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Sanford’s 1st NHL Tally is the Game Winner for the Caps

Posted on 12 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Zach Sanford probably could not have picked a better time to score his first NHL goal.

With the game tied at four with just under three minutes remaining, #82 took a great feed from Brett Connolly and blasted it off of John Gibson (33 saves) and into the cage to give the Washington Capitals a 5-4 lead with 2:39 remaining. From there the Caps held off a furious final push from the Anaheim Ducks and Marcus Johansson closed out the deal with 13 seconds left by scoring into an empty net.

Sanford’s goal was huge in so many ways.

First, it was the first game that the Capitals were playing without Andre Burakovsky, who broke his hand in the first period against Detroit on Thursday. Zach was put in #65’s slot on a red hot third line with Connolly and Lars Eller and his marker kept that lines point scoring streak alive. Connolly now has points in six straight contests.

Second, Washington had a 3-0 lead after a super first period and then a 4-1 advantage following a sensational shorthanded tally by Daniel Winnik (1 goal, 1 assist) before the Ducks came storming back to tie this game up on a Ryan Getzlaf breakaway with 8:12 remaining.

Finally, the goal extended the Caps winning streak to six games overall and their 12th straight at home to send the team off on their bye week on a high note.

Saturday’s tilt against the “Dirty Ducks” was quite the affair. After a Kevin Bieksa high hit on Alex Ovechkin bothered the captain, Corey Perry blatantly tripped former teammate Winnik on an Anaheim power play. That uncalled for move by #10 lit a fire under Washington and allowed the Caps to take a 1-0 lead when Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom set up T.J. Oshie for his 23rd tally of the season just 6:45 into this contest.

At the 14:35 mark Backstrom made it a two goal cushion when he buried the rebound of an Ovechkin shot in the slot that Gibson saved, but could not control. Winnik then set up Tom Wilson for his 4th goal of the season to make it a 3-0 Caps lead. Jay Beagle had an assist on that goal, as well. It was as perfect a first frame as the Caps have played all season, according to Winnik.

The Caps started period two on the power play and despite not scoring, they earned another advantage situation 1:52 into the middle stanza. Washington would not convert and at the 7:18 mark Jakob Silverberg scored from the right wing circle on Braden Holtby (14 saves), top shelf. The puck appeared to nick Karl Alzner’s stick on the way to the cage and that caused the biscuit to ramp up. That made it 3-1, but Winnik notched his shorthanded marker and things were looking great for the Caps with just under 28 minutes of hockey left.

The Caps, primarily the second line, then had numerous chances to build on the 4-1 lead, but Gibson came up big and Washington missed a couple of open looks. That inability to bury the Ducks would prove costly and a poor defensive zone shift by the top line enabled Hampus Lindholm to make it a two puck difference heading into the final frame.

In the first part of the third period, Coach Barry Trotz’ crew was doing a decent job of not sitting back and managing the game, but then Dmitry Orlov came out from behind his own net and tried to skate through several Ducks defenders instead of making the smart play up the boards. Ryan Kesler pounced on #9’s poor decision making and snapped one by Holtby. It was a play that Orlov just cannot make there and he had done a good job over the last two months of getting those types of mistakes out of his game.

The Orlov blunder set the stage for the Getzlaf breakaway and ultimately Sanford’s game winning goal.

So what does Zach get for scoring the GWG? A trip back to Hershey while the rest of the Caps at the NHL level enjoy their bye week.

Coach Trotz noted afterwards that a game like this crazy one with the Ducks was something his team needed, a tight contest against a very good hockey team. Sure, Washington probably should’ve blown out the Ducks once up three pucks, but Anaheim gets paid to play too.

The win was a big one in many ways for the Capitals.

They are the second team in NHL history to score five or more goals in 11 consecutive home games, joining the 1970-71 Boston Bruins.

They have a +71 goal differential overall and a 63-25 first period scoring advantage.

They are 27-2-2 this season in games in which they have one day of rest.

They have a 39-11-6 overall record, good for 84 points.

The above are some pretty amazing numbers that apply to this Caps team.

They are truly a special crew and it’s becoming clear that this club is on a mission and is likely better than last season’s Presidents’ Trophy winning squad.

Last season, Coach Trotz stated that after the snow storm in January, Washington was not the same team down the stretch and into the playoffs. Since New Year’s Eve, this season’s Capitals team has been on fire and Oshie attributed the goal scoring success to all 20 guys getting pucks deep, backchecking, and forechecking and playing with desperation.

You can certainly see the results of that desperation. It has given the Caps a nine points standings lead. Columbus and Pittsburgh are tied for second, but both do have two games in hand on Washington. We’ll see how they and the New York Rangers do over the Capitals bye week.

What’s more important, though, is how the Caps play after this bye week. It’s imperative that they don’t lose momentum and that they get healthy for the playoffs, which start in mid-April.

Notes: the Caps top line was -2. Winnik and Beagle were +2…shot attempts were 61-44 for the Caps. Washington did not sit back with the lead, but they did make some careless mistakes that they’ll need to clean up going forward…the Ducks won the faceoff battle, 34-21. Eller was 4-3…Ovechkin only played 14:54…Matt Niskanen was +2 and led the Caps in ice time with 22:40…Washington was 2-2 on the PK and scored shorthanded. They were 1 for 3 on the power play…the Caps are off until Saturday, February 18th when the take on the Detroit Red Wings in Hockeytown at 2 pm.

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Holtby Holds the Fort In Caps 3-2 Win Over Montreal

Posted on 04 February 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Heading into Saturday afternoon’s game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre, the Washington Capitals were 31-1-5 in franchise history when Jay Beagle scores a goal and 8-0 this season (thanks Adam Miller).

Just 3:06 into the matinee, #83 sniped one by Carey Price after a sweet feed from Daniel Winnik following a strong play by Tom Wilson in the neutral zone to keep the play onside.

So you know how this one turns out, right? It would be a Caps victory in Quebec.

However, it wasn’t easy.

After Beagle’s tally there was a lengthy delay (about 11 minutes) due to a hole in the bottom of the boards behind Braden Holtby (20 saves). Montreal took advantage of that Super Bowl 47 like stoppage to right their ship and tie the game up at one less than three minutes after play resumed. Nate Schmidt tried an ill advised centering pass on the right wing boards in his own zone and that allowed Alexander Radulov to snipe one to get the Habs back in the game. Schmidt needed to either eat the puck along the boards there until he could get help or reverse the play by putting the disc along the boards behind his own cage.

