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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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Jojo SWG

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Johansson’s OT Tally Wins the Series for the Caps

Posted on 24 April 2017 by Ed Frankovic

It took six close games, five of them decided in overtime, for the Washington Capitals to finally extinguish the Toronto Maple Leafs with Marcus Johansson tallying his second goal of the night to give the Caps a 2-1 victory 6:31 into the extra session. The Caps will now move on to face the Pittsburgh Penguins in round two, starting on Thursday night at the Verizon Center, in what is a rematch of last spring’s second round battle.

Like game five, this was another tight defensive battle with strong goaltending. Neither team scored through 40 minutes, with the Leafs owning the lead in the shot attempt totals, at 47-38, but the Caps had the better of the scoring chances, especially their second line.

In the third period, it was anyone’s game, but Washington started to take over with their depth. The Capitals had several good scoring chances, but then a weird bounce and a missed defensive assignment cost them the first goal.

Morgan Reilly dumped the puck in to the Caps end and it took a crazy carom off of the glass into the slot. Auston Matthews, who is already a star in this league at age 19, jumped on the puck and went in alone on Braden Holtby (37 saves). The kid from the desert went top shelf on the Holtbeast to make it 1-0 just 7:45 into the final frame. It was a fortuitous break for Toronto, but the goal was preventable. Had Evgeny Kuznetsov kept skating instead of gliding at the Caps defesnsive blue line, he could have beaten Matthews to the puck. It’s a good lesson for #92 and the whole team to learn in the playoffs – a single missed stride can cost your team a goal.

In the past, the Matthews tally might have devastated the Caps bench, but not this year. No, this team amped their game up and started taking the play to the Maple Leafs and just over five minutes after #34 had all of Yonge Street thinking there was going to be a game seven, the Caps tied it up.

Lars Eller made a strong offensive zone entry on the left wing boards and he fed a streaking Johansson in the slot. Marcus pushed the puck ahead to escape the Leaf defender and then he pinballed one in off of Frederik Andersen (34 saves) into the net with just 7:09 remaining. It was a monstrous tally and it came because the Capitals started to push the play.

Washington would continue to do that and then in the overtime, they took their game to 11.

The Caps had no thoughts of sitting back on Coach Mike Babcock’s squad and they thoroughly outworked and dominated a young Leafs team in the overtime. They had several scoring chances, Comcast’s Alan May had it 7 to 1, with Jojo getting his second of the night and the series winner on a play where he simply did what he had done all season long to score a career high in goals (24), he went to the front of the net.

A Leafs icing forced Babcock to leave a tired crew on the ice, which included game one goat, Martin Marincin, as well as his fourth line (Kasperi Kapanen-Brian Boyle-Matt Martin). Coach Barry Trotz took his third line off and inserted Johansson, Kuznetsov, and Mr. Clutch, Justin Williams. Kuznetsov, who like many other Caps centers struggled on draws all game, won a huge face off against Boyle. When Stick received the puck from John Carlson on the right wing half wall, he smartly fired it on net. Jojo was parked in the slot above the paint and he appeared to tip the initial shot into Andersen’s pads and then fought off Marincin to bury the game and series clincher.

Wow, what a game and what a performance by the Caps once they were down, 1-0! They pushed the play and looked like the team that won the Presidents’ Trophy this season. It’s the way they’ll need to play in the second round if they want to defeat the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

Winning the first round is always the toughest; ask any hockey player, coach or executive and they’ll back me up. It was even harder for Washington because everyone picked them to win quickly and the Leafs had nothing to lose. Simply put, there was a TON OF PRESSURE on the Capitals to win this series and move on to face the Penguins for the rematch from last spring.

As Coach Barry Trotz told me, Nestor Aparacio, and the great crowd at Greenmount Station back on March 20th, every series takes a piece out of you. Toronto took some pieces out of the Caps. Karl Alzner didn’t play after game two due to an upper body injury, Nazem Kadri put a cheap shot on Alex Ovechkin and knocked Ovi out for two plus minutes of game five (but the Russian Machine Never Breaks), and Leo Komarov put a dirty hit on Nate Schmidt late in game six (but the 88 car also returned to play four shifts after the hit, including being on the ice for the game winner).

Luckily the Gr8 and Schmidt, plus T.J. Oshie, who I could see mouth “I’m all right” to Caps trainer Greg “Smitty” Smith after blocking a shot right before the winning goal, should be ready for Thursday night’s game one against the Penguins at the Verizon Center. The Leafs may have taken some pieces out of the Caps, that’s still to be determined how much, but in my book, Washington was able to ramp their game up to a tempo they’ll need to be at against Pittsburgh. I’m not sure they get to that pace level in a series against the Bruins or Ottawa. So I’m still glad the Capitals faced the Leafs. It was a very hard series, but they overcame an inordinate amount of pressure and persevered.

