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Caps Win in TO

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Ovechkin, Wilson Both Score While Holtby Shuts the Door on Toronto

Posted on 21 February 2019 by Ed Frankovic

Hometown boy Tom Wilson scored what turned out to be the game winning goal shorthanded and also added an assist on Toronto native Brett Connolly’s 15th tally of the season as the Washington Capitals defeated the Maple Leafs, 3-2, on Thursday night. Braden Holtby made 40 saves and Alex Ovechkin notched his league leading 43rd lamp lighter of the campaign on the power play to open the scoring. Andreas Johnsson and John Tavares added third period markers for the Leafs, who were playing without Cap killer Nazem Kadri (out with a concussion suffered in Tuesday’s OT loss to St. Louis).

This was the fifth of a sixth game road trip for the Capitals, who flew from Los Angeles to Toronto on Tuesday afternoon. The Caps played very well against Mike Babcock’s Stanley Cup contending team, employing a strong defensive zone system to hold a very high scoring club to just two red lights, one of which came with 32 seconds remaining and the goalie pulled (Tavares’ 34th goal). Washington did a lot of what they did last post season, they kept five defenders in tight in front of the Holtbeast and made the Leafs have to fight to get to the front of the cage. The strategy was largely successful, although Toronto had some super looks that Holtby stopped throughout the contest. Braden also did get some crossbar help on a rebound in period one when the game was scoreless.

It wasn’t until 3:54 into period two that someone scored. Evgeny Kuznetsov drew a holding penalty on Morgan Reilly and 16 seconds later Washington had the lead. The tally came off of an offensive zone draw with T.J. Oshie getting the puck to John Carlson at the point. Carly then fed the Gr8 for a rocket from inside the left blue line that beat Frederik Andersen (25 saves) to his glove side while he was moving to his right. It was vintage Ovechkin and he always seems to be able to elevate his game in the Big Smoke.

At the 12:07 mark, the Capitals extended their scoreboard advantage. Willy went in behind the net and put a big hit on Jake Gardiner knocking him to the ground to force a turnover. Willy’s skate touched the puck and Lars Eller quickly scooped it up. Tiger fed Connolly in the slot; Conno made a nice move to get Andersen to commit and then he slid the puck around Andersen’s right pad into the yawning cage.

Washington took that 2-0 lead into the final frame and it was a defensive zone face off loss that put Toronto on the board. Eller did not win the draw and the Leafs scored back door to gain some life at the 4:23 mark. Carlson subsequently took a hooking penalty at 5:48 and it looked like the home team had all of the momentum, at that point. Eller, however, would end any of that with a defensive zone grab of a rebound and then he carried the puck up the ice quickly two on one with a hard charging Top Line Tommy. Lars put the puck right on Willy’s stick in the slot and the big winger fired a sparkling shot top shelf up over Andersen’s shoulder into the left corner to squelch any momentum and restore the two goal cushion.

From there, the Capitals played smart and hard on the puck getting chances to extend the lead, but Andersen was playing well, too. Toronto, however, was relentless and ended up putting 21 shots on net in the final frame. Tavares’ marker with 32 seconds left came with Andersen on the bench for the extra attacker and was the result of a weird bounce off of a failed Cap clear into the slot. Washington bench boss Todd Reirden responded by putting Nicklas Backstrom, Eller, and Oshie on the ice at forward and the Caps closed things out to pick up points five and six on this critical road trip with Saturday’s afternoon tilt in Buffalo still looming.

Overall, this was a solid win. It wasn’t as good as their best effort of the season in San Jose, but considering the opponent and the fact that the Leafs were 2-0 against Washington in 2018-19, it was up there as far as quality victories go while the Capitals are defending Stanley Cup Champions.

Several players had super games to include Wilson and Eller (2 assists), but I really liked the performance from Dmitry Orlov, which I’ll put up there as one of his best outings of the season. Dima was strong with the puck and was outstanding with his breakouts. He and Matt Niskanen faced Auston Matthews or Tavares and their line mates much of the night and did extremely well. They both played just over 22 minutes and are starting to look like the dominating shutdown duo that they were in 2017-18.

The Capitals fourth line of Chandler Stephenson, Nic Dowd, and Travis Boyd turned in one of that unit’s better games. With Devante Smith-Pelly waived then assigned to Hershey on Thursday and Carl Hagelin coming in from LA via trade (for a 3rd and 6th round draft pick – the Kings kept 50% of Carl’s salary), the heat is on for playing time and that trio delivered against a very talented club. The speedy Hagelin, who historically has killed the Capitals in the post season (5-1 in playoff series vs. WAS), is set to practice with Washington in Buffalo on Friday and then suit up for Saturday’s 1 pm matinee there. Coach Reirden will have to pull someone out of the lineup so that #62 can play. Hagelin is a very good penalty killer, so the hope is that he can help a special teams group that has struggled most of the season.

