Tag Archive | "Kuznetsov"

Ovi Leafs Roctober

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Eight Thoughts on the Caps After Roctober

Posted on 30 October 2019 by Ed Frankovic

As for me, I’d like to thank my lucky stars
That I’m alive and well…

And today, you know, that’s good enough for me
Breathing in and out’s a blessing, can’t you see

  • Kenny Chesney with Dave Matthews

Hello Caps fans, it’s your old hockey blogger friend here back behind the keyboard after a six month plus hiatus. Yes, I’m alive, and well.

Since last April’s crushing loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in double overtime of game seven, I’ve had no desire to write about hockey. Getting your car locked in a DC garage overnight following that terrible finish didn’t exactly help either, but that’s all in the past now.

Credit Alexander Ovechkin and his amazing performance in Toronto on Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre, in front of his pal Alex Luey, who is suffering from what has been termed incurable cancer, for motivating me to come back and provide my take on the Capitals and the Metro Division.

With that, in honor of Ovi, what follows are EIGHT thoughts and analysis on those items.

Halley’s Comet – Let’s start right where Capitals talk belongs, with Alex Ovechkin. Tuesday’s spectacular two goal and two assist performance really had me feeling nostalgic afterwards. As chronicled by my friends over at Russian Machine Never Breaks, the young Luey has been coming to Caps-Leafs games in Toronto since November 2017 and the Gr8 seems to always find a way to lift his spirits. What made this night tougher was not seeing Luey standing next to the glass cheering in his vintage Ovi jersey and Caps hat after Ovechkin goals, like we’ve seen several times before. No, things have gotten very bad health wise for Alex and afterwards, via the Capitals Twitter feed, we were all witness to a picture of the young man laying down and unable to stand wearing an Ovechkin provided Nationals batting helmet surrounded by the Capitals team after their thrilling 4-3 overtime win in the Big Smoke. It was the Gr8 himself who scored the tying goal off of a fantastic apple from the Osh Babe, after T.J. undressed Morgan Reilly at the Leafs blue line, and then ended the affair on the power play with a top shelf rocket following an excellent feed from Dmitry Orlov. The Caps scored four goals and Ovechkin factored in on all of them. To me though, outside of what he and the team did for Luey after the game, the thing that really stood out from the Captain was his great back check in overtime to prevent Mitch Marner from getting a breakaway on Braden Holtby. That play backed up all of the pregame words the Gr8 provided to the hordes of Toronto media in regards to his thoughts on Auston Matthews and the Leafs need to focus on team defense in order to break through in the post season. It was just another stellar display of skill and power from the greatest pure goal scorer I’ve ever seen. Ovechkin is now at 669 goals and 12th overall on the all-time goal scoring list. Regardless of how the Capitals fare over these next few years as a team, following the pursuit of Gordie Howe at 801 and Wayne Gretzky at 894 is something I really look forward to viewing. So I ask Capitals and NHL fans the following question:

Do you realize how special it is to be able to watch Ovechkin play hockey?

Let me ask this again and I want you to really think about it:

Do you realize how special it is to be able to watch Ovechkin play hockey?

I hope you do, because I know I do, and in five or so years, we won’t have that ability anymore. So please enjoy the H-E-double hockey sticks out of it now while you can! A player like him is a once in every 75 years event.

RoctoberAs has been written by the great Caps reporter, Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps), Washington just turned in a franchise record month of October going 9-2-3 which is good for 21 points and a .750 points percentage. The amazing thing is they went 7-1-1 on the road against some very good competition. Of those five overall losses, they were only pretty much out of one game (Colorado), and in the other four they had third period leads that they squandered. Simply put, this was a very productive month of hockey given the tough schedule, Evgeny Kuzentsov’s three game suspension for substance abuse, and Michal Kempny’s eight game absence that led to a patched up blue line on many nights.

