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Game 2 Canes

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Orpik Wins Game 2 for Caps in Overtime

Posted on 13 April 2019 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals made home ice stand up on Saturday afternoon with Brooks Orpik scoring the game winning goal just 1:48 into overtime after a gorgeous feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov from behind the Canes net into the left wing circle. Orpik went far post with some top shelf cheese on Petr Mrazek (29 saves) to give the Caps a 2-0 lead in a series that shifts to Raleigh on Monday night.

“There is no better guy on this team to score that goal….he means so much to this team,” stated Tom Wilson afterwards and that was clearly evident the way the 38 year old blue liner was mobbed by his teammates after notching the game winner.

After a lackluster first tilt that they held on to win, 3-2, the Capitals were much better in game two, but they still needed extra time to defeat a very solid and hard working Carolina squad. You’ve all seen the game and/or the highlights, so let’s get to the analysis of this triumph immediately.

Let’s start where we absolutely must begin, with “All Star” Nicklas Backstrom. Nicky, who was fabulous in game one, was dynamite in game two. He scored the opening goal off of a wonderful pass from Alex Ovechkin (two assists) just 3:37 into this affair by going to the net and he assisted on what looked to be the game winning tally at the time, by Willy with 11:05 remaining in regulation. The Canes, however, would tie it with five minutes left on a power play tally. Washington has struggled from the dot all season long and Coach Todd Reirden has gone with Backy on most key draws early in the playoffs. While the Capitals went 23-39 for the game, it was the Swedish sensation that held his own taking most big face-offs and winning 10 of 22 from the dot. Most importantly, he was the forward on the ice when the Caps killed off a 1:07 Carolina five on three in the middle frame shortly after Washington could not convert on a five minute power play. That PK provided momentum for the home town squad. After the game, Coach Reirden could not be any clearer about the way he feels about Backstrom’s all world play.

“This guy is so underrated…these two games were the best two I’ve seen him play in my five years here.”

That is really saying something given how well Backstrom has performed over the years and is some big time and well deserved praise. I’ve had the pleasure of covering Nicklas since he came into the league and he is a sure fire Hall of Famer as well as one of the best two way players I’ve ever seen perform at the NHL level. He also is one heck of a leader. Simply put, between Backy and Ovechkin, they’ve pretty much seen it all.

Backstrom pointed out to the assembled media afterwards that there are always momentum swings in games and series and the important thing is to just stick with the game plan. Number 19 felt like the Caps did that on Saturday despite the highs and lows.

Ovechkin was dynamite, as well, and led by example, once again. Ovi set up the first goal with a great pass, but the whole event was made by his hustle back on a Canes jailbreak to thwart that rush. He also doled out a monster hit in the corner and then grabbed the disc to race up the ice on the opening goal sequence. Coach Reirden said that Alexander the Great has learned that he can generate space on offense with his back checking and he’s really taking advantage of it. The Gr8 complimented his long time teammate, Backstrom, with 21:12 of ice time that included two assists, eight shot attempts and seven hits.

There were some lows, too, and after racing out to a 2-0 lead in the first 10 minutes, the Capitals had consecutive defensive breakdowns that led to Linus Wallmark scoring from in front of Braden Holtby (25 saves) with 4:06 to go in period one. Carolina then tied things up with 3:11 left in the middle stanza when Sebastian Aho buried the rebound of a Justin Williams point blast that ricocheted off of the back boards. The Caps had a turnover and some blown coverage during that sequence.

Finally, with the Capitals trying to close out a one goal lead, Nic Dowd took his second high sticking minor of the game and Carolina’s power play finally converted. Jordan Staal made a perfect deflection in the high slot of a Dougie Hamilton point shot and it bounced by the Holtbeast with 5:00 remaining. Dowd’s two minors came with the defender to his back and #26 losing control of his stick. It will be interesting to see if the coaches correct his technique in those type of one on one battles.

As for Holtby, he was very good to run his lifetime record against Carolina to 18-6. Braden had several big stops, including one on an all alone Justin Williams in front in period two. The Hurricanes made a point of trying to get pucks and bodies to the Caps net and that’s how they scored all three of their goals.

Washington was better on their breakouts in game one. They didn’t have nearly as many turnovers in their own zone and the wingers were much stronger on the walls, which is where the Canes won the little battles on Thursday night. The Caps are also improving on using the high flip of the puck out of their own zone when Carolina is ultra aggressive on their forecheck. Carl Hagelin and/or Jakub Vrana are going to score off one of those if the Capitals blue liners keep using that effective move that stretches a defense.

The blue line for Washington was strong in this one, especially Nick Jensen. Number three was much better in his second career playoff game. He was all over the ice with his superb skating and it was his smart race to the front of the Carolina net that allowed Wilson to beat Mrazek to give the Caps a 3-2 lead. Jensen looked very confident with the puck.