In three of the last four games the Caps have played a style that was reminiscent of what they employed last spring and has resulted in triumphs in San Jose, Los Angeles, and Toronto. Yes, the Anaheim game was a dud, but overall the Capitals look fresher and more engaged since the All Star Game and bye week break (7-3-1). They need to be because the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference standings are really tight. The Caps improved to 34-20-7 (75 points) and trail the New York Islanders by two points, but the Islanders have a game in hand. In third place are the Penguins with 71 points, but fourth place Carolina is at 70 points and Columbus is next at 69 points. It is expected that the Blue Jackets will have to move both Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky by Monday’s trade deadline since each has said they will not sign a long term deal to stay in Ohio.

Standings points are critical at this juncture, and for the Caps, they did enough good things and once again received stellar goaltending from the Holtbeast to prevail in a very tough building.

Notes: The Caps were creamed on face offs again, 36-17. Dowd was the best, going 4-4…shot attempts were 89-65 for Toronto, but the quality chances were pretty even. The Caps are doing a better job of keeping opponents on the perimeter…the Capitals were 1 for 3 on the power play and 2 for 2 while shorthanded…the Caps blocked 21 shots. Wilson and Brooks Orpik each had 4…hits were 35-17 for the Capitals. Orpik, Wilson, and Dowd led the team with five…Norris Trophy Carlson led all skaters for both teams in ice time with 26:43.

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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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Ovi Sharks

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Caps Play Their Best Game of the Season in San Jose

Posted on 15 February 2019 by Ed Frankovic

The San Jose Sharks came into Thursday night’s game against the Washington Capitals riding a six game winning streak that ironically started back on January 22nd when the Caps gave up a last second goal in regulation and then lost in overtime.

Coach Peter DeBoer’s team would score early in this contest on a rush goal and given Washington’s poor history at HP Pavilion plus coming off of Tuesday’s clunker in Columbus, one had to wonder if San Jose’s streak was headed for lucky number seven.

Not so fast.

T.J. Oshie scored on the power play less than two minutes after that Sharks tally and then Washington completely took over the hockey game scoring four more times to head to SoCal with a 5-1 triumph in what I’ll call the most complete Caps game this season.

The effort was outstanding and that led to the Capitals winning the vast majority of the puck battles. It also brought back a fierce Caps forecheck that we hadn’t seen in several weeks. Coach Todd Reirden’s crew looked fast and fresh for the first time in 2019. They were committed in all three zones, but especially the defensive end where they packed it in around Braden Holtby and refused to give up grade A chances.

The way the Capitals played reminded me of the post season Stanley Cup run, it was that good against the Western Conference leading Sharks.

Oshie had two goals and an assist to reach 500 career points and he was the player of the game, but his line mate, Jakub Vrana (1 goal, 1 assist), was superb using his speed and skill to give the San Jose defense fits all evening. V has been the Caps most consistent forward all season and his hard work is really paying off. The man is going to get paid this offseason.

Alex Ovechkin notched his NHL leading 39th goal in the middle frame after a super feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov, who took a nice drop pass from Tom Wilson and found a seam in the Sharks defense, sliding the disc to the Gr8 that he one timed home to make it 3-1. Ovi also had an assist on Oshie’s PP marker and easily had his best outing since the All Star Break. Alexander the Great had his legs going and he could’ve had a couple of more goals, getting stopped on a partial breakaway and hitting the post on a second period power play.

Willy had himself a super tilt, as well, getting a helper on Kuzy’s goal. He also blocked a shot when San Jose pulled their goalie late, then raced the biscuit down and deposited it into the empty cage to close out the scoring.

Up and down the lineup the Capitals battled and produced wearing out the Sharks defense, which is missing Erik Karlsson. The third unit of Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, and Brett Connolly didn’t notch any points, but they had San Jose on their heels all night. Washington also received its best fourth line effort in quite some time, especially from Dmitrij Jaskin, who won battle after battle.

Washington only took one penalty on Thursday because they outworked the Sharks. There were no lazy hooks since the Caps were skating instead of gliding. When you work hard, you don’t need to commit infractions and that was the case in the Silicon Valley.

On defense, the pairing of Brooks Orpik and Christian Djoos was super sharp. When Djoos is in the lineup, it really solidifies the back end because he is so steady with the puck. He and Orpik are really a good duo, as we saw all last post season.

When the puck did make its way through to the Capitals cage, the Holtbeast was dialed in and didn’t give up many rebounds. Braden has been stellar since regaining his confidence at the All Star Game. What was really impressive was the way the Caps handled the third period. Up 4-1, you would think San Jose would make a huge push, but Washington only allowed three, yes THREE, shots on goal in the first 15 minutes of the final stanza with a swarming effort all over the ice. The Capitals puck support and gap control was as good as it’s been all season. The way they played makes the job of the goaltender much easier.