The Caps would then settle down and they began carrying the play again with lots of offensive zone pressure. Washington’s third line of Lars Eller, Brett Connolly, and Andre Burakovsky was especially good. When the Caps turned the puck over or Montreal took a hold of it, Washington ferociously back checked and reclaimed the biscuit. They did an excellent job in the first two frames of going up and down the ice in five man units and that prevented the very fast Habs squad from turning this game into a track meet.

The two way effort paid off midway through the middle frame. Eller sprung Connolly up the ice on a three on two with Burakovsky and Schmidt. #88 then atoned for his previous mistake by making a very smart play as he crossed the blue line with speed – he kept driving to the net. By doing that he took the Habs defensemen with him and that opened up a passing lane for #10, who laid a sweet cross ice feed to #65 and he snapped it short side, top shelf by Price for a 2-1 lead.

Washington would continue pressing the play in period two and they had several good looks. Alex Ovechkin hit the post and was also denied in tight by #31. Justin Williams had a great shot from the slot, but he didn’t elevate the puck and Price got his pad on it. After 40 minutes, shots on goal were 24-12 for the Caps and 41-26 in terms of shot attempts. In short, they were playing a super road game to that point.

In the third period, they did a good job of keeping Montreal to the outside early in the frame and when Radulov took a hooking penalty on the Gr8, the Caps cashed in on the power play. With the Habs overplaying the pass to Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom alertly chose to fire a shot from the middle of the ice up high and with Price leaning right, the puck eluded him to give Washington a 3-1 lead with 14:44 to go.

Things then got interesting. Montreal really put the pressure on and at 7:49 of period three Max Pacioretty cut the lead to one when they totally outworked the Caps fourth line for a goal. The game would go back and forth with teams trading some chances and when the Caps received a power play with 5:46 to go, they looked to close this one out. However, the Caps made a big offensive zone turnover and Torrey Mitchell received a shorthanded breakaway. As he was about to shoot, the puck bounced on him a bit, so he didn’t get all of the rubber, but the Holtbeast was already in good position and he made a huge stop. Braden would make a few more quality saves down the stretch and the Capitals did a decent job of not allowing the Habs to penetrate the paint until the final horn sounded.

When it was all said and done, the Capitals would head out of the hallowed hockey city with a 3-2 victory to improve to 35-11-6 (76 points) on the season.

This was a game that I was not worried about for Washington from a motivational standpoint. Every NHL player LOVES to play in Montreal. It is a great city and has a lot of hockey history. Simply put, if you can’t get up to play there, you don’t have a pulse.

As I routinely write, when the Caps are motivated, they are hard to beat because of their skill, depth, and goaltending. Montreal gets paid to play, too, and they are fighting for their division title, so the Habs really brought it, especially late. Both Price and Holtby put on net minding clinics and it is easy to see why they are the best two goalies in the NHL.

This was a fun hockey game to watch and Washington benefitted from winning the special teams battle going 1 for 4 with the man advantage and stopping all three Habs power plays.

Both teams could’ve won this affair, although I thought the Caps were the better team for the majority of the tilt, until they earned the two goal lead. They then hung on to win and as the stats dictate, when Beagle scores a goal, it’s pretty much points in the bank for Washington.

Woof!

Notes: The Caps won the shot attempt battle, 51-49. Ovechkin and Beagle each had five shots on net. This was by far #83’s best outing since he went down with a virus just before the all star break. “Flip Phone” Beags seemed to finally have his legs back…John Carlson took his first penalty of the season, but he played solidly and led the Caps in ice time with 24:16…Holtby is now 11-0-0 in his last 13 starts…the Caps won the face off battle, 28-25. All Star Backstrom was 15-4 and Beagle was 9-6…Burakovsky and Beagle now both have 11 goals on the season. #65 and that whole line has been a huge difference maker for Coach Barry Trotz’ club….the Caps will face the Los Angeles Kings at noon on Super Bowl Sunday at the Verizon Center on NBC. LA defeated the Flyers on Saturday, 1-0, in overtime….the Kings are coming in hot, they’ve won five in a row as they make their way to DC. Expect to see Philipp Grubauer between the pipes for the Caps.

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Caps Offense Stays Hot in 7-3 Win Over Blues

Posted on 19 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Braden Holtby stopped all 11 shots he faced in the first period when St. Louis carried the play and the Caps erupted for six goals in the first 40 minutes to turn Thursday night’s affair in the Midwest into a laugher.

Andre Burakovsky, Jay Beagle, T.J. Oshie, Brett Connolly, Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, and Evgeny Kuznetsov all lit the lamp for Washington as they buried the Blues, 7-3.

Believe it or not, this was not a good first 21 minutes for Washington. They were sloppy with the puck and Coach Ken Hitchcock’s squad was dominating them with an aggressive forecheck. The shot attempts in the first frame were 20-9 for the home squad and it was clear, after Monday’s defensive meltdown in the Steel City, that the Capitals were still clearly missing number one defensemen, John Carlson, on the back end.

The Holtbeast, who was chased in that mess of an officiating affair on Monday in Da Burgh, rebounded as he always does after a game in which he’s pulled to carry the Capitals through a very shaky first frame. The Blues put a lot of rubber on #70, but he did have a good look at most pucks and very few were from the prime scoring area.

At the other end, the Caps received Burakovsky’s 8th of the season on a shot Jake Allen (4 goals allowed on 10 shots) definitely wanted back. Then just 124 seconds later Tom Wilson made a great hit on the fore check and then Daniel Winnik made a sweet pass to Beagle in the slot and #83 buried it. Out went Allen and the Blues, who had carried the play in the first four minutes, started taking over again after those two Capitals goals. Carter Hutton came in for a couple of minutes, but then Hitchcock went back to Allen.

St. Louis looked like they were going to make a game of this one when Jaden Schwartz scored just 19 seconds into period two. Karl Alzner was tied up with Alex Steen in front and Holtby never saw the biscuit. Just over three minutes later, though, the Capitals top line had a great rush up the ice and Nicklas Backstrom fed Oshie (1 goal, 1 assist) in the slot and with Allen thinking the puck was going to be moved to Alex Ovechkin (2 assists), #77 backhanded it home easily. From there it was all Caps the rest of the frame as the Blues seemed to come undone by their goaltending problems.

Connolly made it 4-1 on a breakaway as he blew by Carl “boat anchor” Gunnarsson and beat Allen top shelf to send #34 to the bench. 11 ticks later Kuznetsov made a nice play on the wall to force the Blues into a turnover and Jojo gobbled the puck up and fired it by Hutton and the rout was on.

Williams would then score on the power play to make it 6-1 with 26 and a half minutes still to play. Kuzy would get the final tally and make it 7-1 six minutes and 20 seconds in period three before the Blues scored two late garbage time goals.

