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Ovi Puck to Fans

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Caps Return to Form in Win Over Buffalo

Posted on 19 February 2018 by Ed Frankovic

After their worst performance of the season on Saturday night in the Windy City, the Washington Capitals used a very strong first 40 minutes to build a 2-0 lead and then they overcame some poor play from their blue line in the third period to hold on for a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres in upstate New York.

The victory puts the Caps back in first place in the Metropolitan Division over idle Pittsburgh. Washington is now 34-18-7 (75 points) and they lead the Pens by a point plus they have two games in hand, which will be Tuesday’s home tilt against the NHL leading Tampa Bay Lightning and then in the Sunshine State against the Florida Panthers on Thursday.

Here are seven thoughts and analysis on where the Capitals stand after a 2-1-1 road trip, their longest of the season.

Boy, You’re Going to Carry That Weight – When the Caps bring the effort, they are usually a hard team to beat. On Saturday, they laid a big fat egg in a blowout, 7-1, loss to Chicago. It was the worst skating performance and game of the season and the captain, Alex Ovechkin, called himself out saying it was his worst outing as a Capital. He was right, but the whole team stunk and looked like they went out for a lot of Chitown pizza and beer with the dads on Friday night. Hey, over the course of 82 games, you are going to have clunkers and let’s not take anything away from Chicago, who still has some high powered players on their roster. The Blackhawks were a pissed off team after losing eight straight and they flat out rolled Washington, who offered a futile resistance in that affair. On Presidents Day, the Capitals were back to playing the right way and they deserved to win this game. When the team works and pulls on the rope in the right direction, they are one of the best in the NHL.

Poking the Bear – You had to figure Ovi was going to have a bounce back contest after Saturday’s no show, but Rasmus Ristolainen didn’t do Buffalo any favors by hitting the Gr8 up high early in the affair. That hit clearly angered Ovechkin and he was a force all game in earning the number one star. It was heavy hockey from Alex, who had four hits, as he and Tom Wilson just pounded the Buffalo defense as often as they could. The Gr8 notched his NHL leading 35th tally of the season with a beautiful tip of a Christian Djoos point shot in period two to open the scoring. That goal was the result of a nice forecheck by Brett Connolly after he exited the box, and then some great wall work by T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov, shortly thereafter.

Winning at the Track – Had you played the trifecta of 74-77-92 you would’ve had the trio that was on the ice for all three Washington tallies. Oshie (one assist) especially had a very strong game and is rounding back into proper form as we head into the final seven weeks of the regular season. Kuznetsov, after some early weak shifts, started playing the correct way and had his best performance of the road trip. Kuzy had three shots on net and his play to seal the deal with his empty net tally was a super forecheck, something this team needs to do well to succeed. As for Carlson, well he was really good, too, but he was the only one of the trio to be on for a goal against. John left Evander Kane wide open with three ticks left to put a small dent in Philipp Grubauer’s (32 saves) sweet stat line.

How Long, To Sing This Song – In honor of U2’s great song, 40, the first two periods by the Capitals were a textbook road performance. They played a north-south style and were very hard on pucks. As a result, they won the vast majority of the individual battles. They were only up 2-0 on Ovi’s 35th and Carlson’s 11th of the season, but it could’ve been more if not for Chad Johnson (27 saves) in net for the Sabres. Through 40 minutes, the Caps had 43 shot attempts to just 25 for Buffalo and the quality scoring chances had to be even more lopsided. Washington just couldn’t finish on several opportunities, but if they play like that more often, they will be hard to defeat. Again, it started with the effort and then they made the right decisions with the puck in all zones. It was very impressive hockey and the reason they left Buffalo with two points.

Hold the Line – After the contest, Coach Barry Trotz told the media that he wanted his team to continue to play the same way they did in the first 40 minutes in the third period. After watching the final frame again, his team pretty much listened to him. The first 3:30 of period three was just like the first two periods; the Capitals were forechecking and generating scoring chances. Then Nicklas Backstrom took a bad slashing penalty two thirds away from the Caps own net and the Sabres got some life with a power play. Washington stabilized things after killing off that infraction and while they didn’t get shots on net, they had some very good sustained pressure on Buffalo afterwards. The Lars Eller line, with Connolly and Andre Burakovsky, had a strong offensive zone pressure shift just inside the eight minute remaining mark, but then the Sabres came out of their own zone three on three. Madison Bowey then stepped up and flat out whiffed on defense in the neutral zone and that allowed Buffalo to break into the Washington zone with speed. Eller was forced to cover for the rookie’s mishap and by the time everyone was back on defense, the coverage was out of whack with #22 skating alone in the slot. The Sabres Scott Wilson fired on net from the high slot and Kyle Okposo deflected it home to make it a 2-1 ballgame with 7:32 remaining. Grubauer never saw the shot, mostly because of Bowey, but also due to the Brooks Oprik-Okposo battle in front. Washington was able to hold the line down the stretch, but there were some more mistakes by Bowey and Djoos in pressure filled situations. So what the statistics will show to look like a “Washington sat back” narrative, and I was at first guilty of accusing the Capitals of that, too, was really caused by poor play from the youngsters, and some others, on the Caps blue line.