This triumph improves the Caps to 32-19-7 (71 points). They trail first place New York by 3 points and lead the Blue Jackets and Penguins by four points.

Most importantly, though, they played a complete game, something we haven’t seen from them in nearly two months. That it came against a quality opponent in a hostile building makes it doubly impressive and is why I think it was the teams best performance all season. With just 24 games remaining in the regular season, this type of statement win has to make everyone feel a lot better after what’s been a rough month or so.

Now let’s see if they can keep it up in Los Angeles and Anaheim on Sunday and Monday night, respectively.

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Kuzy Bird Avs

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Kuznetsov Flies the Capitals to an Overtime Victory over Colorado

Posted on 07 February 2019 by Ed Frankovic

Paybacks are hell.

Avalanche defensemen Ian Cole put a dirty cheap shot on Evgeny Kuznetsov midway through the third period sending #92 to the locker room for concussion protocol. Cole would be penalized five minutes for interference and a game misconduct plus another five minutes for getting his butt whipped by Tom Wilson. The play came with the Caps leading 3-2. Pheonix Copley (34 saves) then gave up a short side five hole goal with 2:07 remaining to send the contest to overtime.

In the overtime came Kuzy’s revenge, who didn’t return to play after the Cole cheap shot until the extra session. Taking a pass from Alexander Ovechkin in his own zone, Evgeny skated in all alone on Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov and beat him five hole to win the game for Washington, 4-3. The play was very similar to the one in which Ovi sprung Kuzy for the winning OT tally in game six of last spring’s Pittsburgh playoff series.

On the night, Kuznetsov had two goals and an assist in 19:49 of ice time. He was outstanding even though he missed the last 8:42 of regulation. It was fitting that Kuzy rewarded his pal Wilson for standing up for him with the game winner. On both of Evgeny’s overtime shifts he looked like a man possessed to make Wilson’s leadership and support all worthwhile, and he did.

As I said to General Manager Brian MacLellan following Tuesday night’s victory over Vancouver, the Caps typically go as number 92 goes. Evgeny is playing some excellent hockey this week and looks like the guy who dominated in the post season last spring.

Washington carried the play in much of this affair and as a result they earned six power plays for a total of 12:32. They scored on their first attempt, but because zebras Gord Dwyer and Tim Peel allegedly blew the whistle before Ovechkin’s shot that sneaked through Varly was slammed home by Nicklas Backstrom, it was waved off. That would’ve given the Caps a 2-0 lead after Andre Burakovsky scored his 7th of the season off of a sweet feed from T.J. Oshie to open the scoring.

The Caps led 1-0 after 20 minutes, but just 35 seconds into period two, Nathan MacKinnon scored a short side bad angled goal on Copley when Pheonix didn’t hold the near post properly. On the night, Copley would make some quality saves, including a great one on MacKinnon all alone when it was 1-1, but he also gave up two real clunkers.

Washington built a 3-1 lead on Kuznetsov’s first goal, which was a second period tap in of another Ovechkin shot that got through Varlamov, but the zebras didn’t prematurely blow the whistle in this instance. That power play goal gave the Caps a one puck lead after 40 minutes. Matt Niskanen made it two just 34 seconds into period three with his eighth tally of the season when Varly was screened by his own defender and then batted Nisky’s shot, that might have been going wide, into the cage.

The Avs would come back and credit Colorado for not quitting, as well as the Capitals stagnant power play for not adding to the advantage. Shortly after another Caps power play expired, the Avs cut the lead to a single goal when Andre Burakovsky, who had a strong game up until that point, made a soft backhanded pass into the middle of the ice in the defensive zone. Gabriel Landeskog scooped it up and fed Mikko Rantanen, who abused Dmitry Orlov with a move, and then buried his 24th goal of the season just 5:10 into period three. The Caps still had chances to extend the lead with the three minutes of power play time they received for the Cole cheap shot, but they could not do so. Copley then gave up a horrible five hole tally from the goal line setting the stage for Kuznetsov’s magic and subsequent “Flying Bird” celebration (take that, Columbus Blue Jackets).

Washington did a lot of good things in this contest, but they are struggling to consistently finish on their chances, especially on the power play. They also only took two penalties and killed both of them off rather easily. The third line showed signs of breaking out of its doldrums as Lars Eller, Brett Connolly, and Burky had some really good shifts. Unfortunately Andre’s giveaway that led to goal two for Colorado resulted in #65 only getting one more shift the rest of the way.

Travis Boyd played well in the bottom six drawing two penalties, but Caps Coach Todd Reirden needs more production from Devante Smith-Pelly (1 shot on goal, 1 penalty, -1, in 8:49 of ice time) and Chandler Stephenson (1 shot on goal in 10:34 of ice time). Ovechkin had seven shots on net and two assists in 25:22 of time.