The big key for Washington in this one was a recipe that has worked well for them in 2017: getting pucks and bodies to the net at the right times. The Caps scored six of their seven goals from in the prime scoring area. You will naturally have a higher shooting percentage when you are getting your looks from the difficult to get to parts of the rink. Ovechkin had two assists, but he was a huge factor on three of the Capitals tallies. St. Louis was keying on him, the Gr8 did have a hat trick in this barn last April, and that opened up lanes for other players, particularly Williams on the power play and Oshie’s goal that really took the wind from the Blues sails.

Washington continues to get great work from their third line of Connolly, Lars Eller, and Burakovsky. They were each +2. The fourth line also had a big early tally so the bottom six, which was great in Pittsburgh on Monday and has been playing well during this 10-0-1 run the Caps are on, is more than doing their share.

Bottom line, despite the shot attempts ending up 48-29 for the Blues, this game came down to one team getting to the prime scoring areas of the ice better than the other and one team having far superior goaltending. It was a victory the Capitals needed to erase the memory of the zebra aided loss to the Pens in OT on Monday. The win also came on the first half of the annual “Dad’s” trip and on Friday in Dallas, there will be a lot of laughs after this laugher of a contest.

The Caps are now 30-9-6 (66 points) and they lead the Columbus Blue Jackets (30-10-4) by two points in the Metropolitan Division, Eastern Conference, and the NHL standings. The Capitals plus 48 goal differential is also tops in the best pro sports league on Earth.

Notes: Steen and Schwartz each had three points for the Blues…the Caps got creamed on draws, 35-23, but Beagle was 9-7…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 21:12…Coach Barry Trotz had a huge lead so he just rolled the lines, which keeps guys fresher and reduces the chances of injury…Oshie, Brooks Orpik, and Kuznetsov were also +2 like the 3rd line….the Caps only took one penalty and killed it off. They were 1 for 2 with the man advantage…next up for the Caps are the Stars in Dallas on Saturday at 8 pm.

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Caps Bury the Devils and the Zebras, 6-2

Posted on 31 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

13 of 18 Capitals skaters earned at least a point as the Caps buried the New Jersey Devils, 6-2, at The Rock on Saturday afternoon.

In his pregame presser Washington Coach Barry Trotz looked annoyed and rightly so given that his club had lost four of its last five games, although two were in the gimmick. The coach felt like his squad was playing on the perimeter too much and not making things difficult for their opponents and their goaltender.

On Saturday, the boys in white made their coach happy as they repeatedly went to the net and all six of their tallies were the type of gritty goals you need to win in the post season.

Gone was the predominantly soft play we saw from some of the Capitals players in Thursdays shootout loss to these same Devils, despite 44 shots on goal, and several of the previous games.

Washington was hard on the puck and they continually won the puck battles. Brett Connolly got things rolling for Washington just 2:36 into the game scoring while driving the net off of a beautiful feed from Andre Burakovsky. It was #10’s 4th tally of the season and he continues to play heavy and with a high hockey IQ when he’s on the ice.

After a clean Tom Wilson hit unfortunately injured John Moore, who hit his head on the glass, Devils Coach John Hynes lambasted officials Marc Joannette and Justin St. Pierre. Naturally the clowns from Quebec were intimidated and started a Caps parade to the penalty box, with the worst call being a phantom hit to the head on Alex Ovechkin. The Capitals PK was great though, and once back to even strength late in the first period, Daniel Winnik fed Brooks Orpik at the point and he fired the biscuit on net. Wilson and Jay Beagle were in Keith Kincaid’s line of sight and both swatted at the puck with #83 knocking it home for his 6th goal of the season.

Washington led 2-0 after 20 minutes, but the guys in stripes decided they were going to be the show and they called several more penalties, including five on the Caps that led to Devils power plays in the second period.

However, the Capitals PK was fantastic with Winnik sacrificing his body to block a shot and then displaying a yeoman-like effort to get a clear, in one instance.

With the teams at 3 on 3 because of the mad zebra show, Evgeny Kuznetsov turned a puck over to Kyle Palmieri, who beat Philipp Grubauer (21 saves) top shelf to make it 2-1.

But Washington showed character and grit by responding with two quick goals while the game was on a rare stretch of five on five. T.J. Oshie (1G, 1A) deposited the rebound of a Nicklas Backstrom shot and then the Gr8 (1G, 1A) buried the rebound of a Matt Niskanen (2A) blast that came off of the backboards to make it 4-1. It was a display of killer instinct that this club talked about developing following last springs post season defeat.

The zebras were undeterred though, and kept sending good guys to the box, but Grubauer and the Caps would not allow the Devils to light the lamp.

Justin Williams (1G, 1A) then overcame a hook and then a hold in the corner to position himself in front of Kincaid (20 saves) and the vet deftly deflected the biscuit fired by Niskanen into the cage to pretty much end this one with 23+ minutes still left in regulation.

The Devils would get their ninth power play of the afternoon in the final frame, but Washington’s PK unit was perfect again. Word has it that the Capitals penalty killing squad is being considered by the Pentagon for one of their special forces units.

After the Devils closed to 5-2 late, Marcus Johansson went to the cage and slammed home a great pass from Williams, who had received an excellent feed from Kuznetsov, to close out the scoring.

The win improves the Caps to 21-9-5 (47 points), but more importantly, the Capitals won with a style they need to employ more often. They were hard on pucks and the opposing defense. They only had 26 shots on goal, primarily due to 13:11 of shorthanded time, but they were of much better quality than the 44 mostly “one and done” variety that they had against the Devils on Thursday.

Simply put, this is the way the Caps need to play and the coaching staff should feel a lot better after this victory. I know I do and hopefully I can leave that four letter word that starts with  “s” and ends in “t” which rhymes with “loft” out of my tweets and blogs for good when discussing Washington’s play and effort.

You don’t have to play “heavy” at all times, but you do have to work hard and smartly to get to the front of the opponents net and create havoc for the net minder. The Capitals did that on Saturday extremely well. When they do that regularly, they’re tough to beat.

Notes: the Caps went 0 for 3 in only 1:11 of power play time…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with a low total of 21:58, but Orpik, John Carlson, and Karl Alzner all played over 21 minutes as well due to the nine NJ power plays…Moore hit his head on the glass, was taken off on a stretcher, and taken to the hospital. He was deemed okay and likely would be released later on Saturday evening…the Caps face Ottawa at the phone booth at 7:30 pm on Sunday night.

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Niskanen and Holtby Help Caps Win Their Fifth Straight

Posted on 14 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Matt Niskanen picked the right time to finally score his first goal of the season.

