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Holtbeast Philly

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The Holtbeast Leads the Caps Over the Flyers

Posted on 04 March 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Nicklas Backstrom scored on the power play 3:25 in overtime to give the Washington Capitals a 2-1 victory over the despised Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night at the Verizon Center. The win was the Caps 15th straight at home and even more satisfying is that it puts the Broad Street Bullies even closer to the golf course once the regular season ends on April 9th.

So hockey fans have that going for them….which is nice.

What a screen by T.J. Oshie on the game winner! Pay the Man!

The “Osh Babe” returned after missing four games due to an upper body injury suffered from the black and orange dirt bags in Filthy 10 days ago. #77 was pretty good and was robbed just before #19’s game winner on a tremendous save by Steve Mason (22 saves), who was fabulous in this contest.

However, the Capitals goaltender, Braden Holtby, goes to 11.

The Holtbeast had a superior outing stopping 30 pucks and made several HUUUUGGGEEE saves, to quote some guy who now lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Simply put, he’s the best goalie on the planet these days and if #70 continues to perform like that, then you’d have to think Washington is going to be a very difficult out in April, May, and hopefully June. He’s now 19-0-2 in his last 21 decisions. That’s mind boggling!

This game had some ebbs and flows to it and in the first part of period two, it looked like the Capitals were going to take over. They outshot the Flyers, 9-1, but Mason was very good and Washington missed some golden chances by not hitting the cage. But I’ll give the Flyers credit, they hung in there and thanks to two power plays a period, they stayed with Washington and forced a scoreless first 40 minutes. The last part of period two was mostly Philly.

In the final frame, an Alex Ovechkin offensive zone turnover led to a Flyers odd man rush that Sean Couturier finished with a sweet deflection by Holtby with just 1:19 gone. The Caps first line has had too many loose moments lately and I really didn’t like Ovi’s game, for the most part, despite his four hits and assist on the game winning tally.

But that’s when the Capitals most improved player in 2016-17 , Dmitry Orlov, stepped up to tie the game just 81 seconds later. #9 gathered in a puck in the neutral zone and chipped it to himself near the red line. That allowed the Russian defenseman, who is making a big difference on the back end, to fly into the offensive zone and just rocket one past Mason into the top corner. The Flyers goalie was likely screened a bit by his own blueliner, but, wow, what a shot by Orlov!

After Orlov tied the game, the Flyers had their two man advantage opportunities which came on questionable calls. The Caps also received a power play on an iffy call. The power plays were six to four for the bad guys, but I thought the really bad guys were the ones in stripes. They just really didn’t have a handle on this tilt and looked to be thinking about their post game plans. It was lazy officiating allowing the players to get away with embellishment and if they don’t clean that up, then hockey becomes one step closer to the worst sport on Earth to watch, soccer.

In overtime, the Capitals didn’t have the puck for the first two minutes, but after Michael Del Zotto was caught deep, Kevin Shattenkirk took the biscuit the other way on a rush and “Del Zaster,” as some New York Ranger fans used to call him when he played for the Blueshirts, was nailed for holding. That set the stage for Mason’s big save on Oshie before the whistle, and then Backstrom’s winner, that was assisted by Shattenkirk, who earned his first point as a Cap. Nice job, Kevin.

Overall, this was an inconsistent outing by the Capitals and their third line only played 10 shifts together, resulting in just 6:04 of ice time for Brett Connolly. That is just too low and I blame that predominantly on the fact that 19:05 of this affair was played on special teams. That works in the Flyers favor because they have a great power play, although they went 0 for 6 on Saturday night. Washington is best when the game is five on five and they can roll all four lines and wear down their opponents. They could not do that against the Flyers because of all of the penalties. Blame the zebras or blame the Caps for those, but Coach Barry Trotz is at his best when he can play all four units and work to get the line matchups he desires.

One guy who did have a big game and continues to get under the Flyers skin is Tom Wilson. Willy had five shot attempts and NINE hits in 12:59 of ice time. He also had a huge shot block that likely saved a goal. #43 loves to play the Flyers and it shows. He was Comcast’s player of the game.

With the Blue Jackets and Rangers both losing in regulation on Saturday, Washington’s Metropolitan Division lead is now nine points over Pittsburgh and Columbus (both teams have a game in hand). The Rags trail by 11 points and the Caps have a game in hand on Alain Vigneault’s club.

Everyone knows that next to finally winning a Stanley Cup, I enjoy nothing more than beating the Flyers. Let’s face it, they’ve been setting hockey back to the Dark Ages since the Capitals entered the league in 1974-75. They play chippy hockey and they are sore losers when they are getting beat. I don’t like them, at all. I’ll give them credit though on Saturday night. They played hard and they did everything they could to try and get a desperately needed two points.

But they only got one, so they should probably start thinking about contacting their local Titleist representative to get a jump on their off-season.

Notes: Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:53…Shot attempts were 58-52 for Philadelphia…the Caps were 31-25 on draws and Backstrom was 11-4…Justin Williams defended a Flyers cheap shot on Shattenkirk just 1:55 into this contest and got into it with Nick Cousins. It should have been coincidental penalties, but the zebras started their bad trend early by giving #14 a double minor to just a single minor for Cousins…the Caps next game is Monday night at the Verizon Center against the Dallas Stars at 7 pm. After that Washington is going back to Cali. They’ll play San Jose, Los Angeles, and Anaheim starting on Thursday night, March 9th.