This was far from a perfect performance by the Caps, but as stated above, they did do a lot of good things and they managed to get two points to keep pace with the New York Islanders, who knocked off the Devils in a shootout on Thursday night. Washington is two points behind the Metropolitan Division leading Isles and three points ahead of the third place Penguins (lost in OT to Florida on Thursday night).

Kuznetsov was the primary key to the victory and his game winning tally was major pay back to Cole and the Avalanche.

Notes: John Carlson had an assist in a game leading 28:41 of ice time…the faceoff battle was even at 27 each. Kuzy was 7-5 and Eller went 8-6…Madison Bowey played on the 3rd pair with Brooks Orpik (Jonas Siegenthaler was scratched)…next up for the Caps are the Florida Panthers at 7 pm on Saturday night at Capital One Arena.

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Ovi Beags Feb 5 2019

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Braden Holtby Comes Up Big for the Caps on Jay Beagle Night

Posted on 06 February 2019 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby made 30 saves and Jakub Vrana had the game winning tally as well as an assist as the Washington Capitals knocked off the Vancouver Canucks, 3-2, at Capital One Arena on Tuesday night. Evgeny Kuznetsov added two helpers and T.J. Oshie notched his 16th goal of the season in the triumph, which coupled with the Islanders 3-1 loss in Boston, moves the Caps just two points behind first place New York in the Metropolitan Division. Coach Barry Trotz’ squad still has a game in hand.

Below are my thoughts and analysis of an up and down affair for Washington that improves their record to 29-18-6 (64 points) and puts them in sole possession of second place in the Metro.

It was the return of Jay Beagle night. The Caps put together a video that afterwards Jay called “First class” and also caused him to have trouble playing the rest of that period. The Washington faithful showed their appreciation for the hardest working player on the Caps from 2008 to 2018, which culminated with a Stanley Cup triumph last June, with a long and well deserved ovation. Beags received an amazing four year, $12M contract from the Canucks in the offseason. At the first television timeout the team unleashed the Beagle video and it was incredible. After it ended and during the standing ovation from the crowd, Alex Ovechkin came over and gave Jay a hug, which represented a “thank you for being a huge part of the Capitals organization for so many years, including the Stanley Cup run.” Beagle is one that fought long odds to make the NHL, but his work ethic always took his game to a higher level and he is still the only player in history to win a championship at the ECHL, AHL, and NHL levels. I’ve followed Jay’s career since 2008 and was fortunate to cover him when he won those two Calder Cups in Hershey in 2009 and 2010. There aren’t many classier people in hockey than #83 and it was great to spend a few minutes with him after the game. He is definitely missed by the Caps organization, but the business side was the sole reason for the team change.

The Caps came out flying in this affair and Oshie stole the puck in the offensive zone on a great effort to start the sequence that led to the game’s first tally. Ovechkin took the puck from #77 and skated around the Canucks net and found a streaking Nicklas Backstrom in the slot. All star Nicky fired on net, but Jacob Markstrom (28 saves) made the stop. The rebound, however, bounced into the slot and the Osh Babe buried it for his 16th goal of the campaign just three minutes into the contest. For the rest of the period the Capitals went all Princess Bride storming the castle, but they were unable to get another marker. For the frame, Washington outshot the Canucks 18-5 and shot attempts were 26-10.

In the middle stanza, the game totally flipped. It was Vancouver who was all over the Caps out shot attempting them 24-8, including 13-4 in shots on goal. Michal Kempny took an early hooking penalty at 3:45 and if not for Holtby, they would’ve tied the game. Midway through the period, with both clubs at even strength, Tyler Motte and Beagle had quality chances just eight seconds apart that #70 denied with some sparkling saves. The Canucks could’ve easily had three or four goals in period two if not for the Holtbeast. Following the contest, Beagle said “that’s what Holts does,” then added, “he said sorry to me for making that big save.” At 12:53, Jonas Siegenthaler, who had a rough night paired with Brooks Orpik (-2), hooked Bo Horvat and the referees correctly signaled for a penalty shot. Horvat came flying in, but he was denied by Holtby, who was dialed in all evening. The stellar goaltending allowed Washington to take a 1-0 lead into period three.

