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Holtby Leads Caps to 6th Straight Victory

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Holtby Leads Caps to 6th Straight Victory

Posted on 11 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

Well that definitely applies to Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby and his club on Thursday night. The Caps found themselves down 14-0 in shots on goal and 1-0 on the scoreboard midway through the opening period at the Verizon Center before rallying with two tallies in the middle frame then adding an empty net goal in the closing seconds to defeat a pesky Carolina Hurricanes team, 3-1.

The victory, their sixth in a row, pushes the Caps to 22-17-2 (46 points) and keeps them two points ahead of Winnipeg in the Southeast Division race. It was a win against a struggling team that Washington had to have and they delivered.

It was far from pretty though. The Caps were slow out of the gate and even when their passion and energy picked up, they were just a fraction off nearly all night. But that effort level is what carried the day and more importantly, Holtby was awesome in net (43 saves).

Alex Ovechkin was held without a point but he had 15 shot attempts, including one in the second period that seemed to dent the post. The Gr8′s line was very strong but Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson each had only one shot attempt. Both Nicky and JoJo probably should start looking for their shot a little more because teams are going to be focusing on a red hot Ovechkin. Still, Backstrom had an assist and was once again really strong on the puck. His hard work on the boards at the Caps blueline at the end of the game, along with John Carlson, allowed Troy Brouwer (2 goals) to hit the empty net and put the nail biter away. Johansson was super backchecking and using his speed and he gutted through getting banged up early on in this one. He forced the puck to Ovechkin a little too much for my liking but he was still really solid in this contest.

Several others had excellent outings including the 4th line of Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks, and Wojtek Wolski. Beagle set up a late charging Mike Green for the eventual game winner after Wolski made a super play on the offensive zone entry. I think Wolski earned himself some more minutes with his effort on Thursday night.

Mike Ribeiro, after a rough start, was also fairly dominant the last two frames as the second line center. He was playing agitated all night and his two way play was excellent. Brouwer, of course, had the two tallies to lead the offense. Aaron Volpatti played hard on that second line but he is offensively challenged.

But when it was all over, the man of the night was Holtby who made numerous quality saves and Carlson bailed him out on a puck lying in the crease early on. Holtbeast was a little erratic to start but he settled down quickly and won the game for Washington. It was nice to see the strong play in goal after teammate Michal Neuvirth had two straight super outings. Coach Adam Oates has to be really pleased with his goaltending tandem right now. Both guys are fierce competitors and the players recognize that.

So the Caps didn’t play close to their best game on Thursday night, but they did what they had to do to get a victory. At this point, that is what matters most. The Southeast Division title is in their control with just seven games to go. You can’t ask for more than that.

Notes: Both clubs notched a power play goal in a contest that got chippier as the evening went on. The Caps won the season series, 4-1, over Carolina and won the last three games after trailing, 2-0, 2-0, and 1-0, respectively…the Caps won the faceoff battle 32-31 with Backstrom going 13-8…next up for the Caps are the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7pm on Saturday night at the Verizon Center.

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Ovechkin’s Big Night Rallies Caps to Victory

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Ovechkin’s Big Night Rallies Caps to Victory

Posted on 14 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

After 20 minutes on Thursday night, with the Capitals trailing 2-0 to division leading Carolina, you can bet the season obituaries on the Caps 2013 season were in draft form just waiting to be published.

But Alexander Ovechkin, Michal Neuvirth, and the rest of the Washington Capitals had other plans.

Playing yet another game with just five defensemen due to a first period injury to Tomas Kundratek, Adam Oates’ team showed guts and stuck together for a huge win in Raleigh. Joey Crabb scored from in front in the middle frame to make it 2-1 before Ovechkin scored on the power play on a sweet Troy Brouwer feed to tie it up just over a minute into period three. With time ticking away, Ovechkin then took a great John Carlson pass to break in alone on Canes goalie Dan Ellis. The Gr8 beat the goalie but managed to hit the near post and then the puck laid on the goal line just inside the far post. Luckily Mike Ribeiro came charging home to push the puck barely across the line with the winning tally with 2:16 left in regulation.

It was a must win and keeps the Capitals slim playoff hopes alive with 22 games to go. But the playoff talk and the discussion about buying or selling can wait for another time because tonight the Caps have something to be really pleased about and it isn’t about statistics or some tactical thing that took place on the ice. 

