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Willy Backy Game 5

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Physical Caps Dominate Carolina in Game 5

Posted on 21 April 2019 by Ed Frankovic

“You ask for the bull, you get the horns.”

“Let sleeping dogs lie.”

“Don’t poke the bear.”

Choose any of those lines and they apply to Saturday night’s game 5 at Capital One Arena.

The Washington Capitals, playing for their fallen star, T.J. Oshie, who was injured on a cheap shot hit by Warren Foegele in game 4 and will likely miss the entire postseason, destroyed the Carolina Hurricanes, 6-0, to take a 3-2 series lead. Game 6 is Monday at 7 pm from Raleigh.

Welcome to the postseason is how you could describe this one because the Caps, from the players to the coaching staff, were as committed to the process as they were last spring for the first time in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As I blogged before game 5, the key to returning to their winning ways was pretty simple; it’s all about getting physical and winning the one on one battles.

Washington was dominant in all three zones and they outhit the Canes, 48-32, despite having the advantage in time of possession. Coach Todd Reirden talked about the importance of establishing a forecheck on the Hurricanes breakout and boy did his squad do that extremely well on Saturday night. Alex Ovechkin had 11 hits, Tom Wilson had six, and Devante Smith-Pelly chipped in five in 10:43 of ice time.

Smith-Pelly, who was recalled on Friday after the injury to #77, definitely sparked the team and “was a nice distraction” in the locker room, according to Coach Reirden. Devo is very well liked by his teammates and it was clear he took his demotion seriously and properly because he was a totally different player than what we saw in the 2018-19 regular season. Playing all of those minutes in Hershey brought his speed back and from my viewpoint, #25 was a good two steps faster than he was on trade deadline day. He didn’t have any points, but he was on the ice for the Caps second tally and he set up Nic Dowd for a breakaway in period three that turned into a penalty shot, which #26 buried to make it 5-0. DSP was physical on the Canes defense and hustled all game, including wiping out at least one icing call on the Caps.

This win, though, started with Nicklas Backstrom (two goals and two assists). Backy scored on the rebound of his own shot just 7:33 into the game after he was set up on the far post by John Carlson and Wilson on the power play. Nicky then made it 2-0 with 5:39 left in period two when he beat Petr Mrazek (22 saves) top shelf, short side, after a gorgeous feed from the Gr8. The “All Star” was outstanding and now has five goals and three assists in the series.

Ovi was great, as well. He hit just about everything that moved and had a goal and two superb assists. His second helper was the result of pure intimidation, something the Capitals finally had back in their game again. Ovechkin raced and grabbed a loose puck below the Carolina goal line when Dougie Hamilton decided he didn’t want to get hit by the Russian Freight Train anymore. Ovi then spotted Brett Connolly flying into the slot after coming on for Wilson in a smart line change. Conno received the pass from Alex and roofed it by Mrazek to really put a dagger in Carolina in this affair.

The Capitals never let up in this tilt and they showed killer instinct by scoring three more times in the final frame, including a man advantage tally just 1:04 in by Wilson to make it 4-0. For the night the power play went three for four while the penalty killing was a perfect five for five.

Braden Holtby made 30 saves, but a lot of those shots in period two and three were from the perimeter. The Holtbeast did have to make some very good stops on the Canes first power play when it was scoreless in the opening frame. Braden was on his game and never allowed Carolina to think they had a chance to climb back into this contest, once they were behind.

Up and down the lineup the Capitals received positive contributions, but it was especially important that the bottom two lines chipped in and they did just that with two goals (Connolly and Dowd). On defense, the blueline was tweaked with Jonas Seigenthaler paired with Carlson and it worked wonderfully. Carly was back on his strong side and he was a much bigger factor in the offensive rushes, like the Capitals need him to be. Siegenthaler was rock solid on defense making the smart and simple play throughout the contest in 17:28 of ice time.

The Caps bench boss and his staff provided an excellent game plan and their adjustments were spot on. Pucks were put in the proper places so that a sustained forecheck could occur, players were going to the net to create havoc in front of Mrazek, Washington won the large majority of the loose puck battles, and Todd took advantage of home ice to obtain more favorable matchups, something he said was difficult to achieve in Carolina since the Canes had last change.

Overall, the effort in this game was where it needed to be for the Caps. They were very hard on the puck and made Carolina uncomfortable. It was clear the team, as evidenced by their play, was ticked off that Foegele injured Oshie.