Anyways, the Penguins series should be one heck of a rematch. The Caps have waited a whole year for it, but we’ll talk more about it as the week progresses, but let’s hope there’s a Rocky 2 type of ending this spring.

Notes: Final shot attempts were 70-67, for Washington. It was all Caps after the Leafs marker…Ovechkin had 12 shot attempts, including seven on goal, in 22:45…the Caps lost the face off battle, 39-22, but they won some key ones, including right before the series winning tally. Kuznetsov was 6-8 (best Caps percentage)…Oshie had another strong game with five shots on goal in 19:35…the Caps were shorthanded for just 22 seconds and they had 2:22 of power play time…the Holtbeast was outstanding in this tilt, which included a huge save on Komarov, who was all alone after he took his run at Schmidt and #88 limped to the bench…Dmitry Orlov led the Caps in ice time with 25:38 and his partner, Matt Niskanen, logged 25:15. They played the hard minutes and that allowed Carlson and Schmidt to help the Capitals drive the play when they were on the ice…the Caps won the last three games of this series, which came after Coach Trotz tweaked his forward lines right before game four (bumped Tom Wilson up to the third line).

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Williams Game 5

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Williams’ OT Tally Gives the Caps the Series Lead

Posted on 22 April 2017 by Ed Frankovic

In a very evenly played hockey game, Mr. Game Seven, Justin Williams, scored a massively huge goal for the Washington Capitals just 64 seconds into overtime to propel the Caps to a 2-1 game five victory, and more importantly, a three games to two series lead over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Game six is Sunday at 7 pm in the Big Smoke.

After several wide open and high scoring affairs in this series, the Capitals got back to playing better defensively in this one, although they had a very shaky start. On the game’s first shift Washington gave up a two on one break and Braden Holtby (24 saves) made a marvelous glove save on Leo Komarov. The Caps were extremely sloppy over the first five minutes, but then they settled down and dominated period one.

Washington’s game amped up as the period progressed and they received their first power play of the game when Lars Eller drew a hook at 14:18 on Brian Boyle, who seemingly takes a penalty on every shift (whether it is called or not is another story). The Caps struggled to get set up until the last 30 seconds or so of the man advantage, but that is when they had three or four really good looks. Unfortunately either Frederik Andersen (26 saves) made the stop or they missed the net.

A minute or so after the power play ended, a potential season ending play and a scary moment for the Capitals ensued. As Alex Ovechkin was exiting the defensive zone, Nazem Kadri came in and hit the Gr8 with his hip into Ovi’s knees a good second or two after the puck was gone. It was dirty and with Jake Gardiner landing on Ovechkin as he was falling, Alex stayed down on the ice. He was then helped to the locker room at 17:32 of the first frame.

Smartly the Capitals didn’t retaliate immediately, instead they dented the Leafs on the scoreboard. 43 seconds into the man advantage on Kadri for tripping, T.J. Oshie buried the biscuit on the backhand following a rebound of a super shot from Nick Backstrom that hit the cross bar. That snap shot laser was set up by a sweet pass from Kevin Shattenkirk to #19. It was a great way to pay back Toronto for their illegal play.

“There’s only one Ovi. When you see him down like that you get a little nervous and you get a little upset. I thought we responded the right way with the goal right away,” said Oshie after the contest on how the team felt when the Gr8 was initially injured.

Pay the Man!

Fortunately for the Capitals, who outshot attempted the Leafs in period one, 19-11, the Gr8 returned to play in the second period and looked no worse for the wear. Kadri would definitely be a marked man, though, for the rest of the contest.

Toronto, who all series long have tried to put as many bodies and pucks as they can on the Washington net, tied the contest up on that type of play. Zach Hyman was once again integral to traffic in front of Holtby and after William Nylander threw the biscuit on #70, it bounced around in the paint. With Hyman taking two defenders with him, Auston Matthews was wide open for the back door layup at the six minute mark of the middle frame.

The Leafs then carried the play for much of the rest of the period primarily due to three minor penalties on Washington. Matt Niskanen lost his head a bit late in the period and put a nice Paul Bunyan slash on Kadri after #43 was hitting and interfering with the Gr8 as he was entering the offensive zone. With the zebras not calling it, #2 took matters into his own hands, but in the playoffs, you can’t do that, you need to wait for the right opportunity to get retribution with a clean and monstrous check.