For those who follow Ovechkin on twitter, the captain posted a photo of him, Troy Brouwer, Brooks Laich, Mike Green, Marcus Johansson, Wojtek Wolski and Nicklas Backstrom after a sushi dinner on Wednesday evening. The Gr8 noted that the crew was then taking in a movie afterwards. This team bonding was great to see because it is clear that these guys still like each other and can have some fun together despite all of the losing and external talk of their impending doom.

There is no doubt this has been a trying and tough season for the Caps organization and their fans. Things have gone nearly as bad as possible on many fronts. The result has been an “over the top” amount of criticism on Ovechkin. The Gr8 was once the league’s top player as he was the MVP in 2008 and 2009. When you get to the top in ANY profession it is extremely hard to stay there and after the honeymoon is over, like it or not, people start getting jealous and look to take shots at you. Likeable people and players suddenly are under the microscope 24/7 and things get very intense making it difficult to continue to be everyone’s darling. You make a little mistake and the dirty laundry crew is there ready to pounce. For the Gr8, this started in Vancouver in 2010 and has continued for three years. The toll it has taken on Ovechkin, who was such a jovial and carefree guy earlier in his career, has to be great, one would think.

It isn’t easy being #1 in your sport. Just ask golfers like David Duval, Tiger Woods, or Rory McIlroy. The sharks are circling everywhere. Being #1 destroyed Duval’s game and it takes a special mentality to hold onto to the top for a long time, as Woods displayed for many years. But to do that you almost have to shut people out and change your ways. Already McIlroy is starting to experience that, as the loveable Irishmen took massive heat for walking off of the course in Florida just a couple of weeks ago. In Oveckhin’s case, he had the #1 mantle for over two years, which is a remarkable feat. But unfortunately with that came the higher standards and when his team didn’t win a Stanley Cup, he took the brunt of the heat. It is the nature of sports.

So now is a critical stage for Ovechkin and his career. He can go one of two ways. He can internalize the criticism and drive himself crazy trying to prove the critics all wrong, which will likely lead to a decrease in production and total unhappiness, or he can try and forget about the pressure and the ambulance chasers and just go out and have fun and play the game.

On Wednesday night Ovechkin went out and had fun with his teammates at a restaurant and then a movie. The next night he played a super game and his team rallied for a big victory. That had to be fun for the Gr8 and his teammates.

Sure the Caps still are in a big hole in the standings and the playoffs are a bit of a long shot this season. But there is still time to generate plenty of positives from this season. Having fun and playing as a team might be more important than any statistics or tactical strategy, at this point. To me, that was the big thing to take away from Thursday’s victory in Carolina for Ovechkin and the Caps.

So Alex, what do you say to some sushi and a movie on Friday night with your teammates in Beantown?

Notes: Neuvirth had a big night stopping 36 shots…Backstrom and Ovechkin were reunited and the Gr8 had 6 shots on goal, two points (1G, 1A), and three hits…Steve Oleksy, in just his sixth NHL game, logged 27:55 to lead his club in ice time. Amazing stuff by #61…Kundratek only played 3:14…the Caps next game is Saturday afternoon at 1pm in Boston.

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Caps Blowout Win Helps Weekend Cause

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Caps Blowout Win Helps Weekend Cause

Posted on 07 March 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Florida Panthers rolled into Washington DC and were promptly blown out of the Nation’s Capital again by a 7-1 score. The Cats have real poor goaltending right now and are experiencing injuries galore, so it was no surprise that the Capitals ran them out of the Verizon Center on Thursday night. It was 4-0 just over eight minutes into this one so it really wasn’t much of a contest, at all.

Simply put, the Capitals are a streaking team right now and are playing with confidence. This victory makes it eight wins in the last 11 games and improves their record to 10-11-1 overall. They are 6-0 against the Southeast Division over this run and they trail division leading Carolina by six points, but have a game in hand. There are 26 games left for Washington to play this season and they have really righted the ship after a 2-8-1 start.

This club is coming together under Adam Oates and I will once again blog about the plusses of his great hockey mind. Oates knows that the Caps have a critical stretch coming up starting Saturday where they will face the Islanders, then the Rangers on Sunday, followed by a home and home with Carolina on Tuesday and Thursday of next week. A 2-1-1 or better stretch and the Caps can start thinking about playoff possibilities and becoming buyers before the NHL trade deadline set for April 3rd.