Matt Niskanen (assist in 22:51), John Carlson (28:01), Dmitry Orlov (assist in 22:31) and Orpik (18:37) performed well on the back end. Christian Djoos only logged 5:44, but his five second shift in overtime ended with Batya burying the biscuit. Djoos still seems to be not fully recovered strength wise from the major surgery he had in December.

The Caps still need to get more balance in the lineup and a switch Todd made going into period three seemed to jumpstart a Washington team that had blown a two goal lead. Coach Reirden put the speedy Vrana back with Kuznetsov and the Osh Babe then reunited Hagelin with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly on the third line. The Capitals bench boss noted that Vrana has “unique chemistry” with Kuzy and Oshie, and that was evident on the game winning goal. Both Oshie and V drew their defenders with them to the net and that created a wide open lane for Evgeny to find number 44 all alone in the left wing circle. Batya delivered with a huge lamp lighter and the red light was a very welcome site for the team and the fans at Capital One Arena. Washington now has command of this series without really hitting their full stride yet.

Simply put, the Caps won because as Coach Reirden stated afterwards, “Our top players were our best players in this one.”

Still, the Capitals head coach believes there are higher gears his club can find with their game.

“I don’t think we’ve gotten to our best game yet…today was better in terms of zone time and forechecking, but we’re still not where we need to be.”

Notes: Aho was minus three despite scoring his first playoff goal…Justin Faulk was also -3 in 27:58 of ice time….Micheal Ferland was kicked out in period two for what was called a head shot on Dowd. The Canes killed that one off, but Coach Rod Brind’Amour said the zebras got it wrong…Washington was 0 for 4 in 10:09 of power play time. They struggled with their passing and the poor ice conditions seemed to exacerbate it. Carolina was 1 for 5 with the man advantage but Brind’Amour said not scoring on the five on three was a huge factor in the loss…Hamilton elbowed Kuznetsov in the head in period two and it took #92 several shifts to find his game again. That seemed to coincide with the line reunion with Vrana.

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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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Holtby Flyers

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Holtby Reaches Major Milestone in Caps 5-3 Win Over the Flyers

Posted on 06 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby made 27 saves on 30 shots to help the Caps knock off the franchise’s longest bitter rival, the Philadelphia Flyers, in Filthy by a 5-3 count. With the win, the Holtbeast became the second fastest goalie in NHL history to 250 victories doing so in 409 games. Only Montreal goaltending legend, Ken Dryden, achieved the milestone faster (380 games).

This is an impressive feat and sure, a decent part of it is the byproduct of a great team, much like Dryden had with the Habs, but Braden is a stellar goalie who passed first round (Semyon Varlamov) and second round (Michal Neuvirth) draft picks in the system along the way to seize the Caps crease, for the most part, since 2012 when Dale Hunter took over as coach and rode #70 nearly to the third round of the playoffs that spring. The only blip on the radar was the disastrous 2013-14 season where former coach Adam Oates, who doesn’t know jack about goaltending, tried to mess the Holtbeast up by changing his style and then corrupting ex-Caps GM George McPhee into allowing three goalies on the roster, including acquiring Jaroslav Halak at the 2014 trade deadline. The three headed goalie monster almost always fails and that trade for Halak was ultimately the last stupid move that McPhee and Oates would make as a part of the Capitals organization.

But back to the present, Holtby is a Stanley Cup Champion goaltender and played a huge part in that run, so he’s deserving of this position in NHL history. Anyone who read his Players Tribune article on Wednesday knows how hard he works and how mentally focused he’s become. I first met Holts in the elevator at the building formerly known as Kettler IcePlex in 2008 right after he had been drafted and was in for Caps Development Camp. The 18 year old, at the time, definitely impressed me off the ice and I took notice of him right away. As he worked his way up the system, I was able to see his focus in another off-ice situation. While covering the 2010 Calder Cup Finals in Hershey, me and other media members were interviewing several Bears players after an early series game win, including Neuvirth and the great Jay Beagle, and I watched Holts come out of the locker room, sit on the bench by his locker quietly, and just study the stat sheet intently for nearly 15 minutes. Braden didn’t even play that night or that series, but you could just see how determined he was to improve any way possible. Once he came up and played a few games during the latter portion of the Bruce Boudreau era, he quickly became the number on goalie on my depth chart and many in the Caps organization felt that way right up until Oates came along and hosed things up. Fortunately the hiring of Coach Barry Trotz and the promotion to GM of Brian MacLellan ended some mistaken goalie decisions and logic. Trotz immediately declared #70 the number one goalie and after a Stanley Cup plus two Presidents’ Trophies he’s now made history again in 2018-19.

As for Wednesday’s game itself, the Capitals came out razor sharp in this affair racing to a 2-0 first period lead. Alex Ovechkin was on a mission and he made a super pass to Tom Wilson on the doorstep to start the scoring just 5:55 into the contest. It was Willy’s career high 19th tally in just 48 games this season. Brett Connolly would then score his career high 17th goal when his shot hit the stick of the Flyers defensemen, clipped Brian Elliott’s glove, and then doinked the camera in the back of the net to make it 2-0 with 5:44 to go in the opening frame. The Caps played fast and hard and could’ve been up more after 20 minutes.

