Tag Archive | "Boyd"

Backy Goal NJ

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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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Ovi 45th Islanders

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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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Ovi Kuzy Rags OT win

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Backstrom Has a Big Game in Caps OT Victory Over the Rangers

Posted on 24 February 2019 by Ed Frankovic

Evgeny Kuznetsov batted home the biscuit after a diving Alex Ovechkin moved the puck to the goal line to give the Washington Capitals a wild 6-5 overtime triumph against the New York Rangers at Capital One Arena on Sunday afternoon. The win, after a “zero emotion” loss in Buffalo, as analyst Alan May called it, improves the Caps to 35-21-7 (77 points) and pulls them within two points of the Metropolitan Division leading Islanders, who have two games in hand.

This was a crazy contest with some weird bounces and there was a lot to like and dislike.

Let’s start with the bad and then finish on a high note to match how this game progressed.

Washington gave up two goals in the first 30 seconds of a period (first and third) and also allowed two goals in the last two minutes of a period (second and third). The last one was on a six on five with Henrik Lundqvist pulled and the Caps have really been struggling in those situations lately. I’m not sure if it is fatigue, but they are not getting enough pressure on their opponents to get a steal and a timely clear that would lead to an empty net clinching tally. I wouldn’t mind seeing Jakub Vrana get a look late because of his speed, which could force the offense into mistakes. He’s had an empty goal before, last year against the Penguins, so he’s certainly capable of producing in that situation.

The Caps blew leads of 3-1 and 5-3 in this affair. They have struggled all season at closing games out, for the most part. One of the issues has been getting three forwards caught deep in the offensive zone which is allowing their opponents to get odd man rushes. They’ve also been sucked into some track meets with the lead instead of going into lock down mode. It’s something that needs to be worked on because this team closed out games so successfully in the spring of 2018.

Pheonix Copley (26 saves) allowed four long range goals in this tilt. In his defense, there were screens and tips on most of them, but you’d like to see him stop at least one of those tallies, especially at least one or two of the third period markers.

On the positive side of the ledger, there were a lot of things that make you feel optimistic about the remaining 19 games of the regular season and hopefully the playoffs.

Copley didn’t have his best game, but with the score 1-0 early and the Caps still asleep at the wheel, he stopped an all alone Brendan Smith on a clear one on one with a super stick save to protect the five hole. If the puck goes in, who knows if the Capitals come back and prevail? Also, in the extra session, the Rangers had the puck for the first few minutes and Pheonix had to make a big save to keep this one going before the Russian trio pulled out the W.

Nicklas Backstrom, who had a long goal scoring drought due to matching up against the opposition’s top line so frequently because of his defensive prowess, had a big day with two goals. He also hit the cross bar and was denied on a good chance in overtime for the hat trick. Backy also stepped up on face offs on Sunday, something that has plagued a team that is great with the puck and not so good chasing it. Nicky was 15-13 on draws and the Caps were only 28-30, which is much better than the butt whipping they’ve taken from the dot so frequently, of late (Kuznetsov was still an abysmal 3-8).

Washington’s fourth line of newly acquired Carl Hagelin, Nic Dowd, and Travis Boyd had several strong shifts in this affair. Coach Todd Reirden has been searching for some chemistry on that unit all campaign and he may have finally found it. Hagelin’s speed is a real difference maker because he stretches the ice for a team that likes to employ the long pass to spread out their opponents. After the Rangers tied the game just 21 ticks into period three, the fourth line grabbed momentum back for Washington. Brooks Orpik made a nice pinch in and puck rush on the left wing wall and then behind the goal line. He then moved the disc to Boyd, who swung it to Dowd in the slot for a huge tally on Lundqvist (29 saves). Orpik was able to make that move because he trusted Hagelin with his experience and speed to cover the point for him.

Nick Jensen, who along with a fifth round pick, was acquired on defense from Detroit on Friday for Madison Bowey and a Caps second round choice, fit in nicely with Orpik on Sunday in his Caps debut. He also stepped up on the penalty kill late in regulation when Brooks was boxed on a bogus call that left the Caps a man down when it should’ve been two minors each way, but zebras gonna zebra! Jensen skates well and makes quick and decisive passes. He logged only 14:16, but he also had three shots on goal and was +1. I’d expect his ice time to go up as he learns more of the Capitals system. General Manager Brian MacLellan likes this player so much that he immediately signed him to a four year, $10M contract extension, so the Caps blue line looks solid for years ahead. (Note: I always liked Bowey’s potential, but over the last year he regressed with his skating. He did suffer a serious leg injury a couple of years ago in Hershey, so I’m not sure if that was a factor in his struggling wheels.)

There were many times in this game when the Caps looked like they were going to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The Rangers are a young and hungry team and played with nothing to lose. They are fast and just kept coming at Washington, no matter the score. However, in the end the Capitals showed resiliency and found a way to get a much needed two points. Ovechkin and Kuznetsov were not very good on Sunday, but when their team needed them most, they delivered.

Notes: John “Norris” Carlson logged a game high 28:36 and had a gorgeous assist on Backstrom’s first goal…the Caps were 1 for 3 on the power play and 3 for 4 while shorthanded. Tom Wilson notched his career high 17th goal with the man advantage…next up for the Caps are the Ottawa Senators in DC on Tuesday night at 7 pm.

 

 

 

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Kuzy Bird Avs

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Kuznetsov Flies the Capitals to an Overtime Victory over Colorado

Posted on 07 February 2019 by Ed Frankovic

Paybacks are hell.

Avalanche defensemen Ian Cole put a dirty cheap shot on Evgeny Kuznetsov midway through the third period sending #92 to the locker room for concussion protocol. Cole would be penalized five minutes for interference and a game misconduct plus another five minutes for getting his butt whipped by Tom Wilson. The play came with the Caps leading 3-2. Pheonix Copley (34 saves) then gave up a short side five hole goal with 2:07 remaining to send the contest to overtime.

In the overtime came Kuzy’s revenge, who didn’t return to play after the Cole cheap shot until the extra session. Taking a pass from Alexander Ovechkin in his own zone, Evgeny skated in all alone on Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov and beat him five hole to win the game for Washington, 4-3. The play was very similar to the one in which Ovi sprung Kuzy for the winning OT tally in game six of last spring’s Pittsburgh playoff series.

On the night, Kuznetsov had two goals and an assist in 19:49 of ice time. He was outstanding even though he missed the last 8:42 of regulation. It was fitting that Kuzy rewarded his pal Wilson for standing up for him with the game winner. On both of Evgeny’s overtime shifts he looked like a man possessed to make Wilson’s leadership and support all worthwhile, and he did.

As I said to General Manager Brian MacLellan following Tuesday night’s victory over Vancouver, the Caps typically go as number 92 goes. Evgeny is playing some excellent hockey this week and looks like the guy who dominated in the post season last spring.

Washington carried the play in much of this affair and as a result they earned six power plays for a total of 12:32. They scored on their first attempt, but because zebras Gord Dwyer and Tim Peel allegedly blew the whistle before Ovechkin’s shot that sneaked through Varly was slammed home by Nicklas Backstrom, it was waved off. That would’ve given the Caps a 2-0 lead after Andre Burakovsky scored his 7th of the season off of a sweet feed from T.J. Oshie to open the scoring.

