Monday, April 30, 2012

Bounce Back

Capitals 3, Rangers 2 Series tied 1-1
Game Summary - Event Summary

Alex Ovechkin scored his third goal of the playoffs on the power play to even the series at one game a piece with the New York Rangers. Braden Holtby stopped 26 shots to get the game's first star and helped the Capitals to defeat the Rangers 3-2 and send the series back to Verizon Center all tied up.

Mike Knuble opened the scoring near the midway point of the first period when he tipped in a Joel Ward pass on a 3 on 2. Jason Chimera scored his third goal of these playoffs after Ranger netminder Henrik Lundqvist misjudged a dump in and Chimera beat him to it. He threw the puck back to the front of the net to an open Matt Hendricks, but the puck bounced around a bit before Chimera tipped the loose puck back toward the front of the net, it hit a Ranger defender's skate and went in for the 2-0 lead.

The Rangers would respond late in the first period when Brad Richards out muscled his way to the net and buried a Marion Gaborik pass to the slot with :42 seconds left. The Rangers would tie it in the third period on the power play when Micheal Del Zotto shot the puck from the point and it bounced off of John Carlson and then Ryan Callahan past Holtby. It set the stage for Ovechkin when the Rangers took not just one penalty, but two.

Brian Boyle, returning to the lineup for the Rangers, took the first penalty when he pulled down Mike Green on the half boards. The Caps were able to get some shots on net, but the Rangers were able to kill it off. But just :36 seconds later, Richards was nailed with an interference call on Carlson breaking into the zone. It would take Ovechkin all of four seconds on the second power play for him to shoot a sizzler past a sprawling Boyle and Lundqvist glove to give the Capitals the lead back. A lead they would keep for good.

Ovechkin, hounded by the MSG crowd each time the clock hit 8:00, was held to just one shot in game 1. Dale Hunter cut back on the forward's play time and the gimmick seemed to work. Ovi made the most of what little time he had to fire off seven shots in just 13:36 of ice time in game 2.

There was a little more jump in the Capitals play compared to game 1. It seemed they could not win the board game against the Ranger's speed. In game 2, the Caps were better able to deal with that pressure by bring help down from the forwards with the Rangers tried to set up behind the net. 

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Braden Holtby certainly made good on his promise to play better in game 2. He had some help with the defensive core blocking 24 shots in front of him. He made a few big stops including a stop on rookie Chris Kreider on a break away that led to the Chimera goal just seconds afterward.

The Caps' special teams finally got a power play goal, but they also gave up a goal on the PK.  While the power play was frustrated at times, Ovechkin's wrister seemed to catch everyone off guard. The Caps' PK was solid again, as it took a tipped shot, off of several different players for the Rangers to score with the man advantage.

Now in perfect position after splitting the games in New York, the Capitals have a chance to once again take the series lead on home ice. If they learned their lesson from the earlier round, the Caps need to jump on the Rangers early at home and keep up their tight checking style in the defensive zone. The mantra of this team is resiliency, which is nice early in the series. But it would be wise to put the pressure on the team from New York by taking the series lead.

Caps Notes:
  • Alex Ovechkin's third period goal is his career 5th game winning goal in the playoffs. Ovi also continues his stretch of not going consecutive games in a series with out a point. He was held pointless in game 7 against the Bruins and game 1 versus the Rangers.
  • Jason Chimera only has 6 career goals in the playoffs, three of which have come at Madison Square Garden. He has scored in three straight playoff games at MSG with the first goal the overtime series clinching goal in last year's playoffs.
  • Matt Hendricks and Jay Beagle both have goals this post season, but these are the first assists the pair have in these playoffs.
  • Braden Holtby's parents were in attendance at MSG.

Minor Adjustments

The Washington Capitals would be the first to admit that speed did them in during game 1. Their defense seemed overwhelmed by the Rangers ability to follow in chipped pucks and get their forecheck well established. It led to the game's first and third goals for the Rangers and put the Caps into a one game hole in the series.

What Dale Hunter has been trying to instill in his boys is a sense of quickness to get pucks out of the defensive zone. Knowing what to do with the puck and quickly establish the break out and turn away picks from the defensive zone is what the Caps' coaching staff has been working on from day one. The Caps got away from that a little bit in game one. They allowed the Rangers' forwards to create havoc by gaining the zone with speed, getting to the puck and getting the play to the front of the net.

The Capitals worked on taking the boards away in their own zone against the Rangers, but risked the open space it created. It would serve the Caps better to let the Ranger outside shots go and concentrate on the front of the net, clearing pucks and bodies from in front of their goaltender.

Braden Holtby might have answered the question; is he human? Well he was in game 1. But if the defense makes the right adjustments, Holtby should be able to backstop the outside shots. While the young goaltender seemed hard on himself, he did play poorly in his 8th career playoff game. But the young netminder has and can be a lot sharper. Give him the lead, and things go more smoothly for the Caps in general.

As far as offense is concerned, the Caps seemed to have fallen into old habits of shooting too quickly. Especially on the Rangers who are the only NHL team to refine the practice of blocking shots. Caps players talked about quality, not quantity of the shots coming in on Henrik Lundqvist after game 1's loss. They have to get the shots through and create the havoc in front of Lundqvist at the same time.

One way of doing that is more to be more patient with the shot. If the point man can draw the Ranger defender into going down, you could create the odd man opportunity needed to get quality shots on net. Another way to get shots in is to create traffic further away from the crease. Tips from above the circle and in the high slot can create more chances to get the puck through. Also the better chance of giving the initial shot blocker something else to worry about behind him.

The Capitals' power play has to start showing up. Given four opportunities in game one where the Caps could have tied it and taken the lead, they failed to do so. Those chances become more and more rare as the game carries on. They must find was to use the Rangers over aggressive penalty kill to their advantage by maintaining zone presence and patience to wear down those penalty killers on the ice.