In period two, they kept the hammer down. Sean Couturier was boxed for tripping Matt Niskanen and on the ensuing power play, John Carlson made a great keep in on the right wing boards and then All Star Nicklas Backstrom slid a super cross ice pass to the Gr8 while fighting off two Flyers. Ovi was all alone in the high slot and snapped one five hole on the Flyers keeper to make it 3-0 just 2:32 into the middle stanza. It was outstainding effort and superb skill by both Carlson and Backy on that sequence. Of course, the greatest goal scorer on the planet today, and perhaps of all time, finished the play off with his unbelievable shooting prowess.

Washington did not let up and Andre Burakovsky beat Elliott short side off of the near post, again on a deflected shot (Shane Gostibehere tipped the puck after it came off of Burky’s stick), at 4:18 and that’s when Flyers interim coach Scott Gordon opted for Cam Talbot in the cage. The former Ranger and Oiler was promptly greeted with a goal against just 79 seconds later. Nick Jensen made a nice stretch pass off of the boards that Jakub Vrana out raced the Flyers defense to gather in. The Czech speedster carried the disc behind the net and then fed an all alone Bacskstrom in the slot where Nicky roofed it to make 5-0 with just under 35 minutes remaining.

From there the Caps played fairly decently until the latter stages of the period when they got caught up in a bit of a rush game. Philadelphia received a three on two with 20 seconds left and scored with just 12 ticks remaining on a dart from the high slot. It was a play that JUST CANNOT HAPPEN that late in a frame. Washington flat out stopped playing for 10 seconds and it gave the Flyers life.

Philly then won the opening faceoff for period three and Claude Giroux beat Backstrom to the net for a tap in just 10 seconds in. Suddenly we had a three goal game. Washington still did not learn that they could not afford to get into a back and forth rush affair, yet they did, and eventually the red hot Flyers, who were 17-4-2 in their last 23 games coming into Wednesday night’s tilt, scored with 12:12 remaining on a point blast through a maze of players. Washington played about 10 bad minutes in a row in this affair and they were outscored during that time, 3-0.

Coach Reirden smartly had seen enough of the riverboat gambling style of play and he called a timeout. He then demonstratively instructed his troops how he wanted to conduct the remaining dozen plus minutes. It was one-three-one time, something this club excelled at last spring en route to the Cup, and they implemented that structure well on Wednesday to secure the game from then on, which was unlike the Anaheim contest back in early December where they kept playing pond hockey against the Dirty Ducks and lost, 6-5.

Holtby did have to make a big save after it was 5-3, but that’s what great goalies do, they come up large in crunch time. After that chance, though, the Flyers didn’t really have much of an opportunity to score as the Capitals shut things down, something they need to do regularly with just 15 games to go before the playoffs.

At the end of the night, the Caps won the game and also hopefully learned some valuable lessons. First, they can’t stop playing or not start playing at the commencement of a period. Second, when leading they have to make sure they don’t get dragged into a rush game. Too many times all three forwards were caught deep in the Flyers zone and that’s just not smart hockey. Third, once they went to their one-three-one neutral zone lock down they really gave the Flyers nothing, so it was good reinforcement for the squad that they can still go to that structure to successfully close out a game.

Credit the Flyers for not quitting, their season was on the line, so they weren’t going away easily, but Philadelphia has no time for moral victories. They are now seven points out of a playoff spot and are pretty much done for 2018-19. The Capitals do play them two more times and those games, regardless of records or standings implications, are always a battle. Many lifelong Capitals fans despise the former Broad Street Bullies so it’s always good to beat that team, especially in their own barn.

So on Thursday, Caps Nation can feel good, they are back in first place with a 39-21-7 (85 points) record and they are coming off a nice educational triumph over their longest archrival.

As I almost always write after a win over the despised Flyers, the air is cleaner, the drinks go down smoother, and the food definitely tastes better the next day!

Notes: Washington out shot attempted Philly, 64-54, and led the shots on goal total, 35-30…the Caps were once again creamed on face-offs, 32-14. Lars Eller was the best Cap at 6-7…with the big lead Coach Reirden was able to pretty much roll the lines, especially on defense. Niskanen led the blue liners in ice time with a low total of 21:01 and Brooks Orpik played the least at 16:33. Wilson led the Caps forwards in time on ice with 19:34…Dmitry Orlov, who had two bad passes that led to early goals in the games in the Big Apple, was fabulous in this affair with two assists and he was plus three in 20:43. He and Niskanen really were stellar on defense in this one, which is very encouraging…Carl Hagelin played on the third line again and was excellent picking up an assist in 13:40 of ice time…next up for the Caps are the Devils at Capital One Arena on Friday night at 7 pm.

