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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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Canes Pushing Around Caps

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

Posted on 20 April 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

So how should the Capitals respond?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s all in your hands now.

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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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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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Stephenson Nisky

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Washington Holds Off Carolina’s Late Charge to Win Again

Posted on 27 December 2018 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ovi Sabres

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Ovechkin’s Shootout Tally Carries the Caps Over the Sabres, 4-3

Posted on 15 December 2018 by Ed Frankovic

“I said, train kept a-rolling all night long, Train kept a-rolling all night long…” – Aerosmith

Alexander Ovechkin failed in his attempt to get his third consecutive hat trick, but he did score his league leading 29th goal to tie this contest at three in period two and then he notched the game winning shootout tally in the fourth round to propel the Washington Capitals to a 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night. Pheonix Copley made 26 saves for the Caps and he was only dented once in four tries in the gimmick.

The Sabres had the schedule advantage in this contest, but it was the Defending Stanley Cup Champions coming off of Friday’s shootout win in Raleigh who dominated this affair at even strength. Buffalo essentially scored three power play goals, their first marker by Jack Eichel came right as Michal Kempny’s high sticking penalty expired and the other two, one by Eichel and the other by rookie standout Rasmus Dahlin, also came with the man advantage. Washington, meanwhile, had four power plays, and didn’t convert on any of them. Coach Todd Reirden needs to get the special teams back under control, especially the PK, which badly misses Brooks Orpik.

Carter Hutton (35 saves) was the biggest reason, along with a leaky Capitals penalty killing unit, that this affair wasn’t ended by the Champs in regulation. Washington totally out quality chanced the Sabres at even strength, but the big goalie was the difference. At the other end, Copley played well, although he probably wants the third goal back. Still, the biggest question mark coming into this season for Washington was backup goalie, yet the man born in North Pole, Alaska is now 7-1 in his last nine starts. Caps fans can thank Copley for a Merry Christmas in 2018, because he’s been stellar as Philipp Grubauer’s replacement, at a much lower price.

Brett Connolly and Jakub Vrana notched their 7th and 10th goals of the season, respectively, as Washington received contributions on the scoresheet from each of their top three lines. Devante Smith-Pelly made a key steal from Hutton less than a minute after the Sabres took a 1-0 lead to feed Conno all alone in front for a layup. That was a critical goal given that the Capitals played on Friday night and Buffalo was sitting waiting to knock off the Cup winners in their first try of 2018-19. The Sabres had early momentum and DSP’s hustle and heads up play completely took that off of the table.

Vrana’s tally, which came on a rocket from the slot, was all set up by a great fore check by Tom Wilson. Willy’s pressure and speed forced the Sabres Matt Tennyson to turn the puck over up the left wing wall right to Evgeny Kuzentsov and Kuzy slid the disc cross ice to Jakub, who blasted it past Hutton to make it 2-1 less than 10 minutes into this affair.

The Sabres would notch two power play goals in the first 7:21 of period two to take a 3-2 lead, although Craig Laughlin thought both of the calls by the Quebec “not so dynamic” duo of Francois St. Laurent and Pierre Lambert weren’t penalties. He was right, but there were a couple of phantom calls on Buffalo, as well, especially the delay of game penalty on Marco Sandella in period three. That was pure rubbish, but enough on the incompetent zebras, you just have to play well enough to overcome them these days and Washington did, but Hutton held the fort for as long as he could for the visitors.

Sam Reinhart had a super chance to win this contest in the last minute after a Capitals turnover and then poor defensive work by Kuzy, but he hit the left pipe from the slot. In overtime, Kuznetsov had a late breakaway, only to be stoned by Hutton trying to go five hole.

But Evgeny would get revenge in the gimmick and he forced Casey Middlestadt to score on the third shot to keep this one going. Mighty Casey did tally, but then the Gr8 beat Hutton through the wickets on his shootout attempt and Copley stopped Jason Pominville to send Caps fans home happy and the many Buffalo supporters in attendance, out into the rainy night with a defeat, but also a standings point.

The Sabres are certainly a rising club and they play with pace, but the Capitals are still Kings of the Castle and improved to 20-9-3 (43 points). They lead the Metropolitan Division by six points over second place Columbus and the third place Penguins by seven points. It certainly looks like that trio should be your three playoff teams coming out of the Metro, barring major injuries to star players, while the Atlantic Division places five teams in the postseason with Tampa, Toronto, Buffalo, and Boston looking like locks for four of those slots. There are still 50 games to play, though, and the game changes on January 1st when things get more physical and buckled down defensively. The good news for Washington is they can play that style of hockey, too.

