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Willy Backy Game 5

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Physical Caps Dominate Carolina in Game 5

Posted on 21 April 2019 by Ed Frankovic

“You ask for the bull, you get the horns.”

“Let sleeping dogs lie.”

“Don’t poke the bear.”

Choose any of those lines and they apply to Saturday night’s game 5 at Capital One Arena.

The Washington Capitals, playing for their fallen star, T.J. Oshie, who was injured on a cheap shot hit by Warren Foegele in game 4 and will likely miss the entire postseason, destroyed the Carolina Hurricanes, 6-0, to take a 3-2 series lead. Game 6 is Monday at 7 pm from Raleigh.

Welcome to the postseason is how you could describe this one because the Caps, from the players to the coaching staff, were as committed to the process as they were last spring for the first time in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As I blogged before game 5, the key to returning to their winning ways was pretty simple; it’s all about getting physical and winning the one on one battles.

Washington was dominant in all three zones and they outhit the Canes, 48-32, despite having the advantage in time of possession. Coach Todd Reirden talked about the importance of establishing a forecheck on the Hurricanes breakout and boy did his squad do that extremely well on Saturday night. Alex Ovechkin had 11 hits, Tom Wilson had six, and Devante Smith-Pelly chipped in five in 10:43 of ice time.

Smith-Pelly, who was recalled on Friday after the injury to #77, definitely sparked the team and “was a nice distraction” in the locker room, according to Coach Reirden. Devo is very well liked by his teammates and it was clear he took his demotion seriously and properly because he was a totally different player than what we saw in the 2018-19 regular season. Playing all of those minutes in Hershey brought his speed back and from my viewpoint, #25 was a good two steps faster than he was on trade deadline day. He didn’t have any points, but he was on the ice for the Caps second tally and he set up Nic Dowd for a breakaway in period three that turned into a penalty shot, which #26 buried to make it 5-0. DSP was physical on the Canes defense and hustled all game, including wiping out at least one icing call on the Caps.

This win, though, started with Nicklas Backstrom (two goals and two assists). Backy scored on the rebound of his own shot just 7:33 into the game after he was set up on the far post by John Carlson and Wilson on the power play. Nicky then made it 2-0 with 5:39 left in period two when he beat Petr Mrazek (22 saves) top shelf, short side, after a gorgeous feed from the Gr8. The “All Star” was outstanding and now has five goals and three assists in the series.

Ovi was great, as well. He hit just about everything that moved and had a goal and two superb assists. His second helper was the result of pure intimidation, something the Capitals finally had back in their game again. Ovechkin raced and grabbed a loose puck below the Carolina goal line when Dougie Hamilton decided he didn’t want to get hit by the Russian Freight Train anymore. Ovi then spotted Brett Connolly flying into the slot after coming on for Wilson in a smart line change. Conno received the pass from Alex and roofed it by Mrazek to really put a dagger in Carolina in this affair.

The Capitals never let up in this tilt and they showed killer instinct by scoring three more times in the final frame, including a man advantage tally just 1:04 in by Wilson to make it 4-0. For the night the power play went three for four while the penalty killing was a perfect five for five.

Braden Holtby made 30 saves, but a lot of those shots in period two and three were from the perimeter. The Holtbeast did have to make some very good stops on the Canes first power play when it was scoreless in the opening frame. Braden was on his game and never allowed Carolina to think they had a chance to climb back into this contest, once they were behind.

Up and down the lineup the Capitals received positive contributions, but it was especially important that the bottom two lines chipped in and they did just that with two goals (Connolly and Dowd). On defense, the blueline was tweaked with Jonas Seigenthaler paired with Carlson and it worked wonderfully. Carly was back on his strong side and he was a much bigger factor in the offensive rushes, like the Capitals need him to be. Siegenthaler was rock solid on defense making the smart and simple play throughout the contest in 17:28 of ice time.

The Caps bench boss and his staff provided an excellent game plan and their adjustments were spot on. Pucks were put in the proper places so that a sustained forecheck could occur, players were going to the net to create havoc in front of Mrazek, Washington won the large majority of the loose puck battles, and Todd took advantage of home ice to obtain more favorable matchups, something he said was difficult to achieve in Carolina since the Canes had last change.

Overall, the effort in this game was where it needed to be for the Caps. They were very hard on the puck and made Carolina uncomfortable. It was clear the team, as evidenced by their play, was ticked off that Foegele injured Oshie.

As Coach Reirden stated afterwards, “This game was the blueprint for how we have to play in the playoffs.”

He’s right and now they must do it again on Monday night. The Canes will be desperate so it is important for the Capitals to get the first goal or if not, an early lead since there has been no lead changes this series.

Yes, the Caps looked great on Saturday night, but the 6-0 shellacking accounts for only one win. The series is 3-2 Capitals and if they want to close it out, they’ll need to bring the same intensity and effort they showed in game five on Monday.

They should have the confidence that they can do that, but they must commit to sticking with the blueprint in game six if they want to win for Oshie again.

Notes: Foegele, who had 0 shots on goal in 15:58, was hit hard by Ovechkin in period three…Matt Niskanen (six hits) led the Capitals in ice time with 22:20…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 35-30, Backstrom was 12-12 while Dowd led the way going 11-4…no Capitals player logged less than 10 minutes, which is good for overall fatigue heading into game 6….shot attempts were even at 55 each, but the Caps had the vast majority of quality chances…Chandler Stephenson had his best game of the season, by far. He logged 11:49 and re-created some of the chemistry he and Devo had in round one against Columbus in 2018…there were a couple of loud “T.J. Oshie” chants in the third period…the crowd at Capital One Arena was boisterous all night and earned praise from Coach Reirden.

 

 

 

 

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Game 2 Canes

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Orpik Wins Game 2 for Caps in Overtime

Posted on 13 April 2019 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals made home ice stand up on Saturday afternoon with Brooks Orpik scoring the game winning goal just 1:48 into overtime after a gorgeous feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov from behind the Canes net into the left wing circle. Orpik went far post with some top shelf cheese on Petr Mrazek (29 saves) to give the Caps a 2-0 lead in a series that shifts to Raleigh on Monday night.

“There is no better guy on this team to score that goal….he means so much to this team,” stated Tom Wilson afterwards and that was clearly evident the way the 38 year old blue liner was mobbed by his teammates after notching the game winner.

After a lackluster first tilt that they held on to win, 3-2, the Capitals were much better in game two, but they still needed extra time to defeat a very solid and hard working Carolina squad. You’ve all seen the game and/or the highlights, so let’s get to the analysis of this triumph immediately.

Let’s start where we absolutely must begin, with “All Star” Nicklas Backstrom. Nicky, who was fabulous in game one, was dynamite in game two. He scored the opening goal off of a wonderful pass from Alex Ovechkin (two assists) just 3:37 into this affair by going to the net and he assisted on what looked to be the game winning tally at the time, by Willy with 11:05 remaining in regulation. The Canes, however, would tie it with five minutes left on a power play tally. Washington has struggled from the dot all season long and Coach Todd Reirden has gone with Backy on most key draws early in the playoffs. While the Capitals went 23-39 for the game, it was the Swedish sensation that held his own taking most big face-offs and winning 10 of 22 from the dot. Most importantly, he was the forward on the ice when the Caps killed off a 1:07 Carolina five on three in the middle frame shortly after Washington could not convert on a five minute power play. That PK provided momentum for the home town squad. After the game, Coach Reirden could not be any clearer about the way he feels about Backstrom’s all world play.