 

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Hagelin Rangers Game

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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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Oshie Caps Feb 26

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Caps Overcome a Slow Start and Bury Ottawa, 7-2

Posted on 27 February 2019 by Ed Frankovic

T.J. Oshie scored twice and every Capitals forward in the top nine notched at least one point as the Washington Capitals rallied from a poor start and an early 2-0 deficit to totally destroy the Ottawa Senators, 7-2, on Tuesday night at Capital One Arena. Braden Holtby made 21 saves to pick up his 22nd victory of the season as the Caps moved into a first place tie in the Metropolitan Division with the New York Islanders at 79 points.

The Isles lost at home on Tuesday to Calgary, 3-1, but they do have two games in hand on the Capitals, who are now at 36-21-7. New York will play their former captain, John Tavares, and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum in what will be an emotionally charged contest. The Caps will then take on Coach Barry Trotz and his team on Friday evening in an affair that will also be played on Long Island.

Back to Tuesday’s tilt, there was a very poor beginning to this contest for the Caps. Ottawa coach Guy Boucher is known for clogging the neutral zone and the entry to his defensive zone and Washington didn’t play the right way early on forcing pucks to the middle of the ice and refusing to make the smart play, which was to dump the puck down the boards and put pressure on a young Senators defense. As a result, even a depleted Ottawa roster, which lost forwards Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, and Ryan Dzingel before the trade deadline, was able to take advantage of Washington mistakes and forge an early lead.

Oscar Lindberg, who was acquired in the Stone trade with Vegas, tallied on the doorstep when Lars Eller and Michal Kempny didn’t communicate in coverage in the slot area. A Travis Boyd tripping penalty just over two minutes later put the Caps a man down and Anthony Duclair, a historical Capitals killer, tallied on the power play through a screen created by Chris Tierney and Matt Niskanen.

The Caps would go over 10 minutes before getting their first shot on net, but as the period progressed into the latter stages, you could see Washington starting to exert a lot of effort. Alex Ovechkin (2 assists) took a nice feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 goal, 1 assist) to set up Tom Wilson for a layup on the door step with  3:03 to go in the opening frame to cut the deficit in half. Less than a minute later, Lars Eller took a sweet cross ice pass from Dmitry Orlov (2 assists) and buried it to even things up after 20 minutes.

Washington came out guns a blazing and put up four second period markers with the first coming on the power play, a John “Norris” Carlson bomb from the point after a nice dish from All Star Nicklas Backstrom (2 assists). The Caps needed just 38 seconds to tally in their only man advantage opportunity of the night. Before the middle stanza hit the 10 minute mark, the Caps ran the lead to 5-2 on an Oshie rebound goal of a good, hard point shot by Brooks Orpik that Anders Nilsson couldn’t handle and then Brett Connolly’s career high 16th goal on a sequence in which Andre Burakovsky made two nice plays to earn an assist. Oshie would then notch his 20th goal of the season on a rush sequence with Orlov providing another nice pass to make it 6-2 after 40 minutes.

Kuznetsov closed out the scoring just 17 seconds into period three, which was good because Evgeny had left late in period two going down the tunnel to the locker room after taking a puck in the right wrist area. Wilson, who scored his career high 18th goal to open the scoring, notched his 15th assist of the campaign and Ovi also had the primary helper on the play to give him 74 points in 63 games.

This was a sloppy game, at times, by the Caps, but when they played their system, they thoroughly dominated a team that is very inexperienced, as one would expect. Coach Todd Reirden wasn’t happy with the start, but he heavily relies on his leadership group to right the ship when necessary, and they did just that on this evening. Ovechkin had a big shift that got the team rolling and then Backstrom, Oshie, and Orpik turned in strong performances as part of the leadership core.

Oshie was especially impressive. He beat out an icing on one sequence in period two and even when the Caps were up by five goals with just over six minutes to go, he was still working his butt off. Ottawa had what appeared to a be a jailbreak, a four on one by my eyes, but the Osh Babe back checked quickly and ended up intercepting a Sens pass to the slot in front of Holtby and skated the biscuit out of harm’s way. When asked about that play following the contest, the Caps bench boss smiled big time, paused, and then praised Oshie up and down stating that is why #77 is so important to his team. Coach Rierden talked about how great a teammate T.J. is and said he tried to put him out for extra shifts a couple of times late in the game to get him a hat trick and the Osh Babe politely declined. It was pretty clear from Todd’s assessment that Oshie is all about the team at all times and the coach said that both of those clips, the icing washout and the super back check, will be shown on video to the team as they prepare for the Islanders. As I’ve said in the past, the Capitals don’t win a Stanley Cup without the Osh Babe.

Another player who continues to improve is Burakovksy. Andre, with his well deserved assist on the fifth goal, is now up to 20 points in 58 games and as his line mate Connolly noted afterwards, has really been playing with confidence over the last several weeks. On that tally, Andre made the right play to start the whole sequence by putting the puck down the right wing boards after his zone entry. The Senators had vacated that area of the ice all night and when the Caps put the puck there, they usually turned it into scoring chances and/or long offensive zone time. Ottawa had to retrieve that disc and when they tried to take it up the other wall for an exit, Burky was there to force a turnover and get the biscuit to Conno, who then skated up high in the offensive zone around Thomas Chabot and then down the right side of the slot before beating Nilsson five hole.

