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Caps Over Pens Nov 2017

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Caps Get Total Team Effort in Victory Over Pittsburgh

Posted on 10 November 2017 by Ed Frankovic

When 20 men all row the boat in the same direction, good things happen.

On Friday night at Capital One Arena the Washington Capitals played, by far, their best game of the season to knock off the two time defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins, 4-1.

John Carlson, T.J. Oshie, Chandler Stephenson, and Jakub Vrana scored for the Caps and Braden Holtby stopped 27 of 28 shots to improve Washington to 9-7-1 (19 points).

Without further adieu, here are nine detailed thoughts and analysis on this huuuuugggggeeee victory.

  1. Nicklas Backstrom came into this game with a seven game scoreless streak and his linemate, T.J. Oshie, had not netted a goal in eight straight contests. In a smart attempt to shake the lines up, Coach Barry Trotz bumped Vrana down to the third line and added a player who works hard on every shift, Stephenson, to the mix. That trio was superb all evening and they spent a lot of time up against Sidney Crosby’s line. Nicky held Sid the Kid pointless and even broke his pointless drought with a great feed to Stephenson in the slot to make it 3-1 with 6:18 left. Crosby would play 18:58, have only three shot attempts, lose 14 of 22 draws, and ended up a minus two. It was a vintage two way game by Backstrom, one of the NHL’s best centers. Oshie also broke his slump with a sweet deflection of a Carlson point shot on the power play with 1:51 to go in period two. The Osh Babe also had great net presence on Carlson’s opening marker that hit Tom Kuhnackl’s stick and went in. #34 was trying to tie up Oshie and he was not successful.
  2. Speaking of Carlson, what a beast he was, once again! #74 had a goal and an assist in 28:43 of ice time. He has simply been sensational while Matt Niskanen has been out. The Caps have rode Carly and Brooks Orpik on the back end heavily and are 6-6 in Nisky’s absence. However, four of those six losses came on the tail end of back-to-back affairs. I attribute a lot of those losses to the lack of depth caused by the expansion draft, salary cap casualties, and key injuries. With #2 due back in the next week or so, that will alleviate a lot of pressure on Carlson and Orpik and really help get Dmitry Orlov back on track, too, since he’ll have his favorite d-pair partner again. Orlov has been very inconsistent and he tipped in the only Penguins goal in this one due to some bad defensive zone coverage.
  3. Sticking with the blue line, I thought this was Christian Djoos’ best game of his very young NHL career. His speed and ability to skate and move the puck provides a great match up against the Penguins and he was rock solid in 13:18 of ice time. Rookie Madison Bowey had a few giveaways in 15:44 of action, but he’s getting better and better. As I mentioned to Caps General Manager Brian MacLellan on Monday when we last chatted, the blessing in disguise of Niskanen’s injury will be the sped up development of both Djoos and Bowey. Those two kids have really improved and assistant coach Todd Reirden deserves credit for helping turn these guys into capable NHLers. Washington suddenly has more depth on the back end than they did on October 1st. I’d like to see Bowey stay up when Niskanen returns and Djoos, as well. Taylor Chorney should be the 7th defensemen and he’s been really good the last two weeks.
  4. The Andre Burakovksy injury (fractured thumb) was another big blow to the Capitals forward lines since he was expected to take over the production of Marcus Johansson this season. Vrana was gifted into the top six when #65 went out and he just hasn’t produced. His compete level and decision making was lacking and he deserved the demotion he received. Stephenson has taken full advantage of his opportunity and that has been a pleasant surprise. Any team could’ve had this guy right before the season for nothing and now he has five points in eight games. Washington really needed someone to step up with the Burakovsky, Brett Connolly, and Tyler Graovac injuries and he’s been one who has done that.
  5. After Thursday’s practice, Coach Trotz noted that with guys close to returning from injury he now has five lines of forwards and four defensive pairs practicing and he likes that because it brings competition. Well, I think it is no surprise that many players increased their compete level and were structured, strong on the walls, and won numerous one on one battles in this contest against the Penguins. When players are comfortable and aren’t pushed, they don’t do the hard work and little things necessary to win hockey games. Now that jobs are on the line, suddenly every guy with a Caps sweater on in Friday’s tilt was giving everything they had. There’s another example of socialism not working!
  6. I’ve been tough on Vrana and Alex Chiasson during the early part of this season. Both have had their on-ice issues and they have struggled to contribute in a substantial way. On this evening, both made a key play in an important situation that helped the Caps win. On Stephenson’s goal, Chiasson went to the net and created havoc in front of Matt Murray (27 saves). While he doesn’t have the best set of hands and his skating needs a lot of work, #39 at least knew to crash the cage there and what is likely keeping him in the lineup is his penalty killing. As for Vrana, he needs to compete harder and getting out there with Lars Eller and Tom Wilson is a good fit for him. #13 still can perform better and he needs to bury some of his chances, but his play on the empty net clincher was a combination smart decision and pure speed.
  7. Special teams have been a problem area for the Caps so far this season. The power play had become stagnant and the penalty kill was struggling having to kill too many opportunities. On Friday, both of those units were big reasons the Capitals were victorious. Caps assistant coach Blaine Forsythe added some new wrinkles to the power play and they connected twice in six opportunities (9:11 of man advantage time). Oshie gets a lot of credit for creating havoc in front of the net, but the passing was crisper and there was some good rotation. Alex Ovechkin (1 assist) had a great chance a couple of minutes before #77’s goal on the man advantage, but he shot wide. Perhaps the biggest story though, was the way Washington handled the Penguins power play, which is one of the deadliest in the league. The Caps did a great job of keeping the Pens on the perimeter and keeping the crease clear so that Holtby could see the puck. The Holtbeast was superb and was a major reason Pittsburgh went 0 for 4 with the man advantage.
  8. Liam O’Brien, who was called up a week ago, only played 4:36, but it was an important stretch. In the first period, one of the toughest guys in the league and lead agitator, Ryan Reaves, was trying to intimidate the Caps and help give the star players on the Penguins more room on the ice. Reaves was jawing at Tom Wilson from the get go in this one and he hit O’Brien on an early shift. #87, recognizing that Reaves was trying to set a tone and get Washington off of their game, took Ryan on and got beat quickly in a fight. However, he took Reaves off of the ice for five minutes and after that #75 was nowhere to be found and became a non factor in the contest. Well done, Liam, way to take one for the team.
  9. Finally, an immense amount of credit for the Capitals staying afloat during this early stretch with key injuries goes to Holtby. Braden is now 9-3 with a .924 save percentage this season. He’s been outstanding and the team’s MVP playing behind a much more inexperienced defense. The Holtbeast won his 200th career game on Friday and became the 2nd fastest goalie to 200 wins (319 games) since the legendary Ken Dryden did it with the Montreal Canadiens in 311 tilts (h/t Tarik El-Bashir of NBC Sports Washington).