“This guy is so underrated…these two games were the best two I’ve seen him play in my five years here.”

That is really saying something given how well Backstrom has performed over the years and is some big time and well deserved praise. I’ve had the pleasure of covering Nicklas since he came into the league and he is a sure fire Hall of Famer as well as one of the best two way players I’ve ever seen perform at the NHL level. He also is one heck of a leader. Simply put, between Backy and Ovechkin, they’ve pretty much seen it all.

Backstrom pointed out to the assembled media afterwards that there are always momentum swings in games and series and the important thing is to just stick with the game plan. Number 19 felt like the Caps did that on Saturday despite the highs and lows.

Ovechkin was dynamite, as well, and led by example, once again. Ovi set up the first goal with a great pass, but the whole event was made by his hustle back on a Canes jailbreak to thwart that rush. He also doled out a monster hit in the corner and then grabbed the disc to race up the ice on the opening goal sequence. Coach Reirden said that Alexander the Great has learned that he can generate space on offense with his back checking and he’s really taking advantage of it. The Gr8 complimented his long time teammate, Backstrom, with 21:12 of ice time that included two assists, eight shot attempts and seven hits.

There were some lows, too, and after racing out to a 2-0 lead in the first 10 minutes, the Capitals had consecutive defensive breakdowns that led to Linus Wallmark scoring from in front of Braden Holtby (25 saves) with 4:06 to go in period one. Carolina then tied things up with 3:11 left in the middle stanza when Sebastian Aho buried the rebound of a Justin Williams point blast that ricocheted off of the back boards. The Caps had a turnover and some blown coverage during that sequence.

Finally, with the Capitals trying to close out a one goal lead, Nic Dowd took his second high sticking minor of the game and Carolina’s power play finally converted. Jordan Staal made a perfect deflection in the high slot of a Dougie Hamilton point shot and it bounced by the Holtbeast with 5:00 remaining. Dowd’s two minors came with the defender to his back and #26 losing control of his stick. It will be interesting to see if the coaches correct his technique in those type of one on one battles.

As for Holtby, he was very good to run his lifetime record against Carolina to 18-6. Braden had several big stops, including one on an all alone Justin Williams in front in period two. The Hurricanes made a point of trying to get pucks and bodies to the Caps net and that’s how they scored all three of their goals.

Washington was better on their breakouts in game one. They didn’t have nearly as many turnovers in their own zone and the wingers were much stronger on the walls, which is where the Canes won the little battles on Thursday night. The Caps are also improving on using the high flip of the puck out of their own zone when Carolina is ultra aggressive on their forecheck. Carl Hagelin and/or Jakub Vrana are going to score off one of those if the Capitals blue liners keep using that effective move that stretches a defense.

The blue line for Washington was strong in this one, especially Nick Jensen. Number three was much better in his second career playoff game. He was all over the ice with his superb skating and it was his smart race to the front of the Carolina net that allowed Wilson to beat Mrazek to give the Caps a 3-2 lead. Jensen looked very confident with the puck.

Matt Niskanen (assist in 22:51), John Carlson (28:01), Dmitry Orlov (assist in 22:31) and Orpik (18:37) performed well on the back end. Christian Djoos only logged 5:44, but his five second shift in overtime ended with Batya burying the biscuit. Djoos still seems to be not fully recovered strength wise from the major surgery he had in December.

The Caps still need to get more balance in the lineup and a switch Todd made going into period three seemed to jumpstart a Washington team that had blown a two goal lead. Coach Reirden put the speedy Vrana back with Kuznetsov and the Osh Babe then reunited Hagelin with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly on the third line. The Capitals bench boss noted that Vrana has “unique chemistry” with Kuzy and Oshie, and that was evident on the game winning goal. Both Oshie and V drew their defenders with them to the net and that created a wide open lane for Evgeny to find number 44 all alone in the left wing circle. Batya delivered with a huge lamp lighter and the red light was a very welcome site for the team and the fans at Capital One Arena. Washington now has command of this series without really hitting their full stride yet.

Simply put, the Caps won because as Coach Reirden stated afterwards, “Our top players were our best players in this one.”

Still, the Capitals head coach believes there are higher gears his club can find with their game.

“I don’t think we’ve gotten to our best game yet…today was better in terms of zone time and forechecking, but we’re still not where we need to be.”

Notes: Aho was minus three despite scoring his first playoff goal…Justin Faulk was also -3 in 27:58 of ice time….Micheal Ferland was kicked out in period two for what was called a head shot on Dowd. The Canes killed that one off, but Coach Rod Brind’Amour said the zebras got it wrong…Washington was 0 for 4 in 10:09 of power play time. They struggled with their passing and the poor ice conditions seemed to exacerbate it. Carolina was 1 for 5 with the man advantage but Brind’Amour said not scoring on the five on three was a huge factor in the loss…Hamilton elbowed Kuznetsov in the head in period two and it took #92 several shifts to find his game again. That seemed to coincide with the line reunion with Vrana.

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Backy Canes

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Backstrom and Holtby Carry Caps Past Canes in Game One

Posted on 11 April 2019 by Ed Frankovic

Nicklas Backstrom was in beast mode on Thursday night at Capital One Arena.

The All Star center notched two goals to give the Caps an early two puck lead which then became 3-0 on Alex Ovechkin’s power play tally late in period one. After the Canes put on a furious third period rally to pull within a goal, Backy blocked two shots on Carolina’s power play that started with 3:31 left to help preserve the victory.

Once the penalty expired, Lars Eller would hit the empty net and Washington won game one, 4-2, sending the local faithful into the streets in good spirits. Game two is Saturday at 3 pm in DC and will be televised on NBC.

Here’s your game one thoughts and analysis:

Carolina actually came out flying in this one, but Braden Holtby (27 saves) wouldn’t allow any early goals against. The Holtbeast, who was 16-6 in 22 games lifetime against the Canes with a 1.98 goals against average heading into this series, once again was the biggest reason Washington triumphed. When Braden is able to see the shots and know where they are coming from, he is hard to beat.

The Capitals had stretches in this game where they passed up shot opportunities or couldn’t hit the net. They didn’t get their first shot on goal until nine minutes into the game. Once they started shooting, though, they lit the lamp several times. Backstrom got everything going with a top shelf snipe from the high slot on Petr Mrazek (14 saves). Backy was clearly the game’s first star on this night. The Caps, however, missed the net 10 times in period two and some of them were on opportunities where they could’ve put this one away earlier. Overall the Capitals only had 18 shots on goal. That must increase going forward.

Speaking of not slamming the door shut and having it nearly come back to haunt them, Washington had four quality chances early in period three that they didn’t convert. Mrazek was at his best stopping Nic Dowd and Carl Hagelin on breakaways and then Brett Connolly and Eller on golden chances in the slot. It was after that last stop that the Canes went the other way to score to get back in the game. Give credit to the Canes goalie there, but if the Capitals watch the replays, they’ll see that the five hole is open on the Czech goaltender, something they should exploit in game two.

