Tag Archive | "Trotz"

Kempny Game 1

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Caps Dominate First 40 Minutes in a Game One Victory

Posted on 12 May 2018 by Ed Frankovic

For the first time since the second round of the 2015 playoffs, the Washington Capitals started a series on the road. The Caps played a textbook first 40 minutes racing out to a 4-0 lead and then closed out a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Friday night.

The Caps, who many experts have picked to lose this series, withstood an opening three minutes of pressure from the Bolts before they flipped the script and carried the play for the rest of the first two frames. Washington played fast and structured as they swarmed the puck and prevented the speedy Lightning from getting much time or space. Michal Kempny put the Capitals on the board at 7:28 on a point shot that went through a maze of players, including Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson, and past Andrei Vasilevskiy glove side.

After the goal, the team that is now 6-1 on the road in these 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, kept their foot down trying to increase their margin, but couldn’t convert. Then, with under 10 seconds remaining in period one, some wild stuff ensued. Matt Niskanen failed to get off a shot in the offensive zone and the Bolts sprung Nikita Kucherov one on one on Dmitry Orlov. The very talented Kucherov would score by outmuscling #9 and then tapping the puck by Holtby, but the linesmen immediately waved it off noting the very obvious six skaters in blue on the ice. Washington received a power play for the too many men infraction with eight seconds remaining and the Gr8 lasered one by Vasilevskiy with Lars Eller providing some traffic high in the slot just two ticks later. The whole sequence was set up by a big faceoff win by T.J. Oshie, who got the puck to Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists), and Kuzy quickly fed Ovechkin (one goal, one assist) for his rocket.

Washington outshot the Lightning, nine to two, in period one and in period two, they kept bringing it, outshooting the Bolts, 16-8. Just 2:40 into the frame, Jay Beagle put the rebound of a flubbed Brett Connolly shot past #88 to make it 3-0. Orlov made a nice play at the right point to set the quality chance up. Kucherov took a bad roughing penalty at 6:01 and 41 seconds later Tampa was down four pucks. Kuznetsov received a pass from Eller in the left wing corner and he rotated the puck to John Carlson at the top of the point. Carly slid one over to Ovi in his office for a one timer, but Alex didn’t get all of it and it “muffined” its way toward the net where Oshie (two assists) poked at it before Lars finally put the rebound home.

All four of the Capitals goals, which came in the first 26:42 of this affair, occurred with bodies in front and that’s a smart way to beat Vasileskiy, who was pulled for Louis Domingue for the third period. Washington did a lot of things correctly building the lead and only had a few shifts where they found themselves caught in a rush game with the Bolts. Up and down the ice is definitely the way Tampa wants to play and the Capitals settled down late in the middle frame to prevent Coach Jon Cooper’s squad from getting any momentum.

In the final stanza, the Bolts had some push and after a bad defensive zone shift, Alex Chiasson took a penalty to prevent a scoring chance in front of the net at 3:23. 22 seconds later it was 4-1 as Washington got caught puck chasing on the penalty kill and that allowed Kucherov to thread a pass through the outstretched Capitals PK box right to Steven Stamkos in his office for an easy back door marker. The Lightning seemed to come to life after that goal and when Chiasson lost his head and took an undisciplined roughing penalty on Kucherov by the Tampa bench at 8:59, the Bolts had a big chance to cut the margin to two.

This time, however, the Capitals had a super penalty kill and afterwards were pretty much in full control with nine minutes to go. Tampa kept pushing the pace, but Washington was doing a good job of clogging the neutral zone and preventing their opponents from getting set up in the offensive zone with a blue line wall and great back checking by the forwards. At that point, only an offensive zone mistake or a penalty would allow the home team to cut into the margin, and unfortunately for the Caps, the former occurred. After winning an offensive zone faceoff, Kempny was a little too greedy inside the offensive blue line and then he lost his footing giving Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat a two on one rush on Carlson with speed. Ovechkin tried to hustle back, but Palat beat Holtby short side with a sweet shot while #74 went down to block the pass. Suddenly, with 6:57 to go in regulation, this was a two goal game.

The contest appeared to still be in doubt, much to the delight of NBC’s Doc Emrick, but the Capitals stabilized themselves, got their legs moving, and then clamped things down. Washington had several good shifts that forced the Bolts to defend and it wasn’t until the dying seconds that Tampa was able to get another shot on goal. NBC’s Mike Milbury was effusive in his praise of how the Caps turned their effort up when they really needed to do so down the stretch.

For the Capitals, this was their first opening game triumph in three playoff series this spring and with Tampa feeling good about their chances coming in it was important for them to do so. Washington jumped on the Bolts with their speedy lineup that included the return of both Andre Burakovksy and Wilson. Willy had three shots on net in 15:09 and Burkie looked very strong on the puck in 14:02 of action. Nicklas Backstrom missed his second straight playoff tilt due to an injured right hand, but he did skate and stickhandle some on Thursday before the Caps departed for the Sunshine State. Coach Barry Trotz stated after the morning skate that Nicky is still day to day. Chandler Stephenson and Jakub Vrana logged 14:28 and 13:19, respectively, and used their skating ability to wear out a Tampa defense that has some slower defensemen. Vrana had five shots on net and really gave the Bolts defenders headaches.

Simply put, the way Washington played in periods one and two is how they have to perform to win this series. They have to continually be hard on the puck and committed to protecting their defensive zone against a very fast, up front, Tampa squad. Again, the Bolts, much like the Penguins, want a rush game where chances get traded at each end. The Caps would be wise to make sure they pressure the Lightning in their own zone, but also keep the third forward high in order to prevent odd man rushes against. Traffic and net presence was also a big factor in the victory and that must continue.

In round two, the Bolts were blown out of game one by Boston and then won the next four games to take that series rather quickly. Tampa will be looking to leverage that same recipe in game two on Sunday. Washington has the talent to skate with the Atlantic Division winners, but they have to be smart and play the right way, like they did in grabbing a big early lead in game one.

Notes: Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:48. Carlson logged 21:55…Eller played 20:35 to lead all Washington forwards in ice time…Bolts defensemen Victor Hedman led all players with 27:49, but he had no shots on goal…Domingue stopped all seven shots he faced in the final frame and some of them were on odd man rushes as the Caps were effective at generating some great counter attacks with the lead…Washington won the face off battle, 27-23. Beagle was 9-2 and Oshie was 3-0…Brooks Orpik had five of the Capitals 15 hits…game two is Sunday night at 8 pm.

 

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Kuzy Bird Game 6

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Kuznetsov’s OT Goal Puts the Caps in the Eastern Conference Final

Posted on 08 May 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Ding Dong, the witch is dead!!

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored 5:27 into overtime on a breakaway after a great defensive play and pass from Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals finally defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in a playoff series in the Ovi era, four games to two. This was only the second time in 11 tries that the Caps have won a post season matchup against the Pens (last time was 1994). For the Penguins, their hopes of being the first team to threepeat since the New York Islanders won four Cups in a row from 1980 to 1983 has ended, but what a run they had. I tip my hat to that club, especially Sidney Crosby, the best player in the NHL.

So how did the Capitals win a game six without Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, and Andre Burakovsky?

They received super goaltending from Braden Holtby and they played as a team, sticking to the game plan the coaching staff gave them. There was complete buy in from every player on that roster and they outworked Pittsburgh in a contest the Pens had to have in their own building. The leadership from the coaching staff to the captain to the alternate captains to the veterans on down was just amazing.

To come back and win game five without Backstrom, who has a right hand injury, and then game six in PPG Arena is the stuff of legends and that Kuznetsov goal and “Bird Celly” will go down in Caps lore along with Dale Hunter’s OT goal against the Flyers in 1988 and Joey Juneau’s OT goal in 1998 that put the Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final.

The postseason is so much about goaltending and all year on WNST I’ve been telling station owner and host, Nestor Aparacio, that the Caps needed 2012 Braden Holtby this spring. The Holtbeast didn’t even get the starting nod against Columbus, but after Philipp Grubauer’s early struggles, #70 took over and he’s locked things down for Washington making the key saves at the right times. The Penguins had more high danger chances than the Caps in this series, but it was Holtby who badly outplayed Pens goalie Matt Murray and that’s why the Capitals are moving on. It was a reversal of last spring when Marc Andre-Fleury stole the series from Washington. The Holtbeast went 8-3 in the first two rounds with a 2.04 GAA and a .926 save percentage.