The Caps led 1-0 after 20 minutes, but just 35 seconds into period two, Nathan MacKinnon scored a short side bad angled goal on Copley when Pheonix didn’t hold the near post properly. On the night, Copley would make some quality saves, including a great one on MacKinnon all alone when it was 1-1, but he also gave up two real clunkers.

Washington built a 3-1 lead on Kuznetsov’s first goal, which was a second period tap in of another Ovechkin shot that got through Varlamov, but the zebras didn’t prematurely blow the whistle in this instance. That power play goal gave the Caps a one puck lead after 40 minutes. Matt Niskanen made it two just 34 seconds into period three with his eighth tally of the season when Varly was screened by his own defender and then batted Nisky’s shot, that might have been going wide, into the cage.

The Avs would come back and credit Colorado for not quitting, as well as the Capitals stagnant power play for not adding to the advantage. Shortly after another Caps power play expired, the Avs cut the lead to a single goal when Andre Burakovsky, who had a strong game up until that point, made a soft backhanded pass into the middle of the ice in the defensive zone. Gabriel Landeskog scooped it up and fed Mikko Rantanen, who abused Dmitry Orlov with a move, and then buried his 24th goal of the season just 5:10 into period three. The Caps still had chances to extend the lead with the three minutes of power play time they received for the Cole cheap shot, but they could not do so. Copley then gave up a horrible five hole tally from the goal line setting the stage for Kuznetsov’s magic and subsequent “Flying Bird” celebration (take that, Columbus Blue Jackets).

Washington did a lot of good things in this contest, but they are struggling to consistently finish on their chances, especially on the power play. They also only took two penalties and killed both of them off rather easily. The third line showed signs of breaking out of its doldrums as Lars Eller, Brett Connolly, and Burky had some really good shifts. Unfortunately Andre’s giveaway that led to goal two for Colorado resulted in #65 only getting one more shift the rest of the way.

Travis Boyd played well in the bottom six drawing two penalties, but Caps Coach Todd Reirden needs more production from Devante Smith-Pelly (1 shot on goal, 1 penalty, -1, in 8:49 of ice time) and Chandler Stephenson (1 shot on goal in 10:34 of ice time). Ovechkin had seven shots on net and two assists in 25:22 of time.

This was far from a perfect performance by the Caps, but as stated above, they did do a lot of good things and they managed to get two points to keep pace with the New York Islanders, who knocked off the Devils in a shootout on Thursday night. Washington is two points behind the Metropolitan Division leading Isles and three points ahead of the third place Penguins (lost in OT to Florida on Thursday night).

Kuznetsov was the primary key to the victory and his game winning tally was major pay back to Cole and the Avalanche.

Notes: John Carlson had an assist in a game leading 28:41 of ice time…the faceoff battle was even at 27 each. Kuzy was 7-5 and Eller went 8-6…Madison Bowey played on the 3rd pair with Brooks Orpik (Jonas Siegenthaler was scratched)…next up for the Caps are the Florida Panthers at 7 pm on Saturday night at Capital One Arena.

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Backstrom Beats Bruins

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Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Holtby Lead the Caps to Another Win Over Boston

Posted on 10 January 2019 by Ed Frankovic

“Who own da Bruins?”

“Owwwwwnnnnnnsssss, owns the Bruins.”

When you look up the owner of the Boston Bruins in Wikipedia, it should definitely say Braden Holtby. The Holtbeast made 39 saves, including all 17 in the first period, as the Washington Capitals defeated the B’s for the 14th straight time, 4-2. Alex Ovechkin scored twice to reach 32 goals on the season, Nicklas Backstrom had the game winning tally, and Jakub Vrana started it all off on a breakaway on a nice feed from T.J. Oshie.

Without further adieu, here are nine thoughts and analysis on a superb team victory by Washington.

Brad Marchand is a coward. Let me say that again, Brad Marchand is a coward. I should probably throw a couple of expletives in there before the word coward, too. Marchand jumped Lars Eller on opening night because he felt that Lars celebrated too much in front of his bench on his goal that made it 7-0. Canadian broadcaster Don Cherry praised Marchand up and down for the bush league tactic a few nights later. On Thursday night in Beantown, Eller was ready to go with Marchand as payback for the mugging he took in DC on Banner raising night. Instead, Brad turtled like the coward he is. Will Cherry go on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night and call out his “good Canadian” boy for being a wimp? If he doesn’t give Marchand the gears for that pathetic display, then he’s a hypocrite.

Holtby was the biggest reason the Caps won this game as he allowed Washington to survive a Boston onslaught in the opening frame. The Bruins had two power plays in the first 20 minutes, but Braden was fantastic. The Holtbeast is now 16-2 lifetime against Boston.

Each time the Bruins scored, the Capitals answered back quickly. 39 seconds after Ryan Donato tied the game at one, Ovechkin scored on a sweet feed in the slot from Tom Wilson, who was positioned below the goal line. Willy had the puck because Evgeny Kuznetsov made a strong play on the wall against a couple of Bruins to get the puck to him. Then after David Krejci tied the game at two in the final frame on the power play, All Star Backy scored on a rush just 1:09 later via a sweet far post shot to notch the game winner.

Who doesn’t love Backstrom? He made a great play on the opening goal to win a puck battle that got the disc to the Osh Babe, who then fed the on fire Vrana for his 15th goal. When the Bruins seemed to have momentum in the third period, he lasered one by Jaroslav Halak (18 saves) to silence the crowd and give the Caps the lead that they would not relinquish. Nicky will always be an all star in my book. He is such a sensational two way player and he loves to stick it to the Bruins.

In the third period, the Caps allowed 13 shots on goal, but not many were of the quality variety at even strength. Washington played exceptional team defense and kept the Bruins mostly on the perimeter. Boston was unable to generate any traffic or rebound opportunities at five on five in the final frame.

The officiating was terrible, once again. Francois St. Laurent is the worst referee in the league and I predicted on Twitter before the game that it would be a bad zebra night. Boston had five power plays to only two for the Caps. The stripes missed several calls on the Bruins including an elbow to Michal Kempny’s head, a Donato punch to Orlov’s face, and the Torey Krug body slam on Brett Connolly. Fortunately the Capitals penalty killing unit has been much better of late and killed off four of the five man advantage situations for the B’s.

Jonas Siegenthaler had another strong game in 13:29 of action. He was paired with Brooks Orpik (18:52 and +1), had an assist, and was +1. Jonas skates well and can take a hit while still moving the puck forward. He has really stepped up with the injury to Christian Djoos and grabbed the sixth defensemen position away from Madison Bowey, at this juncture.

The triumph improves the Caps to 27-12-4 (58 points) and gives them a four point lead over second place Pittsburgh. Washington is five points ahead of third place Columbus, who they will face on Saturday night at 7 pm at Capital One Arena. Caps Coach Todd Reirden has done a stellar job of keeping this team rolling along after a Stanley Cup win and a short summer.

Finally, while there weren’t a ton of style points in this Capitals win, you have to really like the way this group of guys stick up for each other and band together. Boston gave EVERYTHING they had on Thursday night. It was a playoff game for them as they badly wanted to end the Caps and Holtby curse. But they could not do it because guys like Backstrom stepped their games up in support of their teammates. Eller was mistakenly jumped and called out by Marchand on opening night and he was ready to pay that rat back for it in this tilt. Marchand turtled, however, and Boston was gifted a power play by that joke of a referee from French Canada, St. Laurent. While Lars was in the box, the team stood up for him and killed the penalty off. In addition, you could just sense the whole game that the Capitals wanted this game for Lars and also to continue to send a message to the Bruins that they, and their all world goaltender, the Holtbeast, do indeed own them.

