Tuesday, August 12, 2014

5 Players To Watch At Camp

It will be anticipated, but when the Capitals start their season camp in the next couple of weeks it will remain to be seen if the new brass got it right this off season. With the additions of Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen on the back end and smaller signings here and there, the Caps hope to become a bigger, stronger more physical team in the upcoming campaign. In the Metropolitan Division the Caps will still need to count on their offensive prowess.

This summer's camp will be important for both veterans and rookies alike as the Caps look to win now.  It will be important for these 5 Capitals to make an impression off the bat in this off-season's camp.

Alex Ovechkin - He is the singularly most important Capital that will (and has) define this organization. If this team has any hope to advancing farther than it has will lay on the captain's shoulders. His off-ice personal life saw him end his engagement to Maria Kirilenko it will remain to be seen if that has any effect on the high scoring forward this season. At camp this year, he will have to buy into Barry Trotz's new system and convert his game into a 200 foot game.

"He's a lot more dangerous when he's skating, when he's moving, when he's got a little bit of room to operate," Trotz said to NHL.com's Dan Rosen. "I have found him standing still a lot on the film that I'm watching, very easy to cover, and he still got 51 goals."

Ovechkin's leadership will be also paramount. He will have to alter his game and will still have to contribute to scoring on the offensive end.

Braden Holtby - If you ever heard the phrase "You are only as good as your goaltender." before, then you should apply it to Braden Holtby and the Washington Capitals. Holtby crashed onto the Caps' scene two years ago with 2.58 GAA and .920 save percentage. Those numbers dropped a bit last season after the coaching staff appeared to alter his playing style.

Known as an aggressive goaltender, Adam Oates and Olaf Kolzig tried to mold Holtby into a more stable goaltender and kept him in check. As a result, Holtby struggled at times through the season just stopping shots from the half boards. He just wasn't playing the style of game that got him the number one job in the first place.

Unsure about his future once regime change happened, Trotz and Brian MacLellen restored their faith upon the goaltender by signing a solid back up in Justin Peters and bringing in goaltending coach Mitch Korn (former coach of the Nashville Predators and players like Tomas Vokoun and Pekka Rinne). Holtby will have to return to form to back up the Capitals to a winning season. It will be interesting to see how Korn and Trotz coach the young goaltender and what adjustments they make to his overall game.

Andre Burakovsky - The rookie is already being put in some big shoes. The Capitals are addressing their lack of depth up the middle by inserting a couple of draft picks. Burakovsky will be battling for the second and third line center positions along with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Jonansson.

Whether Burakovsky can earn a top spot will depend mostly on his efforts at this August's camp. He has an impressive resume to help him thus far, he has amassed 87 points (41 goals, 46 assists) last season in the OHL as well has a strong outing in the 2014 World Junior Championship scoring seven points in seven games.

How will he do with the big boys? Keep your eyes on this kid once camp starts.

Joel Ward - Probably the biggest reason Ward has the contract he has with the Washington Capitals was his performance with the Nashville Predators under then coach Barry Trotz. Now that Trotz is back Ward should become a bigger voice in the locker room for his former coach. At least reason would dictate that.

It seems the line pairing of Ward and Jason Chimera who saw so much success last season isn't going to be broken up anytime soon. It will be interesting to see the progress of Ward under this new coaching regime.

Matt Niskanen - An off-season signing along with Brooks Orpik, Niskanen has to prove his last season's career numbers weren't just a fluke. He, along with John Carlson and Mike Green, will be called upon in this new system to add some offensive punch according to Trotz.

"With the forwards I have in Washington," Trotz was quoted in a NHL.com article. "I hope to keep their offensive production very high and add some more offense from the back end."

The defensemen will be given greater freedom in bring the puck up, join the rush and be apart of the 200 foot game the NHL is quickly becoming. Niskanen had a great year with the Pittsburgh Penguins. His 46 points were impressive for any defensemen and his 36 assists proves the defensemen can make the plays on the back end. His nine points in 13 playoff games is not shabby either.