On the back end, Orpik and Nick Jensen had another solid effort together with Brooks getting an assist for the second straight game. The acquisition of Jensen provides stability to the blue line and in this contest, assistant coach Reid Cashman pretty much just rolled the defensive pairs as evidenced by the fairly even ice times. Niskanen led the way with a low total of 20:48, but Jensen, Orlov, Kempny, and Carlson were all above 20 minutes while #44 logged 17:46. Getting the minutes down for Carlson and Niskanen to keep them fresher going forward is important. Up front, Backstrom led the way with 16:37 and Boyd had the lowest time on ice for forwards with 12:12.

Coach Reirden, who was put in a tough spot after Coach Trotz resigned for more money and term in New York, commented afterwards that he is happy that everyone now knows what the roster is going to be going forward with Monday’s trade deadline in the rear view mirror. All of the players have clearly defined roles. Todd mentioned that he’s done a lot of research into trying to repeat, which is a very difficult thing to achieve, especially in the NHL (only the Penguins and Red Wings have done it in the last 25 years). He noted that he’s focused on trying to make sure that the club has the right energy level from here on out and he’ll adjust his schedule accordingly as things progress. The Caps have had some real stinkers this season, but that was the case in 2017-18, as well. This is an experienced group that has a lot of pride. When they show up focused, with energy, and play the system, they typically prevail. The Capitals tend to get up for big games, and after not being ready against the Islanders in December at Capital One Arena in a 2-0 blanking, I expect them to be dialed in and look more like the team that stuck it to New York in November.

Notes: Both teams were one for one on the power play…Washington lost the face off battle, 30-35. Oshie was 4-0 and Kuznetsov went 9-8…the Caps only had eight hits, but they did have the puck most of the night…shot attempts were 67-40 for the Capitals. Ottawa had 13 shots on goal in period one and just five each in the final two frames (23 total). The Caps had 37 shots on goal.

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Ovi Kings Feb 2019

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Ovechkin’s Two Goals Carry the Caps Over LA

Posted on 19 February 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kuzy win Flames

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Kuznetsov’s Late Tally Ends Caps’ 7-Game Losing Streak

Posted on 01 February 2019 by Ed Frankovic

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored on the power play with 57 seconds left in regulation after Nicklas Backstrom drew a holding penalty on Mikael Backlund with 1:58 remaining to propel the Washington Capitals to a 4-3 victory over the Western Conference leading Calgary Flames and end the Caps seven game losing streak. The triumph improves the Capitals to 28-17-6 (62 points) and they are tied for second place with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have an identical record, just two points behind the first place New York Islanders in the Metropolitan Division.

What follows are my thoughts and analysis of a much needed win for the Capitals.

Alexander Ovechkin, who leads the NHL in goals with 37, was suspended for this tilt because he chose to skip the NHL All Star Game in San Jose to get some much needed rest. Washington as a whole needed the All Star break and subsequent bye week to get away from the game and recharge because they looked gassed during the latter stages of their losing streak. The Caps were playing bad hockey, hopefully just caused by fatigue, by forcing pucks to the middle of the ice at the offensive blue line and that was leading to numerous odd man rushes and scoring chances for their opponents. In addition, their defensive zone coverage and overall play was suspect and lacked energy. That made things difficult for the goaltenders, which suddenly lost the roll they were on when the Capitals won 16 of 19 games before the slide.

Prior to Friday’s tilt against the fast and talented Flames, Washington Capitals Coach Todd Reirden emphasized that the team needed to return to a more structured game. What he meant was smarter decisions with the puck – specifically getting the biscuit deep in the offensive zone, either on net or below the goal line, and then working the opposition to create scoring opportunities. He also wanted a more committed effort in the neutral and defensive zones to limit opposing scoring chances. He received a lot of that against Calgary. The Capitals didn’t yield many odd man rushes in this affair and the Flames had to really work to generate shots. They are a very good team, so naturally they had their looks, but much like they did last spring, Washington blocked a lot of shots, 27 in total!

When you get 40 shots on goal, you are making smarter decisions with the biscuit, and the Caps did just that in this affair. The Flames Mike Smith (36 saves) used his size to make some big stops, especially in period two when Washington failed to increase their 3-2 lead on three consecutive power plays. What was impressive about the Capitals offense was that they just kept firing the puck and put bodies to the cage. They didn’t get frustrated and resort to trying to make the perfect play. It takes energy to fight to the front of the net and get some ugly goals, but the Caps did that. Nic Dowd opened the scoring tipping home Norris Trophy candidate John Carlson’s point blast with Devante Smith-Pelly also providing net presence on the play. The Capitals second goal was a sequence where they won the puck down low, Brett Connolly then made a super pass to Brooks Orpik at the left point, and #44’s shot was right on the cage and hard to handle for Smith. Lars Eller kept the puck alive and then Dmitrij Jaskin potted the rebound to make it 2-1 late in period one.