In summary, this was a gritty and gutsy effort by the Caps on Friday night. They played structured and strong hockey and won a lot of little battles all over the ice. It was a team effort and they played the way they’ll need to in order to be successful this season.

It was their best game.

Notes: Pittsburgh is now 9-7-2 (20 points) and has a -17 goal differential. They’ve lost key depth, too, due to the salary cap and have yet to win on the tail end of back to back games, as well. They had not played since Tuesday, though, like the Capitals. Historical Cap killers Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, and Matt Cullen are no longer wearing the black and gold and Washington benefited from that…the Caps outhit the Penguins, 30-17…shot attempts were 59-56 for Pittsburgh, but the Caps got more on the cage, 31-28…the Caps won the face off battle, 34-26. Jay Beagle was 13-4 and Backstrom went 7-4…Orpik played 21:38 on the back end and had one of his best games of the season. He kept Patrick Hornqvist and company off of the Holtbeast all night long…next up for the Caps are the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday night at 7:00 pm at Capital One Arena.

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Ovi Game 5

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Caps Leadership Crew Delivers in Game Five Victory

Posted on 07 May 2017 by Ed Frankovic

With one period remaining in game five at the Verizon Center on Saturday night, the Washington Capitals were trailing by a puck and were 20 minutes away from the golf course. To start the third period, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the faceoff and Sidney Crosby, who returned from injury after missing game four, went in on Braden Holtby (20 saves) and threw a strong backhander on #70 that the Holtbeast stopped.

Then the game changed dramatically. The Holtbeast made another big save, this one on Tom Kuhnhackl, and shortly thereafter Nicklas Backstrom carried the puck out of his own zone with some serious speed. As he crossed the offensive blue line he gave the puck to Andre Burakovsky, and Burkie gave it right back to Nicky, who had a step on Carl Hagelin. The Swede would then beat Marc-Andre Fleury (28 saves) just under his glove to the far post to tie the game up just 2:49 into period three.

Just 37 seconds after the goal, Cap killer Nick Bonino had a great chance from the slot, but Holtby made a monstrous save. It was the third huge stop by the Holtbeast early in period three and it seemed to lift the Capitals play.

