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Caps over Isles Willy 2

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Wilson and Holtby Lead the Caps to Sixth Straight Win

Posted on 26 November 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Top Line Tommy, All Star Nicky, and the Holtbeast each had big nights in Brooklyn as the Washington Capitals scored four unanswered goals to knock off Caps Stanley Cup Winning Head Coach Barry Trotz’ New York Islanders on Monday night, 4-1. The victory was the Caps sixth straight and the seventh in their last eight games, which coincides with Tom Wilson’s return from suspension.

Former coaches Trotz, Lane Lambert, and Mitch Korn all received their Stanley Cup rings in the Caps locker room prior to the game and Barry gave an emotional speech that really showed how tight this team was over the four years he spent in DC turning around a franchise that was an absolute train wreck when he took it over (and GM Brian MacLellan deserves a ton of credit for the personnel moves, too). The coaches talked about commitment to one another and the memories they made that they’ll share at future reunions. Lambert also pointed out that the players all bought into the finer points of the game, such as blocking shots, and because of them, he and all of the coaches realized their childhood dream of winning the Cup. It was quite the scene and you can find the whole clip on the Caps twitter feed (@Capitals).

Afterwards, there was a hockey game to play and the Islanders were 9-1 against Metropolitan Division opponents coming into this affair. They looked to be building on that when Valtteri Filppula found the back of the net on a sweet backhander in the slot past Braden Holtby (32 saves) just 36 seconds into the contest. But that would be the high water mark for New York in this tilt.

Two minutes and 14 seconds later the game was tied when Willy took a sweet feed from Nicklas Backstrom (3 assists) on his backhand in the neutral zone, skated down the right wing, and in stride fired a dart past Thomas Greiss (20 saves). It was another big goal from Wilson and simply another all world pass by Nicky to set the tally up. After 20 minutes this one was tied, but Washington had a 12-8 lead in shots on goal.

Period two became a parade to the penalty box for the Capitals, which is usually the case when Ranger Dan O’Halloran is officiating the game. The Islanders would get three man advantage situations in the middle frame, but the only goal of the stanza came from Washington. The Caps fourth line had a superb outing and really set the tone in period one. In period two, they continued their fine play scoring the game winning tally. John Carlson caught the Islanders in a bad line change and fired a long pass from the Caps end to Dmitri Jaskin at the New York blue line. Jaskin skated in and left a gorgeous drop pass for Nic Dowd, and then Jaskin did a very smart thing by continuing to drive to the net taking the Islanders defensemen with him. That gave Dowd a shooting lane and Greiss didn’t really have time to get set. Before he knew it, #26 rifled the biscuit over his shoulder and into the cage for a 2-1 lead.

In that middle stanza, the Islanders outshot the Capitals, 10-3, but it was Washington who took a one puck lead into the last 20 minutes. Wilson was called for a questionable interference penalty 4:05 into period three, the Caps fourth straight infraction on the night, but the team easily killed it off. The Islanders would have some good looks trying to tie things up shortly thereafter, but the Capitals stellar goalie, the Holtbeast, was really solid in net making key save after key save without giving up any rebounds. Washington’s defense was blocking shots and when they didn’t, they allowed Braden to get a clean look at the shooter.

Jaskin, who has really amped his play up on this two game Mentors trip, drew a hooking call against Tanner Fritz to give the Capitals their first power play of the night at 12:04 and just 29 seconds into it, Thomas Hickey tripped Backstrom giving Washington a five on three. The Caps would not score on the two man advantage, but 13 seconds before Hickey was going to be set free, Backstrom from the half wall passed to Lars Eller below the goal line, and then Tiger put a sweet pass on Willy’s stick, who was filling the Osh Babe’s spot and role on the power play unit, and #43 buried it. It was a huge goal because the Islanders appeared to be getting some momentum killing off the lengthy part of the five on three. Give credit to Todd Reirden and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe for calling a timeout late in the five on three to calm the guys down. Getting that goal was the dagger in this one with it coming with just 5:39 remaining.