Goaltending alone, however, was not enough to do it. Washington’s defensive unit of John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, Michal Kempny, Brooks Oprik, and Christian Djoos was dynamite. The Penguins averaged five goals in their first round victories over the Flyers and they are a team that loves to score on the rush and on the power play. The Caps, for the most part, did not allow the Pens to get into their rush game, especially in game six when the commitment from a lineup with five rookies (Djoos, Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson, Nathan Walker, and Travis Boyd) was just outstanding. The Pens only goal came off of a faceoff win that clicked off of Stephenson and by Holtby. What I really like about this defense is their ability to move the puck. We all knew Carlson, Niskanen, and Orlov were adept at that, but the sneaky low cost deal to obtain Kempny by GM Brian MacLellan has turned out much better than the Kevin Shattenkirk move last spring. Credit goes to Brian, pro scout Chris Patrick, and the rest of the pro scouting staff that identified Kempny as well as Jakub Jerabek for two low cost, but much needed acquisitions. Bringing in Jerabek worked for quite awhile and it allowed Djoos to reset and become a strong and confident player again after some expected mid season rookie struggles. Niskanen and Orlov had the daunting task of facing the Jake Guentzel-Crosby-Patric Hornqvist line all series and they did excellent work. Nisky logged a team high 29:38 in game six. Carlson was a stud, as well, providing timely offense, especially on the power play. He is a big game player and I’ll say it again, “Pay the Man!”

Up front, Backstrom was a beast in games two and three when the Capitals really took over this series before the league derailed things by incorrectly suspending Wilson for three games. Nicky dominated Crosby in those tilts and was playing his best hockey. Unfortunately a Justin Schultz shot injured his right hand in period one of game five and he finally said “No Mas” in period three. At that point, there was one player who had to take over for the Caps, and that was Kuznetsov since he is the club’s other top center. Boy did Kuzy step up! In period three of game five he was as strong on the puck in all zones as I’ve ever seen him and in game six, he made the big finish to end the second round curse in the Ovechkin era. Kuznetsov only had one point in the first three contests, but he finished with a flourish getting five in the last three tilts. He was especially dominant in game five when his early final frame goal tied the game up and allowed Washington to take over that period and contest after being badly outplayed for 40 minutes.

As for the captain himself, his goal in game three in Pittsburgh was a real back breaker for the Pens and then his defensive steal and alert pass to Kuznetsov in OT finally put Alex into round three. The Gr8 had three goals and four assists in the series.

Let’s also not forget the work of T.J. Oshie who notched some big power play goals and also a huge empty net clincher in game five when he stripped Phil Kessel of the puck clean in a move that would make a Chicago pick pocket artist from the 1920’s proud. The Osh Babe is playing his best hockey of the year in this postseason.

Another big reason the Capitals are finally into the third round is they’ve had secondary scoring, unlike the droughts they’ve had from the third and fourth lines in the last three postseason second round losses. Alex Chiasson delivered a huge goal to give the Caps the lead in period two and it was set up by Nathan Walker, who was making his NHL playoff debut. The insertion of Walker, after Shane Gersich struggled in game five, was a move of brilliance and it paid off. #79 only played 8:29, but he was a positive on each of his shifts with energy and hustle that wore out the Penguins.

Lars Eller was a quiet hero in all of the action and he stepped up in Backstrom’s absence as the second line center in game six. In the previous two playoff losses to the Pens, centers Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen were the big difference makers for Pittsburgh. This spring, Eller outplayed big dollar trade deadline acquisition, Derrick Brassard, and Jay Beagle’s unit each game was better than the Pens fourth line.

After the terrible decision by the league to suspend Wilson, and I firmly believe it was media and Pens pressure induced, the Penguins dominated the next five periods of the series. Game four was pretty much all Pittsburgh and the first 40 minutes of game five certainly indicated that a getting healthier Pens team was starting to click. Fortunately for the Caps, the Holtbeast kept them in it and then two Kris Letang mistakes opened the door for the comeback and victory in game five. Washington dominated the third period of game five and they were the better team in just about all four periods in game six. That was what was so special about this win, on paper there was no way the Capitals, with all of the rookies and patched together forward lines, should’ve defeated the two time Stanley Cup Champions to close out the series on the Penguins home ice.

But they did and major credit goes to the players and the coaching staff for coming up with a game plan that worked. They stayed out of the box (only 1 penalty) and they didn’t get into a rush game. Washington had far more odd man rushes in this affair and ultimately it was one of those that decided the series.

For Coach Barry Trotz, this has to be big time satisfying for him and his staff. He’s taken heat all year for not being able to take a team, on paper that looked better than the Penguins in 2016 and 2017, into the Eastern Conference Final. Sometimes though, it’s not about what’s on paper, it’s how a team responds to each other and the heart they display on the ice.

Trotzy told Nestor and I out at Michael’s Café in Timonium in late March, “Last year I’d try to move guys around and I almost always got push back from some players who claimed they didn’t perform well with certain guys. This season, I’ve moved guys around all of the time to try things out and I’ve had no issues from anyone.”

In Carroll County back in March 2017 Trotz talked about that Presidents’ Trophy winning club and said this, “This may not be our best team, we won’t know until the year is over.”

Those two quotes from the coach certainly make a lot of sense now. That 2017 team was very talented, but maybe it was too talented and perhaps a bit selfish?

It’s safe to say now that this 2018 Washington Capitals group is clearly their best team, at least in the Ovechkin era. This is a club that has seen player after player step up when someone has faltered, injured, or gotten ridiculously suspended. It’s seen a Vezina Trophy goalie get benched, not pout but work harder, and then come back to take over and win two playoff series. It’s seen their best center go out due to injury and their second best pivot step up and become the dominant player we all knew he could be. It’s seen a Captain who was overweight and ultimately injured because of it last spring check his ego at the door and work his butt off to become a faster and better player in 2017-18. You can go on and on down the list at the players who have stepped up after the salary cap and expansion forced some big holes in this roster, especially on defense and on the wings.

This was certainly one huge game and series victory over Pittsburgh. The Capitals will have all Monday night to celebrate it, and they should.

But they are only halfway to their ultimate goal and the test gets much harder in round three. The Tampa Bay Lightning are an extremely good hockey club that is well rested and healthy. Coach Jon Cooper’s squad is heavy favorites to knock off the Caps in round three.

Then again, the Penguins were heavy favorites to win game six on Monday night, and that didn’t happen.

The game is played on the ice, not on paper, the Capitals have proved that.

So keep the faith, get behind the team like Coach Trotz has asked of you, and let’s play round three!

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Puck Not In

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Holtby Outplays Murray in a Caps 4-1 Triumph in Game Two

Posted on 30 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby made 32 saves and Alex Ovechkin, Jakub Vrana, Brett Connolly, and Nicklas Backstrom tallied for Washington in a 4-1 game two victory at Capital One Arena on Sunday afternoon. The Caps triumph ties the series up at one apiece, with games three and four slated for Pittsburgh on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.

This was one heck of a hockey game and there were many significant events to cover, so without further adieu, here are my thoughts and analysis of the Capitals second victory in five tries on home ice this postseason.

Style Change – In game one, the Capitals, despite an early 2-0 third period lead, found themselves getting involved in a Penguins style of affair. Time after time the puck went up and down the ice with both teams willing to trade chances. With Pittsburgh’s high end skill, it’s a format they love playing because they know if the opposition roles the dice enough times, they will burn them with goals going the other way. In the first and third periods on Sunday afternoon, Washington played the right way and refused to get into a run and gun affair and that is a big reason why they tied this series up. The Caps must continue to play smart if they want to have a chance to win this best of seven second round matchup. If the Caps get a lead, they would be wise to go to their 1-3-1 or 1-2-2 defensive posture where they clog the neutral zone and defensive blue line. Stopping the Penguins speed and playing for counter attacks is a strategy that worked well the last time the Capitals were in Pittsburgh and wrapped up the Metropolitan Division Title.