Notes: Andre Burakovsky was a healthy scratch. Travis Boyd was inserted on the third line with Eller and Connolly…the Caps were creamed on faceoffs, once again, 42-22, but Eller was 10-4…soon to be Norris Trophy winner, John Carlson, led the team in ice time with 26:55 and was +3. Carly is just a rock out there in all zones and so valuable to the club….Top Line Tommy logged 23:28 and was +2. He had five hits and the super assist to the Gr8…the Bruins top line of Coward Marchand, the Great Patrice Bergeron, and the Talented David Pastrnak were each -3 on the evening. They had 12 of the Bruins 41 shots on goal, but didn’t register a point. Their best scoring chance was by Bergeron in period two, but Holtby made a huge save one on one on #37. Bergeron was 17-7 on faceoffs.

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Caps over Flyers Willy V 44

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Caps Send the Flyers to Their 8th Straight Loss

Posted on 08 January 2019 by Ed Frankovic

Jakub Vrana had two goals and an assist, T.J. Oshie tallied twice, and Tom Wilson scored in a Capitals 5-3 triumph over the despised Philadelphia Flyers. Pheonix Copley made 37 saves in net in another strong outing that led to his 10th victory of the season. The win improves the Caps record to 26-12-4 (56 points) and they lead second place Pittsburgh by two points and have a game in hand in the Metropolitan Division.

Here are eight thoughts and analysis on a win over the Flyers that always results in the air smelling cleaner, the drinks going down smoother, and the food tasting better on the day after.

Vrana was easily the star of the game. The young man continues to work hard at his craft and his hockey IQ has improved drastically. He is using his speed to blow by defenders and he’s employing strong defensive positioning to generate rush chances for the Caps. He totally set up Wilson’s goal to open the scoring just 4:21 into the contest with great wheels and then he broke this game open with a stellar defensive blue line poke check that led to a breakaway goal to give the Caps a 3-1 lead in the second period. Finally, he scored what is a rare Capitals power play goal these days to make it 4-1 with 4:05 left in the middle frame. What a game by the young Czech forward who now has 14 goals and 10 assists in 42 games!

The Osh Babe put the Capitals ahead 2-1 in the second period with some fundamental hockey. He went to the net and deflected home a Lars Eller shot that came from just inside the offensive blue line. It was simple stuff, just go to the net, create traffic plus a screen on the opposing net minder, and try and tip the biscuit home. He did just that! Not many players have the hands that #77 possesses and he delivered there as well as with two seconds left into the empty cage when the game became a little stupid with the whacky officiating and head scratching plays by Evgeny Kuznetsov (more on both of those a little later).

As for Top Line Tom, he just keeps doing so many things right on the ice. He’s skating like the wind, getting his stick in the lanes on defense, and forcing so many turnovers with great back checking. His penalty killing is outstanding. He’s also going to the net offensively with a vengeance with his stick down on the ice. Again, good things happen when you go to the cage and Wilson is doing that extremely well. He has 13 goals on the campaign and what would’ve been his 14th into an empty net on a terrific effort was wiped out by an offside challenge by the sore loser Flyers.

Washington finally won the special teams battle in a contest for the first time in recent memory. The power play is still in a funk, going 1 for 4, but Vrana put a puck into the crease area from outside the right post and it went in, even if it was a pass intended for Alex Ovechkin. On the PK, the Capitals were very good by not letting the Flyers enter the zone cleanly on numerous occasions. When Philly was able to get shots on net, Copley shut the door.

Copley continues to take up a lot of net with his size and make the shooters really work hard to beat him. He didn’t have much of a chance on any of the three goals he allowed and he had several quality saves. Washington continues to get superb goaltending no matter who is in the cage. Copley is 10-1-1 in his last 13 games, including 6-0-1 in his last seven, wow!

Kuznetsov had an up and down game. He drew a penalty on a breakaway in period two, but didn’t get a shot off in that instance (unlike Vrana who fought off a slash and still scored on his chance). In 22:04 of ice time he had no points and was 1-13 on draws. Despite four shots on goal he passed up several other prime shooting opportunities, including a stupid back pass when a quick shot would’ve hit the empty net and ended the game with 40 seconds left. Kuzy then took a penalty which allowed the Flyers to pull within a goal with 6.7 seconds remaining. If #92 gets back to shooting the puck, he will really help open things up for the team. Right now he is too pass first and a bit too fancy. I’m not sure if he’s still feeling the effects of the concussion he suffered in Winnipeg back in November or if he’s just saving his energy for the stretch run? It is a long season.

As for the guys in stripes, they were awful! Ticky tack stick checks on the Caps were called slashes and a clean hit by Brooks Orpik was whistled for roughing. Meanwhile Flyers cross checks repeatedly went unpenalized, including a Travis Sanheim cross check and shove of Travis Boyd into Copley. Philadelphia wasn’t happy that the penalty on Shane Gostisbehere wasn’t waved off when they challenged for offside on Wilson’s ENG that was overturned, but the zebras actually got that call correct. Any penalties during a challenge situation, even if the infraction happens after the offside, still stand. Bottom line is the officiating is wildly inconsistent and nobody knows what is and isn’t a penalty anymore. The league doesn’t seem to be interested in correcting what is the biggest flaw in the game these days. I’m sure Brian Pochmara and Gord Dwyer, who worked this tilt, will walk away thinking they did a good job when they were out of touch most of the evening.

At the end of the night, this was a fairly comfortable win over a Flyers team that is in transition. Philadelphia, who played on Monday night at home, came out and had a strong first frame, but ultimately they just don’t have the talent across the lineup to match up with the Capitals. This was their eighth straight defeat and at this point, they should just go into “Lose for Hughes” mode. (American Jack Hughes is likely to be the #1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft). The Flyers get up for Washington these days, but the Caps often don’t. Many Capitals fans have Filthadelphia as their number one despised team, so any time Washington knocks off the Flyers, even if they are supposed to win, it’s a very good night!

Notes: The Caps were crushed in faceoffs, 45-19. Washington probably needs to address this deficiency in some fashion. Boyd was 2-11….the Capitals have now won 15 of their last 16 games against Eastern Conference opponents with the one defeat coming against the Pens in a game the Caps dominated…Norris Trophy candidate John Carlson had two assists in a team leading 24:20 of ice time…next up for the Caps are the Boston Bruins in Beantown at 7 pm on Thursday night. This is the first meeting between these two clubs since banner raising night (Caps won, 7-0).

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Ovi Canes 12 14

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Alex Ovechkin’s Hat Trick Helps the Caps Knock Off Carolina, 6-5

Posted on 14 December 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin notched his second straight hat trick to reach 28 goals in just 31 games and Jakub Vrana scored in the sixth round of the shootout to propel the Washington Capitals to a wild come from behind, 6-5, triumph over the Carolina Hurricanes. Braden Holtby, who yielded three power play goals, the last of which came on his own giveaway to Justin Williams, redeemed himself with some stellar work in the shootout allowing only one goal on six shots to give the Caps their fourth straight win. Washington is now 19-9-3 and lead second place Columbus by five points and third place Pittsburgh by seven with 51 games to go.

What a crazy and sloppy game, there are no two ways about that!