Washington survived that man advantage and as the final stanza progressed, the Caps had the better of the chances with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Williams having opportunities to win it. But there was no sale in regulation and off to the extra period we went.

On a defensive zone draw in the first minute of OT, Coach Barry Trotz put Jay Beagle out to take it and he won it cleanly to Niskanen. Nisky saw open ice ahead of him with the Leafs backing up and he wisely skated quickly to the red line and dumped the puck beautifully into the left wing corner where Marcus Johansson was able to use his superior speed and retrieve it below the goal line. Jojo then fed Kuzy in the right wing circle. With Beagle going off on a change for Williams as the dump in occurred, #14 came into the slot uncovered and once #92 passed it right on his tape, Stick put it five hole past Andersen for the victory.

Here’s my thoughts and analysis after the big victory, including some quotes from the players.

The Leafs still tried to get bodies and puck to the net as much as possible, but the Capitals adjusted their structure well, for the most part, and walled Toronto and lots of pucks from the crease out before they could hit something crazily and go in. When pucks did get through, the Holtbeast was really on his game.

“Holts was outstanding. They did a really good job of getting tips and traffic on him, but he was able to find the shots,” added Oshie after the Holtbeast’s best performance of the post season.

John Carlson and Nate Schmidt were really good for the third straight contest. The duo, alone, had 12 of the 58 Washington shot attempts in this game. The 88 car, who played 17:22, really brings energy and speed to the Capitals backend and he’s been a perfect fit in this matchup against Toronto.

Ovechkin played 19:29 despite the cheap shot he took from Kadri. He had only five shot attempts, but his line was the second best one for Washington on this evening and made things tough for Coach Mike Babcock’s squad.

The Caps best line was the Johansson-Kuznetsov-Williams trio. They were all over the Leafs all night and it was fitting that they notched the game winning tally. The three of them had 15 shot attempts and Kuzy had six shots on goal, himself. But it was Stick who really stabilizes that line with his tenacious play and ability to win board battles and keep pucks alive. Justin now has three goals in this series and he thrives in the post season.

“He’s one of those guys that when everyone gets tense and grab their sticks a little tight, he gets more focused and finds a way to pull off the big play,” finished Oshie.

Pay that Man (Williams), too!

It was a big play alright, and now the Caps can close the series out in Toronto on Sunday with a win. That will not be an easy task as the Leafs are playing well and with intensity. They’ve forced Washington to raise their level of play and if the Capitals can survive this series, they should be very prepared for you know who.

But first things first, there is still another game to win and what Coach Trotz’ crew needs to do is play in their own zone solidly like they did most of game five. They also need to press the play and attack the Leafs defense. Pucks must go on net or deep and the forwards need to fight for the rebounds and loose discs. It’s simple hockey, but it takes commitment and determination in order to be successful.

Notes: Power plays were four to three for Toronto. I thought the zebras missed several calls on the Leafs. The game was even and yet the visitors ended up with 8:00 of man advantage time to just 4:43 for Ovi and company. That’s awfully fishy!…final shot attempts were 63-58 for Toronto…the Caps were 36-30 on draws and Beagle was 9-4, including the big d zone one in OT that led to the winning goal…Carlson led the Capitals in ice time with 23:17. He was outstanding once again and appears to finally be recovered from his late season injury…Wilson took four minor penalties and only played 10:16. He needs to stay out of the box…Brett Connolly only played 6:12, but he was much better in game five. He was more physical; he just needs to look for his shot more often. A quick release in the slot could net him a tally…Ovi had six of the Caps 34 hits. The Leafs had 23 hits…there was another four on four instance and Washington carried the play. Schmidt was a definite factor in that domination.

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Ovi over leafs

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Ovechkin’s OT Winner Completes Caps Comeback Victory Over Toronto

Posted on 03 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

2016 NHL number one overall draft pick, Auston Matthews, and his Toronto Maple Leafs steamed into the District on Tuesday night carrying a five game winning streak. The Leafs, who are eerily reminiscent of the 2006-07 Capitals, can really put the puck in the net, and they did.

Coach Mike Babcock’s team took advantage of several Washington mistakes and penalties, including a shaky call or two from the zebras, plus some missed calls on the Leafs, to race to a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes. Matthews was brilliant with his play, especially his second assist of the night that really put the Caps behind the eight ball.

Remember though, that I mentioned that this Leafs club is like the 06-07 Caps? So that means they are weak on the blue line and have issues in their own zone. That proved to be the case on Tuesday night.

Washington, once they stopped being ushered to the sin bin, finally stabilized things and rallied to tie the game with two quick goals early in period three, which forced Babcock to use his timeout to settle his young squad. Tom Wilson then took a bad hooking penalty, but the Caps PK unit, which was uncharacteristically dented for two goals in six shorthanded situations on the night, killed this one off.

