside of the top line, the Brooks Laich and Mikhail Grabovski units had quality outings, as well. Grabovski, playing with Joel Ward and Jason Chimera, have turned into a really good third line and Grabo’s sneaky steal led to Chimera’s tally that made it 4-0. Laich’s line is particularly solid in their own end, something this club definitely needs given some of the inexperience on the back end.

More encouraging was that the Caps achieved this dominating victory without having to rely on their power play. All four Caps goals came at even strength. After some shaky first period moments, Washington played better in their own zone and did a decent job of positioning, communicating, and moving their feet. There still are lapses and Mike Green was beat a couple of times simply because he wasn’t skating. Coach Adam Oates also won’t like the lone Edmonton tally, which was the result of poor coverage and positioning by Washington’s fourth line along with Steve Oleksy and John Erskine on defense.

Overall though, this was a good win and the team is moving in the right direction. They’ve won three straight and the energy and passion is back in their game after the Rangers thoroughly outworked them last Wednesday. The club still must keep working on their own zone play. If they keep getting better there, than look out, because this Capitals team has a ton of offensive talent.

Notes: The Caps next play in Calgary on Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada (10 pm EST)…Edmonton dominated from the dot, 32-21, but the Capitals did score a big goal off of a draw…Johansson had two assists…Green led the Caps in ice time at 22:40. Aaron Volpatti was the low man but he had 10:01, so Oates was able to spread the time out with the lead.

 

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Ovechkin, Holtby Help Caps Beat Jets in Shootout

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Ovechkin, Holtby Help Caps Beat Jets in Shootout

Posted on 23 October 2013 by Ed Frankovic

There’s an old saying that “there are no style points in sports.”

That absolutely applied to the Capitals 5-4 shootout victory over the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre on Tuesday night.

Washington played miserably on defense for much of the night, but thanks to some timely goaltending from Braden Holtby (43 saves) and two goals from Alexander Ovechkin (NHL leading 8th & 9th tallies), the Caps grabbed a win on the first tilt of their five game road trip to improve their record to 4-5 overall.

Time after time the Caps gave up odd man rushes to a very fast Winnipeg team but somehow Holtby managed to make the big saves to keep the Caps from falling too far behind. The Jets, once they watch the film on this one, will curse themselves for not scoring more on their numerous opportunities.

Washington struggled with their first three power plays giving up a shorthanded tally and if not for #70, the Jets might have had more. Still, when Washington received a power play in the third period the man advantage finally clicked with Troy Brouwer banging home a goal off of a sweet feed from Nicklas Backstrom to give the Caps a 4-3 lead.

Naturally, on this night, some horrible defensive zone play by the top line and the Mike Green-Nate Schmidt defensive pair, led to the tying tally less than three minutes later. Green would play one more shift in the 3rd period, on a Washington power play, but after that he did not see the ice again, including the overtime session. Oates stated afterwards that the decision to sit #52 was because he was struggling (h/t to Mike Vogel for that info). The question though, is were the struggles due to a physical ailment, because Green has not looked that lethargic or played that poorly in a long time?

Offensively, the Caps did numerous good things and they generated a lot of speed going into the Winnipeg offensive zone. Marcus Johansson (2 assists) and Mikhail Grabovski (1 goal) were really flying for Washington in this one. The Capitals also had some very good fore checking shifts that wore out the Jets defense and forced Winnipeg into some costly turnovers. Rookie Tom Wilson continues to play hard, hit, and wreak havoc when he’s on the ice. Those were some of the positive things that came out of the victory.

Defensively, well, there is a ton of work to do. The Caps are far too guilty of puck watching and not moving their feet in their own zone. You could call it “road cone” defense, if you will. Defense is an effort and attention to detail part of the game. Washington has much work to do in this area, especially when it comes to looking around and finding out where your opponent is going so that you can take away their time and space. Coach Adam Oates has his work cut out for him getting some of these guys to buy in on playing in their own end. If the Capitals want to have a strong regular season and then advance deep into the playoffs, they have to improve their play when they don’t have the puck, particularly in the neutral and defensive zones.