Upgrading the Backend – Bowey and Djoos both have bright futures for the Capitals, but to quote George Allen, “The Future is Now,” and Washington can’t afford to go into the playoffs with two rookie blue liners. Madison has talent and potential, but the league really locks down from January on and he’s struggled since the game has gotten faster and more intense. On Monday, the Capitals traded a conditional 3rd round draft pick to the Blackhawks for left handed defensemen Michal Kempny. The 27 year old blue liner, who will wear #6, is a decent skating and puck moving player that is best in his own end. Washington’s struggles on the back end have been mostly because of poor passes, so hopefully Kempny can improve that aspect of the Caps game. With this acquisition, it makes the most sense to send Bowey down to Hershey to play a lot of minutes and hone his craft for next season. Madison could also come up if there are multiple injuries on defense. Djoos would probably be best on a third pair with Orpik, if Kempny can play the four hole with Carlson. There is also a strong possibility that GM Brian MacLellan adds another defensemen before the February 26th NHL trade deadline. Bottom line, the Caps inconsistent play since January 1st is likely most traced to the issues on defense. Bowey and Djoos should be good long term players, but Washington needs to try and win this year, so it’s up to the GM to keep upgrading this current deficiency.

You Make Me Wanna Cry – When the Capitals were temporarily bumped out of 1st place on Sunday night, Caps Twitter practically melted down. It was maddening to see so many people declare that the season was over and that MacLellan should start tearing the team down. Granted this is the same crew that complains when they are in first place, too, stating that the division title doesn’t mean anything and all that counts is the playoffs. Yes, the playoffs are what matters, but to want to rebuild for the future with a top eight team in a wide open race is ridiculous. Fortunately, it’s just an expected over emotionally based reaction by many on social media, but it’s really ludicrous. The Caps are a team that could go deep in the playoffs and possibly win a Stanley Cup should they continue to tweak the back end and play the right way. So for so many to lose their freaking minds is ridiculous, you make me wanna cry! [Cue the Godley & Cream].

Notes: Buffalo out shot the Caps, 17-6, in period three, including 31-12, in shot attempts. Again, I put that on the mistakes Washington made on defense, especially their young blue liners. When they make a mistake, it tends to lead to multiple chances for the opposition and causes a cumulative fatigue effect…the Capitals won the face-off battle, 35-33. Eller was 11-7…the Caps only had one power play while Buffalo had three. A weak interference call on Connolly shortened Washington’s only man advantage chance…Kuznetsov took a puck in the face, at one point, but came back to have a strong finish.

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Osh Beags Buf

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Caps Play Textbook Road Game in Win Over Buffalo

Posted on 10 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

After Wednesday’s OT victory against the Boston Bruins, one in which the Capitals lost a three goal lead, Washington held a post game players only meeting to clear the air and get everyone on the same page.

It worked.

For the first time in several weeks, the Caps played a complete hockey game in a 4-1 victory in Buffalo that allowed the Capitals to sweep the Sabres, 3-0, this season.

Sure there were mistakes out there, the other team gets paid to play too, but Washington played a textbook road game. They were hustling and making smart decisions. They were also very positionally sound such that when someone made a mistake, there was a teammate there to make a play in support. After getting exposed by the Bruins badly after defensemen Matt Niskanen left the game on Wednesday in the first period, no one was hung out to dry against the Sabres on Friday night. In fact, they only gave up one odd man rush the entire night, a three on two late in period two.

Philipp Grubauer (27 saves) was stellar in net. He didn’t make any spectacular stops, but he was rock steady between the pipes, especially in the first 25 minutes when the game was scoreless. He and Braden Holtby have now formed the league’s best goalie tandem this season.