Washington won this contest on special teams. The Caps scored on their first two power plays, initially on a layup by Backstrom off of a great feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov, who spotted an over aggressive Canes penalty kill that was focused on John Carlson and Ovechkin. Ovi then notched the game winning tally late in period one when he buried a loose puck in the slot after Tom Wilson hustled to keep it alive. Carlson assisted on both PPGs and had three helpers total on the evening. As for the shorthanded unit, the Capitals were a perfect three for three, with two huge kills in the last 10 minutes. During those PKs, both Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik were dynamite on the back end. Niskanen wasn’t having his best game up until that point, but he was outstanding over the last 10 minutes.

The 38 year old Orpik was a major presence in this win. He had seven hits and was extremely physical in 17:27 of action, including 4:32 on the PK (Niskanen had a whopping 5:15 of PK time). He also had an assist on Backstrom’s even strength tally. Like last spring, #44 raised the level of his play and with Michal Kempny out until the fall, the Capitals will need more of that.

After the Canes made it 3-1, they scored again just over two minutes later. Carolina really pressured Washington on their breakouts on the wall and the Caps wingers weren’t good enough at getting the pucks out of the zone. If the Capitals did that better, they would’ve generated more odd man rush opportunities and likely closed things out sooner. Breakouts will be a major point of emphasis from the Caps coaching staff heading into game two.

The good news is Washington held on to win when they weren’t anywhere near their best, so they will learn from this game. The first round is the hardest to win and there is no such thing as an easy opponent. Carolina is a fast team that relies on rush goals and its power play. The Canes notched two on the rush in the third period, but the Caps PK unit was able to hold them to no man advantage red lights, and that was the difference, as well as the Holtbeast.

Notes: Christian Djoos only played 7:48 and he was on the ice for both goals against, although the first one was not his fault. On the second goal, he needed to look over his shoulder and cut off the pass to the open Carolina player on the back side of the ice…Washington lost the face off battle, 38-29. Backstrom was 12-16…the Caps fourth line of Andre Burakovsky, Dowd, and Chandler Stephenson didn’t play much with Burky getting only 10 shifts while the other two received 12. Time on ice for each was all below seven minutes (#65 only logged 5:27)…Carlson played 25:32, Niskanen 24:36 and Dmitry Orlov was in at 22:18. Nick Jensen (15:53) and Djoos were the low men on the totem pole in time on ice for blueliners…Kuznetsov had zero shots on goal. He passed up a couple of good opportunities, too. Washington needs #92 clicking to be successful.

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Lars Beats Habs

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Caps Clinch Their 4th Straight Metropolitan Division Title

Posted on 04 April 2019 by Ed Frankovic

It was playoff intensity level hockey at Capital One Arena on Thursday night as the desperate Montreal Canadiens threw everything they had at Braden Holtby and the Washington Capitals, only to come up short, by a 2-1 score. The victory for the Caps clinches their fourth straight Metropolitan Division title and they will host either Carolina, Pittsburgh, or Columbus in round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs beginning next week.

Montreal is now tied with the Blue Jackets for the eighth and final playoff spot, but CBus has two games to play, against the Rangers and Ottawa, so things look bleak for the Habs.

This was another classic Carey Price (29 saves) vs. Holtby (33 saves) battle with the Stanley Cup Champion goaltender coming out on top, once again, like he’s done so many times in his career against Montreal. The Holtbeast made some huge stops early when the Habs were carrying the play, but as the game went on, it was Washington and their suffocating structure that had the better of the chances. In the final frame, the Capitals could’ve salted this one away earlier if not for some outstanding goaltending from Price.

Washington was really good in this game at gap control and that prevented Montreal from using their speed to their advantage. It was actually the Caps speed, and that of Carl Hagelin, that started the scoring late in period one. The man who was acquired from the Kings and partially paid for by Los Angeles and the Penguins put on a vicious forecheck in the right wing corner. The Habs defensemen coughed the puck up to Brett Connolly and he found Lars Eller wide open in front. “Tiger” deftly went to his backhand and beat Price for a hard working tally.

Nicklas Backstrom then took a high sticking penalty and Shea Weber tied things up on the power play, just 56 seconds after the Eller goal and with 28 ticks left in the opening frame.

The Caps would seize the lead for good early in period two using their speed, once again. Andre Burakovsky went flying down the right wing boards to steal a puck from the Habs blue liner and he fed Nic Dowd in the slot. Travis Boyd read the play perfectly and went to the net creating a screen on Price and Dowd tallied top shelf for his career high eighth goal of the season.

Both goals for the Caps were created by their bottom six forwards and were the result of a vicious forecheck. This is exactly how the Capitals need to play in the post season and the addition of Hagelin, which pushed Burakovsky to the fourth line, has given Coach Todd Reirden four strong lines. Washington boasts speed and skill up front, as well as size.

Defensively, the Capitals will need to overcome the loss of Michal Kempny, who suffered a torn hamstring in the dust up with Tampa’s Cedric Paquette. Kempny will miss four to six months, so the coaching staff has to figure out how they will play a defense that is now super strong in right handed shooting  John “Norris” Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and  Nick Jensen. Dmitry Orlov is the top lefthander while Brooks Orpik and Christian Djoos will have to step up to cover Kempny’s minutes. Djoos had major surgery back in December, but hopefully the time off he had has allowed him to build his strength up for another long playoff run.

Everything, however, starts in net and the Holtbeast is in fine form as we head into the post season. Washington went 13-4-1 down the stretch against one of, if not the toughest schedules in the NHL to capture the division title and a big factor was the play of their goaltender. When Braden is on, the Caps are hard to defeat.

Also encouraging is the way Washington manhandled Tampa in the last two confrontations. The Caps lost at home in overtime, but the Bolts won that one on special teams. Coach Rierden’s crew has dominated the Lightning at even strength like they did in last spring’s Eastern Conference Finals. They also beat the crap out of the Bolts in the fights last Saturday night. When are teams going to learn that challenging Tom Wilson to a fight is a lost cause? There aren’t many guys in the league, outside of Ryan Reaves, who are able to handle Willy.

The post season, however, is about structure and attention to detail and not fighting. Physicality matters, too. Washington has shown over the last 18 games that they are getting closer to that level they had on their Cup run. Now it’s time for them to take it up a notch.

The first round is always the hardest to win, so no matter who the Capitals play will be a tough out.

Notes: Djoos and Orpik were +2 on Thursday…Alex Ovechkin had eight shot attempts, but couldn’t increase his goal total (He currently has 51). Price made some quality saves on him and Ovi also shot some good chances wide…the Caps blocked 19 shots, seven of which came from Niskanen…Wilson had seven hits and Orpik had six as Washington outhit Montreal, 37-22. The Caps were physical in all zones and that seemed to wear the Canadiens out by the end of the game…the Capitals will face the Islanders on Saturday night in a meaningless game for Washington. The Isles need a point to clinch second place over the Penguins.

 

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Connolly 20th

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Connolly’s 20th Goal of the Season Leads the Caps over New Jersey

Posted on 19 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

In a sleepy game with not a lot of shot attempts, the Washington Capitals did what they had to on Tuesday night in New Jersey, they won by a large margin and were able to roll their lines in the third period as they prepare for Wednesday night’s rematch with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Andre Burakovsky continued to light the lamp to notch his 12th goal of the season just 2:52 into the contest, but then the Caps went into lethargic mode for the rest of the period. Washington only registered four shots on goal in that opening frame, but still would’ve had a 1-0 lead except for a major lack of focus moment at the end of the period.