So what did the old #77 do when his team got up by four pucks early? He started resting some of his key players. Check the ice times out, Karl Alzner played just under 18 minutes and John Carlson didn’t even hit the 17 minute mark. Both of those guys have been logging 22 plus minutes lately. In addition, the bench boss was able to roll his forward lines the rest of the contest as Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Ribeiro were also in the 16 to 17 minute range, below their season averages by quite a bit. The Gr8 still managed to get a goal and two assists with the limited ice time.

Braden Holtby made 29 saves, some of the key variety, but you can expect him to go back to back this weekend the way he is going. Only a late defensive breakdown cost #70 a fourth shutout this season. Holtby is in a groove and seems to know where the shots are coming from as Washington is playing their system well. His ability to play the puck also aids the Caps breakout and takes pressure off of their defensemen. Oates watched how New Jersey used Martin Brodeur’s stickhandling prowess and now he is using Holtby’s similar skills to his advantage.

The Caps can enjoy this win for the night but they won’t face crummy goaltending on Long Island on Saturday where they’ll likely go up against Evgeny Nabokov. Then they probably face “King Henrik” Lundqvist at the Verizon Center on Sunday. Both of those guys are huge upgrades over what they shot against on Thursday.

So it’s a good thing Oates got an early lead and alertly planned accordingly, because the Caps will need to be firing on all cylinders for a tough weekend set with the teams from the Big Apple.

Notes: Wojtek Wolski had his second straight quality game after his benching last Saturday in Winnipeg. #17 had a goal and two assists. He is winning the one on one battles, as evidenced by Washington’s second goal where he won the puck on the backboards and came out in front of the cage and jammed the biscuit home…Steve Oleksy played his 2nd NHL game and led the team with 22+ minutes of ice time. The 27 year old D-man had two assists, as well…Troy Brouwer returned after missing Tuesday’s tilt vs Boston due to illness and had two assists in 16:29 of action.

 

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Caps Holes Evident in Loss to Rangers

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Caps Holes Evident in Loss to Rangers

Posted on 17 February 2013 by Ed Frankovic

 

Typically in pro sports, wins and losses comes down to talent. On Sunday night in New York at Madison Square Garden talent was the difference as the New York Rangers knocked off the Washington Capitals, 2-1, despite an outstanding goaltending performance from the Caps Braden Holtby (38 saves).

The Caps came into this game already missing Brooks Laich up front and Dmitry Orlov on the back end and when they had to play without their best defensemen, Mike Green (lower body injury), you knew it was going to be tough sledding for Washington. And that is exactly what happened as the Rangers used their talent up front to dominate puck possession and the shot clock for the first 30 minutes of this contest. The only thing that made it a game to that point was Holtby, who somehow managed to keep the scoreboard knotted at one.

Unfortunately for Washington, Holtby couldn’t score goals from the opposing crease and that is what doomed the Capitals in this one. Over the last 30 minutes Coach Adam Oates’ team started to carry more of the play, but when you only have three top six forwards and are relying on guys like Wojtek Wolksi and Jason Chimera to score from the left wing on the top two lines you are in trouble. Don’t get me wrong, I like Chimera. He is a lunch pail, hard working forward, but he is a third line left winger. Wolski, well that’s another story. The former first round pick isn’t on his fifth team for nothing, although that is what the Caps pretty much paid for him. In this case, the old saying, “You get what you paid for” certainly applies. Wolski had several opportunities to score on Sunday night after some sweet set ups from Nicklas Backstrom, yet Wolski couldn’t find the net on many of them.

On the back end with Green out, Oates had two choices in either Tom Poti or Roman Hamrlik. Neither are good ones at this point as both older players have shown that their careers are pretty much finished. Poti got the call on Sunday and played less than 10 minutes. On the Rangers first goal, Poti was downright terrible turning the puck over and then failing to tie up Carl Hagelin by the net as #62 put the biscuit home. Oates barely played #3 after that one.

Still, given the talent imbalance, I have to give the Capitals players credit for battling a team that many have picked to come out of the Eastern Conference to play for the Stanley Cup this spring down to the wire. There was no lack of effort from Washington’s players and Oates has impressed me with what he’s done in many areas with this team. But at the end of the day, they just don’t have enough finishers. The Caps opponents know they just need to key on Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Mike Ribeiro and they are in good shape. Even still, the Capitals almost tied this one up late, so kudos on the effort.

But despite the late surge the effort yielded 0 points and Washington fell to 5-9-1, good for last place in the Eastern Conference.

