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Game 2 Canes

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Orpik Wins Game 2 for Caps in Overtime

Posted on 13 April 2019 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals made home ice stand up on Saturday afternoon with Brooks Orpik scoring the game winning goal just 1:48 into overtime after a gorgeous feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov from behind the Canes net into the left wing circle. Orpik went far post with some top shelf cheese on Petr Mrazek (29 saves) to give the Caps a 2-0 lead in a series that shifts to Raleigh on Monday night.

“There is no better guy on this team to score that goal….he means so much to this team,” stated Tom Wilson afterwards and that was clearly evident the way the 38 year old blue liner was mobbed by his teammates after notching the game winner.

After a lackluster first tilt that they held on to win, 3-2, the Capitals were much better in game two, but they still needed extra time to defeat a very solid and hard working Carolina squad. You’ve all seen the game and/or the highlights, so let’s get to the analysis of this triumph immediately.

Let’s start where we absolutely must begin, with “All Star” Nicklas Backstrom. Nicky, who was fabulous in game one, was dynamite in game two. He scored the opening goal off of a wonderful pass from Alex Ovechkin (two assists) just 3:37 into this affair by going to the net and he assisted on what looked to be the game winning tally at the time, by Willy with 11:05 remaining in regulation. The Canes, however, would tie it with five minutes left on a power play tally. Washington has struggled from the dot all season long and Coach Todd Reirden has gone with Backy on most key draws early in the playoffs. While the Capitals went 23-39 for the game, it was the Swedish sensation that held his own taking most big face-offs and winning 10 of 22 from the dot. Most importantly, he was the forward on the ice when the Caps killed off a 1:07 Carolina five on three in the middle frame shortly after Washington could not convert on a five minute power play. That PK provided momentum for the home town squad. After the game, Coach Reirden could not be any clearer about the way he feels about Backstrom’s all world play.

“This guy is so underrated…these two games were the best two I’ve seen him play in my five years here.”

That is really saying something given how well Backstrom has performed over the years and is some big time and well deserved praise. I’ve had the pleasure of covering Nicklas since he came into the league and he is a sure fire Hall of Famer as well as one of the best two way players I’ve ever seen perform at the NHL level. He also is one heck of a leader. Simply put, between Backy and Ovechkin, they’ve pretty much seen it all.

Backstrom pointed out to the assembled media afterwards that there are always momentum swings in games and series and the important thing is to just stick with the game plan. Number 19 felt like the Caps did that on Saturday despite the highs and lows.

Ovechkin was dynamite, as well, and led by example, once again. Ovi set up the first goal with a great pass, but the whole event was made by his hustle back on a Canes jailbreak to thwart that rush. He also doled out a monster hit in the corner and then grabbed the disc to race up the ice on the opening goal sequence. Coach Reirden said that Alexander the Great has learned that he can generate space on offense with his back checking and he’s really taking advantage of it. The Gr8 complimented his long time teammate, Backstrom, with 21:12 of ice time that included two assists, eight shot attempts and seven hits.

There were some lows, too, and after racing out to a 2-0 lead in the first 10 minutes, the Capitals had consecutive defensive breakdowns that led to Linus Wallmark scoring from in front of Braden Holtby (25 saves) with 4:06 to go in period one. Carolina then tied things up with 3:11 left in the middle stanza when Sebastian Aho buried the rebound of a Justin Williams point blast that ricocheted off of the back boards. The Caps had a turnover and some blown coverage during that sequence.

Finally, with the Capitals trying to close out a one goal lead, Nic Dowd took his second high sticking minor of the game and Carolina’s power play finally converted. Jordan Staal made a perfect deflection in the high slot of a Dougie Hamilton point shot and it bounced by the Holtbeast with 5:00 remaining. Dowd’s two minors came with the defender to his back and #26 losing control of his stick. It will be interesting to see if the coaches correct his technique in those type of one on one battles.

As for Holtby, he was very good to run his lifetime record against Carolina to 18-6. Braden had several big stops, including one on an all alone Justin Williams in front in period two. The Hurricanes made a point of trying to get pucks and bodies to the Caps net and that’s how they scored all three of their goals.

Washington was better on their breakouts in game one. They didn’t have nearly as many turnovers in their own zone and the wingers were much stronger on the walls, which is where the Canes won the little battles on Thursday night. The Caps are also improving on using the high flip of the puck out of their own zone when Carolina is ultra aggressive on their forecheck. Carl Hagelin and/or Jakub Vrana are going to score off one of those if the Capitals blue liners keep using that effective move that stretches a defense.