The Best, Jerry, The Best – There’s no doubt in my mind that the Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Patric Hornqvist line is the best trio in the NHL. That unit has speed, skill, and grit and they were the biggest reason that the Pens rallied from a 2-0 hole in game one to seize a series opening victory. Most of their damage last Thursday came against the Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson line. In game two, Coach Barry Trotz made a tactical adjustment and deployed Backstrom’s line (includes Chandler Stephenson and T.J. Oshie) against Sid the Kid and company, since he had last change at home. Crosby logged 23:37 in this tilt while Nicky played 22:35. #87 was held pointless and also took a hooking penalty on Backstrom that led to Vrana’s power play tally which made it 2-0 late in period one. Simply put, the Backstrom line did their job by neutralizing the Penguins top unit in game two. The challenge, however, is that in the next two games, Penguins Coach Mike Sullivan has last change and therefore has a better shot at getting his best trio away from Nicky’s line. This means that the Lars Eller and Kuznetsov units need to step up and try and contain the best line in hockey.

Penn and Teller Moment – NBC (PENBC?!) kept showing a replay of the Hornqvist shot that the Penguins believe they scored on to make it 3-2 midway through period three, but referee Chris Rooney, who was in perfect position, immediately signaled no goal and the overhead replay confirmed the call from the Toronto war room. In the tone of one Buford T. Justice of Smokey and the Bandit lore, “there was no evidence to prove a goal was scored.” The emphasis there is on the word “Evidence” as Jackie Gleason would put it. Both Crosby and Hornqvist were seen overlooking the monitor of their broadcasting pal and chief cheer leader, Pierre McGuire, at center ice and screaming goal, but that angle from the front, is a three dimensional picture being transformed into a two dimensional array and then shown on television. Simply put, it is not accurate, it’s an optical illusion, and the math will prove it. The only definitive angle is the direct overhead camera, which showed the puck on the line, just like the photo provided by NHL.COM that accompanies this blog.

Glitchy Glove 2? – Columbus chased Caps starter Philipp Grubauer in the opening round by exposing his not so stellar glove hand. So far in two games in this series, the Capitals have done the same thing to Penguins goalie Matt Murray. All three of Washington’s non empty net tallies on Sunday were over the glove hand. Connolly was asked if the Caps have found a weakness, but #10 was noncommittal, noting that most right handed shooters prefer to fire for that side. Ovi and Connolly are both righties, but Vrana is a lefty and he deftly lifted his tally just over Murray’s glove. #30 is an excellent goalie and he made several big stops to his blocker side, including an amazing stick save on Ovechkin late in period one that would’ve made it 3-0, but the Capitals appear on to something going high glove side on the two time Stanley Cup Champion.

Down for an Eight Count – The Penguins best defensive defensemen, Brian Dumolin, left this game in the second period and would not return after hitting his head on Wilson’s shoulder trying to avoid a charging Ovechkin. Wilson was closely tracking Dumolin and when #8 saw the Gr8 coming, he leaned back to avoid what seemed to be a major collision and smashed his head on Willy’s shoulder. Dumolin went to the ice and would not return. Afterwards, Crosby was complaining that Wilson’s reputation supports the fact that it was a dirty hit, but that’s just posturing in order to get the referees on your side. This was nothing more than a hockey play with three players close together and one guy making a wrong move that unfortunately led to injury.

Infirmary – With Evgeni Malkin, Carl Hagelin, and Andre Burakovsky out of the lineup in games one and two, both teams were playing short of their optimal roster with the Pens obviously taking the worst of it without the dominant #71. I expect Geno to play game three, but Dumolin is a question mark for the Pens and on the Caps side, Oshie injured his hand late in regulation blocking a shot. T.J. was unable to hold his stick and cleared the defensive zone one handed, then went straight to the bench. If #77 fractured or broke his hand, the Capitals are in big trouble.

Let’s Get Together and Feel Alright – Kuznetsov needs to be better going forward in this series with his puck management. Holtby made an amazing save on the no goal play, but it doesn’t happen if Kuzy is more responsible with the puck in the neutral zone. #92 misplayed the disc and Crosby nearly made Washington pay. In addition, Ovechkin needs to be stronger defensively in his own zone. Too many times, especially late in period two, the Penguins kept the puck in the offensive end because of poor play and positioning by Alex.

Better than Ezra – Connolly’s playoff performance so far is night and day from last season. Brett is using his speed to generate chances and goals, but more importantly, he’s using his body to finish checks and take his opponents out of the play. #10 is also doing a solid job away from the puck, as are his linemates, Eller and Devante Smith-Pelly. That third line is going to be very important to Washington’s chances in the Steel City in the next two games since they’ll likely face the Crosby or Malkin lines. The key for the Caps forwards, across the board, is to play a north-south style. If they don’t have numbers, they have to get pucks deep or on goal to prevent the Pens from using their deadly transition game.

Notes: John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:07 while Justin Schultz led the Pens with 27:24…the Caps were 1 for 3 on the power play while Pittsburgh was 0 for 3…shot attempts were 75-69 for the Penguins…the Capitals lost the face-off battle, 31-24. Crosby was 15-9…Wilson led the Caps with seven hits while Jamie Oleksiak had seven for the Penguins…the Capitals were credited with 17 giveaways to just four for Pittsburgh. Most of the Washington turnovers came in a sloppy second frame where the Caps were out shot, 16-6.

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Backy Game 5

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Braden Holtby Robs Columbus in Game Five

Posted on 22 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

They should call this one “The Great Game Robbery.”

Braden Holtby made 39 saves, including 15 stops in the third period when Columbus was storming the castle, and Nicklas Backstrom deflected home a Dmitry Orlov point shot at 11:53 of overtime to give the Capitals a 4-3 victory in game five to take a three games to two series lead. Game six is on Monday night from Ohio at 7:30 pm.

Backstrom scored twice in this affair plus Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie also tallied for the Caps while the Blue Jackets received two odd man rush goals from Matt Calvert and an Oliver Borkstand tip in that tied this one up at three early in period three.

After playing a near perfect contest on Thursday in game four, which included preventing the Blue Jackets from scoring any rush goals, the Caps reverted on home ice. Both of Columbus’ first two lamp lighters came on fast breaks when the Capitals made mistakes in the offensive zone. The first tally that gave CBus an early 1-0 lead was the result of an Alex Ovechkin misplay on the power play. Ovi was taken off of the puck on the left wing boards setting up a two on one the other way. John Carlson was back and chose to go down to cut the pass off, but Holtby never really got set and Calvert fired it through his pads for a shorthanded tally.

Nicky tied the game up just over three minutes later by banking one in off of Sergei Bobrovsky (25 saves) from below the goal line. In that first frame the Caps took three penalties, but somehow managed to keep the game even on the scoreboard after 20 minutes.

Period two featured a better performance by Washington and they outshot Columbus, 13-9, and forged a 3-2 lead heading into the final stanza of regulation. Kuzy scored on a two on one rush by faking like he was going to pass and then rifling the puck five hole on Bob. This season Kuznetsov has added some “shoot first” mentality to his game and that has opened things up for him with opposing goalies unsure of what he is going to do with the puck, especially given his propensity to look for the perfect set up. Evgeny now has four goals in this series.

The Capitals prosperity lasted all of 84 seconds as Oshie, who was covering the point for Matt Niskanen, fumbled the puck at the offensive blue line allowing #11 to go in all alone on Holtby. The speedy Calvert went to shoot the puck on his forehand and fanned on it, but that move froze Holtby and Matt gathered in the disc and backhanded it past #70’s outstretched left pad before Niskanen and Orlov could get back to help. It was sloppy hockey with the lead and the Capitals paid for it.

Oshie notched his goal, the third of the series, at 16:42 of period two with a sweet tip in of a Carlson power play blast. Despite some shoddy play that led to two rush goals for Columbus, Washington had a chance to seize command of the series with a strong final 20 minutes.

That would not happen as the Caps never really got out of the gate for the third frame. The Blue Jackets played their best period of the series and they tied it up just 2:30 in on a rare offensive zone pressure tally. A Caps turnover by Kuznetsov kept the puck in the Washington end allowing Ian Cole to fire one from the point that Bjorkstand tipped nicely home with traffic in front of Holtby. Then wave after wave of Columbus pressure came the rest of the period with the Blue Jackets laying it all out on the line. Fortunately for Washington, Holtby was superb and he allowed a Caps team that was manhandled in the last 20 minutes of regulation to survive to see extra time.

The Caps were a different team in overtime and they carried the play, but some mistakes led to some great chances for the opponents, including an all alone Boone Jenner shot from just above the crease that the Holtbeast came up large on. At the other end, Bobrovsky made stellar saves on Ovechkin from between the circles and Carlson on the door step before Backstrom ended things with a gorgeous deflection.

