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Lars Beats Habs

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Caps Clinch Their 4th Straight Metropolitan Division Title

Posted on 04 April 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Holtby Stones Flyers

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Holtby Leads the Caps to a Season Series Sweep of the Flyers

Posted on 24 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

The entire Washington Capitals team should take Braden Holtby out to dinner this week because he saved their rears on Sunday afternoon at Capital One Arena. The Holtbeast was outstanding stopping 35 shots, including 20 in the middle frame when the Philadelphia Flyers were dominating the Caps, to lead his club to a very important 3-1 triumph over a franchise that has been despised around these parts since 1974.

This was not a pretty game for the Caps and it was a bit surprising given that they didn’t really show up for Friday’s tilt against Minnesota, a 3-1 loss that hopefully doesn’t prove costly in the Metropolitan Division race. Philly was a desperate squad on Sunday, they’re on their last gasp in 2018-19, and really came at Washington taking a 60-25 shot attempt advantage through 40 minutes. Somehow, though, the Caps built a 2-0 lead on a sweet first period deflection goal by Tom Wilson, his 22nd of the year, and another tip in tally by Travis Boyd after Andre Burakovsky created offensive zone havoc on the Flyers with some outstanding forechecking.

That 2-0 lead, however, was short lived because this Capitals team has a tendency to lose focus at key junctures. They did so again with four minutes left in period two. Washington, instead of getting pucks deep, made a careless offensive zone turnover that led to a Flyers jailbreak.  T.J. Oshie hustled back, but he took a holding penalty to prevent a two on one rush. The Caps had been good on the PK to that point going two for two, but Cap Killer Jakub Voracek would score on the power play with Holtby out of position due to an errant clear by his defensemen in front of the net.

The Flyers would nearly tie the game on numerous occasions after that, but in this one, if Holtby could see it, then he was stopping it. Finally in period three, the Capitals started carrying the play and at the 8:07 mark Jakub Vrana notched his 22nd goal of the season on a breakaway after Brett Connolly made two fantastic plays in his own zone to get the puck to #13. V went five hole on Brian Elliott and from there on out, Washington dominated possession and easily could’ve won by more except for some big stops from Elliott.

This victory was huge because the New York Islanders won again on Sunday evening to remain just one point behind the Capitals in the Metropolitan Division with just six games to go. The Penguins, who defeated the Stars on Saturday night and have a cake walk on Monday evening against the rebuilding Rangers, are just three points in the rear.

The Caps, who lost Michal Kempny indefinitely to what looks to be a serious knee injury against the Bolts in a 5-4 overtime loss on Wednesday night, did some experimenting with defensive pairs and forward lines in this contest. It probably had more to do with the Flyers carrying the play and the fact that there is word that several Capitals are battling illnesses. Whatever the case, Washington was disjointed for much of the first two periods.

Burakovksy was one of the guys who certainly didn’t appear to have anything wrong because he was all over the ice. Andre logged 10:50 and was +1. He probably should’ve played more, but with the Caps in penalty trouble in the middle frame, the forward rotation became messed up.

Vrana was strong, as well, and he nearly scored his 23rd of the campaign after deking Elliott badly, but struck iron on the backhand after a gorgeous move. Jakub only had 9:19 of ice time and again, should’ve played more, but likely didn’t due to penalty troubles.

Nick Jensen was Washington’s best defensemen on Sunday. He blocked five shots, logged 20:45, added an assist, and was +2. He made several quality plays, including a great rebound clear in period three when the game was still in doubt.

Wilson rebounded from his worst outing of the season on Friday to continue to live in the heads of the Flyers, who will head to the golf course this spring knowing that they were SWEPT in 2018-19 by the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Philadelphia played some super hockey after mid-Janaury, but they had no answer for Holtby and the Capitals, who owned them on the scoreboard for the first time in the regular season for as far as I can remember.

The Flyers though, deserve credit for their effort, especially since they played on Saturday in a loss to the Islanders, which pretty much meant they had to run the table to have any prayer of making the postseason. The Caps, on the play of their goaltender, ended any chance of that happening.

Coach Todd Reirden’s team found a way to win when they really didn’t have it for much of this contest. Of particular concern is a power play that went 0 for 2 on Sunday and was a big fat donut hole on Friday night, too. Washington’s man advantage unit has been too perimeter based and very predictable lately. It’s time for the coaches to add some new wrinkles, and more importantly, generate additional net presence and traffic. The goalies in this league are very good, so if they see the shot, they’ll normally stop it.