The blue line for Washington was strong in this one, especially Nick Jensen. Number three was much better in his second career playoff game. He was all over the ice with his superb skating and it was his smart race to the front of the Carolina net that allowed Wilson to beat Mrazek to give the Caps a 3-2 lead. Jensen looked very confident with the puck.

Matt Niskanen (assist in 22:51), John Carlson (28:01), Dmitry Orlov (assist in 22:31) and Orpik (18:37) performed well on the back end. Christian Djoos only logged 5:44, but his five second shift in overtime ended with Batya burying the biscuit. Djoos still seems to be not fully recovered strength wise from the major surgery he had in December.

The Caps still need to get more balance in the lineup and a switch Todd made going into period three seemed to jumpstart a Washington team that had blown a two goal lead. Coach Reirden put the speedy Vrana back with Kuznetsov and the Osh Babe then reunited Hagelin with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly on the third line. The Capitals bench boss noted that Vrana has “unique chemistry” with Kuzy and Oshie, and that was evident on the game winning goal. Both Oshie and V drew their defenders with them to the net and that created a wide open lane for Evgeny to find number 44 all alone in the left wing circle. Batya delivered with a huge lamp lighter and the red light was a very welcome site for the team and the fans at Capital One Arena. Washington now has command of this series without really hitting their full stride yet.

Simply put, the Caps won because as Coach Reirden stated afterwards, “Our top players were our best players in this one.”

Still, the Capitals head coach believes there are higher gears his club can find with their game.

“I don’t think we’ve gotten to our best game yet…today was better in terms of zone time and forechecking, but we’re still not where we need to be.”

Notes: Aho was minus three despite scoring his first playoff goal…Justin Faulk was also -3 in 27:58 of ice time….Micheal Ferland was kicked out in period two for what was called a head shot on Dowd. The Canes killed that one off, but Coach Rod Brind’Amour said the zebras got it wrong…Washington was 0 for 4 in 10:09 of power play time. They struggled with their passing and the poor ice conditions seemed to exacerbate it. Carolina was 1 for 5 with the man advantage but Brind’Amour said not scoring on the five on three was a huge factor in the loss…Hamilton elbowed Kuznetsov in the head in period two and it took #92 several shifts to find his game again. That seemed to coincide with the line reunion with Vrana.

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Holtby Stones Flyers

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

Posted on 24 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Connolly 20th

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Connolly’s 20th Goal of the Season Leads the Caps over New Jersey

Posted on 19 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

In a sleepy game with not a lot of shot attempts, the Washington Capitals did what they had to on Tuesday night in New Jersey, they won by a large margin and were able to roll their lines in the third period as they prepare for Wednesday night’s rematch with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Andre Burakovsky continued to light the lamp to notch his 12th goal of the season just 2:52 into the contest, but then the Caps went into lethargic mode for the rest of the period. Washington only registered four shots on goal in that opening frame, but still would’ve had a 1-0 lead except for a major lack of focus moment at the end of the period.

Lars Eller had the puck in his own zone with about 12 seconds left and instead of skating it to the red line and dumping the biscuit deep, he passed it to the left wing boards in the neutral zone and then crazily went for a line change. Tiger’s play made zero sense and the Devils pounced on the disc. They would cycle it around in the Caps end and then beat Pheonix Copley (20 saves) with one tick remaining. It was a major blunder and another mental error, something that this Capitals team needs to clean up before the post season.

It was clear that Washington wasn’t into this tilt in the first 20 minutes, but in the middle stanza, they came out and played. Christian Djoos, who had been scratched while trying to build back the strength he lost due to his major surgery in December, made a super play at the left point to find Brett Connolly on the door step for Conno’s 20th goal of the season. Carl Hagelin earned the second assist on a play that further reinforces the statement, “Good things happen when you get pucks and bodies to the net.”

For Connolly, it was his career high 20th tally and with the assist on Burky’s first period snipe, he now has a career high in points at 42. Washington was still sputtering in some ways, but a line combination change by Coach Todd Reirden seemed to jump start the offense. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom switched lines and that move paid off quickly. Jakub Vrana made a super backhanded pass up to Kuzy after Dmitry Orlov’s initial clear following a faceoff win hit a New Jersey skate in the defensive zone. Evgeny went in two on one with T.J. Oshie and with the Devils defensemen cutting off the pass, #92 fired five hole on Mackenzie Blackwood to make it 3-1 with just under eight minutes to go in period two. Orlov should get an assist added on the goal, by the way.