Alexander Ovechkin would then add his 18th goal of the season into an empty net after taking passes from Backstrom and Wilson and skating the puck out of the defensive zone. The Gr8, who has missed several open net situations this season, made no mistake on this one by turning on the jets to roar in on the cage, leaving Mathew Barzal in his dust.

It was a stellar finish to a game the Capitals gave up a lot of shots on net, but many came from the perimeter with the Caps continuing to focus on closing off the slot area and limiting high danger scoring chances. It was exactly the type of hockey they played last spring and it appeared that their former coach was smiling slightly in satisfaction when Ovi closed this one out by doing the little things that Trotz and his coaching staff helped teach them during his tenure in DC.

The Caps triumph improved their record to 14-7-3 (31 points) and they lead second place Columbus by one point in the Metropolitan Division. Washington lost Devante Smith-Pelly to a lower body injury in this game, he played only 5:26, but since the Capitals are off until a Friday night home affair with the Devils, there’s a chance he could not miss any more time.

Overall, this was not a pretty victory, but it was another solid effort with attention to detail in the defensive zone. This has been a different team since Wilson (2 goals, 1 assist) returned. They also received outstanding goaltending from the Holtbeast, once again.

Notes: Evgeny Kuznetsov skated after the morning skate, the first time he’s done so since the Brandon Tanev cheap shot to the head knocked him out of action on November 14th…T.J. Oshie was not on the trip so his return appears to be at least a week or so away…shot attempts were 62-47 for the Islanders, but they had 8 minutes of power play time to just 2:17 for the Capitals…John Carlson (1 assist) led the Caps in ice time with 23:47…Top Line Tommy has six goals, six assists, and 12 points in 8 games…Wilson, who had six shots on goal, led all forwards in ice time with 20:26…Matt Martin had eight hits in only 8:49 of ice time. Can you say “Cook the Books?”…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 27-20. Dowd went 4-4 and Wilson won the only draw he took.

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Caps Heading in Right Direction at Season’s Midpoint

Posted on 11 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

What a difference a year makes.

At the 2013-14 midpoint, the Washington Capitals were sitting at 20-15-6, good for 46 points. But boy were things coming apart at the seams in a downward trend that started in early December. During that stretch, one in which Coach Adam Oates used three starting goalies to pretty much wreck Braden Holtby’s game, the Caps grew further apart as a team with three players asking for trades (Martin Erat, Dmitry Orlov, and Michal Neuvirth). They were a squad that relied almost exclusively on their power play to win games and were very poor at even strength. In addition, in game 41, a loss at home to Carolina in overtime, they iced a defense of Mike Green, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Dmitry Orlov, John Erskine, and Steve Oleksy. The Caps would go 18-15-8 the rest of the way looking like a totally lost team that would miss the post season and ultimately cost Oates and GM George McPhee their jobs. Over the course of the season, the Capitals used 14 different defensemen and four goalies (traded for Jaroslav Halak at the trade deadline). That version of the Capitals was a team in total chaos.

Fast forward to today, after 41 games the Capitals are 22-11-8 (52 points) and following a sluggish start, have gone 12-1-4 in their last 17 games. Coach Barry Trotz has brought in a new system and a new attitude and GM Brian MacLellan added two quality players, Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, to a blue line that had been the team’s Achilles heel for several seasons. Trotz, who had coached the Predators since their first season, brought in an experienced coaching staff in Todd Reirden (defensemen), Lane Lambert (forwards), and Mitch Korn (goalies). All three have done a super job and Korn has allowed Holtby to get back to basics and return to the dominant level he was at in the spring of 2012 when the Caps narrowly missed making the Eastern Conference Finals. To date, they’ve used two goalies, with Holtby clearly the #1 net minder and carrying almost the entire load. On defense, they have quality and stability, they’ve only used seven different players on the back end. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock made a point, following Saturday’s game, to comment on the vast difference in the Washington defense, stating “anytime you have [Mike] Green playing at number five you have a real good back end.” (h/t to CSN’s Chuck Gormley for the quote).