With Niskanen out of the lineup and day to day with an upper body injury, Taylor Chorney was put into action and paired with Nate Schmidt. Brooks Oprik and Dmitry Orlov linked up while John Carlson and Karl Alzner were the top duo. Those pairs provided balance and Orlov (2 assists in 16:52) had his best game of the season. He didn’t get out of position, he was tenacious on the puck, and he showed excellent hockey sense.

As for Carlson, well he was outstanding too and he finally broke his 25 game scoring drought with a key power play tally to make it 3-1 with 5:40 remaining and pretty much end this tilt. When Carlson and Orlov are paired with a partner who is strong defensively and knows how to support an offensive defensemen, they each are able to bring out the best side of their respective games.

The big key to this contest, once again, was getting the first goal. Jay Beagle and T.J. Oshie, who are both great at winning the one on one puck battles, each won one along the offensive boards. As a result, they were able to get the puck to an open Nicklas Backstrom (two assists, +2) at the left point and he fired it back to Beagle in the left wing corner. When both Sabres defenders converged on #83, that left Oshie all alone streaking to the net and Beags put a behind the back pass right to #77 who went skate to stick with the puck and buried it top shelf at 6:43 of period two. Washington is now 14-3-2 this season when scoring first.

With the score 1-0, the Caps earned a second period power play and then they really put a stranglehold on this contest. Evgeny Kuznetsov made a great late power play rush up the right wing boards squeezing by a Sabres defender en route. #92 then took the puck to the net instead of trying a drop pass or spinning away from any contact. As Kuzy did this, Jakub Vrana very smartly made a bee line for the paint. #13 stopped on the door step, something Comcast analyst Alan May pointed out is critical if you want to score goals, and he buried the great pass from Kuznetsov past Robin Lehner. It was Vrana’s first NHL goal and the game winning tally. Afterwards, he received a shaving cream pie in the face from Tom Wilson in celebration of his milestone.

If there was any gripe about the Capitals in this one, it came in the third period when they took three straight penalties. After holding the Sabres power play at bay on the first two, Kyle Okposo put a puck home from the doorstep with 7:57 to make this a one goal affair.

But as Oshie pointed out afterwards, the Capitals didn’t sit back and they immediately went on the forecheck, which is a real strength of this team when they put their mind and effort into it. As a result of that pressure, Brian Gionta took a bad interference penalty on Kuznetsov, which set the stage for Carlson’s first goal of the season.

Overall, the Caps effort was excellent across the board; there were mistakes, but because they were working as a unit, they minimized any damage, even when Buffalo was able to get a quality scoring chance. Grubauer was solid in net and the defense didn’t allow many second chances for the Sabres.

Coach Barry Trotz and the Capitals have to be pleased with this Friday night performance.

Notes: The win moves the Caps record to 16-7-3 (35 points)…Alex Ovechkin didn’t have any points, but he had six shots on net and four hits. He was working hard on the ice and didn’t make any mistakes or take any penalties. If he keeps playing like that, then the goals will start coming again…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:40…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 33-24. Beagle was an astounding 16-4…Marcus Johansson scored his 12th goal of the season into the empty net after Oshie (1G, 1A) won another puck battle to spring Jojo for an easy marker…the Caps were 2 for 3 on the power play and both tallies came at key junctures in the game and provided Washington with a two goal cushion…Buffalo went 1 for 5 with the man advantage…Andre Burakovsky had one shot on goal in 9:58. He was good in the first two periods, but in the final frame he made some bad plays and looked timid with the puck…next up for the Caps are the Vancouver Canucks at the Verizon Center at 5 pm on Sunday. Vancouver defeated the Lightning, 5-1, on Thursday and will visit Florida at 7 pm on Saturday and then take a late night flight to DC.

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Isles Beat Caps

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Caps Squander Lead and Lose to Islanders in Overtime

Posted on 05 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

There are good losses in sports and there are bad losses.

On Tuesday night at the Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals suffered one of the bad variety yielding a 3-1 lead with 12 minutes remaining and losing in overtime to the New York Islanders, 4-3.

The Caps kept their season long streak of not losing two games in a row in regulation alive, but for just the second time after a loss, they fell in overtime and are now 15-0-2 after a regulation defeat in 2015-16.

Washington has been in preseason-like mode in several games recently, due to the standings, but they played a decent first period and took the lead on Alex Ovechkin’s 46th goal of the season thanks to a great screen in front by T.J. Oshie. The Caps had the puck a lot in that first frame, but they didn’t get enough rubber on rookie goalie, Christopher Gibson, who was playing because starter Thomas Greiss manned the cage on Monday in a 5-2 win over Tampa. Jaroslav Halak is also out injured and third goalie, Jean-Francois Berube, is sick, so you’d think that Washington would want to rattle the youngster early? They failed to do so and Gibson got stronger as the game went on.