The Caps then put the dagger in the Devils when their top line buried the biscuit on a three on two rush. After a clear by John Carlson, Backstrom came across the offensive blue line and dropped the puck to Alex Ovechkin, who was barreling down the slot. Nearly everyone in the building thought Ovi would shoot, but instead he zipped it to Tom Wilson in the left wing circle and top line Tommy fired it towards the cage where it hit Blackwood’s left pad then went into the net via the five hole. It was Willy’s 21st goal of the season and the 50th assist of the campaign for “All Star” Backy.

That would do it for the scoring. Coach Reirden was able to spread his ice time in anticipation for Wednesday’s big tilt against the Presidents’ Trophy winners. Washington lost to Tampa, 6-3, on Saturday after they dug themselves a 3-1 first period hole with some terrible play. The Caps, however, would storm back with a super second period and if Vrana buries the great feed from Ovechkin in the last five minutes, it’s 4-4 and anyone’s game. Instead the Bolts held on for a 6-3 triumph with two empty net tallies. Anyone who watched it saw a spectacular effort from the Gr8, who almost single handedly carried the Caps to a point and possibly two if Vrana finishes that late play off.

This victory on Tuesday night at The Rock ended a four game road trip where Washington played some really good hockey in stretches, but only finished with two wins and two losses. They need to eliminate the bad plays they are making at the wrong times that are putting pucks in the back of their own net. The talent is there on this team, but they need to be mentally prepared at all times and bring a strong effort.

They’ll definitely need that on Wednesday if they want to remain in first place in the Metropolitan Division and send a message to the Lightning that the Caps are still a team they’ll have to potentially deal with later on.

Braden Holtby will get the start in net at Capital One Arena at 7:30 pm. This should be an entertaining contest and while the Bolts are more rested, Coach Reirden will have last change and can try for better matchups than he ended up with on the road in Tampa. The Bolts were able to counteract Ovechkin’s strong game by scoring against each of the Capitals lines.

The 4-1 win improves the Caps to 43-23-7 (93 points) and they lead the Islanders by two points and the Penguins by four with nine games remaining (Pittsburgh only plays eight). Carolina, by virtue of their come from behind shootout triumph over the Pens on Tuesday, is in fourth with 87 points. The Caps still play the red hot Hurricanes twice in their last nine games. Six of the Capitals games are at home with only three on the road (@Carolina, @Tampa, and @Florida).

Notes: Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with a low total of 21:18. Nic Dowd had the lowest total at a modest 12:03 of ice time…Kuznetsov’s goal was his 19th of the season. The Caps have five players with 20 or more goals – Ovi, Oshie, Vrana, Wilson, and Connolly. Backstrom is at 18 goals, so it’s likely that the Capitals will have seven players with 20 or more goals before the season ends…shot attempts were 38-37 for the Caps…Washington was 0 for 1 on the power play, but 2 for 2 on the penalty kill…the Caps will follow NHL tradition and visit the White House on Monday afternoon with the Stanley Cup.

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Hagelin WPG

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Hagelin, Backstrom, and Copley Help the Caps Win Again

Posted on 11 March 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ovi Kings Feb 2019

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Ovechkin’s Two Goals Carry the Caps Over LA

Posted on 19 February 2019 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin scored twice on the power play on great feeds from John Carlson as the Caps raced out to a 3-0 lead after 40 minutes and then they hung on for a 3-2 win over the Kings on Monday night. It was the Caps first victory at the Staples Center since December 14, 2005.

Pheonix Copley made 26 saves in net for the Caps. Washington rebounded after a real dud in Anaheim on Sunday night. Defeating LA on the second night of a back to back situation was very important in a crowded Metropolitan Division and Washington is now two wins and two losses on their season long six game road trek that continues in Toronto and Buffalo, on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

This triumph improves the Capitals to 33-20-7 (73 points) and they trail the first place Islanders by three points (New York has two games in hand) and they lead third place Columbus by four points (the Blue Jackets have two games in hand). These were two huge points because Carolina, who right now is the ninth place team in the Eastern Conference, is just five points in back of Washington.