The adjustments are minor, but could sway the momentum back on the Caps side in this series.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Caps Drop Game One

Capitals 1, Rangers 3 New York leads series 1-0
Game Summary - Event Summary

The New York Rangers took the Washington Capitals defensive system and threw it back in their face. Braden Holtby suddenly looked human has he was lit up for three goals on 14 shots, Alex Ovechkin hit more Ranger forwards than the net and Rangers got scoring from some unlikely sources. The Rangers had more jump in their step and they used it on a seemingly tired Capital squad to take the series lead with a 3-1 win at MSG.

Jason Chimera scored the only Caps' goal to tie it with mere seconds left on the clock in the second period. Brooks Laich took the puck in the neutral zone, checked the time and found a breaking Chimera with a beautiful saucer pass that beat Rangers goaltender Henrik Lunqvist five hole. It would be the only mistake the Rangers would make on the defensive end that would cost them.

The Rangers got two easy goals as Holtby seem to get rattled by the Rangers in the third period. There were some defensive lapses by the Capitals that left Rangers open for shots and they capitalized on their opportunities. One was a shot near the top of the circle that beat the young Cap netminder on the glove side. The other was a walk out in front by Ranger sniper Brad Richards and he found the smallest opening to score while Holtby was holding the post.

The glaring problem for the Capitals was their once again struggling power play. The Caps were 0 for 4 with the man advantage with penalties coming in the first and second periods against the Rangers. But the Ranger penalty kill frustrated the Capitals really only giving them much room to get shots in on Lundqvist. When they did get the puck in, the Ranger goaltender was there for the save or the goal post did the work for him.

The Caps penalty kill did okay, killing off all four of the Ranger power plays. But it was the five on five lapses that really cost the Capitals. It was not a great game for Mike Green. He was out muscled behind the net by Artem Anisimov who made a power move to the front of the net and forced the puck past Holtby. Green also had a mental lapse when he nonchalantly skated to his bench for a change, but the play turned on him and he had to catch up with a breaking Chris Kreider. Kreider would beat Holtby with the eventual game winner, and Green ends the day with the only Capital a -2.

The bottom line is this is game one in a long series. The Capitals have the time to make the adjustments. Mostly the Capitals have to return to their patient game and stay solid on the defensive end. Far too often the Caps got caught pushing the play too much which lead to Ranger chances the other way. New York would also drop a fourth man down, trying to create a 4 on 3 rush against the Caps. It looked like the Caps could exploit that.

Caps Notes:
  • Laich picked up his fourth assist of the post season. 
  • The Rangers have won five game 1s in the past eight playoff series. They have gone on to a record of 31-11 when winning the home opener.
  • Rangers out hit the Capitals 35-28, even in blocked shots 15-15, but beat the Caps in the faceoff circle 52% (26-24).

Friday, April 27, 2012

So New York It Is

#1 New York Rangers vs. #7 Washington Capitals

Game 1 Saturday 4/28, @New York 3:00 pm, NBC/CBC
Game 2 Monday 4/30, @New York 7:30 pm, NBCSN/CBC
Game 3 Wednesday 5/2, @Washington 7:30 pm, NBCSN
Game 4 Saturday 5/5, @Washington 12:30 pm, NBC/CBC
Game 5 Monday 5/7, @New York 7:30 pm, NBCSN/CBC
Game 6 Wednesday 5/9, @Washington TBD
Game 7 Saturday 5/12, @New York TBD
All times eastern

Trading a defensive minded team with an All Star goaltender in net for another defensive minded team with an All Star goaltender may just suit to the way the Washington Capitals have been playing of late. The New York Rangers pride themselves on keeping their opponents to limited chances on shots by blocking a ton of rubber in front of Henrik Lundqvist.

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Even Strength - The New York Rangers scored two less goals than the Capitals in the regular season. Ranking the pair right next to each other overall with the league. But through a playoff round, the Capitals have scored 12 goals five on five compared to the Rangers 9 goals. Both teams played in seven game series. The Rangers' offense has struggled in the playoffs so the team has had to lean heavily on their defensive efforts. They stifled the Ottawa Senators' explosive offense to just eight goals at even strength.

The Capitals have done a 180 degree turn in the playoffs. Once a free wheeling, offensive power house, they have instead clamped down on their defensive system and have had success with it especially in close games. Goals at even strength should be tough to come by for both teams. This one is starting to look like it could sway in the Caps' favor.

Power Play - In the regular season, both teams struggled at times with the extra man advantage. But the Capitals found more success with it than the Rangers at season's end. The Caps 16.7% power play efficiency would be good enough for 18th in the league. The Rangers, at 15.7%, did fair much better, settling for 23rd in the league. In the playoffs, both teams are pretty much at a draw with the power play. The Capitals fair a shade better than their opponents with their power play goal percentage at 15.8%, the Rangers at 15.6%. Call this a draw.

Penatly Kill - It was a bright spot for the Capitals in their series against the Boston Bruins. The Caps did such a good job on the PK, that it took until game six for the Bruins to score a power play goal. Boston went 2 for 23 for the series, giving the Caps a 91.3% second only to Phoenix Coyotes for best in the playoffs. The Rangers finished middle of the pack with their penalty kill (84.6%) and allowed four power play goals against. Slight edge to the Capitals.

Goaltending - Henrik Lundqvist could win the Vezina and Hart trophies for his efforts in the regular season. He is clearly the leader of this Ranger squad. He only allowed 12 goals in the previous series against Ottawa. His numbers are solid with a .940 save percentage and a 1.70 goal against average. Lundqvist also seems to play his best when the most is on the line. But the Rangers can't totally rely on their talented goaltender with out some offensive output.

Braden Holtby in contrast only played as many regular season games as he has playoff games, 7. But his numbers in the post season are nothing to snark at. A .940 save percentage and a 2.00 goals against was good enough to knock off the defending Stanley Cup Champs. Give the slight edge to the Rangers.