Sure there will be some other story lines that come out of camp, but this is a good start. One thing is clear, the Caps' new brass is not interested in just surviving a 82 game season and make it to the playoffs to get through a round or two. Their aspirations are to win and bring to Washington a Stanley Cup championship. These five players will have an effect on that outcome and it all starts here.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Slow Start, Exciting Finish

Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 3 OT
Game Summary - Event Summary

The worry for the coaching staff of the Capitals were worried about their team coming out flat after a quick western swing. It seemed those fears were realized when the Columbus Blue Jackets visited Verizon Center and played a perfect road game for nearly four-fifths of the hockey game. But some late heroics by the Capitals lead to an overtime goal by Alex Ovechkin and an important two points in the Metropolitan Division with a 4-3 win.

It was a lethargic start for the Capitals who seemed to be still reeling from the blown lead in the desert. Even though they had good chances and pinned the Blue Jackets into their own zone for some stretches, the Caps just couldn't convert many of those pressure moments into even a shot on net. The Blue Jackets did an excellent job of bending and not breaking and took advantage of some cavalier puck movement in the second period to take the one goal lead in the second period.

Brandon Dubinsky scored his fifth goal of the season shorthanded when he bothered Troy Brouwer behind the net, picked up the loose puck, skated to the front of the net vacated by any of the Capital skaters and deked the puck past Braden Holtby. Dubinsky, who seems to find his game against the Capitals, nearly had a hat trick in this game as he rang it off the post a couple of times in the third period when the Jackets had the lead.

The Capitals would answer when Martin Erat entered the zone, out muscled the Jacket defender to swipe the puck from behind the defenseman and a moment before Sergei Bobrovsky could cover it back to the slot where a crashing John Carlson had a wide open net to bury his fourth goal of the season. The spectacular play by Erat only adds to his point totals (now at 57) against Columbus, the most he has had against any other team.

The second period would end in a 1-1 tie and the Caps would take the lead short handed when Bobrovsky misplayed the puck behind his net. Joel Ward scored in his third straight game would scope up the gift and beat a sprawling Jacket goaltender for his ninth goal of the season.

The Caps' lead would not last long as the Blue Jackets picked up a garbage goal to tie the game, then took the lead when Mike Green misplayed the puck in the neutral zone and it broke Cam Atkinson free for the break away and beat Holtby five hole. It looked like the Capitals would collapse again as the Blue Jackets seemed to pressure for another goal following their third goal.

The Capitals gained some momentum late in the third period with some hard cycle work and some good pressure in the Columbus zone. The visiting team finally broke with just under two minutes to play in regulation. The third line, Capitals best line of the night of Ward, Jason Chimera and Mikhail Grabrovski, was able to pin the Blue Jackets in the zone. Chimera got a shot on net and the worn down Columbus defenders couldn't locate the rebound and Grabovski buried the game tying goal for his 6 goal of the season.

It would force overtime, and there Alex Ovechkin went straight to the net when Marcus Johansson entered the zone cleanly and avoided the check to get a back hand shot off on Bobrovsky. Ovi cleaned up the mess in front for his 14 goal of the season. It was also the game winner in overtime.

The Capitals sort of made their own headaches in this game, misplaying the puck and often just being to loose with their play. It was just as lucky the Blue Jackets seemed to make the same mistakes themselves to allow the Capitals to take the game into overtime.

There will not be much time to celebrate this one as the Caps will travel to Detroit to face off with the Red Wings now an Eastern Conference team. The Red Wings have been struggling at home and the Capitals have been struggling on the road. It will be a chance for them to take more points from a conference foe. But their defensive posture must be better against a team that is all about puck possession.

Caps Notes:
  • Holtby is now 8-3 in his last eleven starts. He had 24 saves tonight.
  • Ovechkin now has six points in his last five games (4g, 2a). He ties St. Louis Blue Alex Steen and recently injured Tampa Bay Bolt Steven Stamkos with most goals in the league at 14. 
  • Troy Brouwer lead his team tonight in hits with eight, he nearly had a goal much like the one he scored in Phoenix streaking down the wing and letting his slapper loose. It, however, rang off the post.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Rough Road

Capitals 1, Avalanche 4

Since I'm in a rush, this post will be short and sweet, just like the Calitals effort in Colorado. 

- The Washington Capitals looked exactly like a team that played the night before then a trip to thin air Denver road weary team. Sounds kinda redundant but that's what happened when your tired. Facing a fresh Avalanche team, the Caps were a tad sloppy and a little loose with the puck. It just was not pretty. 