In addition, Chris Rooney and Brian Pochmara were downright horrible as your zebra duo on Friday night. They called some phantom penalties, such as the holding call on Ovi in period two and also didn’t call some obvious ones, like the Jonas Siegenthaler interference right before the Gr8’s second goal that made it 4-3. Simply put, the guys in stripes continue to struggle badly in this league so Gary Bettman and company need to stop counting their money and get on the task of fixing the poor officiating because it could ruin what is currently a very good product.

Rod Langway used to tell me back in the 80’s that everything starts with the goaltending and the defense and builds out from there. For the Caps, that is usually a strong point of their team, but for some reason in Raleigh they were off all over the place on the back end. The blueliners struggled with making passes nearly all night (perhaps it was what appeared to be bad ice?) and that put Washington on their heels quite a bit in period one. As a result, Holtby never really looked fully confident in the cage until the shootout.

John Carlson had three assists in this tilt and was +1, but he misplayed a puck on the Caps first power play in period one that took a crazy bounce to lead to a Sebastian Aho (two goals, two assists) goal on a Canes two on zero break. That shorty gave Carolina a 2-1 first period lead. After the ridiculous call on Ovi was converted by the Corsi Canes to make it 3-1, Tom Wilson took a bad interference penalty in front of the net and then Teuvo Teravainen scored on the power play to increase the lead for the home squad to three pucks with just over 33 minutes remaining.

Credit the Capitals for not quitting and when Wilson scored on the rebound of an Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 assist) shot with 7:23 remaining in period two, you could feel the momentum shift. Carolina had played the night before in Montreal and, according to the great Craig Laughlin, did not get back in town until 3 am so you knew their tanks had to be running low. Washington caught fire and Ovi made it 4-3 with 2:35 left in period two on the play where the zebras missed blatant interference on Seigenthaler. Hey, the Bad Zebras taketh and sometimes they giveth!

Just 44 seconds later, Nic Dowd picked up his third assist of the night by feeding John Carlson at the right point. Carlson fired on net and Travis Boyd was “Johnny on the Spot” in front and tipped the puck by Scott Darling (24 saves) for his third goal of the season. Suddenly, this was a brand new hockey game. Carolina almost took the lead back right at the end of the period, but the Holtbeast made a ten bell save with just over a second left.

In the final frame, the Caps power play, which was 0 for 1 while allowing a shorthanded tally, finally clicked. As I mentioned earlier, Carlson didn’t have his best night in his own zone, but the pass he made on the power play to Ovechkin to give the Capitals a 5-4 lead in the third period was as perfect as it gets.

Up by a puck with 10:11 to go, Washington started locking things down, and then T.J. Oshie took a careless offensive zone high sticking penalty to put the Canes on the man advantage. At that point they were two for four, but the Capitals were well on their way to killing this one off when Holtby made a mental error and tried to clear the puck out of the zone by himself from behind his cage. Unfortunately his attempt caught the back of the net and bounced right to Stick at the right post and Justin tapped it in to tie things up with 6:12 remaining.

Darling would rob Kuznetsov late in regulation after a super pass by Wilson and off to overtime this affair went. The Caps had puck possession early and Willy nearly won it, but missed the net high from in tight. Matt Niskanen was then boxed for tripping with 1:35 remaining, but it was another brutal call. The Capitals would kill it off and managed to not get Rooney Tuned into a loss. Again, boy was the officiating just plain bad in this affair!

In the gimmick, the first three shooters on each side could not connect with each goalie playing very well. Dougie Hamilton then scored on Braden using the Peter Forsberg move, but All Star Nicklas Backstrom answered for Washington. Holtby stopped the next two shooters before Vrana, who has been working his tail off to get better, sped in and beat Darling to end this wild and crazy game.

The bright spots for the Capitals were Ovechkin, of course, but also a fourth line that just keeps making positive things happen for Washington. Every time the team needed a momentum shift or energy boost, that unit brought it. On the night, Dowd (+3) had the three assists, Boyd (+2) had the tying goal late in period two, and Dmitrij Jaskin (+1) won a lot of individual and wall battles. The way they are going, there is just no way Coach Todd Reirden can break them up anytime in the near future.

This was not a pretty game and the Capitals had a schedule advantage getting what should’ve been a tired Canes team. Carolina, however, played hard and could’ve won. Washington did not have their best stuff, it wasn’t even close, but they found a way to win and that is what great teams do – come out on top when they don’t have anywhere near their “A” game.

As for Ovechkin, well everyone should just really enjoy what they are seeing from him. As Coach Reirden said in his post game presser, Alex is playing his best regular season hockey in recent years and just as importantly, his leadership has been stellar. The Caps bench boss, who is doing a fantastic job after taking over for Barry Trotz, said that it was the Gr8 who kept the bench up at the game’s midpoint when they were down three pucks. The 33 year old Stanley Cup Champion is truly a special player that is not sitting on his laurels, at all, and we are all blessed to watch him play game in and game out.

Notes: Ovechkin had 12 shot attempts in 21:10 of ice time…Wilson played 15:37 in his first game back from the concussion he suffered via the cheap shot hit by Ryan Reaves of Vegas on Tuesday, December 4th…Madison Bowey took two penalties in period one and was beaten several times, but at the end of the night he came out a +2 in 13:13 of ice time. Playing defense at the NHL level is the hardest position to learn for a young player so there will be mistakes. He’s has a lot of talent, but he’s played less than 82 games in “The Show.” Consistency has been an issue for #22 so far, but time is on his side…Defensemen Christian Djoos is out for a significant number of weeks, according to Coach Reirden, due to an emergency surgery he had to have on his thigh following Tuesday’s game. Siegenthaler played in #29’s absence. Brooks Orpik is back skating, but probably won’t be ready for at least another week or so, meaning a defensemen will need to be called up from Hershey for insurance. That will likely be Tyler Lewington…shots on goal were 29-27, but the Corsi Canes came out ahead in the shot attempts tally, 64-62…Carolina won the face off battle, 35-25. Dowd was 6-3 for Washington…the Caps were 1 for 2 on the power play while Carolina was 3 for 6. They also had a shorthanded goal, so it was not a good special teams night for the Capitals…next up for the Capitals are the Buffalo Sabres at 7 pm on Saturday night at Capital One Arena. The Sabres are 19-9-4 and off to a great start with Carter Hutton in net and former Cane, Jeff Skinner, leading the team in goals with 22. Jack Eichel is also playing some stellar hockey. Buffalo gets the schedule advantage in this one, so the Caps have their work cut out for themselves on Saturday.

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The Dynamic Duo, Ovechkin and Backstrom, Lead the Caps Over Detroit

Posted on 12 December 2018 by Ed Frankovic

“And we’ll have fun, fun, fun now that daddy took the t-bird away” – The Beach Boys

It really doesn’t get more fun than Washington Capitals hockey these days, and to quote one John Winger (Bill Murray) from Stripes, “That’s the Fact, Jack!”

Alex Ovechkin had a hat trick, All Star Nicklas Backstrom had four assists, Norris Trophy candidate John Carlson had two assists, and Braden “The Save” Holtby made 35 stops on 37 shots to lead the Caps to a 6-2 blowout over the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night. The Defending Stanley Cup Champions are now 18-9-3 (39 points) and lead the Metropolitan Division by five points over second place Columbus. The Caps have now won three in a row and 10 of their last 12 hockey games. That’s impressive, especially considering all of the injuries they’ve had to key players over the last month.