The game would go back and forth, but things were starting to change for Washington, suddenly they were getting pucks to the net more frequently as they entered the offensive zone. With just over seven minutes gone, the Penguins appeared to have an easy clear, but John Carlson stepped up on Hagelin at the right point and forced a turnover. #74 then got the puck to Evgeny Kuznetsov, who dropped it to Marcus Johansson for a shot from the high slot. Jojo’s attempt, with T.J. Oshie in front, was blocked by Evgeni Malkin, but it caromed right to Evgeny Kuznetsov just above the goal line on the near post and Kuzy snapped it quickly by Fleury short side to give the Caps their first lead of the game. It would be the first time all series that the lead actually changed hands in this battle (h/t Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps)).

As if that wasn’t enough, after a faceoff loss and a Bryan Rust slap shot that was stopped by Holtby, the Caps went the other way on a rush. Nate Schmidt chipped the puck up the left wing boards to Alex Ovechkin and he gave the puck to Lars Eller (two assists). Eller then fed the Gr8 the biscuit at the defensive blue line as Ovi was flying up the rink with speed. Ovechkin was absolutely motoring and that forced Pens defensemen Ron Hainsey to get turned around, which gave Alex a chance to cut inside for a better shooting angle. Ovi fired, but the first shot was blocked by a sliding #65. The rebound, however, would come right on Ovechkin’s stick and he wristed one over Fleury’s glove to make it 4-2.

Wow, two goals in 27 seconds to seize the lead in an elimination game, that’s a big time step up by the Caps!

From there the Capitals kept the hammer down and nearly extended their lead. They would go on to close the game out and force a game six that will be on Monday night in Pittsburgh.

Afterwards Coach Barry Trotz praised his goaltender for the big saves he made and said “it lifted our bench.” He especially pointed out the one on Bonino. Holtby was the biggest reason the Capitals had a chance to rally in this affair. Pittsburgh didn’t have a ton of shots, but the ones they had seemed to be of high quality and #70 was dialed in for his club.

Trotz also had a big game with his tactics. His decision to move Ovechkin with Eller and Wilson while sliding Burakovsky up with Backstrom and Oshie got a lot of guys going. Wilson, who has been super this entire post season, made his presence known early with some huge hits on Penguins defensemen Justin Schultz and Trevor Daley. Willy had four hits overall while Ovi had six and Oshie seven as Washington, who won the shot attempt battle, 66-52, also outnumbered the Penguins in hits, 38-15. Simply put, Coach Trotz’ line shake up, which was intended to get more physicality and scoring opportunities, paid dividends on Saturday night.

On Friday I wrote about the Caps leadership’s inability to bring forth a big effort in a crucial game four with Crosby out of the lineup. On Saturday night, they all delivered. Backstrom had the game tying goal, Ovechkin had the insurance marker, and the Holtbeast stoned the Penguins on several quality scoring chances. That trio, which is the primary core of the team, really came through on Derby Day.

Kuznetsov scored his fourth goal of the series and Burakovksy (1 goal, 1 assist) ended a 10 game goal scoring drought this post season. His tally with 30 seconds left in period one, after great plays by Eller and Kevin Shattenkirk to get him the puck, allowed #65 to break the seal on Fleury.

Schmidt and Shattenkirk played well paired together on the back end as the Caps blue liners were very solid overall.

On the down side, the Capitals power play went 0 for 3 and definitely needs some tweaking. They did get seven shots on net, but there weren’t many “grade A” chances. The Penguins power play is heating up and their second tally of the night was a passing exhibition that led to an easy Phil Kessel marker from the back door. Pittsburgh was one for two with the man advantage. The Caps did a good job of staying out of the box and that will be critical on Monday night in Pittsburgh.

Washington played very well on Saturday and found a way to win by simplifying their game and limiting offensive blue line turnovers. With game six in Pennsylvania on Monday, the Pens have to be feeling really good about their chances of closing the series out. They have been dominant at home and they have their lineup intact with Crosby and Conor Sheary back from injury.

The Caps have their backs against the wall and must maintain focus and pressure the Penguins defense. Both Eller and Holtby talked about Washington being more patient in the offensive zone paying off in game five. Getting shots through is important and the Caps found a way to fire away after the Pittsburgh defenders left their feet and were committed to blocking the shot. They’ll need to do that again in game six if they want to extend their season.