This triumph over the Sabres closes the book on a seven goal and one shootout tally winner for the Gr8 in the three games played this week. It’s pretty much a no-brainer that he’ll capture NHL Player of the Week when it is announced on Monday. The Caps will be off on Sunday, and they earned it. Next up are the Penguins at Capital One Arena on Wednesday night. The Pens have recently overcome a rough patch and are starting to play better hockey, so this next one should be a dandy.

But for now, the Capitals can sit back and enjoy their five game winning streak and take a few days to catch their breath. I’m sure that the coaching staff will also work on their penalty killing because the Pens have perhaps the most deadly power play in the league.

In addition to the five game run, the Capitals have now won 12 of their last 14 games, so it’s time to cue up the Steven Tyler again.

“Train kept a-rolling all night long, Train kept a-rolling all night long.”

Notes: The Caps had a 38-29 shots on goal and a 77-54 shot attempts advantage. They certainly didn’t look like a team that was supposed to be tired and you have to like the professionalism of this squad. They are getting excellent coaching and more importantly, great leadership, starting with Ovechkin and then All Star Nicklas Backstrom (who made a whale of a pass to set the Gr8 up for his game tying goal in period two)…the Capitals won the faceoff battle, 31-27. Backstrom went 11-5 and Kuznetsov was 9-6…Wilson had eight hits as the Caps won the body battle, 32-16…John “Norris Trophy Leading Candidate” Carlson logged 29:11 and was +3. The guy is a total stud on the back end…Michal Kempny had a trio of penalties, but as mentioned earlier, Locker didn’t think the second infraction was worthy of a call…Tennyson was -3 for Buffalo, who are back in town to face the Caps again on Friday, December 21st…Andre Burakovsky and Dmitrij Jaskin were the forward scratches. Tyler Lewington was recalled earlier on Saturday from Hershey to serve as the seventh defensemen.

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Caps Defeat Devils Backy

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Holtby and Backstrom Lead the Caps Past New Jersey

Posted on 01 December 2018 by Ed Frankovic

All Star Nicklas Backstrom notched a hat trick and a helper, Alexander Ovechkin had a goal and two assists, and more importantly, Braden Holtby made 33 saves in front of some very shoddy defense over the last 40 minutes to lead the Washington Capitals to a 6-3 triumph over the New Jersey Devils at Capital One Arena on Friday night. The win was the Caps seventh straight and improves their record to 15-7-3 (33 points) as they moved back into 1st place in the Metropolitan Division.

The Capitals came out and played a solid first period, outside of taking two penalties, and they took the lead on a great rush by Ovi in which he blew by the Devils defensemen and passed from the side of the net into the slot to Backstrom on the doorstep. Nicky then outmaneuvered the New Jersey blue liner for a tap in tally just 3:51 into this affair. The Caps had other quality chances to extend the lead, most notably a Tom Wilson chance in the slot after another great feed from #19, but Keith Kinkaid made the stop.

Devante Smith-Pelly’s interference penalty carried into period two, but it worked to the Caps advantage. Lars Eller won the face off back to Matt Niskanen to start the stanza. Nisky rifled the puck into the Devils end and Kinkaid came out to play the puck, but gave it right to Wilson, who was coming down the right wing. Willy grabbed the disc and fired quickly from just above the goal line and beat Kinkaid for his seventh goal in nine games just eight ticks into the frame to make it 2-0. Madison Bowey would then take a careless high sticking penalty and the Capitals had to kill their third straight infraction of the night. They would do so and Washington then had a chance to really extend the lead when Bowey drew a trip on Taylor Hall.

The Caps top power play unit, which received Evgeny Kuznetsov back from a concussion, couldn’t convert and then the second unit compounded the problem with a neutral zone turnover that led to a New Jersey two on one rush. Blake Coleman had a great look and fired on Holtby, but Braden stopped the puck yet couldn’t find the rebound. Travis Zajac was hustling to the front of the net and the Washington forward couldn’t tie his stick up, allowing the Devils to get a shorthanded goal of their own at the 9:23 mark.