Still, a win is a win and they don’t say how, they just count the two points for a victory during the regular season.

The Caps did not play particularly well, but they did manage to not quit, show some passion and resiliency, and earn a very big win to open up an important early road trip.

Notes: Backstrom, Brouwer, Brooks Laich, and Martin Erat scored in succession in the shootout, which the Caps won, 4-3…Washington was 1 for 5 with the power play while Winnipeg went 0 for 3 (but the Jets did have a SHG)…Oates relied heavily on Karl Alzner and John Carlson as a d-pair in this one, with both playing 26 minutes and change…Green had only 18:13 of ice time, a season low…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 47-34 and Eric Fehr went 1-6…somehow Evander Kane only had an assist in 28 plus minutes of ice time. #9 had 6 shots on net and was all over the rink. He’s a Capital killer but Holtby denied him in the gimmick right before Erat notched the game winner.

 

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Ovechkin Leads Caps Rally Past Flames

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Ovechkin Leads Caps Rally Past Flames

Posted on 04 October 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Caps spotted the young and rebuilding Calgary Flames 3-0 and 4-1 leads on Thursday night in Washington’s home opener at the Verizon Center, but thanks to three points from Alexander Ovechkin (2 goals, 1 assist) the Capitals were able to rally and defeat their opponents, 5-4, in a shootout. As in Tuesday’s contest against Chicago, there was lots of good and bad to Washington’s play, but the most important thing is that the Caps were able to even their record at 1-1 and gain two standings points.

So what went right for the Capitals on Thursday night?

First, their power play continues to scorch the opposition. Ovechkin and company were 2 for 3 with the man advantage and Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) scored the game tying tally with 5:50 remaining after a super feed from Mikhail Grabovski. Last year the Caps were first in the NHL with the power play at 26.8%. In two games, they are 5 for 9 for a 55.6% success rate. That is amazing, but when you watch this team work with the puck in five on four situations it is a thing of beauty and that is why the results are so good. The Caps are extremely difficult to defend and Grabovski has actually been an upgrade over a very good Mike Ribeiro on the first unit so far.

Second, Oates’ decision to switch goaltenders in the first period paid off. Braden Holtby (3 goals on 11 shots) wasn’t getting much support in front of him so at 16:22 of the first frame Michal Neuvirth came in and he stopped 27 of 28 shots as well as two shootout attempts in the gimmick. Neuvy’s only blemish was on his giveaway behind the net that led to Lance Bouma’s tally that made it 4-1 Calgary 29:05 into the contest.

Finally, the Capitals generated a lot of chances and despite giving up four goals, the Flames Karri Ramo played solidly in net (4 goals on 39 shots).

So what went wrong and why?

After too many turnovers in Chicago on Tuesday and some coverage lapses against a super Blackhawks team, one would hope that the Caps would be able to shut down a much less talented Calgary forward group. That did not come close to happening. Time after time the Flames came into Washington’s zone with speed and they created lanes to the net that made goaltending difficult. In the overtime Calgary carried the four on four play as Washington struggled to move the Flames off of the puck in their own zone.

The early season struggles on defense is a bit of a concern and the injury to Jack Hillen isn’t going to help. Hillen was rammed into the left wing boards by Bouma on a hit that looked a little late and too low. #38 went to the ice in pain and was helped off. It was reported afterwards that he suffered a lower body injury and was at the hospital. We’ll know more tomorrow but it looks to be a long term injury which will necessitate the need for a call up. A left handed defensemen is needed and Nate Schmidt is in the mix for the potential call up. Based on NHL experience, Dmitry Orlov seems like a logical choice but #81 continues to struggle with his game after suffering a concussion last December.