The Caps did some good things in this contest, most notably their five for five penalty killing, but they were outplayed in this tilt and for the first time in the series they were outshot in the game, 42-29. Shot attempts were 85-68, but it was 35-11 for Columbus in period three, when Holtby saved the Capitals bacon. Washington, who had lost five of their last six games on home ice in the playoffs, were too loose with the puck and were outworked for stretches of this affair. Goaltending, however, is the key to the post season and #70 is dialed in right now.

The Holtbeast went all Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to steal a game for Washington on home ice and he is now 17-4-2 as a starter against Columbus, lifetime.

Afterwards Coach John Tortorella, whose presser lasted less than two minutes, stated twice that his club would be back for a game seven before walking off. Caps Coach Barry Trotz countered with “It’s our job to not let that happen.”

Game six should be a dandy, but you can pretty much sum up game five with the following line from that great Paul Newman and Robert Redford movie.

“Esto es un robo.”

Notes: Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 33:16. Carlson played 27:23 and Orlov logged 27:00…Ovechkin had 13 shot attempts, including seven on net, but he was -1 in 23:40 of ice time…the Caps went 1 for 4 on the power play, but allowed a shorthanded tally…Backstrom had a helper on Oshie’s goal to go with his two tallies…Orlov had two assists. He’s been up and down this series, so it was good to see him set up the game winner…the Capitals were defeated at the dot, going 27-35 on draws. Jay Beagle was 8-3 and Backstrom was 8-8…Alex Chiasson and Jakub Vrana each played less than eight minutes…Seth Jones led Columbus in ice time with 31:51. Forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Mark Letestu both played less than eight minutes. Artemi Panarin played 27:11 and was -2. He was held pointless.

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Caps Win Game 4

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Caps Lock Down Columbus, 4-1, to Even Up the Series

Posted on 19 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals first line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Tom Wilson collected a total of seven points and Braden Holtby made 23 of 24 saves to give the Caps a 4-1 victory in game four of this best of seven series and send things back to DC knotted up at two games apiece. Game five is Saturday afternoon at 3 pm at Capital One Arena.

After winning in double overtime on a goal mouth scramble bounce in game three, the Caps continued their push to the front of Sergei Bobrovsky’s net and it paid off with some big tallies. Wilson scored first just 6:16 into this affair. John Carlson and Chandler Stephenson broke out on Ian Cole on a two on one rush thanks to a super breakout pass by Alex Chiasson. Bob made the initial save on Carlson and Thomas Vanek managed to clear the rebound before Stephenson could deposit the loose change. The problem for the Blue Jackets was that the puck went right to Kuznetsov, who put one on a tee for a fresh off of the bench Wilson, and Top Line Tommy lasered the biscuit into the twine.

Another rebound marker, this one on the power play, by T.J. Oshie just before the midpoint of the game gave Washington a two goal cushion. Carlson made a super keep in at the blue line of a failed Cam Atkinson clear and that set the whole play in motion against a fatigued Columbus PK unit. Oshie wheeled the puck behind the net and to the right wing half wall to the great Nicklas Backstrom. Nicky fed #74 at the right point and he fired on net. Bobrovsky made the initial save, but the biscuit bounced right to Ovi charging in from the left wing circle. The Gr8 shot, but Bob denied him. Kuznetsov poked at the puck, but Bob padded it up into the slot, where the Osh Babe quickly snapped it, with his amazing hands, into the goal.

In both games one and two, the Capitals had two goal leads, but they frittered each away with bad penalties, untimely offensive zone miscues that led to Blue Jacket rush goals, and some shaky goaltending. In game four, the Caps stayed disciplined, limited their offensive and neutral zone mistakes by getting pucks deep, and of course, the Holtbeast was a confident wall in the cage.

For the last 10 minutes of the second frame, the Caps played smart and made Columbus work for every inch. Washington took that 2-0 lead to the locker room after 40 minutes and they came right out in period three and played the same exact way. The Blue Jackets, who were working doubly hard to try and fight through the Capitals neutral zone trap and strong defensive blue line front, were being forced to go 200 feet to generate opportunities and fatigue started taking over.

The Caps extended their lead to three pucks just 2:49 into the final stanza. Wilson went flying through the neutral and offensive zones on the right wing boards with the puck and attempted to fire on Bob, as he should do in that situation. Willy’s shot was blocked and he and the Columbus player slid into the right wing corner with the puck. Kuzy alertly skated quickly in to retrieve the disc and he fed Ovechkin in the high slot. The Gr8 then quickly went backhand to forehand and sniped one below Sergei’s left pad to really stick a dagger in Columbus.

From there on out, the Blue Jackets tried everything they could to sneak a player behind the Washington defense and they also pinched on the walls trying to keep pucks in the offensive zone. Columbus’ only goal came off of a faceoff win, at 6:22 of period three, on a Boone Jenner deflection with tons of traffic in front. After that, the Caps exploited the Blue Jackets “cheat” for several scoring opportunities, most notably an Ovechkin breakaway that would have made it 4-1, but Bob robbed him glove side.

Over a minute after Columbus dispensed of their keeper with 3:29 remaining, Kuznetsov stole a puck in the neutral zone and hit the empty net with 2:19 left to end the scoring and even up the series.

This was one heck of a team effort by the Caps.

On Wednesday morning, I asked Coach Barry Trotz about how the team would shut down the Blue Jackets potent rush game and he stated that the key was getting numbers back and the forwards exhibiting strong back pressure on their opponents.

Boy did his team follow that game plan perfectly!

Time after time a Columbus player would appear to have some speed and a lane in the neutral zone only to be slowed by a wall of Caps defenders at the Washington blue line. Then a back checking forward would either stick lift the Columbus player to steal the puck or the Blue Jackets would force a pass into the middle of the ice where the Capitals would grab the disc and go the other way. This pattern went on for much of the third period and you could see the Blue Jackets were being forced to use the whole rink to generate opportunities, but it just wasn’t happening because of the defensive posture of Washington.

On the night, Columbus only had 24 shots on goal and failed to hit double digits in any period. When shots did get through, Holtby was dialed in and took away any hope of a victory for the home squad. The Holtbeast is now 16-4-2 as a starter against the Blue Jackets, lifetime.

A successful lineup adjustment that Coach Barry Trotz made from game three to game four was to put Stephenson back up with Backstrom and Oshie on the second unit while bumping Jakub Vrana down to line four. That move paid dividends once the Caps got the lead because #18 is a really strong two way player who can skate. Vrana is a very good skater, too, and in his limited time (6:41) he played well, but with Coach John Tortorella having the match up advantage, Trotzy had to counter with a strong two way line. By doing that, the Kuznetsov trio was able to win their match up and be the difference in the hockey game.

Overall, this was an outstanding performance and the best the Capitals have played in the post season this spring. They played a simple game and have now won six of their last seven road playoffs tilts dating back to last April. That is the good news, but the bad news is they have lost five of their last six playoff contests at home. The key to winning again wearing Red is to pretend it is a road contest and play a simple style. There is no need to be trying to impress the fans with fancy passes and pretty plays. This is the playoffs and dirty, gritty goals are what make the difference between winning and losing. The Washington fans will gladly trade pretty plays for a simple W this time of year.

On Thursday night, the Capitals played a textbook road game and left the state of Ohio with two victories, just as their captain said they would do before game 3.

Promise Delivered.

Notes: Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:29 and was outstanding. Nisky is playing the best hockey of his season. His defensive partner, Dmitry Orlov, logged 24:10. #9 has made some mistakes in this series and has another gear he can get to, but his fellow blue liner has really stabilized things on the back end…Michal Kempny (18:14), Brooks Orpik (17:01) and Christian Djoos (12:36) all played well on defense…Washington, who got Jay Beagle back in game two after he was out due to an upper body injury, owned the face off circle going 36-20. Beags was a downright dominant, 14-3. Winning draw after draw forces the opposition, especially when trailing, to expend a lot of energy to try and get the puck back…the leader in ice time for the series, Seth Jones, played 26:22 minutes of action that included being hounded by a Caps player pretty much all night…Artemi Panarin, who was the best skater in the series in the first three games, was held in check in game four. He had only one shot on net, took two penalties, and was -1 in 20:56 of ice time…the Caps were 1 for 3 on the power play while CBus went 0 for 3.

