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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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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 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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Caps Win in TO

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Ovechkin, Wilson Both Score While Holtby Shuts the Door on Toronto

Posted on 21 February 2019 by Ed Frankovic

Hometown boy Tom Wilson scored what turned out to be the game winning goal shorthanded and also added an assist on Toronto native Brett Connolly’s 15th tally of the season as the Washington Capitals defeated the Maple Leafs, 3-2, on Thursday night. Braden Holtby made 40 saves and Alex Ovechkin notched his league leading 43rd lamp lighter of the campaign on the power play to open the scoring. Andreas Johnsson and John Tavares added third period markers for the Leafs, who were playing without Cap killer Nazem Kadri (out with a concussion suffered in Tuesday’s OT loss to St. Louis).

This was the fifth of a sixth game road trip for the Capitals, who flew from Los Angeles to Toronto on Tuesday afternoon. The Caps played very well against Mike Babcock’s Stanley Cup contending team, employing a strong defensive zone system to hold a very high scoring club to just two red lights, one of which came with 32 seconds remaining and the goalie pulled (Tavares’ 34th goal). Washington did a lot of what they did last post season, they kept five defenders in tight in front of the Holtbeast and made the Leafs have to fight to get to the front of the cage. The strategy was largely successful, although Toronto had some super looks that Holtby stopped throughout the contest. Braden also did get some crossbar help on a rebound in period one when the game was scoreless.

It wasn’t until 3:54 into period two that someone scored. Evgeny Kuznetsov drew a holding penalty on Morgan Reilly and 16 seconds later Washington had the lead. The tally came off of an offensive zone draw with T.J. Oshie getting the puck to John Carlson at the point. Carly then fed the Gr8 for a rocket from inside the left blue line that beat Frederik Andersen (25 saves) to his glove side while he was moving to his right. It was vintage Ovechkin and he always seems to be able to elevate his game in the Big Smoke.

At the 12:07 mark, the Capitals extended their scoreboard advantage. Willy went in behind the net and put a big hit on Jake Gardiner knocking him to the ground to force a turnover. Willy’s skate touched the puck and Lars Eller quickly scooped it up. Tiger fed Connolly in the slot; Conno made a nice move to get Andersen to commit and then he slid the puck around Andersen’s right pad into the yawning cage.

Washington took that 2-0 lead into the final frame and it was a defensive zone face off loss that put Toronto on the board. Eller did not win the draw and the Leafs scored back door to gain some life at the 4:23 mark. Carlson subsequently took a hooking penalty at 5:48 and it looked like the home team had all of the momentum, at that point. Eller, however, would end any of that with a defensive zone grab of a rebound and then he carried the puck up the ice quickly two on one with a hard charging Top Line Tommy. Lars put the puck right on Willy’s stick in the slot and the big winger fired a sparkling shot top shelf up over Andersen’s shoulder into the left corner to squelch any momentum and restore the two goal cushion.

From there, the Capitals played smart and hard on the puck getting chances to extend the lead, but Andersen was playing well, too. Toronto, however, was relentless and ended up putting 21 shots on net in the final frame. Tavares’ marker with 32 seconds left came with Andersen on the bench for the extra attacker and was the result of a weird bounce off of a failed Cap clear into the slot. Washington bench boss Todd Reirden responded by putting Nicklas Backstrom, Eller, and Oshie on the ice at forward and the Caps closed things out to pick up points five and six on this critical road trip with Saturday’s afternoon tilt in Buffalo still looming.

Overall, this was a solid win. It wasn’t as good as their best effort of the season in San Jose, but considering the opponent and the fact that the Leafs were 2-0 against Washington in 2018-19, it was up there as far as quality victories go while the Capitals are defending Stanley Cup Champions.

Several players had super games to include Wilson and Eller (2 assists), but I really liked the performance from Dmitry Orlov, which I’ll put up there as one of his best outings of the season. Dima was strong with the puck and was outstanding with his breakouts. He and Matt Niskanen faced Auston Matthews or Tavares and their line mates much of the night and did extremely well. They both played just over 22 minutes and are starting to look like the dominating shutdown duo that they were in 2017-18.