As for the poor defensive performance, Oates felt that the Capitals came out flat after an emotionally charged game on Tuesday in the Windy City. As a result, the Flames got a couple of early goals and that juiced their energy. Calgary was really flying, at times, and the Caps had some trouble keeping up. Brooks Laich thought Washington was outworked in the first period. Karl Alzner was not happy with the performance on defense and stated that the team could not win consistently giving up four or more goals. Alzner said that Calgary is quick and they did have more jump early. He mentioned that he spoke with some of the Flames prior to the game and they had a hard working training camp, which helped their conditioning. In addition, King Karl says that the Capitals D may be focusing too much on getting the puck up the ice quickly and it is leading to turnovers and poor positioning. Alzner stated that rather than trying for the fast outlet pass that the defense consider the option of just chipping it out off of the glass when the pass completion percentage is not great.

Overall, the Flames generated far too many scoring chances and Neuvirth had to make some tough stops in the third period and overtime to give his team a chance to get the victory. The offense did their part to cover up some shoddy play in Washington’s end. Through two games defense is the major area of concern, but there are 80 more contests to go and as stated after Tuesday’s loss, this is a work in progress on the back end.

The intensity and focus was not there for Washington for stretches of play, but the Capitals did manage to earn a much needed two points.

Notes: Marcus Johansson had three assists…Connor Carrick scored his first NHL goal on a breakaway after coming out of the penalty box. He logged 17:26 of ice time on defense…Tom Wilson pounded Bouma in a fight after the Flame took out Hillen. Wilson only played 5:52 but he was effective in that time with a couple of shots on goal and a pair of hits…Martin Erat only played 6:30 and is probably not a happy camper…the Eric Fehr line (Jason Chimera and Joel Ward) logged about six minutes more at even strength than the Erat, Wilson, and Jay Beagle unit…Mike Green had an assist in 31:01 of ice time (led all players in TOI)…the Caps claimed defensemen Alexander Urbom off waivers from the Devils and sent center Michael Latta to Hershey to make room for the left handed defensive defensemen from Sweden…next up for the Caps are the Dallas Stars at Reunion Arena on Saturday night at 8pm.

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Turnovers Doom Caps in Chicago

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Turnovers Doom Caps in Chicago

Posted on 01 October 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It’s only one game, but a pattern seen in the Washington Capitals pre season continued again in the season opener in Chicago on Tuesday night: turnovers. The Caps did a lot of good things in a contest against a super Blackhawks team, including scoring three power play goals, but they were just too careless with the puck on too many occasions and it cost them at least a point in the Windy City.

Washington took a 4-3 lead early in the third period after two Mikhail Grabovski deflections (#84 had a hat trick plus an assist), but then a Connor Carrick offensive zone miscue led to the tying goal before another turnover in the defensive corner by the Caps allowed Johnny Oduya to score a deflected goal off of Braden Holtby’s glove. It was one #70 would like back and it was tough to see that one cost Washington the game after Holtby made several ten bell saves in period two to keep his club in it.

One thing is for sure, this Capitals team is going to be exciting to watch. Grabovski was all over the ice and his addition seems to mitigate the loss of center Mike Ribeiro to free agency. The Caps have several lines that can score and there were stretches where Washington tilted the ice in their favor. The power play, run by coach Adam Oates and Blaine Forsythe, was great up until late in the game when the Caps had a 5 on 3 but couldn’t convert. Grabovski played below the goal line on the first unit and he really helped open things up for the others. 

But the theme of the game, and what led to a 0 point night, was Washington’s struggles in their own zone. The Caps positioning was bad and they repeatedly failed with their clears. Carrick and Jack Hillen had a rough night as the 3rd defensive pair but several others on the back end gave the puck away too much. Eric Fehr did some nice things at center, but he had his struggles positioning wise when it came to playing defense. The good news is that can be corrected with more reps for #16 at the pivot. The team turnovers are correctable too, but as stated in Sunday night’s blog, the defense is a little shaky and is the weakness on this hockey team right now.