On the injury front, Washington received a lot of good news on Tuesday with T.J. Oshie returning to the lineup and Top Line Tom Wilson participating during the morning skate, although Willy wore a non contact jersey and still won’t play until at least Friday night in Carolina. Getting the Osh Babe was ultra important because that guy dogs pucks better than just about anyone I’ve ever seen and he has a great shot to boot. The Caps power play had been in a funk lately, but with the return of the 2014 Team USA Olympic hero it went a perfect two for two with T.J. notching his 10th goal of the season to make it 5-0 after a perfect pass from Backstrom just past the game’s midpoint. The first power play tally came from Brett Connolly, who beautifully deflected home a rocket from the point by Carlson. That goal came just 3:39 into the contest to give the home team a 1-0 lead. The Capitals received that power play when Frans Neilsen tripped Lars Eller in Washington’s end.

Washington’s recently formed fourth line of Dmitrij Jaskin, Nic Dowd, and Travis Boyd played a big role in the 4-0 whitewash of Columbus on Saturday night and Coach Todd Reirden told the assembled media after Tuesday’s triumph over Detroit that the coaching staff collectively agreed that even with Oshie coming back, the fourth line could not be split up. That decision paid off at 10:50 of the opening frame when Jaskin outraced a Wings blue liner to negate an icing. Jaskin gathered the puck, made a nice move below the goal line and then fed Dowd to the left of the cage. Nic found Boyd wide open at the far post and Travis put the biscuit in the basket for his second goal and ninth point in 14 games played in 2018-19. Reirden complimented that line in the post game stating that the unit continues to seize momentum for the Capitals and now they have become even more of a weapon because they are scoring. Boyd came close to tallying again, but Jonathan Bernier (10 saves) made a spectacular stop to deny #72 on the doorstep.

After Boyd made it 2-0, the Gr8, at 12:59 of the opening frame, pinballed one into the net off of a Red Wings stick in the high slot and then the body of a defender in the low slot to increase the lead to three pucks. Washington knew they were getting a tired Red Wings team that had won in Motown against Los Angeles on Monday, then had to fly to DC in the wee hours of Tuesday morning and Coach Reirden’s team didn’t show them any mercy by jumping all over them.

Detroit did get some chances to climb back in the game, including a breakaway for Martin Frk and then a point blast from Niklas Kronwall when it was 2-0, but the Holtbeast stopped them both. Braden also denied Dylan Larkin on a semi-breakaway in period two when it was 4-0, but Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) made a strong back check to take away some time and room for #71. Afterwards I asked Coach Reirden about the seemingly improved confidence and ability of his #1 goaltender on breakaways and he stated that I was spot on; the bench boss noted that goalie coach Scott Murray and Braden have been working extensively on breakaway situations and that Holts is forcing the shooters to do what he wants instead of sitting back and not dictating the situation.

Ovechkin’s second goal, to make it 4-0, was the straw that broke the camel’s back and really put this one out of reach. The Holtbeast did a nice job behind his own net of avoiding two charging Red Wings on the forecheck and moved the puck to Backstrom below the goal line. Nicky skated it towards the boards and out of harm’s way, then spotted Carlson in the low slot where he fed JC74 the disc. Carly, who has to be in the top three candidates for the Norris Trophy, at this point, made a super outlet pass to Ovechkin on the left wing, who went in along with Oshie on a two on one on Bernier. The Gr8 skated in and snapped one over the Detroit goalie for his 24th tally of the season. After the Wings scored in period three by crashing into Holtby to make it 5-1, the Gr8 notched his hat trick with 10:27 to go by firing a laser from a bad angle on the left wing boards through Jimmy Howard, who came in once it was 5-0. After the puck trickled across the goal line, the hats came raining down on the ice, including one from super Caps fan and MLB star pitcher, Max Scherzer.

Overall, this was a very solid triumph by the Caps. They didn’t give Detroit much of an opportunity to make it a game. The Wings are fast and gamble a lot. They do get some breakaways, but they give up far more opportunities, and the high end skill and elite goaltending of the Capitals took over in this affair.

Backstrom stated afterwards that the team is starting to really ramp their game up, especially defensively and as a result they are playing well. He also agreed that winning the Cup has taken a lot of pressure off of the club allowing them to have a lot of fun on the ice. You can certainly see that and with the Capitals playing relaxed, they are performing at a higher level.

To sum things up on the state of the Washington Capitals after 30 games of the 2018-19 season. I’ll quote the great Sheryl Crow.

“All I wanna do is have some fun, I got a feelin’ I’m not the only one…”

Notes: the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 35-32, but Dowd went 8-1. That 4th line has been outstanding…shot attempts were 61-53 for Detroit, but Corsi doesn’t matter much, it’s all about generating and preventing quality scoring chances and using your high end talent, which the Capitals have plenty of…Backstrom and Ovi were both +3. Coach Reirden said that this is the best two way game he’s ever seen from the Gr8 and he also noted that Ovechkin, in the leadership department, is also the best he’s ever been in the regular season…the Capitals only took one penalty (Dmitry Orlov for hooking) on Tuesday evening…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 22:25….Andre Burakovsky and Jonas Siegenthaler were the forward and defensive scratches, respectively…next up are the Carolina Hurricanes from Raleigh on Friday night at 7:30 pm.

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Jaskin CBus

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Ovechkin Scores Again in Caps Whitewash of Columbus

Posted on 08 December 2018 by Ed Frankovic

“No Shoes, No Shirt…No Problems” – Kenny Chesney

No Osh, No Willy…No Problems.

The Washington Capitals went into Columbus to face the Blue Jackets and their obnoxious cannon, and they totally shut that relic down for the night in a 4-0 dominating triumph. Let’s give an assist to what now should be a regular pre game CBus ritual from Joe Beninati, Craig Laughlin, Ken Sabourin, and John Walton for putting the curse on the cannon Saturday morning. Braden Holtby made 28 saves and the Capitals improved to 17-9-3 (37 points). They lead the Metropolitan Division by three points over Columbus.

This was one heck of a team effort and they made the Blue Jackets look out to lunch most of the night. Brett Connolly put the Capitals on the board just 1:42 into the game stuffing the biscuit behind Sergei Bobrovsky on a two on one rush with Jakub Vrana (1 assist). Bob overcommitted and Conno did his best Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 assist) imitation there to notch his fifth goal of the season.

Dmitrij Jaskin, who was my number one star of the night, has been playing some super hockey lately and he was all over the ice again on Saturday evening. He has had numerous chances this season to light the lamp and he finally did so at 10:19 of period one after a sweet pass from Travis Boyd (1 goal 1 assist) to make it 2-0. Jaskin could’ve scored several more goals, but Joonas Korpisalo, who replaced Bob after the first period, made some outstanding saves on a variety of Capitals to prevent this from being a football score.

The dagger came with just 18 seconds remaining in period one when the Caps top line, along with John Carlson and Michal Kempny, all touched the puck in succession with Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal, 1 assist) finishing the beautiful play on the doorstep to send his fellow countryman in net to the showers early. The play started with Andre Burakovsky winning a board battle on the right wing wall and he moved the puck to Nicklas Backstrom, who found Carlson at the point, and then it was swung to the left to Kempny driving towards the net. Kempny, who was just outstanding in this affair and continues to improve, put the puck on the stick of the greatest goal scorer in the history of the game, who was positioned perfectly at the top of the paint, and the Gr8 buried it for his 22nd tally of the season in 29 games. It was just a sensational sequence and one the coaches will watch and really enjoy all day because of its perfect effort and execution.

