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Game 2 Canes

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Orpik Wins Game 2 for Caps in Overtime

Posted on 13 April 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Backy Canes

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Backstrom and Holtby Carry Caps Past Canes in Game One

Posted on 11 April 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

Here’s your game one thoughts and analysis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ovi Score Canes

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Kuznetsov Leads the Caps to a 4-1 Win Over Carolina

Posted on 26 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

It was Evgeny Kuznetsov Bobblehead night at Capital One Arena and real life Kuzy took over a key game against the Carolina Hurricanes to lead his club to a huge victory over a very good Canes squad, 4-1. Braden Holtby was strong in net once again, stopping 26 of 27 shots, and Alex Ovechkin had the game winning tally early in the third period with a bomb to notch his 49th goal of the season.

This night, however, was all about the guy Don Cherry called “A Jerk” on Hockey Night in Canada last week because the crazy suit man doesn’t like Europeans or anyone else that draws attention to himself. Cherry is basically the pot calling the kettle black and Kuzy taunted the HNIC host with three fantastic assists. The first one was an absolute gem to give Washington a 1st period lead, a perfect backhand feed threaded through two Canes and the slot to T.J. Oshie waiting just off of the far post. The Osh Babe promptly put the biscuit in the basket for his 23rd goal of the season.

Washington would carry the play in the middle frame, and Ovi nearly had number 49 after a great dish from Top Line Tom Wilson on a two on one, but Petr Mrazek made a superb read and sliding save on the Gr8’s rocket. The Caps then took a delayed penalty and instead of working immediately to touch the puck up, they changed personnel. That move would prove costly as Carolina added the extra attacker and scored on a Dougie Hamilton shot from the blue line. Holtby didn’t save it because it nicked Oshie on the way to the cage.

That set the stage for a 20 minute battle to see who would come out on top and it was the Capitals who would seize the lead at 4:31 of the third period. Kuznetsov made a strong play in his own zone and then in the neutral zone he fed Willy up the right wing boards. As #43 entered the offensive zone Ovechkin moved to the center of the ice above the circles and that’s when Wilson fed Ovi with a pass that he blasted by Mrazek.

John “Norris” Carlson then notched his 13th goal of the season with just under nine minutes left to give the Caps a stranglehold on this affair. On the cycle in the offensive zone, Kuznetsov made a smart pass on the right wing boards back to Dmitry Orlov in the middle of the ice just inside the blue line. With Carly heading to the net as Kuzy was going back to the point to cover him, Dima fed #74 for a fairly easy wide open net deflection past Mrazek, who had lost his stick during the sequence.

The Caps closed this one out when Ovechkin made a strong play on the defensive zone right wing boards to get the puck out of the Caps end and to Nicklas Backstrom in the neutral zone. Backy skated to the red line and quickly turned his head backwards like he was looking to dish to Ovi for #50. That sly move allowed him to then slide the disc through three Canes and into the empty cage to send the DC faithful home happy.

This was an intense affair with the Caps really playing well the last 50 minutes. Carolina came out strong, but the Capitals really didn’t let Cap Killer Sebastian Aho get loose to beat them. On the evening the all star had only two shots on goal and was -1. Washington played quality defense all up and down the lineup. I thought this was one of Brooks Orpik’s best games of the season as he logged 17:54, had five hits, four blocked shots, and was +1.

In fact, the entire defense performed well and the minutes were fairly balanced. Carlson led the team with had 21:48, Orlov logged 20:55, Niskanen was at 20:43, Jensen played 19:44, and Djoos had 15:25 of ice time. Since the Capitals were never shorthanded and they only had two power plays, that allowed the coaches to keep the ice time well distributed.

This critical victory had a playoff like feel to it with the tight checking and lack of special teams’ opportunities. Zebras Garrett Rank and Kevin Pollock pretty much let the players decide the outcome, so kudos to them for not getting whistle happy.

Washington is now 45-24-8 (98 points) and with the Islanders losing to Columbus on Tuesday night, the Caps lead over both the Isles and Penguins is three points with five games remaining. The Capitals will next play three straight games on the road; Carolina on Thursday, Tampa on Saturday, and then Florida on Monday. If they pick up four points, then they can close the division out with wins at home next week against Montreal and the Islanders, regardless of what Pittsburgh does in its last five games, four of which are at home.