Roll With The Changes – A big criticism of the Caps failure to repeat last season, in addition to fatigue and injuries, was the inability of the Capitals to adjust to their opponents in the playoffs. A young Carolina team shook off a two games to none hole and then a physical drubbing in game five to come back and win the series at Capital One Arena. Many pointed out, true or not, that the Capitals coaching staff was outcoached by Rod Brind’Amour of the Canes. That series loss and the salary cap forced many changes this offseason by Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan. Defensemen Matt Niskanen, a key cog in the Capitals turnaround from 2015 to the Stanley Cup in 2018 was dealt to the Flyers for Radko Gudas. Team leader Brooks Orpik retired and joined the Caps development staff. Andre Burakovsky, who didn’t want to play on the third line anymore, was sent to Colorado for draft picks and Brett Connolly was offered quality free agent money to become a Florida Panther. Garnet Hathaway, Brendan Leipsic and Richard Panik were all brought in to help reconfigure the third and fourth lines. The personnel changes and tweaks to the Capitals power play and penalty kill by the coaching staff have been a key factor to this fast start. So as much as the coaches take a lot of heat, they deserve a good deal of credit for a record breaking Roctober. They are under pressure to deliver and so far they’ve exceeded expectations in this campaign. Washington’s penalty killing percentage of 85.2% is seventh in the NHL after a season at 78.9% (24th in the NHL). In 2018-19 the Capitals power play became stagnant and predictable falling to 20.8% (12th in the NHL). Just 14 games into this season the team is seventh in the NHL at 25.5%. The special teams were a problem last year, but so far, things have really turned around. One thing I’ve noticed and liked is that they’ve taken John “Norris” Carlson off of the PK, for the most part, which has allowed him to avoid shot blocking injuries and provided him with more power play and even strength time. Carlson is off to a torrid seven goals and 16 assists start.

Stars in the City – One thing the coaches have not changed is their reliance on their top players. Ice time is slightly up for Ovechkin (21:20 vs. 20:55), Carlson (25:45 vs. 25:04), Nicklas Backstrom (20:23 vs. 19:57), and Oshie (19:24 vs. 18:37) over last season. Those increases are not alarming, but the staff has to be careful to keep this group fresh for the post season. In order to do that, others need to step up, especially the re-configured bottom six forwards group. While Panik has not brought production to the table yet (and he’s out on long term injured reserve), Hathaway and Leipsic have worked with Nic Dowd, Chandler Stephenson and Travis Boyd to bring some production to the fourth line. The comeback from 5-1 down in Vancouver, after the crushing OT defeat in Edmonton, was achieved without any goals from Carlson and the Capitals top line. Coach Todd Reirden and his staff need to get that type of production on a more consistent basis the rest of the season.

Pay The Man? – Three years ago, this blogger’s mantra for Oshie was “Pay the Man!” He promptly received an eight year deal to come back to the Caps and Washington won the Cup the next spring. In 2017-18, it was Carlson who earned that moniker and MacLellan rewarded Carly with an eight year deal at an $8M annual average value. Following the 2019-20 season, Backstrom and Holtby will both be key Caps unrestricted free agents. Backy and the Holtbeat (5-1-3 start) are clearly important pieces to this club, but who is going to get the “Pay the Man” moniker from me? It’s not clear yet, but after this hot start, I might have to change the saying to “PAY THE MEN!”

Puck Possession – There are some who diminish the value of winning faceoffs, but for me, it’s a key part of the game and when you have a highly skilled team, you’d rather have the puck off of a draw than be chasing it down. Chasing is tiring. Last season the Caps were DEAD FREAKING LAST in the NHL in faceoff percentage at 45.7%. This was after having a win percentage of 50.4% in 2017-18, the year they won the Stanley Cup. That nearly 5% drop off is huge and mattered in the team’s overall play. Losing Jay Beagle from that Cup winning team clearly hurt on draws, but I’m happy to report that this year’s group, which is almost identical to last year’s group of faceoff takers, is at 49.2%, good for 19th in the league. That’s not great, but it’s trending a lot closer to where it needs to be for the Capitals to be more effective when it comes to having the puck and generating scoring chances.