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Connolly GWG Rags

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Caps Get Coach Trotz Career Win #700 at Madison Square Garden

Posted on 28 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals came into Tuesday night’s contest at Madison Square Garden 0-2 against the Rangers on the season. 20 minutes into this affair, which was also the Caps debut of Monday’s big defensive acquisition, Kevin Shattenkirk, it looked like it was going to be 0-3.

Washington had a defensive coverage breakdown at 5:09 of period one that allowed Brady Skjei to tally on a layup on Braden Holtby (29 saves) and take a 1-0 lead. The Rangers would have 11 of the first 16 shots on goal early on and that doesn’t include the three posts they hit that could’ve really put the Capitals behind the eight ball had any of them gone in. New York also benefitted from their home cooking zebra, Dan O’Halloran, who gave them two power plays in the opening frame to zero for the Caps, but more on him later.

The Holtbeast (29 saves) was strong, once again in net, and in period two the game changed rather quickly. Marc Staal decided to stupidly cross check Alex Ovechkin giving the Capitals an early power play. Washington didn’t score, but Shattenkirk manned the point on the first unit and fed Ovi perfectly for a one timer that King Henrik (34 saves) stopped. The Caps would gain momentum and intensity off of that man advantage. They finally started moving their feet and taking the game to the Blueshirts, but Lundqvist was holding steady in net.

A heavy, but borderline hit by Adam Clendening on Daniel Winnik then changed the outcome of the game. #26 didn’t like it, he thought it wasn’t clean, and a few seconds later they both dropped the mitts behind the New York net and Winnik jack hammered Clendening for a TKO victory. The rough stuff further amped up the Capitals intensity and just 21 seconds later, Marcus Johansson tied the game up.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, who is so important to this club and struggled in period one, made a nice pass to Dmitry Orlov that allowed #9 to exit the defensive zone with speed and fly through the neutral zone. Orlov then carried the puck into the offensive zone and had a nice give and go with Jojo just inside the offensive blue line. Orlov then smartly carried the puck deep and banked it off of Lundqvist’s pads. Johansson alertly went to the net and buried the rebound to tie this one up.

The Rangers then thought they had regained the lead at 11:53 of period two after a puck bounced about 15 feet in the air in the slot and then fell down in the crease where a New York player banged it home before Holtby knew where it was. Once again, the Caps video coaches, led by Brett Leonhardt, caught an offside infraction on the zone entry and Coach Barry Trotz successfully challenged the goal.

That took some more wind from the Rangers sails and the Capitals took over from there dominating the play and pouring tons of shots on the Swedish net minder. Washington’s relentless pressure, the Caps were not only skating, but they were hitting New York and playing with snarl, paid off when Niskanen carried the puck into the offensive zone on a nice rush to set up the game winning goal. The puck actually rolled off of #2’s stick, but Brett Connolly was parked in the slot and he gathered in the biscuit and quickly whipped it in the basket, beating a stunned Lundqvist for his career high 13th goal of the season. Connolly, Lars Eller, and Jakub Vrana had some really strong shifts as the third line.

The Caps took that 2-1 lead to the locker room and then put the hammer down early in period three. Kuznetsov (2 assists) used his speed to back the Rangers defense up, then he fed Jojo in the slot, and #90 deflected it top shelf past Lundqvist to make it 3-1 just 1:15 into period three. That really caught the home town boys by surprise and the Capitals did a good job of keeping the Rangers on the perimeter the rest of the way.

O’Halloran, who at times should just don a Rangers sweater because he has a history of poor officiating against Washington dating back to at least game two of the 2015 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals at the Garden, then gave New York two gift power plays to try and get back in this affair. However, the Caps penalty killing unit wanted none of that and the Holtbeast slammed the door shut. After O’Halloran and his zebra partner, Brad Meier, let a Matt Zuccarello blatant goalie interference on Holtby go uncalled, they finally had to give Washington a second power play when Ryan McDonagh mugged Tom Wilson.

Nicklas Backstrom then tallied on the man advantage on a shot that deflected off of a Rangers defensemen and past King Henrik to make it 4-1 with 2:03 remaining. MSG was mostly empty, at that point, except for some Caps fans who made it up to support their first place squad.

This was a huge victory for the Caps in many ways. First, they had struggled with the super fast Rangers in their first two meetings and the opening period certainly looked like more of the same, but Washington got aggressive and played with an edge. Second, the Rangers poked the bear and the Caps woke up and really handed it to them in the second and third period. In that middle frame, the Capitals out shot attempted New York, 31-16 and for the game it was 65-54. Washington played fast and heavy and the Rangers really had little push back.

Several Capitals played well, despite the absence of T.J. Oshie and Brooks Oprik, who are both day to day. Winnik’s fight, overall tenacity, and super smart hockey in 14:04 was very noticeable. Niskanen, who just returned from missing two games over the weekend, had two assists and was +3 in 18:19 of ice time. #2’s partner, Orlov, was +2 and had an assist while logging 17:14.

Wilson was also outstanding in a high ice time total of 19:34. #43 wrecked Derek Stepan hard early with a clean hit and he was sensational on the Caps PK, which went 4 for 4. Willy did a nice job of jumping up to the first line right wing spot in Oshie’s absence. He was physical and fast for the large majority of the contest and he got under New York’s skin without taking any infractions himself. Well played, Tom.

As for Shattenkirk, well he was pretty darn impressive for a guy who missed the morning skate the night after being traded. #22 had four shots on net and he can really skate and play physical, too. This looks to be just a sensational addition to an already very good hockey team.