Two years ago in the post season the Capitals eliminated the Rangers in five games. After that series, Rangers Coach John Tortorella said, “We are not there yet,” describing his lack of talent compared to Washington’s, at the time. Last spring, the Caps and New York played a seven game series that was pretty much a dead heat but the Rangers got the bounces and moved on.

So what transpired last summer from a management perspective for these two clubs? Well the Rangers went out and acquired former #1 draft pick Rick Nash while the Caps acquired Ribeiro to fill their gaping hole at second line center. Unfortunately the Capitals let Alex Semin and Dennis Wideman walk in free agency without replacing them. Sure they were counting on Orlov to fill some of Wideman’s shoes, but Wideman didn’t get upwards of $5M a year for nothing. Semin received $7M from the Hurricanes, who are in first place in the Southeast Division. Based on that, combined with the injuries to Laich and Orlov, it is pretty easy to see why the teams sure seem headed in opposite directions right now.

To get back into the playoff race will be extremely difficult for the Caps, at this point, unless management makes some moves. That doesn’t appear easy, even if they are willing to do so. Sure Washington has some good young talent overseas and at the junior level. But Evgeny Kuznetsov (2010 1st round pick) won’t be in the NHL until 2014, Filip Forsberg (2012 1st round pick) is playing in Sweden this year, and Tom Wilson (2012 1st round pick) needs the proper time to develop. There is no immediate help in the system this season so the answer would have to come from trades, which are difficult to pull off in the salary cap era.

Therefore, it just looks like the Caps will have to gut this out and see where things take them. If they aren’t making up ground by the trade deadline (April 3rd), then a decision will have to be made on Ribeiro, who will be a free agent this summer. Based on the way #9 has played, he will bring value in return. Then again, it may be worth signing him if Washington thinks it is in position to compete with the elite of the East starting in October. It also doesn’t make any sense to rush Laich and Orlov back from their injuries, as well.

In no way am I advocating quitting on the season, you never do that. However, given that there are some prize players at the top of the draft board this year, particularly American defensemen Seth Jones, who just helped Team USA win the Gold Medal in the World Juniors in January, the Caps need to be smart about things because adding a player like Jones given what is in the pipeline the next two years changes the dynamic of your team.

But there are still 33 contests to go and the Eastern Conference is pretty weak after the Rangers, Boston Bruins, and New Jersey Devils. The Penguins and Hurricanes certainly appear to be in the next grouping but after that, there are no really strong teams so anything can happen.

Still, when you see the holes in the Capitals lineup, it is tough to get excited about this short lockout stained season.

Notes: Backstrom was 12-6 on faceoffs and Washington won the battle there overall, 31-27, but on the Rangers game winning PPG, Jay Beagle was beaten cleanly on the draw and the Rags scored in seven seconds for the ball game…the Rangers had 20 shots in the 1st period but Holtby, in amazing fashion, stopped them all…Tomas Kundratek played a career high 23:25 with Green out of the lineup…Washington’s power play missed #52 and went 0 for 4…the Caps have a crucial two game series with the Devils starting on Thursday. If they lose both tilts, then the Jones talk will heat up even more…for more of my take on the team, check out my on-air session with Thyrl Nelson of WNST from Friday’s MobTown Sportsbeat show here

 

 

 

 

 

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Improving Caps Win 3rd Straight

Posted on 14 February 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals did a lot of things right and several things wrong on Thursday night but the bottom line was the Caps got a much needed and deserved victory in Tampa by the score of 4-3.

Eric Fehr potted two tallies and Mathieu Perreault had three assists as Coach Adam Oates third line, that also includes Joel Ward, was the primary reason the Caps were victorious.

Jay Beagle had the eventual game winner to make it 4-1 with 12:31 to go but if you watched the entire game, you knew it was not going to be an easy finish against a very talented Lightning club. The Caps continue to have their struggles in their own zone with poor coverage and turnovers. The last eight plus minutes basically turned into “The Count Floyd Show” as the team survived one scary shift after another en route to a nailbiting win.

Beagle won some big draws late and Braden Holtby, who made several huge stops in this one but also had a breakdown or two himself, held strong at the finish.

It was a game the Caps had to have to stay in the playoff race and they worked hard to win it. The effort has certainly amped up here during this three game winning streak and Washington also did a good job of not taking bad penalties in this one. The Capitals only went to the sin bin twice and thwarted both Tampa power plays.