The Caps were better in the last 20 minutes and extended their lead to 2-0 when Vrana used his speed to open up space in the offensive zone. Jakub passed the disc to Kuznetsov inside the blueline. Kuzy then drove to the net and tried to slide a pass across the top of the crease to Vrana on the back door, but it hit a Canucks stick and Brett Connolly came in crashing the cage to bury the biscuit for his 10th goal of the season. That tally came 5:47 into period three, but the Canucks cut the deficit in half when Antoine Roussel went around Siegenthaler and then fed Markus Granlund behind Orpik and Backstrom at 8:02. With 7:47 remaining, the Capitals earned an insurance marker on Vrana’s goal from behind the net that he banked in off of Markstrom while Kuznetsov unsuccessfully played Cal Ripken trying to bat the disc into the cage. Had Kuzy touched the puck, a goal would not have counted, but fortunately #92 did his best Chris Davis imitation (a swing and a miss!). Tom Wilson, who earned an assist on that goal, had a chance to close this one out with the empty net, but with 2:21 to go, he shot wide of the cage from just inside the red line. Vancouver would continue pressing and when Orpik knocked Horvat into Holtby, Elias Petterson shot the puck into the open net with six seconds remaining to end the scoring.

On the penalty front, the Caps took three infractions which led to two power plays and a penalty shot. The defensive zone penalty on Kuznetsov was a weak call, but the other two were instances when a defensemen was beaten badly in a one on one situation. That is happening far too often and the coaching staff needs to address it. Washington’s penalty killing unit did go a perfect two for two.

Speaking of defense, Dmitry Orlov had one of his stronger outings in recent months logging 20:46 and not being on the ice for any goals against. On the downside, the Orpik-Seigenthaler duo had issues and while I’m a big fan of how far #34 has progressed in a year, he appears to be hitting a wall at the NHL level, but that’s totally understandable. The Capitals really need Christian Djoos, who is in Hershey on a long term conditioning assignment, to come back soon.

Lars Eller returned to the lineup after tweaking a muscle and missing the Boston game on Sunday. Lars played 16:44 on Tuesday and was a very impressive 11-2 on faceoffs. Eller has not had a strong season so far and the Caps will need some serious production and consistency from him over the last 29 games and into the postseason.

Kuznetsov was engaged on Tuesday and was a big reason the Caps won the game. When he plays well, the team tends to come out on top. Consistency is what Coach Todd Reirden needs out of #92 going forward.

Vrana, who might be the team’s hardest working player now that Beagle has moved on, was outstanding using his speed to generate chances. He’s having a very consistent and terrific season (31 points in 53 games).

Overall, this was a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde game for Washington, who isn’t making things easy for themselves these days. Things seem to change shift to shift and some of the decisions with the disc are baffling. When they play the proper way with pucks going towards the cage or behind it and not forced into the high slot, they do well. When they try to play fancy hockey, that’s when they get in trouble.

At the end of the night the Capitals picked up two points, however, the main reason the Caps won the hockey game was because of their goalie. Long Live the Holtbeast!

Notes: John Carlson was +2 and led the Caps in ice time with 25:19…the Capitals won the faceoff battle, 28-25, but Beagle was 9-2 for Vancouver…final shot attempts were 57-54, for Washington…the Caps had one power play and both units did well, but couldn’t close the deal…next up for the Caps are the Colorado Avalanche at Capital One Arena on Thursday at 7 pm.

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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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Backstrom Beats Bruins

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Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Holtby Lead the Caps to Another Win Over Boston

Posted on 10 January 2019 by Ed Frankovic

“Who own da Bruins?”

“Owwwwwnnnnnnsssss, owns the Bruins.”

When you look up the owner of the Boston Bruins in Wikipedia, it should definitely say Braden Holtby. The Holtbeast made 39 saves, including all 17 in the first period, as the Washington Capitals defeated the B’s for the 14th straight time, 4-2. Alex Ovechkin scored twice to reach 32 goals on the season, Nicklas Backstrom had the game winning tally, and Jakub Vrana started it all off on a breakaway on a nice feed from T.J. Oshie.

Without further adieu, here are nine thoughts and analysis on a superb team victory by Washington.

Brad Marchand is a coward. Let me say that again, Brad Marchand is a coward. I should probably throw a couple of expletives in there before the word coward, too. Marchand jumped Lars Eller on opening night because he felt that Lars celebrated too much in front of his bench on his goal that made it 7-0. Canadian broadcaster Don Cherry praised Marchand up and down for the bush league tactic a few nights later. On Thursday night in Beantown, Eller was ready to go with Marchand as payback for the mugging he took in DC on Banner raising night. Instead, Brad turtled like the coward he is. Will Cherry go on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night and call out his “good Canadian” boy for being a wimp? If he doesn’t give Marchand the gears for that pathetic display, then he’s a hypocrite.

Holtby was the biggest reason the Caps won this game as he allowed Washington to survive a Boston onslaught in the opening frame. The Bruins had two power plays in the first 20 minutes, but Braden was fantastic. The Holtbeast is now 16-2 lifetime against Boston.