As Coach Reirden stated afterwards, “This game was the blueprint for how we have to play in the playoffs.”

He’s right and now they must do it again on Monday night. The Canes will be desperate so it is important for the Capitals to get the first goal or if not, an early lead since there has been no lead changes this series.

Yes, the Caps looked great on Saturday night, but the 6-0 shellacking accounts for only one win. The series is 3-2 Capitals and if they want to close it out, they’ll need to bring the same intensity and effort they showed in game five on Monday.

They should have the confidence that they can do that, but they must commit to sticking with the blueprint in game six if they want to win for Oshie again.

Notes: Foegele, who had 0 shots on goal in 15:58, was hit hard by Ovechkin in period three…Matt Niskanen (six hits) led the Capitals in ice time with 22:20…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 35-30, Backstrom was 12-12 while Dowd led the way going 11-4…no Capitals player logged less than 10 minutes, which is good for overall fatigue heading into game 6….shot attempts were even at 55 each, but the Caps had the vast majority of quality chances…Chandler Stephenson had his best game of the season, by far. He logged 11:49 and re-created some of the chemistry he and Devo had in round one against Columbus in 2018…there were a couple of loud “T.J. Oshie” chants in the third period…the crowd at Capital One Arena was boisterous all night and earned praise from Coach Reirden.

 

 

 

 

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Oshie Hurt

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Caps Lose Game Four and T.J. Oshie

Posted on 18 April 2019 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals were much better than their putrid performance in game 3 on Thursday night in Raleigh, but it wasn’t good enough. A couple of structural breakdowns very early in period one and then late in period two resulted in Carolina goals and the home team made them hold up for a 2-1 win. The series is now tied at two games apiece with the fifth tilt slated for Capital One Arena on Saturday night at 8 pm.

The really bad news is that Washington will be without T.J. Oshie for a significant amount of time after suffering a serious upper body injury following a cheap shot cross check into the boards while defenseless by forward Warren Foegele. Kelly Sutherland is one of the best referees in the NHL, but he and Chris Lee didn’t get this call correct, that was a clear cut major penalty. Foegele, who falsely claimed he was going for a stick lift on Oshie, should be suspended for the remainder of the series. Carolina has played dirty in this series (see Dougie Hamilton’s elbow to Kuznetsov’s head in game 2).

Regardless of that, the Capitals failed to step up on the scoreboard for their fallen teammate with a power play that is terrible right now. It is struggling with poor zone entries and a lack of net presence. It’s long overdue for the coaching staff to make adjustments, and the biggest thing is to simplify it with a focus on shots from the point with bodies in front. With the Osh Babe out, it will now be up to Tom Wilson to score some in close goals or create screens.

The Caps were better in this game after going nearly 40 minutes with one or two shots on goal in a 5-0 loss on Monday. They were really good in period two up until the bad line change following a neutral zone turnover and then the defense mis-communicated in their own zone, which allowed Tera Teravainen to break in all alone on Braden Holtby (22 saves) and score the game winner with 27 seconds left in the middle frame. Those kinds of breakdowns just can’t happen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Washington had the puck much more in the first two periods, but trailing by a goal in the final frame, they couldn’t break through a Carolina defense that walled off the front of their net, getting only eight shots on goal. Simply put, the Canes are winning the majority of the individual battles and that’s why they went two for two on home ice.

After the Caps went up two games to none, the turn in this series definitely came when Alex Ovechkin knocked Carolina forward Andrei Svechnikov out with a right hand in a fight that should never have happened if Ranger Dan O’Halloran and Eric Furlatt were doing their proper jobs. Call the penalty on Svechnikov right away and there’s no fight, it’s that simple. Even still, the Canes player had a chance to skate away from the fight, but he threw the first and even second punch before Ovechkin leveled him. Washington seemed to let down emotionally worrying about the kid while the Canes amped their play up afterwards. It was a total mismatch of a game three after that sequence.  The fact is Svechnikov slashed and cross checked Ovi several times before both agreed to fight, despite what Canes Coach Rod Brind’Amour says about the altercation.

Speaking of Brind’Amour, he had the following to say about the Oshie play and injury (courtesy of Isabelle Khursudyan of The Washington Post) after game four.

“He crashed into the boards hard, and that’s when the arm went up, because he stayed down. You don’t like to see that, but more than anything he was not ready for the hit…I think he just went in awkward….We have way more injuries than they do, so I don’t worry about their team.”