For the next several minutes New Jersey stormed the castle getting three breakaways, one by Marcus Johansson that was sandwiched around two Brett Seney solo attempts. The Holtbeast would come up large stopping all three of them, which came as the result of the Caps carelessness with the puck. Washington definitely seemed to go out to lunch after they received their first power play.

Shortly after Seney’s second breakaway came the play that will be heavily talked about over the next 24 hours. Seney had the puck in the left wing offensive circle and while skating backwards, he dumped the biscuit into the corner. Seney kept moving backwards without looking and Wilson came skating into the zone tracking the puck, which was now in the corner. Willy was moving good and Seney veered backwards into his path, forcing Top Line Tommy to bring his left skate up to try and move right to avoid contact, but with Michal Kempny to his right, he hit Seney’s shoulder and knocked him to the ground. Seney stayed down and normally good zebra, Trevor Hanson, overreated and gave Willy a match penalty for head contact and a five minute power play. On replay, you can see that Wilson is looking into the corner and not focused on making a hit on Seney, which is far different than the hits in which Tom was previously suspended for. Seney would leave the game, but return none worse for the wear while the Caps, who at most should’ve received a two minute interference penalty, had a major penalty to kill without one of their top PK forwards.

Fortunately for the Capitals, they killed the five minute major with relative ease. On the evening the penalty killing unit went five for five in 11:04 of shorthanded time and only allowed four shots on goal, which is very impressive. Washington was pretty loose on defense at even strength, but in man down situations they were stellar.

As for Wilson, the video evidence clearly shows it was shoulder to shoulder contact, so the match penalty for head contact should be rescinded by the league. Even Seney himself told the media after the game that the contact was not to his head, it was to his shoulder. Given that Seney has no injury and when you see all of the angles in slow motion there is no intent, Wilson’s eyes are focused on the puck in the corner, I doubt anything more will come from this play by the league, but again, who knows with the Department of Player Safety these days? As for Hanson, he probably wishes he could have video review on that play before making the call, because I doubt he would’ve called anything more than interference with the help of another look.

After the Caps killed off the five minute major, they received a huge goal from Andre Burakovsky at 5:45 of period three, who was bumped up to the top line when his big brother was mistakenly kicked out. Andre took a puck at the offensive blue line, burst through two Devils defenders, and then beat Kinkaid to the blocker side. It was a huge goal at a very important time and should give #65 a lot of confidence. At the 8:26 mark, Matt Wood was called for a four minute minor for butt ending and the Capitals power play went back to work. Sami Vatanen took a hooking penalty 110 seconds into it giving the Capitals a lengthy five on three opportunity. 40 seconds later it was 4-1 when Backstrom roofed one short side on Kinkaid with 9:03 remaining.

Nico Hischier cut the lead to two goals with 7:25 left when Hall made a move around Niskanen on the goal line and drove to the net. Nisky pushed Hall down and it knocked Holtby over with the puck bouncing right in front to the 2017 first NHL draft choice to deposit it into the yawning cage. Marcus Johansson then made it a one goal game when he beat Michal Kempny in front of the net to tap home Hall’s pass with 1:50 remaining.

Just 20 seconds later, Ovi took the puck inside his own blue line and lifted one over everyone and into the empty cage to finally put the outcome to bed. Backstrom then scored his hattie when Alexander the Great carried the puck into the offensive zone and instead of hitting an easy open cage, he unselfishly passed cross ice to his pal for the empty net tally with 23 ticks remaining.

This was a very sloppy game for Washington after the first period and they won on their high end skill, super penalty killing, and most importantly, outstanding goaltending by the Holtbeast. Backstrom, Ovechkin, and Burakovsky were the big heroes up front, but overall the team has many things to clean up. New Jersey used its speed to generate chances when the Caps puck management was off, so that is something Washington must address going forward.

Afterward Caps Coach Todd Reirden, who had a very demonstrative discussion with Hanson before the third period started, was pretty upset about the call on Wilson. Todd felt that Willy was not even trying to make a hit there and with Seney moving backwards into his lane, it was a tough situation for Tom to avoid contact, but he pointed out that Willy did his best to move right and make himself smaller in that instance. Coach Reirden made a strong case, hitting on many of the points Alan May noted about the play in the Capitals post game show. The Caps bench boss is also still upset that both Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie sustained head injuries in Winnipeg and there was no supplemental discipline to either assailant. In fact, the Josh Morrissey body slam that caused Oshie’s concussion wasn’t even penalized! The key now is to make sure Wilson gets the match penalty rescinded so he can get back to playing hockey again, because the Caps certainly need him on the ice. The team is 8-1 since he came back, but it was the Holtbeast who was the biggest reason Washington won on Friday.