The Capitals fourth line of Chandler Stephenson, Nic Dowd, and Travis Boyd turned in one of that unit’s better games. With Devante Smith-Pelly waived then assigned to Hershey on Thursday and Carl Hagelin coming in from LA via trade (for a 3rd and 6th round draft pick – the Kings kept 50% of Carl’s salary), the heat is on for playing time and that trio delivered against a very talented club. The speedy Hagelin, who historically has killed the Capitals in the post season (5-1 in playoff series vs. WAS), is set to practice with Washington in Buffalo on Friday and then suit up for Saturday’s 1 pm matinee there. Coach Reirden will have to pull someone out of the lineup so that #62 can play. Hagelin is a very good penalty killer, so the hope is that he can help a special teams group that has struggled most of the season.

In three of the last four games the Caps have played a style that was reminiscent of what they employed last spring and has resulted in triumphs in San Jose, Los Angeles, and Toronto. Yes, the Anaheim game was a dud, but overall the Capitals look fresher and more engaged since the All Star Game and bye week break (7-3-1). They need to be because the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference standings are really tight. The Caps improved to 34-20-7 (75 points) and trail the New York Islanders by two points, but the Islanders have a game in hand. In third place are the Penguins with 71 points, but fourth place Carolina is at 70 points and Columbus is next at 69 points. It is expected that the Blue Jackets will have to move both Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky by Monday’s trade deadline since each has said they will not sign a long term deal to stay in Ohio.

Standings points are critical at this juncture, and for the Caps, they did enough good things and once again received stellar goaltending from the Holtbeast to prevail in a very tough building.

Notes: The Caps were creamed on face offs again, 36-17. Dowd was the best, going 4-4…shot attempts were 89-65 for Toronto, but the quality chances were pretty even. The Caps are doing a better job of keeping opponents on the perimeter…the Capitals were 1 for 3 on the power play and 2 for 2 while shorthanded…the Caps blocked 21 shots. Wilson and Brooks Orpik each had 4…hits were 35-17 for the Capitals. Orpik, Wilson, and Dowd led the team with five…Norris Trophy Carlson led all skaters for both teams in ice time with 26:43.

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Ovi Kings Feb 2019

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Ovechkin’s Two Goals Carry the Caps Over LA

Posted on 19 February 2019 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin scored twice on the power play on great feeds from John Carlson as the Caps raced out to a 3-0 lead after 40 minutes and then they hung on for a 3-2 win over the Kings on Monday night. It was the Caps first victory at the Staples Center since December 14, 2005.

Pheonix Copley made 26 saves in net for the Caps. Washington rebounded after a real dud in Anaheim on Sunday night. Defeating LA on the second night of a back to back situation was very important in a crowded Metropolitan Division and Washington is now two wins and two losses on their season long six game road trek that continues in Toronto and Buffalo, on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

This triumph improves the Capitals to 33-20-7 (73 points) and they trail the first place Islanders by three points (New York has two games in hand) and they lead third place Columbus by four points (the Blue Jackets have two games in hand). These were two huge points because Carolina, who right now is the ninth place team in the Eastern Conference, is just five points in back of Washington.

This game didn’t start well for the Capitals as they struggled with their passing early on. An errant attempt up the right wing by John Carlson was picked off by Carl Hagelin at the Caps defensive blue line and #62 sent Ilya Kovalchuk in all alone on Pheonix Copley. Fortunately for Washington, Copley came up with a terrific save on the former NHL #1 pick (2001 by the Atlanta Thrashers). A few minutes later, Carlson was boxed for tripping Anze Kopitar and it took a clear in the crease by Matt Niskanen to once again prevent the Kings from scoring first on their subsequent power play.

