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Backstrom’s OT Tally Propels the Caps Over Colorado

Posted on 17 November 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Despite not having Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and T.J. Oshie due to upper body injuries, the Washington Capitals went into Denver to take on the high flying Avalanche and came out victorious in overtime, 3-2. On a four on three power play, Nicklas Backstrom potted the game winner after Tom Wilson did a great job to win a board battle and get the puck to All Star Nicky in the middle of the ice inside the offensive blue line. From there, with one of the defensemen leaning towards Alexander Ovechkin, #19 played give and go with John Carlson and then sniped it top shelf past former Capital Philipp Grubauer to improve the Caps record to 9-7-3 (21 points).

What follows are 10 thoughts on the triumph in Colorado, as well as the state of the team after three very strong efforts in four nights on the road.

This was one heck of a win because not only did the Caps come out on top with three of their star players out of the lineup, they had to overcome more adversity with the officiating. Mark Joannette has historically been a terrible referee and on Friday night, there was no exception. He missed a blatant high stick by Mikko Rantanen on Dmitry Orlov with six minutes remaining that would’ve given the Capitals a four minute power play when they were up a puck. As luck would have it, Colin Wilson would tie the game up with just less than three minutes to go when a Washington power play lamp lighter could’ve closed the game out. To make matters worse, the game tying goal could have easily been called goalie interference on Matt Calvert for bumping Pheonix Copley in the crease on the initial shot. Capitals Coach Todd Reirden rightly challenged the play and was livid with Joannette, Ghislain Hebert, and the crew in Toronto for not overturning the call on the ice. That challenge though, did buy him some time to get his team refocused and recharged.

The Caps would get their third power play of the evening, all called by Hebert, when Devante Smith-Pelly hustled up the ice and drew an obvious hold on Ian Cole with 1:09 remaining. Washington didn’t score in regulation and with the power play sputtering at five on four lately, the four on three overtime configuration turned out to be a good thing. After the Caps won the faceoff, Carlson made a nice rush into the zone and then top line Tommy won the puck on the wall to set up the winning goal sequence.

Copley was excellent once again in the cage and any off season questions about the backup goalie situation sure look to be of little concern, at this point. Pheonix is a big man (6’ 4”) and takes up a lot of net. He’s doing a super job of stopping the first shot and his teammates are helping him with the rebounds that he’s allowing. After the Avalanche went up 1-0 on a blown defensive assignment by a forward just 68 seconds into the game, Copley stopped one of the top goal scorers in the league, Nathan MacKinnon, on a clean breakaway. If that shot goes in, it’s 2-0 and who knows what happens the rest of the night? That was a timely save right there and he made several of those on this road trip. In the three games in the Midwest he only allowed two pucks against in each contest, so he really stepped up in light of Holtby’s injury situation. Copley has now won four of his last five games.

Hockey is all about intensity, hard work, and attention to detail. For 16 games, the Capitals really didn’t have that on a consistent basis. In the three tilts on this road trip, however, the Caps have brought a steady effort. That effort has resulted in a more structured defensive posture. I don’t think there is any coincidence to the fact that this team, after playing one of the most listless games I’ve ever seen from them on Sunday evening against Arizona, found new energy with the return of Wilson from suspension. That guy brings it every night and is a true professional. Willy was super on Friday night with two assists in a team leading 24:24 of ice time (usually time on ice is led by one of the teams’ defensemen, so this is a pretty significant stat). Anyone who complains about the contract he received over the summer should be dismissed as a person who just doesn’t understand the NHL.

Smith-Pelly not only drew the penalty that led to the game winner, but he scored the first goal for Washington finishing off a pretty passing play between DSP, Chandler Stephenson, and Travis Boyd. Afterwards, Smith-Pelly was happy about drawing the key holding penalty because he wasn’t pleased about being on the ice for the Avalanche tying tally.

Ovechkin had a very good game (goal, 14 shot attempts, 7 SOG, two hits in 23:55) and if not for the zebra mistakes, he might’ve had the game winning goal late in period two. Reirden has had a tendency to put together a “load up” line late in frames and this was at least the second time it has worked. An Oshie goal occurred on the home stand in a similar situation and on Friday night, Ovechkin-Backstrom-Wilson delivered on the rush with 1:31 left in period two.