I could go on and on about several other players, but I also thought both John Carlson (24:35) and Karl Alzner (23:41) were very strong against the Rangers top guys, which allowed the rest of the Washington lineup, particularly the second line, to win the game. Johansson (2 goals and one assist) was clearly the player of the night for the Caps and he now has a career high 21 tallies this season. He’s been super since Sweden mistakenly left him off of their World Cup of Hockey roster last September. Big mistake guys, big mistake (although the Capitals are benefiting from his fresher legs).

The win, which was Coach Trotz’ 700th NHL victory, puts the Capitals at 42-13-7 (91 points) with 20 games remaining (10 at home and 10 on the road). This has been a grueling stretch coming out of the bye week with five of the six tilts on the road and two back to back occurrences. The Caps went 2-2-1 in the away games in Detroit, Filthy, Smashville and Madison Square Garden (twice) while winning their only home tilt, 2-1, against Edmonton last Friday night.

Now it’s time for some home cooking and the Caps will take on New Jersey on Thursday before they get the despised Flyers in town on Saturday night. They’ll then face the Dallas Stars on Monday at the Verizon Center before heading out to California for three games late next week.

Home ice has been good to the Capitals this season and they’ll have a chance over the final quarter of the season to lock up home ice advantage for the post season.

Notes: Forwards Vrana (9:27) and Riley Barber (7:55) were called up from Hershey with Oshie and Andre Burakovsky out and Zach Sanford moved to St. Louis in the Shattenkirk blockbuster…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 37-33. Backstrom went 16-9…McDonagah led the Rangers in ice time with 23:54…Shattenkirk was paired with Nate Schmidt on Tuesday night.

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Depleted Caps Out Skate the Super Fast Oilers in a 2-1 Victory

Posted on 24 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

In a fun game to watch, the Washington Capitals increased their franchise record tying home winning streak to 13 games with a 2-1 victory over the super fast and talented Edmonton Oilers on Friday night.

The Caps were missing some big names due to the fact that the sore loser Neanderthal Flyers banged up Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, and T.J. “Pay the Man” Oshie in Filthy on Wednesday night. Washington was already without Andre Burakovsky, who fractured his hand before the bye week.

Riley Barber and Aaron Ness were called up from Hershey and suited up. Both Taylor Chorney and Nate Schmidt were in the lineup and boy did Caps Coach Barry Trotz get a SUPER outing from his six defensemen. The speedy Oilers, led by all world center Connor McDavid, are scoring machines, but Washington kept them predominantly to the perimeter in this game and the only goal they allowed was a turnover by Evgeny Kuznetsov and Justin Williams in the first minute of period two. Leon “Sniper” Draisaitl pounced on that miscue and beat Braden Holtby (30 saves) from the prime scoring area. There was nothing really the Holtbeast could do there, that one was on his forwards.

Speaking of Kuzy and Stick, those guys had that blunder and one other that led to an Oilers partial breakaway, but they were pretty much flying all night. Kuznetsov was matched up most of the evening against the 1st pick in the 2015 NHL draft and to be honest, #92 had bragging rights on this night. When it comes to skating, McDavid is almost unbeatable, but watching Kuznetsov stride in this one was an absolute joy. He had his wheels going so well he looked like he could have starred for the USSR Red Army teams of the 1970’s.

As for Williams, well he scored the game winner on a great no look pass from Jay Beagle just 5:48 into period three. Beagle’s line, the 4th unit of “Flip Phone” Beags, Tom Wilson, and Daniel Winnik was outstanding, once again, and sure seem to be making a strong case to be the best fourth line in the NHL right now. Wilson scored the opening salvo in this affair after a great pass from Dmitry Orlov at 12:22 of the 1st frame. #9’s ability to carry the puck in onside with his feet, Pele style, after a pass from Chorney, set the play up. Wilson, who is steadily improving in the offensive end, took the disc and fired it towards the net. Cam Talbot (23 saves) had no chance to stop the shot, which was just inside the far post, because Winnik was running traffic in front of the cage at the perfect time.

That 4th line not only played a big role in the two goals, but they continually seized momentum for Washington with strong shifts, especially with their forechecking and strong wall play. Simply put, they wore the Oilers big guns out and made them go 200 feet. By game’s end, big lug Milan Lucic was exhausted and resorted to barking at Wilson from the bench. Clearly #43 had gotten into #27’s grill big time.

On the back end, John Carlson was just outstanding logging 27:19 of ice time. Orlov played just five seconds short of his season high (24:24) and he was downright dominant. His overall game has just improved so much this season and that is a big reason why the Capitals are leading the league. Chorney was great in 18:37 of ice time and Karl Alzner was his usual steady self with an assist in 21:24.

The other thing the Capitals coaching staff will really like, besides the strong effort, was the fact that the Caps didn’t take a single penalty in this contest. That was a direct result of keeping their feet moving the whole game (effort) and keeping their sticks down. Washington was outshot attempted in this one (61-54), but in terms of having the puck, my eyes tell me the Capitals had the biscuit more often than their counterparts, but they did struggle to get shots from in close, and naturally they had several sequences where they over passed when a shot was the right play. Kuznetsov and Lars Eller were both guilty of not firing from the prime scoring zone in this one.

But overall, this was a gutsy effort by a depleted team against an up and coming hot Edmonton squad. The Caps played a high tempo game against one of the fastest teams in the league and their depth was the difference. That’s very encouraging.

The victory improves Washington to 41-12-7 (89 points) and they are +73 in terms of goal differential. More impressive, though, is the way this team is rebuilding their game after the bye week. This was the fourth game since beach time (well, skiing for Orlov) and you could see the positive result of the rest in the way the Capitals players were really moving their legs and skating. When they do that and get pucks and bodies to the cage, they are hard to beat.