You can bet that Oates and company will adjust going forward. Also keep in mind that Washington won’t be playing the defending Stanley Cup Champions every night. Chicago has a great hockey team and the Caps were in position to win in the third period. That’s encouraging, but there is lots of work to be done for the Capitals to get where they want to be. The offense looks really good, but you have to be able to play in your own end. It will be a work in progress on the back end.

Notes: Alex Ovechkin had 9 shots on net and netted a goal and an assist…rookie Tom Wilson only played 6:40 against a very quick Hawks club…Chicago was 1 for 4 on the power play but their first tally was just seconds after Fehr’s minor expired. The Caps were hoping to improve their PK this season but it got off to a rough start…Washington lost the faceoff battle 31-29 but they did win several in a row late when they had the five on three advantage (Backstrom won most of them)…the final score was 6-4. Marian Hossa was awarded a goal late when he was ruled to be tripped en route to the empty cage…the Capitals open their season at the Verizon Center on Thursday at 7 pm against the Calgary Flames.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on with Drew Forrester on The Morning Reaction at 7:25 am on Wednesday. Listen Live at WNST.NET

 

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Caps Start 2013-14 With High Expectations Once Again

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Caps Start 2013-14 With High Expectations Once Again

Posted on 29 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It is awfully difficult to win a championship in professional sports but heading into 2013-14 that is once again the goal of the Washington Capitals, who have yet to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup since their inception in 1974. The Caps, who have made the playoffs the last six years, have another quality team as they prepare to open their season against the defending champs, the Chicago Blackhawks, in the Windy City on Tuesday night at 8pm on NBCSN.

On Sunday, Caps General Manager George McPhee made several moves to help put some clarity to the opening night roster culminating with a trade of center Matheiu Perreault to the Anaheim Ducks for a 4th round pick and AHLer John Mitchell. In addition, several players were sent to Hershey, including defenesemen Tyson Strachan and Dmitry Orlov. For now, here is what the Caps roster looks like:

Goalies (2): Braden Holtby, Michal Neuvirth

Defensemen (7): Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, John Erskine, Jack Hillen, Steve Oleksy, and Connor Carrick

Forwards (14): Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Mikhail Grabovski, Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, Martin Erat, Tom Wilson, Eric Fehr, Joel Ward, Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera, Aaron Volpatti, and Michael Latta

The move of Perreault was predicted here last week and makes sense from a hockey and salary cap standpoint. This Caps team needed to get bigger and more powerful up front and Wilson’s outstanding camp made keeping him up with the main club, rather than shipping him back to a weaker league (OHL), an easy decision. The 19 year old, who was the 16th overall pick in the 2012 NHL entry draft, brings a dimension that this Washington team needs more of in the post season: size and the ability to score the tough goals in close. Six months with Coach Adam Oates and some highly talented teammates is what is needed for Wilson to continue his development, the OHL is just not going to help him get any better.

As for the rest of the squad, the strengths appear to be in goal and up front. Braden Holtby has established himself as a number one goalie and has the chance to move into the elite category with a very strong season. As McPhee told the media last Tuesday, to win the Stanley Cup you have to have great goaltending. #70 is the guy being counted on to deliver that, but Neuvirth is a more than capable net minder and will be needed to play well so that Washington can qualify for the post season in a very competitive Metropolitan Division.

At forward, the Capitals have some serious depth on the wings but still aren’t sure who is going to be the third line center. Backstrom has the first line locked up with Grabovski manning the second unit. The club could go with Beagle as the 3rd line center and Latta pivoting the 4th to start the season, but that depends on the health of the others, primarily Laich, who has been battling a hip flexor issue. Right wing is just loaded up with Ovechkin, Brouwer, Fehr, Wilson, and Ward. Both Fehr and Erat were tried at center this preseason by Oates with some success, so the head coach has lots of options. Johansson could play 3rd line center at some point too. The Caps have not had as talented a crew of forwards to start the season in many years and with the players they have there is lots of room for flexibility.