On offense, Washington has 15 goals in three games. The power play looks great and clicked early on its only try and that goal by Troy Brouwer on a pretty passing play set the tone. With the Caps going 8 for their last 15 with the man advantage the Bolts knew they could not afford to take penalties. They did take some infractions but fortunately for them, zebras Frederic L’Ecuyer and Steve Kozari were pretty much letting things go in this one.

When Oates took over it was believed that Washington’s offense would return and it certainly has in the last week. The Caps had a lot of sustained pressure and poured 39 shots on Mathieu Garon. In this streak they are getting the biscuit deep and using the cycle game to generate chances. They are also crashing the net much more. Tonight they won the game with three of the four goals coming from their bottom two lines.

What is concerning is the Caps defensive zone play. There are times when Washington just doesn’t look like they know what they are doing in their own end. Oates must address this to keep this streak going because Holtby certainly bailed the team out several times in the first 50 minutes of this one.

Fortunately the head coach has two days to work on the defensive zone because one thing their next opponent, the New York Rangers, will do on Sunday is test Washington in their own end with hard work and a strong cycle game.

But that is for tomorrow and Saturday, on Thursday the Caps got a Florida sweep to move to 5-8-1. They still have issues on the defensive side and their top two lines could use some personnel upgrades. A Brooks Laich return soon would be an upgrade over Wojtek Wolski, for sure. It would also be nice if GM George McPhee could make a move while the team is winning to get another top six winger because playing Jason Chimera and/or Matt Hendricks with Mike Ribeiro and Alex Ovechkin isn’t a long term recipe for success.

One thing is becoming clear though, Oates is a smart hockey guy and he has this team’s attention.

The Hall of Fame bench boss has this hockey club playing hard and improving, despite some big holes in the lineup.

Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle, 36-29. That is a very important stat on the road. Beagle was 8-3 from the dot, Perreault won six of eight draws, while Nicklas Backstrom was 13-10…Karl Alzner had his best game of the season and logged 26:12 to lead the Caps in ice time…John Erskine was excellent again and played a whopping 23:42 on the blue line…Ribeiro and Ovechkin were both -2 on the night but I thought #9 was good. He made some super two way plays and his wingers just aren’t finishing right now. The Gr8 had defensive zone issues but he was better on D on his very last shift at the end of the game. His positioning and posture appear to be his biggest problems in his own end.

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Any Way You Slice It, The Caps Defeating the Flyers Is Always Fun

Posted on 02 February 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals early season struggles have been well chronicled, but on Friday night at the Verizon Center the Caps gave their fans an evening to forget about the string of six losses in seven games by defeating the despised Philadelphia Flyers, 3-2.

For two teams that are usually near the top of the Eastern Conference standings, this was an unusual affair as the loser would likely reside in the basement of the conference at the end of the night. That “cellar dwellar” title goes to the Flyers after Braden Holtby played an excellent game in net making 29 saves and center Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) had his best effort of this lockout shortened season.

Believe it or not, we are at the 1/6th point of a 48 tilt campaign. The Caps are still 2-5-1 and have a lot of work ahead of them, but I thought they did some good things in the victory over the Flyers.

To steal a line from the movie “What About Bob?”, Washington managed to do some ”baby stepping” on Friday.

There was progress in the penalty department as the Caps only allowed three power plays despite taking another delay of game penalty. Washington killed off all three of those Philadelphia Flyers power plays. In their two wins they have only had to survive two shorthanded situations (vs Buffalo) and the three on Friday. Stay out of the box and not allow a power play goal and your chances of winning go up dramatically, much like not turning the ball over in football generally leads to victories.

In addition, there seemed to be more cohesion with the lines as Coach Adam Oates put Alexander Ovechkin with Mike Ribeiro and Wojtek Wolksi together with Backstrom centering Troy Brouwer and Marcus Johansson on the second line. That left a good checking unit in Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle, and Joel Ward. Ovechkin had seven shots on goal, his highest total of the season, and he had more jump than usual. However, he and his linemates will be called on the carpet for the total lack of defensive assistance they provided to Mike Green and Karl Alzner on the first Flyers tally. Defensive zone is still an issue for this team, one that I am sure Oates will continue to address and tweak going forward. You can’t win if you are bad in your own zone and Washington has plenty of room for improvement there.