This victory over Philadelphia stopped some serious bleeding as the Caps were 2-3-1 in their previous six games and had lost the first two games of a four game home stand. Last season, Washington went on an 11-3 run heading into the post season. It’s time for the Capitals to clean up the loose ends in their game and develop some cohesion for the post season. There is much to work on to get to the level required for playoff success.

Despite the uneven performance, the Caps should be thankful that their goalie seems dialed in. Hopefully they can also build on a strong third period as they head into a home and home with those “Bunch of Jerks” from Carolina this week (Tuesday at Capital One Arena and Thursday in Raleigh).

They can also take pride in the fact that the season series with Filthadelphia ended up Capitals 4, Flyers ZERO!

Defeating the Flyers is always great and this Capitals team beat Philly like a rented mule all year to send the black and orange to the links for early tee times in the spring of 2019.

Notes: John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:07…Alex Ovechkin had an assist, six shots on goal and was a big factor on the first tally. He also unselfishly passed up a chance to score goal #49 into an empty net late in regulation…the Flyers destroyed the Capitals from the dot, 38-22…shot attempts were 22-14 for Washington in period three, including 12-5 in shots on goal…the Caps blocked 18 shots and had 22 hits…the Capitals, minus some players, will visit the White House on Monday to celebrate their Stanley Cup triumph. It is a private visit so there will be no media coverage, which is disappointing for the fans in this area who have had to endure 43 years of clips of other NHL teams being praised by the sitting President after they won Lord Stanley and took it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to show off. Unfortunately, there will be no celebration ceremony and it is truly a shame that politics has gotten in the way of the fun involved in what has been a long standing tradition.

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Conno Hags Flyers

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Connolly Helps the Caps Ambush the Flyers, 5-2

Posted on 14 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

That’s not the case anymore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Holtby Flyers

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

Posted on 06 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Hagelin Rangers Game

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

Posted on 03 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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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Oshie Caps Feb 26

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Caps Overcome a Slow Start and Bury Ottawa, 7-2

Posted on 27 February 2019 by Ed Frankovic

T.J. Oshie scored twice and every Capitals forward in the top nine notched at least one point as the Washington Capitals rallied from a poor start and an early 2-0 deficit to totally destroy the Ottawa Senators, 7-2, on Tuesday night at Capital One Arena. Braden Holtby made 21 saves to pick up his 22nd victory of the season as the Caps moved into a first place tie in the Metropolitan Division with the New York Islanders at 79 points.

The Isles lost at home on Tuesday to Calgary, 3-1, but they do have two games in hand on the Capitals, who are now at 36-21-7. New York will play their former captain, John Tavares, and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum in what will be an emotionally charged contest. The Caps will then take on Coach Barry Trotz and his team on Friday evening in an affair that will also be played on Long Island.

Back to Tuesday’s tilt, there was a very poor beginning to this contest for the Caps. Ottawa coach Guy Boucher is known for clogging the neutral zone and the entry to his defensive zone and Washington didn’t play the right way early on forcing pucks to the middle of the ice and refusing to make the smart play, which was to dump the puck down the boards and put pressure on a young Senators defense. As a result, even a depleted Ottawa roster, which lost forwards Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, and Ryan Dzingel before the trade deadline, was able to take advantage of Washington mistakes and forge an early lead.

Oscar Lindberg, who was acquired in the Stone trade with Vegas, tallied on the doorstep when Lars Eller and Michal Kempny didn’t communicate in coverage in the slot area. A Travis Boyd tripping penalty just over two minutes later put the Caps a man down and Anthony Duclair, a historical Capitals killer, tallied on the power play through a screen created by Chris Tierney and Matt Niskanen.

The Caps would go over 10 minutes before getting their first shot on net, but as the period progressed into the latter stages, you could see Washington starting to exert a lot of effort. Alex Ovechkin (2 assists) took a nice feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 goal, 1 assist) to set up Tom Wilson for a layup on the door step with  3:03 to go in the opening frame to cut the deficit in half. Less than a minute later, Lars Eller took a sweet cross ice pass from Dmitry Orlov (2 assists) and buried it to even things up after 20 minutes.