- There were a lot of questionable officiating by the officials (redundant again). It started with the Aves' first goal. It had looked like Patrick Bordeleau had tipped a high backhander with a high stick. The Refs gave no indication of the indiscretion and video somehow could conclusively overrule the call on the ice. It did look like the shot had been redirected off the end of Bordeleau's stick which was above the crossbar to me. Another missed call and scary moment is when Alex Ovechkin was checked into the boards head first and lay stubbed on the ice for a few moments. Ovi claimed he was tripped, Jan Hedja (the Aves player in question) insisted both players were going into the corner and Ovechkin stepped on his stick. I would say 4 times out 5 that is called a penalty, but Refs let it go. Ovechkin was out on the ice on his next shift. 

- 5 on 3's seem simple enough, unless you are a Capital. The Caps have yet to convert with two extra men on the ice and it could have helped them in both games on this road trip. I'm sure I see some sort of video session followed by some practice with producing when given opportunity. 

- Joel Ward's goal to tie the game was a converted lucky bounce as the luck ricocheted off the end boards off the faceoff. That gives Ward his 8th tally of the campaign. It was over shawdowed by the Aves answering less than :30 seconds later as Mike Holden scored to give the Aves the lead. It's been a problem spot for the Caps for a long time, letting up after big goals. If the game goes to the third period tied, the out come could have been different. 

That's all I got for now. 

Oh, and happy Veterns Day! We will never forget. 

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Coyoted

Capitals 3, Coyotes 3 OT/SO 0-2
Game Summary - Event Summary

The Washington Capitals gave up a third period 3-1 lead to the Phoenix Coyotes and lose it in the shoot out 4-3 leaving with only one point out of the desert. In what looked to be an outstanding road effort by the Caps, they folded with less than five minutes left in the game allowing 2 goals to send the game into overtime and then to the shootout. The Coyotes scored on both their shootout chances while the Capitals missed the net on their two shots.

Troy Brouwer (5) and John Carlson (3) both scored in the second period on power plays, and Joel Ward took advantage of a fortuitous bounce for his seventh of the season. But the Coyotes have yet to lose in regulation this season at Jobing.com Arena, and it seems that streak continues with some late game heroics on their part.

The Coyotes got the early start, with a power play goal. Ward was whistled with the trip and it only took :22 seconds for Shane Doan bury his shot. It would put the Caps down one goal through the first intermission. The Capitals took advantage of a late penalty by the Yotes that carried over to the second period when Brouwer streaked down the right wing side and powered a slapper past Mike Smith to tie the game. Less than three minutes later, Coyote Jordan Swarz took a tripping call on Ovechkin and it took the Capitals just :20 seconds Carlson scored in his third straight game with a one timer from Marcus Johansson.

There were a parade of penalties after which included a 4 minute double minor to Troy Brouwer after he was called for handling the puck with his hand on the face off. Yotes' goaltender Smith was called for a delay of game for playing the puck past the center line when the Caps were going to the sin bin for having too many men. The Capitals killed off the plethora of penalties then Joel Ward took advantage of a strange bounce in front of the net to pad the lead 3-1 for the road team.

It had looked like the Capitals were in full control of the game. But a long shift in their own zone, and a bad delay of game, puck over glass, penalty allowed the Coyotes to tie the game up late. It was unfortunate that the Caps let an earlier 5 on 3 slip away and an early overtime period power play did not produce that game winner. Instead the Caps are a dismal 0-4 on 5 on 3 play and have yet to score on the power play 4 on 3.

The Caps don't have much time to dwell on this loss. They are in Denver to take on the Avalanche who still has the league's second best record.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Chim-Chim-Cheer-ry

The Washington Capitals were so impressed with Jason Chimera's start to his season, they re-enlisted the winger to a two year contract. As per Capitals PR:

"The Washington Capitals have re-signed left wing Jason Chimera to a two-year contract extension, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. Chimera will earn $2.0 million per year from 2014-15 through the 2015-16 season.

 

Chimera, 34, has recorded 11 points (five goals, six assists) and 10 penalty minutes in 16 games this season. The Edmonton, Alberta, native was named the NHL’s “Third Star” for the week ending Nov. 3 after posting a career-high four points (one goal, three assists) on Nov. 1 against Philadelphia and recording a career-long four game goal streak (10/24-11/1: four goals, five assists). Chimera has registered 107 points (45 goals, 62 assists) and 251 penalty minutes in 265 career games with Washington.