Washington’s special teams have been much maligned of late with the power play falling to 10th in the NHL and the penalty killing in the bottom fourth of the league (25th at 77.7% overall). Against Calgary, the Caps didn’t score on their first three man advantage situations, although T.J. Oshie, who played from the Ovi spot, hit the post. However, Kuzy saved the unit and the game with his rush goal with the man advantage late in regulation. The Caps did a better job of staying out of the box, although I hated Dmitry Orlov’s lazy offensive zone holding penalty in the third period, so they only had to kill two Flames power plays. They were fortunately successful, although James Neal had a couple of great chances that, like in game four of the Stanley Cup Final, he did not bury.

In the sixth loss of the streak the Caps gave up a goal with one second left against San Jose and then lost in overtime. The defensive pair at the time of the tying tally was Matt Niskanen and Michal Kempny. For some reason, Orpik, who was +3 in that game in only 12 minutes of ice time, didn’t see the surface over the last 3:52. It’s possible he was banged up, because he didn’t play in Toronto the next night, but given the way he historically has been deployed – he’s usually on the ice at the end when the Caps are holding a one goal lead; it was head scratching that he wasn’t out there and if he would’ve been, the Capitals would’ve won. Against the Flames, Orpik was on the ice at the end of the game as Calgary tried to tie things up with Smith pulled for the extra attacker. Brooks cleaned house in front of the net, along with Backstrom, who put Johnny Gaudreau into the boards, and Washington never gave up a quality scoring chance as the clock expired. It was nice to see the coaches get the proper players on the ice in a key situation there. Orpik also got into it with pesky Matthew Tkachuk after the horn with each getting five for fighting.

Braden Holtby, who was stellar in the All Star Game, especially in the match up versus the Atlantic Division team when he stopped about six straight odd man rush chances, had a strong game. The three goals he allowed on 30 shots were a breakaway where Jonas Siegenthaler was badly beaten one on one by Backlund and then two deflection tallies. Holts’ biggest stop of the evening was on Neal at the left post. When Washington plays strong defense, it is much easier for the Holtbeast to know where the shots are coming from. The Caps still have work to do to get their game going full throttle, but Friday’s play was a strong step in the right direction.

Notes: The Caps, who were dead last in the NHL in face-offs at 46.2% coming into the game, were 33-41 (45%) against Calgary. Dowd was 7-4, Kuznetsov went 5-15, and Backstrom was 12-19…the Caps might need to look at adding a faceoff/PK specialist for the stretch run and playoffs (Brian Boyle anyone?)…Kuznetsov (1 goal, 1 assist) and Tom Wilson (14th goal of the season) led the team with six shots on net…Willy had six hits in 20:31 of ice time. He is a beast and such an important part of this team…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 27:37. He should win the Norris Trophy this season, if I had my way….next up for the Caps are the Boston Bruins on Sunday at 12:30 pm from Capital One Arena in the annual Super Bowl Matinee.

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Stephenson Nisky

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Washington Holds Off Carolina’s Late Charge to Win Again

Posted on 27 December 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby made 28 saves and T.J. Oshie’s second period power play marker held up as the game winning goal as the Washington Capitals knocked off the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-1, on Thursday night at Capital One Arena. The victory improves the Caps to 23-10-3 (49 points) on the season and they lead the second place Columbus Blue Jackets by two points, but Washington has a game in hand.

Here are 10 thoughts, highlights, and analysis of the first game out of the 2018 NHL Christmas break.

Petr Mrazek has a history of playing very well against Washington going back to his Detroit days and he turned in a gem on Thursday night. The Czech goalie made 30 saves and kept his team in it late into the third period. The Caps should’ve been up by more than two pucks, but he was stellar in net.

Washington’s power play has been struggling over the last 10 games and were in a 3 for 31 funk when the Osh Babe deflected home John Carlson’s point blast to make it 2-0 late in period two. That was the Caps fourth man advantage of the night and they were struggling to score. The Ovi spot has been walled off lately by the opponents and the Capitals have been a little too stagnant with the extra player, but they finally got smart and simplified things with bodies and pucks to the net. Good things happen when you do that, and it paid off there. If Washington can get those type of goals off of traffic, then the opponents will have to pull their defensive players back down tighter to the net, which will open things up in Alex’s office, once again.

Chandler Stephenson put the Capitals up 1-0 in period two when the fourth line was all over the Canes with a vicious forecheck. Devante Smith-Pelly forced Calvin De Haan to cough the puck up the middle of the ice and #18 jumped on it in the slot and snapped one over Mrazek to start the scoring. That fourth line of Stephenson, Travis Boyd, and DSP was pretty good all game.

DSP had a strong outing and he was a big reason the Capitals penalty killing went 4 for 4. Carolina really didn’t have a whole lot of chances until their last power play, when they nearly tied the game. Washington is doing an excellent job of keeping the opposing power plays on the perimeter and allowing their goalies to see any shots.