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Holtbeast Game 3

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The Holtbeast is Triumphant in Game 3 for the Caps

Posted on 18 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

For the third straight game, there was overtime between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Washington Capitals, but this time, the contest went to double overtime. With the Caps staring at a potential three to zero hole in the series, Braden Holtby (33 saves) made several big stops, especially in the first extra session to extend the tilt. Washington came out with a lot of jump in the fifth stanza of hockey, outshooting CBus, 8-2, and they won the game on a rebound tally by Lars Eller after exactly 89 minutes of hockey. Brett Connolly, who had an earlier rebound goal that would have given the Caps a 2-0 second period lead wiped out due to offside, made the play by quickly firing a puck on Sergei Bobrovsky (42 saves) before “Bob” could get set. The puck pin balled into the twine behind the Blue Jackets keeper and the guys in white celebrated a clutch victory.

Whew, what a game!

Alex Ovechkin (two assists) on Tuesday afternoon stated that the Caps would come back to Washington for game five with the series knotted up. Thanks to the Holtbeast and a superb team effort, there is still a chance that could happen. Columbus, however, leads the series two games to one and they have home ice on Thursday night at 7:30.

There were a lot of things to like in this game for the Caps, who played without injured forward Andre Burakovsky (upper body injury). As the Secretary of Defense, Rod Langway, used to tell me when I worked for the team back in the 80’s and 90’s, “It all starts from the goaltender and then works out to the defense and forwards.”

Truer words could never be spoken about the post season and Philipp Grubauer struggled in his first two outings giving up several goals to his glove side when the Caps were carrying the majority of the play. The Holtbeast came in for period three and overtime and ended up getting the loss in game two, but that tally was hard to pin on #70.

On Tuesday night, Braden gave up only two goals in 89:00 of action. The first, he’ll say he’d like back because it wasn’t a screened shot, but the goalie from Saskatchewan was forced to move to his left because the Washington defenders, to include the forwards, allowed another open lane for a diagonal pass that the Blue Jackets love to employ in the offensive zone. Artemi Panarin (1 goal, 1 assist) used his speed to create that alley way and Pierre Luc-Dubois rifled a perfect shot just under the bar. Columbus’ second goal came on a two on one after Ovechkin tried an east-west pass that Dmitry Orlov couldn’t handle cleanly in the offensive zone and then fumbled away. Cam Atkinson and Panarin compounded the blunder by executing the odd man rush beautifully. John Carlson failed on multiple occasions to block the pass and ultimately Panarin had an empty net to deposit the biscuit in and tie this affair up at two just 4:12 into the third period.

Goaltending is so important, and Bobrovksy has been stellar for Columbus. Washington had 45 shots on goal after firing 58 in game two, but it took two deflections and a two man advantage blast to dent him for three lamp lighters. The Caps are still working to get more bodies to the net, but in addition to Devante Smith-Pelly and Eller crashing the cage on the game winner, Tom Wilson notched his first playoff marker of 2018 with a sweet deflection of a Matt Niskanen laser from the point. That goal was all set up by some great corner work by the Gr8. If the Caps want to win on Thursday, they need to grind their way to the net to get traffic on “Bob” because he looks like he will stop everything he sees right now.

In the first two games, Columbus killed the Caps on the power play going four for eight. They repeatedly were able to make a cross ice pass from the high left wing circle side to the right side and beat Grubauer to his left up high. Niskanen stated after Sunday’s loss that “we have to fix our PK.” On Tuesday night, the Capitals penalty killing was much better and they kept their four man box tighter to not allow that pass, which when it’s successful forces the goalie to have to move laterally very quickly and make a tough save. In addition to good work by the four guys on the ice, the most important player on the PK is your goalie, and the Holtbeast was stellar. For the night, the Caps went four for four on the penalty kill.

Jakub Vrana was inserted into Burakovsky’s vacated slot on the second line and he played some strong hockey in 22:00 of ice time. #13 was engaged with the body, something he didn’t do well in game one, and he also used his speed to open up space. He, Nicklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie still have to get fully clicking, but Vrana drew both penalties just 67 seconds apart in the middle frame. That resulted in Carlson’s power play snipe that gave the Caps a 2-1 lead heading into period three. Backstrom made another of his awesome passes to set that tally up. Almost everyone thought he was going to Ovi at the top of the right point, but instead he went to the left point for #74, who buried it. Carlson now has seven points (1 goal, 6 assists) in the post season.

Washington’s forwards did a better job, especially Connolly and Vrana, of using their body in one on one board battles than they’d done in the two games played at Capital One Arena. That’s something both need to continue doing so that they can wear down a very deep Blue Jackets defense, led by Seth Jones. The playoffs are a different game so that style doesn’t exactly fit Connolly and Vrana’s skill set, but in game three, they didn’t shy away from the physical requirements of playoff hockey.

Columbus has scored almost all of their goals this series on the power play or on the rush, so in addition to being disciplined, the Caps have to stick to a north-south brand of hockey. The east-west style that features cross ice passes at the offensive blue line or even deep in the zone have led to at least two Blue Jackets tallies. It’s imperative that Coach Barry Trotz’ crew resist the impulse to try those plays and opt more for pucks on net or behind the cage.

As I’ve stated on WNST quite often the last couple of weeks, goaltending is so important in the playoffs. The Capitals finally received a quality performance from their starter on Tuesday night and now they are back in the series. Still, they have their work cut out for them and with John Tortorella getting the match up choices in Ohio, the Caps will need another huge outing from the Holtbeast.

Notes:  The officiating in this game was sketchy, but that’s no surprise since it featured Ranger Dan O’Halloran and Kyle Rehman. I’m not sure how they missed the high stick by David Savard on Oshie in overtime? They also allowed Columbus to cover the puck in the corner without signaling for delay of game or closing the hand on the biscuit…the Blue Jackets received the only power play of the overtimes…Columbus won the faceoff battle, 43-37, but Evgeny Kuznetsov went 12-8 and Jay Beagle was 9-6. Eller lost 14 of 19 draws while Backstrom split his 20 faceoffs…Trotz used all of his players, which may have been why Washington dominated the second OT. Alex Chiasson only logged 10:19, but Columbus had forwards Sonny Milano (5:55) and Oliver Bjorkstrand (8:09) barely see the ice. Christian Djoos made his NHL playoff debut taking a spot alongside Brooks Orpik (24:39) and acquitted himself very well in 17:17 of ice time…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 37:17 and Orlov was close behind with 36:00…Jones played 35:09 to lead all Blue Jacket players while Atkinson (31:51) and Panarin (31:39) played a ton at forward for Tortorella.

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Ovi CBus

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Ovechkin and the Caps Must Be Better in Game Two

Posted on 15 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals will take to the ice on Sunday night at 7:30 pm to try to even their best of seven series up with the Columbus Blue Jackets. On Thursday night, the Caps took three third period penalties and gifted the visitors the game. Several players were not very good in that affair, including Captain Alex Ovechkin, who didn’t register a point and looked slow and out of sorts, most of the evening.

On Sunday morning, the Gr8 told the assembled media that he has to be better and that his line needs to generate more chances at five on five (h/t Isabelle Khurshudyan of The Washington Post). Ovi had a remarkable regular season because his skating was much better than it’s arguably been in the past five years. Alex trimmed down and brought an element of speed back into his game and it led to 32 even strength goals, double his output in 2016-17 in those situations. In the series opener, he looked sluggish and David Savard did a very good job of neutralizing him most of the night. Simply put, this Capitals team isn’t going to go anywhere if Ovechkin is not playing well.

The biggest reason Washington lost on Thursday were the three bad penalties they took in period three that allowed Columbus to score two power play goals, evening the game up twice in the final frame of regulation. Discipline is paramount in the post season and the Caps didn’t have it that period. Once shorthanded, the Caps badly missed fourth line center, Jay Beagle, who is a penalty killing and faceoff specialist. It should be noted that the Capitals lost 17 of 21 defensive zone draws in game one.

On Sunday night, Beagle is back in the lineup as it’s been determined by the Caps medical staff that he’s sufficiently recovered from an upper body injury. Per the morning skate, the Washington lineup is as follows:

Forwards

Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Tom Wilson

Andre Burakovsky – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie

Brett Connolly – Lars Eller – Devante Smith-Pelly

Chandler Stephenson – Jay Beagle – Alex Chiasson

Defense

Michal Kempny – John Carlson

Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen

Brooks Orpik – Jakub Jerabek

Goaltender

Philipp Grubauer

Braden Holtby (Backup)

There are several things to note above. The biggest are obviously the return of Beagle and the fact that Kempny, who was rammed from behind into the boards by Josh Anderson in period one and did not return, is back on defense (Kempny did fully practice on Saturday and has cuts on his face from the injury he suffered). The Capitals are very thin on the back end and need #6 in the lineup against a big and mobile Columbus forward group. Grubauer was deemed to have done enough to earn the net, once again, despite giving up a savable shot on the game winner and not stopping Seth Jones’ game tying power play tally, which was another marker that came over his glove hand.