Washington came out guns a blazing and put up four second period markers with the first coming on the power play, a John “Norris” Carlson bomb from the point after a nice dish from All Star Nicklas Backstrom (2 assists). The Caps needed just 38 seconds to tally in their only man advantage opportunity of the night. Before the middle stanza hit the 10 minute mark, the Caps ran the lead to 5-2 on an Oshie rebound goal of a good, hard point shot by Brooks Orpik that Anders Nilsson couldn’t handle and then Brett Connolly’s career high 16th goal on a sequence in which Andre Burakovsky made two nice plays to earn an assist. Oshie would then notch his 20th goal of the season on a rush sequence with Orlov providing another nice pass to make it 6-2 after 40 minutes.

Kuznetsov closed out the scoring just 17 seconds into period three, which was good because Evgeny had left late in period two going down the tunnel to the locker room after taking a puck in the right wrist area. Wilson, who scored his career high 18th goal to open the scoring, notched his 15th assist of the campaign and Ovi also had the primary helper on the play to give him 74 points in 63 games.

This was a sloppy game, at times, by the Caps, but when they played their system, they thoroughly dominated a team that is very inexperienced, as one would expect. Coach Todd Reirden wasn’t happy with the start, but he heavily relies on his leadership group to right the ship when necessary, and they did just that on this evening. Ovechkin had a big shift that got the team rolling and then Backstrom, Oshie, and Orpik turned in strong performances as part of the leadership core.

Oshie was especially impressive. He beat out an icing on one sequence in period two and even when the Caps were up by five goals with just over six minutes to go, he was still working his butt off. Ottawa had what appeared to a be a jailbreak, a four on one by my eyes, but the Osh Babe back checked quickly and ended up intercepting a Sens pass to the slot in front of Holtby and skated the biscuit out of harm’s way. When asked about that play following the contest, the Caps bench boss smiled big time, paused, and then praised Oshie up and down stating that is why #77 is so important to his team. Coach Rierden talked about how great a teammate T.J. is and said he tried to put him out for extra shifts a couple of times late in the game to get him a hat trick and the Osh Babe politely declined. It was pretty clear from Todd’s assessment that Oshie is all about the team at all times and the coach said that both of those clips, the icing washout and the super back check, will be shown on video to the team as they prepare for the Islanders. As I’ve said in the past, the Capitals don’t win a Stanley Cup without the Osh Babe.

Another player who continues to improve is Burakovksy. Andre, with his well deserved assist on the fifth goal, is now up to 20 points in 58 games and as his line mate Connolly noted afterwards, has really been playing with confidence over the last several weeks. On that tally, Andre made the right play to start the whole sequence by putting the puck down the right wing boards after his zone entry. The Senators had vacated that area of the ice all night and when the Caps put the puck there, they usually turned it into scoring chances and/or long offensive zone time. Ottawa had to retrieve that disc and when they tried to take it up the other wall for an exit, Burky was there to force a turnover and get the biscuit to Conno, who then skated up high in the offensive zone around Thomas Chabot and then down the right side of the slot before beating Nilsson five hole.

On the back end, Orpik and Nick Jensen had another solid effort together with Brooks getting an assist for the second straight game. The acquisition of Jensen provides stability to the blue line and in this contest, assistant coach Reid Cashman pretty much just rolled the defensive pairs as evidenced by the fairly even ice times. Niskanen led the way with a low total of 20:48, but Jensen, Orlov, Kempny, and Carlson were all above 20 minutes while #44 logged 17:46. Getting the minutes down for Carlson and Niskanen to keep them fresher going forward is important. Up front, Backstrom led the way with 16:37 and Boyd had the lowest time on ice for forwards with 12:12.

Coach Reirden, who was put in a tough spot after Coach Trotz resigned for more money and term in New York, commented afterwards that he is happy that everyone now knows what the roster is going to be going forward with Monday’s trade deadline in the rear view mirror. All of the players have clearly defined roles. Todd mentioned that he’s done a lot of research into trying to repeat, which is a very difficult thing to achieve, especially in the NHL (only the Penguins and Red Wings have done it in the last 25 years). He noted that he’s focused on trying to make sure that the club has the right energy level from here on out and he’ll adjust his schedule accordingly as things progress. The Caps have had some real stinkers this season, but that was the case in 2017-18, as well. This is an experienced group that has a lot of pride. When they show up focused, with energy, and play the system, they typically prevail. The Capitals tend to get up for big games, and after not being ready against the Islanders in December at Capital One Arena in a 2-0 blanking, I expect them to be dialed in and look more like the team that stuck it to New York in November.