Trouble In River City? – The 9-2-3 start is fantastic, but things are not all roses in Caps land. Washington has been winning games basically because they are scoring enough to overcome their deficiencies in team defense. When the Caps won the Cup in 2017-18, they allowed 2.90 goals against during the regular season. Last season that total inched up to 3.02 GAA per game. Through 14 games, it is sitting at 3.29 per game, YIKES! The first half of the season is more wide open with less checking, so fortunately Washington has been able to score at a 3.79 goals per game pace to hide those sores we’ve seen in their own half of the ice. The Capitals have lost after having a two goal lead four times and in the game in Edmonton last week they struggled mightily from the red line in against Connor McJesus and Leon Draisaitl for large stretches of that contest. Washington’s gap control was horrendous and believe it or not, Holtby’s stellar play in net allowed the Caps to steal a point that night (and they nearly had two). Braden’s save percentage is only at .888 and a lot of that has to do with the quality scoring chances they are allowing. They are giving up 31 shots per game, similar to last season, but there have been far too many grade A chances allowed. Some of this is clearly explainable due to the personnel changes on the blue line. Kempny missed the first eight games due to his hamstring surgery, Gudas is new to the lineup, while rookie Martin Fehervary and long time AHLer Tyler Lewington all played significant time. With the top six all back now, things should improve, but the play of Nick Jensen and Orlov is a big concern. When Washington won the Cup they relied heavily on the Niskanen-Orlov duo to play the hard minutes against the opposing team’s top line. In Toronto on Tuesday, Jensen was relegated to 3rd pair duty and only logged just 12:32 while Gudas played 19:01. Jensen is -8 and Orlov is -9 so far, which is very alarming. On the positive side, Gudas is +9 and eating up PK minutes (although I didn’t like him leaving his feet on that 3rd Leafs tally on Tuesday – stay up!). In addition, Radko needs to continue to stand up for his teammates so that Tom Wilson doesn’t have to fill that role all by himself. There are several upcoming opponents that deserve a visit from #33 for their past discretions against Capitals players (Brandon Tanev, Josh Morrissey, and Warren Foegele, to name a few). Bottom line though, the game will tighten up in January and beyond so the Capitals can’t just “offense” their way to victories. They need to get much better with their team defense if they want to be legit Cup contenders.

Metro, Metro Men – The Caps have won four straight Metropolitan Division titles, but once again, they will have their work cut out if they want the top seed again. The primary competition will come from a young and improving Carolina squad, the talented Penguins, and the structured Islanders. After that trio, Philadelphia has a new coach in Alain Vigneault and made some quality offseason moves, so I expect them to be much better as the season goes on. As for Columbus, losing Artemi Panarin up front and Bob in net were big blows, but they are playing with house money and have some very good young talent. The Rangers added Panarin and Jacob Trouba while the Devils drafted Jack Hughes with the number one pick and also traded for P.K. Subban from Nashville. The division will absolutely be tighter putting more emphasis on team defense. When looking at goals against averages so far this season, the Penguins lead the way in the Metro at 2.38 GAA (4th in the NHL), the Islanders are next at 2.45 GAA (5th in the NHL) and the Hurricanes are at 2.50 GAA (7th in the NHL). The Penguins were at 2.90 GAA in 2018-19 so they’ve made some big improvements in that department. Matt Murray is also off to a hot start with a .923 save percentage. Simply put, if the Capitals are to win the division, they MUST improve their play defensively to limit opposing scoring chances. Washington has elite goaltending in Holtby and rookie Ilya Samsonov, but there have been too many quality looks for their opponents in the first 14 games.

Thanks again for the tweets and for reading!

Please pray for Alex Luey and his family.