On defense, the top three is awfully good with Green, Alzner, and Carlson. After that, it gets dicey. Erksine was super last spring in the regular season but is he really a top 4 d-man? #4 will have a chance to prove it starting this week. Oleksy came out of seemingly nowhere to take a 3rd pair spot in the spring and Hillen overcame an early season injury to play a lot of quality minutes last year. Carrick was the biggest surprise of training camp, has great offensive skills and his hockey IQ is high. Learning to play defense in the NHL is harder than any other position so Washington has to be careful to not put too much on the 19 year old, who has incredible potential. The organization still has high hopes for Orlov, but given his injury situation last season, starting him in Hershey made too much sense. The 2009 2nd round pick will play top pair minutes in the AHL and can hone his craft for what appears to be an inevitable jump back to the NHL at some point during the 82 game season.

Special teams will be an important component of Washington’s success. Last season the Caps were #1 in the NHL with the power play (26.8%). You can expect it to remain at least top 5 and Oates and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe will continually be tweaking things to counter opposition tactics. As for the penalty kill, Laich stated on Tuesday that is one of the areas this Capitals club will have to improve in if they want to do well in the regular season and playoffs. The PK has been one of the team’s weaknesses the last few years and it was 27th out of 30 in 2012-13 with a success rate of only 77.9%.

In summary, the expectations are high for this Capitals team. The playoffs are not a given, but if this club can stay relatively healthy, then they have the talent to compete for the division title. Every team in the Metropolitan Division has its issues. The Penguins are the pick of many but their goaltending and team defense certainly has its question marks. Will the Rangers respond positively to a new coach in Alain Vigneault? How will the Devils do with the departure of Ilya Kovalchuk? The Flyers added Vinny Lecavalier but will Ray Emery or Steve Mason step up and be a top goalie in a pressure packed Philly market? Are the Islanders ready to take the next step up the ladder or was their playoff run last spring a one time deal? Is Columbus going to play like the team that nearly qualified for the post season last spring or the cellar dweller crew that started 2013? Finally, will Cam Ward returning in net for Carolina propel them to a winning season? Nothing is set in stone heading into the season and in the salary cap era every team has holes and/or issues. What is important is that the Capitals get off to a good start since coming from behind in the standings is not going to be as achievable as it was in the Southeast Division.

 

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Caps Pound Flyers in Preparation for Season Opener

Posted on 27 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The revamped Philadelphia Flyers came to the Verizon Center on Friday night to take on a Washington Capitals team that didn’t dress four of its’ top five defensemen. In a preseason tilt filled with numerous fights, the Caps smoked the Flyers, 6-3, to run their September record to 4-0-3 as they head into Saturday’s exhibition season finale in Chicago. The season then opens on Tuesday, October 1st with Washington taking on the defending Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks, again in the Windy City.

Here are some thoughts and observations on the Caps last home tune-up:

- Alex Ovechkin notched two sweet power play goals from the slot. The first was a laser off of a nice feed from Connor Carrick (3 assists) and the second came on a rebound that was aided by Ray Emery’s mishandling of the puck. The Gr8 looks to be in great form for the regular season but in between he’ll depart on Friday night for Greece where he’ll be the first Russian to carry the Olympic torch for the Sochi games after it is lit in Olympia. Ovechkin will return to DC on Sunday night and will practice on Monday before the season opener.

- There is not much more Tom Wilson can do to show he belongs on the team. He scored another goal going to the net (sweet pass by Mikhail Grabovski), got into a fight with Brayden Schenn and he beat the young Flyer to a pulp, drew a penalty that led to Ovie’s 2nd PPG, and doled out several hits. The 19 year old is an NHLer now and brings an added dimension of size and toughness to a Capitals team that will need it in the new Metropolitan Division. Some Flyers, to include Scott Hartnell, got knocked off of their game mentally by Wilson in Friday’s contest.