Finally, the scratch of Jakub Vrana, who logged only 6:58 of ice time ignited the Caps Twitterverse, once again, on Sunday morning. Vrana did use his speed to draw a first period hooking penalty on Ian Cole and also set up what should have been the game winning goal before Burakovsky’s terrible tripping penalty negated it. However, the rookie who played in his first ever playoff game, made several mistakes that likely took him out of the lineup, in addition to the fact that he does not kill penalties and is not on either power play unit. On the Blue Jackets first tally, Vrana is positioned in the middle of the ice when Boone Jenner comes across the Caps blue line. #13 tries to stick check to get the biscuit from #38, but fails miserably and this leads to a two on one down low and an easy goal. Jakub has to either get the puck or the man there, he got neither. Then, before his great play to set up DSP, he made a terrible defensive zone turnover that allowed Cole to get a quality chance on Grubauer from just over 20 feet out. Fortunately for Vrana, Grubi made his biggest save of the night on that sequence. In overtime, Vrana had two shifts and on his second one, he gets beaten badly by one of Columbus’ smaller forwards, Pierre Luc-Dubois, on a board battle in the offensive zone. Cole picked up the puck after Jakub couldn’t hold it in the zone against Dubois and he fed Artemi Panarin, who went around Orlov on his offside and then roofed another tally over Grubauer’s glove hand for the win.

Sure, Vrana set up a goal and drew a penalty, but he contributed to the only two Blue Jackets even strength goals against. So when Coach Barry Trotz talked on Sunday morning about resetting #13 to clean up some things in his game, the plays described above are exactly what he’s talking about. As for the two guys who are in instead of Vrana, Brett Connolly and Alex Chiasson, both must play a strong two way game against a hard working physical team. Connolly lost several one on one battles on Thursday, but none were as bad as the individual battles lost by Vrana. This is a “what have you done for me lately” time of year, so if Connolly and Chiasson want to stay in for game three, they need to play well.

This is a must win for Washington on Sunday night. They need everyone going in this tilt to even this series up. It all starts with Ovechkin up front and the defense doing a better job of getting pucks out of their own end. On Thursday, they did that well early, but once Kempny went out and they were forced to go with five defensemen, the mistakes started coming more often. Grubauer also needs to turn in a strong performance in net, he was solid, but was outplayed by Sergei Bobrovsky, who faced more rubber. The Caps would be wise to get more bodies to the front of the net on Sunday, “Bob” is most vulnerable when the puck is bouncing around him and Washington did little of that in game one.

 

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Ovi 49

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Ovechkin Scores Twice But Can’t Get To 50 in a Caps Win

Posted on 08 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin put on a show on Saturday night at Capital One Arena, but despite 18 shot attempts, the Gr8 notched only two goals in a 5-3 win over the New Jersey Devils to finish the season with 49 tallies. Braden Holtby stopped 23 of 26 shots, although there was some very loose defense by his club, at times, to earn the victory.

The Caps finish the season at 49-26-7 (105 points) and will face the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which could start as early as Wednesday. Coach John Tortorella’s team rested several key players, such as Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno, and Sergei Bobrovsky in their season finale against the Predators in Nashville. It is pretty apparent that CBus much preferred facing the Caps than the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins and now they have their wish.

As for the Devils, they fall to the second wild card spot and will face the winner of the Atlantic Division (either Boston or Tampa). New Jersey rested some key players on Saturday, as well; including star forward Taylor Hall and former Cap Marcus Johansson. The other Metropolitan Division matchup will be the battle of Pennsylvania.

Nicklas Backstrom, Michal Kempny, and Andre Burakovsky scored Washington’s other three goals, while rookie forward Shane Gersich notched his first ever NHL point, assisting on Kempny’s point blast that made it 3-1.

The following are my thoughts and analysis of the triumph on Fan Appreciation Night.

So Close – Ovi had a breakaway in period three that would have given him 50 for the season, but he shot high on Cory Schneider. The last 10 minutes or so were basically all about trying to get Alexander the Great his 50th tally, but with New Jersey covering him closely and not pulling their goalie, it was a tough task. Still, Alex got off some good shots and came oh so close to getting the big 5-0, once again, but Ovechkin still locked up his seventh Rocket Richard Trophy. Simply put, the Russian Machine is an amazing player that had the fans on the edge of their seats or standing. This was a meaningless hockey game for the Caps, but Ovi delivered for those in attendance. For the night, he logged 21:00, had eight shots on goal and was +1. For the campaign, Ovechkin had 355 shots on net and his shooting percentage was 13.8%, but that stat should really count all shot attempts, not just those on net. His 32 even strength goals at age 32 is remarkable. Ovechkin became just the second player since the 1967-68 expansion era to lead the NHL in goals at the age of 32 or older (Phil Esposito).

Pond Hockey – Since Washington clinched the Metro division in Pittsburgh on Sunday night, Washington has played three meaningless affairs. The Caps have done some good things in those tilts, they’ve won 2 of 3, but the games have been nothing like we’ll see next week in the post season. These contests these past six days have been wide open with very little hitting (hits were 15 to 10 for Washington against New Jersey). It’s clear that the Capitals players were saving their bodies, and rightly so, for the grind that starts on Wednesday. The first period against New Jersey was really loose, but again, the game just didn’t matter.

Holtbeast – As mentioned in the opening paragraph, defense appeared optional, at times, on Saturday night. All three Devils goals were converted due to poor Washington coverage. Holtby had to make some tough stops in this affair and he looks ready for the post season. Whether Coach Barry Trotz and Goaltending Coach Scott Murray go with #70 or Philipp Grubauer in game one remains to be seen, but given Holtby’s record against Columbus, I’m thinking he’ll get the nod in the cage. Holtby went 34-16-4 behind a blue line that featured two rookies for the first 50 or so games.

Backy Got Back – Backstrom went 21 games without a goal during one stretch this season so it’s incredible that he finished with 21 tallies along with his 50 assists. #19 is such a good two way player and you know he’s going to bring it every night. Over the last eight games, he’s had two goals and 14 assists. Nicky logged 19:14 centering Burakovsky and Brett Connolly since the Osh Babe was given the night off to get closer to 100% health.

New Kid in Town – Kempny has been mostly paired with John Carlson since he came over at the trade deadline from Chicago for a draft choice. Against the Devils, #6 had his best game yet with a goal and a helper while going +4. Kempny brings speed and puck moving ability that was needed on the blue line. Michal has only 3 points in 22 games with the Caps and two of them came on Saturday night.

Pay The Man 2 – Carlson earned his 68th point with his assist on Backstrom’s goal and he leads all NHL defensemen in points. He was also +4 and brought his plus/minus back to even steven. #74 is an unrestricted free agent this summer and he’s going to get paid well. There are reports the salary cap could go as high as $82 Million and if that’s the case, Washington has a better chance of keeping him. But that is a story for the summer and right now the Caps need John, who is a big game player, to perform well at both ends of the rink. Carly is an ice time eater and he plays in all situations. There aren’t many blue liners around the league that can do the things he does.

For Whom the Bell Tolls – Evgeny Kuznetsov finished with a career high 83 points in 79 games and he has really become a dominant player. Kuzy scored 27 goals this season and when he is unpredictable from a pass vs. shoot perspective, he is very difficult to stop. #92 went 11-7 in draws on Saturday in 19:19 of ice time. If he continues to take shots when he is in the high danger areas, especially between the circles, the Capitals will be a hard team to defeat. The dynamic Russian forward is really the key guy who must be on each night for the Caps to be successful in the post season.

Facing the Cannon – I’ll have more on the Blue Jackets as we move into the week, but this is going to be a very physical and tough matchup. Coach Tortorella’s team is a system squad that blocks shots and likes to throw pucks and bodies at the opposing team’s goalie. Washington’s blue line and forwards are really going to have to amp their game up to deal with all of the traffic they will try to apply on the Caps goalie. Every matchup is tough in the post season and as Coach Barry Trotz often states, the difference between two teams in the standings is often the result of one team having a bad week or short stretch. Columbus totaled just eight points less than the Caps. This is going to be a hard series and Assistant Coach Todd Reirden’s d-men will have to play well against some big guys such as Brandon Dubinsky and Foligno.