Yes, they missed the “Osh Babe” and Burakovsky up front, but the depth of the team showed and that has to make both Coach Trotz and General Manager Brian MacLellan feel really good heading into Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline. I don’t expect anything major to happen from the Caps or around the league given how close the standings are and how many teams still think they can make the postseason (but let’s just hope the Flyers are golfing thanks to the Caps win on Wednesday. No one outside of that city wants to see those goons in the playoffs).

Notes: McDavid had an assist, but he was -1 in 21:42 of ice time…Brett Connolly moved up to the top line in #77’s absence and played well. He had one sequence where he made a great defensive play, then broke the puck out up the ice with speed to get a one on one with Talbot. Unfortunately he missed the net…Washington won the face off battle, 28-16. Flip Phone was 10-2…Barber played a team low 9:56 and Ness only received 10:37 of ice time, but both did not look out of place…Alex Ovechkin had nine shot attempts (3 SOG) in 18:31. He looked good in this one and something tells me a goal scoring streak is coming for him soon…Wilson had three shots on goal and five hits. He was a force all night…the injuries to Niskanen, Oprik, and Oshie are all believed to be minor, but they will not play on Saturday in Smashville. The Caps take on the Predators at 5:00, but I’m not sure why they are playing so early in the Music City?

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Winnik Ducks

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Sanford’s 1st NHL Tally is the Game Winner for the Caps

Posted on 12 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Zach Sanford probably could not have picked a better time to score his first NHL goal.

With the game tied at four with just under three minutes remaining, #82 took a great feed from Brett Connolly and blasted it off of John Gibson (33 saves) and into the cage to give the Washington Capitals a 5-4 lead with 2:39 remaining. From there the Caps held off a furious final push from the Anaheim Ducks and Marcus Johansson closed out the deal with 13 seconds left by scoring into an empty net.

Sanford’s goal was huge in so many ways.

First, it was the first game that the Capitals were playing without Andre Burakovsky, who broke his hand in the first period against Detroit on Thursday. Zach was put in #65’s slot on a red hot third line with Connolly and Lars Eller and his marker kept that lines point scoring streak alive. Connolly now has points in six straight contests.

Second, Washington had a 3-0 lead after a super first period and then a 4-1 advantage following a sensational shorthanded tally by Daniel Winnik (1 goal, 1 assist) before the Ducks came storming back to tie this game up on a Ryan Getzlaf breakaway with 8:12 remaining.

Finally, the goal extended the Caps winning streak to six games overall and their 12th straight at home to send the team off on their bye week on a high note.

Saturday’s tilt against the “Dirty Ducks” was quite the affair. After a Kevin Bieksa high hit on Alex Ovechkin bothered the captain, Corey Perry blatantly tripped former teammate Winnik on an Anaheim power play. That uncalled for move by #10 lit a fire under Washington and allowed the Caps to take a 1-0 lead when Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom set up T.J. Oshie for his 23rd tally of the season just 6:45 into this contest.

At the 14:35 mark Backstrom made it a two goal cushion when he buried the rebound of an Ovechkin shot in the slot that Gibson saved, but could not control. Winnik then set up Tom Wilson for his 4th goal of the season to make it a 3-0 Caps lead. Jay Beagle had an assist on that goal, as well. It was as perfect a first frame as the Caps have played all season, according to Winnik.

The Caps started period two on the power play and despite not scoring, they earned another advantage situation 1:52 into the middle stanza. Washington would not convert and at the 7:18 mark Jakob Silverberg scored from the right wing circle on Braden Holtby (14 saves), top shelf. The puck appeared to nick Karl Alzner’s stick on the way to the cage and that caused the biscuit to ramp up. That made it 3-1, but Winnik notched his shorthanded marker and things were looking great for the Caps with just under 28 minutes of hockey left.

The Caps, primarily the second line, then had numerous chances to build on the 4-1 lead, but Gibson came up big and Washington missed a couple of open looks. That inability to bury the Ducks would prove costly and a poor defensive zone shift by the top line enabled Hampus Lindholm to make it a two puck difference heading into the final frame.

In the first part of the third period, Coach Barry Trotz’ crew was doing a decent job of not sitting back and managing the game, but then Dmitry Orlov came out from behind his own net and tried to skate through several Ducks defenders instead of making the smart play up the boards. Ryan Kesler pounced on #9’s poor decision making and snapped one by Holtby. It was a play that Orlov just cannot make there and he had done a good job over the last two months of getting those types of mistakes out of his game.

The Orlov blunder set the stage for the Getzlaf breakaway and ultimately Sanford’s game winning goal.

So what does Zach get for scoring the GWG? A trip back to Hershey while the rest of the Caps at the NHL level enjoy their bye week.

Coach Trotz noted afterwards that a game like this crazy one with the Ducks was something his team needed, a tight contest against a very good hockey team. Sure, Washington probably should’ve blown out the Ducks once up three pucks, but Anaheim gets paid to play too.

The win was a big one in many ways for the Capitals.

They are the second team in NHL history to score five or more goals in 11 consecutive home games, joining the 1970-71 Boston Bruins.

They have a +71 goal differential overall and a 63-25 first period scoring advantage.

They are 27-2-2 this season in games in which they have one day of rest.

They have a 39-11-6 overall record, good for 84 points.

The above are some pretty amazing numbers that apply to this Caps team.

They are truly a special crew and it’s becoming clear that this club is on a mission and is likely better than last season’s Presidents’ Trophy winning squad.