Notes: Hainsey led all skaters with 23:57 in ice time, but Brian Dumolin was right behind him at 23:54. Daley, who is clearly playing hurt, only logged 11:09…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 21:13. Jojo played 20:50 and Oshie logged 20:22 for Washington. Coach Trotz was able to do his best job of the series of spreading ice time around in this tilt. Ovechkin played 17:46 and had eight shot attempts. One went in and another hit the cross bar right before Backstrom tied the game up at two…the Pens creamed the Caps on faceoffs, 34-22. Eller was 6-6…the Penguins were 6-0 in this postseason when leading after two periods (h/t Ben Raby (@BenRaby31))…shots on goal were 32-22 for Washington.

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Oshie Hat Trick

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T.J. Oshie’s Hat Trick Tally Wins it in OT for the Caps

Posted on 29 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

T.J. Oshie’s wrap around, hat trick completing goal 9:33 into overtime gave the Washington Capitals a thrilling 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in game one of their best of seven series that began at the Verizon Center on Thursday night.

Wow, what a hockey game!

The pace to this one was incredible and if you took your eyes off of the play for even a second, you probably missed a scoring chance. The Penguins are as good as advertised, they play fast and they continually go for the long pass to try and take advantage of their jet like speed.

On the flip side, the Caps want to play a much more deliberate game and force the Pens to deal with Washington’s superior size.

It was an epic battle and both teams, in the opening salvo, had their periods where they dominated the play.

Pittsburgh was really good in period two and stronger in period three, while the Caps, after a shaky first two to three minutes, owned the first period and the overtime.

Fittingly, shot attempts ended up 77-76 for the Pens, so it shows you just how close this contest was. In the opening frame, the Caps played their brand of heavy hockey doling out 17 hits to just seven for the Penguins, this occurred while Washington had a 32-22 shot attempt advantage and a one goal lead. The Caps tally came on a three on one rush when Andre Burakovsky buried the rebound of a Jason Chimera shot.

But something happened on the way to the forum in period two. Pittsburgh continued to attempt their stretch passes and the Capitals didn’t help themselves by committing too many turnovers. As a result, the Pens scored two goals in less than a minute just past the game’s midpoint to seemingly take over, with the second being an all world top shelf backhander from Evgeni Malkin. Washington was getting outskated and they were struggling to handle the Pens speed and pressure, at that point. But Oshie made a great play to get around Olli Maatta shortly after a defensive zone draw and #77 raced in alone on Matthew Murray (31 saves) and beat him short side, top shelf just 33 seconds after the black and gold had seized a one goal lead. Coach Barry Trotz stated afterwards that the Oshie goal was huge in terms of getting his club to settle down.

In the third period, Oshie struck again, this time on the backhand, after Alex Ovechkin (1 assist, 4 shots on goal, and seven hits in 25:01) made a nice play to get him the puck. That was just 3:23 into the final frame, but once again turnovers did the Capitals in and Nick Bonino, who was the best Penguin on the ice, snapped one by Braden Holtby (42 saves) following a defensive zone giveaway with 11:18 remaining in regulation. From there the teams traded chances, with Ovechkin nearly scoring on a backhand move with just over three minutes to go, but Murray made a super pad save.

In the overtime, the Caps really amped their game up and carried the play, out shot attempting the Penguins, 15-8. Washington did a super job of getting pucks deep and putting a strong forecheck on the Pens defense, and that allowed them to keep the biscuit in the offensive zone until Oshie was able to close the deal and give the Caps the early lead in this series.

Again, wow, this was one heck of a hockey game!

Both teams really brought it and I see this potentially being a battle for the ages. The Caps need to do a better job with their puck management in game two and they also need to bring the body more. Coach Barry Trotz commented afterwards that he thought his club played lighter than he wanted in periods two and three.

The Holtbeast was a also a difference maker stopping 42 of 45 shots. Washington would like to cut that shots against number significantly down in game two, which would indicate more of a grinding style that better suits their personnel.

One thing is for certain, game two will not be a boring one. The Penguins will attempt to do whatever they can to steal a game on the road while the Capitals try to hold serve at a raucous Verizon Center.

Notes: Kris Letang led both teams in ice time with 34:02. He had an assist on Malkin’s goal, doled out seven hits and blocked three shots…Washington’s ice time leaders were Matt Niskanen (32:13) and John Carlson (29:49). Both are rock stars on the back end. Karl Alzner logged 27:56 and Brooks Orpik returned from injury to play 25:56. Nate Schmidt (-2) and Dmitry Orlov (-1), were used sparingly and played just 12:13 and 5:44, respectively. Coach Trotz was clearly not happy with Orlov’s play on the first Pens tally. #9 was abused by Bonino at the blue line and then he knocked Schmidt out of the play allowing Ben Lovejoy to get an easy rebound marker…the Caps lost the face off battle, 46-39. Mike Richards, who centered Burakovsky and Chimera, was 12-5 while Jay Beagle went 12-7. Nicklas Backstrom (+2) was 7-20 and most of those were against Sidney Crosby (19-9)…Oshie and Ovechkin were both +3…game two is at 8 pm on Saturday night at the Verizon Center.