One of the areas I was most confident in this team coming into the season was goaltending. Holtby was outstanding in this one after Michael Neuvirth had given the Caps a chance to win the previous four games. Both Holtby and Neuvy are the type of goalies you want to have in this short compact season: young and ultra competitive. Also, they both have a short memory, which is very important at the NHL level.

Washington’s power play still continues to sputter (o for 5 vs. Flyers), mostly due to their inability to get the puck in the zone to set up. Oates attributed that to “bad reads” on Friday night. I’d still like to see more bodies and pucks to the net with the man advantage. For me, Brooks Laich can’t get back soon enough to join the second line and bump Johansson down to the fourth unit or even out of the lineup. Plus #21 is a super net presence in man advantage situations and his penalty killing is outstanding. With Laich skating on Friday morning, it appears we are getting closer to getting a key piece back into Washington’s forward lineup.

Another problem with the power play is faceoffs. Right now the Caps are losing those opening man advantage draws and that wastes a good 15 seconds right off of the bat. It also allows the defense to set up. Philadelphia was 40-29 from the dot against Washington on Friday, with Ribeiro going a terrible 5-12. The Caps centers have to be better at draws going forward.

On the backend, John Erskine has played very well and is getting the fourth highest D-man minutes. However, his elbow to the head of Wayne Simmonds will likely draw some Brendan Shanahan reaction in the form of a fine and possibly a suspension. It would be nice if Dmitry Orlov was ready to go but that won’t happen yet, although it appears he practiced late this week in Hershey and is inching closer to a return. Getting Orlov back and playing at the NHL level would help the Caps defense and also strengthen the second power play unit (a left handed point shot is definitely needed).

Summing up this one, the Capitals did some good things and got a victory on Friday night. They needed one of those very badly. What makes it even sweeter is it came against the Flyers, who along with the Penguins, are the most disliked teams the Caps compete against.

Washington has a lot of work to do to get better and climb back into the top eight slots in the East. If they keep working hard, playing smart, and sticking together, they have a chance to win consistently. But they don’t have much room for error.

Still, any way you slice it, a win over the Flyers is always good, no matter what the records are coming into the affair.

Next up, the Pittsburgh Penguins on Super Bowl Sunday.

Notes: John Carlson made a great poke check to spring Backstrom for the Caps first goal that tied the game at one. #19 beat Ilya Bryzgalov on the back hand on a breakaway as Philly got caught in a line change…Matt Hendricks and Flyers goon Zac Rinaldo were both ejected for the dropping the mits on a faceoff before the puck was officially in play. That is an automatic game misconduct…Wolski and Brouwer had the Caps other goals.

 

 

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Sloppy Play and Penalties Cost Caps in Season Opener

Posted on 19 January 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It is only one game, but the Washington Capitals were very sloppy, took too many penalties, and looked anything like a playoff team in their season opener, a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Adam Oates, when he watches this one on film, will not be a happy man as his club made far too many mistakes, especially in their own end. The defensive zone coverage, which had improved under Dale Hunter last season, was atrocious in this one giving a Lightning team with some series weapons, such as Martin St. Louis (3 points) and Steven Stamkos (2 points), too much room and too many quality chances. The Bolts skill took over when the Caps broke down and several ill advised penalties helped to doom Washington as well, including Nicklas Backstrom and Mathieu Perreault’s lazy back to back trips that gave Tampa a five on three that they used to take the lead for good in the third period.

Braden Holtby, who shined in Hershey in December, did not have a good game getting beat up high several times. Granted he could probably sue his teammates for non support on mulitple goals. In addition, three of the goals against came on the power play as Washington was shorthanded seven times.

It is very difficult to win in the NHL when you are out power played seven to four and it would be difficult to try and blame the imbalance on the referees. Plain and simple, the Caps were lazy on too many occassions and deserved to be whistled for most of those infractions (the Jason Chimera call was bogus, though).

As I wrote in this blog on Friday night, in order for the Caps to be successful they need production from their big guns of Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and Mike Green. I thought the Caps top line of 90-19-8 was downright terrible in this affair and if I had a vote I’d break that trio up immediately because there is a lack of net presence on that line.

Despite the ugly loss, there were some positives. First off, I thought Mike Ribeiro was excellent. #9 has a strong stick at both ends of the rink and his playmaking skills are a treat to watch. There is no doubt he makes the guys on his line better and Wojtek Wolski was rewarded with a goal tonight for getting on the ice with the former Dallas Star. If Wolski continues to go to the net he will score a lot of goals because Ribeiro is very good at getting the puck there.