Last season, Coach Trotz stated that after the snow storm in January, Washington was not the same team down the stretch and into the playoffs. Since New Year’s Eve, this season’s Capitals team has been on fire and Oshie attributed the goal scoring success to all 20 guys getting pucks deep, backchecking, and forechecking and playing with desperation.

You can certainly see the results of that desperation. It has given the Caps a nine points standings lead. Columbus and Pittsburgh are tied for second, but both do have two games in hand on Washington. We’ll see how they and the New York Rangers do over the Capitals bye week.

What’s more important, though, is how the Caps play after this bye week. It’s imperative that they don’t lose momentum and that they get healthy for the playoffs, which start in mid-April.

Notes: the Caps top line was -2. Winnik and Beagle were +2…shot attempts were 61-44 for the Caps. Washington did not sit back with the lead, but they did make some careless mistakes that they’ll need to clean up going forward…the Ducks won the faceoff battle, 34-21. Eller was 4-3…Ovechkin only played 14:54…Matt Niskanen was +2 and led the Caps in ice time with 22:40…Washington was 2-2 on the PK and scored shorthanded. They were 1 for 3 on the power play…the Caps are off until Saturday, February 18th when the take on the Detroit Red Wings in Hockeytown at 2 pm.

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Connolly Kings

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Caps Dominate Kings, 5-0, on Super Bowl Sunday

Posted on 05 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Los Angeles Kings had a five game winning streak as they came into the DMV on Sunday afternoon to face the Washington Capitals.

The key word there is HAD.

When it was all said and done, the only five that mattered were the five tallies the Caps deposited into the Kings net in a 5-0 rout.

To steal a line from The Breakfast Club, “Don’t mess with the bull…you’ll get the horns.”

Once again, the Capitals wasted little time in announcing their presence with authority. Andre Burakovsky battled strong on the right wing boards with two Kings and that allowed Brett Connolly to come out of the scrum with the biscuit and feed Lars Eller all alone in front of Peter Budaj. #20 then buried it off of the left post to give the Caps a 1-0 lead just 3:16 into the contest.

Naturally, the Kings would push back after falling behind. Trevor Lewis hit the cross bar and then Philipp Grubauer (38 saves) made two outstanding stops on Dustin Brown on the doorstep. Not scoring on those chances would doom LA because late in the opening period the Capitals upped their lead.

Brooks Orpik made a great step up and steal in the defensive zone and he fed the puck to Evgeny Kuznetsov in transition. As #44 was changing, Kuzy skated into the offensive zone while Los Angeles was undergoing a line change, as well. Two Kings then went to #92 on the left wing boards and that opened up Marcus Johansson in the slot. Jojo received a nice feed from Kuznetsov and he fired the biscuit on net right after Justin Williams cruised through the paint. #14’s net drive took Jake Muzzin there too, and #6 screened Budaj, who never saw Johansson’s shot go by him and into the twine.

Last season, the Capitals were not a fast starting team and that was something they wanted to improve on in 2016-17. This season, the Caps have outscored their opponents by a whopping 56-23 in the opening frame, including 2-0 on Sunday.

That’s impressive stuff.

The other thing the Caps wanted to do more of this season was to increase their bottom six scoring. On Saturday in a victory over Montreal, they received two goals from their third and fourth lines. Eller’s first period tally wouldn’t be the only one on Sunday, as well. Karl Alzner made a superb play in the neutral zone to make a steal on Brayden McNabb. Tom Wilson gathered the disc after the #27 poke check and he went into the offensive zone on the right wing boards with speed. #43 recognized that Connolly was streaking in all alone and he gave him a sweet pass. #10, who was an outstanding offseason acquisition by General Manager Brian MacLellan, skated in and easily beat Budaj to make it 3-0 on his 10th goal of the season. How did Connolly get so open? Well, Kevin Gravel decided to change after getting hit hard in the offensive zone and he vacated the ice leaving LA short on the back end.

There were still 26 plus minutes to go in the contest, but this one was pretty much over. Los Angeles would get a good chance a few minutes later when Marian Gaborik had the puck all alone in front of Grubauer, but there was no denting #31 on this afternoon.

T.J. Oshie then made the third period pretty much worthless when he scored top shelf on a sweet feed from All Star Nicklas Backstrom with 3:36 left in period two. The “Osh Babe” shot was so perfect that it destroyed Budaj’s water bottle creating a perfect highlight clip that you’ll see a lot of over the next 24 hours. It also destroyed Budaj’s day, and the man who had two straight shutouts for Los Angeles heading into Super Bowl Sunday would not play the final stanza.

Justin Willliams added a late third period marker to close out the scoring, from guess where?

If you said the paint or the doorstep, you win!

Yes, the Caps got another in close goal when Jojo gathered in a Kings turnover on the left wing boards and fed Stick all alone in front of Jeff Zatkoff. Williams victimized his old teammates  for his 18th goal of the season and sent them off to Florida to face the Lightning on Tuesday after a thorough butt whipping at the hands of the best team in the NHL.

For 40 minutes, this was pretty much a manhandling by the Capitals on the scoreboard and in terms of quality chances. The Caps continue to do a great job of getting net presence and easy goals off of their fore check. They are rolling four lines and once again, every Washington forward unit had at least a point on a tally in this whitewash of the Kings.

As for shot attempts, they were one sided for Los Angeles, 80-35. Most of that is on the meaningless third period as well as a bunch of perimeter shots by the Kings that didn’t find their way to the cage because they were blocked (29 of them). Coach Barry Trotz’ team plays outstanding defense in their own zone; they rarely allow the opposition to penetrate into the prime scoring areas and that is why their five on five goal totals are so dominant. So if someone tries to point to the shot attempts as an area of concern for Washington on Sunday, just go all Willie Nelson and tell them to roll those numbers up and smoke ‘em.