The Caps defensemen tallied to give the Caps an early third period 3-2 lead after some great board work by T.J. Oshie and then he closed the deal with 1:58 remaining in regulation on a power play with his second of the night and of the campaign.

Braden Holtby made 26 saves and several of them, which were all world stops, especially the two on Josh Bailey on the door step, occurred in the third period when it was 3-2. The Holtbeast, after Niskanen, was the biggest reason Washington won their fifth straight game and exited Brooklyn with a 4-2 victory over the Islanders.

This contest didn’t start so well for Washington. In net for New York was long time nemesis Jaroslav Halak (34 saves), who recently shut them out on December 1st at the Verizon Center, 3-0, with 38 stops. The Caps, who at times get caught up in a perimeter game, did quite a bit of that in a first period. Although they outshot the Islanders, 14-12, they trailed 1-0 when Anders Lee beat Holtby on a shot in the slot where John Carlson’s stick either caused a redirection or at least threw off the ability of Braden to track the shot. Overall, though, New York had the better of the play and their forecheck gave Washington problems in their own zone.

Period two was a totally different story. The Caps came out more determined to pin the Islanders back in their own end and their forechecking game was relentless. Time and time again Washington generated scoring chances on Halak, who did all he could to keep his team in the game. The Capitals were more physical than they’ve been in recent outings and the wear on the Islanders blue line became apparent as the game progressed.

The Caps got on the board when Lars Eller blocked a shot in his own zone and it sprung he and Brett Connolly on a two on one rush against a tired Nick Leddy. Connolly, who I’ve been wanting back in the lineup for quite awhile because of his forechecking skills and willingness to go to the net, went straight to the cage and tapped his stick on the ice signaling #20 to feed him the biscuit. Eller did just that and Connolly redirected it upstairs over Halak for his third goal of the season in 16 games, which is one more than the first time scratched Andre Burakovsky has put up in 26 games (and he has 0 goals in his last 25 tilts).

Jakub Vrana assisted on that marker and he also earned an assist on the second Caps goal, which came on the power play. Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) made a nice rush behind the offensive net and fed #13 in the slot. Vrana, who has a quick and deadly shot, fired the puck at the cage and it apparently hit Justin Williams on the way in. It was Mr. Crazy Hair’s fourth goal in five games and his sixth of the season. Good things happen when you shoot and go to the net.

After a Kuznetsov giveaway and bad coverage by that Caps line, the Islanders tied it up on a Leddy shot that went through a lot of traffic. That was one of the few New York opportunities in that frame.

With the score tied 2-2, the Capitals came out and really took it to New York to get the lead on Niskanen’s early final frame tally and then midway through the period the Islanders fought back and had a great push, but the Holtbeast would not be beaten. Washington then was relentless on the puck after those five or six Holtby gems, and Daniel Winnik drew a late penalty to set up the Niskanen insurance tally.

Winnik was really flying again in this one and he, Jay Beagle, and Tom Wilson have formed a great fourth line. Eller, Vrana, and Connolly gave Coach Barry Trotz a strong outing as well and with Nicklas Backstrom, Oshie, and Marcus Johansson playing so solid at both ends, it was easy to see how the Caps led the game in shots on goal at 38-28 and in shot attempts, 67-52.

The Caps, over the last three games, have really started to play their game. When they forget about being fancy and shying away from the hard areas of the ice and focus on using their speed and size to get to the interior of their opponents, they are very hard to beat. Once guys started going to the net in the second period on, life got really difficult for Halak. To me, the key to the victory was the second frame where Washington was all over the Islanders and wore them down.

At the other end of the ice, New York is pretty good at getting bodies and pucks to the net. There were certainly stretches where they did that and it was up to Holtby to save the Caps in those instances, and he did. But for most of the last 40 minutes, Washington did a very good job at limiting shots and quality chances.

The Capitals, with this victory, improve to 18-7-3 (39 points), and are now in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division, but only two points in back of the 1st place Penguins and Rangers. The Rags were beaten by Chicago, 2-1, at MSG on Tuesday evening. In third place are the Blue Jackets. Columbus won their seventh straight over Connor McDavid and company in Edmonton, 3-1, on Tuesday. It’s pretty clear the Metro is the best division in hockey this season.

Notes: The Caps will have a team build in New York on Wednesday and will then head to Raleigh for a Thursday practice and a rematch against the Hurricanes on Friday night (The Canes crushed the Caps, 5-1, back on November 12th in the Tar Heel State). Carolina put up eight goals in an 8-6 victory over the Canucks on Tuesday night…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:00. On his second goal, Coach Trotz smartly put two defensemen on the points (Carlson) on that late power play to protect the one goal cushion and Nisky’s blast to make it 4-2 made it look even smarter…faceoffs were tied at 32 apiece, but Beagle went 13-6…the Caps had 21 hits after only having eight against the Canucks on Sunday afternoon…Oshie had 0 points but was in front of the net on both Niskanen goals. Williams had great net presence on his goal and Niskanen’s last tally, too…Alex Ovechkin only had two shots on goal, but he did have four hits…the Caps were 2 for 3 on the power play while New York was 0 for 2…Connolly only played 7:05, but he had two hits and the goal…I expect Burakovsky to sit again on Friday since #10 earned a jersey in Raleigh, once again, with his strong play.

 

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Ovechkin Leads the Offense as Holtby Shuts Out the Canucks

Posted on 11 December 2016 by Ed Frankovic

For the second straight game, there was a lot to like about the Washington Capitals performance in a 3-0 victory over the Vancouver Canucks at the Verizon Center on Sunday night.

Alex Ovechkin, who had picked up his play in recent outings, scored a first period power play goal and then assisted on Justin Williams’ tally that made it 2-0 early in the third period to lead the offense.

Braden Holtby stopped all 20 shots he faced and he was aided by some stellar Caps penalty killing, which went a perfect five for five and only allowed one shot on net in ten minutes of shorthanded time.

For the night, the Capitals team defense was excellent and they took advantage of the fact that Vancouver was playing their 3rd game in four nights. As Coach Barry Trotz mentioned following the win, there is a lot of parity in this league, and sometimes the schedule helps decide the outcome.

Agreed, but you also have to take advantage of that situation and unlike the Islanders game back on December 1st, Washington made no mistake about getting on a club that you figured would be tired.

On the Caps first power play of the game, they scored, and it was set up, once again, by a great zone entry by Marcus Johansson. Jojo, who is one of the best in the league at carrying the puck into the offensive end on a power play, used his superior speed to get across the blue line and then he made a nice pass back to Nicklas Backstrom. Nicky and John Carlson traded passes and then #74 slid the biscuit over to the Gr8 in his office and Ovechkin ripped it through Jacob Markstrom (26 saves).