Final Thoughts - The Capitals on the road in the regular season was dismal. In the playoffs it has been sparkling. Defeating the reigning Stanley Cup Champions in game seven in their building has given this team the confidence boost they needed. But they will need to keep up the good play on the road as they will start against the best in the Eastern Conference at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers have been good this season at home and this will be a challenge for the Capitals.

In the regular season, the teams split their four games they have played. But it was the last game of the season that might be in the back of the heads of both teams. The Caps, previewing their patient defensive system easily handled the Rangers for the 4-1 win. The Rangers might have been looking past the Caps, but it was a win they wanted to try and win the President's Trophy.

The Rangers will have to find ways to score and put a little doubt into rookie goaltender Braden Holtby to win. If they can get their offense sparked, it could cause problems for the Capitals if they are constantly trying to come from behind having their own offensive struggles. For the Caps to win they have to get on the scoreboard early and frustrate the Ranger forwards.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Historic Series Has An End

Capitals 2, Burins 1 OT Washington wins series 4-3
Game Summary - Event Summary

It was an incredibly tight series. It was unheard of to go six straight games decided by one goal. Well, make that seven games. It would take overtime in game seven to decide a winner in this tight checking, defensive struggle and it would be a Joel Ward pouncing on a loose puck in front of Tim Thomas just under three minutes into the overtime period to eliminate the reigning Stanley Cup Champions and move to round two. The Capitals do away with the Bruins four games to three with a 2-1 win at TD Garden.

"It's what hockey is all about," Caps coach Dale Hunter said of the win in game seven. "Winning it in overtime in the seventh game, that's something special and well deserved by our guys."

It would be the unsung heroes that would show up big for the Washington Capitals in game seven. Matt Hendricks scored his first goal of the series when Milan Lucic misplayed the puck along the half boards. Jason Chimera picked up the gift, banked the pass back to John Carlson who took a quick shot at the net. Hendricks got his stick on the wrister and deflected it past Thomas for the games first goal in the first period.

The Bruins would storm back and in the second period would finally capitalize on a Braden Holtby mistake in the second period. The Caps' goaltender couldn't contain a point shot and it trickled behind him, Tyler Seguin dove for the loose puck behind Hotby and slammed it into the open net. The tying goal came in the later moments of the second period and it looked like the goal re-energized the Bruins offensive push and they took it to the young goaltender.

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Rich Peverley tried to rattle the rookie goaltender after Holtby pushed him away from the crease. He turned and faked a slash on the Caps' netminder. Holtby crossed his arms and didn't even flinch. It mirrored the Capitals demeanor all series long, they didn't get goaded into the Bruins dirty play and get worn down by their hard checking style. They played a patient game and it proved to be a great strategy against the reigning Cup champs. The teams' calm demeanor seem to come from their rookie goaltender.

As Holtby stood strong, the Caps followed suit and over time would seem inevitable. In the over time period,  Patrice Bergeron almost won it for the Bruins when a point shot rebounded to him, but he sharked the shot and the puck harmlessly drifted wide of the net. Just a couple of minutes later, the Bruins, who were going for a line change, turned the puck over by hitting Mike Knuble with the dump in pass. Knuble was able to quickly bring it up the ice and force a two on one with Ward breaking in on this right side. Knuble fought off the backchecker to get a backhanded shot off. Ward, instead of going to the side of the net, cut in front and stabbed at the loose puck that beat Thomas stick side to end the game and the series.

"I was just trying to follow [Knuble] up just in case the puck [was] loose," Ward said of his series ending, overtime goal. "I just kind of saw it and I gave it one of the hardest whacks I have ever given the puck."

The top lines for both teams seemed to be quieted by the tough defense both teams played. No points for the Caps big four of Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Nick Backstrom and Mike Green.

Special teams continued to be critical in this series. The Caps couldn't score on their only power play chance in the third period when Bergeron took a hooking call. Alex Ovechkin, who had been muffled for most of the game had a glorious chance when Mike Green found him open across the slot. But Dennis Seidenberg reached out with his leg and stopped the shot that was destined for the back of the net. But the Caps were able to kill all three of their penalties and held the Bruins scoreless with the extra man advantage. Including a golden opportunity in the dying minutes of the third period when Chimera was called for holding with 2:26 left on the clock.

"That was the probably the most frustrating part of our game was that power play that could have ended the series and the game," Bruins coach Claude Julien said after the game. "But I guess when you look at the whole picture I think it was more than that."

The more Julien was referring to was a very tight series between the Capitals and the Bruins. Through the seven games only 40 shots separated the two teams (208 for the Caps, 248 for the Bs). Only 5 power play goals were scored from a combined 42 chances. The Caps were 3 for 19, Bs were 2 for 23. But there was a glaring difference in totals for shots blocked; 92 for the Bruins and 139 for the Caps. Sacrificing the body and having good puck support in front of Holtby were key to winning against the Bruins.

"[They] have a great team over there," Hunter said of the Bruins. "We know what they are all about, they have character over there. It took everything we had. We have great character guys too and that is why it came down to seven games, one goal. That's unheard of ... You have to credit both teams for that."

"It was a challenging year for our guys," Julien said. "It was a challenging series as well. [The Capitals] made it tough on us and they deserve a lot of credit for the way that they played and the number of shots they blocked and how they helped their goaltender through and their young goaltender played extremely well."

"Seven one goal games, you don't get that very often," Holtby said of the Bruins and the tight series. "I am proud of our team, how we out dueled the defending Stanley Cup Champs. They're a great team as they showed last year and this year. The way they play is true to playoff hockey and it shows a lot about our character in here."

Caps Notes:
  • The Capitals second round scenarios pan out like this: If the Rangers defeat Ottawa, Caps will play the Rangers. If Ottawa wins, the Caps would play either the Flyers or the Devils depending on the outcome of the NJ/Florida game seven tomorrow night. Got it?
  • All 18 of the Capitals playoff wins in the last four years have come with a rookie goaltender in net.
  • This is the first time in NHL history all seven games were decided by one goal. Four games were decided in overtime while two other games were decided with in the last two minutes of the game.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

So Close...