The Canes, who have been labeled a “Bunch of Jerks” by Cherry, are really good at home and we know Saturday’s game against the Bolts will be a war, so getting four points out of six on this trip won’t be easy. It’s important for Washington to take it one game at a time and keep improving their play. On Tuesday night they stuck to their system and didn’t become unstructured. Carolina will try to force the Caps into a free flowing game in an attempt to create odd man rush opportunities in Raleigh on Thursday. Washington must stay out of the box and back check effectively. It’s also critical to not turn pucks over at the offensive zone blue line.

The Caps did all of those things well on Tuesday and they received a stellar performance from Kuznetsov. When Kuzy decides he’s going to play, he is as good as anyone in the NHL and the Caps are extremely hard to defeat. He is Washington’s “Jerk” and a big reason why this team won the Stanley Cup last year. They’ll need #92 firing on all cylinders again this spring if they want to repeat.

But first things first, there are still five games to go and Coach Todd Reirden needs everyone pulling on the rope for this team to be successful. The win saved a Caps home stand that started 0-1-1, but ended 2-1-1.

Most importantly, the team performed better and better as it progressed. They need to iterate on that and finish strong.

Notes: Shots on goal were even at 28. Ovi led all players with five…Ovechkin and Orlov were both +3…Carlson hit the 400 point mark in this affair and continues to justify anyone who lists him 1st in the Norris Trophy balloting this season…the Capitals lost the face off battle, 35-26, but Nic Dowd was 7-2…Wilson had an assist and was +2 in 18:41 of ice time. He also had four hits…Jordan Staal was the best Cane. He was +1 and 15-7 on draws in 17:48 of ice time…On Monday, Coach Reirden announced that injured defensemen Michal Kempny will be out indefinitely. Number 6 is on crutches and there is no timetable for his return. Cedric Paquette of Tampa and Bad Zebras are to blame for his injury…the Caps toured the White House on Monday afternoon and received a hero’s welcome from President Donald Trump, who said that last year all his staff could talk about was the Capitals playoff run. Number 45 also stated he is a big hockey and Caps fan and his daughter, Ivanka, is friends with the Gr8. It was a splendid ceremony in the Oval Office and Ovechkin, Carlson, and Kuznetsov were all individually praised by the Prez, who was very gracious to Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, his son, Zach, and the entire organization that were present. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was on hand, as well, and received kudos on his work from President Trump. Before Tuesday’s game, Wilson said that the visit was a motivator for the Capitals and their play against the Canes backed that up.

 

 

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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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Connolly 20th

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

Posted on 19 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Hagelin, Backstrom, and Copley Help the Caps Win Again

Posted on 11 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

There are no style points for wins in the NHL and rightly so.

On Sunday night at Capital One Arena, the Washington Capitals knocked off the Winnipeg Jets, 3-1, behind goals from All Star Nicklas Backstrom, Carl Hagelin, and Lars Eller plus 33 saves from Pheonix Copley. It was the Caps seventh straight triumph and they’ve opened up a four point lead in the Metropolitan Division with a 41-21-7 (89 points) record.

After a fast and free flowing first frame, this contest turned into a choppy affair between two of the best squads in the NHL. The Capitals seized the lead in period one when Backstrom finished off a very nice passing play with John “Norris” Carlson and Michal Kempny via a sweet top shelf shot from the slot. Carlson notched his 50th assist of the 2018-19 season on a sequence that started with some good work by both Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie down low in the offensive zone.

The Caps, however, would yield the advantage less than two minutes later when former Cap Matthieu Perrault deposited the puck into a yawning cage after Washington, which had all five players collapsed into the high danger area on defense, bungled their coverage around Copley.

It’s well documented that I am not a fan of French Canadian zebras and Jean Hebert did nothing to change my opinion in this affair. The Capitals were called for two penalties in 26 seconds at 14:28 of the opening stanza. The Jets tried to set up Patrick Laine from the Ovi spot for several one-timers, but Copley made some sliding stops and his defense got in the shooting lanes to block shots, one of which came from Matt Niskanen. Nisky, who got his left glove hand in the way of a low rocket from the Finnish forward, would leave for the balance of the period after that sacrifice, but he returned and ended up logging 20:10 on the night. It’s often the case that the team that scores on a five on three situation wins the game while a squad that survives that sequence typically goes on to victory. Washington killed off the 94 seconds of five on three time and then the remaining portion of the too many men penalty they incurred.