In the middle frame, the Caps didn’t sit back, but they squandered a couple of power plays (and three total for the game) with too much glide and not enough effort, especially by Kuznetsov, who hasn’t looked right since returning to the lineup from a concussion. I especially didn’t like Pierre Luc-Dubois mugging Kempny, and kudos to Michal for not retaliating there. Washington needs to get their power play going again, it’s been downright lousy since T.J. Oshie went out and with no Tom Wilson either, the hustle to keep pucks alive isn’t there. Guys are standing around too much making it easy for the other team to pressure the puck and force errant passes and turnovers. The coaching staff needs to fix this mess, pronto! Had it been working properly, they might have closed out the Anaheim and Vegas games with W’s.

Leading 3-0 into the final 20 minutes, the Caps killed off the end of a lazy slashing penalty by Kuzy and then a trip by Dmitry Orlov 2:44 into the period. Washington continued to wall off the middle of their defensive zone and keep the Blue Jackets on the perimeter allowing the Holtbeast to see the vast majority of shots sent his way. Braden’s rebound control was stellar and as a result, the Blue Jackets were blanked. At even strength, the Caps played smart with the lead by getting pucks deep and making Columbus try to go 200 feet to score. It was textbook hockey with the scoreboard advantage and Coach Todd Reirden’s club had several chances to extend it, only to be denied by Korpisalo. Most notably, Carlson and Devante Smith-Pelly were robbed on tremendous chances in the last stanza.

With 8:56 to go, though, the outcome of this tilt was totally put to rest. Nic Dowd pressured Columbus in the neutral zone getting part of the puck from a Blue Jacket, then Ovi came flying through to grab it and start a two on one rush. With Korpisalo playing the Gr8’s shot, Alexander the Great slid a beauty of a feed to Boyd to his right and #72 put it into the yawning cage for his first goal of the season. The fourth line was dynamite all night, as well as Ovechkin, who now has 36 points in 29 games.

On the back end, I definitely liked the way Kempny played (now +18 on the season), but I also was really pleased with rookie Jonas Siegenthaler. He was excellent and had his best game of his very young NHL career in 16:25 of ice time, including 2:52 of shorthanded time. The Caps penalty killing was much better in this one going four for four and #34’s ability to kill penalties gives him an advantage to stay in the lineup. Jonas is big, isn’t afraid of contact, and can get physical, plus he skates well. General Manager Brian MacLellan has been talking to me about the Swiss d-man for several years so I know BMac is smiling watching #34 back up the talk of Jonas’ potential.

Outside of the power play, the only other thing I didn’t like were the three lazy penalties the Capitals took. Kuzy’s was just awful when he slashed Artemi Panarin at the defensive blue line in a non threatening situation and then Burakovsky took two bad offensive zone penalties once it was 4-0. Andre was guilty of not moving his feet and I’m sure the coaches will talk to him about that because he’s been playing better. Fortunately those infractions came in a game that was already decided, but the Caps have to clean their penalty problems up.

Overall, this was a really nice victory where they went into a hostile place and just took the opponents and their crowd right out of the game. Washington kept the pedal down and didn’t sit back like they did against Anaheim and Vegas earlier in the week. It was nice to see the team learn from their mistakes. They went 2-1 on this road trip and have now won two in a row and nine of their last 11 games despite having injury issues to some key players.

To quote the great Chesney again, what we are seeing from the Caps over that stretch is “The Good Stuff.”

Notes: Orlov led the team in ice time with a low total of 21:35. Coach Reirden was able to just roll the lines with the big lead and pretty much everyone moving their legs…Jaskin had a goal and four shots on net in only 10:33. That fourth line has been a spark plug for the Caps this week…shots on goal were 28 apiece and shot attempts were also tied at 53…Columbus won the faceoff battle, 34-27. Kuzentsov was 9-6…Cam Atkinson, a notorious Caps killer, was -2 and had his point scoring streak snapped…Ovi’s continues on with points in 11 straight games…next up for the Capitals are the Detroit Red Wings at Capital One Arena at 7:30 pm on Tuesday night.

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brian-maclellan

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Should the Caps Blow it Up or Stay the Course?

Posted on 29 May 2017 by Ed Frankovic

After the Capitals added Kevin Shattenkirk at this season’s NHL trade deadline, I certainly thought I’d be writing a much happier ending to this recent Washington hockey season.

Alas, once again, that is not the case.

You already know the story; the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Washington Capitals in the playoffs for the second straight season, this time in a seven game series. In fact, it is now the ninth time in 10 playoff meetings that the Pens have knocked out the Caps. Jim Schoenfeld remains the only Capitals bench boss to defeat Mario Lemieux’s franchise in the post season (1994).

Let’s start with giving credit to the Penguins, because they certainly deserve that. Despite being outshot, 232-161, and outshot attempted, 484-317, in the series, they managed to hold the Caps to two goals or less in four of the seven tilts and as result, they won each of those games. There’s your series.

You don’t do that without outstanding play from your goaltender. Cleary, Marc Andre-Fleury’s performance against the Capitals was the biggest reason why the Penguins will likely be winning their fifth Stanley Cup this spring.

Next, you have to credit Sidney Crosby. Despite being injured in game three and missing game four, #87 was the difference maker for Pittsburgh. It was his two goals early in the second period of game one that staked the Pens to a two puck lead which gave his club the confidence it could win at the Verizon Center after being smoked there in the regular season. Then in a crucial game seven, Sid made the key pass on the winning goal after a Washington defensive zone turnover.

Finally, tip your hat to the entire Penguins team and coaching staff because they overcame a ton of injuries to defeat the Caps. Washington had injuries, as well, namely Alex Ovechkin’s knee and hamstring and Marcus Johansson’s fractured finger, but that’s a part of the game and the Pens found a way to persevere through all of their health issues.

The biggest reason the Pens won is because of their resolve. They certainly were outplayed by Washington for long stretches in this series, but they stuck to their system and when they received a break via a Caps turnover or mental mistake, they typically buried the biscuit. They were an opportunistic bunch who believed they could win. They also were able to plug guys into the lineup when some of their top guys were out. Without Crosby in game four, they jumped on the Caps early and held on for a win that ultimately gave the Caps no margin of error for a series comeback. So the Penguins deserve kudos for the depth they’ve created via strong drafting and development.

Congratulations Penguins, you clearly know how to win when the chips are down.

Now, were they the better team like they were in 2016 when they knocked off the Capitals in six games? The statistics say no, but the scoreboard says otherwise, and that is all that matters.

As for the Capitals, the roster assembled by General Manager Brian MacLellan, on paper, appeared to have no holes. Washington certainly did a lot of things correctly in the series. You don’t dominate the numbers as heavily as they did without doing many things right. Unfortunately, they did some big things wrong at inopportune times.

Washington carried the play in several periods in this series, didn’t score, and then tried to change their style of play. That is when they got into trouble and ended up losing. It was pretty obvious that the best Capitals game plan was to put pucks deep in the Penguins zone to try and further weaken a defense that was suffering from multiple injuries. Kris Letang was already out for the season and Trevor Daley was playing on bad wheels. But too often, the Capitals forgot that this is a shoot first league and they went into overpass mode. They were caught up far too easily in playing a pretty game and that is not the way you defeat a team as structured and as mentally tough as the Penguins.