Notes: John Carlson had an assist and was +4 in a team leading 25:12 of ice time…there were only 18 hits in the game, 12 for New Jersey and just six for the Capitals…Backstrom and Ovechkin each had over 21 minutes of ice time…Kuznetsov had an assist and was -1 in 17:37 of ice time. He naturally looked a little rusty but there was nothing wrong with his wheels…New Jersey won the face off battle, 30-27…Oshie is still not skating, although he’s been hanging around the team before practices start by shooting pucks at the net without skates on..next up for the Caps are the Anaheim Ducks at 3:00 pm on Sunday at Capital One Arena. Following that game the Capitals go to Vegas, Arizona, and Columbus before returning home to face the Red Wings on December 11th.

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Caps over Isles Willy 2

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Wilson and Holtby Lead the Caps to Sixth Straight Win

Posted on 26 November 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Top Line Tommy, All Star Nicky, and the Holtbeast each had big nights in Brooklyn as the Washington Capitals scored four unanswered goals to knock off Caps Stanley Cup Winning Head Coach Barry Trotz’ New York Islanders on Monday night, 4-1. The victory was the Caps sixth straight and the seventh in their last eight games, which coincides with Tom Wilson’s return from suspension.

Former coaches Trotz, Lane Lambert, and Mitch Korn all received their Stanley Cup rings in the Caps locker room prior to the game and Barry gave an emotional speech that really showed how tight this team was over the four years he spent in DC turning around a franchise that was an absolute train wreck when he took it over (and GM Brian MacLellan deserves a ton of credit for the personnel moves, too). The coaches talked about commitment to one another and the memories they made that they’ll share at future reunions. Lambert also pointed out that the players all bought into the finer points of the game, such as blocking shots, and because of them, he and all of the coaches realized their childhood dream of winning the Cup. It was quite the scene and you can find the whole clip on the Caps twitter feed (@Capitals).

Afterwards, there was a hockey game to play and the Islanders were 9-1 against Metropolitan Division opponents coming into this affair. They looked to be building on that when Valtteri Filppula found the back of the net on a sweet backhander in the slot past Braden Holtby (32 saves) just 36 seconds into the contest. But that would be the high water mark for New York in this tilt.

Two minutes and 14 seconds later the game was tied when Willy took a sweet feed from Nicklas Backstrom (3 assists) on his backhand in the neutral zone, skated down the right wing, and in stride fired a dart past Thomas Greiss (20 saves). It was another big goal from Wilson and simply another all world pass by Nicky to set the tally up. After 20 minutes this one was tied, but Washington had a 12-8 lead in shots on goal.

Period two became a parade to the penalty box for the Capitals, which is usually the case when Ranger Dan O’Halloran is officiating the game. The Islanders would get three man advantage situations in the middle frame, but the only goal of the stanza came from Washington. The Caps fourth line had a superb outing and really set the tone in period one. In period two, they continued their fine play scoring the game winning tally. John Carlson caught the Islanders in a bad line change and fired a long pass from the Caps end to Dmitri Jaskin at the New York blue line. Jaskin skated in and left a gorgeous drop pass for Nic Dowd, and then Jaskin did a very smart thing by continuing to drive to the net taking the Islanders defensemen with him. That gave Dowd a shooting lane and Greiss didn’t really have time to get set. Before he knew it, #26 rifled the biscuit over his shoulder and into the cage for a 2-1 lead.

In that middle stanza, the Islanders outshot the Capitals, 10-3, but it was Washington who took a one puck lead into the last 20 minutes. Wilson was called for a questionable interference penalty 4:05 into period three, the Caps fourth straight infraction on the night, but the team easily killed it off. The Islanders would have some good looks trying to tie things up shortly thereafter, but the Capitals stellar goalie, the Holtbeast, was really solid in net making key save after key save without giving up any rebounds. Washington’s defense was blocking shots and when they didn’t, they allowed Braden to get a clean look at the shooter.