The victory improves the Caps to 36-11-6 (78 points). They are seven points up on the Blue Jackets and Penguins in the Metropolitan Division, although both of those squads have two games in hand.

This Washington team is really good and definitely better than last year. The additions of Eller and Connolly are paying big dividends for the bottom six forwards and they are more experienced on the back end. Add in the way Kuznetsov is playing and it’s pick your poison playing the Capitals forward lines. The playoffs can’t come soon enough.

Notes: Alzner and John Carlson were outstanding in this game. Alzner was +3…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 29-23…Alex Ovechkin drew two penalties, had four shots on net and had an assist…the Capitals were 0 for 2 on the power play while the Kings went 0 for 4…Drew Doughty played 30:33 for the Kings and was even. Alec Martinez was -4, ouch!…every Capital except for Daniel Winnik earned a plus on Sunday, but that’s no knock on #26, who continues to play great hockey at even strength and on the PK….next up for the Caps are the Carolina Hurricanes at the Verizon Center at 7 pm on Tuesday.

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Holtby Holds the Fort In Caps 3-2 Win Over Montreal

Posted on 04 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Heading into Saturday afternoon’s game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre, the Washington Capitals were 31-1-5 in franchise history when Jay Beagle scores a goal and 8-0 this season (thanks Adam Miller).

Just 3:06 into the matinee, #83 sniped one by Carey Price after a sweet feed from Daniel Winnik following a strong play by Tom Wilson in the neutral zone to keep the play onside.

So you know how this one turns out, right? It would be a Caps victory in Quebec.

However, it wasn’t easy.

After Beagle’s tally there was a lengthy delay (about 11 minutes) due to a hole in the bottom of the boards behind Braden Holtby (20 saves). Montreal took advantage of that Super Bowl 47 like stoppage to right their ship and tie the game up at one less than three minutes after play resumed. Nate Schmidt tried an ill advised centering pass on the right wing boards in his own zone and that allowed Alexander Radulov to snipe one to get the Habs back in the game. Schmidt needed to either eat the puck along the boards there until he could get help or reverse the play by putting the disc along the boards behind his own cage.

The Caps would then settle down and they began carrying the play again with lots of offensive zone pressure. Washington’s third line of Lars Eller, Brett Connolly, and Andre Burakovsky was especially good. When the Caps turned the puck over or Montreal took a hold of it, Washington ferociously back checked and reclaimed the biscuit. They did an excellent job in the first two frames of going up and down the ice in five man units and that prevented the very fast Habs squad from turning this game into a track meet.

The two way effort paid off midway through the middle frame. Eller sprung Connolly up the ice on a three on two with Burakovsky and Schmidt. #88 then atoned for his previous mistake by making a very smart play as he crossed the blue line with speed – he kept driving to the net. By doing that he took the Habs defensemen with him and that opened up a passing lane for #10, who laid a sweet cross ice feed to #65 and he snapped it short side, top shelf by Price for a 2-1 lead.

Washington would continue pressing the play in period two and they had several good looks. Alex Ovechkin hit the post and was also denied in tight by #31. Justin Williams had a great shot from the slot, but he didn’t elevate the puck and Price got his pad on it. After 40 minutes, shots on goal were 24-12 for the Caps and 41-26 in terms of shot attempts. In short, they were playing a super road game to that point.

In the third period, they did a good job of keeping Montreal to the outside early in the frame and when Radulov took a hooking penalty on the Gr8, the Caps cashed in on the power play. With the Habs overplaying the pass to Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom alertly chose to fire a shot from the middle of the ice up high and with Price leaning right, the puck eluded him to give Washington a 3-1 lead with 14:44 to go.

Things then got interesting. Montreal really put the pressure on and at 7:49 of period three Max Pacioretty cut the lead to one when they totally outworked the Caps fourth line for a goal. The game would go back and forth with teams trading some chances and when the Caps received a power play with 5:46 to go, they looked to close this one out. However, the Caps made a big offensive zone turnover and Torrey Mitchell received a shorthanded breakaway. As he was about to shoot, the puck bounced on him a bit, so he didn’t get all of the rubber, but the Holtbeast was already in good position and he made a huge stop. Braden would make a few more quality saves down the stretch and the Capitals did a decent job of not allowing the Habs to penetrate the paint until the final horn sounded.

When it was all said and done, the Capitals would head out of the hallowed hockey city with a 3-2 victory to improve to 35-11-6 (76 points) on the season.

This was a game that I was not worried about for Washington from a motivational standpoint. Every NHL player LOVES to play in Montreal. It is a great city and has a lot of hockey history. Simply put, if you can’t get up to play there, you don’t have a pulse.

As I routinely write, when the Caps are motivated, they are hard to beat because of their skill, depth, and goaltending. Montreal gets paid to play, too, and they are fighting for their division title, so the Habs really brought it, especially late. Both Price and Holtby put on net minding clinics and it is easy to see why they are the best two goalies in the NHL.

This was a fun hockey game to watch and Washington benefitted from winning the special teams battle going 1 for 4 with the man advantage and stopping all three Habs power plays.

Both teams could’ve won this affair, although I thought the Caps were the better team for the majority of the tilt, until they earned the two goal lead. They then hung on to win and as the stats dictate, when Beagle scores a goal, it’s pretty much points in the bank for Washington.