Many Capitals players talked about the defeat being a mental thing on Caps Breakdown Day, and they are correct. Pittsburgh, no matter what the score or the situation, pretty much continued to play the same way. The Caps on the other hand, were not patient enough or mentally disciplined to stick with the game plan. As three time Stanley Cup Champion Justin Williams told me after game two, its okay to dominate a period and not score a goal, it happens in hockey. The problem for Washington though, is they wouldn’t maintain what they were doing and that’s when the fancy game and turnovers appeared on the ice. That’s a mental issue all the way.

While the Caps had a lot of shot attempts, they weren’t getting enough with traffic on Fleury and the players were rarely in position for rebounds. It’s a shoot first league and there were too many times, especially in the third period of game seven, when the Caps would cross the blue line and force the puck to the middle when getting it deep and wearing down the Penguins defense was the right play.

Again, that is a mental toughness issue, in my book. You have to be willing to pay the physical price in the playoffs by making the correct play. Taking a hit in the neutral zone and ensuring the puck gets deep in the offensive zone is a critical part of post season hockey. That applies inside both blue lines, as well. A number of the Penguins goals came as a result of lazy or careless turnovers. That’s a letdown on the mental side of the game. You can also attribute all of the terrible penalties the Capitals took in game four as a mental issue. Washington had a tendency to not come out strong in some contests, most notably games one and four. There is no reason why the Penguins should’ve had a 21-13 shot attempt advantage in the first 15 minutes of game four with Crosby out of the lineup in a must win for Washington. That’s inexcusable and both players and coaches need to answer for that.

Breaking things down by team component, let’s start with the coaching staff. All season long the Caps relied heavily on rolling four lines, but once Karl Alzner was deemed able to play with his hand injury and Brett Connolly struggled in his first post season appearance, Coach Barry Trotz went to seven defensemen and 11 forwards despite it being counter to what they’d done all season. Yes, the seven defensemen and 11 forwards strategy worked in game three, but it might have only been successful because Matt Niskanen was kicked out very early in the contest and the other six d-men were able to rotate normally. In game four, that configuration backfired badly as Alzner and Brooks Orpik, the two slowest Washington blue liners, were out on the ice together early in the game. Patrick Hornqvist, who isn’t exactly fast, split them like Moses parting the Red Sea to tally on a breakaway and it was 1-0 just over four minutes in. Pittsburgh gained a ton of confidence that they could win that contest without Crosby from that goal.

Following the game four loss, which was also heavily impacted by a very injured Ovechkin, who probably shouldn’t have played, Coach Trotz shook up his forward lines. He moved Andre Burakovsky with T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom and bumped the Gr8 down with Lars Eller and Tom Wilson. Those moves worked and Washington came storming back to tie up the series. They seemed poised for a big game seven, but Pens Coach Mike Sullivan adjusted and the Capitals didn’t play with the passion and urgency they had in the third period of game five and all of game six. Simply put, they cracked under the pressure. It’s apparent that the weight of being the #1 seed plus all of the past history of Washington recent playoff failures was heavily on the minds of these players.

Coach Barry Trotz has a track record of being tough on players who don’t follow the rules or the system as evidenced by the Ovechkin suspension in October of 2015 and Andre Burakovsky being benched in December of 2016. He even questionably pulled Braden Holtby after the second period in game two for what he thought was subpar goaltending. However, he and his staff let his skaters get away from the system too often in this series. Any deviation from the structure against a disciplined team like the Penguins can lead to a quality scoring chance, and that is what happened at key times in the series. If guys start playing the wrong way, they need to be benched for a shift or two so they get the message.

Johansson, Oshie, and Williams scored a lot of goals in the regular season going to the net. Jojo even won the Toronto series in OT of game six by doing just that. In the Penguins series, we didn’t see enough net presence and it was on the coaches to drill that into the players heads and enforce the strategy of getting pucks deep to set that up.

Again, I wasn’t a fan of the 7/11 configuration because it got the Caps away from the four line forward group that worked so well from late December until mid February. I understand why Brett Connolly was pulled out of the lineup for maybe a game or so to observe, but he also scored 15 goals in the regular season, many of which were tallied via going to the net. With some guys severely banged up and unable to shoot, like Johansson, why wasn’t he put back in for another chance? It was a mistake, in my opinion, to totally give up on a guy who could’ve been a better performer than the guys who were playing hurt. Case in point, Conor Sheary was performing poorly while being nicked up, so Sullivan benched him for games five and six of the Senators series. Yet in a crucial game seven, #43 was back in the lineup and played a major role in the first two Pittsburgh goals.

So did the Caps lose totally because of coaching? No, the coaching wasn’t great, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water here. This coaching staff has done a great job of building this team from the ruins of 2014. The two Presidents’ Trophies are evidence of that. Look at how far Dmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt, and Tom Wilson have come in just a year. Each one of those players was a big part of why the Caps knocked off the Maple Leafs and dominated the possession statistics against the Penguins.

The playoff coaching certainly needed some improvements, but in totality, this is a very good coaching staff. Trotz and company will certainly take their share of the heat for the loss, but the biggest blame for the defeat is on the players themselves. They have to be stronger mentally and physically to do the correct things on the ice.

Let’s start right at the top of the players with Ovechkin. There’s no nice way to put this, it was a subpar season for Ovi and it all began last summer. How you handle off of the ice issues and life changing events is a big part of professional sports and with Alex getting married last summer it clearly impacted his ability to prepare for and play in 2016-17. After scoring 50 goals in 2015-16 and having a super 2016 post season, Alex looked slow and overweight for the large majority of the season. Clearly his conditioning wasn’t where it needed to be and then missing training camp due to the World Cup of Hockey didn’t help either. At age 31 and not in peak shape, the Gr8 lost some speed and that allowed defensemen to play him tighter so that he couldn’t get his shot off quickly at even strength. Ovechkin lived off of the power play in 2016-17 to score goals as he struggled in five on five situations.

In the playoffs, the hit from Nazem Kadri was low and the Russian Machine didn’t break, but it certainly slowed him down further and probably contributed to suffering the hamstring injury, as well. However, had Ovi been in better condition and had his speed from the previous year, it’s quite possible he could have avoided the Kadri hit altogether.

Ovechkin has made great strides under this coaching staff with his back checking ability, something he rarely did prior to the Trotz era. He deserves a lot of credit for that. However, his ability to play in his own zone has regressed. Standing on the left wing boards straight legged with your stick at your hips parallel to the ice is bad defensive posture. He needs to get rid of that and work on being a better player in his own end. If he gets back in peak shape and works at it, there’s no reason he can’t turn proper defensive zone play into several rush goals in 2017-18. Again, it’s a focus on conditioning and hockey.

That gets us to Backstrom. #19 had a very good season, but game seven was nowhere near his best. MacLellan’s goal in adding Eller and Connolly was to improve the bottom six and allow Washington to play a faster game. The thought was that having four lines would allow Coach Trotz to play everyone more evenly so that they could maintain a high pace and be fresher in the postseason. At times, the Capitals were able to do that, but they were not consistent. Ovechkin and Backstrom both played lower average minutes than they had in past regular seasons, by design, and in the end, it was likely the wrong move as both looked tired, at times, in the post season. Nicky, in his twenties, has been able to survive playing with extra weight, but as he moves into his thirties, like Ovechkin, he needs to shed any extra pounds he has to play faster.

