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Oshie Hurt

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Caps Lose Game Four and T.J. Oshie

Posted on 18 April 2019 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals were much better than their putrid performance in game 3 on Thursday night in Raleigh, but it wasn’t good enough. A couple of structural breakdowns very early in period one and then late in period two resulted in Carolina goals and the home team made them hold up for a 2-1 win. The series is now tied at two games apiece with the fifth tilt slated for Capital One Arena on Saturday night at 8 pm.

The really bad news is that Washington will be without T.J. Oshie for a significant amount of time after suffering a serious upper body injury following a cheap shot cross check into the boards while defenseless by forward Warren Foegele. Kelly Sutherland is one of the best referees in the NHL, but he and Chris Lee didn’t get this call correct, that was a clear cut major penalty. Foegele, who falsely claimed he was going for a stick lift on Oshie, should be suspended for the remainder of the series. Carolina has played dirty in this series (see Dougie Hamilton’s elbow to Kuznetsov’s head in game 2).

Regardless of that, the Capitals failed to step up on the scoreboard for their fallen teammate with a power play that is terrible right now. It is struggling with poor zone entries and a lack of net presence. It’s long overdue for the coaching staff to make adjustments, and the biggest thing is to simplify it with a focus on shots from the point with bodies in front. With the Osh Babe out, it will now be up to Tom Wilson to score some in close goals or create screens.

The Caps were better in this game after going nearly 40 minutes with one or two shots on goal in a 5-0 loss on Monday. They were really good in period two up until the bad line change following a neutral zone turnover and then the defense mis-communicated in their own zone, which allowed Tera Teravainen to break in all alone on Braden Holtby (22 saves) and score the game winner with 27 seconds left in the middle frame. Those kinds of breakdowns just can’t happen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Washington had the puck much more in the first two periods, but trailing by a goal in the final frame, they couldn’t break through a Carolina defense that walled off the front of their net, getting only eight shots on goal. Simply put, the Canes are winning the majority of the individual battles and that’s why they went two for two on home ice.

After the Caps went up two games to none, the turn in this series definitely came when Alex Ovechkin knocked Carolina forward Andrei Svechnikov out with a right hand in a fight that should never have happened if Ranger Dan O’Halloran and Eric Furlatt were doing their proper jobs. Call the penalty on Svechnikov right away and there’s no fight, it’s that simple. Even still, the Canes player had a chance to skate away from the fight, but he threw the first and even second punch before Ovechkin leveled him. Washington seemed to let down emotionally worrying about the kid while the Canes amped their play up afterwards. It was a total mismatch of a game three after that sequence.  The fact is Svechnikov slashed and cross checked Ovi several times before both agreed to fight, despite what Canes Coach Rod Brind’Amour says about the altercation.

Speaking of Brind’Amour, he had the following to say about the Oshie play and injury (courtesy of Isabelle Khursudyan of The Washington Post) after game four.

“He crashed into the boards hard, and that’s when the arm went up, because he stayed down. You don’t like to see that, but more than anything he was not ready for the hit…I think he just went in awkward….We have way more injuries than they do, so I don’t worry about their team.”

That is quite the opposite response to the classy comments from Caps Coach Todd Rierden and Capitals players following the unfortunate injury to Svechnikov. Add in the fact that all three Carolina forward injuries in this series (Svechnikov, Michael Ferland, and Jordan Martinook) were the result of their own stupidity, brought on by Brind’Amour’s Slap Shot tactics, and you see a real clear picture of how classless the former Flyers player has acted in round one.

The key now for the Capitals is to use the Oshie injury as a galvanizing moment and get back to playing their brand of hockey. They need to start winning more one on one battles and finding ways to generate more pucks and bodies to the Carolina net. They’ve scored just two goals in their last 122+ minutes of hockey and both tallies came with a Canes player without a stick. This is the clear result of not paying the price to score the ugly playoff type goals they notched last season en route to the Stanley Cup. Petr Mrazek is having far too easy of a time in net. He does not have to fight through any traffic to see the Capitals shots.