This game didn’t start well for the Capitals as they struggled with their passing early on. An errant attempt up the right wing by John Carlson was picked off by Carl Hagelin at the Caps defensive blue line and #62 sent Ilya Kovalchuk in all alone on Pheonix Copley. Fortunately for Washington, Copley came up with a terrific save on the former NHL #1 pick (2001 by the Atlanta Thrashers). A few minutes later, Carlson was boxed for tripping Anze Kopitar and it took a clear in the crease by Matt Niskanen to once again prevent the Kings from scoring first on their subsequent power play.

The Capitals most consistent player in 2018-19 terms of effort, Jakub Vrana, then drew a trip on Derek Forbort. Washington went to the man advantage and 80 seconds into it, the Caps drew first blood. Carlson and Alex Ovechkin played pitch and catch a few times before the Gr8 rocketed one by Jack Campbell for his 41st goal of the campaign. It was also Carlson’s 300th NHL point. Just twenty seconds later the Capitals were up two pucks. Andre Burakovsky made a strong play on the right wing wall and with Lars Eller in front and Brett Connolly going to the high danger scoring area, #65 floated one towards the cage that Conno deflected in for his 14th goal of the season. Good things happen when you get pucks and bodies to the net. Those are the types of plays that lead to red lights in the post season and something we need to see more of from Washington. It’s just good ole fashioned hard work and smart hockey.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, who had one of his really down games in Anaheim on Sunday night, nearly made it 3-0 with a great net drive, but Campbell came up large.

In the middle frame, the Caps pushed to extend their lead, however, on a few occasions, they were guilty of forcing the puck to the middle of the ice or trying unnecessary drop passes. The Kings would snag those and go the other way, but Washington did a great job of back checking and the defensemen were very effective at getting their sticks in the lanes. As was the case in period one, Vrana drew another tripping penalty with his speed at 5:02, this time sending former Flyer Jeff Carter to the sin bin, and then the Capitals power play cashed in again just 25 seconds later. Carlson, after taking a pass from Nicklas Backstrom, made a gorgeous head and body fake at the top of the point that confused Campbell. That allowed the Norris Trophy candidate to slide the puck over to his left to Ovi for, you guessed it, another patented one timer. This one wasn’t as hard as the first rocket that found the twine, but because Campbell was duped by Carly, he never was set and the Gr8 beat him again for his 42nd marker of the season and a three goal Caps lead.

From there, Washington was much smarter with the biscuit and the attempted drop passes and forced discs to the center of the ice in the offensive zone were eliminated from their game for the rest of the middle stanza. The Caps did a great job of going up and down the ice in a tight five man unit and as a result, Los Angeles didn’t get many quality looks. When the Kings did get a shot off, a Capitals player was usually in the lane to block it and after 40 minutes, Coach Todd Reirden’s crew had blocked 14 of the 37 LA shot attempts. Brooks Orpik had a big one on Kopitar when Washington was shorthanded after another hooking infraction by Michal Kempny, although this one wasn’t a bad penalty, LA was about to get a quality scoring chance.

For the first eight minutes of period three, the Capitals put puck after puck deep into the Kings zone and put a lot of pressure on the Los Angeles defense. However, on the next shift the Caps second line wasn’t able to get the disc below the Kings goal line and that allowed Dustin Brown to carry the puck in deep into Washington’s end to feed Alex Iafallo on the back door for a tap in with 11:40 remaining. Washington settled down and kept the Kings at bay, but you could start to see fatigue set in with the Caps having played in Anaheim the night before. The zebras, Chris Lee and Steve Kozari, appeared to have put away their whistles based on some things being let go, but after Tom Wilson and Kyle Clifford were sent off for unsportsmanlike conduct, Lee called a really weak and late penalty on Ovi when the home crowd moaned for the whistle. Given what had been allowed in the frame to that point, it was a horrendous penalty from a consistency standpoint.

Los Angeles coach Willie Desjardins pulled the goalie with 5:17 left to give his team a five on three down just two pucks, but the Kings shot wide and Orpik, who was a beast on defense all night, cleared the biscuit down the ice. When Willy and Clifford came out of the box, Campbell went back in net. Washington was holding off LA nicely until, with Campbell pulled again late, Kovalchuk beat Copley with a bomb from just inside the blue line with 27 seconds remaining. The Capitals would ultimately hold on as a last second Drew Doughty shot went wide at the buzzer.