That is quite the opposite response to the classy comments from Caps Coach Todd Rierden and Capitals players following the unfortunate injury to Svechnikov. Add in the fact that all three Carolina forward injuries in this series (Svechnikov, Michael Ferland, and Jordan Martinook) were the result of their own stupidity, brought on by Brind’Amour’s Slap Shot tactics, and you see a real clear picture of how classless the former Flyers player has acted in round one.

The key now for the Capitals is to use the Oshie injury as a galvanizing moment and get back to playing their brand of hockey. They need to start winning more one on one battles and finding ways to generate more pucks and bodies to the Carolina net. They’ve scored just two goals in their last 122+ minutes of hockey and both tallies came with a Canes player without a stick. This is the clear result of not paying the price to score the ugly playoff type goals they notched last season en route to the Stanley Cup. Petr Mrazek is having far too easy of a time in net. He does not have to fight through any traffic to see the Capitals shots.

Bottom line is the Caps need to get ticked off and stick it to Carolina. They will have their home crowd on Saturday and through four games, the team that has taken the initial lead has won every game. As I’ve said numerous times, the first round is the hardest to win. To prevail you have to be emotionally invested in the game and in North Carolina, it was the Canes who were much better in that category in both outings.

Washington needs to play with an edge and be smarter. The Capitals coaching staff needs to analyze the way Carolina is configured and find ways to expose their defense which is heavily riding Justin Faulk, Jacob Slavin, Dougie Hamilton, and Brett Pesce. Carolina has looked like the faster team creating gaps in the Caps defense while the Capitals have not really opened up many lanes for scoring opportunities since game two. Again, they were much better in game four, but nowhere near where they need to be to regain control of this series.

It is pretty simple now, if they don’t pick up their intensity, then they’ll find themselves watching round two with the Penguins and Bolts.

Notes: Washington out shot attempted Carolina, 55-52. Shots on goal were 31-22 for the Caps, but most of those 31 were “one and done” sequences…the Capitals won the face off battle, 23-21. Lars Eller was 7-5…with Oshie out, the Capitals can either plug in Chandler Stephenson or Dmitrij Jaskin or they can call up Devante Smith-Pelly. DSP is a proven playoff performer who goes to the net…Ovechkin had the Caps lone goal at the end of a power play. Again, it was scored because a Carolina player, Trevor Van Reimsdyk, broke his stick and the lane to Ovi was wide open…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:31…the Caps were 1 for 3 on the power play and 2 for 2 on the penalty kill.

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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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Lars Beats Habs

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Caps Clinch Their 4th Straight Metropolitan Division Title

Posted on 04 April 2019 by Ed Frankovic

It was playoff intensity level hockey at Capital One Arena on Thursday night as the desperate Montreal Canadiens threw everything they had at Braden Holtby and the Washington Capitals, only to come up short, by a 2-1 score. The victory for the Caps clinches their fourth straight Metropolitan Division title and they will host either Carolina, Pittsburgh, or Columbus in round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs beginning next week.

Montreal is now tied with the Blue Jackets for the eighth and final playoff spot, but CBus has two games to play, against the Rangers and Ottawa, so things look bleak for the Habs.

This was another classic Carey Price (29 saves) vs. Holtby (33 saves) battle with the Stanley Cup Champion goaltender coming out on top, once again, like he’s done so many times in his career against Montreal. The Holtbeast made some huge stops early when the Habs were carrying the play, but as the game went on, it was Washington and their suffocating structure that had the better of the chances. In the final frame, the Capitals could’ve salted this one away earlier if not for some outstanding goaltending from Price.

Washington was really good in this game at gap control and that prevented Montreal from using their speed to their advantage. It was actually the Caps speed, and that of Carl Hagelin, that started the scoring late in period one. The man who was acquired from the Kings and partially paid for by Los Angeles and the Penguins put on a vicious forecheck in the right wing corner. The Habs defensemen coughed the puck up to Brett Connolly and he found Lars Eller wide open in front. “Tiger” deftly went to his backhand and beat Price for a hard working tally.

Nicklas Backstrom then took a high sticking penalty and Shea Weber tied things up on the power play, just 56 seconds after the Eller goal and with 28 ticks left in the opening frame.

The Caps would seize the lead for good early in period two using their speed, once again. Andre Burakovsky went flying down the right wing boards to steal a puck from the Habs blue liner and he fed Nic Dowd in the slot. Travis Boyd read the play perfectly and went to the net creating a screen on Price and Dowd tallied top shelf for his career high eighth goal of the season.