Closing Time – The triumph over the Devils slams the regular season book shut for a Caps team that many predicted would not win the division or even make the playoffs. That was not the case from this Capitals historian, blogger, and radio man. Despite the personnel losses, I still predicted a 100 to 105 point season. General Manager Brian MacLellan built this team up the middle of the ice with strong goaltending and Coach Trotz and his staff did a GREAT job of getting several players to really improve. Eight players had career years offensively and this team took first place despite having four rookies regularly in the lineup for the first 50 games. Tom Wilson had his best season as a pro and he’s now a first line beast. He will be a real key in the post season because he opens up space for the Caps up front.

Notes: The full playoff schedule will be announced on Sunday…T.J. Oshie, Jay Beagle, and Travis Boyd didn’t play on Saturday due to injury or illness…the Caps were 32-22 on draws. In addition to #92’s success, Backstrom was 9-7 and Lars Eller was 6-3…Dmitry Orlov led the Capitals in ice time with 23:48.

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Oshie Pens

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Caps Defeat the Pens, 3-1, to Clinch the Metro Division Title

Posted on 02 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin played in his 1,000th NHL game on Sunday night and his teammates made it a special one for him defeating the two time defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins in Pittsburgh, 3-1, to wrap up their third consecutive Metropolitan Division title. Philipp Grubauer made his first ever start against the Pens and he was outstanding making 36 saves. T.J. Oshie, Dmitry Orlov, and Tom Wilson scored for the Caps before Patrick Hornqvist tallied on a rebound with 3:45 remaining to end #31’s shutout bid.

The Caps final three games, at St. Louis on Monday night and then home against the Predators and Devils on Thursday and Saturday, respectively, are essentially meaningless from a standings perspective. Washington’s first round playoff opponent will be the first wildcard team and right now that situation is as clear as mud.

The triumph improves Coach Barry Trotz’ team to 47-25-7 (101 points), which is right in the 100 to 105 point range that I predicted before the season when many were losing their collective minds over General Manager Brian MacLellan’s offseason decisions. BMac knew what he was doing by focusing up the middle of the ice and the Capitals will now go into the post season for the fourth straight year in his tenure after the final disastrous season of the George McPhee era ended with Adam Oates as head coach back in 2014.

The following bullets are my thoughts and analysis on the win in Pittsburgh as we head into the final week of the NHL season (hey, it’s Masters week, too, so FORE!).

Stone Cold – There’s no doubt that the biggest reason the Penguins defeated the Caps in last season’s playoffs was due to the stellar play of Marc Andre-Fleury in net. On Sunday night, Grubauer took advantage of the start and seemed to really have the Penguins number. Granted the Pens played on Saturday night against Montreal, but Philipp was exceptional and earned the game’s number one star. Grubi stopped all 12 shots on goal the Penguins fired on their five power plays and he also got a nice break when Evgeni Malkin’s laser on a five on three advantage in period two hit iron. Luck is a part of the game and Washington had its share in this one. Crosby fanned on a shot in the third period that the German goaltender was able to glove. However, the Capitals had some great looks, too, that they didn’t get good wood on, including a couple of Ovechkin shots that he just couldn’t put up and over a prone Matt Murray (31 saves). The most important position in the post season is goalie and with Grubauer playing outstanding and Holtby rebounding into form, Washington has to feel strong about that spot for next week and beyond.

Starting Fast – The Capitals have not had many great starts this calendar year, but on Sunday on NBC Sports Channel, they came out well. Ovi nearly scored early in front, but Murray was able to stop it when Alex couldn’t get full control of the pass for one of his patented Gr8 shots. Washington kept pushing the pace though, and they gave the Pens a dose of their own medicine scoring on the rush. John Carlson got the puck up to Andre Burakovsky to give the Caps a three on two entering the offensive zone. Burkie then put a sweet pass on Oshie’s stick on the right wing side of the ice and the Osh Babe beat Murray five hole, like a rented mule, just 6:25 into the game. Getting the first goal was really important in this one because the Pens had played the night before and would need momentum plus the crowd for adrenaline. They would not receive that, pretty much all night.

Tactic Change – When Washington was in Pittsburgh on February 2nd, they found themselves in a track meet affair and lost, 7-4. Trying to play run and gun hockey with the Penguins is a recipe for disaster and the Caps proved it that night. This time, however, the Capitals made some adjustments to throttle the Pens rush game. Once they got ahead, instead of trying to chase the black and gold in the offensive zone, they backed out and clogged up the neutral zone passing lanes. It was a very 1990’s New Jersey Devils neutral zone trap style of hockey. As a result, the Pens were unable to utilize their stretch or flip passes once Coach Trotz’ team went into that configuration. The few odd man opportunities the Penguins received were the result of offensive zone turnovers. The Caps need to continue to clean those up, but they were certainly better structurally against Pittsburgh than they’ve been in the previous three 2017-18 regular season matchups.

Feeling Too Much Shame – If there was one thing to not like about Sunday’s game, it was the five penalties the Capitals took that put the Pens on man advantage situations. Pittsburgh has the best power play in the league and to gift them four of those opportunities was playing with fire. I didn’t like Chandler Stephenson’s hold, the too many men infraction, Matt Niskanen’s delay of game, and Ovechkin’s slash, they were unnecessary. The only penalty that occurred to negate a scoring chance was Tom Wilson’s on Malkin. #71 is a beast and he’s been on fire, so sometimes you have to break the rules to stop him. Fortunately Grubauer, Brooks Orpik (team high 5:57 of shorthanded time), Carlson, Niskanen, Lars Eller (4:04 of PK time) and the other forwards deployed while shorthanded did a great job. Hornqvist is an absolute force in front of the net and you need size to battle him to allow your goalies to see the shots. Orpik and Carlson had the lion share of that duty on Sunday.

Fly By Night – It’s no secret the highly skilled and talent Penguins love to RUSH the puck with their speed to create chances and as stated earlier, the Capitals throttled that primarily with a tactic change. In addition, however, they used the RUSH to their advantage, too. Washington’s second goal came eight seconds after a great penalty kill as Orlov skated up the middle of the ice and used the Pens defensemen as a screen. Dima shot from the slot and it beat Murray to make it 2-0 with 6:14 left in the middle frame. That goal seemed to really deflate the Penguins and their fans. It was a simple play by the Russian defensemen and the Caps continued to pour shots on Murray as they went up the ice once they had the lead. Too often the Capitals get into trouble by trying to be fancy at the offensive blue line, but on Sunday night they did what their coaches have asked of them, they put the puck on net or behind the opposing defensemen instead of trying to beat guys one on one. It was smart hockey, they generated 34 shots on net doing so, and the Penguins typically use that style as well as any team in the league. Hopefully Washington continues to play smart as they did on Sunday in the post season. The cross ice plays in April and beyond often end up getting you earlier tee times.

Bad Blood – Nobody likes to lose, but the Penguins got downright dirty at the end of this one. Hornqvist slashed Carlson and Orpik in frustration and the latter infraction earned him a late penalty that all but ended this contest. Malkin then went totally mental and interfered with Oshie in the neutral zone and sent his stick flying into the Caps bench. The Osh Babe took exception and got into it with Geno. With the linesman trying to send Malkin to the showers, #71 then went crazy trying to go after Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 assist). I’m sure #92 was giving him the business in their native Russian tongue, too. It was pretty clear the Pens were trying to set the tone for the next time these two teams could meet, which would likely be in round two. Even Mark “Hot Plate” Recchi found himself heading to the locker room early when the zebras kicked him out of the game for verbal abuse. It was a bad look for Mike Sullivan’s team and he’s no choir boy either.

The End – Officially, the game ended after the Penguins late hissy fit, but when Wilson deflected Niskanen’s shot past Murray just 23 seconds into period three to increase the score to 3-0, this game was pretty much over. Again, putting pucks at or towards the net with bodies going there is the way you win big hockey games. If Washington employs that style more often, the end of this season could be something special.