In addition, Joel Ward looked like a completely different player than last season. Clearly the hernia surgery was a huge success because #42 was a force all night and he tallied twice by working hard and going to the net. Ward, Jason Chimera, and Jay Beagle were another solid line for Oates on Saturday night. On defense, the only player I thought who played up to par was Karl Alzner, the rest simply made too many mistakes in coverage in their own end.

Fortunately for Washington, this is only one loss and there are 47 more games to play. They have lots of room for improvement but if this team wants to make the postseason, they must get production from their top line. What we saw from them on Saturday night just doesn’t cut it, in my book.

Notes: The Caps next game and home opener is on Tuesday against the Winnipeg Jets at the Verizon Center…defensemen Jack Hillen was hit hard into the boards by Vincent Lecavalier in the second period and did not return. He only played 3:29 overall…defensemen Tom Poti played his first NHL game in over two years. He logged 13:20 and was a -2…the Capitals went 1 for 4 on the power play. They need to get more bodies in front of the opposing goaltender with the man advantage. Bolts goalie Anders Lindback was able to see the shots too well in this one.

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Predicting the Caps Season Is As Clear As Mud Right Now

Posted on 18 January 2013 by Ed Frankovic

 

The Washington Capitals start their short but jam packed 48 game season in Tampa Bay tomorrow night when they take on the Lightning (7 pm CSN).

Since the magical run in the spring of 2008, I’ve felt like I’ve had a pretty good read on this team and could accurately say before the season started that the Caps were definitely a playoff team each of the last four campaigns.

Last year’s club struggled through a coaching change and key injuries to Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green before squeaking into the dance and then coming a game away from a date with the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Championship.

This season, I have no idea how this team, with a new coach and system, will respond in a season where taking a game or two off is just not an option.

Hockey starts in net and Washington will go with youngsters Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth. Personally, I am pretty confident in that duo right now, especially given the way those two compete. Holtby’s ability to play the puck certainly is an advantage I expect coach Adam Oates to put to use frequently.

On defense, Dennis Wideman departed in free agency (Calgary) but with a healthy Mike Green and an emerging John Carlson, they didn’t need him at the dollars he was looking for and received. With Karl Azner in the mix as the Caps most solid defensive defensemen to go with the aging, but savvy Roman Hamrlik, Washington has a decent top four. After that it is a crap shoot with Jeff Schultz, John Erskine, Jack Hillen, and a 35 year old Tom Poti, who miraculously is back after missing two years due to groin and hip injuries. Dmitry Orlov would probably be my number five d-man on this club, but he is hurt right now. So this defensive crew could be really good or teams could expose the third pair, if it doesn’t step up. Any two week or more injury to either Green, Carlson, or Alzner could be devasting.

Up front, the Capitals have three legitimate top six forwards in Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Ribeiro. Luckily two of those three are centers, something the Caps haven’t been able to say since 2009. The question though, is who is going to be the wingers to fill out the top two lines? Troy Brouwer, because of his net presence is clearly the best answer on the roster. Brooks Laich would be your next best bet but he is out injured and may not play for the first two weeks. General Manager George McPhee is taking a flyer on forward Wojtek Wolski, who was signed off of the scrap heap this past summer. Wolski is 6-3 and 210 and he will need to play “big” if he wants to stick around in the top six.

Third year man Marcus Johansson is on the top line right now with the Gr8 and Backstrom. MJ90 has a lot of speed but he puts no physical fear into opposing defenders and he was often rubbed off of the puck easily in the corner in his freshmen and sophomore campaigns. Playing the third year Swede on the top line is asking a lot of the youngster.

I really like the third line of Jason Chimera-Jay Beagle-Joel Ward, especially now that we know Ward is not dealing with the hernia injury he had in 2011-12. The fourth line features heart and soul hard worker Matt Hendricks and likely a rotation of two of the following three players: re-signed Eric Fehr, Mathieu Perreault, and Joey Crabb.

Clearly this team will need above average to excellent seasons from Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Green if it is going to win the Southeast Division. None of them had even average seasons last year, although Green and Backstrom had injury excuses. So to predict this team is a lock for the postseason is no sure bet.