This was not a pretty win for the Caps, but it was a strong team effort. The Kings are near the bottom in the NHL standings and by default, in the race for the “Lose for Hughes” sweepstakes, but they played hard, never quitting even when three pucks down. Washington, outside of Thursday’s beautiful win in San Jose, has not made finishing games easy lately and that was the case, once again, but they did get the job done.

Copley was solid in net and Ovi stepped up to score two big goals, with the last one proving to be the margin of victory.

Notes: the Caps continue to get creamed on faceoffs losing 27 of the 40 draws on Monday night. They were 16-38 against the Ducks the night before…Niskanen had a strong outing and led the Caps in ice time with 23:47, but Carlson (2 assists) was just a tick behind at 23:46…T.J. Oshie was injured in Sunday’s tilt against the Ducks and left at the game’s midway point, but he returned for the full contest at the Staples Center logging 16:16. He didn’t have a shot on goal, but he won a bunch of puck battles…Connolly is one goal away from tying his career high…Nic Dowd and Travis Boyd were in the lineup with Devante Smith-Pelly and Dmitrij Jaskin getting scratched following Sunday night’s debacle against the Ducks…the Caps were 2 for 2 on the power play and 3 for 3 on the penalty kill. The special teams have had their struggles this season, but in this affair they were very good.

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Ovi Sharks

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Caps Play Their Best Game of the Season in San Jose

Posted on 15 February 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

Not so fast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ovi Beags Feb 5 2019

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

Posted on 06 February 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Backstrom Beats Bruins

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

Posted on 10 January 2019 by Ed Frankovic

“Who own da Bruins?”

“Owwwwwnnnnnnsssss, owns the Bruins.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Caps over Flyers Willy V 44

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Caps Send the Flyers to Their 8th Straight Loss

Posted on 08 January 2019 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Holtby Sabres

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Braden Holtby Walls Off the Sabres in a 2-1 Capitals Triumph

Posted on 21 December 2018 by Ed Frankovic

“All in all it’s just another brick in the wall”

“All in all you’re just another brick in the wall”  – Pink Floyd

Braden Holtby put on a goaltending clinic on Friday night at Capital One Arena stopping 36 shots, many of which were of the ten bell variety, while Chandler Stephenson scored shorthanded, and then Tom Wilson potted the game winning tally to lead the Capitals to a 2-1 victory over the vastly improved Buffalo Sabres.

Simply put, if Holtby is not the Caps goaltender on this evening, Washington most certainly loses the hockey game. Braden was that good.

“He’s a leader on and off of the ice. He’s our backbone every night,” was how Willy described the Capitals savior in goal after the contest to Smokin’ Al Koken and per Isabelle Khurshudyan of The Washington Post, Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was absolutely fabulous in this affair, had the following to say about the Holtbeast.

“He’s a god, and he’s always saving our ass.”

Washington, who lost a tough one to the Penguins at home on Wednesday night, 2-1, in a game they dominated for long stretches (outshot attempted Pittsburgh, 77-46, and those numbers were indicative of the play), needed a win to keep pace in a Metropolitan Division that is tightening up. They would get it to improve to 21-10-3 (45 points) and they lead the second place Columbus Blue Jackets by four points.

Early on the Capitals skated well and had the territorial advantage, but as they did on Wednesday versus their archrivals, they struggled to hit the net on their chances. Washington had to settle for a 0-0 first period in which there weren’t a ton of scoring opportunities for either team.

That all changed in period two where the game opened up a bit. Jonas Siegenthaler took a penalty just 2:37 into the middle frame when the Caps players, except for their all world goaltender, appeared to have stayed in the locker room listening to Baby It’s Cold Outside by the late, great Dean Martin. The way they played to start that second stanza also indicated that they might have been enjoying some of Dean’s favorite adult beverages during the intermission.

Anyways, the much maligned penalty killing unit, which was effectively dented all three times on three tries against the Sabres just six days ago, was great in not allowing any quality chances on Wilson’s first period hooking penalty. They then used that momentum and confidence gained to take it to 11 on their next PK, scoring shorthanded. Nic Dowd did his best Phil Mickelson imitation with a gorgeous flop shot out of the Caps zone that Chandler Stephenson, who was scratched on Wednesday against the Pens, raced to gather up in the offensive zone. Stephenson skated in with the puck and beat Carter Hutton over the shoulder with some nice top shelf cheese at the 2:50 mark.