That goal was huge and the Caps led 1-0 after 20 minutes, although it wasn’t the best of periods. They led in shot attempts, 20-17, but they were one for three with the man advantage and had as many giveaways as they did hits (four).

In the second frame, Washington really took over the contest, but couldn’t add to their lead. They outshot attempted the Canucks 23-9, which was amazing given that the Canucks had three full power plays in the period. The Caps four primary penalty killing forwards, Jay Beagle, Daniel Winnik, Lars Eller, and Tom Wilson were just terrific as were the four primary PK d-men, Brooks Orpik, Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen, and John Carlson. Add in the impenetrable Holtbeast and you have a recipe for an outstanding shorthanded unit.  The Capitals really carried the play over these 20 minutes, but a few times they were guilty of over passing.

Once the third period hit, you felt like Washington should really take over, given the Canucks fatigue situation, and they did. Five minutes into the final stanza, Ovechkin made a good rub out of the Canucks defensemen along the left wing boards and that allowed Evgeny Kuznetsov to the get the puck to the point to Dmitry Orlov. #9 rifled a shot towards the net that was shoved aside by Markstrom, but the Gr8 was there to corral it. Ovi fed Kuznetsov, who was all alone in the slot with only the goalie to beat. The whole right side of the net looked open too, but Kuzy chose to pass back across the ice to Williams, who luckily rifled it by two diving Canucks defenders and behind a sliding to his left Markstrom to give the Caps a much needed two goal cushion.

It was another case of over passing and afterwards Williams noted that the whole building was surprised that #92 passed there. Coach Trotz joked in his post game presser that he’s never surprised anymore when guys on his club give up great shots for a pass to a teammate.

From there, the Canucks gave their final push and their best chance to get back in the game was when Andre Burakovsky took a careless high sticking penalty less than two minutes after the Williams tally. It was in the offensive zone and it was unnecessary. #65 should be buying the entire PK unit dinner because that lazy infraction could’ve put a tired team back in the game. But Wilson and company did their jobs and that set the stage for #43 to get his second goal of the season on an empty net marker with 52 seconds remaining. Wilson really deserved that goal because he was really going hard all night and was a big reason the Canucks got nada with the man advantage.

As for the five penalties, Coach Trotz didn’t like the number and said he’d much prefer only one or two. He noted that offensive zone penalties are typically a red flag for him, but that he’d go back and look at each of them on video. Of the five, the ones to be most concerned about were Burakovsky’s high stick and Orlov’s two neutral zone penalties. I can live with the Johansson ticky tack hooking call and there is nothing Jakub Vrana could really do on his interference penalty, the Vancouver player sold it well.

As for Vrana, well he had a strong game with four shots on goal and he also had two other great chances, but missed the net on each. The Vrana-Eller-Burakovsky unit showed signs of life on Sunday, but they couldn’t bury the biscuit, especially #65, who along with Winnik were the only forwards to not put the puck on Markstrom. Winnik, though, gets a pass because of his great PK work.

Overall, this was an excellent team effort and Coach Trotz made sure to praise the Backstrom line for shutting down the Sedin Twins, calling that hard work something that shouldn’t go under the radar.  He’s right and Backstrom certainly should be in the running for the Selke Trophy.

When you add it all up, it’s the fourth straight victory for Washington and another two points for the Capitals. They are now at 17-7-3 (37 points) and in crazy fashion, though, they are still in fifth in the division in points. They are just two behind the Penguins, Rangers, and red hot Flyers (39 each), and just one behind the scorching Blue Jackets. Yes, there are five teams within two points of each other in the best division in hockey, the Metropolitan Division!

Notes: the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 34-31, but Backstrom went 13-5…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 23:42 and he was superb…Niskanen (+2) returned from missing one game with an upper body injury. He played well and had an assist on the Wilson ENG, as did Winnik…final shot attempts were 58-41 for Washington, including 29-20 in SOG…Ovi had 12 shot attempts and five on net…Eller was 1-10 on faceoffs, ouch!…next up for the Caps are the Islanders on Long Island on Tuesday at 7:00 pm.

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Grubauer and Connolly Lead the Caps over Buffalo, 3-1

Posted on 25 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan’s plan to upgrade the Caps bottom two lines following last spring’s bitter playoff defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins is starting to pay dividends.

On Friday night at the Verizon Center off season acquisitions Brett Connolly (goal and an assist) and Lars Eller (assist) formed a strong trio with 2016 trade deadine addition, Daniel Winnik (goal), to help lead the Capitals to a hard fought, 3-1 victory over the pesky Buffalo Sabres. Those three forwards all logged around 12 minutes of even strength ice time and at night’s end each had roughly 15 minutes overall. They were hard on the puck all evening and that line set a nice tone for the Caps, who started fast again, by outworking the Sabres and putting bodies and shots to the cage.

At just 5:08 into the contest they broke the ice for Washington when Eller came down the left wing and fired a hard shot on Anders Nilsson (29 saves), who put a juicy rebound into the slot. Connolly was cruising into the “point’s zone” and he got enough of the biscuit to push it towards the right post where a hard skating Winnik came around the net and buried it from a sharp angle.

The Caps would play a strong first period, outshooting the Sabres, 13-6, but only led 1-0, thanks to some stellar play by Nilsson in net.

At the other end of the ice, Philipp Grubauer (32 saves) was very sharp in his first home start in forever on the front end of a back to back contest situation (the Caps are in the Big Smoke on Saturday night at 7 pm to take on the Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada). Buffalo had a power play just two plus minutes after Winnik’s lamp lighter to open the scoring and they have a very good one. However, Grubauer was the primary reason the Sabres weren’t able to tie the game up. For the night, the Caps backup goalie was their best penalty killer stopping seven shots in eight minutes of Buffalo man advantage time.

“I think that’s the privilege we have of having two great goalies. Either one that’s in gives us a really good chance of winning. Grubi’s played phenomenal this year so far and it’s really unfortunate that we couldn’t get him the shutout,” stated Winnik, who in honor of Movember, has grown one of the best moustaches you’ll ever see and it’s eerily reminiscent of the one Johnny had in Slap Shot. Kudos Mr. Winnik.

Marcus Johansson scored what would turn out to be the game winning goal from the slot. Jojo earned his 8th tally of the year when the Caps had a three on two rush up the ice. Justin Williams, who had several more good chances but didn’t score, came down the right wing and tried to pass cross ice to Nicklas Backstrom on the left wing side. The puck fortuitously hit the Sabres defensemen in the skate and bounced right to a streaking #90, who fired it quickly past Nilsson for a 2-0 Washington lead just three minutes and 25 seconds past the game’s midpoint.