In the final frame, Washington went to their 1-2-2 neutral zone configuration and also walled off the front of their net. Colorado had only eight shots on goal and two of them came on the game tying sequence. This was a smart strategy given the fatigue level of the Caps and the speed that the Avalanche possesses. Colorado generates a lot of scoring opportunities on the rush and the Capitals did not let them do that in this affair.

This win at the Pepsi Center reminded me a bit of game six in Pittsburgh last spring because of the patched together lineup. All 20 healthy bodies available dressed (including Ilya Samsonov, who was summoned from Hershey to backup Copley) and Reirden did a very good job of avoiding bad matchups with Colorado having last change of personnel. In that huge victory over the Pens, the team stuck to their game plan to pull off an upset when on paper it didn’t seem possible. On Friday night, a win for Washington in their third tilt on the road in four nights with several stars out, plus Joannette in stripes, looked like a daunting task. But they found a way.

As for Kuznetsov, Oshie, and Holtby, they are all day to day. Kuzy was elbowed in the head by Brandon Tanev in period one on Wednesday and the Osh Babe was body slammed to the ice by Josh Morrissey, after an initial clean hit, in the last two minutes in Winnipeg. Morrissey was fined the maximum amount allowed by the league for the interference and unsportsmanlike conduct, but not suspended. What stinks is that the officials, which included the incompetent Kyle Rehman, were looking right at the play and didn’t call a penalty. As a result, the Jets didn’t have to face a six on four situation and they easily hit the empty net when Oshie could barely skate after being WWE’d to the ice. It was very frustrating to see and you can bet that when Winnipeg comes to town on March 10th, Morrissey will have to answer for that dirty hit with his fists.

Overall though, this was a very successful trip to the Midwest of North America by the Capitals. They went 2-1 and played with a much better and consistent compete level. If they keep that up and get some of their injured stars back soon, they have the potential to put a nice little winning streak together.

Notes: Carlson (1 assist) led the defensemen in ice time with 24:03…Backstrom played 20:59…the Caps killed off both Avalanche power plays…the Capitals blocked 18 shots, led by Carlson’s five…the faceoff battle went to Colorado, 34-31, but it was 15-5 for the Avs after 20 minutes. Backstrom was 14-10…Washington’s next game is in Montreal on Monday night at 7:30 pm…Brooks Orpik is eligible to return from long term injured reserve on Wednesday night.

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Nine Thoughts on the Caps-Vegas Series After Game One

Posted on 29 May 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals dropped game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, 6-4, to the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday night at T-Mobile Arena. For the Caps, this was their third straight loss to Vegas this season, with the last two coming in games where Washington relinquished a third period one goal lead.

Game 2 is Wednesday night from Sin City and the Capitals will be looking to play much better and even this series up heading back to Washington for game three on Saturday night at Capital One Arena.

After digesting the loss, what follows are nine thoughts and analysis after one tilt.

Clean up on Aisle Three! – The Caps lost this game in one particular area of the ice, the defensive zone. Washington had, by far, their worst defensive performance of the post season. There were too many turnovers and blown coverages. Pucks were bouncing over players sticks and instead of doing the safe thing and making sure they cleared pucks out of harms way, the Capitals allowed Vegas to get in deep for five goals just to the left of Braden Holtby (28 saves). The biggest turnover of the night was clearly the Devante Smith-Pelly one up the right wing boards that Shea Theodore kept in the offensive zone and fed to Tomas Nosek for the game winning tally with 10:16 remaining. DSP needed to either go high glass there or bank it hard off the boards and, at worst, take an icing. John Carlson and Michal Kempny were the duo that struggled the most on the back end. Those guys both need to be harder on the puck or the man to prevent these layups that the Golden Knights feasted on in their game one triumph.

Somebody Get Me Some Ice – The ice was horrible at T-Mobile in 90 plus degree weather in the desert, but the Golden Knights had to deal with the same sheet. The referees and linesmen were constantly having to fix patches of the playing surface throughout the evening and with temperatures even higher on Wednesday, I don’t see how the ice will be better. Matt Niskanen told me the ice was terrible or they didn’t freeze the pucks, or both, afterwards. Vegas was the team that took advantage of the issue better, by using their quickness to pressure the Capitals into mishandling the biscuit more often. In game two, Niskanen said the best thing for Washington to do is simplify their game to make the bad ice less of a problem. Passes have to happen quicker and be harder to prevent the turnover fest we saw in game one.