When Washington lost to the Penguins in 2015-16, you could not blame either Ovechkin or Backstrom because they dominated Crosby and Malkin in that series. It was the Nick Bonino line that won for the Pens in the spring of 2016. In 2016-17, you can’t say the same thing. Both Crosby and Malkin elevated their games while Ovechkin and Backstrom weren’t as good as they were the previous May. Sure the Caps only received one goal in the series from their bottom six, but they rarely played the fourth line due to the 7/11 strategy.

Crosby is the best player in the game for a reason; he works harder than anyone at his craft. Orpik was quoted recently as saying that #87 is always the first player on the ice and the last player off of it for the Penguins at practice. That needs to be Ovechkin and Backstrom going forward. We’ve heard from other players that both have made strides, especially Nicky, in speaking up in the locker room. Speeches are great, but actions speak louder and doing the proper things on and off of the ice is so much more critical to winning championships. Those two guys are the Capitals leaders and have been the core for 10 years so they must be setting the tempo that everything is hockey first in 2017-18. We should not have to hear from Orpik that the team needs to get focused on hockey, like we did after the disastrous California trip in March. There were several post game players only meetings this season, including one after game two against the Penguins, and while it’s good to clear the air, they aren’t as necessary if everyone is focused on hockey.

Ovechkin and Backstrom are clearly the core of the Capitals and the goaltender is the third critical piece to the triumvirate. Braden Holtby, who has been stellar in past post seasons, had his worst playoffs from a statistics standpoint. Now how much of that is on #70 and how much of it is on the team giving up too many golden chances? I’d lean more on the side of the team breakdowns, but this was not Braden’s spring. This series was likely over in five games if he doesn’t make some big stops early in period three before the Washington three goal explosion that led to a victory and a two game winning streak. In game seven, he had no chance on the winning goal. However, I still didn’t like the Justin Schultz winning tally in game four. If there was a goal he’d want back in the series, I’d bet it would be that one.

On defense, John Carlson played his best hockey of the season against the Penguins, but he did not have a consistent year. He needs to amp his conditioning up so that he can play faster, as well. The standouts of this postseason on the blue line were Orlov and Schmidt and that’s encouraging given where we were just a year ago with both of them. Bringing in Shattenkirk for Zach Sanford and a first round pick seemed like the right move at the time, but in the end, with no Stanley Cup, it’s a lost trade. #22 has enormous potential and talent, but he was slow in the playoffs. Again, I think that might be a conditioning issue, but he didn’t come over until March with Washington. Hindsight is 20/20 and the deal now is another one that weakens the Capitals reach back for young players. Sanford has a lot of promise and first round picks are valuable. I can’t fault Mac for making that move, but coming up Cup empty now makes it an overall organizational defeat.

So where do the Caps go from here? There are calls for firing the coach, trading Ovechkin, or “blowing it up” from many in the fan base and some around the club. Even a couple of players said “major changes” were needed just two days after losing to the Penguins. It’s a natural reaction when a team loses again after being the favorite.

Let’s be honest, this is a team that is largely based on European talent and it hasn’t produced a trip to the Eastern Conference finals yet. This club improved greatly with the additions of North American players Oshie and Williams in the summer of 2015. They are guys who have a high “dog the puck” type of work effort. Both are unrestricted free agents and the team needs more of that style. Word over the Memorial Day weekend is that the Capitals and the Osh Babe have verbally agreed to an extension so that is great news, this team is not a Cup contender without #77 going forward. It would be nice if they could find a way to get Williams back, as well, but that will be tougher given the salary cap situation. Per the Caps great team reporter, Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps), we’ve heard that the salary cap is going to be in the $76 to $77 Million range. That is a big help to Washington, who also have to deal with Burakovsky as a restricted free agent. There are some who think #65 deserves a big pay raise, but given his inconsistent output, I’m not sure Washington can commit to longer term and/or high dollars on him, just yet.

I just don’t see moving Ovechkin or Backstrom as feasible given the likely low return and to be honest, #19’s contract is a great one for the Caps. Evgeny Kuznetsov, who also improved significantly in the post season outside of a poor game seven, is up for a new contract. He’s a restricted free agent, but somewhere around $6M per season seems likely for him. As for Orlov and Schmidt, it’s apparent they’ve moved up big time on the depth chart of this defensive roster and deserve decent longer term contracts. I’m speculating that Orlov will be come in at around $4M and Schmidt in the $2 to $2.5M range. Both play with speed and drive possession, which is so important in today’s NHL. Unfortunately, there will have to be other changes on the blue line. Shattenkirk will get paid big bucks elsewhere and I’d expect the same for Alzner, who really had a rough campaign. King Karl admittedly had a hard time regaining his speed after offseason groin surgery and then he broke his hand in the first playoff tilt against Toronto.  As for Orpik, as much as he’s a strong leader and a fitness freak, which was a big help in starting to turn the culture of this team around in 2014-15, his on ice value compared to his salary cap hit is not equitable anymore. He’s a third pair defenseman and you can’t afford $5.5M annually for that type of player when you want to win a Cup. MacLellan will have to look at either working a deal to move him, getting Vegas to pick him in the expansion draft, or buying him out to clear some needed salary cap space.

If the Caps had players ready to make the leap from Hershey or the college ranks to the NHL, like the Penguins have been blessed with the last two seasons, the overall situation could be better. Perhaps the bottom six will see a player such as Travis Boyd or Riley Barber come up and help out? Jakub Vrana has shown glimpses of being able to handle the NHL, but after his demotion this year he dropped so far off of the map that he was scratched for some games by Bears Coach Troy Mann in the AHL playoffs. Vrana is streaky and inconsistent, much like Burakovsky has been, so do you want to rely on another guy who doesn’t go to the net or high traffic areas consistently to finally help get you past the Pittsburgh problem? Seems awfully risky to me.

Clearly MacLellan has a lot to address in this offseason given the number of contracts that are expiring, NHL expansion to Vegas, and salary cap constraints. He also has a head coach reportedly heading into the last year of his contract. Add in that the two core players on the roster will both be in their thirties in 2017-18 and it’s clear that the GM has a lot to consider when charting the course for next season.

It’s not an easy job and there are very hard decisions to make, but in this case, I think it’s worth staying the course for at least one more year with the head coach and core players. In regards to a coaching change, is there somebody out there better than this head coach and staff worth pursuing? After all, there are several young players who have really improved during the Trotz regime and they’ve won two straight Presidents’ Trophies. They will likely have lost to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions in the second round yet again (yes, I see the Penguins defeating the Predators in the Stanley Cup Final) and that’s simply a function of the current division and playoff setup. In reality, they are the second best team in hockey, so does making drastic changes make sense? I don’t think so.

Brian, however, has to put pressure on the coaches and players to improve and be in better condition so they can make the playoffs and then deliver next spring. In hindsight, the World Cup of Hockey, which included participation from Coach Trotz and several top players, put the Capitals behind the eight ball from a readiness standpoint heading into 2016-17. The lack of preparation, based on what I’ve seen and heard, is a big reason they weren’t able to knock off the Penguins in the second round, once again.

So it’s incumbent upon Coach Trotz, Ovechkin, Backstrom, and everyone else in line after them to start getting ready for 2017-18 as soon as possible. Ovi, Nicky, and all of the players need to put in the hard work this July, August, and September so that they are in the best condition to play at a maximum pace in April, May, and hopefully June. If they can’t do that over the next 12 months, then certainly it will be time to “blow it up.”

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