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Canes Pushing Around Caps

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Forget About X’s and O’s, It’s All About Physicality for the Capitals Now

Posted on 20 April 2019 by Ed Frankovic

The Caps and Canes are knotted at two games apiece heading into game 5 at Capital One Arena on Saturday night at 8 pm on NBC and there is no doubt about one thing, Carolina pushed the Capitals around in Raleigh earlier in the week.

The Hurricanes were chippy and physical and Washington tried to get by with a finesse game that failed miserably notching only one goal in 120 minutes of hockey. That is pathetic, especially since the only tally came on the power play where a Canes player lost his stick.

Simply put, the Caps were soft as butter in Raleigh and didn’t do what was necessary to win. In addition, the Canes pushed the envelope so much that T.J. Oshie was boarded by a cross check to the back by Warren Foegele and is out indefinitely. It was an ugly play, but it underscores the way Coach Rod Brind’Amour has his team playing: at or over the edge in Slap Shot like fashion.

So how should the Capitals respond?

To me it is very simple. They have to get physical and down in the mud with the Canes to win this series. Fancy play does not cut it in the post season. The reason Washington was dominated in possession and on the scoreboard so badly is not rocket science, Carolina wanted it more and was willing to pay physically for results.

Washington MUST dump the lazy hockey and start working. Too many guys are looking too comfortable on the ice and it’s an easy ride for Carolina right now. Goalie Petr Mrazek had very little work at PNC Arena and he didn’t have to deal with hardly any traffic in front of him. Again, this is an effort thing for the Caps. They aren’t anywhere near the level they need to be at to win.

They should know better, too, after last spring. It’s not about X’s and O’s at this point in the season, it’s about wanting the puck more than your opponent, it’s taking a hit to get the puck out of your own zone to create rush opportunities. It’s battling through hacks, whacks, and cross checks to get to the front of the net to score an ugly goal or create a screen so someone else can finish.

The Capitals, who did this so well in 2018, have not come close to the performance needed to defeat a banged up Canes team that is playing with more fire and intensity than the defending Stanley Cup Champions are right now.

There are too many players to list that have underperformed in this series. There will be some help from Devante Smith-Pelly, who was recalled from Hershey on Friday. Devo is a playoff type player who can use his body on the wall and get to the net to score rebound goals. But he can’t do it all himself, every player on the Caps team has to make a commitment to dole out and feel physical punishment in game 5.

Trying to get by on talent alone is a recipe for disaster; this one is all about desire and a win the individual battles at all costs mentality. Carolina must pay for their transgressions in games three and four, physically all over the ice, and that should lead to a scoreboard advantage.

New line combinations will help, I’d like to see Evgeny Kuznetsov center Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson, mainly because Kuzy feels protected and plays better that way, but this is about way more than line combos and strategy.

Hockey is about emotion and intensity. Carolina had that on their side by a wide margin on Monday and Thursday as they evened the series up. Now it’s time for a team that is built for the post season to show up and get payback.

The NHL doesn’t care about suspensions. The playoffs are a battle of attrition and the team that has the superior effort and intensity often is victorious. Washington knows what it takes to win a game five in a playoff series, but they can’t just expect it to happen. They’ve let the series come to them too much in this battle with Carolina. They’ve allowed the Canes to dictate the pace of play and that just can’t happen anymore if Washington wants to win.

It’s incumbent on the Caps to have the right mindset and get back to a fully committed effort in all zones. What we’ve seen from them so far has missed the mark and badly.

So we’ll see what the Capitals are made of on Saturday night and a boisterous crowd similar to game six vs. Tampa last May would be advantageous, as well.

Round one is the hardest to win and the Caps have given Carolina some confidence that they can pull off the upset. The Canes have taken liberties with Washington on the ice and on the scoreboard.

It’s time for the Capitals to put a halt to that, or there will be major changes to parts of this roster this off-season, especially in the bottom six of the forwards group, they have to be much better for Washington to win.

This is a critical game and Washington must seize the event and force their will on Carolina. They must take the body and cause them to make mistakes.  They need to pay the price physically so that they can avenge the dirty hit to one of their team leaders and key players in Oshie.