With 8:21 the play that changed the game, but fortunately, not the outcome, occurred. Matt Niskanen was heading back into his own right wing boards when Justin Williams hit him well before Nisky could get to the puck. That’s interference, especially considering some of the other ticky tacky calls made by the zebras on this night. The hit by Stick knocked Niskanen to his right and then Clark Bishop came barreling in and shoved Nisky in the back slamming him into the boards with an extra push. That’s boarding. The very experienced Capitals TV play by play man, Joe Beninati, reacted immediately to the bad hit with concern. Fortunately, Matt was able to avoid direct head contact with the boards and after staying down for a minute or so, Niskanen was able to get up and skate to the locker room on his own power. Coach Todd Reirden did not have a post game update on Nisky, so his status for Saturday’s game in Ottawa remains unclear.

Following the injury, the Capitals looked stunned because one of their leaders was out on a weird play and they didn’t get the power play they thought they rightfully deserved. Compounding the matter, shortly thereafter Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Carlson all were a little careless with the biscuit in the offensive zone and that led to a Michal Ferland breakaway. The Holtbeast, who has been outstanding in those situations this season thanks to the work he’s been putting in with goalie coach Scott Murray, stopped the one on one opportunity once again, but his teammates didn’t get back and Sebastian “I own the Caps” Aho fired the rebound into the empty cage with 7:35 left in the game. Suddenly a sure triumph was in doubt for the Caps.

The officiating by Jon McIsaac and Ghislain “Send Him Back to Quebec” Hebert was head scratching at times, and none more so than on that play where Niskanen was injured, but the linesmen then made a major blunder that nearly cost Washington the lead. The Canes dumped the puck directly into the Caps zone from behind the red line and Michal Kempny was way ahead of any Carolina player, but somehow the linesmen wiped out icing. A few seconds later Kempny was jailed for high sticking and with 3:48 to go the Canes had a man advantage situation to potentially tie up what was once a near blowout. Again, the Capitals PK came through, but the guys in stripes certainly were doing their best to give Rod Brind’Amour’s team a chance to even the numbers on the scoreboard.

Holtby was very good once again, he didn’t have to make a lot of quality saves, but the ones he had to deny were of the ten bell variety. He continues to be stellar on breakaways and the only goal he allowed was because the five skaters on the ice hung him out to dry.

With the NHL shut down for three days for Christmas, Carolina had to travel from Raleigh on Thursday morning for this tilt. That was an advantage for the Caps and again, they dominated this game, but Mrazek kept it close. Fortunately All Star Nicklas Backstrom won a neutral zone faceoff directly back to Carlson with just under a minute to go and #74 rifled it from inside his own blue line into the empty cage to seal the deal for Washington. Brind’Amour gambled with the neutral zone draw by keeping Mrazek on the bench for the sixth attacker and he rolled snake eyes there.

The Capitals lead the Metropolitan Division by two points over Columbus and they have a game in hand on John Tortorella’s team. Pittsburgh is five points back and Washington has a game in hand on the Pens, as well. In fourth place are the Islanders at 40 points, so the Caps are nine points clear of a playoff spot here in late December. I expect the top three teams in the Metro to pull away from the pack and the question remains if Coach Barry Trotz’ crew can beat out Montreal or perhaps Boston for the last playoff position. Bottom line, barring any crazy injuries, the Eastern Conference playoff race is turning into a nine teams for eight spots race with the top six (Tampa, Toronto, Washington, Columbus, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh) looking solid. There are still 46 games left for the Caps, though, so let’s not count the chickens before they hatch, although it is very tempting to do so.

Notes: The Corsi Canes out shot attempted the Caps, 57-56, but the quality chances were clearly in Washington’s favor, by a good margin…Carlson led the Capitals in ice time with 25:05. Niskanen left after logging 16:54. With Kempny in the box late, Madison Bowey and Jonas Siegenthaler had to kill off part of the penalty and they did so in fine fashion. That is encouraging for the Caps as they build defensive depth. Brooks Orpik is expected back in the lineup very soon, perhaps as early as Saturday in Ottawa, and that’s a welcome sign, especially if Niskanen is out for any length of time. Tyler Lewington was recalled as the 7th defensemen for Thursday’s game after being sent down following last Saturday’s shutout victory in Ottawa to save some salary cap room…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 33-27. Backstrom was 12-4.

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Pheonix Copley Gets His 1st NHL Shutout in Caps Win Over Ottawa

Posted on 22 December 2018 by Ed Frankovic

“By the time I get to Phoenix, she’ll be rising…” – Glen Campbell

One night after Braden Holtby had me singing Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall,” Capitals backup goalie Pheonix Copley turned in an absolute gem of a performance making 35 saves at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa in a Washington whitewashing of the Senators, 4-0. It was Copley’s first NHL shutout and he certainly earned it. Naturally, I now have that country smash hit by the late, great Campbell in my head as the Caps move into the Christmas break at 22-10-3 (47 points) overall and a four point lead over the second place Columbus Blue Jackets.