Capitals 3, Bruins 4 1OT Series tied 3-3
Game Summary - Event Summary

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
The Capitals had to battle back each goal the Bruins scored. So the Bruins scored in the overtime period and didn't give the Caps a chance to come back. Tyler Seguin, mostly quiet for the series, nets a game winner in overtime and the series will go to a deciding game seven back in Boston.

"Any experiences you get in the playoffs, it just adds to you," Head coach Dale Hunter said of his team going into a game seven. "You know what to expect. Game 7s are exciting games because it’s do or die for both teams and they’re awesome to play in."

Mike Green got his first goal of the series. Jason Chimera and Alex Ovechkin also scored for the Capitals. Braden Holtby still played admirably but came up short. In a game that each team exchanged goals it would be the Bruins with the overtime winner after a Nick Backstrom give away in the neutral zone. Just 3:17 in the overtime period and Seguin forced a game seven.

"It’s tough, but we still have a chance on Wednesday," Backstrom lamented. "We are just going to refocus and play our best game in Boston."

The Caps looked to close out the series at home taking the Bruins to the brink of elimination. It looked as if they might be able to do it early on, getting a slew of chances on Tim Thomas early. But the Bruins had a counter attack and a point shot tipped in beat Holtby to give the visiting team the early 1-0 lead.

Green would score just under 4 minutes later as the Caps kept a good forecheck going on the Bruins. He had an earlier chance but missed the shot wide. His point shot looked as if it would also go wide, but it deflected in off of a Bruin defender's shin and in behind Thomas to knot the game up at one apiece. The Bruins would get a late period goal from David Krejci who scored on the power play.

The Caps would answer in the second period when Backstrom found a streaking Chimera breaking to the net. a simple saucer pass found the mark and Chimera scored his first goal of the series to tie the game up at two. The Bruins again would get the lead midway through the third period when Andrew Ference followed up a broken play and pounded the loose puck in.

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
It looked as if the Bruins put on the shut down mode to their defense and Ference would go home with the game winner. But the Caps would answer with under five minutes to play. Off the faceoff, Backstrom won it back to Ovechkin who tapped it off his skate to his stick and beat Thomas five hole to tie the game up at 3.

The Caps special teams were both a shining moment and a hindrance. Their penalty kill continues to impress. Even though they allowed a power play goal now in two games, they did kill off a lengthy 4 on 3 while Ovechkin sat out for taking a double minor for high sticking.

"They didn’t get much at all, especially on the 4 on 3," Holtby said of the effort of his penalty kill. "Even when they tried to shoot we were in the lane every time and that’s hard to do on a 4 on 3. It was good, that kept us in the game."

It even gave the Caps a little momentum in the second period. But they were 0 for 4 on their own power play. At times they could have taken the lead with the man advantage, but the power play unit often looked disjointed and sloppy at times.

Game seven will be in Boston on Wednesday night. Both teams will take the extra day off to rest up as both teams prepare for a do or die situation. The Caps just have to keep doing what they are doing, playing stingy defense and making the most of their chances when they get them.

"I’d have to answer that it’s fitting for us," Claude Julien, Bruins bench boss said of taking the series back to Boston. "When you look at the way the series has been played, you’re right; it’s been a dog fight from start to finish."

Caps Notes:
  • All six games have been decided by one goal. This is the first time in NHL history that the first six games of a series have been one-goal contests.
  • Green tallied his first goal of the playoffs and the sixth of his career. He is now tied with Sylvain Cote for seventh place in goals among defensemen in franchise history. It is also his first goal for the Capitals since October, Green has missed 50 games with a groin and concussion injuries.
  • Caps out blocked the Bruins 12 to 9.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Pushed To The Brink

Capitals 4, Bruins 3 Washington leads series 3-2
Game Summary - Event Summary

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Troy Brouwer scored with just 1:27 left in regulation to give the Washington Capitals their first lead of the series and pushed the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins to the brink of elimination. It didn't come easy. After getting the series' first two goal lead, the Caps let the lead slip away. A late power play gave the Caps the little room they needed to take the seven game series back to the Verizon Center with a shot at knocking off the Bruins.

It was a typical Boston/Washington game thus far in this series. Tight checking and two goaltenders going toe to toe with some ten bell saves. It would take a mad scramble in the second period and an injured Bruin to finally open space for the Caps. Joe Corvo laid sprawled on the ice after blocking a shot. But the B's couldn't get control of the puck to whistle down the play and the Capitals took full advantage. Alex Semin found the loose puck in front of Tim Thomas and pounded home the rebound to open the scoring.

Jay Beagle, mostly known for his face offs and defensive play, also scored for the Caps. His first career NHL playoff goal and point. It started with Beagle making the defensive play to get the puck t of the zone and the forecheck forced the Bruins to dump it up the boards, Beagle intercepted the dump out and walked in and shot it on net. The puck hit the Bruin defender's stick and fooled Thomas to give the Caps the first team in this series a two goal lead.

After that, it seemed the Caps controlled the pace and dictation of the game. But blown coverage on the defensive end for the Capitals left Denis Seidenberg open for a perfect shot that fooled Braden Holtby. Then just :28 seconds later, Brad Marchand scored a garbage goal off of the point shot between Holtby's pads. Just like that, the game was tied going into the third period.

Mike Knuble, on the roster replacing a bruised up Matthieu Perreault, crashed the net on a Joel Ward shot and was rewarded with a rebound and a goal just 3:21 in the third period.

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The way Capitals' goaltender Holby was playing, it looked as if that would be the final goal of the game. He stone cold robbed youngster Tyler Seguin when a pass found the crafty forward alone in front of the net. But Holtby stretched out and made the pad save keeping the scored 3-2 at that point. Holtby would finish the game with 34 saves and had a .918 save percentage for the game.