The Caps had a 25-18 shots on goal advantage after two periods and a 49-44 edge in shot attempts, but the Sabres would have 5:32 of extra man time in the final frame. As mentioned above, Grubauer was the primary reason Buffalo would get blanked with the man advantage. They did, however, cut the deficit to a single goal with 10:02 to go when Sam Reinhart fired a shot through a Ryan O’Reilly screen and into the cage at even strength.

The Sabres then had a power play when just down a puck, but Gruabauer and the Caps penalty killers, most notably Winnik and Tom Wilson up front, prevented Buffalo from any great chances.

Then with 4:20 left and the crowd finally buzzing after “Unleash the Fury” was played on the video board, the Sabres took a too many men penalty when Washington fired the puck into the skates of a Buffalo player trying to change. At first it didn’t seem like the referees were going to call the infraction, but the crowd wisely groaned very loudly and off to the box Buffalo went. That penalty would provide the dagger for the Caps as Connolly, who earned 1st power play time at a crucial moment in the contest, buried the rebound of an Alex Ovechkin rocket to close out the scoring. #10 celebrated heavily and deservedly so. It was a big goal and he put himself in the right position to score an important tally that allowed the Caps to go 4-1 on this five game home stand that concluded on Friday. The only blemish was a zebra aided 3-2 victory for Columbus on Sunday.

Overall, the Caps put out a strong effort as a team, especially the Eller line as well as Wilson and Jay Beagle. Zach Sanford only saw 6:37 of ice time, but he nearly scored his first goal of the season on a beautiful rush move around a Sabres defensemen in the first period. Unfortunately for Zach, Nilsson made an awesome glove save on his backhand attempt.

The Caps did make some mistakes in this contest; most notably they were guilty of some bad decisions where they tried low percentage cross ice passes. Some of them were picked off and normally that would lead to odd man rushes. However, as Coach Barry Trotz pointed out afterwards, the Caps commitment level was there and that attention to detail prevented Buffalo from getting scoring chances off of those mistakes since another Capital seemed to be always in position to cover for the mishap. Connolly talked following the victory about trying to find the right balance of trying for the cross ice passes versus getting the pucks deep.

“We have so many guys here that can make really good plays. Coaches always talk about blue line turnovers and we got guys that can make plays on those blue lines. Eight times out of 10 they’re making those plays, but if we can just find the right mix of when to make those plays and when maybe to cut your losses and get it deep, then we’ll be better moving forward,” said Connolly, who was certainly one of the best Washington players on this night and is making an impact.

Connolly is absolutely correct, if there’s one criticism of this team, it’s that extra pass just inside the offensive blue line where the puck should’ve been put on or behind the net. Good things happen when you shoot is my motto, and as Coach Trotz likes to say, “The NHL is a shoot first league.”

“If we can just focus on trying to keep the puck out of our net we’ve got enough guys on the team that can score. I think that’s kind of been an area that obviously the coaches have been working with and just trying to cut our losses and not make those high risk plays, but if we’re coming back hard and we’re focused on helping the goalie out and the D out then we’re going to get chances at the other end, it’s just a matter of time and I think that once we figure that out we’ll be even better moving forward, so we’re moving in the right direction,” added Connolly.

Connolly, who MacLellan was able to bring in at a bargain price of $850,000, is right about the focus of the coaches and since Coach Trotz arrived this team has gotten monumentally better at playing away from the puck, something that has killed them in the post season in the past. The Caps have only given up 44 goals in 20 games and only the Minnesota Wild have given up fewer (38). There is the saying that “Defense Wins Championships.”

“We’re playing pretty well. We’re getting better every day. Guys are working hard in practice and we watch a lot of video and are getting better. It’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint. We’ve got a good group of guys here, a good team. We’re going in the right direction,” finished Connolly.

20 games in and sitting at 13-5-2 (28 points) and on pace for a 115 point season, it’s hard to argue with what one of the newest Capitals had to say following a very nice win the day after Thanksgiving.

On to Toronto.

Notes: Buffalo’s O’Reilly was the best Sabre on the ice and he had five shots on net in 23:53 of ice time (led all players on both teams). Coach Trotz raved about #90 and said he is one of the most underrated players in the NHL. Winnik said of O’Reilly, “Phenomenal player, I played with him in Colorado. Really underrated guy who finally got the credit he deserved with the World Cup nod for Canada.”…Washington lost the face off battle, 37-30. Beagle did go 11-6…Oveckhin had zero shot attempts in a rough first period for his line, but he finished with six for the game, including an assist on Connolly’s game clincher…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:09, but John Carlson played 23:00…Taylor Chorney, who was only in the line up for the third time this season, played extremely well with Brooks Orpik. I could make a case that this was his best game since he’s been a Capital. He was very good in his own end and at breaking the puck up the ice…speaking of underrated, that’s Johansson, who played 17:16 and is such a good two way player…the Holtbeast will get the start in net on Saturday against Auston Matthews and company from the Air Canada Centre. The Caps are fired up to play the Leafs and Karl Alzner remarked afterwards, “We’ve been seeing all of their highlights on tv, so it will be fun to finally play them.”

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Caps Win in Overtime Thanks to the Holtbeast

Posted on 12 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Marcus Johansson’s rocket of a shot off of a Dmitry Orlov feed 2:20 into overtime allowed the Washington Capitals to knock off Jonathan Toews and company in the Windy city on Friday night, 3-2.

The Caps, who received two goals from Jay Beagle in the opening frame, including a shorthanded tally, led this game from 14:44 of the 1st period until 23 seconds left (nearly 45 minutes of action), when Marian Hossa tied it with Blackhawks goalie, Corey Crawford, on the bench for the extra attacker. It was a deflating goal for the Capitals, but they showed mental toughness once again and found a way to get a big two points.

Washington played well in stretches in this one, and they held Toews and Patrick Kane to a total of one shot on net. Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner were the main reasons for that on the back end.

But Chicago had their share of chances due to their risk-reward style of play and in the first 30 minutes they could’ve potted several tallies, if not for the Holtbeast. Braden Holtby made 32 saves on the night and he was dialed in from the opening puck drop. He was easily the game’s number one star, in my book, and if not for his outstanding goaltending, the Caps likely lose.

As for Beagle, his line didn’t get a ton of ice time, he only logged 9:59, but #83, Zach Sanford and Daniel Winnik were relentless on the puck all game and that was because they were skating. Beagle’s first tally came shorthanded after Niskanen forced a neutral zone turnover, which got the puck to T.J. Oshie (1 assist, +2) on the left wing. Oshie and Beagle had a two on one rush and #77 made a gorgeous pass to Beags, who deposited it in the yawning cage with Crawford having no chance.