Four Score – Washington’s offense was pretty good in this affair and if you score four times, you should win. The line of Jakub Vrana, Nicklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie was the best for Washington. The Osh Babe had two gorgeous assists, to Backy and Carlson, for the second and third Capitals goals, respectively. Vrana and Oshie made life difficult for Vegas on the boards using their speed and tenacity to make their opponents uncomfortable in their own end. Also, Backstrom finally looked closer to the dominant guy we saw in games two and three of the Penguins series, so clearly his right-hand injury is not as much of an issue. This line was one of the big positives in game one and Coach Barry Trotz will be riding this trio a lot on Wednesday. Brett Connolly had a great tip in for the first Caps marker off of a Kempny point shot and Tom Wilson scored on a tipped Alex Ovechkin attempt just 1:10 into period three. The Capitals dented long time nemesis, Marc Andre-Fleury, for four tallies and that was done via a lot of crashing the cage and net presence. Washington must keep that mentality up in game two.

Dynamic Duo– As much as the Caps struggled in their own end, the pair of Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen was plus two when on the ice together in game one. Orlov was the best defensemen for his club and his skating and passing ability is a great counter to Vegas’ heavy forecheck pressure game. Number nine created a lot of scoring chances for the Capitals and he had eight shot attempts. Both played over 24 minutes and will be counted on a ton in game two, like the Backstrom line.

Bad Zebras – The officiating of Marc Joannette and Wes McCauley was an absolute disgrace in game one. The game tying goal in period three from Ryan Reaves came after a blatant cross check of Carlson and Niskanen said afterwards that should have absolutely been a penalty and that if Andre Burakovsky’s penalty in period one was going to be called, then the Reaves hit was way worse and should’ve been whistled. Caps Coach Barry Trotz stated after the game, “I thought we were going on a power play there before their fourth goal.” The impartial former NHL player now turned analyst, Aaron Ward, had a big issue with the missed cross check, but also cited Derek Engelland for “lumberjacking” the whole game as well as an Alex Tuch elbow to the head of Orlov. The zebras also missed too many men on the ice during the Wilson-Jonathan Marchessault incident. Ward was adamant that had the referees huddled on the Reaves goal and called the cross check then they wouldn’t have had to huddle on the Wilson hit because the frustration level wouldn’t have been where it was at. The Capitals were clearly incensed with the lack of calls and Willy took it a little too far with the interference on #81, but again, if the referees call the game correctly, that doesn’t happen. I also thought the linesmen had a bad outing as the icing calls were not consistent. The NHL Supervisor of Officiating needs to call this crew in and reprimand them for overshadowing and becoming too much of a factor in a huge game. Unacceptable! Kelly Sutherland and Chris Rooney will officiate game two, so hopefully the zebras have a better performance.

Not So Gr8 – Ovechkin started the first and second periods and, in both frames, the Capitals came out flat, prompting coach Trotz to start the Backstrom line for period three. Ovi’s first shift of the final frame was his best and his shot was tipped home by Willy to give the Caps a brief third period lead. For the game, Alex only had five shot attempts in 19:09 of ice time. He had four hits, as Washington is trying to be more physical to negate the speed of the Golden Knights, but he didn’t skate well or handle the disc cleanly most of the night. If the Capitals are going to win this series, Ovechkin needs to be a lot better.

Sticking to their Game Plan – Vegas, as I stated in my series preview blog on Sunday, is no fluke. That team plays hard, smart, and sticks to their system. Coach Gerard Gallant pretty much rolled his defensive pairs and forward lines with no Golden Knight blue liner logging more than 20:36 (William Karlsson). Their fourth trio only played just under 10 minutes together, but they dominated the Caps when on the ice. Sure, they got away with some mayhem that should’ve been penalties, but they took advantage of the ignoring of the rulebook by the guys in stripes and scored three times. Nosek had two tallies, with the last being an empty net goal. Both he and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare were plus three in game one and a big reason why Vegas was victorious. On the blue line, Theodore led the way with 21:52, which is a pretty low total. The Golden Knights also scored on their only power play, a point shot from Colin Miller that went through traffic and by Holtby. Vegas is playing with confidence and is now 7-1 on home ice in these playoffs. Their crowd was a big factor in game one – whenever the Knights fell behind, the fans picked up their noise level and it seemed to bring the team energy. T-Mobile arena is loud and boisterous, and that clearly helps their club.