However, Matt Niskanen missed a takeaway in the neutral zone, then Mitch Marner got by Lars Eller to score on Philipp Grubauer on a breakaway with 8:52 remaining and the Leafs looked poised for their sixth straight victory.

But the Caps circled the wagons and stormed the net like crazy and finally tied it on John Carlson’s goal from the paint with 6:05 remaining after Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 goal, 3 assists) set it all up with a behind the back pass after an initial breakaway. Justin Wiliams (1 goal, 2 assists) and Marcus Johansson (2 assists) were crashing the net, as well. In the last three games the Capitals have now scored 14 goals, and almost all of them have been due to net presence, which has been a point of emphasis since the 44 shot, one goal shootout loss to New Jersey last Thursday.

After the referees let some more clear infractions on the Leafs go, Matthews nearly won the game late on a dandy of a backhander that somehow hit Grubauer in the head and went over the net. What a player this kid from Arizona is now and will be in the future, wow!

Off to overtime the game went and Kuznetsov carried the puck in the offensive zone then took it around the net and passed to Carlson at the top of the right wing circle along the boards. The puck was tipped en route so #74 had to make a great play to keep it in, otherwise the Leafs are off to the races. The 2010 Team USA World Juniors hero then made a super cross ice pass to the Gr8, Alex Ovechkin, and he made no mistake about burying it for his 18th goal of the season to give the Capitals a wild 6-5 victory.

Whew!

What a hockey game. It was a crazy one and the Caps turned in one of their worst defensive first periods all season. They only gave up eight shots, but too many were of the high quality variety and the Capitals defenders were too intent on trying to go to the ice to block shots when they have an all world goalie behind them in Braden Holtby. This made things difficult for the Holtbeast and he didn’t have his best stuff either, so Coach Barry Trotz pulled him after 20 minutes. I put the yanking mostly on the shoddy play by Washington in their own end, though. That needs to be cleaned up before Thursday’s big game against Columbus, but we’ll get to that one in a few paragraphs.

Dmitry Orlov (1 goal, 1 assist) was fantastic in this game on the blue line and as Alan May mentioned on Comcast in the post game, he is at his best when he’s in the offensive zone and going forward. His rocket tied the game at four and his first period power play blast hit Williams on the way in to give the Caps an initial early lead in this contest, one that they would not regain until Ovi buried the game winner.

As for the penalties, the Caps took too many, yet the Leafs were doing several similar things, but referees Chris Lee and Chris Schlenker chose not to call it evenly. Particularly bad was a sequence when Nazem Kadri cross checked Ovechkin hard and then Ovi roughed #43 back. While that was going on Leafs defensemen Jake Gardiner punched the Gr8 in the back of the head. It was a cheap shot, but somehow he avoided jail time and Ovechkin received a double minor for roughing. Ridiculous! Over the last the three games the Capitals have now been shorthanded 19 times and have received just seven power plays, that’s ludicrous! Where’s Oliver Stone when you really need him?

Overall, this was a big comeback win for the Caps because they haven’t really had a game where they were able to go all out offensively to rally. They were fortunate that this young Leafs team is fairly clueless too often in their own zone, but give President Mike Shanahan and GM Lou Lamoriello time to get some defensemen and this Toronto team could be a contender in a few years.

The victory is the Capitals third straight and they improve to 23-9-5 (51 points). They are in fourth place in the Metropolitan division; however, they are just two points behind the Rangers and have three games in hand. In first place though, are those Blue Jackets who have now won 16 games in a row! They are 27-5-4 and are one win away from tying the NHL record for victories in succession, which was set by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992-93.

Next up for Columbus are the Caps at the Verizon Center on Thursday night. The Blue Jackets defeated Washington in both games earlier this season, once in overtime and the other time on a zebra aided late power play goal at the Verizon Center on November 20th. So Coach Trotz’ crew should be very motivated to stop this streak by John Tortorella’s squad.

The Blue Jackets have a bunch of guys having career years and they are very physical and structured. Nick Foligno is a notorious Cap killer and he scored his 13th goal of the season in a 3-1 CBus win over Edmonton on Tuesday night. They don’t have the pure skill of the Leafs, but they are extremely hard on the puck and are getting great play from their blue line as well as their goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky. Washington will have to be much better in all phases of the game if they want to defeat a Columbus team that has all of the confidence in the world right now. This will be a good test for the Caps, who are doing a much better job at going to the net and creating havoc for opposing goalies over the last three tilts. They’ll need to do a lot of that to get the puck by Bob.