The Capitals most consistent player in 2018-19 terms of effort, Jakub Vrana, then drew a trip on Derek Forbort. Washington went to the man advantage and 80 seconds into it, the Caps drew first blood. Carlson and Alex Ovechkin played pitch and catch a few times before the Gr8 rocketed one by Jack Campbell for his 41st goal of the campaign. It was also Carlson’s 300th NHL point. Just twenty seconds later the Capitals were up two pucks. Andre Burakovsky made a strong play on the right wing wall and with Lars Eller in front and Brett Connolly going to the high danger scoring area, #65 floated one towards the cage that Conno deflected in for his 14th goal of the season. Good things happen when you get pucks and bodies to the net. Those are the types of plays that lead to red lights in the post season and something we need to see more of from Washington. It’s just good ole fashioned hard work and smart hockey.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, who had one of his really down games in Anaheim on Sunday night, nearly made it 3-0 with a great net drive, but Campbell came up large.

In the middle frame, the Caps pushed to extend their lead, however, on a few occasions, they were guilty of forcing the puck to the middle of the ice or trying unnecessary drop passes. The Kings would snag those and go the other way, but Washington did a great job of back checking and the defensemen were very effective at getting their sticks in the lanes. As was the case in period one, Vrana drew another tripping penalty with his speed at 5:02, this time sending former Flyer Jeff Carter to the sin bin, and then the Capitals power play cashed in again just 25 seconds later. Carlson, after taking a pass from Nicklas Backstrom, made a gorgeous head and body fake at the top of the point that confused Campbell. That allowed the Norris Trophy candidate to slide the puck over to his left to Ovi for, you guessed it, another patented one timer. This one wasn’t as hard as the first rocket that found the twine, but because Campbell was duped by Carly, he never was set and the Gr8 beat him again for his 42nd marker of the season and a three goal Caps lead.

From there, Washington was much smarter with the biscuit and the attempted drop passes and forced discs to the center of the ice in the offensive zone were eliminated from their game for the rest of the middle stanza. The Caps did a great job of going up and down the ice in a tight five man unit and as a result, Los Angeles didn’t get many quality looks. When the Kings did get a shot off, a Capitals player was usually in the lane to block it and after 40 minutes, Coach Todd Reirden’s crew had blocked 14 of the 37 LA shot attempts. Brooks Orpik had a big one on Kopitar when Washington was shorthanded after another hooking infraction by Michal Kempny, although this one wasn’t a bad penalty, LA was about to get a quality scoring chance.

For the first eight minutes of period three, the Capitals put puck after puck deep into the Kings zone and put a lot of pressure on the Los Angeles defense. However, on the next shift the Caps second line wasn’t able to get the disc below the Kings goal line and that allowed Dustin Brown to carry the puck in deep into Washington’s end to feed Alex Iafallo on the back door for a tap in with 11:40 remaining. Washington settled down and kept the Kings at bay, but you could start to see fatigue set in with the Caps having played in Anaheim the night before. The zebras, Chris Lee and Steve Kozari, appeared to have put away their whistles based on some things being let go, but after Tom Wilson and Kyle Clifford were sent off for unsportsmanlike conduct, Lee called a really weak and late penalty on Ovi when the home crowd moaned for the whistle. Given what had been allowed in the frame to that point, it was a horrendous penalty from a consistency standpoint.

Los Angeles coach Willie Desjardins pulled the goalie with 5:17 left to give his team a five on three down just two pucks, but the Kings shot wide and Orpik, who was a beast on defense all night, cleared the biscuit down the ice. When Willy and Clifford came out of the box, Campbell went back in net. Washington was holding off LA nicely until, with Campbell pulled again late, Kovalchuk beat Copley with a bomb from just inside the blue line with 27 seconds remaining. The Capitals would ultimately hold on as a last second Drew Doughty shot went wide at the buzzer.

This was not a pretty win for the Caps, but it was a strong team effort. The Kings are near the bottom in the NHL standings and by default, in the race for the “Lose for Hughes” sweepstakes, but they played hard, never quitting even when three pucks down. Washington, outside of Thursday’s beautiful win in San Jose, has not made finishing games easy lately and that was the case, once again, but they did get the job done.