Urgency – The Caps have their work cut out for them in game two. They must play with more urgency to start each period and after they light the lamp, especially since Vegas scored goals on their very next shot after the Caps took their two leads in this affair. Vegas is quicker, but the Capitals had some breakouts that exposed them on the back end for odd man chances. Washington must continue to do that on Wednesday, but most important is puck management and better coverage in their own end. The things to be encouraged by are the strong performance of Backstrom’s line and the Orlov-Niskanen duo. The Caps played a very poor game on Monday, but still had the lead in the final frame, so that is another positive. They need more from Ovechkin and his line, although I thought Evgeny Kuznetsov had a pretty good outing in 19:26 of action. Based on Tuesday’s practice, the Capitals will have the same lineup, but they just need to play much better and execute the game plan.

Notes: The Caps won the shot attempt battle, 68-67, via a 30-23 third period advantage. The first period was not good for Washington, they were out attempted, 25-18 and were fortunate to be tied after 20 minutes…the face-off battle was won by Vegas, 33-31, but Jay Beagle went 11-5. The Caps need to win more draws so they can have more possession time…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:03…both teams only had one power play. Vegas tallied on theirs while the Caps hit the post on their attempt…Washington had 38 hits to 25 for the Golden Knights. Brooks Orpik led the Capitals with nine.

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Poor Start and Missed Call Doom the Caps in Game Five

Posted on 19 May 2018 by Ed Frankovic

For the second time in three games, the Washington Capitals fell behind 3-0 and once again, a late rally wasn’t enough to tie the contest up. As a result, the Caps lost game five, 3-2, and now trail their best of seven series with Tampa, three games to two. Game six is Monday night at Capital One Arena at 8 pm.

Here are nine thoughts on a very tough loss at Amalie Arena, where the home team finally won for the first time in this series.

Poor Period Starts Costly – The Caps gave up goals 19 seconds into the game and 33 seconds into the second period to Tampa’s fourth line! That is inexcusable and was the biggest difference in the outcome. Washington was not prepared mentally to start either period. On the first goal, Dmitry Orlov and Evgeny Kuzentsov made soft plays to lose the puck in the neutral zone and then Orlov badly misplayed the two on one going for the disc and missed badly, which left Cedric Paquette all alone on Braden Holtby (19 saves). On the second period Bolts tally that made it 3-0, Anton Stralman goes around Matt Niskanen like an orange road cone and forced the Holtbeast to have to make a one on one stop. The Caps defense and team was caught flat footed for large stretches of the first 21 minutes.

Bad Zebras! – Referees Wes McCauley and Mark Joannette plus linesmen Johnny Murray and Matt McPherson had a terrible night. On Tampa’s second goal, an Ondrej Palat shot from the slot that Niskanen screened Holtby on, Steven Stamkos CLEARLY trips Orlov at the Washington defensive blue line before the tally and there is no call. As a result the game was 2-0 where it should’ve been 1-0 with a Capitals power play coming. NBC’s Mike Milbury was adamant that the trip should’ve been called and it was at a crucial point in the game. There is NO EXCUSE for missing such a critical infraction that leads to a scoring chance. In addition, Ryan Callahan’s goal, after Stralman went around Niskanen, went in off of his glove. You can argue either way on that one, but once again, the call didn’t go the Caps way. There were also several missed icing calls on the Bolts when the Capitals were storming the castle in periods two and three. The officials cannot be a factor in the outcome of a game and they absolutely were in game five. The Capitals had no power plays in this affair. Unacceptable officiating, once again, and the league should be ashamed, especially after game four was called so well by Chris Rooney and Gord Dwyer. Tampa has at least two or three goals in this series on bad or missed rulings (the Bolts second goal in game two after the terrible high sticking call on T.J. Oshie, the uncalled Stamkos trip in game five, and arguably the power play goal after the Wilson penalty in game two where Chris Kunitz escaped an obvious hooking call).