If they don’t do that, the Caps run as defending champs will be just one game away from ending.

So how bad do you want this run to continue, Caps?

It’s all in your hands now.

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Backy Canes

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Backstrom and Holtby Carry Caps Past Canes in Game One

Posted on 11 April 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

Here’s your game one thoughts and analysis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ovi Score Canes

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

Posted on 26 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Connolly 20th

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

Posted on 19 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Connolly Helps the Caps Ambush the Flyers, 5-2

Posted on 14 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

Beating the Philadelphia Flyers never gets old for long time Caps fans because they remember back to 1974-75 and the 1980’s when these two teams were fierce rivals. Year after year bus loads of loud mouthed drunk Flyer fans would invade Capital Centre and in the early days, when the Broad Street Bullies were at their peak, the guys in orange and black would more often than not, win.

That’s not the case anymore.

The defending Stanley Cup Champions, coming off of a giveaway loss to the Penguins on Tuesday, needed a win in Filthy before Saturday’s date with the league leading Lightning in Tampa. Capitals Coach Todd Reirden, at his pre game skate presser, talked about how a fast early start against a desperate Philadelphia team was needed on Thursday night, and his Caps definitely delivered.

Brett Connolly scored into a wide open cage off of a gorgeous pass from Michal Kempny just 2:32 into this game and by the 10 minute mark it was 2-0 when Lars “Tiger” Eller crashed the net to grab and fire a deflected shot by Connolly on rookie goalie Carter Hart. The young Canadian goalie made the initial stop, but Lars was able to pot his own rebound.

This was exactly the type of response to a bad loss that the Caps coaching staff was looking for and despite giving up an early goal in period two to cut their lead in half, Washington added two more tallies midway through period two, Connolly’s 19th and then Top Line Tom Wilson’s 20th to make it 4-1. Philly scored a few minutes later to trim the deficit to 4-2, but Washington, despite taking three straight third period penalties; never really looked liked they’d lose this one. Alex Ovechkin made a great play in his own end once the Flyers dispensed of their keeper and he fed Evgeny Kuznetsov, who made the major blunder that started the downward spiral in Pittsburgh, for an empty net tally with 2:26 remaining.

The Capitals dominated this tilt, but that was to be expected with the Flyers having traded Wayne Simmonds at the deadline and Cap killer, Jakub Voracek, also out due to a two game suspension. Washington is far more talented than this Flyers team, like they have been for many years in a row, but for some reason the Caps have let down in these games the last several years against a franchise that long time Capitals fans despise.

This season, Washington has jumped all over the Flyers in Filthy, outscoring them 9-3 in the first two periods. Within the last eight days, the Caps have won by counts of 5-3 and 5-2 against a team that has been beating pretty much everyone else in the league via a desperate late push to try and make the post season. Philadelphia is not making the playoffs this spring, and the Capitals are a big reason why, going 3-0 against them in 2018-19.

Scoring chances were heavily in Washington’s favor, and the Caps broadcast team had those at 16-8 at one point in the second period. Philadelphia had 19 of their 24 shots in the last 40 minutes (10 in the third period) since they were chasing the game the entire evening. It was a textbook road win for the Caps and they improved to 42-22-7 (91 points) with their eighth victory in their last nine games. The lone loss, to the Pens on Tuesday, was another contest they dominated for long stretches, but they hit three posts and Kuzy had a brain fart that turned the momentum around in the latter stages of period two.

Evgeny was better on Thursday night, but his erratic play is a big reason Ovechkin doesn’t have a goal in four straight contests. If the Caps are going to make a strong stretch and playoff run, they need #92 to get going like he did last spring. My personal opinion is he is holding back his energy for the post season, but he probably needs to start amping his effort and play up now, especially with three games against the Bolts in the next two weeks.