The remainder of the period saw lots of chances both ways, with the Capitals “taking” a 2-0 lead, but due to a quick whistle by the zebras, a tuck in goal by Kuznetsov on the power play that certainly appeared to be over the line was not allowed. Washington’s power play looked good on that attempt, but once again, it was mostly a disaster on this evening going 0 for 4. The set up is too stagnant right now and the players simply aren’t working hard enough to generate the quality looks we are used to seeing from this unit. Perhaps going to a simplified structure where they put bodies in front of the net (cough, cough, Top Line Tommy) and fire away with the intent of scoring off of a tip, a screen or a rebound would be an idea for the second unit?

Washington would fail to score on both power plays they had in the middle frame and Buffalo started to bring a heavy forecheck that was causing lots of Caps turnovers in the defensive and neutral zones. Holtby made several big stops, including coming out nearly to the defensive blue line to prevent Conor Sheary from getting a breakaway after an errant pass by Jakub Vrana in the offensive zone. That was a crazy sequence, but it was indicative of the night Braden was having, he was going to do whatever he could do to prevent the Sabres from lighting up the scoreboard like a pinball machine.

Heading into the final frame, the Caps had a 1-0 lead, but a very poor and LONG shift by Alex Ovechkin (1:12) and T.J. Oshie (1:04) resulted in the Sabres scoring off of a bounce in front of the net that Holtby had no chance to stop. Ovi, who only had five shot attempts (1 SOG) and frankly just didn’t have it on this night, decided against an opportunity to take a neutral zone line change and then found himself hemmed in his own end. With his tank on empty, the Sabres moved the puck around until they finally worked hard and long enough to push one past the Caps Stanley Cup winning goalie.

Buffalo then received a power play just 23 seconds after the Johan Larsson tally, but the Caps penalty killing unit stepped up big time to preserve the tie.

That set the stage for Kuzy, who had his best game in weeks because he was skating and wanting the puck, to steal the biscuit from Hutton behind his own cage and backhand the disc to Willy in the lower right wing circle. Tom buried it for the game winner and his 10th goal in just 15 games this season with only seven minutes left. Kuznetsov was fantastic and when he competes like that, he’s easily in the top five players in the league. That line, with Kuzy, Willy, and the super fast Jakub Vrana, was the Caps best one against Buffalo.

As for the top line, they looked sllllooooowwwww. I’m not sure what was up with that trio, but perhaps it might be time for Coach Todd Reirden to go back to the top nine forward group that won them the Stanley Cup last June?

Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Wilson

Vrana-Backstrom-Oshie

Connolly-Eller-Burakovsky

Andre Burakovsky returned after being in the press box for four games and he was decent. He battled hard and skated well, but his timing is understandably off. He certainly deserves to stay in the lineup though, and getting him going must be a priority going forward.

On the back end, defensemen Madison Bowey had one of his better games logging 16:24. That allowed Coach Reirden, who played John Carlson over 29 minutes on Wednesday, to cut Carly’s ice time back to a much more sustainable 23:47. With the Capitals headed to Ottawa in a back to back situation, it was important that the ice time was spread around better than what we saw against the Penguins in the 2-1 defeat.

Buffalo had several more opportunities to tie things up late in period three, but Holtby, who tweaked something with just over two minutes left, but remained in the game, was a wall in net and would not allow his club to be beaten just four days before Christmas. It was his present to his team, and based on the quotes from Willy and Kuzy, they certainly appreciated it.

All Hail the Holtbeast!

Notes: The Caps will face Ottawa at 7:00 pm in Canada’s capital on Saturday night. The Sens played in New Jersey on Friday and were smoked, 5-2. So both teams will travel overnight and then play their last tilt before the NHL shuts down from Monday through Wednesday for the Christmas break. Pheonix Copley will almost surely get the start against the Senators which gives the Holtbeast five full days to recover from the minor tweak he suffered as well as the heavy workload he faced against Buffalo…the Capitals play the Hurricanes on December 27th at Capital One Arena…the Caps were outshot attempted, 72-50, in this one. The Sabres robbed some teams in their offseason trades (see St. Louis and Carolina) and now they have a squad that almost surely should make the postseason. They are a fast and very good hockey team…Washington won the faceoff battle, 28-23. Nicklas Backstrom was 14-6…Rasmus Dahlin was -2 and made a stupid dive onto Holtby very late in the game to move what would’ve been an offensive zone faceoff for Buffalo into the neutral zone. That’s a rookie mistake there and probably should’ve been a penalty…Vrana (5 SOG) and Wilson (4 SOG) had 9 of the Capitals 24 shots on goal.

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