Things are looking very good for this Capitals team. The key word in that sentence being “team.” Center Nicklas Backstrom, who is having yet another superb season, talked on Sunday afternoon about how things are different than past years under Trotz.

“We’ve been talking a lot about before the season and during the season to stick together and work together and doing the right things. It’s real important that everyone is paying attention to small details like face off plays, what we’re doing before every draw, stuff like that, so I think a lot of guys are buying into that and we’re following the game plan. Maybe before we’ve been doing our own things, so that has helped us a lot, I think,” said #19 when asked about the culture change that Trotz is implementing with the Caps.

“They make each other accountable, they don’t accept just going through the motions. When you fight to just go through the motions, that’s not a good culture to have. We’re not doing that, we’re staying on task…I told the guys I didn’t like the way we were playing the last two games [before Detroit] and I told the guys [Saturday] morning that if we want to be the team we think we can be we’re going to get tested tonight. I didn’t like some of the red flags I saw those last two games, we still got points and we won games, but you have to be honest with yourself. There will be times where you lose games and I’ll be happy with the way we played, we just didn’t win the game. Even when you win, you have to be honest with yourself, did you deserve to win the game or did you luck out? I think we are pretty honest, we have good evaluations…so we recognize we have some work to do,” said Trotz when asked about the culture change and where the team is at.

After winning against the Red Wings, Trotz felt better about things but admitted they are still a work in progress.

“I was real happy in the third period with the way we managed the game. We didn’t generate a lot of offense, but we didn’t give up anything, even on six on five they had a little bit, but it wasn’t chaos out there, it was controlled and we forced them to try to execute at an extremely high level and they didn’t get any free looks or anything like that. So we’re better, just in our structure, we recognize possession and we recognized when they weren’t attacking the interior. We stayed patient and when they tried to, we’ll just make one adjustment that we need to do better and if it happens next game we’ll be even more prepared. We try to learn from things that happen, experiences that can make ourselves better, instead of hey we just got lucky. We look for things every day,” said Trotz.

All of the changes have certainly helped the Capitals put themselves back in the playoff picture and right now, it looks like they will make the post season. But there are 41 games to go and the race is tight. While just making the playoffs is key, this club has a bigger goal, to compete for a Stanley Cup. To get to that phase, they have a lot of work to do.

So in the second half the key will be to sustain their focus so that they can improve. Even doing that, there are question marks. One thing to be concerned about is Holtby’s work load. The key will be for Justin Peters to assert himself as a viable back up option, especially with nine back to back tilts scheduled. If Peters can’t perform, then MacLellan will have to find someone who will fill that role, otherwise the Caps not only risk missing the playoffs, but having a very fatigued goalie in April and beyond.

The defense needs to stay healthy and certainly with the depth they have in the top five, Trotz has been able to increase the probability of that by spreading out the minutes. Another key to staying healthy, and winning, is cutting down on the number of penalties the team takes. There have been recent stretches where the parade to the box has cost them points. Finally, they have to stabilize their forward line combinations. We’ve seen a rotating door with Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin on the top unit and the latest project is having rookie Andre Burakovsky fill the right wing role after Tom Wilson and some others struggled. The second scoring line has also been woefully inconsistent. Recently it has shown signs of life with Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Troy Brouwer lighting the lamp more frequently. How that trio plays will be a factor in any possible deep playoff run. Simply put, the forward situation is concerning and it remains to be seen if the young players, Burakovsky, Kuznetsov, and Wilson, can improve enough by April to make this club a contender. If it looks like that isn’t going to happen then MacLellan will have to make a move for a top six forward.

Most of all though, this club needs to continue the process and commitment they’ve built up over the first 41 games and Backstrom certainly brought that home with his thoughts on Sunday afternoon.

“I think that it’s about time that we realize how to play as a team and right now it looks good but we have a long way to go. We’re not done yet, it’s just halfway through the season. We’ve got lots of work to do and we’re not where we want to be yet, so we really need to be humble and make sure we work hard every day and every night,” finished Backstrom.

 

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