Both goals for the Caps were created by their bottom six forwards and were the result of a vicious forecheck. This is exactly how the Capitals need to play in the post season and the addition of Hagelin, which pushed Burakovsky to the fourth line, has given Coach Todd Reirden four strong lines. Washington boasts speed and skill up front, as well as size.

Defensively, the Capitals will need to overcome the loss of Michal Kempny, who suffered a torn hamstring in the dust up with Tampa’s Cedric Paquette. Kempny will miss four to six months, so the coaching staff has to figure out how they will play a defense that is now super strong in right handed shooting  John “Norris” Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and  Nick Jensen. Dmitry Orlov is the top lefthander while Brooks Orpik and Christian Djoos will have to step up to cover Kempny’s minutes. Djoos had major surgery back in December, but hopefully the time off he had has allowed him to build his strength up for another long playoff run.

Everything, however, starts in net and the Holtbeast is in fine form as we head into the post season. Washington went 13-4-1 down the stretch against one of, if not the toughest schedules in the NHL to capture the division title and a big factor was the play of their goaltender. When Braden is on, the Caps are hard to defeat.

Also encouraging is the way Washington manhandled Tampa in the last two confrontations. The Caps lost at home in overtime, but the Bolts won that one on special teams. Coach Rierden’s crew has dominated the Lightning at even strength like they did in last spring’s Eastern Conference Finals. They also beat the crap out of the Bolts in the fights last Saturday night. When are teams going to learn that challenging Tom Wilson to a fight is a lost cause? There aren’t many guys in the league, outside of Ryan Reaves, who are able to handle Willy.

The post season, however, is about structure and attention to detail and not fighting. Physicality matters, too. Washington has shown over the last 18 games that they are getting closer to that level they had on their Cup run. Now it’s time for them to take it up a notch.

The first round is always the hardest to win, so no matter who the Capitals play will be a tough out.

Notes: Djoos and Orpik were +2 on Thursday…Alex Ovechkin had eight shot attempts, but couldn’t increase his goal total (He currently has 51). Price made some quality saves on him and Ovi also shot some good chances wide…the Caps blocked 19 shots, seven of which came from Niskanen…Wilson had seven hits and Orpik had six as Washington outhit Montreal, 37-22. The Caps were physical in all zones and that seemed to wear the Canadiens out by the end of the game…the Capitals will face the Islanders on Saturday night in a meaningless game for Washington. The Isles need a point to clinch second place over the Penguins.

 

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Holtby Stones Flyers

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Holtby Leads the Caps to a Season Series Sweep of the Flyers

Posted on 24 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

The entire Washington Capitals team should take Braden Holtby out to dinner this week because he saved their rears on Sunday afternoon at Capital One Arena. The Holtbeast was outstanding stopping 35 shots, including 20 in the middle frame when the Philadelphia Flyers were dominating the Caps, to lead his club to a very important 3-1 triumph over a franchise that has been despised around these parts since 1974.

This was not a pretty game for the Caps and it was a bit surprising given that they didn’t really show up for Friday’s tilt against Minnesota, a 3-1 loss that hopefully doesn’t prove costly in the Metropolitan Division race. Philly was a desperate squad on Sunday, they’re on their last gasp in 2018-19, and really came at Washington taking a 60-25 shot attempt advantage through 40 minutes. Somehow, though, the Caps built a 2-0 lead on a sweet first period deflection goal by Tom Wilson, his 22nd of the year, and another tip in tally by Travis Boyd after Andre Burakovsky created offensive zone havoc on the Flyers with some outstanding forechecking.

That 2-0 lead, however, was short lived because this Capitals team has a tendency to lose focus at key junctures. They did so again with four minutes left in period two. Washington, instead of getting pucks deep, made a careless offensive zone turnover that led to a Flyers jailbreak.  T.J. Oshie hustled back, but he took a holding penalty to prevent a two on one rush. The Caps had been good on the PK to that point going two for two, but Cap Killer Jakub Voracek would score on the power play with Holtby out of position due to an errant clear by his defensemen in front of the net.

The Flyers would nearly tie the game on numerous occasions after that, but in this one, if Holtby could see it, then he was stopping it. Finally in period three, the Capitals started carrying the play and at the 8:07 mark Jakub Vrana notched his 22nd goal of the season on a breakaway after Brett Connolly made two fantastic plays in his own zone to get the puck to #13. V went five hole on Brian Elliott and from there on out, Washington dominated possession and easily could’ve won by more except for some big stops from Elliott.