Bottom line is the Caps need to get ticked off and stick it to Carolina. They will have their home crowd on Saturday and through four games, the team that has taken the initial lead has won every game. As I’ve said numerous times, the first round is the hardest to win. To prevail you have to be emotionally invested in the game and in North Carolina, it was the Canes who were much better in that category in both outings.

Washington needs to play with an edge and be smarter. The Capitals coaching staff needs to analyze the way Carolina is configured and find ways to expose their defense which is heavily riding Justin Faulk, Jacob Slavin, Dougie Hamilton, and Brett Pesce. Carolina has looked like the faster team creating gaps in the Caps defense while the Capitals have not really opened up many lanes for scoring opportunities since game two. Again, they were much better in game four, but nowhere near where they need to be to regain control of this series.

It is pretty simple now, if they don’t pick up their intensity, then they’ll find themselves watching round two with the Penguins and Bolts.

Notes: Washington out shot attempted Carolina, 55-52. Shots on goal were 31-22 for the Caps, but most of those 31 were “one and done” sequences…the Capitals won the face off battle, 23-21. Lars Eller was 7-5…with Oshie out, the Capitals can either plug in Chandler Stephenson or Dmitrij Jaskin or they can call up Devante Smith-Pelly. DSP is a proven playoff performer who goes to the net…Ovechkin had the Caps lone goal at the end of a power play. Again, it was scored because a Carolina player, Trevor Van Reimsdyk, broke his stick and the lane to Ovi was wide open…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:31…the Caps were 1 for 3 on the power play and 2 for 2 on the penalty kill.

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Game 2 Canes

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Orpik Wins Game 2 for Caps in Overtime

Posted on 13 April 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stephenson Nisky

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Washington Holds Off Carolina’s Late Charge to Win Again

Posted on 27 December 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby made 28 saves and T.J. Oshie’s second period power play marker held up as the game winning goal as the Washington Capitals knocked off the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-1, on Thursday night at Capital One Arena. The victory improves the Caps to 23-10-3 (49 points) on the season and they lead the second place Columbus Blue Jackets by two points, but Washington has a game in hand.

Here are 10 thoughts, highlights, and analysis of the first game out of the 2018 NHL Christmas break.

Petr Mrazek has a history of playing very well against Washington going back to his Detroit days and he turned in a gem on Thursday night. The Czech goalie made 30 saves and kept his team in it late into the third period. The Caps should’ve been up by more than two pucks, but he was stellar in net.

Washington’s power play has been struggling over the last 10 games and were in a 3 for 31 funk when the Osh Babe deflected home John Carlson’s point blast to make it 2-0 late in period two. That was the Caps fourth man advantage of the night and they were struggling to score. The Ovi spot has been walled off lately by the opponents and the Capitals have been a little too stagnant with the extra player, but they finally got smart and simplified things with bodies and pucks to the net. Good things happen when you do that, and it paid off there. If Washington can get those type of goals off of traffic, then the opponents will have to pull their defensive players back down tighter to the net, which will open things up in Alex’s office, once again.

Chandler Stephenson put the Capitals up 1-0 in period two when the fourth line was all over the Canes with a vicious forecheck. Devante Smith-Pelly forced Calvin De Haan to cough the puck up the middle of the ice and #18 jumped on it in the slot and snapped one over Mrazek to start the scoring. That fourth line of Stephenson, Travis Boyd, and DSP was pretty good all game.

DSP had a strong outing and he was a big reason the Capitals penalty killing went 4 for 4. Carolina really didn’t have a whole lot of chances until their last power play, when they nearly tied the game. Washington is doing an excellent job of keeping the opposing power plays on the perimeter and allowing their goalies to see any shots.