Jaskin, who has really amped his play up on this two game Mentors trip, drew a hooking call against Tanner Fritz to give the Capitals their first power play of the night at 12:04 and just 29 seconds into it, Thomas Hickey tripped Backstrom giving Washington a five on three. The Caps would not score on the two man advantage, but 13 seconds before Hickey was going to be set free, Backstrom from the half wall passed to Lars Eller below the goal line, and then Tiger put a sweet pass on Willy’s stick, who was filling the Osh Babe’s spot and role on the power play unit, and #43 buried it. It was a huge goal because the Islanders appeared to be getting some momentum killing off the lengthy part of the five on three. Give credit to Todd Reirden and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe for calling a timeout late in the five on three to calm the guys down. Getting that goal was the dagger in this one with it coming with just 5:39 remaining.

Alexander Ovechkin would then add his 18th goal of the season into an empty net after taking passes from Backstrom and Wilson and skating the puck out of the defensive zone. The Gr8, who has missed several open net situations this season, made no mistake on this one by turning on the jets to roar in on the cage, leaving Mathew Barzal in his dust.

It was a stellar finish to a game the Capitals gave up a lot of shots on net, but many came from the perimeter with the Caps continuing to focus on closing off the slot area and limiting high danger scoring chances. It was exactly the type of hockey they played last spring and it appeared that their former coach was smiling slightly in satisfaction when Ovi closed this one out by doing the little things that Trotz and his coaching staff helped teach them during his tenure in DC.

The Caps triumph improved their record to 14-7-3 (31 points) and they lead second place Columbus by one point in the Metropolitan Division. Washington lost Devante Smith-Pelly to a lower body injury in this game, he played only 5:26, but since the Capitals are off until a Friday night home affair with the Devils, there’s a chance he could not miss any more time.

Overall, this was not a pretty victory, but it was another solid effort with attention to detail in the defensive zone. This has been a different team since Wilson (2 goals, 1 assist) returned. They also received outstanding goaltending from the Holtbeast, once again.

Notes: Evgeny Kuznetsov skated after the morning skate, the first time he’s done so since the Brandon Tanev cheap shot to the head knocked him out of action on November 14th…T.J. Oshie was not on the trip so his return appears to be at least a week or so away…shot attempts were 62-47 for the Islanders, but they had 8 minutes of power play time to just 2:17 for the Capitals…John Carlson (1 assist) led the Caps in ice time with 23:47…Top Line Tommy has six goals, six assists, and 12 points in 8 games…Wilson, who had six shots on goal, led all forwards in ice time with 20:26…Matt Martin had eight hits in only 8:49 of ice time. Can you say “Cook the Books?”…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 27-20. Dowd went 4-4 and Wilson won the only draw he took.

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Caps Team Cup Banner

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Caps Bury Boston in Greatest Opening Night in Team History

Posted on 04 October 2018 by Ed Frankovic

We are the champions, my friends
And we’ll keep on fighting ’til the end
We are the champions
We are the champions
No time for losers
‘Cause we are the champions of the world

After 44 years of often times crushing defeats, the Washington Capitals players and fans were finally able to sing this legendary song together at Capital One Arena on Wednesday night in what was the greatest opening night in Caps history. The team was honored in a pregame ceremony that saw Alexander Ovechkin skate the Cup onto home ice to a thunderous ovation followed by an amazing video montage, and then the raising of the 2018 Stanley Cup Championship banner to the rafters.

To top it all off, the Capitals came out and buried the Boston Bruins, 7-0, to start the 2018-19 season in fine fashion.

Evgeny Kuznetsov notched two goals, Nicklas Backstrom had three assists, and Alex Ovechkin, T.J.Oshie, and John Carlson all had two points each while Braden Holtby stopped all 25 shots he faced in this affair. It was the 13th straight victory for the Caps over the B’s and more importantly, it gave Head Coach Todd Reirden his first NHL win in his debut as Washington’s bench boss.

This was a fun game and the fans, many of whom paid top dollar for tickets to attend this tilt, certainly received their money’s worth. The atmosphere was absolutely electric during the pregame ceremony and when Oshie scored just 24 seconds into the contest, it was apparent this was going to be Washington’s night. Kuznetsov followed that tally up just 83 seconds later on a power play goal right off of the face off and then the Caps exploded for three goals in the first seven and a half minutes of period two to put this one out of reach before the game’s midway point.