Special teams would take over for the rest of the game. After going 0 for 14 on the power play in the series, the Boston Bruins finally notched a power play goal on the Caps stingy penalty kill. Johnny Boychuk got a slapper from the point through Holtby to tie the game at 3 with over 11 minutes left in the game. The Bruins nearly had an earlier goal on the power play, but Zdeno Chara hit the crossbar.

Benoit Pouliot took a slashing call on Nick Backstrom to give the Caps the extra man advantage. In the previous power play, the Capitals almost allowed a shorthanded goal when an errant pass from Marcus Johansson missed the target for Brook Laich and Pouliot was in for a break away hit the post with his shot. For most of the power play, the Caps looked disjointed. But a streaking Brouwer found a small opening above Thomas' glove and put away the game winner with 1:27 to play.

At times the play got away from the tight defensive stingy play that has dominated the series. There was some firehouse hockey in the third period with teams exchanging chances, Alex Ovehckin nearly corralling a bouncing puck on one end and Marchand nearly undressing Mike Green on the other.

It wasn't free of the rough stuff either. Both teams took to the game physically with the Bruins outhitting the Capitals 35 to 27. Thomas took exception to John Carlson crashing the net and nearly took off the young defender's head with his blocker. Chara got his bell rung when he took Jason Chimera to the wall, and Chimmer gave him a love tap with the back of his elbow as the two were tied up. Both teams battled in corner scrums and clashes for loose pucks. For the most part, both teams kept their discipline.

The series comes back to the Verizon Center where the Caps look to end the series at home. But the toughest test of the playoffs would be to face the Bruins who were 4-0 in games facing elimination, including the final two games of the Finals with Vancouver.

Caps Notes:
  • Seidenberg's goal ended a streak of 84 minutes, 9 seconds of shutout by Caps' netminder Holtby. 
  • Danny Sabourin was recalled to Hershey and Michal Neuvirth made his playoff debut as back up goaltneder.
  • Alex Ovechkin finished with a -1, 5 shots, one shot blocked, one missed shot and 5 hits. He was held with out a point for the second game of this series, the first was in game one.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Semin's Laser Ties Series

Capitals 2, Bruins 1 Series Tied 2-2
Game Summary - Event Summary

The only thing that has been consistent about the play of Alexander Semin is his inconsistent play in the post season. From being a game changer in one series to completely falling off the map in the next, fans and experts have criticized the Capitals winger of having all this pure raw talent but wasting it. It certainly wasn't wasted tonight as Semin's laser beat Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas for the only power play goal of the night and helped the Capitals tie up the series with the Boston Bruins at two games apiece with a 2-1 win.

"There was a good shot there by Semin," Bruins bench boss Claude Julien told reporters. "Couldn’t have asked for a better shot."

The Caps could not have. With both teams aching to stay penalty free, the Bruins were called for three in fractions to the Capitals' one. Washington had their chances in the first two, but when Semin circled to the side board from behind the Boston net on the third powerplay, just about everyone stopped and hesitated. Semin pulled the puck back and placed the perfect wrist shot through the legs of Chara (who didn't know whether to advance to block the shot or stand pat) and beat Thomas through the crook of his left elbow to hit the top corner of the net. It happened with just 1:17 left in the second period.

Marcus Johansson also found the net, just 1:22 after the opening face off. After some puck mismanagement by the Bruins in the neutral zone, Ovi took out one defender with a hit and it opened a two on one with Brooks Laich with the puck and Johansson streaking down the right side. A pretty pass through the defender by Laich set up the first goal of the game for the Caps as MoJo shot high over a sprawling Thomas.

It would be the only shot for the Capitals until the dying moments of the first. The Bruins jumped all over the Capitals. They out shot the Caps 14-3 and would get the equalizer over a turnover. Rich Peverley found himself on a two on one of his own, but faked the pass which froze Caps' net minder Braden Holtby and he found room on the short side.

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Holtby, who at times has shown bouts of goaltending genius, was once again a solid back end for the Capitals when things broke down defensively. Holtby would stop 44 of 45 shots for a .978 save percentage for the game.

"[The Bruins] came out real hard tonight," Caps coach Dale Hunter said.  "[Their] forecheck was hard and we turned the puck over a few times. Holtby was very good. He stood tall and kicked out a lot of rubber tonight."

Again it came down to two goaltenders matching each other save for save as Thomas and Holtby stood tall when they needed to be. Earning the game's first star, Holtby has been the difference maker for the Capitals this post season. Even in the last second of the game, the puck found his glove and he jabbed it skyward as the horn sounded.

He had some help. Holtby's stats are impressive, but the Capitals were committed to blocking shots in front of him including the last minute of play where players were sprawling in front of heavy point shots to preserve the win. Jay Beagle seemed to be everywhere to stop a puck, stopping five himself to lead his team in blocked shots. Even Alex Ovechkin sacrificed the body to stop three shots. When shots did get through, the Capitals seemed to be there to gobble up any rebounds and keep the Bruins from getting to loose pucks in front of Holtby.

The Capitals were using the body more effectively this game as well. Matt Hendricks came with the body leading his team in hits with seven. They out hit the Bruins 44 to 34. John Erskine played his first game in nearly two months and his physical presence was felt, nullifying the Bruins big forwards in front of the net.

"It’s unbelievable," Erskine said of returning to the line up. "I was watching last game here. Just to jump on the ice with those guys and have the fans going nuts. It’s playoff hockey so it’s a lot of fun."

While the hitting was high, the Caps stayed disciplined. Taking only one peanlty, a hooking call to Mike Knuble, the Caps kept the special teams in their favor. Their PP scored, their PK kept it out.

Giveaways were a sour point with the Caps in game 4. They turned the puck over 14 times with 12 players guilty of losing the puck at one point or another. On one turnover, just moments before Alex Semin's game winner, led to a odd man rush up the ice for the Bruins. The hustle of Johansson saved a goal as he reached for the cross ice pass to Milan Lucic and tipped the puck harmlessly to the corner. It is an area the Caps will need to tighten up.