Lars Eller had the puck in his own zone with about 12 seconds left and instead of skating it to the red line and dumping the biscuit deep, he passed it to the left wing boards in the neutral zone and then crazily went for a line change. Tiger’s play made zero sense and the Devils pounced on the disc. They would cycle it around in the Caps end and then beat Pheonix Copley (20 saves) with one tick remaining. It was a major blunder and another mental error, something that this Capitals team needs to clean up before the post season.

It was clear that Washington wasn’t into this tilt in the first 20 minutes, but in the middle stanza, they came out and played. Christian Djoos, who had been scratched while trying to build back the strength he lost due to his major surgery in December, made a super play at the left point to find Brett Connolly on the door step for Conno’s 20th goal of the season. Carl Hagelin earned the second assist on a play that further reinforces the statement, “Good things happen when you get pucks and bodies to the net.”

For Connolly, it was his career high 20th tally and with the assist on Burky’s first period snipe, he now has a career high in points at 42. Washington was still sputtering in some ways, but a line combination change by Coach Todd Reirden seemed to jump start the offense. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom switched lines and that move paid off quickly. Jakub Vrana made a super backhanded pass up to Kuzy after Dmitry Orlov’s initial clear following a faceoff win hit a New Jersey skate in the defensive zone. Evgeny went in two on one with T.J. Oshie and with the Devils defensemen cutting off the pass, #92 fired five hole on Mackenzie Blackwood to make it 3-1 with just under eight minutes to go in period two. Orlov should get an assist added on the goal, by the way.

The Caps then put the dagger in the Devils when their top line buried the biscuit on a three on two rush. After a clear by John Carlson, Backstrom came across the offensive blue line and dropped the puck to Alex Ovechkin, who was barreling down the slot. Nearly everyone in the building thought Ovi would shoot, but instead he zipped it to Tom Wilson in the left wing circle and top line Tommy fired it towards the cage where it hit Blackwood’s left pad then went into the net via the five hole. It was Willy’s 21st goal of the season and the 50th assist of the campaign for “All Star” Backy.

That would do it for the scoring. Coach Reirden was able to spread his ice time in anticipation for Wednesday’s big tilt against the Presidents’ Trophy winners. Washington lost to Tampa, 6-3, on Saturday after they dug themselves a 3-1 first period hole with some terrible play. The Caps, however, would storm back with a super second period and if Vrana buries the great feed from Ovechkin in the last five minutes, it’s 4-4 and anyone’s game. Instead the Bolts held on for a 6-3 triumph with two empty net tallies. Anyone who watched it saw a spectacular effort from the Gr8, who almost single handedly carried the Caps to a point and possibly two if Vrana finishes that late play off.

This victory on Tuesday night at The Rock ended a four game road trip where Washington played some really good hockey in stretches, but only finished with two wins and two losses. They need to eliminate the bad plays they are making at the wrong times that are putting pucks in the back of their own net. The talent is there on this team, but they need to be mentally prepared at all times and bring a strong effort.

They’ll definitely need that on Wednesday if they want to remain in first place in the Metropolitan Division and send a message to the Lightning that the Caps are still a team they’ll have to potentially deal with later on.

Braden Holtby will get the start in net at Capital One Arena at 7:30 pm. This should be an entertaining contest and while the Bolts are more rested, Coach Reirden will have last change and can try for better matchups than he ended up with on the road in Tampa. The Bolts were able to counteract Ovechkin’s strong game by scoring against each of the Capitals lines.

The 4-1 win improves the Caps to 43-23-7 (93 points) and they lead the Islanders by two points and the Penguins by four with nine games remaining (Pittsburgh only plays eight). Carolina, by virtue of their come from behind shootout triumph over the Pens on Tuesday, is in fourth with 87 points. The Caps still play the red hot Hurricanes twice in their last nine games. Six of the Capitals games are at home with only three on the road (@Carolina, @Tampa, and @Florida).

Notes: Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with a low total of 21:18. Nic Dowd had the lowest total at a modest 12:03 of ice time…Kuznetsov’s goal was his 19th of the season. The Caps have five players with 20 or more goals – Ovi, Oshie, Vrana, Wilson, and Connolly. Backstrom is at 18 goals, so it’s likely that the Capitals will have seven players with 20 or more goals before the season ends…shot attempts were 38-37 for the Caps…Washington was 0 for 1 on the power play, but 2 for 2 on the penalty kill…the Caps will follow NHL tradition and visit the White House on Monday afternoon with the Stanley Cup.

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Conno Hags Flyers

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Connolly Helps the Caps Ambush the Flyers, 5-2

Posted on 14 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

Beating the Philadelphia Flyers never gets old for long time Caps fans because they remember back to 1974-75 and the 1980’s when these two teams were fierce rivals. Year after year bus loads of loud mouthed drunk Flyer fans would invade Capital Centre and in the early days, when the Broad Street Bullies were at their peak, the guys in orange and black would more often than not, win.

That’s not the case anymore.

The defending Stanley Cup Champions, coming off of a giveaway loss to the Penguins on Tuesday, needed a win in Filthy before Saturday’s date with the league leading Lightning in Tampa. Capitals Coach Todd Reirden, at his pre game skate presser, talked about how a fast early start against a desperate Philadelphia team was needed on Thursday night, and his Caps definitely delivered.

Brett Connolly scored into a wide open cage off of a gorgeous pass from Michal Kempny just 2:32 into this game and by the 10 minute mark it was 2-0 when Lars “Tiger” Eller crashed the net to grab and fire a deflected shot by Connolly on rookie goalie Carter Hart. The young Canadian goalie made the initial stop, but Lars was able to pot his own rebound.

This was exactly the type of response to a bad loss that the Caps coaching staff was looking for and despite giving up an early goal in period two to cut their lead in half, Washington added two more tallies midway through period two, Connolly’s 19th and then Top Line Tom Wilson’s 20th to make it 4-1. Philly scored a few minutes later to trim the deficit to 4-2, but Washington, despite taking three straight third period penalties; never really looked liked they’d lose this one. Alex Ovechkin made a great play in his own end once the Flyers dispensed of their keeper and he fed Evgeny Kuznetsov, who made the major blunder that started the downward spiral in Pittsburgh, for an empty net tally with 2:26 remaining.

The Capitals dominated this tilt, but that was to be expected with the Flyers having traded Wayne Simmonds at the deadline and Cap killer, Jakub Voracek, also out due to a two game suspension. Washington is far more talented than this Flyers team, like they have been for many years in a row, but for some reason the Caps have let down in these games the last several years against a franchise that long time Capitals fans despise.

This season, Washington has jumped all over the Flyers in Filthy, outscoring them 9-3 in the first two periods. Within the last eight days, the Caps have won by counts of 5-3 and 5-2 against a team that has been beating pretty much everyone else in the league via a desperate late push to try and make the post season. Philadelphia is not making the playoffs this spring, and the Capitals are a big reason why, going 3-0 against them in 2018-19.