Below are my thoughts and analysis on the game and other impending Capitals issues:

Special Teams were a major key as the Caps went four for six on the power play and thwarted both of the Bruins man advantage situations. The Capitals are typically deadly with a manpower advantage and Boston certainly felt that in the season opener. Ovechkin and Carlson both tallied from the “Ovi spot” and Backstrom was just a magician on the ice dishing the biscuit around like he had the puck on a string. There is no doubt that if you take penalties against the Caps, you are going to pay the price. On the PK side of things, with Tom Wilson out 20 games due to suspension (more on that later), Devante Smith-Pelly stepped up and did a marvelous job while shorthanded and Reirden’s tactical change to add Kuzy to the mix paid off, as well. Evgeny logged 1:02 of penalty killing time and he helped the Caps to generate four shots on goal while down a skater, including a golden chance for Nathan Walker (Brooks Orpik had a nice pass on that sequence, too). The Caps penalty killing was somewhat of a weakness last season, but there is cause for optimism after game one, although they will face one of the best power plays in the league in the Penguins on Thursday night in Pittsburgh at 7 pm.

The Capitals played a really solid first period and big credit goes to the defense for moving the puck well out of their own end, which allowed the Caps to dominate possession. Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey, who were both rookies last season, played superbly on Wednesday. Coach Reirden was especially pleased with Bowey, who was paired with Orpik, given that this was his first meaningful hockey game in a long time. Even with Michal Kempny out due to injury (concussion – but skated for 15 minutes on Wednesday morning), the blue line was really solid. Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, and Matt Niskanen were stellar.

I spent a good part of my summer watching reruns of the Capitals Stanley Cup run and the thing that really stood out to me was the commitment level of the players, especially the forwards, to maintain their gap control through the neutral and defensive zones on the back check. The game winning goal against Pittsburgh was the result of that type of effort since it was Kuznetsov who knocked the puck off of Sidney Crosby’s stick before he went in and scored on a breakaway to send Washington to the Eastern Conference Finals. In the season opener, the gap control and commitment to back checking/pressure was still there. There were lots of sensational plays in this contest, but to me the one that stood out the most was DSP hustling and getting his stick in the passing lane on a potential golden chance for the Bruins. This came late in the second period with the score 6-0! Coach Reirden smiled when asked about that play and said everyone on the bench really noticed it. He also stated that this team is accountable and really plays for each other. In the post season the Capitals moved their feet and had a focus on taking the body, but there is no way to keep that style of physical play going through all 82 games and then the post season. However, you can continue to move your feet when you don’t have the puck and if you do that well, you are in position to steal or intercept the disc night after night and keep your opponents off of the score sheet. In game one, the Capitals skated hard on the back check and as a result, they dominated the game taking away time and space from some top notch players like Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak.

Goaltending is so important in hockey and even though the Caps grabbed a two puck lead early, the Holtbeast was still needed. His best save of the night was on Bergeron, who was in all alone on #70, in period one. Boston didn’t get a ton of quality shots because of the great play in front of Holtby, but Braden did have a few ten bell saves in this tilt. He simply owns the Bruins and it was his first regular season shutout since 2016-17. The Holtbeast did have two shutouts in the playoffs, games six and seven against Tampa in the Eastern Conference Final. Game six was arguably the best playoff game I’ve ever seen Washington play.

With Kempny out due to injury and Wilson suspended on Wednesday for the first 20 games (eligible to return on November 21st), there were available spots in the lineup for new players. The aforementioned Bowey stepped up on the blue line and Nathan Walker and Nic Dowd received sweaters up front. Dowd filled the fourth line center role vacated by Jay Beagle (signed by Vancouver for four years at $3M per season) and scored a sweet backhanded tally in the high slot to make it 4-0 at the 6:13 mark of period two. DSP made a nice keep in at the point as Washington played their aggressive fore checking system perfectly on that goal scoring instance.