Each time the Bruins scored, the Capitals answered back quickly. 39 seconds after Ryan Donato tied the game at one, Ovechkin scored on a sweet feed in the slot from Tom Wilson, who was positioned below the goal line. Willy had the puck because Evgeny Kuznetsov made a strong play on the wall against a couple of Bruins to get the puck to him. Then after David Krejci tied the game at two in the final frame on the power play, All Star Backy scored on a rush just 1:09 later via a sweet far post shot to notch the game winner.

Who doesn’t love Backstrom? He made a great play on the opening goal to win a puck battle that got the disc to the Osh Babe, who then fed the on fire Vrana for his 15th goal. When the Bruins seemed to have momentum in the third period, he lasered one by Jaroslav Halak (18 saves) to silence the crowd and give the Caps the lead that they would not relinquish. Nicky will always be an all star in my book. He is such a sensational two way player and he loves to stick it to the Bruins.

In the third period, the Caps allowed 13 shots on goal, but not many were of the quality variety at even strength. Washington played exceptional team defense and kept the Bruins mostly on the perimeter. Boston was unable to generate any traffic or rebound opportunities at five on five in the final frame.

The officiating was terrible, once again. Francois St. Laurent is the worst referee in the league and I predicted on Twitter before the game that it would be a bad zebra night. Boston had five power plays to only two for the Caps. The stripes missed several calls on the Bruins including an elbow to Michal Kempny’s head, a Donato punch to Orlov’s face, and the Torey Krug body slam on Brett Connolly. Fortunately the Capitals penalty killing unit has been much better of late and killed off four of the five man advantage situations for the B’s.

Jonas Siegenthaler had another strong game in 13:29 of action. He was paired with Brooks Orpik (18:52 and +1), had an assist, and was +1. Jonas skates well and can take a hit while still moving the puck forward. He has really stepped up with the injury to Christian Djoos and grabbed the sixth defensemen position away from Madison Bowey, at this juncture.

The triumph improves the Caps to 27-12-4 (58 points) and gives them a four point lead over second place Pittsburgh. Washington is five points ahead of third place Columbus, who they will face on Saturday night at 7 pm at Capital One Arena. Caps Coach Todd Reirden has done a stellar job of keeping this team rolling along after a Stanley Cup win and a short summer.

Finally, while there weren’t a ton of style points in this Capitals win, you have to really like the way this group of guys stick up for each other and band together. Boston gave EVERYTHING they had on Thursday night. It was a playoff game for them as they badly wanted to end the Caps and Holtby curse. But they could not do it because guys like Backstrom stepped their games up in support of their teammates. Eller was mistakenly jumped and called out by Marchand on opening night and he was ready to pay that rat back for it in this tilt. Marchand turtled, however, and Boston was gifted a power play by that joke of a referee from French Canada, St. Laurent. While Lars was in the box, the team stood up for him and killed the penalty off. In addition, you could just sense the whole game that the Capitals wanted this game for Lars and also to continue to send a message to the Bruins that they, and their all world goaltender, the Holtbeast, do indeed own them.

Notes: Andre Burakovsky was a healthy scratch. Travis Boyd was inserted on the third line with Eller and Connolly…the Caps were creamed on faceoffs, once again, 42-22, but Eller was 10-4…soon to be Norris Trophy winner, John Carlson, led the team in ice time with 26:55 and was +3. Carly is just a rock out there in all zones and so valuable to the club….Top Line Tommy logged 23:28 and was +2. He had five hits and the super assist to the Gr8…the Bruins top line of Coward Marchand, the Great Patrice Bergeron, and the Talented David Pastrnak were each -3 on the evening. They had 12 of the Bruins 41 shots on goal, but didn’t register a point. Their best scoring chance was by Bergeron in period two, but Holtby made a huge save one on one on #37. Bergeron was 17-7 on faceoffs.

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Caps over Flyers Willy V 44

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Caps Send the Flyers to Their 8th Straight Loss

Posted on 08 January 2019 by Ed Frankovic

Jakub Vrana had two goals and an assist, T.J. Oshie tallied twice, and Tom Wilson scored in a Capitals 5-3 triumph over the despised Philadelphia Flyers. Pheonix Copley made 37 saves in net in another strong outing that led to his 10th victory of the season. The win improves the Caps record to 26-12-4 (56 points) and they lead second place Pittsburgh by two points and have a game in hand in the Metropolitan Division.

Here are eight thoughts and analysis on a win over the Flyers that always results in the air smelling cleaner, the drinks going down smoother, and the food tasting better on the day after.

Vrana was easily the star of the game. The young man continues to work hard at his craft and his hockey IQ has improved drastically. He is using his speed to blow by defenders and he’s employing strong defensive positioning to generate rush chances for the Caps. He totally set up Wilson’s goal to open the scoring just 4:21 into the contest with great wheels and then he broke this game open with a stellar defensive blue line poke check that led to a breakaway goal to give the Caps a 3-1 lead in the second period. Finally, he scored what is a rare Capitals power play goal these days to make it 4-1 with 4:05 left in the middle frame. What a game by the young Czech forward who now has 14 goals and 10 assists in 42 games!