- Eric Fehr tallied two more times to run his preseason goal total to five. #16 looks great and the hope is that he can stay healthy for a full season to see what he can do. Washington is loaded at right wing with Ovechkin, Wilson, Fehr, Troy Brouwer, and Joel Ward.

- With Mike Green, John Carlson, John Erskine, and Jack Hillen all resting on Friday night, Coach Adam Oates and GM George McPhee got a chance to look at several players vying for the 6th and 7th defensemen spots on the roster. Noone really stood out among the three guys with the best chance to get those slots in Steve Oleksy, Tyson Strachan, and Dmitry Orlov. Each had some solid plays, especially in the opening frame when the Caps jumped to a 2-0 lead. But when the Flyers scored three straight in the middle stanza to tie the game up, each of the three had their share of mistakes. Carrick probably had the best game on D other than Karl Alzner, but with two right handed offensive guys already on the squad in Green and Carlson, it doesn’t make sense to keep Carrick up. Michal Cajkovski did once again show off his heavy left handed shot on the blue line but he needs more seasoning. Right now, the odds seem to favor Oleksy and Strachan to get the last two D spots while Orlov goes down to Hershey to play lots of minutes and get his confidence back.

- Michal Neuvirth had a good night in net stopping 32 of 35 shots. His stick handling is improved and that will be important in the regular season. Both goalies will play lots of games but Braden Holtby is the clear #1 now. Holtby’s ability to move the puck really helps the defense and adds another dimension from the back line.

 - Playing goalie in Philadelphia might be the toughest position in the NHL and Emery may not be the answer the Flyers are hoping for in goal. The net minder already had one problematic stint in the city of Brotherly Love and he looked weak on Friday night. Is Steve Mason the guy for the job in Philly? One thing Peter Laviolette should be concerned about is the fact that his team has struggled in the preseason and they also couldn’t beat a Caps team that didn’t dress many of their top D. Yes the Flyers inked Vinny Lecavlier this summer but there are still lots of holes on that Philly team. Claude Giroux is still a super player, though, and will have to carry that club.

So we are just four days from the regular season opener and the Caps roster is still up in the air. McPhee and Oates have a lot of work to do over the next 48+ hours to finalize things and the decisions are not easy, especially when the salary cap gets factored in. Washington has 14 NHL forwards, so do they keep them all and only 7 defensemen? Or do they go 13 forwards and 8 defensemen or possibly just 13 and 7 to be one spot under the 23 man limit? We’ll find out very soon.

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Handicapping the Caps Opening Night Roster

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Handicapping the Caps Opening Night Roster

Posted on 24 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals held their annual media day luncheon on Tuesday at Kettler IcePlex and both Owner Ted Leonsis and General Manager George McPhee made it clear that winning the Stanley Cup was once again their barometer of success.  The Caps, who have made the playoffs in six straight seasons, will not have the benefit of getting into the dance via a Southeast Division title in 2013-14. Instead they will be in the Metropolitan Division competing with the likes of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Carolina Hurricanes, and Columbus Blue Jackets. It is a tougher task, but Leonsis and McPhee both feel that this year’s club is deeper than they’ve had in several years.

As of today, the Caps have over 25 players in camp with just one week to go until the regular season opener in Chicago on October 1st. An NHL club can carry up to 23 players but they also have to be under the $64.3M salary cap. Coach Adam Oates noted that you have to factor in the dollars as well as who could get claimed for nothing via other teams on the waiver wire when finalizing the roster. Via Capgeek.com, Washington currently has 22 players at a total of $63.6M. That list of 22 players includes 13 forwards, 7 defensemen, and two goalies (Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth). So who is going to make it and who likely won’t? Here’s a look at where guys stand, from what I’ve seen in the games and gauging from comments made by Oates today:

Goalies:

In: Holtby, Neuvirth

Defensemen:

In: Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, John Erskine

Likely In: Steve Oleksy, Jack Hillen

Bubble: Dmitry Orlov, Tomas Kundratek

Longshot: Connor Carrick

Forwards:

In: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich, Mikhail Grabovski, Troy Brouwer, Martin Erat, Joel Ward, Eric Fehr, Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera

Bubble: Mathieu Perreault, Aaron Volpatti, Tom Wilson

Basically, the club has some tough choices to make at defense and it gets even harder at forward. McPhee stated that they could keep 19 year old Wilson up and stay under the cap, but acknowledged he might have to move a player to do so. The GM stated that he doesn’t like to keep teenagers on the roster, but Wilson has shown he can play and is making the decision on the big right winger very difficult. Ideally, Wilson would start the season in Hershey but since he is an Ontario Hockey League draft pick, he cannot play in the AHL until he is 20 years old. It appears there isn’t much to gain for Wilson going back to his junior team (Plymouth). Sure he’d get power play time and could dominate, but he did that last season. To me, Wilson brings a dynamic this Caps team needs. The kid is big, can skate, hits, and he goes to the net. Six months under Adam Oates in preparation for the post season, in my book, is just too hard to pass up. The Capitals need another power forward who can wear opposition defenders down in the playoffs and Wilson is a player who can do that.

Keeping Wilson though, likely means a move elsewhere has to be made. That brings us to Perreault. With McPhee and Oates announcing today that Erat is going to play center in these last few preseason games, after Fehr had his trial at center last week, it sure looks like the team is looking for options other than #85 to play the pivot position. So would Perreault, who counts just over $1M on the salary cap, be the player moved if Wilson is kept up with the big club? That’s certainly one viable option. McPhee noted that the trade chatter has picked up in recent days but did acknowledge again, that making trades in the salary cap era is very hard.

On defense, it’s hard to see the six guys who finished the season in the spring not being the top six starting on October 1st. The question then is who do you keep up as the 7th guy. Orlov is a player that has an immense amount of talent but he’s coming off a difficult year healthwise. When asked about #81 today and his performance against Chicago last Friday night, Oates stated that he’s mainly looking for Dmitry to get fully comfortable in games again. To me that spells a ticket to Hershey to start the season where Orlov can get in total hockey shape before making what seems to be the inevitable jump up to the big club at some point this season. Orlov can still go to Hershey without having to clear waivers while Kundratek cannot. Thus it appears that Kundratek is the likely choice for 7th D, but given that Erskine is coming off of surgery in the spring the GM and coach may opt to keep a left handed shot around. That would give Orlov an opening. As for Connor Carrick, the youngster has had an outstanding training camp and opened a lot of eyes. He has great hockey sense and possesses some “Mike Green” like skills. The future looks bright for Carrick, but I don’t see him on the big club this season.

Another issue that needs to be factored into the roster decisions are injuries. Laich made it clear that he was not 100% today and despite playing 20 minutes in Monday’s tilt against Boston and feeling fine afterwards, he woke up this morning not feeling right. #21 says he has October 1 circled on his calendar but as Oates stated, he’s a little snakebit right now with injuries after playing over 300 straight NHL games in a row. In addition to Laich, Ward is nicked up too, so that complicates the roster decisions.

While McPhee and Oates have some really hard choices, both acknowledged that this is a good thing for the hockey team. The Capitals have some depth in their organization and Laich feels like, when healthy, the Caps will have three lines that can score. That is something Washington has not had in several years and if you can generate balance, then it makes it harder to gear a defense towards stopping Ovechkin’s line and Green on the back end. The Rangers used that tactic this past spring, especially after Erat went down with an injury early in game four, so the Capitals have to be looking for ways to have a multi-dimensional attack.

Notes: Laich stated that he’s been working with a new stick for the last six weeks and is still learning to adjust to it. The stick has a different lie and curve than what he used for the past 12 years, so this is a big change. Oates played a factor in Laich’s decision to switch and #21 talked about how passionate the head coach was on the issue. Laich joked that when you see that type of passion than “the person is either really smart or crazy!” I’ll go with the former on Oates, after all, he did go to RPI…Oates had the Caps power play clicking on all cylinders last season and when asked if he expects adjustments from other teams, he said “absolutely.” The bench boss pointed out that video is used extensively in the NHL, as much as in the NFL, and that teams will adjust to what the Caps are doing and it is on him and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe, who runs the power play, to adjust back accordingly.