Willy, who will likely appeal the length of the suspension, is going to be missed because of his physical presence and talent. He’s helped make the top line with Ovi and Kuzy one of the best in the league. He is also a great penalty killer and gets in the collective heads of the Capitals opponents. He is a major plus to the Caps over 99% of the time, but hits like the one against St. Louis that led to the suspension need to be taken out of his game. As a result of his absence, the Capitals will have to play more of a finesse and high skill style early on, but the good news is the first half of the NHL season is nowhere near as physical as it is after January 1st, so if he was going to be out, this is the period where his loss should work best. As Backstrom said afterwards, the team needs Wilson, but it is also an opportunity for other players, such as Walker and Brett Connolly, to show that they can step up and minimize the impact of #43’s absence.

In summary, this was about as perfect of an opening night as you could get for the Capitals organization. The fans were energized from the time they walked into the arena and the players fed off of that energy with a quick start. Hearing We Are The Champions on the jumbotron and from the fans was special, and Backstrom summed it up best when he noted, “It was an amazing feeling, I want to experience that again.”

Cue the Osh Babe and the fans with the “Back to Back” chant.

Notes: Shot attempts were 64-53 for the Caps. Shots on goal were 37-25, Washington…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 24:06. Djoos logged 17:23 as #74’s partner at even strength. Niskanen (21:48) and Orlov (22:00) were a dominant duo in this game…the Caps were a putrid 19-41 from the dot, but one of the wins resulted in Kuznetsov’s first goal. Face offs are an area that will need improvement going forward. Beagle is no longer around to take the key defensive zone draws…Tuukka Rask has still never won at Capital One Arena…Marchand jumped Eller with just over six minutes left because he was being a baby and didn’t like Tiger’s celebration after his goal that made it 7-0. Lars was cut when Marchand ripped off #20’s helmet. Eller also never took off his gloves but still received the fighting major. I imagine Wilson took note of Marchand’s pest-like sequence and will file it away for reference for future games against Boston.

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Game 6 win TB

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Caps Bring the Will and Skill in a Game Six Triumph Over Tampa

Posted on 22 May 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Lover, I’m off the streets
I’m gonna go where the bright lights
And the big city meet
With a red guitar, on fire
Desire

There has never been a more appropriate time where those great song lyrics from U2 have rung more true for how a Washington Capitals team played in a critical game during the Alexander Ovechkin era.

T.J. Oshie scored a second period power play goal and an empty net tally sandwiched around a huge third period marker from Devante Smith-Pelly while Braden Holtby shutout the Tampa Bay Lightning making 24 saves in the process. The 3-0 must win for the Caps in game six now forces a game seven at Amalie Arena on Wednesday night at 8 pm.

In a 3-2 game five loss on Saturday night, the Capitals did not come out of the gate well, at all, and found themselves down 3-0 in the first 21 minutes. As I wrote in my post game blog, the Caps did not display enough will to conquer the little battles necessary to win the game. Washington had the skill, but they did not exhibit the will and Tampa certainly did in their triumph.

On Monday night, there was no doubt about the will as the Capitals were relentless on the puck and won numerous board battles doling out 39 often vicious body checks in the process. Simply put, every player on the Caps roster from the Holtbeast on out brought a maximum effort. Oshie stated afterwards that Washington didn’t play with desperation; rather it was more of “a direct urgency.” The Osh Babe was spot on as this Capitals team checked as well as they have in any playoff game and it was their physicality and desire that won them a chance to play for a trip to the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday.

Tampa had won three straight tilts coming into this affair and had a lot of momentum. They also had won seven straight playoff games on the Caps home ice. Washington was determined to change that and after a scoreless first frame where both teams kind of felt each other out, the Capitals kicked up their intensity. The middle stanza didn’t start well for Washington as Jay Beagle was called for hooking just 40 seconds into the period putting the Bolts deadly power play on the ice. The Caps, however, were up to the task and allowed on only a single Lightning shot on net during the man advantage.

The strong penalty kill gave Washington an emotional boost and they started taking the play to the Bolts. The Capitals would out shot attempt Tampa, 27-22, in the second period, but it wasn’t until Braydon Coburn took a hooking penalty on Smith-Pelly as #25 was charging to the net after a Washington face off win that a red light would finally go on. The Caps power play, which went 0 for 4 in a tough game four loss and had no attempts in game five, clicked putting four shots on Andrei Vasilevskiy before the fifth one from #77 beat the big goalie at 15:12. Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov provided the assists on Oshie’s sixth tally of the post season, which came from the slot in between the four Bolts penalty killers.