It was Beagle’s first ever shorthanded goal, but the Blackhawks would answer on that power play just 22 seconds later when Brian Campbell’s shot appeared to deflect off of a Capitals stick ever so slightly, which allowed it to get by Holtby.

Beagle’s next goal came at even strength. Daniel Winnik made a strong play to get Beags the puck in the offensive zone right wing circle and he alertly carried around the net. Sanford smartly went to the net and that not only drew a Blackhawks defender, but Crawford seemed sure that a pass was coming into the slot and that slight hesitation allowed Jay to stuff the puck in at the far post for a beauty of a wraparound marker.

The middle frame saw both teams get some great chances, including Oshie on a breakaway, but he never got a shot off because Duncan Keith hooked his gloves, but the referees missed it. Justin Williams also had a one on one situation, but he was forced to his backhand and was denied nicely by Crawford. “Stick” is playing some good hockey and he’s getting quality chances, they just aren’t going in.

After 40 minutes, the shots on goal were even at 21 each, but you knew Chicago, who had won seven straight contests coming into this game, was going to try to throw the kitchen sink at the Capitals. They did generate 13 shots primarily as a result of Washington sitting back too much, especially over the last 10 minutes. Coach Barry Trotz had his team employing a 1-4 set up that was geared to throttle the Blackhawks ability to come flying into the offensive zone with speed. It worked, for the most part, but in the end, not trying enough to score at the other end caused a roll of the dice situation at the end of the game. I’d have much preferred that the Capitals were more aggressive on the fore check, which could’ve forced Chicago to play more in their own zone. Over those last 10 minutes, there was only one shift where the Capitals had any sustained pressure and offensive zone chances, and that came from the Beagle line with about five minutes remaining.

Simply put, with the speed and pace of play in the NHL these days, you can’t sit back on a one goal lead like that too often and get away with it. The coaches need to adjust their strategy going forward since the best defense is a good offense.

With the victory, the Capitals improved to 9-3-1 on the season and only the Minnesota Wild have given up fewer goals (28 to 24). Washington is playing good defense, for the most part, but they haven’t really gotten the offense untracked. The power play is struggling, but in this contest, that unit never even received a chance to go on the ice since Chicago was not penalized, at all.

Overall though, a win against a quality opponent that’s won the Stanley Cup three times since 2010 is an impressive accomplishment. The Caps can thank Holtby for keeping them in a game they might’ve been blown out of had #70 not been so on his craft on Friday night.

Notes: Niskanen, who was outstanding in this game, logged 25:18 to lead all Caps in ice time. Keith played 27:00 for Chicago…Oshie fell down on the winning goal and the Blackhawks defender tripped over him. Chicago wanted a penalty, but the referees deemed it incidental contact, which it was…Chicago out shot attempted the Caps, 59-51…Carlson and Orlov were an adventure for several shifts. They allowed multiple odd man rushes and after a strong game against San Jose, #9 had an erratic and inconsistent contest…Taylor Chorney suited up for his first game of the season. He played 13:31 and handled himself well. Nate Schmidt was the scratch on the blue line and Brett Connolly was the odd man out up front…Johansson now has seven goals on the season (tied with Alex Ovechkin)…the Caps will travel to Raleigh overnight and take on the Carolina Hurricanes at 7 pm on Saturday. Expect Philipp Grubauer in net for Washington.

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Caps Suffocate Islanders in Home Opener, 2-1

Posted on 16 October 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Daniel Winnik scored twice and Braden Holtby stopped 21 of 22 shots as the Washington Capitals won their home opener over the New York Islanders, 2-1, on Saturday night at a sold out Verizon Center.

The Caps used their superior depth to suffocate New York in the final frame. Coach Jack Capuano’s crew only had five third period shots on net and one of those came from center ice. The line of Jay Beagle, Tom Wilson, and Winnik totally throttled the Islanders top unit, which is led by superstar John Tavares. #91 was held to only two shots on goal in 18:38 and he was minus one for the game. Beagle and company excelled in the head to head matchup and produced far more scoring chances for the Caps.

“We had a lot of good chances and we felt really good and all of our legs were kind of going,” started Wilson, who also nearly scored a goal late in the third period on a two on one with Beagle.

“I was licking my chops, thought I had a wide open net and whoever it was, the back checker made an amazing play just to get his stick in between my stick and the net, so I don’t know what else I can do, maybe dive head first and bury it in the net?” joked Wilson afterwards.

Coach Barry Trotz noted that line, which played sparingly in the opening game in Pittsburgh, came to him on Friday and wanted more ice time. The trio earned it quickly notching the contest’s first tally at 11:58 of period one. Overall, the line logged over 10 minutes of even strength.

“The first game was a little bit of a tough one playing only five to seven minutes. Tonight we just wanted to do whatever we could every shift to earn our ice time. If the coach isn’t comfortable playing us, that’s our fault,” commented Wilson on the increased ice time.

Tavares, who will be seeing Beagle in his upcoming nightmares, will be pleased to know that the Islanders don’t play the Caps again until December 1st.

The Caps carried the play for much of the contest. The shot attempts were 58-51, but like they did in Pittsburgh on Thursday, they passed up some good shooting opportunities. Coach Trotz stated afterwards that he would like more shots from his club.

Another piece of evidence showing the Caps domination of play was the special team situation statistics. Washington had five power plays to just two for New York. The problem was the Islanders scored on their first chance while the Caps were blanked. For the season the Caps are now 0 for 8 with the man advantage and they’ve allowed a power play goal in both games.

On offense, they’ve struggled to get set up as both the Penguins and Islanders have been very aggressive on the penalty kill. The pass to Alex Ovechkin is being defended, for the most part, so it’s imperative that the Caps get some point shots with traffic from the middle of the blue line. They did that a few times on Saturday, with Dmitry Orlov being the most notable, and it resulted in some juicy rebound chances that weren’t able to be finished.

On the penalty kill, Holtby noted that the Islanders employed a different tactic. In the past, their strategy was to set up one timers from the flank, but in this contest they focused on just throwing pucks at the cage with traffic in front. It was their best weapon on Saturday.

Overall though, the Caps have played two good hockey games and have three of a possible four points. The gimmick loss in Pittsburgh easily could have been a victory. They’ve also done this with the Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, and Ovechkin line nowhere near their best, so the team’s depth has been very evident.

“The special thing about this group is we can win a game in a variety of ways. We have four lines that can play, a good D, and a great goalie. So if it’s going to be a shootout we can do that, we can pump goals into their net, if it’s going to be a low scoring tight affair, we can suffocate them like we did tonight,” finished Wilson.