 

The 6’3”, 216-pound forward has played in 726 career regular-season games with Edmonton, Columbus and Washington, recording 279 points (126 goals, 153 assists) and 716 penalty minutes. In 43 career playoff games, Chimera has tallied 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists), four game-winning goals and 16 penalty minutes. 

 

Chimera was a fifth-round draft pick (121st overall) by Edmonton in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. He was acquired from Columbus in exchange for Chris Clark and Milan Jurcina on Dec. 28, 2009."

A Bigger Win Than You Thought

How many times have we seen the Washington Capitals unravel in close games? A million, gazillion. What happened last night against the Minnesota Wild was a huge step in the right direction by the Capitals. Their head coach, Adam Oates, told his team to be prepared to play a tight game. One goal games have never been the Caps forte.

In the past we have often seen this team lose it when the game is tight. More often it was amplified when it would happen in a play off game. The game would be tight and the Caps would be trailing a goal, when things would just fall apart. Instead of keeping it a close game to the end 1-0 or 2-1, the Caps would make simple mistakes for the sake of making the perfect play to tie the game. Suddenly they would be down 3-1, 4-1 and spiral down to a loss.

Or the team would go away from what had worked for them before, a bunch of individual efforts in order to bring the game back to fold. Only to once again have those efforts fail because one against 5 very rarely yields goals. How many games have fans seen that and pulled their hair out? Remember us looking nervously at the play clock to see time tick away from another win in a grind it out game the Caps couldn't stick with.

The Caps took the early lead with a power play goal by Alex Ovechkin. Then the Wild just sort of played the perfect road game after that. They slowed the game down, took the fans out of the equation. They answered Ovi's goal with a late power play goal of their own. Then took the lead after some relentless forechecking. It was an all too familiar scene Caps fans have endured before. And we all waited for the onslaught of Zach Parise shots and Wild clogging defense keeping the Caps at bay. But, something last night was different.

The Capitals never got away with their game plan. They stuck with it and with some spectacular saves from the goaltender Braden Holtby, they put themselves in the position to win a close methodical game. There was plenty of bending, but no breaking as the Caps remained tough in their own zone, gobbling up second chances and wearing on the Wild defense on the other end.

It just sort of happened, a long sustained forecheck by a mix of lines, Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich and forth-liner Tom Wilson who was out there late from the previous shift. A tired Wild group, their first line couldn't clear the zone after a few line keeps from Alexander Urbom. The puck worked low, Wilson made a smart pick to open it up for Johansson and Laich pressuring the front of the net as the puck ricochet off a Wild defender and past Josh Harding to tie the game.

"What I like about the tying goal is it took a lot of hard work," Oates said of the late game tally. "We fought through a lot of frustration because they were giving you nothing. It was hard to get shots to the net. You’re going into territory that’s really difficult."

The Capitals moved their feet, worked hard in their zone and were rewarded with a lucky bounce and a game tying goal. There was no panic in the team when they went down 2-1 in the second period. They stuck to their game plan. They executed to play as a team to get the tying goal. And in the end it becomes a maturity moment for a team that has so many times lost those types of opportunities to selfish play or let minor mistakes become compounded through out the game to get them behind the eight ball.

"They [Wild] are playing good," Nick Backstrom said of their foe last night. "Good system, they are backing off, and they are being very patient. Obviously for us, we’ve got to be patient as well. We’ve got to play our system and try to be aggressive on them." 

They didn't need to pull the goalie, or rely on the power play to gain them the goal. It came from sticking with the system, working hard, executing and reaping the rewards for all of those cultivating together to make the game 2-2. It was unfortunate Martin Erat took that penalty late in the game because it took the wind out of the Caps' sails. But the penalty kill once again did a great job when they needed it most.  

Last night was a growing moment for the Capitals. To find a way to win in a tight game was gigantic in so many ways. While the game itself seemed often boring and slow at times, I had to watch again to realize exactly what was going on. The Caps were growing up. They took a gigantic step forward. Even if they had lost the game in the shoot out, there was a lot of good to take away from that game.

Now it remains to be seen if the Capitals can sustain that way of playing. As teams that are much better at trapping and grinding than the Caps, it's important they show they can win games like that. It happened against a very good Western Conference team (which the West has dominated the East early on this season) and if the Capitals can do this consistently, things in the post season will get all that much more interesting in DC.