Scoring chances were heavily in Washington’s favor, and the Caps broadcast team had those at 16-8 at one point in the second period. Philadelphia had 19 of their 24 shots in the last 40 minutes (10 in the third period) since they were chasing the game the entire evening. It was a textbook road win for the Caps and they improved to 42-22-7 (91 points) with their eighth victory in their last nine games. The lone loss, to the Pens on Tuesday, was another contest they dominated for long stretches, but they hit three posts and Kuzy had a brain fart that turned the momentum around in the latter stages of period two.

Evgeny was better on Thursday night, but his erratic play is a big reason Ovechkin doesn’t have a goal in four straight contests. If the Caps are going to make a strong stretch and playoff run, they need #92 to get going like he did last spring. My personal opinion is he is holding back his energy for the post season, but he probably needs to start amping his effort and play up now, especially with three games against the Bolts in the next two weeks.

As for the Caps third line, well they are really humming since Carl Hagelin (two assists, +3, in 17:57) was added to that unit. They were responsible for the first three goals and Hagelin also had 4:39 of penalty killing time. What an addition he has been to this team because the Capitals finally look competent on the PK and all four lines are rolling since Andre Burakovsky has been bumped down to make the fourth line a match up nightmare for their opponents.

This is a deep Capitals team. When they play hard and smart they are tough to handle. But they do have a tendency to get pulled into end to end riverboat hockey with the lead. They also have to eliminate some of the poor decisions coming out of their own end. There are still too many cross ice passes from inside their own blue line. With the Caps speed up front now, a high flip pass is a much better option and worst case it’s an icing instead of a giveaway and an odd man rush against. They’ve used this effectively with Hagelin lately and it works. Pittsburgh did this on Tuesday against the Caps on their tying goal from Sidney Crosby. Again, the worst case scenario is an icing and I’ll take that any day over a cross ice turnover and an odd man rush against.

As for the goaltending, it continues to be rock solid. Braden Holtby (22 saves) was very good on Thursday night. Philadelphia, at times, had some looks to make this a closer game, but the Holtbeast shut the door each time.

So now it’s on to Tampa to take on the Lightning in the teams first meeting since game seven when the Caps blanked the Bolts, 4-0, at Amalie Arena. You can bet Coach Jon Cooper’s squad is ready for this one, so it should be a dandy.

However, that is still nearly 48 hours away and on Friday, Caps Nation can proudly wear their gear to their schools and offices and let any local Flyers fans know who is boss in the hockey world. Hey, even a 1975 chant (the last time Filthy won Lord Stanley) might be in order, hehe!

It’s always a good night when the Caps beat the Flyers, outside of a Stanley Cup triumph, there isn’t a whole lot of things better, in my mind.

Notes: John “Norris” Carlson was absolutely dynamite again for Washington logging 25:04. He had an assist and was +3. He is so good in all three zones and is the best defensemen in the NHL this season when you look at all of the hard minutes he plays. He’s a total stud on the back end for Washington…The Caps seemed to lose a lot of defensive draws when shorthanded in period three, but for the night they went 25-28 from the dot. Kuzy was 5-3 and Nicklas Backstrom was 8-7…Ovi only played 16:25 due to the big lead and the fact that the 3rd line was rolling. The Caps got into penalty trouble in the final frame, as well…Washington was four for four on the penalty kill and zero for three with the man advantage. The Capitals power play was not good, at all, in this one…Connolly, Eller, and Hagelin were all +3. Those guys are playing extremely well…shots on goal were 32-24 for the good guys. Ovi led the Caps with five shots on net.

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Holtby Blanks the Devils in the Caps 6th Straight Victory

Posted on 08 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby stopped all 25 shots he faced allowing Andre Burakovsky’s 11th goal of the season just 2:40 into the contest to stand up as the game winner in a 3-0 Capitals victory over the New Jersey Devils. The Caps sixth straight triumph improves them to 40-21-7 (87 points) and puts them back into first place in the Metropolitan Division. The second place Islanders are two points behind and their game in hand is against the Flyers on Saturday night on Long Island.

Washington returned home after a three game road trip to a lousy playing surface. Capital One Arena had a Lindsey Buckingham-less Fleetwood Mac in on Tuesday and then the Wizards on Wednesday, but the arena didn’t have an event on Thursday yet the puck was bouncing everywhere and the officials had to perform multiple ice repairs. It was a bad look for the barn and it also hurt the home team, who are built on skill.

The Holtbeast had to make two really quality saves in front on an all alone Stevan Noesen just 34 seconds into this affair because Evgeny Kuznetsov lost him in coverage after a defensive zone faceoff. It was just the start of a really bad period by Kuzy, but more on him later.  Once again, key stops at key times are important and the Caps took advantage grabbing the lead when Burakovsky finished off a four on two rush by potting a super feed from Michal Kempny. Travis Boyd earned the second assist by dropping the disc to a hard charging #6 in the slot. Michal then spotted the coverage coming at him leaving Burky wide open on the left side of the ice for the layup. The whole play was set up by the Devils over aggressive tactic of sending two fore checkers at John Carlson behind the Caps net. The Norris Trophy candidate read the situation perfectly and made a great first pass to Burakovsky up the left wing boards to start the jailbreak.

After killing off a penalty on Kempny midway through the period, Washington received a 1:49 two man advantage. The Caps did a lousy job with that situation, however, in fact it was one of the worst five on threes I’ve seen in a long time, and the Devils killed it rather easily. A big part of the problem was the bad ice, but the Capitals weren’t working hard either.  Kuznetsov had an early unforced turnover and that set the tone for a very poor power play. A too many men on the ice infraction on New Jersey right after that failure seemed like a perfect opportunity to extend the lead and right the ship, but the Capitals squandered that man advantage, as well.

Washington would be the next team to get into penalty trouble and they took four infractions in a row from late in period one until early in stanza three. The Caps would kill off all of them, but the parade to the box disrupted the team’s flow and caused many key players to sit on the bench for extended stretches. Jakub Vrana was called for two of the four minors, so he paid for his sins in period three by missing a couple of shifts.

Penalty killing (six for six over 11:42 of shorthanded time) was a big positive in this affair with Carl Hagelin really causing trouble for the Devils with his speed and tenacity. As a result of the great work while shorthanded, the Capitals still had the one goal lead and when Kenny Agostino tripped Kuznetsov at the 3:23 mark, Washington’s power play finally delivered. With the Devils shading Alex Ovechkin, the Gr8 alertly went to the left post and drew the defender with him. Carlson saw the overload and made a super pass past the Devils forward to Nicklas Backstrom at the right side of the net and Backy deflected it past Mackenzie Blackwood (33 saves) at the 4:35 mark. It was just simple and smart hockey by the Capitals to put pucks and bodies to the net at that stage of the game.

From there the Caps really clamped things down. T.J. Oshie had a monster shift to keep the puck in the Devils end as the clock slid under two minutes, but then he took an offensive zone tripping infraction. 43 seconds later this one was over as Lars Eller made a great read and strip of the puck at the Washington defensive blue line and he went the other way uncontested to deposit the biscuit into the empty basket and close out the scoring.

Washington wasn’t sharp in this one. Part of it was the surface, but the young Devils were outworking the Caps for stretches over the first 30 minutes. About midway through period two, though, the Capitals adapted to the game and the conditions and delivered a very smart and strong performance over the last half of this tilt. New Jersey only had five shots on goal in period three as Coach Todd Reirden’s crew ramped up their effort and clogged the neutral zone. They also possessed the puck quite a bit; the best defense is a good offense!