As for the Caps third line, well they are really humming since Carl Hagelin (two assists, +3, in 17:57) was added to that unit. They were responsible for the first three goals and Hagelin also had 4:39 of penalty killing time. What an addition he has been to this team because the Capitals finally look competent on the PK and all four lines are rolling since Andre Burakovsky has been bumped down to make the fourth line a match up nightmare for their opponents.

This is a deep Capitals team. When they play hard and smart they are tough to handle. But they do have a tendency to get pulled into end to end riverboat hockey with the lead. They also have to eliminate some of the poor decisions coming out of their own end. There are still too many cross ice passes from inside their own blue line. With the Caps speed up front now, a high flip pass is a much better option and worst case it’s an icing instead of a giveaway and an odd man rush against. They’ve used this effectively with Hagelin lately and it works. Pittsburgh did this on Tuesday against the Caps on their tying goal from Sidney Crosby. Again, the worst case scenario is an icing and I’ll take that any day over a cross ice turnover and an odd man rush against.

As for the goaltending, it continues to be rock solid. Braden Holtby (22 saves) was very good on Thursday night. Philadelphia, at times, had some looks to make this a closer game, but the Holtbeast shut the door each time.

So now it’s on to Tampa to take on the Lightning in the teams first meeting since game seven when the Caps blanked the Bolts, 4-0, at Amalie Arena. You can bet Coach Jon Cooper’s squad is ready for this one, so it should be a dandy.

However, that is still nearly 48 hours away and on Friday, Caps Nation can proudly wear their gear to their schools and offices and let any local Flyers fans know who is boss in the hockey world. Hey, even a 1975 chant (the last time Filthy won Lord Stanley) might be in order, hehe!

It’s always a good night when the Caps beat the Flyers, outside of a Stanley Cup triumph, there isn’t a whole lot of things better, in my mind.

Notes: John “Norris” Carlson was absolutely dynamite again for Washington logging 25:04. He had an assist and was +3. He is so good in all three zones and is the best defensemen in the NHL this season when you look at all of the hard minutes he plays. He’s a total stud on the back end for Washington…The Caps seemed to lose a lot of defensive draws when shorthanded in period three, but for the night they went 25-28 from the dot. Kuzy was 5-3 and Nicklas Backstrom was 8-7…Ovi only played 16:25 due to the big lead and the fact that the 3rd line was rolling. The Caps got into penalty trouble in the final frame, as well…Washington was four for four on the penalty kill and zero for three with the man advantage. The Capitals power play was not good, at all, in this one…Connolly, Eller, and Hagelin were all +3. Those guys are playing extremely well…shots on goal were 32-24 for the good guys. Ovi led the Caps with five shots on net.

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Hagelin, Backstrom, and Copley Help the Caps Win Again

Posted on 11 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Holtby Blanks the Devils in the Caps 6th Straight Victory

Posted on 08 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 03 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Ovi 45th Islanders

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Ovechkin’s 45th of the Season is the Game Winner on Long Island

Posted on 01 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin scored his NHL leading 45th goal of the season 4:34 into period three, just 68 seconds after Jakub Vrana had tied the game, and Braden Holtby made 20 saves as the Washington Capitals won on Long Island, 3-1. The Capitals are now 37-21-7 (81 points) and are tied with New York for first place in the Metropolitan Division. The Islanders have a game in hand.

The Caps went into Nassau Coliseum for the first time since 2015, where they lost game six of that playoff series before closing out game seven at home on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s sensational tally. In this tilt, they had a schedule advantage given that the Islanders played John Tavares and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night in #91’s first game back in town. Coach Barry Trotz’ crew dominated Mike Babcock’s squad in a 6-1 thrashing of the tired Leafs, who played and won on Wednesday night, then cleared customs and traveled to the USA for a thorough butt whipping at the Coliseum.