The first goal, at that point in the game, loomed large because both teams had shown that once they were ahead in contests in this series that they were very good at walling off the front of their own net and very effective at counter attacking their opponents. Tampa, once behind, began having their defensemen pinch down on the wall in the offensive zone in an attempt to get the equalizer. They were nearly effective at it and the Caps were fortunate that the Bolts hit the left post in the dying seconds of period two.

For the first seven minutes or so of the final stanza, the Bolts really put the pressure on and the Capitals appeared to be hanging on as evidenced by the numerous icings they were guilty of committing. At the eight minute mark, Lars Eller fired a shot on #88 and the Caps earned an offensive zone face off. That seemed to steady the ship and just two minutes later it was 2-0 when Beagle and Chandler Stephenson out hustled and out worked the Bolts defense. Stephenson would get the puck below the goal line and feed Smith-Pelly all alone in the slot for a goal that would put Capital One Arena in bedlam. That newly formed line, which had the task of facing the Tampa very productive trio of Chris Kunitz, Cedric Pauquette, and Ryan Callahan, was a big reason that Washington was triumphant.

Backstrom then took a tripping penalty at 11:03 and suddenly the Bolts appeared to have life with the chance to get within one with their outstanding power play. Holtby would make three saves and Tom Wilson and Beagle had a monster shift to prevent Tampa from getting into the zone over the last 30 plus seconds of man advantage time. The home crowd gave the Capitals penalty killing unit a standing ovation and the massive amount of noise and energy propelled the Caps down the stretch as they continued to be physical and win the important battles. Oshie then hit the empty net with 50 seconds remaining to seal the deal.

This was one tight checking and intense hockey game and the Capitals arguably performed the best they have all postseason, at least from a defensive standpoint. They put 34 shots on net, 33 of which were against Vasilevskiy, but the Bolts goaltender played very well, once again. DSP’s tally, though, was critical to give the Caps some margin of error over the last 10 minutes and the way Holtby was going at his end, something crazy would’ve had to happen for Tampa to tie this one up. Washington was extremely committed to playing the body and winning board battles in all three zones, especially in the last 40 minutes.

So now Ovechkin, Backstrom, Beagle, Holtby, and the rest of the Capitals have a chance to advance where they’ve never been before. Tampa will have home ice advantage, they are the favorites being the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, and many of their players have been to the Stanley Cup Final before. The Bolts had hoped to close out the Caps in DC, but like in 2016 when they couldn’t beat the Penguins in game six and the series evened up, they’ll be going home to face Washington in a do or die game seven. That season Pittsburgh prevailed and went on to win the Stanley Cup over the San Jose Sharks. There will be lots of pressure on the Lightning to not do that again. As for the Capitals, they definitely cleared their minds of any negative thoughts prior to game six forgetting their three game losing streak as they turned in a gem on Monday night. They’ll need another game like that to knock off a very talented squad coached by Jon Cooper.

For once, Washington does not have home ice advantage and will not have the last line change that Coach Barry Trotz used so effectively to keep the Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Wilson line away from the Kunitz-Paquette-Callahan trio in game six. However, the Capitals can just fly in to Florida on Tuesday and focus on a hockey game. They won’t have friends and family bugging them for tickets and they won’t have a tense home crowd on hand. In game six, the Capitals fans were very supportive and helped bring energy, there was no apprehension. It was very much needed and the Caps took advantage of the environment in the victory.

Now they have to do it again on the road by finding a way to knock off a very good and favored Bolts squad. The key is winning the little battles that hopefully result in a lead in the hockey game that they can build upon.

And the fever, gettin’ higher
Desire
Desire

Notes: John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:17. Matt Niskanen logged 24:12. Victor Hedman led the Bolts in ice time with 24:07…the Caps had 39 hits to just 19 for Tampa. Brooks Orpik and Wilson each had six hits and Smith-Pelly had five…the Capitals won the face off battle, 33-28. Beagle was 13-3 and Eller went 12-6…Backstrom had two assists and appears to be getting more power on his passes and shots following his hand injury…Andre Burakovsky replaced Alex Chiasson in the lineup and had a strong 7:31 of work. He nearly scored on a one on one rush in period two, but shot over the net…Kuznetsov was 1-11 on faceoffs and lost a lot of first period board battles. If the Caps are going to win game seven, he has to find a way to not turn the puck over, he had two giveaways, both in period one.

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