While the Capitals gained momentum with their stellar penalty killing unit late in period one, the second period saw them on their heels for much of the frame. Hagelin took two minors, but after the second one expired he came out of the box and Nic Dowd hit him with a perfect high flip pass at the Winnipeg blue line. The former Cap killer raced in and beat Connor Hellebuyck five hole to give the good guys a 2-1 lead with 5:28 left in period two. Washington only had six, yes six, shot attempts to 24 for the Jets in the middle 20 minutes. 15 of them were on net, but there really weren’t any quality looks, most of them were from the perimeter.

In the final period, shot attempts were 21-15 for the Jets, but again, hardly any of the Winnipeg attempts were high danger chances. Washington pretty much struggled with the puck most of the night, but they clogged the neutral zone and didn’t allow a team with great speed and skill to rack up quality scoring chances. Backstrom, Osh Babe, and Vrana shut down one of the best lines in the league in Laine, Mark Scheifele, and Blake Wheeler. Coach Reirden praised their work afterwards and they were one of the biggest reasons the Caps won this game.

Copley was really strong, as well, stopping the first shot and then his defense cleared any loose change all evening long. Along with the 10 blocked shots, there was a major commitment on the part of the Capitals to protect their own end first. Dmitry Orlov (1 assist) blocked a shot with his head while Dowd and Nick Jensen had notable blocks, as well (Nisky mentioned all of those guys in his post game presser).

Offensively, it was a Seinfeld-esque “low flow” night with the puck. Washington struggled to get any type of transition game going, although they did use their speed to stretch the Jets on a couple of occasions, most notably Hagelin and Andre Burakovsky. Dowd, Travis Boyd, and Burky were very successful at seizing momentum for the Caps on their shifts and as a result, Coach Reirden gave them about nine minutes and change of ice time. That fourth forward unit has really been working hard and wearing out their opponents since they were assembled for the Rangers game on March 3rd.

As for the Caps top line, Evgeny Kuznetsov had a one shot attempt outing. He was not very good outside of a hard on the puck shift with about three minutes left in the game. Kuzy didn’t really battle in this one and as a result, Alex Ovechkin only had three shot attempts (1 shot on goal). Tom Wilson logged 18:09, but the biscuit wasn’t really bouncing his way, however, his hard work with the net empty late in regulation led to Eller’s game sealing tally. Willy played a gritty contest, something the Caps needed to knock off a speed based squad in Winnipeg. His pass to Eller for the empty netter was an unselfish one, but as Coach Reirden noted, the right play and a team first decison.

For the night, the Capitals were a perfect five for five on the penalty kill in 8:26 of shorthanded time. Washington only received four minutes of power play time. Coach Reirden stated afterwards that he felt some of the calls against his club were questionable, but he was pleased that the guys in stripes, and the review room in Toronto, correctly upheld the no goal ruling when the Jets clearly put a puck in the net well after a whistle was blown and as a result of Winnipeg players pushing Copley into his own cage. I credit referee Kelly Sutherland for handling that situation well, although I don’t think the Jets should’ve been able to challenge since the whistle was clearly blown well before the puck went across the goal line.

Overall, the Capitals did what they needed to prevail. Getting this win with a four game road trip now on the upcoming slate was big. Washington will go to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Philadelphia on Thursday, Tampa on Saturday, and then New Jersey the following Tuesday in a tough stretch against some very strong competition. The commitment they’ve shown since the all star break will be necessary from ALL players if they are going to keep this train rolling into Pennsylvania this week. The Penguins have won four of their last five and the Flyers defeated the Islanders twice on Long Island over the last eight days. The Bolts are lighting up the league like a pinball machine and they’ll be out for revenge after the Caps knocked them off in the Eastern Conference Finals last spring. Saturday will be the first meeting between the two teams since game seven.

Notes: Carlson once again led the Caps in ice time with 23:38…the Caps lost the face off battle, 35-19. Backy was 9-12 and Kuzy was 5-6…Hagelin logged 15:02 and is already a “go to” guy for this coaching staff in many situations…Orlov had his second straight quality performance.

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Holtby Blanks the Devils in the Caps 6th Straight Victory

Posted on 08 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 06 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Posted on 03 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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