This victory was huge because the New York Islanders won again on Sunday evening to remain just one point behind the Capitals in the Metropolitan Division with just six games to go. The Penguins, who defeated the Stars on Saturday night and have a cake walk on Monday evening against the rebuilding Rangers, are just three points in the rear.

The Caps, who lost Michal Kempny indefinitely to what looks to be a serious knee injury against the Bolts in a 5-4 overtime loss on Wednesday night, did some experimenting with defensive pairs and forward lines in this contest. It probably had more to do with the Flyers carrying the play and the fact that there is word that several Capitals are battling illnesses. Whatever the case, Washington was disjointed for much of the first two periods.

Burakovksy was one of the guys who certainly didn’t appear to have anything wrong because he was all over the ice. Andre logged 10:50 and was +1. He probably should’ve played more, but with the Caps in penalty trouble in the middle frame, the forward rotation became messed up.

Vrana was strong, as well, and he nearly scored his 23rd of the campaign after deking Elliott badly, but struck iron on the backhand after a gorgeous move. Jakub only had 9:19 of ice time and again, should’ve played more, but likely didn’t due to penalty troubles.

Nick Jensen was Washington’s best defensemen on Sunday. He blocked five shots, logged 20:45, added an assist, and was +2. He made several quality plays, including a great rebound clear in period three when the game was still in doubt.

Wilson rebounded from his worst outing of the season on Friday to continue to live in the heads of the Flyers, who will head to the golf course this spring knowing that they were SWEPT in 2018-19 by the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Philadelphia played some super hockey after mid-Janaury, but they had no answer for Holtby and the Capitals, who owned them on the scoreboard for the first time in the regular season for as far as I can remember.

The Flyers though, deserve credit for their effort, especially since they played on Saturday in a loss to the Islanders, which pretty much meant they had to run the table to have any prayer of making the postseason. The Caps, on the play of their goaltender, ended any chance of that happening.

Coach Todd Reirden’s team found a way to win when they really didn’t have it for much of this contest. Of particular concern is a power play that went 0 for 2 on Sunday and was a big fat donut hole on Friday night, too. Washington’s man advantage unit has been too perimeter based and very predictable lately. It’s time for the coaches to add some new wrinkles, and more importantly, generate additional net presence and traffic. The goalies in this league are very good, so if they see the shot, they’ll normally stop it.

This victory over Philadelphia stopped some serious bleeding as the Caps were 2-3-1 in their previous six games and had lost the first two games of a four game home stand. Last season, Washington went on an 11-3 run heading into the post season. It’s time for the Capitals to clean up the loose ends in their game and develop some cohesion for the post season. There is much to work on to get to the level required for playoff success.

Despite the uneven performance, the Caps should be thankful that their goalie seems dialed in. Hopefully they can also build on a strong third period as they head into a home and home with those “Bunch of Jerks” from Carolina this week (Tuesday at Capital One Arena and Thursday in Raleigh).

They can also take pride in the fact that the season series with Filthadelphia ended up Capitals 4, Flyers ZERO!

Defeating the Flyers is always great and this Capitals team beat Philly like a rented mule all year to send the black and orange to the links for early tee times in the spring of 2019.

Notes: John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:07…Alex Ovechkin had an assist, six shots on goal and was a big factor on the first tally. He also unselfishly passed up a chance to score goal #49 into an empty net late in regulation…the Flyers destroyed the Capitals from the dot, 38-22…shot attempts were 22-14 for Washington in period three, including 12-5 in shots on goal…the Caps blocked 18 shots and had 22 hits…the Capitals, minus some players, will visit the White House on Monday to celebrate their Stanley Cup triumph. It is a private visit so there will be no media coverage, which is disappointing for the fans in this area who have had to endure 43 years of clips of other NHL teams being praised by the sitting President after they won Lord Stanley and took it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to show off. Unfortunately, there will be no celebration ceremony and it is truly a shame that politics has gotten in the way of the fun involved in what has been a long standing tradition.

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Conno Hags Flyers

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Connolly Helps the Caps Ambush the Flyers, 5-2

Posted on 14 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

That’s not the case anymore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hagelin, Backstrom, and Copley Help the Caps Win Again

Posted on 11 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Holtby Blanks the Devils in the Caps 6th Straight Victory

Posted on 08 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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