The Capitals were badly outshot all game as well. They only really sustained enough pressure for 15 shots in the second period, but only three shots in the first and third periods of play.

"Giving up that first goal and playing catch-up hockey," Bruins coach Julien said. "We tied the game. We were right back where we wanted to be. But at the end of the night the results weren’t the ones we wanted. When you shoot 40 shots on net you would expect your team to get more than one goal so there’s obviously some areas that we’re not happy with."

The series now becomes a best of three games and it shifts back to Boston for a back to back afternoon tilts on Saturday and back to the phone booth Sunday. That is three games in four nights. The Caps are sitting pretty right now with the series tied up at two and if they continue to do the same as tonight, albeit with less turnovers, the Caps could take the series lead on Boston ice.

"I think we just [have] to carry that momentum into Boston and get a good start there too," said Erskine.

"I always said after the first game, it’s going to be [a] long series and you never know what’s going to happen," the Capitals' captain said of the back to back games on the horizon. "Again, step-by-step, game-by-game we going to take it and we are going to try to win the series."

Caps Notes:
  • The Capitals have the only two power play goals in the series and it is their second straight game with a PP tally.
  • Keith Aucoin received his first career playoff point with an assist on Semin's goal.
  • Mike Knuble replaced the suspended Nick Backstrom for game 4.
  • Per Caps PR: Marcus Johansson scored his first goal of the playoffs. He now has collected eight points (3g-5a) in 13 career playoff games. Johansson has tallied more playoff points than any other player from his 2009 draft class.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Maybe For The Best

NHL's director of player safety Brendan Shanahan handed down a one game suspension to Capitals' Nick Backstrom for his high cross check on Bruins' Rich Peverley. It actually was not a handed suspension, but the league allowed the match penalty to continue with it's automatic one game sit out. In other words, the league agreed with the referee's assertion that the cross check was worthy of the given match penalty.

What is done, is done. Backstrom will sit out for an important game four where the Caps will try to salvage the home stand to tie up the Series. The Caps though have been without Backstrom for three of four games against the Bruins in the regular season. They won all three.

The loss of an elite player like Backstrom dies force the role players to step their game up. While we talk about Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin stepping up their efforts in this series, we tend to lose sight of others like Matty Perreault, Jason Chimera and Marcus Johansson all have to take their games to the next level.

If the Caps hope to have a chance to take this series, they have to stick to what got them there. And that includes support players adding to the collective. It will have to happen as offensive weapons are being taken away by solid Bruins' defense and the League Brass.

Jeff Halpern is the likely replacement for Backstrom. The lines will change up a bit because of the one game penalty.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Offense Shows Up

Capitals 3, Bruins 4 Boston leads series 2-1
Game Summary - Event Summary

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Zdeno Chara had the last laugh. His shot with just under two minutes to play deflected off of Roman Hamrlik's stick and beat Braden Holtby for the game winner. It capped what many were expecting another low scoring affair. Both teams ignited their offenses and not even a raucous home crowd could push the Capitals to a home win as the Boston Bruins take game three by a score of 4-3 and a series lead as well.

The Caps were using their speed well on the forecheck early in the game, eventually leading to a Bruin penalty. Alex Semin corralled a loose puck and fired it on net and it slipped past Tim Thomas for the series first power play goal. Things got a bit chippy though as the game wore on and the Referees seem to be playing the Bruins tune when Nick Backstrom and Milan Lucic were called for matching penalties at the end of the first period. That lead to a four on four and things opened up for both teams.

Rich Peverly scored just :35 seconds into the second period to tie the game and Alex Ovechkin answered just :15 seconds later to restore the Caps lead. Ovi took a flip pass from Brooks Laich and he was able to break through the Bruins top defensive pair. As the puck was bouncing, he shot it past Thomas for his first goal of the series. Laich himself had quite a game, scoring his first of the series breaking down the right wing side with a beautiful feed from Backstrom. He out waited the aggressive Thomas and was able to beat him high after the Bruins goaltender went down.

The Caps seem to have a handle on this game for most of the first half. But they scrambled for much of the second half of the game and the Bruins took advantage. Holtby did not play poorly, a few of those shots he would have liked to have back, like Peverly's goal that hit his glove and helmet but still found it's way to the back of the net. The game winner off of Chara's shot was deflected past Holtby.

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Special teams finally played a role in this series. But it would be the four on four variety that made the difference for the Bruins. With the open ice, the Caps seemed to scramble too much. Two of the B's goals came from four on four situations. The Capitals still have the only power play goal of the series as their penalty killing is still hot. The Bruins have yet to score a goal on their power play (knock on wood).

Part of the Bruins success comes mostly from turning this series into an emotional one. The Capitals seemed to do a good job of turning the other cheek, not letting the after whistle stuff get to them at TD Garden. But at the phone booth, in front of the red faithful, they seem to be caught up in the after whistle scrums and letting the Bruins get under their skin.

Backstrom seemed to take his physical game too far when he took a cross checking penalty late in the game that lead to the four on four game winner by Chara. Then he hit Rich Peverley high with a cross check earning him a match penalty that comes with an automatic one-game suspension pending an official review from player safety. Although it did look like the Bruins embellished the first hit, Backstrom could be out for game four for his high cross check on Peverley.

The Capitals need to get back to their bread and butter in this series, which is play a more patient game. They at times looked very sloppy on both ends of the ice and the extra curricular stuff after the whistles didn't really do them any favors. The Bruins are doing a better job of clogging up the front of the net, something the Caps did well in games one and two was to keep shots to the outside and let Holtby see them all. That didn't happen here and as a result, the Bruins take the series lead off of garbage goals and traffic shots.

Caps lose the home ice advantage giving up one game at home. But with two days off between games three and four there is time for them to regroup and get back to what they need to get done. The Capitals were 47% in the face off dot, which is not helpful. Jeff Halpern, who has been a healthy scratch, could come in and help in that regard if Backstrom is indeed out for game four.