With 8:21 the play that changed the game, but fortunately, not the outcome, occurred. Matt Niskanen was heading back into his own right wing boards when Justin Williams hit him well before Nisky could get to the puck. That’s interference, especially considering some of the other ticky tacky calls made by the zebras on this night. The hit by Stick knocked Niskanen to his right and then Clark Bishop came barreling in and shoved Nisky in the back slamming him into the boards with an extra push. That’s boarding. The very experienced Capitals TV play by play man, Joe Beninati, reacted immediately to the bad hit with concern. Fortunately, Matt was able to avoid direct head contact with the boards and after staying down for a minute or so, Niskanen was able to get up and skate to the locker room on his own power. Coach Todd Reirden did not have a post game update on Nisky, so his status for Saturday’s game in Ottawa remains unclear.

Following the injury, the Capitals looked stunned because one of their leaders was out on a weird play and they didn’t get the power play they thought they rightfully deserved. Compounding the matter, shortly thereafter Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Carlson all were a little careless with the biscuit in the offensive zone and that led to a Michal Ferland breakaway. The Holtbeast, who has been outstanding in those situations this season thanks to the work he’s been putting in with goalie coach Scott Murray, stopped the one on one opportunity once again, but his teammates didn’t get back and Sebastian “I own the Caps” Aho fired the rebound into the empty cage with 7:35 left in the game. Suddenly a sure triumph was in doubt for the Caps.

The officiating by Jon McIsaac and Ghislain “Send Him Back to Quebec” Hebert was head scratching at times, and none more so than on that play where Niskanen was injured, but the linesmen then made a major blunder that nearly cost Washington the lead. The Canes dumped the puck directly into the Caps zone from behind the red line and Michal Kempny was way ahead of any Carolina player, but somehow the linesmen wiped out icing. A few seconds later Kempny was jailed for high sticking and with 3:48 to go the Canes had a man advantage situation to potentially tie up what was once a near blowout. Again, the Capitals PK came through, but the guys in stripes certainly were doing their best to give Rod Brind’Amour’s team a chance to even the numbers on the scoreboard.

Holtby was very good once again, he didn’t have to make a lot of quality saves, but the ones he had to deny were of the ten bell variety. He continues to be stellar on breakaways and the only goal he allowed was because the five skaters on the ice hung him out to dry.

With the NHL shut down for three days for Christmas, Carolina had to travel from Raleigh on Thursday morning for this tilt. That was an advantage for the Caps and again, they dominated this game, but Mrazek kept it close. Fortunately All Star Nicklas Backstrom won a neutral zone faceoff directly back to Carlson with just under a minute to go and #74 rifled it from inside his own blue line into the empty cage to seal the deal for Washington. Brind’Amour gambled with the neutral zone draw by keeping Mrazek on the bench for the sixth attacker and he rolled snake eyes there.

The Capitals lead the Metropolitan Division by two points over Columbus and they have a game in hand on John Tortorella’s team. Pittsburgh is five points back and Washington has a game in hand on the Pens, as well. In fourth place are the Islanders at 40 points, so the Caps are nine points clear of a playoff spot here in late December. I expect the top three teams in the Metro to pull away from the pack and the question remains if Coach Barry Trotz’ crew can beat out Montreal or perhaps Boston for the last playoff position. Bottom line, barring any crazy injuries, the Eastern Conference playoff race is turning into a nine teams for eight spots race with the top six (Tampa, Toronto, Washington, Columbus, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh) looking solid. There are still 46 games left for the Caps, though, so let’s not count the chickens before they hatch, although it is very tempting to do so.

Notes: The Corsi Canes out shot attempted the Caps, 57-56, but the quality chances were clearly in Washington’s favor, by a good margin…Carlson led the Capitals in ice time with 25:05. Niskanen left after logging 16:54. With Kempny in the box late, Madison Bowey and Jonas Siegenthaler had to kill off part of the penalty and they did so in fine fashion. That is encouraging for the Caps as they build defensive depth. Brooks Orpik is expected back in the lineup very soon, perhaps as early as Saturday in Ottawa, and that’s a welcome sign, especially if Niskanen is out for any length of time. Tyler Lewington was recalled as the 7th defensemen for Thursday’s game after being sent down following last Saturday’s shutout victory in Ottawa to save some salary cap room…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 33-27. Backstrom was 12-4.

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