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Holtby Pens

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Caps Rally But Fall in OT to the Penguins

Posted on 08 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

After trailing 3-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the game’s midpoint, the Washington Capitals rallied with three goals to send game #80 to overtime before falling, 4-3.

Braden Holtby made 31 saves, including several big ones when it was 3-1 in the third period, and those stops allowed the Caps to come back and nearly win. Marcus Johansson notched two goals and then Andre Burakovsky nicely deflected home a John Carlson (two assists) pass with 6:24 remaining to even things up.

From there both teams had chances to win it before Pittsburgh received a breakaway with a minute remaining in the three on three session to close the deal.

The bad news of the evening was that the Holtbeast failed once again to tie Martin Brodeur’s NHL single season wins record. Holtby is 47-9-7 this season and he’ll get one more shot this weekend to tie Marty, but he won’t break it since Philipp Grubauer will also play once.

Other than that, this game meant diddly to the Capitals and they played like it for long stretches. As I wrote after the loss to the Islanders on Tuesday, hockey is a game that requires a physical and emotional investment. Coach Barry Trotz prefers Washington employ a style of heavy hockey that emphasizes going through your opponent. For the first four months or so of this season, the Capitals did just that and that is how they pretty much wrapped up the Presidents’ Trophy by Valentine’s Day.

Since then, with their standings position solidified, the Caps have been more about staying in shape and avoiding injury. So far, it has worked.

Thursday’s game resembled one of those week 17 NFL games where clubs who have their playoff seeding wrapped up are just trying to get through the contest unscathed. That’s been the Capitals for several weeks. Playing heavy hockey and going through your opponent comes with a risk, and that is injury. The Capitals have been so far ahead in the regular season that it is just not worth that risk, at this juncture.

So we have only two more of these glorified preseason games to go, on Saturday in St. Louis and Sunday at home against the Ducks. Those two teams have division titles to play for while the Caps only have individual achievements left to motivate them.

Let’s be honest, that’s of more importance to the fans than the Capitals themselves. Talking with the players after Thursday’s contest you could just sense that they are extremely tired of where they are at right now, which is playing for nothing. They want to be in the playoffs, which won’t start until Thursday the 14th. I’ll reference the great Tom Petty with one of his lyrics to sum up the current state of the Caps, “The Waiting is the Hardest Part.”

There are many who are concerned about the Capitals recent uneven play, but Alexander Ovechkin was asked about the Capitals string of losses afterwards and if he was worried. His simple one word answer says all you need to know, “No.”

Anyone who watches a lot of hockey and was subjected to the contest on Thursday night knows that game looked nothing like how things will play out starting next week. Too many players had time on the ice without an opponent hitting them or being in their grill.  We could go through the tape of the contest and I could point out dozens of instances where a Capitals player chose not to throw a hit or be more involved because frankly, these games don’t matter. The last thing anyone wants to do is be injured with the post season just a week away.

While this game had minimal hitting, there was some chippiness to it because these teams frankly don’t like each other, and both fan bases despise each other, as well. They are second on my list, after the Flyers. It’s never fun to lose to either of those Pennsyltucky squads and with this triumph the Penguins won the season series with the Caps, 3-2. All that will get them is bragging rights, though, because if these two teams each win their first round playoff series, then they’ll meet in round two and Washington will have home ice.

Hopefully the Caps will be healthy too, and not exposing themselves to potential injuries now will end up paying off next week and beyond.

Keep the faith.

Notes: Tom Wilson hit Nick Bonino from behind and earned a five minute boarding major in period two. It was an unnecessary play and he was benched, other than in penalty killing situations, for the rest of the contest. He finished with just 5:50 of ice time…both teams were 0 for 4 on the power play, but the Pens had 9:25 of time to just 6:25 for Washington…shot attempts favored the Penguins, 56-52…Ovechkin had five hits and 10 shot attempts, including six on net in 22:03 of playing time…Matt Niskanen led the Capitals in time on ice at 27:37. Kris Letang played 30:44 for the Penguins. How much will he have left in the tank for the post season with all of the minutes he’s been logging?

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