Caps Notes:
  • Alex Ovechkin moved passed his head coach Dale Hunter to move into second for Capitals career playoff goals with his tally tonight.
  • Even though they lost the game, Caps' centerman Brooks Laich earned the game's first star. 
  • It is Backstrom's first match penalty of his career, assessed at 20:00 of the third period.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

All Tied Up

Capitals 2, Bruins 1 2OT Series tied 1-1
Game Summary - Event Summary

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Braden Holtby probably did not think his first two games in the NHL playoffs, the story line would follow him. The way the 22 year old played for the Capitals in the first two games has the series all tied up between Washington and the Boston Bruins. Just add a couple more overtime periods to the mix and a goal by Nick Backstrom early in the second overtime, and the Caps go back home tonight with the series tied at one game a piece with their 2-1 double overtime victory.

Troy Brouwer got things started for the Capitals in scoring for the series. Late in the second period, Alex Ovechkin was once again stifled along the boards, but he threw a shot at the net. After a few bounces, the Bruin defender Greg Zanon was afraid to cover the puck in the crease and Tim Thomas did not want to get his stick in the face of the sprawling Zanon. Brouwer, who was cutting hard to the net, found the loose puck and jabbed it under Thomas for the first goal of the series for the Capitals.

The goal looked like it had the legs to hold up as the game winner, but an unfortunate bounce off Jeff Schultz's leg and some hustle by Bruin forward Benoit Pouloit, the Bruins were able to tie the game with seven minutes left in the third.

While chances did come for both teams, it seemed neither side was willing to relent their defensive strategy. Credit Dale Hunter for mixing up some of the defensive make up often going to a one - four trap, to a one-two-two, and even yes a Tampa inspired one-three-one at times. But teams were working hard to keep chances minimal for the other team. And that carried over into the overtime periods.

But after a seemingly harmless shot by Backstrom that forced an early faceoff draw in the second overtime to the right of Thomas, fortunes changed for the Caps. They even lost the face off draw. Marcus Johansson showed some skilled stick work to take the puck off of a Bruins defender's stick while being tied up by another player. When he knocked the puck free, he pulled it back to an open Backstrom who buried the bouncing pass near side on Thomas.

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
The one-up-manship between Thomas and Holtby stole the show. Matching at times shot for shot, both goaltenders where able to keep their respective teams in this game. With the win in overtime, Holtby now ties Tim Thomas with a .83 goals against average and leads the league in save percentage with a .973. He stopped 43 shots in this game and had a .977 save percentage.

Hunter did make a switch in lines for Game 2, putting Johansson up on the second line to play with Backstrom and Alex Semin and putting Jason Chimera back on the third line. The move did make the second line a bit more of a threat. Hunter also tried to find ways of getting Ovechkin out from under foot of Zdeno Chara, often double shifting the left winger or throwing him out with different lines to create more space for him.

When he was not concerned with hitting, Ovechkin turned his focus in Game 2 towards shots. He would get 3 shots on net and still got some physical play in with 5 hits. Jay Beagle had a few good chances to score himself, leading the team with 6 shots on Thomas.

The Caps' PK once again impressed, killing off the only two penalties they took. But the power play again struggled going 0 for 3 which included seeing Chara sit for two minutes. Although they failed to score a power play goal, the Caps did see some momentum (and shots) come their way because of it.

While the PP struggled, the Caps' overall defense was spectacular at times. When it faltered, Holtby was there with the save. Karl Alzner played his best game thus far in the post season, earning the game's second star. He was a +1, with an assist to boot. He also lead everyone on the ice, Caps and Bruins, in blocked shots with 5. He was spectacular as a shut down defenseman paired with John Carlson. The pair were able to keep the Bruins' top line to just nine shots, 0 goals, 0 assists.

The Caps also shored up the faceoff dot a little. They mostly went with three men in the faceoff dot in Backstrom, Brooks Laich and Beagle. Overall the strategy worked as the Capitals won 53% of their faceoffs. The game winning goal came off of a faceoff loss.

The Capitals are in a really good position coming back to the phone booth with a win at hand. Making it into a five game series, they are hoping to feed off of the home crowd energy on Monday night.

Caps Notes:
  • Alex Ovechkin has never been held with out a point in two straight playoff games in his career. He had an assist tonight.
  • Per Caps PR: The Capitals are 8-6 all-time in the playoffs in Game 2’s when trailing 1-0 in a series. Since 2006, teams that win Game 2 of a series have gone on to win 38 of those 55 series (.691 winning percentage).
  • Mike Green led all Caps in ice time (33:28) and led the team in plus/minus with a +2. He had 4 shots on net, had 3 hits and 3 blocked shots.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Holtby Stands Tall, Caps Fall In OT

Capitals 0, Bruins 1 OT1 Boston leads series 1-0
Game Summary - Event Summary

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
The first star for the Washington Capitals just happened to be a 22 year old rookie goaltender Braden Holtby playing in his first career Stanley Cup game. In the opening round of the seven game series between the Bruins and Caps, Holtby would force overtime with 29 saves through the first three periods of play. But a slapshot off the wing was the only shot to beat the young netminder by Bruin Chris Kelly would do the Caps in as Boston takes the 1-0 series lead.

Holtby stood tall for most of the game taking on a barrage of Bruins' shots, including a long series of penalty kills in the second period. The B's didn't make it easy on the rookie netminder getting into his grill every chance they got. Holtby even took a rough penalty punching out a charging Chris Kelly as both teams were playing 4 on 4. He was 29 for 29 through the first three periods, but the first shot by the Bruins in the overtime period was the game winner, just 1:18 into the extra frame. He would earn second star status for the game.

After playing somewhat solidly in front of him, the Caps did give too much room to a streaking Kelly who powered a slap shot glove side beating Holtby. The Capitals had 22 blocked shots compared to the Bruins' 17. Roman Hamrlik lead the team with 5 blocked shots.