The Osh Babe put the Capitals ahead 2-1 in the second period with some fundamental hockey. He went to the net and deflected home a Lars Eller shot that came from just inside the offensive blue line. It was simple stuff, just go to the net, create traffic plus a screen on the opposing net minder, and try and tip the biscuit home. He did just that! Not many players have the hands that #77 possesses and he delivered there as well as with two seconds left into the empty cage when the game became a little stupid with the whacky officiating and head scratching plays by Evgeny Kuznetsov (more on both of those a little later).

As for Top Line Tom, he just keeps doing so many things right on the ice. He’s skating like the wind, getting his stick in the lanes on defense, and forcing so many turnovers with great back checking. His penalty killing is outstanding. He’s also going to the net offensively with a vengeance with his stick down on the ice. Again, good things happen when you go to the cage and Wilson is doing that extremely well. He has 13 goals on the campaign and what would’ve been his 14th into an empty net on a terrific effort was wiped out by an offside challenge by the sore loser Flyers.

Washington finally won the special teams battle in a contest for the first time in recent memory. The power play is still in a funk, going 1 for 4, but Vrana put a puck into the crease area from outside the right post and it went in, even if it was a pass intended for Alex Ovechkin. On the PK, the Capitals were very good by not letting the Flyers enter the zone cleanly on numerous occasions. When Philly was able to get shots on net, Copley shut the door.

Copley continues to take up a lot of net with his size and make the shooters really work hard to beat him. He didn’t have much of a chance on any of the three goals he allowed and he had several quality saves. Washington continues to get superb goaltending no matter who is in the cage. Copley is 10-1-1 in his last 13 games, including 6-0-1 in his last seven, wow!

Kuznetsov had an up and down game. He drew a penalty on a breakaway in period two, but didn’t get a shot off in that instance (unlike Vrana who fought off a slash and still scored on his chance). In 22:04 of ice time he had no points and was 1-13 on draws. Despite four shots on goal he passed up several other prime shooting opportunities, including a stupid back pass when a quick shot would’ve hit the empty net and ended the game with 40 seconds left. Kuzy then took a penalty which allowed the Flyers to pull within a goal with 6.7 seconds remaining. If #92 gets back to shooting the puck, he will really help open things up for the team. Right now he is too pass first and a bit too fancy. I’m not sure if he’s still feeling the effects of the concussion he suffered in Winnipeg back in November or if he’s just saving his energy for the stretch run? It is a long season.

As for the guys in stripes, they were awful! Ticky tack stick checks on the Caps were called slashes and a clean hit by Brooks Orpik was whistled for roughing. Meanwhile Flyers cross checks repeatedly went unpenalized, including a Travis Sanheim cross check and shove of Travis Boyd into Copley. Philadelphia wasn’t happy that the penalty on Shane Gostisbehere wasn’t waved off when they challenged for offside on Wilson’s ENG that was overturned, but the zebras actually got that call correct. Any penalties during a challenge situation, even if the infraction happens after the offside, still stand. Bottom line is the officiating is wildly inconsistent and nobody knows what is and isn’t a penalty anymore. The league doesn’t seem to be interested in correcting what is the biggest flaw in the game these days. I’m sure Brian Pochmara and Gord Dwyer, who worked this tilt, will walk away thinking they did a good job when they were out of touch most of the evening.

At the end of the night, this was a fairly comfortable win over a Flyers team that is in transition. Philadelphia, who played on Monday night at home, came out and had a strong first frame, but ultimately they just don’t have the talent across the lineup to match up with the Capitals. This was their eighth straight defeat and at this point, they should just go into “Lose for Hughes” mode. (American Jack Hughes is likely to be the #1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft). The Flyers get up for Washington these days, but the Caps often don’t. Many Capitals fans have Filthadelphia as their number one despised team, so any time Washington knocks off the Flyers, even if they are supposed to win, it’s a very good night!

Notes: The Caps were crushed in faceoffs, 45-19. Washington probably needs to address this deficiency in some fashion. Boyd was 2-11….the Capitals have now won 15 of their last 16 games against Eastern Conference opponents with the one defeat coming against the Pens in a game the Caps dominated…Norris Trophy candidate John Carlson had two assists in a team leading 24:20 of ice time…next up for the Caps are the Boston Bruins in Beantown at 7 pm on Thursday night. This is the first meeting between these two clubs since banner raising night (Caps won, 7-0).

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Caps Motown Win Jan 6 2019

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Nine Thoughts on the Caps After Their Win in Motown

Posted on 06 January 2019 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals rallied with two third period tallies to knock off the Detroit Red Wings, 3-2, on Sunday evening at Little Caesar’s Arena to improve their overall record to 25-12-4 (54 points). The Caps lead the Penguins, who had their seven game winning streak snapped by the Blackhawks in the Steel City on Sunday night, in the Metropolitan Division by two points after 41 games. Washington also has a game in hand.