Copley was solid in net and Ovi stepped up to score two big goals, with the last one proving to be the margin of victory.

Notes: the Caps continue to get creamed on faceoffs losing 27 of the 40 draws on Monday night. They were 16-38 against the Ducks the night before…Niskanen had a strong outing and led the Caps in ice time with 23:47, but Carlson (2 assists) was just a tick behind at 23:46…T.J. Oshie was injured in Sunday’s tilt against the Ducks and left at the game’s midway point, but he returned for the full contest at the Staples Center logging 16:16. He didn’t have a shot on goal, but he won a bunch of puck battles…Connolly is one goal away from tying his career high…Nic Dowd and Travis Boyd were in the lineup with Devante Smith-Pelly and Dmitrij Jaskin getting scratched following Sunday night’s debacle against the Ducks…the Caps were 2 for 2 on the power play and 3 for 3 on the penalty kill. The special teams have had their struggles this season, but in this affair they were very good.

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Ovi Beags Feb 5 2019

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Braden Holtby Comes Up Big for the Caps on Jay Beagle Night

Posted on 06 February 2019 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby made 30 saves and Jakub Vrana had the game winning tally as well as an assist as the Washington Capitals knocked off the Vancouver Canucks, 3-2, at Capital One Arena on Tuesday night. Evgeny Kuznetsov added two helpers and T.J. Oshie notched his 16th goal of the season in the triumph, which coupled with the Islanders 3-1 loss in Boston, moves the Caps just two points behind first place New York in the Metropolitan Division. Coach Barry Trotz’ squad still has a game in hand.

Below are my thoughts and analysis of an up and down affair for Washington that improves their record to 29-18-6 (64 points) and puts them in sole possession of second place in the Metro.

It was the return of Jay Beagle night. The Caps put together a video that afterwards Jay called “First class” and also caused him to have trouble playing the rest of that period. The Washington faithful showed their appreciation for the hardest working player on the Caps from 2008 to 2018, which culminated with a Stanley Cup triumph last June, with a long and well deserved ovation. Beags received an amazing four year, $12M contract from the Canucks in the offseason. At the first television timeout the team unleashed the Beagle video and it was incredible. After it ended and during the standing ovation from the crowd, Alex Ovechkin came over and gave Jay a hug, which represented a “thank you for being a huge part of the Capitals organization for so many years, including the Stanley Cup run.” Beagle is one that fought long odds to make the NHL, but his work ethic always took his game to a higher level and he is still the only player in history to win a championship at the ECHL, AHL, and NHL levels. I’ve followed Jay’s career since 2008 and was fortunate to cover him when he won those two Calder Cups in Hershey in 2009 and 2010. There aren’t many classier people in hockey than #83 and it was great to spend a few minutes with him after the game. He is definitely missed by the Caps organization, but the business side was the sole reason for the team change.

The Caps came out flying in this affair and Oshie stole the puck in the offensive zone on a great effort to start the sequence that led to the game’s first tally. Ovechkin took the puck from #77 and skated around the Canucks net and found a streaking Nicklas Backstrom in the slot. All star Nicky fired on net, but Jacob Markstrom (28 saves) made the stop. The rebound, however, bounced into the slot and the Osh Babe buried it for his 16th goal of the campaign just three minutes into the contest. For the rest of the period the Capitals went all Princess Bride storming the castle, but they were unable to get another marker. For the frame, Washington outshot the Canucks 18-5 and shot attempts were 26-10.

In the middle stanza, the game totally flipped. It was Vancouver who was all over the Caps out shot attempting them 24-8, including 13-4 in shots on goal. Michal Kempny took an early hooking penalty at 3:45 and if not for Holtby, they would’ve tied the game. Midway through the period, with both clubs at even strength, Tyler Motte and Beagle had quality chances just eight seconds apart that #70 denied with some sparkling saves. The Canucks could’ve easily had three or four goals in period two if not for the Holtbeast. Following the contest, Beagle said “that’s what Holts does,” then added, “he said sorry to me for making that big save.” At 12:53, Jonas Siegenthaler, who had a rough night paired with Brooks Orpik (-2), hooked Bo Horvat and the referees correctly signaled for a penalty shot. Horvat came flying in, but he was denied by Holtby, who was dialed in all evening. The stellar goaltending allowed Washington to take a 1-0 lead into period three.