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Bruins Best Caps in Shootout in Baltimore Hockey Classic

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Bruins Best Caps in Shootout in Baltimore Hockey Classic

Posted on 17 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

On a night with former all time great Capitals Rod Langway, Bengt Gustafsson, and Peter Bondra in attendance, the Washington Capitals lost to the defending Eastern Conference Champion Boston Bruins in a shootout, 3-2, in the Baltimore Hockey Classic. Boston won the gimmick in the eighth round after the B’s rallied from a late two goal second period deficit to force overtime. Tom Wilson and Casey Wellman tallied for Washington.

Here are my thoughts, observations, and analysis of the Caps third preseason tilt, all of which have gone to a shootout (Caps are now 2-1):

- Wilson continues to impress and seems a better than 50% chance to make the Capitals this season. He is big, skates well, hits like a freight train, and has a nice scoring touch. He has all of the makings of a good NHL power forward. When GM George McPhee and Director of Amateur Scouting Ross Mahoney selected the winger out of the Ontario Hockey League with the 16th pick of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, some of my sources from around the league felt that the Caps hit a home run with this player. He’s still only 19, but boy does he look the part.

- Braden Holtby received the start in net and in his 30 minutes of action was stellar. He made numerous quality stops and his poise and confidence in the cage continues to rise. He just looks to be on the verge of moving into the upper echelon of NHL goalies. Goaltending is a clear strength on this hockey team with Michal Neuvirth backing up and Philipp Grubauer third in line. Goaltending coach Olie Kolzig has to like coming to work each day with this crew of netminders.

- The birthday boy, Alex Ovechkin (28), didn’t score but he was all over the ice. He broke through the Bruins defense and skated in alone on B’s goalie Niklas Svedberg late in the contest but the young goalie denied the Gr8 of the game winning tally. Ovi did beat Svedberg in the shootout. Outside of nearly getting cut by a broken pane of glass, it was a good night of work for the reigning NHL MVP.

- Choppy ice made passing and handling the puck difficult but Washington’s power play was still able to do some good things. The Caps rode the man advantage to many victories last season and it will be interesting to see how opponents adjust to what made Washington successful last season and then how Coach Adam Oates and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe react to opposition adjustments. With the talent and skill Washington has, my money is on the Caps to continue to have a high ranked power play.

- Of the guys in the pipeline that still need development time, forward Nathan Walker and defensesmen Nate Schmidt made positive impressions once again after strong play in Saturday’s tilt against the Jets. Walker is not tall at 5′ 8″ but he isn’t afraid to go into tight spots. He skates well and has a knack for the puck. He set up Wilson’s first goal after stealing the biscuit on the left wing boards. Walker, who is only 19, is from Australia but played in the United States Hockey League last season notching 27 points in 29 games. He also had 63 penalty minutes. As for Schmidt, the Minnesota native is a smart hockey player who is excellent in the offensive end of the ice. It takes time to learn how to play in your own end at the professional level so going to Hershey and playing this season will be good for the 22 year olds development.

- After this group played on the big Olympic ice on Saturday, it was good to play a contest on a regular sized rink against a physical team like Boston. The Bruins are one of the elite teams in the NHL and having a game where you know you are going to get hit each time you have the puck is super preparation for the regular season.

Overall, it was a positive night in Charm City for the Caps and their fans, who got their money’s worth with the eight round shootout. After a day off tomorrow, the Caps will practice on Thursday at Kettler IcePlex and then they play their first preseason game at the Verizon Center on Friday night against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Saturday brings the Caps Convention, which is a big event for Capitals fans (check out washingtoncaps.com for details).

 

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