Woof!

Notes: The Caps won the shot attempt battle, 51-49. Ovechkin and Beagle each had five shots on net. This was by far #83’s best outing since he went down with a virus just before the all star break. “Flip Phone” Beags seemed to finally have his legs back…John Carlson took his first penalty of the season, but he played solidly and led the Caps in ice time with 24:16…Holtby is now 11-0-0 in his last 13 starts…the Caps won the face off battle, 28-25. All Star Backstrom was 15-4 and Beagle was 9-6…Burakovsky and Beagle now both have 11 goals on the season. #65 and that whole line has been a huge difference maker for Coach Barry Trotz’ club….the Caps will face the Los Angeles Kings at noon on Super Bowl Sunday at the Verizon Center on NBC. LA defeated the Flyers on Saturday, 1-0, in overtime….the Kings are coming in hot, they’ve won five in a row as they make their way to DC. Expect to see Philipp Grubauer between the pipes for the Caps.

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Backstrom & Kuznetsov Lead the Caps Over Boston, 5-3

Posted on 01 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Boston Bruins seem to bring out the best in Nicklas Backstrom.

Washington’s number one center had a beast of an evening against the B’s at the Verizon Center notching a goal and two helpers as the Caps pulled away for a 5-3 victory.

It was #19’s great saucer pass up the middle of the ice that set up T.J. Oshie for a breakaway goal just 3:06 into this contest and then later in the opening frame he buried the rebound of a Matt Niskanen point shot.

The Capitals looked like they were going to be in command of this one early, but then the Bruins, who rallied from a 3-0 hole in DC earlier in the season before losing in OT on a Backstrom goal, came back with two power play goals by pesky Brad Marchand to tie things up just 2:49 into period two. Boston started to take over the game for a good portion of that stanza, much like the Islanders did to the Caps on Tuesday in Brooklyn after a power play goal. Somehow, though, Coach Barry Trotz’ crew found another gear.

Marcus Johansson, who did stellar work winning many board battles in this one, drew a late second period penalty. That set the stage for Alex Ovechkin to score a huge goal with 15 seconds remaining in period two. The Gr8 took a pass from Niskanen and with Jojo screening in front, he snapped it by Tuukka “0 for the Verizon Center” Rask for his 25th marker of the season.

The Caps, who only had nine shots on net in the first 35 minutes, would take command of the last part of the period and earned a 36-31 shot attempt advantage.

Just 3:29 into period three, Washington regained their two goal lead on a pretty passing play set up by a great rush by Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuzy skated in the zone with speed on the right side of the ice and fed a hard charging Dmitry Orlov in the high slot. #9 then made a great pass to Brett Connolly, who went to his back hand and put the biscuit in the basket. It was #10’s ninth goal of the season and he continues to play extremely well on the third line with Andre Burakovsky and Lars Eller.

From there, Boston would make a big push, but they couldn’t dent the Holtbeast (30 saves) until after Kuznetsov made it 5-2 with 4:07 left after a great feed from Tom Wilson. Wilson, after some strong board work by Johansson and Niskanen, stole the puck on the fore check and fed #92 cruising in the slot and he made no mistake about it.

Boston would finally get an even strength goal with 1:31 to go, but the game was over.

What was big about this contest was the Capitals received great performances from their top two centers, Backstrom (3 points) and Kuznetsov (2 points). They outplayed the Bruins strong pivot duo of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci and that’s the main reason why the Caps were able to win a game against a team fighting for playoff position.

The biggest negative in this tilt was the Capitals penalty killing unit, which is struggling. They’ve allowed too many PPG’s lately and they seem to have lost some of their aggressiveness. I’m not sure if the downturn has coincided with the flu bug going through the team or the lack of practice, but it’s an area they need to get back on track? It takes a lot of energy and structure to be consistently successful on the PK and Washington hasn’t had a lot of either while shorthanded in the last eight to 10 games.

Overall, though, Coach Trotz has to be happy with the play of his top three lines. With Justin Williams missing the game due to a lower body injury, Jay Beagle jumped up on the second line. That weakened the fourth line and forced the other three units to play more, but Backstrom owns the Bruins, much like Braden Holtby does, too. The Holtbeat is now 10-0-0 in his last 12 starts, overall. #70 was solid in net again after being the MVP, at least in my book, in Sunday’s NHL All Star Game.

Special teams weren’t the best for Washington on Wednesday night, as they allowed two goals on three shorthanded situations, but Ovechkin’s power play goal with just 15 seconds to go in period two was so important, as NBC’s Keith Jones pointed out in the intermission.

As for Rask, well he’s still never won at the Verizon Center and is now 1-9-5 in his career against the Caps (h/t @ThePeerless).

With the victory, the Capitals improve to 34-11-6 (74 points). Despite losing three times to the Islanders in regulation, they still lead the NHL standings. The Blue Jackets are four points back, but have two games in hand, though, as do the Penguins, who are seven points back. Columbus and Pittsburgh play each other on Friday night in Steel town.

Notes: Washington won the face off battle against a Bruins team that is good on draws, 30-26. Chandler Stephenson, who played with Stick out of the lineup, was 5-2…John Carlson played his second straight game after missing several games due to injury and led the team in ice time with 22:40. He was +2 and very solid on the back end…final shot attempts were 63-47 for Boston, but that was mostly score effects as the Caps had a 36-31 advantage after two frames…Kuznetsov was named the NHL’s first star of the month for the great January he produced (20 points in 15 games)…next up for the Caps are the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre at 1 pm on Saturday.