Notes: Both teams were one for one on the power play…Washington lost the face off battle, 30-35. Oshie was 4-0 and Kuznetsov went 9-8…the Caps only had eight hits, but they did have the puck most of the night…shot attempts were 67-40 for the Capitals. Ottawa had 13 shots on goal in period one and just five each in the final two frames (23 total). The Caps had 37 shots on goal.

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Ovi Sharks

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Caps Play Their Best Game of the Season in San Jose

Posted on 15 February 2019 by Ed Frankovic

The San Jose Sharks came into Thursday night’s game against the Washington Capitals riding a six game winning streak that ironically started back on January 22nd when the Caps gave up a last second goal in regulation and then lost in overtime.

Coach Peter DeBoer’s team would score early in this contest on a rush goal and given Washington’s poor history at HP Pavilion plus coming off of Tuesday’s clunker in Columbus, one had to wonder if San Jose’s streak was headed for lucky number seven.

Not so fast.

T.J. Oshie scored on the power play less than two minutes after that Sharks tally and then Washington completely took over the hockey game scoring four more times to head to SoCal with a 5-1 triumph in what I’ll call the most complete Caps game this season.

The effort was outstanding and that led to the Capitals winning the vast majority of the puck battles. It also brought back a fierce Caps forecheck that we hadn’t seen in several weeks. Coach Todd Reirden’s crew looked fast and fresh for the first time in 2019. They were committed in all three zones, but especially the defensive end where they packed it in around Braden Holtby and refused to give up grade A chances.

The way the Capitals played reminded me of the post season Stanley Cup run, it was that good against the Western Conference leading Sharks.

Oshie had two goals and an assist to reach 500 career points and he was the player of the game, but his line mate, Jakub Vrana (1 goal, 1 assist), was superb using his speed and skill to give the San Jose defense fits all evening. V has been the Caps most consistent forward all season and his hard work is really paying off. The man is going to get paid this offseason.

Alex Ovechkin notched his NHL leading 39th goal in the middle frame after a super feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov, who took a nice drop pass from Tom Wilson and found a seam in the Sharks defense, sliding the disc to the Gr8 that he one timed home to make it 3-1. Ovi also had an assist on Oshie’s PP marker and easily had his best outing since the All Star Break. Alexander the Great had his legs going and he could’ve had a couple of more goals, getting stopped on a partial breakaway and hitting the post on a second period power play.

Willy had himself a super tilt, as well, getting a helper on Kuzy’s goal. He also blocked a shot when San Jose pulled their goalie late, then raced the biscuit down and deposited it into the empty cage to close out the scoring.

Up and down the lineup the Capitals battled and produced wearing out the Sharks defense, which is missing Erik Karlsson. The third unit of Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, and Brett Connolly didn’t notch any points, but they had San Jose on their heels all night. Washington also received its best fourth line effort in quite some time, especially from Dmitrij Jaskin, who won battle after battle.

Washington only took one penalty on Thursday because they outworked the Sharks. There were no lazy hooks since the Caps were skating instead of gliding. When you work hard, you don’t need to commit infractions and that was the case in the Silicon Valley.

On defense, the pairing of Brooks Orpik and Christian Djoos was super sharp. When Djoos is in the lineup, it really solidifies the back end because he is so steady with the puck. He and Orpik are really a good duo, as we saw all last post season.

When the puck did make its way through to the Capitals cage, the Holtbeast was dialed in and didn’t give up many rebounds. Braden has been stellar since regaining his confidence at the All Star Game. What was really impressive was the way the Caps handled the third period. Up 4-1, you would think San Jose would make a huge push, but Washington only allowed three, yes THREE, shots on goal in the first 15 minutes of the final stanza with a swarming effort all over the ice. The Capitals puck support and gap control was as good as it’s been all season. The way they played makes the job of the goaltender much easier.

This triumph improves the Caps to 32-19-7 (71 points). They trail first place New York by 3 points and lead the Blue Jackets and Penguins by four points.

Most importantly, though, they played a complete game, something we haven’t seen from them in nearly two months. That it came against a quality opponent in a hostile building makes it doubly impressive and is why I think it was the teams best performance all season. With just 24 games remaining in the regular season, this type of statement win has to make everyone feel a lot better after what’s been a rough month or so.

Now let’s see if they can keep it up in Los Angeles and Anaheim on Sunday and Monday night, respectively.

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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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