Notes: The Caps won the faceoff battle, 36-28. Jay Beagle was 9-5…T.J. Oshie scored his 12th goal of the season and continues to bring his A game each night. Pay the man!…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:59…Andre Burakovsky had no points, but he played hard on the puck and it was his net presence that allowed Orlov to tie the game at four early in period three.

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T.J. Oshie has three assists as the Capitals survive a scrappy Leafs squad, 3-2.

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Niskanen’s Blast Saves the Caps

Posted on 02 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

In a game that had minimal style points, the Washington Capitals managed to play well in a few bursts and that was enough to defeat a rebuilding Toronto Maple Leafs team that is all in for the Auston Matthews sweepstakes. Matt Niskanen scored the game winner with the man advantage at 10:29 of the third period on a play very similar to T.J. Oshie’s game winning goal against the Penguins on Tuesday night. This time, however, the puck didn’t hit #77 or Marcus Johansson on the way in, but they provided excellent screens.

Leafs President Brendan Shanahan and General Manager Lou Lamoriello were clearly playing to increase their odds of winning the lottery by sending many of their top players away before the NHL trade deadline. Coach Mike Babcock’s lineup, however, which included a cast of young players as well as Brooks Laich in his first game back since Sunday’s trade, was auditioning for future roles and they played hard the entire game.

Anyone who has ever played hockey knows it is a game of emotion and you can’t just show up and win. Washington tried that route, for most of the contest on Wednesday, while the Toronto youngsters and castoffs played their rears off. They were all over the Caps, who looked disinterested after Tuesday’s exciting victory over the despised Penguins. As a result, the Leafs erased a 2-0 Caps lead and tied this one up in the final frame before Niskanen won it.

Credit Babcock’s crew for not quitting and trying to make up what they clearly lack in talent, with effort.

For Washington, they started slow thanks to two delay of game penalties and another for cross checking in the opening frame before rattling off two goals in 28 seconds in the 19th minute. T.J. Oshie made the key takeaways on both goals. Taylor Chorney, whose wife gave birth to baby boy Turner on Monday, scored his 1st goal of the season on a nice drop pass from #77 to make it 1-0. Then with 1:17 to go in the period, Oshie forced Nazem Kadri into a turnover and Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) provided the only style points of the game with as sweet of an aerial backhand saucer pass that you’ll ever see to Alex Ovechkin. The Gr8 promptly deposited the puck into the net behind Jonathan Bernier (20 saves) for his NHL leading 41st goal of the season.

At that point it was 2-0 and with Washington receiving a late first period power play, you’d think this one was headed for a rout, right?

Not so fast. The Caps decided to take an overextended nap into period two and the Leafs scored at 1:37, which was just after the Capitals power play didn’t put this one away. From there Toronto played hard, winning loose puck after loose puck until they finally tied things up at 8:16 into the final frame.

The Leafs, however, are bad for a reason and Nikita Soshnikov took a terrible boarding penalty on Karl Alzner and the Caps vaunted power play made them pay for the stupid play.

Following the goal, the Capitals had several good shifts and had multiple chances to put this one away, including a Justin Williams chance in tight on Bernier. They failed to do so and a late Toronto push just came up short as Philipp Grubauer (27 saves) kept the puck out of the cage.

Washington was literally saved by the bell with the lackadaisical effort. Barry Trotz probably wished Mr. Richard Belding had been the bench boss, because he certainly was forced to try and coach a cast of players that looked like they wanted to be anywhere but the hockey rink on Wednesday night.

Fortunately, Oshie (three assists) and Niskanen played the hero roles of Zack Morris and AC Slater on this evening to get the Caps the 3-2 win and save a team that wants to win a Stanley Cup from the possibility of embarrassment in what could have been a loss to the worst team in the league.

In the end, a win is a win is a win. It was totally ugly, but the Capitals earned two points and their record of 47-12-4 (98 points) is as pretty as Kelly Kapowski (aka, Tiffany Amber-Thiesen) was on Saved by the Bell.

In summary, Wednesday’s game was not pretty and the Capitals were fortunate to win. It’s hard to evaluate any individual performance when the team is this collectively bad due to lack of motivation, so we won’t go there, except for praising Oshie, who does so many little things to help this Caps club continue to succeed.

Notes: The Caps were really good from the dot going 36-22. Backstrom was a monstrous 15-3 while Kadri was 3-16…Washington was 1-4 on the power play while the Leafs were 0-4, that was ultimately the difference in the game…Tom Wilson led the Caps with five hits…the Capitals next game is Friday night at the Verizon Center against the New York Rangers. I’d imagine they will be motivated for that one?

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