Kuznetsov, who struggled mightily in the opening frame, was really good in the final stanza with his skating, passing, and even some physical play on the wall. He competed and when he does that, the Capitals usually win. Overall, this was a game that could’ve been a trap for the Caps. They didn’t practice on Thursday and the Devils are missing a bunch of players due to injury, most notably Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier, but they have young skaters who are trying to make it in this league, so they are a maximum effort squad.

In the end, the Caps ramped up their compete level and adjusted to the style of game to take over, as they should. They earned the two points thanks to quality goaltending and enough offense at the right time.

Next up are the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday night at 7 pm at Capital One Arena. The red hot Jets destroyed a Carolina Hurricanes club that was 7-1-1 in their previous nine games on Friday night, so the Capitals have their work cut out for them against a very good Western Conference team (40-23-4) that skates well. Back in November, Josh Morrissey body slammed Oshie and Brandon Tanev hit Kuznetsov in the head knocking both Washington players out of the lineup for several games with concussions. Morrissey is out injured, so he won’t incur the wrath of Tom Wilson, as he should on Sunday, but Tanev played on Friday in Carolina and could be a marked man. It should be a very entertaining game and the Caps will certainly be up for one of the best clubs in the NHL.

Notes: The Caps outshot attempted New Jersey, 69-55, and shots on goal were 35-25 for Washington…the battle at the dot was dead even at 24 each. Eller was 8-4…Carlson led all players with 23:56 of ice time (1 assist, +2)…Hagelin played 16:56, including 8:18 of shorthanded time. Nick Jensen logged 17:11 and had 3:39 of PK time. Both of these guys have been big additions to the team creating massive depth in the Caps lineup…Ovechkin had five shots on goal in 20:34, leading all Caps forwards in ice time…Eller was super in this affair with seven shots on goal in 17:34…the Capitals were 1 for 5 on the power play in 7:24 of man advantage time.

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Holtby Reaches Major Milestone in Caps 5-3 Win Over the Flyers

Posted on 06 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby made 27 saves on 30 shots to help the Caps knock off the franchise’s longest bitter rival, the Philadelphia Flyers, in Filthy by a 5-3 count. With the win, the Holtbeast became the second fastest goalie in NHL history to 250 victories doing so in 409 games. Only Montreal goaltending legend, Ken Dryden, achieved the milestone faster (380 games).

This is an impressive feat and sure, a decent part of it is the byproduct of a great team, much like Dryden had with the Habs, but Braden is a stellar goalie who passed first round (Semyon Varlamov) and second round (Michal Neuvirth) draft picks in the system along the way to seize the Caps crease, for the most part, since 2012 when Dale Hunter took over as coach and rode #70 nearly to the third round of the playoffs that spring. The only blip on the radar was the disastrous 2013-14 season where former coach Adam Oates, who doesn’t know jack about goaltending, tried to mess the Holtbeast up by changing his style and then corrupting ex-Caps GM George McPhee into allowing three goalies on the roster, including acquiring Jaroslav Halak at the 2014 trade deadline. The three headed goalie monster almost always fails and that trade for Halak was ultimately the last stupid move that McPhee and Oates would make as a part of the Capitals organization.

But back to the present, Holtby is a Stanley Cup Champion goaltender and played a huge part in that run, so he’s deserving of this position in NHL history. Anyone who read his Players Tribune article on Wednesday knows how hard he works and how mentally focused he’s become. I first met Holts in the elevator at the building formerly known as Kettler IcePlex in 2008 right after he had been drafted and was in for Caps Development Camp. The 18 year old, at the time, definitely impressed me off the ice and I took notice of him right away. As he worked his way up the system, I was able to see his focus in another off-ice situation. While covering the 2010 Calder Cup Finals in Hershey, me and other media members were interviewing several Bears players after an early series game win, including Neuvirth and the great Jay Beagle, and I watched Holts come out of the locker room, sit on the bench by his locker quietly, and just study the stat sheet intently for nearly 15 minutes. Braden didn’t even play that night or that series, but you could just see how determined he was to improve any way possible. Once he came up and played a few games during the latter portion of the Bruce Boudreau era, he quickly became the number on goalie on my depth chart and many in the Caps organization felt that way right up until Oates came along and hosed things up. Fortunately the hiring of Coach Barry Trotz and the promotion to GM of Brian MacLellan ended some mistaken goalie decisions and logic. Trotz immediately declared #70 the number one goalie and after a Stanley Cup plus two Presidents’ Trophies he’s now made history again in 2018-19.

As for Wednesday’s game itself, the Capitals came out razor sharp in this affair racing to a 2-0 first period lead. Alex Ovechkin was on a mission and he made a super pass to Tom Wilson on the doorstep to start the scoring just 5:55 into the contest. It was Willy’s career high 19th tally in just 48 games this season. Brett Connolly would then score his career high 17th goal when his shot hit the stick of the Flyers defensemen, clipped Brian Elliott’s glove, and then doinked the camera in the back of the net to make it 2-0 with 5:44 to go in the opening frame. The Caps played fast and hard and could’ve been up more after 20 minutes.

In period two, they kept the hammer down. Sean Couturier was boxed for tripping Matt Niskanen and on the ensuing power play, John Carlson made a great keep in on the right wing boards and then All Star Nicklas Backstrom slid a super cross ice pass to the Gr8 while fighting off two Flyers. Ovi was all alone in the high slot and snapped one five hole on the Flyers keeper to make it 3-0 just 2:32 into the middle stanza. It was outstainding effort and superb skill by both Carlson and Backy on that sequence. Of course, the greatest goal scorer on the planet today, and perhaps of all time, finished the play off with his unbelievable shooting prowess.

Washington did not let up and Andre Burakovsky beat Elliott short side off of the near post, again on a deflected shot (Shane Gostibehere tipped the puck after it came off of Burky’s stick), at 4:18 and that’s when Flyers interim coach Scott Gordon opted for Cam Talbot in the cage. The former Ranger and Oiler was promptly greeted with a goal against just 79 seconds later. Nick Jensen made a nice stretch pass off of the boards that Jakub Vrana out raced the Flyers defense to gather in. The Czech speedster carried the disc behind the net and then fed an all alone Bacskstrom in the slot where Nicky roofed it to make 5-0 with just under 35 minutes remaining.

From there the Caps played fairly decently until the latter stages of the period when they got caught up in a bit of a rush game. Philadelphia received a three on two with 20 seconds left and scored with just 12 ticks remaining on a dart from the high slot. It was a play that JUST CANNOT HAPPEN that late in a frame. Washington flat out stopped playing for 10 seconds and it gave the Flyers life.

Philly then won the opening faceoff for period three and Claude Giroux beat Backstrom to the net for a tap in just 10 seconds in. Suddenly we had a three goal game. Washington still did not learn that they could not afford to get into a back and forth rush affair, yet they did, and eventually the red hot Flyers, who were 17-4-2 in their last 23 games coming into Wednesday night’s tilt, scored with 12:12 remaining on a point blast through a maze of players. Washington played about 10 bad minutes in a row in this affair and they were outscored during that time, 3-0.

Coach Reirden smartly had seen enough of the riverboat gambling style of play and he called a timeout. He then demonstratively instructed his troops how he wanted to conduct the remaining dozen plus minutes. It was one-three-one time, something this club excelled at last spring en route to the Cup, and they implemented that structure well on Wednesday to secure the game from then on, which was unlike the Anaheim contest back in early December where they kept playing pond hockey against the Dirty Ducks and lost, 6-5.