Many of the so-called experts are already giving the Stanley Cup to the New York Rangers since they added forward Rick Nash while giving up pretty much nothing. We all witnessed how smart the experts were in the NFL last week when Ray Lewis and company went in and won in Denver when practically every talking head out there had a “Brady vs. Manning” AFC Championship matchup set in stone. Yes, the Rangers look good on paper, but you have to play the games.

The bottom line is the Caps could be really good or they could fall flat on their faces. McPhee has been consistent this week in saying “I like our team.”

Well the games start tomorrow, then come rapidly at a fast and furious pace, so Caps fans are about to find out if their GM is on the mark.

 

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Capitals Players Impressed With Oates on Day One

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Capitals Players Impressed With Oates on Day One

Posted on 13 January 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Hockey is Back!

At least that is the slogan the NHL is using coming out of the lockout.

Based on the deal finally made between the NHL and NHLPA, it was a stoppage that easily could have been avoided last September, but that is water under the bridge, at this point.

What is important is the Washington Capitals are about to enter their 38th season still seeking their first ever Stanley Cup, and they will attempt to do that with a rookie head coach in NHL Hall of Famer Adam Oates.

Oates inherits a team that was one game away from beating the New York Rangers and advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. It was a year that was a trying one for the team given a coaching change and Nicklas Backstrom’s 40 game absence due to a concussion.

In the offseason, General Manager George McPhee hit two home runs in the first round of the NHL draft in Filip Forsberg and Tom Wilson. Forsberg will play in Sweden this year and Wilson was in camp today, but likely will return to his Ontario Hockey League team (Plymouth) after no more than five NHL games. McPhee let enigmatic forward Alexander Semin go the route of free agency (now with Carolina), but the GM did fill a major hole by obtaining center Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars. It was a big move and the Caps now have two legit top six centers in Backstrom and Ribiero for the first time since Backstrom and Sergei Fedorov in 2009.

In talking to several players after Oates’ first on ice practice, which was precluded by a video session, there is a sense that Oates really knows the game inside and out and the team is ready to embrace the aggressive system he is going to employ.

Captain Alexander Ovechkin made it clear that gone is “dump and chase” hockey and the “ability to create” will be back in the game plan.

Mike Green was happy that the head coach was talking to him about the defense instead of that being delegated to one of his assistants.

Joel Ward said that the “stuff I learned in the last hours alone I’ve never even come across in my hockey career.” He also called Oates very detailed and said ”He doesn’t know if he’s seen a hockey brain like that in a while.”

Karl Alzner said Oates “knows exactly what he wants and how to teach it” and labeled the new system as proven.

Jay Beagle talked at length about a phone conversation he had with Oates last summer regarding stick curvature and the way its’ blade lies on the ice. By the end of the conversation #83 had agreed to a change and Oates shipped him new sticks shortly thereafter. Beagle will be using the new lumber this season.

Brooks Laich called the new coaching staff ”very intelligent” and “prepared” and said that everyone is excited to get going. He also stated he thought that there was no reason that the Capitals couldn’t be a powerful offensive team that is also strong defensively.

So it is clear the players are on board with what Oates wants to do, which I am not sure I could say about this club all of last season and perhaps the season before. It will be a tough transition period given they only get six days to practice before Saturday’s opener in Tampa (7 pm on CSN), but so much of hockey is attitude and working together.

On day one, this team has the right attitude and appear unified.

So Oates and the Caps have that going for them….which is nice.

Notes: Laich has a lower body injury and did not skate with the team. He will miss at least a week. He skated on his own prior to practice and said that he has a “roadmap” for getting back to full health and playing games…Backstrom didn’t show any ill effects of his recent neck injury…Ovechkin had a great practice and many of his shots in drills found the back of the net. The Gr8 had 19 goals in the KHL and looks to continue his hot early pace…McPhee signed right wing Eric Fehr to a one year, $600,000 deal. Fehr, who was drafted in the first round by Washington in 2003, played for Winnipeg last season but said he was never 100% healed from a shoulder injury but is fully recovered now….Ward said he had offseason hernia surgery and that the injury impacted his skating last year. He is 100% now…Beagle, who fractured his foot in the game five nightmare loss to the Rangers, had surgery and told me he is finally pain free…Green, who missed 30+ games last season, stated he is physically fine for the first time in a long time…defensemen Tom Poti, who hadn’t played in two years, was assigned to Hershey on a 14 day conditioning stint. He played this evening for the Bears and had a goal in a 5-0 Hershey victory.

 

 

 

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