On Friday, New York was due to be fatigued and as expected, they played a tight, packed in defensive game that was geared towards limiting quality chances. Things started well for the Islanders. Just 2:43 into the contest, Tom Kuhnhackl took advantage of a terrible cross ice defensive zone pass by Dmitry Orlov and went in all alone on Holtby. The former Penguin, who hit the post in overtime of game six of last year’s Caps-Pens series before Kuzy won it on a breakaway, beat Holts on the backhand upstairs, but the replay seemed to indicate that New York was offside. The Caps chose not to challenge, however, and the Islanders protected their net well for 40 minutes to lead by a puck going into period three. That advantage could’ve been bigger if not for two hit posts by the home squad.

In period three, the Capitals stayed patient and continued to win board battles and keep the disc in the Isles end. Washington had trouble getting pucks and bodies to the net simultaneously in the first two frames, but the flood gates would open up early in the third stanza. Michal Kempny carried a puck into the lower left wing circle after his initial shot was blocked and slid it into the crease area where All Star Nicklas Backstrom had battled to the front of the cage. Nicky couldn’t get the puck on net with his stick tied up, but it hit an Islanders skate and was laying in harm’s way. Vrana was right there on the doorstep to put the biscuit in the basket for his 19th of the season and notched the Capitals first tally on Trotzy’s team in over five periods (New York shutout the Caps, 2-0, at Capital One Arena in January).

Fifty five seconds after the Vrana lamp lighter, the Islanders were called for their first penalty of the game when Anders Lee dumped Backy off of a face off and was sent to the box to feel shame for interference. It was the play of a tired forward and it put Washington in position to take the lead for the first time. Thirteen seconds later, the Caps did just that. All five Capitals on the power play touched the puck before it went into the net off of the stick of Johnny Boychuk. John Carlson fed Backstrom on the right wing half wall, who moved it to Kuzy below the goal line to the right of Thomas Greiss (26 saves). Evgeny sent it to T.J. Oshie in the slot, who one-timed it on net. Greiss made the initial save, but pushed the rebound in the air into the slot where the Gr8 got just enough of it on his baseball swing to send it wobbling over the Islanders goalie and off of Boychuk’s stick, which was above his shoulders, and into the net.

From there, the Capitals were able to clamp this one down and when the Osh Babe cleared the puck after a nice pass from Brooks Orpik, Josh Bailey mistakenly slid the puck backwards thinking he had a player behind him. In the words of one Ron White, though, he was wrong! The disc ended up going right into the open cage and Oshie was credited with his 21st tally of the season to close out the scoring.

This was never going to be a pretty game and was going to be all about which team could outwork the other and win the board battles. Washington had the big advantage there for the evening, out shot attempting the Islanders, 69-40, but it took some good stops from Holtby and the iron to keep the deficit at one before the Capitals were able to take over in the last 20 minutes. This was basically a test of wills and the Caps, who like to play a more free flowing game with their high end skill, rolled up their sleeves and gutted out a win over a team that plays its system extremely well. The Islanders are no fluke, they play very structured and make you work to score.

On Friday night, the Capitals had their work boots on and grinded out a much needed two points. On Sunday afternoon at 12:30 pm they will face a New York Rangers team that has been very competitive despite a very young roster. They lost twice this week in extra time (lost to the Caps in OT on Sunday and the Bolts in a shootout on Wednesday) before a 4-2 defeat to Montreal on Friday night at Madison Square Garden. Coach Todd Reirden’s crew will be off on Saturday, but they must come out ready to battle again when facing the Blueshirts if they want two more much needed points.

It’s that time of year where the games are much tighter checking affairs and the players that win the board battles and work hard to create ugly goals usually prevail. That was the Capitals on Friday against their old bench boss.

Notes: The Caps had a 29-21 shots on goal advantage. Ovi led the Caps with five…the Capitals won the faceoff battle, 31-24. Backstrom was 13-6 and Nic Dowd went 5-1…Carlson led the Caps and all skaters in ice time with 23:20…Andre Burakovsky (7:32) and Travis Boyd (6:36) each played less than eight minutes…the Caps were 1 for 3 on the power play (2:13) and 2 for 2 while shorthanded (four minutes).

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