Alex Ovechkin may not have accumulated the shots in this game, but he did rack up on hits. He had an explosive hit on Dennis Seidenberg in the second period that sent the TD Garden faithful to their feet. But he only had a single shot on net, even though he threw his body around for 7 hits. In the playoffs more is expected of the Caps' captain. He didn't deliver much offensively and was often stifled by the Bruins defense that often closed three players down on the star player.

As much as the bodies were flying around, it would be the smallest Cap that made the biggest difference out front. Matthieu Perreault was all over the ice tonight, and even had a good chance late in the third, but couldn't corral the puck for a shot off a rebound. In fact the Caps did a terrible job jumping on rebounds on some mediocre saves by Tim Thomas.

The Capitals' PK was perfect tonight, able to kill off all four penalties they took. While the PK was chugging right along, the Caps power play is still struggling. With only two chances all game, the Caps need the PP to click soon or it will be a short post season for them. 

But it is not all doom and gloom. The Caps are only down a game in a seven game series. They were able to keep the crowd out of it for most of the game, stifled and frustrated the Bruin forwards and nearly wore them down as the game went along. It was a great road game in a long series.

The Caps will have to lean on the third and fourth lines to find success. With a deep defensive squad the Bruins have, it will be important for the role-playing guys to step up.

Caps Notes:
  • This was the first playoff game in franchise history in which the Caps went to overtime tied 0-0.
  • Mike Knuble, Dmitry Orlov, Cody Eakin, Jeff Halpern, and Mattias Sjogren were the healthy scratches for the Capitals.
  • Weird happening at the end of the game as the Bruins celebrated the overtime goal. The Fans punched a pane of glass out and it hit David Krejci. Hopefully that is a bad omen for the B's going on in this series.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Didn't Think We'd Get Here

I am reposting one of my most popular posts from 2008. It is the rules for the playoff beard. Of course there are a slew of Cap crazies that do this for charity, but I thought why not go over the rules one more time. I think the Capitals will need all the help we can give them, even if it's superstitious.

So Boston It Is

It has been a trying year on the Washington Capitals. A season that was steeped in a roller coaster of emotions. The highest of highs, to the lowest of lows, the Capitals have clawed their way to seventh in the Eastern Conference. Breaking 5 straight seasons as Division Champs, just two points shy of that title. Limping (quite literally for some) into a post season.

But it is a new season; the post season. And the Capitals will settle for starting things off on the road against the reigning Stanley Cup Champions Boston Bruins. Let's break down the match up and show a few key stats between the pair of teams.

Even Strength - Advantage Boston Bruins. No one in the league has scored more goals at even strength than the Bruins have. They have 191 goals for playing five on five and their goals for/against ratio at even strength is 1.34 and is good enough for third in the league in that department. As for the Caps, they are middle of the pack with 149 goals (15th in the league) and a goals for/against ration of 1.00.

Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images
Power Play - Advantage even. Believe or not, the Bruins and Capitals are 15th and 17th respectfully with the extra man advantage. The Bruins power play has hit a lull, a bright spot in the playoffs last year. They are 17.2% effective. The Capitals once mighty power play has cooled off in the last two seasons. At 16.7%, they find themselves in the same struggling boat as the Bruins to make teams pay for taking penalties. But the Capitals fail in allowing short handed goals against with 10 going in on them this season. Tied with Pittsburgh in that category, and only the Red Wings (11), Lightning (12) and Devils (13) are worse in the league allowing goals in on the power play. Boston has only allowed one short handed goal, best in the league.

Penalty Kill - Advantage Boston Bruins. The Bruins aren't the best in the league, but they are shade better than the Capitals. Ranked 11th in the league, it would be wise for the Caps to shore up their power play as the Bruins have a 83.6% kill rate. The Caps are ranked 21st in the league with a 81.6% kill rate. However, the Caps of late have been stellar in the PK department. They were only scored on twice in the last 12 games. They killed off 26 penalties during that stretch.

Goaltending - Advantage Boston Bruins. Caps will be going to the playoffs with what looks like the third in line back up to their number one and a back up that is the only one other goaltender with a NHL contract that has seen zero time at the NHL level this year for the Capitals. Braden Holtby will have to hold down the fort with only seven games under his belt this season. In fact, Holtby has only been in net for 21 games at the NHL level. What is surprising is his record, which is a not-to-shabby 14-4-3, a .929 save percentage and 2.02 GAA. His back up, Danny Sabourin has more experience with 57 NHL games under his belt. However his stats aren't great at 18-25-5 and posting a career save percentage of .898 and 2.88 GAA. Boston is solid with Tim Thomas in net, although not as good as he was last season. He has 35 wins in 59 starts, a .920 saver percentage and 2.36 GAA. Marty Turco is not available for the playoffs for the B's as he was signed after the trade deadline. Instead it will be minor leaguer Anton Khudobin doing the back up honors for Thomas.

Final Thoughts

Honestly, a road start for the Capitals is not the best thing going into the playoffs. But I don't think it is a bad thing necessarily. While it is nice to start at home in the post season, the Caps have sort of taken that part of their game for granted. Their best games in the playoffs have been on the road. All of their game seven debacles and two early loses last year on the way to being swept happened in the confines of the Verizon Center.

The Caps have had success against Tim Thomas and the Bruins at TD Garden. Both wins were one goal decisions and both were in the month of March. In fact the Capitals won the season series against the B's 3-1 this year, including a win with out the help of Alex Ovechkin for one game serving a suspension at the time.

The Bruins will beat up on the Capitals as they have the clear size advantage when it comes being physical on the puck. With some big boys on the back end in Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic and his ugly mug up front, the Bruins will look to take the Capitals physically. But this is also a team that has struggled against skilled teams like the Caps and Penguins. If the Capitals can break down the Bruins size with speed, there might be a glimmer of hope for the Capitals to make it out of the first round.

But there is more to come as I will break down what the Caps need to do in the playoffs to find success, and of course my fearless predictions (which usually don't stand up past the first round, but hey it's fun to do).