Holtby did have to make a big save after it was 5-3, but that’s what great goalies do, they come up large in crunch time. After that chance, though, the Flyers didn’t really have much of an opportunity to score as the Capitals shut things down, something they need to do regularly with just 15 games to go before the playoffs.

At the end of the night, the Caps won the game and also hopefully learned some valuable lessons. First, they can’t stop playing or not start playing at the commencement of a period. Second, when leading they have to make sure they don’t get dragged into a rush game. Too many times all three forwards were caught deep in the Flyers zone and that’s just not smart hockey. Third, once they went to their one-three-one neutral zone lock down they really gave the Flyers nothing, so it was good reinforcement for the squad that they can still go to that structure to successfully close out a game.

Credit the Flyers for not quitting, their season was on the line, so they weren’t going away easily, but Philadelphia has no time for moral victories. They are now seven points out of a playoff spot and are pretty much done for 2018-19. The Capitals do play them two more times and those games, regardless of records or standings implications, are always a battle. Many lifelong Capitals fans despise the former Broad Street Bullies so it’s always good to beat that team, especially in their own barn.

So on Thursday, Caps Nation can feel good, they are back in first place with a 39-21-7 (85 points) record and they are coming off a nice educational triumph over their longest archrival.

As I almost always write after a win over the despised Flyers, the air is cleaner, the drinks go down smoother, and the food definitely tastes better the next day!

Notes: Washington out shot attempted Philly, 64-54, and led the shots on goal total, 35-30…the Caps were once again creamed on face-offs, 32-14. Lars Eller was the best Cap at 6-7…with the big lead Coach Reirden was able to pretty much roll the lines, especially on defense. Niskanen led the blue liners in ice time with a low total of 21:01 and Brooks Orpik played the least at 16:33. Wilson led the Caps forwards in time on ice with 19:34…Dmitry Orlov, who had two bad passes that led to early goals in the games in the Big Apple, was fabulous in this affair with two assists and he was plus three in 20:43. He and Niskanen really were stellar on defense in this one, which is very encouraging…Carl Hagelin played on the third line again and was excellent picking up an assist in 13:40 of ice time…next up for the Caps are the Devils at Capital One Arena on Friday night at 7 pm.

 

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Six Long Thoughts and Analysis of the Caps After They Retake 1st Place

Posted on 03 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals knocked off the New York Rangers on Sunday afternoon, 3-2 in the shootout, to retake first place in the Metropolitan Division. What follows are six extended thoughts and analysis of the Caps as they head into the final 16 games of the regular season.

Clutch Performances Yield Two Points – The Capitals really dominated the contest against the Rags on Sunday, but Alexandar Georgiev was dialed in for New York in net and Washington also didn’t get many bounces going their way. That’s why this affair ended up in a shootout and if not for a couple of nice saves in the gimmick by Holtby, the game’s number one star officially, the Caps might have left town with just a loser point. The Holtbeast (22 saves) was clutch, but when it comes to excelling under the ultimate pressure, All Star Nicklas Backstrom delivered when he absolutely had to do so. The Caps were down to their last shot to tie in round three and with Georgiev seemingly on fire, Nicky came in and just blazed a perfect shot just inside the post past the glove hand of the young goalie to give his club a chance for the win. After Holtby made a fantastic pad save, Alexander Ovechkin, who was denied on a breakaway on a five hole attempt in OT after a super feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov, deked Georgiev so badly that the keeper threw his stick into the puck and the Gr8’s stick as Ovi was about to fire the disc into the empty cage for the win. Those were some clutch performances there by Braden, Alex, and especially Backy.

Zebra Convention of Doom – The officiating in this game was downright awful from Francois Charron and Pierre Lambert, who continue to help prove to me that there isn’t a single good French Canadian referee in the NHL. They missed several infractions on the Rangers in this tilt and the call on Tom Wilson for kneeing was a complete joke. NHL officiating is at an all time low, in my book, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a screw up as bad as what happened at the end of the shootout. All four officials either missed Georgiev throwing his stick at Ovechkin and/or they just didn’t know the rule that when this occurs it’s an automatic goal. While one of the clowns in stripes was over explaining to Caps Coach Todd Rierden why they were not awarding a goal, the horn at Madison Square Garden was sounded not just once, but twice, to get the two officials over to the headphones so the NHL War Room in Toronto could set them straight. Thank goodness this was the only game going on at the time and it was on national TV otherwise the shootout might have continued. They ultimately got the call right, but it should have never gotten to that point, so this was a really embarrassing scenario for the NHL and it’s on ice officials. The league has to find a way to improve the performance of the guys in stripes. The on ice product from the players is as good as ever, but the officiating is about as poor as I’ve seen it, especially when it comes to the French Canadian referees. I don’t know what it is about the zebras from there, but they seem to always be watching a different game than many others are viewing?

Deal or No Deal – Caps General Manager Brian MacLellan made two moves to upgrade his third defensive pair and his bottom six forward group for the stretch run and hopefully long post season afterwards. About 10 days into those acquisitions, what the Caps surmised on paper is translating perhaps even better than expected on the ice. Carl Hagelin was brought in to inject speed into the lineup and help a struggling shorthanded unit. BMac also noted that Hagelin was a guy that could be moved up in the lineup, if needed. On Sunday, against a team he started his career with after being chosen in the sixth round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Coach Reirden inserted him on the third line and he scored his first Caps goal, drew a penalty (and there were at least two other times the zebras ignored Ranger players tripping him), and helped kill two penalties in 16:36 of ice time. After that performance, it’s hard to see him getting bumped back down to the fourth line. As for Nick Jensen, he was as steady as a rock in 17:05 going plus two along with Brooks Orpik (also +2). That duo has really clicked and they were a big reason both Washington goals came from their bottom six group of forwards. The best GM in the Caps history, after adding Michal Kempny last season before the NHL trade deadline, sure seems to have pulled off two more great moves this year. Credit should also go to Chris Patrick and the Capitals Pro Scouting Department; they’ve certainly improved by leaps and bounds since the awful Martin Erat acquisition and 2014 trade deadline horrible additions that led to George McPhee and Adam Oates getting shown the door following that train wreck of a campaign. These deals were not flashy, but they created depth and more importantly, competition in the lineup, and that’s how teams really improve. Many are calling for Orpik to sit for Christian Djoos now that Jensen is on board, but most of them have Orpik Derangement Syndrome. Brooks has been really good since the bye week and as Coach Reirden noted, Djoos had a major surgery and still can’t do some of the things he needs to do at the NHL level to be effective in the most important parts of the season.  With Jensen able to kill penalties, the Caps now have four blue liners that are very good at that aspect of the game, Orpik, Jensen, Matt Niskanen, and John Carlson. The PK is not an area where Kempny, Dmirty Orlov, or Djoos excel.