What follows are nine thoughts and analysis of the Caps as they get ready to head into the second half of the season, where the games get more intense and goal scoring is much more difficult.

Alex Ovechkin played a prominent role in all three Washington tallies on Sunday, but he only notched a single point. Ovi went to the net on the first goal causing all kinds of chaos that allowed Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) to slide a sweet pass to Tom Wilson, who buried it for his 12th goal of the season. That gave Washington a 1-0 lead. After the Caps gave up two goals in the first 40 minutes, Alexander the Great made a gorgeous pass to Travis Boyd that #72 finished off for his 4th goal of the season 6:19 into the final frame. Then with 3:52 remaining, Ovi and Wilson provided a serious screen on Wings goalie, Jimmy Howard (31 saves), which allowed Michal Kempny’s point blast to sneak through for his fifth goal of the season. On some replays, it certainly looks like Alex tipped the puck, but the Gr8 doesn’t care about individual stats, it’s all about the team.

The Caps three game road trip finished up 1-1-1 and that’s about right for how they played. They were good in St. Louis for the first 28 minutes or so, but once Jack Allen stopped Wilson on two shorthanded chances, it was all Blues as the Capitals just didn’t skate well the last half of the game in a 5-2 defeat on Thursday. On Friday night in Dallas, they started horribly in period one, but then dominated the last two periods before falling in overtime, 3-2. On Sunday in Motown, it was an ugly game, but Washington found their legs over the last 20 minutes outshooting Detroit, 15-6, en route to a come from behind victory. It was three games in four nights and the Capitals managed to pull three points.

Kempny continues to shine on the blue line with John Carlson and he just keeps improving. His game winning blast gave him a plus one rating on the day and he’s now +24 on the season. It’s amazing how much of a difference he has made to the Capitals defense since he was acquired last February. He earned the four year contract he received in the offseason and now he’s living up to it in year one.

Washington’s power play is in a major funk tallying just one time over the last six games. On Friday night, they had a chance to win the contest late with the man advantage and couldn’t convert before losing on a Tyler Seguin backdoor goal in OT. Things looked better on the Caps last two power plays on Sunday (they had four total in Detroit), but they still didn’t light the lamp. I did like the rotation that occurs occasionally between Carlson and Ovechkin and it appears that Nicklas Backstrom and Kuznetsov are looking to shoot more. T.J. Oshie also had a great look, but missed the net.

The Holtbeast stopped 23 of 25 shots in the Motor City on Sunday after having his undefeated streak against the Blues stopped on Thursday night. Braden continues to make the key save, when needed, and that allowed the Capitals to find their legs in period three and come out on top. Holts is now 16-10-2 for the year with a .910 save percentage.

Speaking of goalies, Pheonix Copley turned in another strong outing in Texas on Friday night and he deserved a win instead of an overtime loss. The Alaskan native is now 9-2-2 with a .915 save percentage this season. Coming into this campaign, the backup goaltender was a big question mark for the Caps with the departure of Philipp Grubauer to Colorado, but that is no longer the case!

Wilson is now up to 12 goals and 20 points in just 22 games. He’s not making the big hits right now for fear of suspension, but he’s a huge presence on the ice and he, along with Ovi, are getting to the front of the net for tips and screens. Good things happen when you get pucks and bodies to the net.  Washington played a “Coyote Ugly” game until the third period, but then they simplified things and moved their feet to dominate the final frame of the trip.

The Capitals haven’t played their best hockey over the last week, they’ve been in a bit of a funk, but because they are performing so well at even strength, they continue to pick up points. Several years ago the Caps were considered special teams enabled, but with the power play currently in despair and their PK so up and down, they’ve really needed to be good in five on five situations, and they have. The ability to roll three really strong forward lines and then a variable fourth line night in and night out makes Washington a serious threat again this post season.

With the Caps leading in points percentage on Saturday night, Coach Todd Reirden was named to lead the Metropolitan Division team, which features Carlson and Holtby, in San Jose at the NHL All Star Game. Ovechkin was voted by the fans as Captain for the Metro team, but he is going to skip the festivities to rest up for the stretch run. As a result, he incurs a one game suspension in the process.

Notes: Next up for the Caps are the Flyers at Capital One Arena on Tuesday Night at 7:30 pm. You all know how I feel about the orange and black, it’s always a big game going back to 1974…Carlson led the Caps in ice time in Detroit with 25:50…the Caps were 3 for 3 on the penalty kill…Washington continues to struggle at the dot, losing 36 of 61 draws. Backstrom went 10-9.

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Conno Ottawa

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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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