Coach Todd Reirden’s club has now won 14 of their last 17 games and a HUGE reason for this great run has been the stellar play of their two goalies, the Holtbeast and Copper. For the season, Holtby is 14-8-2 with a .914 save percentage and Copley is now 8-2-1 with a .912 save percentage. Pheonix’s numbers are impressive and he’s perhaps been the biggest surprise of the season for the Caps given that Washington, due to salary cap constraints, had to part ways with backup Philipp Grubauer after winning the Cup. Copley, who fittingly at this time of year hails from North Pole, Alaska, is very good at making the first save and his team has become very adept at making sure the rebound isn’t ending up in the back of their net. That was a major key to Saturday night’s triumph in Ottawa because the Senators had their share of quality chances. Capitals goaltending coach Scott Murray continues to do an outstanding job with his keepers.

On the Washington side of the ledger, the offense was humming and getting only four lamp lighters is probably a low total given the opportunities they had in this affair. Brett Connolly, whose overall game keeps rising in his third campaign with the Capitals, is having his best season ever. Conno tipped home a Jonas Seigenthaler point shot just 1:32 into the game to give Washington an early lead and a jump in their stride. Connolly is up to eight goals and 14 assists (22 points) in the first 35 games. Andre Burakovsky didn’t get an apple on Brett’s tally, but his wall work in the right wing corner against two Senators was “Oshie-like” and created the turnover that led to the goal. I’ve really liked the effort I’ve seen from Burky the last two nights and feel like if he keeps working hard and staying positive, he’ll start seeing some points pile up.

Evgeny Kuznetsov didn’t have a point on Saturday night, but he was really flying, once again. The Capitals second line of Kuzy, Tom Wilson, and Jakub Vrana is really clicking right now. Vrana just keeps getting better and better and after getting stopped on a first period breakaway, it was #13 who really cemented this victory with a great stick lift of the Senators defense that led to his unassisted goal at 9:05 of period two that made it 3-0. He also received a celebratory face wash from the Capitals captain after he skated by the bench following the beautiful play. Vrana now has 11 goals and 9 helpers (20 points) in 35 games and he’s +13 overall. Like Kuzy, Willy didn’t have any points either, but he had six hits and created havoc all night for the Senators defense.

After a rough game on Friday night against Buffalo, the Capitals top line was better against Ottawa. Alex Ovechkin made a nice breakout pass to All Star Nicklas Backstrom that gave the Caps a three on two rush up the ice late in period one. Matt Niskanen joined the rush and with Nicky carrying the biscuit down the left wing boards, Nisky made a bee line for the net with his stick on the ice. Nicky then put one right on the tape of #2 and Matt tipped it home for a 2-0 Caps lead with 2:04 left in period one. That was a huge goal, and fundamental hockey, to really put the home club behind the eight ball after 20 minutes considering that both squads played on Friday and then had to travel late into the night to the capital city of the Great White North.

Coach Reirden made two lineup changes after Friday’s win inserting Travis Boyd for Devante Smith-Pelly on the fourth line and he also gave Tyler Lewington his first NHL game on the blue line. Tyler acquitted himself rather well in 13:07 of ice time going +1 while paired with Seigenthaler (16:15, 1 assist). The coaching staff, with the early lead, was able to pretty much roll the lines in this game with John Carlson being the team leader in ice time with a low total of 23:21. Carly and his defensive partner, Michal Kempny were +2 on the night. It was Kempny who put this one out of reach with 6:16 remaining in period two when his point shot ricocheted in off of a Senators player past Mike McKenna to make it 4-0. Connolly had an assist there and Burakovsky didn’t get a point again, but he made a smart play to move towards the net taking his defender with him. Kempny’s shot hit the player covering Burky and hit the twine. Good things happen when you get pucks and bodies to the net and the Capitals did that well on Saturday night.

The referees in this game, Eric Furlatt and Peter MacDougall, pretty much let the teams play. Ottawa had two power plays and the Caps had three and the officiating was very consistent, which doesn’t seem to happen a lot these days. Washington was good on the penalty kill, and that started with a great neutral zone presence that prevented Ottawa from coming into the offensive zone with speed. The Sens are a rush team with guys like Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, and Bobby Ryan, but the Capitals really didn’t let them come flying into their end at all in their two man advantage situations. The Caps power play struggled again, for the most part, although the last one late in the game showed signs of life. Kuznetsov hit the post and Backstrom missed a wide open net from the left side of the cage on a quick redirect.

Simply put, the Capitals have become a very good even strength team and they don’t have to rely on their power play to win them games these days. That’s the mark of a really good hockey team and there is no doubt the defending Stanley Cup Champions are once again among the top teams in the NHL.

The Capitals have given their fans another reason to smile this Christmas season, so everyone should enjoy the four day break!

Notes: Washington plays next on Thursday, December 27th at 7 pm at home against the Carolina Hurricanes…the Caps were creamed on faceoffs, 32-18.  Lars Eller was 7-8…Ovechkin had 11 shot attempts after only five on Friday night (he had 14 against the Penguins on Wednesday)…the Capitals blocked 16 shots to just nine for Ottawa.

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