Period two was pretty bad hockey as Washington looked in “la-la” land repeatedly turning pucks over and let New York hang around to get the game tied after 40 minutes. Heading into this contest the Caps were 3-0 against the Islanders this season after defeating them in seven games in last spring’s first round. It was getting to the point where the Isles had to feel like beating the Caps might’ve been too tall a mountain to climb.

With New York having played the night before, common wisdom had the Capitals coming out and jumping on the Islanders in the third period, and they did just that. Oshie scored his 26th goal of the season when he took a fanned Marcus Johansson pass and snapped it by Gibson just 75 seconds into the period. Ovechkin would then score his 47th goal of the season at the 6:56 mark finishing a three on one break from Oshie and Johansson.

Game over, right?

In the past with Washington, that normally would’ve been the case, but not tonight. The Islanders more than climbed that mountain storming back quickly with two goals in 1:45 as the Capitals went to sleep in their own end. Braden Holtby, who was on the cusp of tying Martin Brodeur’s win record, seemed to buckle a bit under that pressure and had a mistake of his own on each of the two New York comeback tallies. On the second Islanders goal, by Kyle Okposo, he totally misplayed the puck as it came out from behind the net and on the game tying tally, he probably should’ve had the shot, although Dmitry Orlov made another mistake by failing to clear Anders Lee from the front of the net, which allowed Lee to tip the biscuit by the Holtbeast.

From there the game ramped up and both teams had chances. Holtby made a great glove save on Anders Lee with about three minutes left. Evgeny Kuznetsov was in position to shoot one on one with Gibson late, but he chose to force a pass to Ovechkin for the hat trick attempt and another great scoring opportunity was squandered.

In the overtime, Kuznetsov (nine shots on goal) had a breakaway after a John Tavares turnover, but instead of using one of his great deke moves, he shot early, perhaps sensing the opposing defensemen closing in on his right, and Gibson denied him. Ovechkin then had a great chance in the slot, yet somehow the young goalie got the shaft of his stick on it and made the save.

That was all of the help the Islanders needed and Tavares made a great play to set up Thomas Hickey for the game winner and Washington’s domination over New York was gone, along with Holtby’s chance to tie Brodeur on Tuesday night.

That will now have to wait until Thursday night against Pittsburgh at the Verizon Center. The Pens are red hot and the Capitals are not. They are simply going through the motions for too many long stretches so who knows how that game will play out?

One now has to wonder, does this slight downturn matter given that this is glorified preseason right now? I’d like to say, no, it doesn’t. However, some bad habits have crept into Washington’s play.

It’s fair to ask if the Capitals will be able to flip the switch next Thursday in game one.

The good news in all of this is Caps players are not getting hurt and if this contest really mattered, Nicklas Backstrom would’ve suited up. He’s correctly being nursed back to 100% health. Washington is also not really employing their preferred style of heavy hockey right now, likely because these games, despite the talk of records for Holtby and trophies for Ovechkin, just don’t matter.

You have to be fully invested physically and emotionally to dominate and win hockey games. You can’t do it on skill alone. Right now, the Caps are not invested enough to do so, and that is why the mistakes are happening. They aren’t hitting like they will next week and that’s a big factor in why they don’t look dominating, at this juncture.

So in the grand scheme of things, this “bad loss” did prevent Holtby from getting the record, but it may not really matter if Washington stays healthy and then can turn on their brand of hockey in the post season.

We are just nine days away from that starting and it can’t come soon enough for the Capitals.

Notes: The victory clinched a playoff berth for the Islanders and also means that Washington will likely face one of the Flyers, Red Wings, or Bruins in the first round. Boston lost in the shootout to Carolina on Tuesday so they are tied for 3rd place with Detroit in the Atlantic. The Wings have a game in hand…the Caps outshot the Islanders, 32-27, but New York had more shot attempts, 62-57…all three Capitals goals came from the top line. Ovechkin (two goals) and Johansson (three assists) were both +3 while Oshie (three points) was +2…Orlov and Andre Burakovsky were both -2. Orlov was on the ice for three Islanders goals and just one Caps tally (the first). He continues to have defensive zone lapses…Tavares had a goal and two assists and was the best player in the game.

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