Notes: Jay Beagle suffered an upper body injury in period one and didn’t return. He only played 3:22 and Coach Trotz stated afterwards he’s probably not playing against the Blues…I’d like to see Oshie and Orpik get the night off, too. Those guys play a hard style so they need to be physically ready for next week. Both have missed games recently due to minor injuries, so it would be best to get both healthy…shot attempts were 59-57 for the Pens, but their edge primarily came from the power play. Washington was very good at five on five…both teams went 0 for 5 on the power play…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:58. Kris Letang played the most for Pittsburgh with 25:08…the Capitals lost the faceoff battle, 35-34, which wasn’t bad since Beagle was done in period one. Eller was 9-6 while Sidney Crosby went 16-9 for the home team…Devante Smith-Pelly led the Caps in hits with seven. He also logged 2:41 of shorthanded time with Beags out of the game…Ovechkin had eight shot attempts, including four on net, and four hits in 22:47 of ice time…Hits were 33-30 for the Caps.

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Kuzy Rags

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Kuznetsov’s Magic Gives the Caps a 3-2 OT Win Over the Rangers

Posted on 29 March 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the game winning goal 38 seconds into overtime after Lars Eller had tied this tilt up with 1:05 remaining in regulation to give the Caps a hard fought, 3-2, triumph over Henrik Lundqvist and the young and fast New York Rangers. Braden Holtby returned to the cage after missing several games due to a minor injury and stopped 35 of 37 shots to earn his 32nd victory of the season.

The rally, after the Rangers took the lead on Ryan Spooner’s goal with 9:25 left, pushes the Capitals record to 46-24-7 (99 points) and they just need four more points to clinch their third straight Metropolitan Division title.

The following are my thoughts and analysis on the Capitals ninth win in their last 10 games.

Doing the Bird – From the opening shift, Kuzy was flying in this tilt. The Rangers are a very good skating team, but all night #92 was moving around the ice with speed and precision. It took some big stops by Lundqvist (30 saves) to keep this game tied, especially in the second period when the Caps dominated the majority of the frame. Evgeny worked hard on the boards, too, and his wall work helped set up Eller’s game tying goal. That’s now 77 points in 74 games for the Russian center. The winning goal was a thing of brilliance. The Capitals caught a break with the puck hitting the linesmen in the neutral zone and Kuzy grabbed it and went the other way with Alex Ovechkin to his right. With all three guys in white expecting a pass to Ovechkin, Evgeny skated back out towards the blue line, circled, turned on the jets as he headed towards the net, and then fired a laser just inside the far post to end this affair. What a game by Kuznetsov and when he plays like that, Washington is hard to defeat. Whawk! Hallelujah! Whoa. Whawk! Hallelujah! Whoa.

Givin’ the Dog a Bone – Over the last several weeks, T.J. Oshie has looked a lot more like himself. He’s started scoring goals and putting up points, but his hustle and ability to win the loose puck and board battles is likely his best attribute. On Wednesday night against the Rags, #77 was everywhere with his will and determination. After the Rangers took a first period lead on a power play goal, a neutral zone steal by the Osh Babe, following a great step up by defensemen Brooks Orpik, led to a rush goal by Andre Burakovsky with 33 seconds left in the opening frame. Oshie corralled the puck in the neutral zone and skated down the left wing boards. He immediately noticed that he had a three on two so he alertly zipped the puck to Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) in the middle of the ice. Nicky probably should’ve shot, but he quickly passed to Burkie to his right and #65 got enough of the shot to beat King Henrik. Oshie’s tenacity and ability to dog puck after puck and come up with them is a major reason why this team had to bring him back if they wanted to contend for a Stanley Cup this season and beyond.

Boxed Too Often – The Rangers had 37 shots on net because the Capitals took five penalties. You can argue about one or two of them, and Steve Kozari and Ghislain Hebert aren’t exactly your top zebras, but the Michal Kempny four minute high stick and Jay Beagle hold were absolutely the correct calls. On those five power plays New York generated a whopping 14 shots on goal and one tally. Believe it or not, the Capitals actually did some good penalty killing work, especially Tom Wilson, who on numerous occasions, dropped down to gather in a rebound and skate the biscuit out of harm’s way. Willy logged 16:39 of ice time and 3:18 of it was on the PK. Orpik (6:28) and Matt Niskanen (6:42) were the top blue liners Coach Barry Trotz deployed to hold a very good New York power play, at bay, for the most part. Washington must stay out of the box in the postseason, especially against the Penguins and Flyers, who have deadly man advantage units.

Meet the Rookie – Nathan Gersich made his Capitals debut on Wednesday night and he handled himself quite well in 8:52 of action with three shots on goal and five total shot attempts. #63 was a puck magnet out there and he gives the Caps another forward they can throw into the mix for the bottom six. Gersich isn’t big, but he’s a good skater. In the post season things get clamped down fairly well so as impressive as he was in his first game, let’s not get carried away. He played on adrenaline in his first NHL game and that’s hard to maintain. Still, there is a lot of promise shown by this kid and that bodes well for him going forward into next season.

Return of the Holtbeast – Holtby was very good in this contest, as was his counterpart at the other end. #70 looked solid in net, despite having to cover for several defensive zone breakdowns by his teammates. Washington was too nonchalant with the puck in period one when New York fired 18 shots on goal. If not for Braden, the Caps could’ve been in a big hole after 20 minutes. He stopped 13 of 14 power play shots and the one that beat him took a fortuitous bounce. Holts was hung out to dry on the second Rangers goal. John Carlson passed up a great shot opportunity in the slot due to Lundqvistitis and New York pounced on the puck and went the other way. Kempny turned the wrong way while trying to cut off the pass on a two on one and that allowed Spooner to skate in all alone. The forward acquired in the Rick Nash trade with Boston, sniped one by Braden that he’ll likely say he should’ve had, even though it was a very high quality chance. With Philipp Grubauer now nursing a “tweak,” the Caps needed the Holtbeast to rise again and play well. He did just that on Rivalry Night.

Ovi Denied – Ovechkin had a slow start to this affair, much like the Caps. He had trouble handling the puck and getting off his lethal shot in period one, but in the middle frame he got it cranked up. With the score 1-1 in period two, the Gr8 hit the far post on the power play denying him of his 46th goal and preventing Washington from getting a lead on the young Rangers. For the game, Alex had 13 shot attempts in 20:22 of ice time. Only five of them were on goal, however. Ovi had zero points, but he did manage to be +2 since he was on the ice for the game tying and winning tallies. Alexander the Great will need five goals in his last five games to hit the Big 5-0.

A New York Minute – This was a pretty even game and it looked like the hungry Rangers were going to steal it and upset the Capitals apple cart. To quote the great Don Henley, however, “In a New York minute, everything changed.” Washington caught a break when Eller came on just before the Holtbeast left the ice as the Caps were dispensing of their keeper. The zebras chose not to penalize the Caps there and then after winning a neutral zone draw they got the puck in deep and Kuznetsov’s hard work allowed Backy to find Eller on the doorstep and tie things up late. Then less than a minute into overtime, Kuzy worked his magic to give the Capitals two more standings points. New York played hard and they are fast, but they also received stellar goaltending from Lundqvist, who always seems to give Washington fits. Wednesday was no exception and there were multiple occasions where the Caps allowed #30 to get into their heads and as a result, they passed up some good looks. There is nothing wrong with a shot, had Carlson done that midway through the 3rd period, the game stays tied. That’s a good lesson to learn for the post season.

Notes: The Caps will face Carolina on Friday at Capital One Arena before traveling to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins on Sunday night. A Washington win against the Canes along with the Pens only getting two points total against the Devils and Canadiens, on Thursday and Saturday, respectively, would render Sunday’s affair meaningless from a seeding standpoint for the Capitals…the Caps have now won seven games in a row at home…Washington won the face off battle, 33-29. Kuzy was 11-5…Burakovsky scored his 10th goal of the season and led the Caps with three hits…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:03. Oshie and Backstrom were the forward leaders in that department with 21:02…Eller’s goal was his 18th of this year and it’s a career high for him…the Caps were 0 for 3 on the power play.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Come on out to Michael’s Café in Timonium on Thursday night as WNST will be hosting Caps Coach Barry Trotz for several hours of hockey talk starting at 7:30 pm. Nestor Aparacio and yours truly will be talking hockey and other stories with the bench boss who is close to winning his third straight Metropolitan Division title. You can meet the coach, get his autograph and also get swabbed for the Bone Marrow Registry to help in the fight against cancer.

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