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Caps Offense Reignites in 5-2 Win Over New Jersey

Posted on 26 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin scored on a great steal and power move just 6:14 into the game and Braden Holtby made 27 saves as the Washington Capitals defeated the New Jersey Devils, 5-2, at “The Rock” on Thursday night.

The goal by the Gr8 was a tone setter for the Capitals, who were playing their 17th contest in the last 31 days. It was an important tally because on Tuesday in Ottawa, the Caps had no legs and with both John Carlson (lower body injury) and T.J. Oshie (family matter) out of the Devils tilt, they needed an early spark to get them through this contest and off to a weekend away from the rink for the All Star break.

Evgeny Kuznetsov (two goals), Dmitry Orlov (two assists), Andre Burakovsky (goal and an assist), and Brooks Orpik (+3 in 20:22) all had monster outings as the Caps were able to find enough juice in the tank to survive a Devils team that thrives on using neutral zone speed to generate opportunities.

For most of this game, the Capitals did a nice job of throttling that speed, especially in the first 15 minutes of period two when they increased their 2-0 first frame advantage to a 4-1 lead and chased Keith Kinkaid on 17 shots. In came Cory Schneider (18 saves) and despite a few early quality chances for the Caps, #35 stabilized things for New Jersey and when they scored a late second period power play goal and then hit the pipe on the next shift, this one was far from over.

During the first 10 minutes of the third period, the Devils stormed up and down the ice on Coach Barry Trotz’ squad, but the Capitals did a good job of keeping New Jersey on the perimeter and any shots that made their way through were gobbled up by the Holtbeast.

At that point, it looked like the Caps were gassed and already on their break, but then Washington turned up their intensity and for the next four plus minutes they hemmed New Jersey in their own zone and stifled any comeback. The Capitals would make the final six minutes look pretty easy and when the Devils pulled Schneider, Kuznetsov stole the puck in the neutral zone and skated in uncontested for the empty net clincher.

#92 was very much on in this one. His hit in the left wing corner set up a turnover that allowed Burakovsky to make it 2-0 and then on the next Washington power play, in the second period, he received a super feed from Orlov and raced in all alone on Kinkaid and beat him with a backhand through the five hole as he was being hooked.

Orlov was sensational in the second period in earning his two assists and he could’ve had more. He was excellent at stopping any New Jersey rushes and was getting his stick in the lanes so that the Devils could not enter the Washington zone cleanly. Offensively, he is finding ways to get his shot through to the net. It was his great snapper that Kinkaid played off of his pads with Lars Eller screening him. As a result, #20 was able to swat home the Caps third goal from the paint, which came five minutes after the Devils had closed to just a goal.

For New Jersey, Taylor Hall was flying most of this contest. He had seven shot attempts (four on goal) in 22:22 of ice time, but he’ll be most remembered in this one for getting blown up by Orpik on a clean hit 6:52 into the final frame. #44 logged 20:22 and was a force on the back end.

Once again, the Capitals offense produced four or more goals and they all came from going to the cage. Net presence has been a big staple of Washington’s attack since the Christmas break and during these 17 games, they’ve gone 13-2-2. They lost the first one to the Islanders after the lay off and then they had the 40+ shot effort versus New Jersey that was primarily perimeter based and resulted in a shootout defeat. Since that game, it’s been all pucks and bodies to the net, except for Tuesday’s Ottawa tilt where Washington had a Jackson Browne type of effort, Running on Empty.

With no Oshie and Carlson and weekend plans away from hockey for everyone except for the Gr8 and the Holtbeast, this looked like a trap game. Ovechkin, however, set the tone and the rest of the crew followed his lead to grab another two points and improve to 33-10-6 (72 points). This 13-1-1 run since December 31st has given the Caps a four point lead over Columbus (CBus has a game in hand), a seven point cushion on the Penguins (PIT has a game in hand), and a nine point edge on the Rangers as many of the Capitals head to a beach or golf course down south.

Simply put, the Caps have seized the top spot in the NHL in January with an incredible run of hockey. They showed that when they are motivated, they are a really tough team to play against. Washington has four lines that can score and their back end, with Carlson, is very solid. Without #74 things got a bit shaky, but they were able to bury enough biscuits to overcome some periodic defensive trouble.

With the trade deadline just over a month away (February 28th), GM Brian MacLellan has a lot of guys playing near their peak making them very valuable commodities. This will be a tough trade deadline, though, with the NHL expansion draft looming in June, so this could be a year where most teams stand pat. If that’s the case, the Capitals have to feel really good about their team, with the only real need likely being a top four D in case one of Carlson, Matt Niskanen, or Karl Alzner goes down with a serious injury.

Overall, this team looks better positioned for the postseason than last year, but there are still 33 games and two and a half months to go. Washington has played a lot of hockey over the last month and have to be exhausted. It’s time for a well deserved break.

Notes: Shot attempts were 54-48 for Washington, including 36-29 in shots on goal. The Caps blocked just five shots but the Devils only blocked seven…Washington won the faceoff battle, 31-28. Eller was 7-5…Kuznetsov had eight shots on net in 16:57 of ice time…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:55. No New Jersey skater was within two minutes of #2’s game leading total…Tom Wilson was questionably kicked out of the game for third man in after Oprik blew up Hall and Kyle Palmieri jumped #44…next up for the Caps are the Islanders in Brooklyn on Tuesday, January 31st…enjoy All Star weekend everyone, I know I will since there will be no weekend blogs, but on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness, so you got that going for you…

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Caps Offense Stays Hot in 7-3 Win Over Blues

Posted on 19 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 14 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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