The Caps were better in the last 20 minutes and extended their lead to 2-0 when Vrana used his speed to open up space in the offensive zone. Jakub passed the disc to Kuznetsov inside the blueline. Kuzy then drove to the net and tried to slide a pass across the top of the crease to Vrana on the back door, but it hit a Canucks stick and Brett Connolly came in crashing the cage to bury the biscuit for his 10th goal of the season. That tally came 5:47 into period three, but the Canucks cut the deficit in half when Antoine Roussel went around Siegenthaler and then fed Markus Granlund behind Orpik and Backstrom at 8:02. With 7:47 remaining, the Capitals earned an insurance marker on Vrana’s goal from behind the net that he banked in off of Markstrom while Kuznetsov unsuccessfully played Cal Ripken trying to bat the disc into the cage. Had Kuzy touched the puck, a goal would not have counted, but fortunately #92 did his best Chris Davis imitation (a swing and a miss!). Tom Wilson, who earned an assist on that goal, had a chance to close this one out with the empty net, but with 2:21 to go, he shot wide of the cage from just inside the red line. Vancouver would continue pressing and when Orpik knocked Horvat into Holtby, Elias Petterson shot the puck into the open net with six seconds remaining to end the scoring.

On the penalty front, the Caps took three infractions which led to two power plays and a penalty shot. The defensive zone penalty on Kuznetsov was a weak call, but the other two were instances when a defensemen was beaten badly in a one on one situation. That is happening far too often and the coaching staff needs to address it. Washington’s penalty killing unit did go a perfect two for two.

Speaking of defense, Dmitry Orlov had one of his stronger outings in recent months logging 20:46 and not being on the ice for any goals against. On the downside, the Orpik-Seigenthaler duo had issues and while I’m a big fan of how far #34 has progressed in a year, he appears to be hitting a wall at the NHL level, but that’s totally understandable. The Capitals really need Christian Djoos, who is in Hershey on a long term conditioning assignment, to come back soon.

Lars Eller returned to the lineup after tweaking a muscle and missing the Boston game on Sunday. Lars played 16:44 on Tuesday and was a very impressive 11-2 on faceoffs. Eller has not had a strong season so far and the Caps will need some serious production and consistency from him over the last 29 games and into the postseason.

Kuznetsov was engaged on Tuesday and was a big reason the Caps won the game. When he plays well, the team tends to come out on top. Consistency is what Coach Todd Reirden needs out of #92 going forward.

Vrana, who might be the team’s hardest working player now that Beagle has moved on, was outstanding using his speed to generate chances. He’s having a very consistent and terrific season (31 points in 53 games).

Overall, this was a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde game for Washington, who isn’t making things easy for themselves these days. Things seem to change shift to shift and some of the decisions with the disc are baffling. When they play the proper way with pucks going towards the cage or behind it and not forced into the high slot, they do well. When they try to play fancy hockey, that’s when they get in trouble.

At the end of the night the Capitals picked up two points, however, the main reason the Caps won the hockey game was because of their goalie. Long Live the Holtbeast!

Notes: John Carlson was +2 and led the Caps in ice time with 25:19…the Capitals won the faceoff battle, 28-25, but Beagle was 9-2 for Vancouver…final shot attempts were 57-54, for Washington…the Caps had one power play and both units did well, but couldn’t close the deal…next up for the Caps are the Colorado Avalanche at Capital One Arena on Thursday at 7 pm.

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Backstrom Beats Bruins

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

Posted on 10 January 2019 by Ed Frankovic

“Who own da Bruins?”

“Owwwwwnnnnnnsssss, owns the Bruins.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Caps over Flyers Willy V 44

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Caps Send the Flyers to Their 8th Straight Loss

Posted on 08 January 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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