Notes: Beagle had an assist, was +2, and went 11-4 in faceoffs…Ovechkin had 10 shot attempts in 19:07 of ice time, but only three made it on goal; six were blocked…the Caps have allowed only one even strength goal in 125 minutes of hockey…the Islanders won the face off battle, 29-27…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time (22:06) and shots on goal (six)…next up for Washington are the Colorado Avalanche at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night.

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Tom Wilson makes his last day as a 21 year old count with the game winning goal that gives the Caps the Presidents' Trophy

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Caps Clinch the Presidents’ Trophy in Win Over Columbus

Posted on 29 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Tom Wilson notched his first career game winner on the eve of his 22nd birthday and Braden Holtby stopped 21 of 22 shots as the Washington Capitals scored three times in the third period to defeat the Columbus Blue Jackets, 4-1, at the Verizon Center on Monday night.

AND THE CAPS HAVE WON THE FEDERAL LEAGUE!!!!

Well, not exactly, Slap Shot and hockey fans, but this victory improves Washington’s record to 54-16-5 and gives them 113 points on the season to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy. It’s not the team’s ultimate goal, but nonetheless, it is a valuable piece of hardware, and more importantly, the Capitals are assured of home ice advantage in each round they play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There was a lot to like about this triumph on Monday night. The Caps scored the first goal, by Justin Williams, after John Carlson made a super play in the offensive zone to keep the puck until he could find an open teammate. #74 came from behind the net along the left wing boards and fed Nate Schmidt in the middle of the point just inside the blue line. The Minnesota native then faked a shot and fed the biscuit back to Carlson, who one timed it into Sergei Bobrovsky’s pads and right to “Stick,” about five feet back from the far post. The man with the crazy hair then promptly buried the puck into the yawning cage. Williams was outstanding again in this contest and he almost always seems to be in the right spot on the ice. His hockey sense is off of the charts.

Washington’s lead would not last long (1:36) as Dmitry Orlov, for the second straight contest, made a terrible giveaway into three Columbus players and Cam Atkinson snapped one by Holtby. Afterwards Coach Barry Trotz called that turnover “a pizza that ended up in the back of our net.” It was clear the bench boss was not happy about the mistake and he said he doesn’t have any patience with those types of miscues. It should be noted that #9 did not receive a single shift over the last 7:21 of period two, clearly as a result of his defensive mistakes piling up recently. Those types of plays can kill a team in the post season, so Orlov has some serious cleaning up to do in his own end.

The second period was pretty much a snooze fest as both teams looked like they were in preseason form, but Washington was better, outshooting the Jackets, 8-4.

In the final frame, the Caps showed why they have dominated that period all season long putting on relentless offensive pressure. Washington fired 18 shots on goal to just six for Columbus. Wilson scored his game winner at the 3:46 mark when the Caps had a three on two rush that was made even easier when a Blue Jacket defender broke his stick. Both Daniel Winnik and Mike Richards assisted on the play and Willy did a super job of going to the net, being patient, and burying the rebound that Richards created with his own net drive. Afterwards, Coach Trotz commented on where #43 is at in terms of his progression.

“I think there’s growth in Tom’s game, he’s turned out to be a pretty good penalty killer for us, he’s got an increased role and ice time, the offensive part of the game is slowly coming. That’s probably the next thing we’ll have to check off and move forward with. His maturity, his dealing with the referees is coming around. Before last year, he’d get a call and the arms are up and he’s in the referees face and trying to show him up. I think that part of the maturity of his game, he’s dealing with the referees much better. He does have a little bit of a target on his back as a reputation and it’s going to take him awhile. He is playing a cleaner type of game.”

The winning tally has to do wonders for Wilson’s confidence and I don’t know about you, but I’ll cut him some slack if he’s dancing around his room cranking Taylor Swift’s “22” after his big marker on Monday night.

Following the Wilson tally, the game would stay a one goal affair until Brandon Dubinsky took a goalie interference penalty by crashing into Holtby. It was nice to finally see the zebras call this type of infraction and the Capitals made John Tortorella’s squad pay immediately as T.J. Oshie tipped home a Matt Niskanen point blast for his 24th goal of the season just eight seconds into the Washington’s fifth man advantage of the evening. Nicklas Backstrom would add an empty net marker with 2:25 remaining to close out the scoring.

The Holtbeast earned his 46th victory of the season and is now just two wins shy of Martin Brodeur’s NHL all time single season record. Braden had a relatively easy night, except for Dubinsky slamming into him, but it was nice to see the referees finally call that, and it was also good seeing Brooks Orpik take exception to the infraction and shoving Dubinsky into the net in retaliation. It was one of those, “Stay the bleep off of my goaltender” moves that make a goalie feel good to have that player in his corner.

“No, I didn’t see anything at all. I just remember getting hit, somehow,” started the Holtbeast when I asked him about Orpik’s reaction.

At that point I then described what #44 did to Dubinsky and Braden certainly liked what he heard.

“That’s not surprising from Brooks, he’s a leader, a great teammate, and always sticking up for guys. I’ll have to thank him for that,” added the man who is now 46-9-4 this season.

There were lots of other strong performances in this tilt as Washington tightened up in their own end as the contest progressed. Karl Alzner was fabulous in this affair and was +2 in 21:48. #27 was around the puck all night and won a large majority of the one on one battles he was involved in. His defensive partner, Niskanen (two assists), was also +2 in 25:14 of work. Carlson (1 assist), in just his 3rd game back after missing a dozen due to injury, continued to look really strong on his skates in 21:10 of work.

So now it is on to Philadelphia for an 8pm grudge match with the despised Flyers on Wednesday night on NBC Sports Channel’s rivalry night. It warmed my heart afterwards hearing Coach Trotz get excited discussing the upcoming contest with the boys from Filthy. He stated that he and the club were really pumped up to face the Flyers, especially given that General Manager Ron Hextall’s crew is fighting for their playoff lives. The team formerly known as the Broad Street Bullies is 7-2-2 in their last 11 games and is playing their best hockey now, so this will be a very good test for Washington. The rivalry with the Flyers goes back to 1974 and I don’t have to tell any of my loyal followers what a win against those guys always means given my long history of being around and working for the Capitals franchise.

Notes: Washington was 1 for 5 with the power play while the Blue Jackets went 0 for 3…Columbus did not have the injured Brandon Saad in the lineup…the Caps won the face off battle, 33-27. Oshie was 4-0 on draws…Jason Chimera and Niskanen led the Capitals with five shots on goal apiece…Alex Ovechkin had two shots on goal and was +2 in 17:06 of action…the Caps are 33-2-0 when scoring first this season.

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