All You Need is Rest – When the Caps were losing seven games in a row back in January and there were people on Twitter in Caps Nation losing their minds, I kept tweeting that the team looked fatigued and just needed some rest and time away from hockey. That analysis was spot on. Since the All Star Game and Bye Week break the Capitals are now 11-4-1 (23 out of a possible 32 points). They currently lead the Metro division by two points over the Islanders, who lost three of four on home ice this past week. New York is showing some signs of fatigue and that is to be expected given their style of play. The Islanders do have a game in hand. The top of the division is still very close with red hot Carolina in third place with 78 points and one less game played, too. The Pens are in fourth with 77 points and Columbus is in 5th in the Metro and 9th overall at 75 points. Suddenly surging Philadelphia is at 72 points. Bottom line now is every point matters and with so many four point games left, you need to be fresh down the stretch to play what are very tight and close checking contests.

Schedule Sets Up Well – Going forward, the Caps have a very favorable schedule in terms of spacing since they only play one back to back set and do not have to travel outside of the eastern time zone. Yes, they have three games left with the top team in the NHL, Tampa, and three games left with the Flyers, who are making a hard charge to try and get into the postseason, but this stretch, while tough in terms of the type of hockey each game will present, is much better than what some of the other Metro teams have yet to deal with. The Capitals know what style it takes to win when the games matter most, and we are starting to see them employ it. There are still things to clean up in their game, both goals allowed on Sunday were of the ugly and lazy variety, but the overall trend of play is going the right way, by far.

Rangers Game Stats Recap – Proof of the Caps domination were a 60-42 shot attempts advantage and the 39-24 shots on goal difference…Ovechkin had six shots on goal in 23:35 of ice time. Carlson led the Caps and all skaters in TOI with 26:02…Andre Burakovsky started strong scoring a goal to make it 2-1, but he was bumped down to the 4th line before the contest began. His move and shot to tally his 9th goal of the season was very nice, but the coaches clearly didn’t like the soft play he made in the middle of the ice on the Rangers game tying goal in period two. Burky only received one more shift in the game after that one handed miss in the slot…Travis Boyd only played 7:21 without a shot on net. He passed up a great chance to do so in period two and then gave the puck away. The whole team does have a tendency to overpass, at times, and that’s something that must be cleaned up down the stretch and heading into the post season. Pucks and bodies need to almost always go towards the net or below the goal line when the games clamp down…the Caps were creamed on face offs, 32-21. Nic Dowd was 5-4, but he only played 8:23…the Caps went 4-0 against the Rangers this season, the first time in franchise history they’ve done that against the Rags.

 

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Ovechkin’s 45th of the Season is the Game Winner on Long Island

Posted on 01 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin scored his NHL leading 45th goal of the season 4:34 into period three, just 68 seconds after Jakub Vrana had tied the game, and Braden Holtby made 20 saves as the Washington Capitals won on Long Island, 3-1. The Capitals are now 37-21-7 (81 points) and are tied with New York for first place in the Metropolitan Division. The Islanders have a game in hand.

The Caps went into Nassau Coliseum for the first time since 2015, where they lost game six of that playoff series before closing out game seven at home on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s sensational tally. In this tilt, they had a schedule advantage given that the Islanders played John Tavares and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night in #91’s first game back in town. Coach Barry Trotz’ crew dominated Mike Babcock’s squad in a 6-1 thrashing of the tired Leafs, who played and won on Wednesday night, then cleared customs and traveled to the USA for a thorough butt whipping at the Coliseum.

On Friday, New York was due to be fatigued and as expected, they played a tight, packed in defensive game that was geared towards limiting quality chances. Things started well for the Islanders. Just 2:43 into the contest, Tom Kuhnhackl took advantage of a terrible cross ice defensive zone pass by Dmitry Orlov and went in all alone on Holtby. The former Penguin, who hit the post in overtime of game six of last year’s Caps-Pens series before Kuzy won it on a breakaway, beat Holts on the backhand upstairs, but the replay seemed to indicate that New York was offside. The Caps chose not to challenge, however, and the Islanders protected their net well for 40 minutes to lead by a puck going into period three. That advantage could’ve been bigger if not for two hit posts by the home squad.

In period three, the Capitals stayed patient and continued to win board battles and keep the disc in the Isles end. Washington had trouble getting pucks and bodies to the net simultaneously in the first two frames, but the flood gates would open up early in the third stanza. Michal Kempny carried a puck into the lower left wing circle after his initial shot was blocked and slid it into the crease area where All Star Nicklas Backstrom had battled to the front of the cage. Nicky couldn’t get the puck on net with his stick tied up, but it hit an Islanders skate and was laying in harm’s way. Vrana was right there on the doorstep to put the biscuit in the basket for his 19th of the season and notched the Capitals first tally on Trotzy’s team in over five periods (New York shutout the Caps, 2-0, at Capital One Arena in January).

Fifty five seconds after the Vrana lamp lighter, the Islanders were called for their first penalty of the game when Anders Lee dumped Backy off of a face off and was sent to the box to feel shame for interference. It was the play of a tired forward and it put Washington in position to take the lead for the first time. Thirteen seconds later, the Caps did just that. All five Capitals on the power play touched the puck before it went into the net off of the stick of Johnny Boychuk. John Carlson fed Backstrom on the right wing half wall, who moved it to Kuzy below the goal line to the right of Thomas Greiss (26 saves). Evgeny sent it to T.J. Oshie in the slot, who one-timed it on net. Greiss made the initial save, but pushed the rebound in the air into the slot where the Gr8 got just enough of it on his baseball swing to send it wobbling over the Islanders goalie and off of Boychuk’s stick, which was above his shoulders, and into the net.

From there, the Capitals were able to clamp this one down and when the Osh Babe cleared the puck after a nice pass from Brooks Orpik, Josh Bailey mistakenly slid the puck backwards thinking he had a player behind him. In the words of one Ron White, though, he was wrong! The disc ended up going right into the open cage and Oshie was credited with his 21st tally of the season to close out the scoring.

This was never going to be a pretty game and was going to be all about which team could outwork the other and win the board battles. Washington had the big advantage there for the evening, out shot attempting the Islanders, 69-40, but it took some good stops from Holtby and the iron to keep the deficit at one before the Capitals were able to take over in the last 20 minutes. This was basically a test of wills and the Caps, who like to play a more free flowing game with their high end skill, rolled up their sleeves and gutted out a win over a team that plays its system extremely well. The Islanders are no fluke, they play very structured and make you work to score.

On Friday night, the Capitals had their work boots on and grinded out a much needed two points. On Sunday afternoon at 12:30 pm they will face a New York Rangers team that has been very competitive despite a very young roster. They lost twice this week in extra time (lost to the Caps in OT on Sunday and the Bolts in a shootout on Wednesday) before a 4-2 defeat to Montreal on Friday night at Madison Square Garden. Coach Todd Reirden’s crew will be off on Saturday, but they must come out ready to battle again when facing the Blueshirts if they want two more much needed points.

It’s that time of year where the games are much tighter checking affairs and the players that win the board battles and work hard to create ugly goals usually prevail. That was the Capitals on Friday against their old bench boss.

Notes: The Caps had a 29-21 shots on goal advantage. Ovi led the Caps with five…the Capitals won the faceoff battle, 31-24. Backstrom was 13-6 and Nic Dowd went 5-1…Carlson led the Caps and all skaters in ice time with 23:20…Andre Burakovsky (7:32) and Travis Boyd (6:36) each played less than eight minutes…the Caps were 1 for 3 on the power play (2:13) and 2 for 2 while shorthanded (four minutes).

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