Stuck in Quicksand – The first period was a disaster. The Bolts had 13 of their 22 shots for the game in that frame and if not for Holtby, it could’ve been worse than 2-0. Washington showed no sense of urgency in their play and weren’t moving their legs. When guys like Callahan and Stralman are going past you, your effort is not where it needs to be. It was a very disappointing start by the Caps in such a critical game. Yes, the missed penalty call hurt, but as we’ve seen for years, if you put the game in the referees’ hands, you will almost always not like the outcome.

Final Forty Push – After it was 3-0, we saw a different Capitals team. Unfortunately, it was too late. The Caps started skating, moving their feet, and being physical. For some reason in that first frame Washington was afraid to hit anyone or use their body to win a puck battle. Against a team like Tampa, you have to be engaged physically and mentally on all shifts, otherwise they will burn you with their effort and skill. The Caps have a lot of skill, but the will was missing in the first 21 minutes and now they have a hill to climb to come back and win this series. Over the last 40 minutes, the shots on goal were 26-9 for the Capitals. They also hit some posts, too. Christian Djoos struck iron off of a faceoff win when it was 3-1 in period two and Alex Ovechkin hit the cross bar when it was that same score in period three. John Carlson had some great looks in this one and missed the net in the second frame in close and in the dying seconds he couldn’t get off a one timer on a great feed. When he tried to go top shelf, Andrei Vasilevskiy (28 saves) slid over and cut off the short side to save the game for Tampa.

Scoring Drought – After putting up 10 goals in the first two games, the Capitals only have six tallies in the last three tilts and two of those have come with the goalie pulled. Washington is not getting enough net presence on Tampa and the Bolts are doing a good job of clogging the shooting lanes. The Caps have to simplify their attack and make the Bolts scramble in their own end. They did some of that in stretches, but we also saw guys passing up quick shots in the slot and a return of bad drop passes. North-south hockey is how the Capitals have to play if they are going to win game six. Come across the blue line and fire the puck on net. That forces the Bolts D to turn and go get the rebounds and with Washington coming with speed, they can then hit the Tampa defense and force turnovers.

Line Changes – Coach Barry Trotz adjusted his lines for period two putting Nicklas Backstrom back with Ovechkin and Tom Wilson. That line was on the ice for the Callahan tally that made it 3-0, but played better after that. Backy is clearly not close to 100%, but with Kuznetsov having a poor first frame, something had to be done. Kuzy would score the Caps first goal on a deflection of a Niskanen point shot in period two and he, Oshie, and Chandler Stephenson played fairly well together. Ovi heated up in the third frame and his rocket cut the game to 3-2 with 96 seconds left. The Caps nearly tied this one up late, but again, they need to be much better earlier.

On Fumes? – Lars Eller struggled and looked slow for much of this contest after taking five penalties in games three and four and you can’t help but think that playing all of those extra minutes with Backstrom out has taken a toll on him. However, after sitting on the bench for a good stretch in period three, he came out with some jump with the extra attacker on and looked better. The Caps need #20 to return to form if they are going to win game six.

Clearing the Mind – The Capitals have seen a 2-0 series lead turn into a 3-2 deficit yet there have been some lengthy stretches where the Caps have carried the play. Washington can’t focus on any of that and must make sure they are ready to go from puck drop on Monday night. They have to play hard and smart. They have been prone to the big mistake in this series and that’s why they are on the brink of elimination. Tampa has blown a 3-2 lead before, just two years ago to the Penguins when the Bolts also had home ice advantage. Washington must come out and check from the get go. No soft plays and make the simple decision, which is usually going north with the puck up the boards. The start in game four was good right up until Michal Kempny’s poor decision to try a blind back pass up the middle of the ice. Kempny was much better in game five, but Niskanen and Orlov along with many others didn’t come ready to play. This team has been resilient all year. Many have already written them off, but until one team wins four games it’s not over. The Capitals need to give everything they have on Monday night to force a game seven where anything can happen.

Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle, 27-26, and Backstrom won 12 of 17 draws with a bad hand…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:54 and he also led the team in shots on net, with eight…Djoos played 15:06 on the back end since the Capitals were trailing and he was very good at moving the puck. He needs to look to shoot a little more, since he has a good one…Tampa’s fourth line of Kunitz, Paquette, and Callahan logged nearly 15 minutes and was +2. They simply outworked the Capitals when they were on the ice and that’s something the Caps need to address…shot attempts were 29-8 for Tampa in period one and 51-19 for Washington the rest of the way.

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