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.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Tough Loss In The Big "D"

Capitals 1, Stars 2
Game Summary, Event Summary

It was a great start for the Washington Capitals, taking an early 1-0 lead on their power play only to see their woes at even strength continue as they lose in Dallas against the new look Stars.

Alex Ovechkin scored again on the power play, giving him a three game goal streak. Three of his four tallies have been with the extra man. Braden Holtby easily outplayed his counterpart Kari Lehtonen making some spectacular saves down the stretch to keep his team in it.

Nick Backstrom had a goal disallowed after incidental contact as he cross checked Lehtonen in the face as the puck dropped in behind the Dallas goal keeper. The no goal decision by the officials proved costly for the team in red, as a bad turn over led to a Alex Chiasson goal to give the Stars the lead and the eventual game winner.

The Caps had real trouble with the Stars forecheck. Their team speed was tough for the Caps to handle to even clear the puck from their own zone. The physical play of the Stars also kept the Caps off kilter.

Five on five play by the Capitals was dismal and it needs to take advantage of teams not wanting to face their power play. Instead of moving their feet and finding the open guy, the Caps seem dead set on making the same break out plays and allowing the other team to stand them up at the opposing blue line.

What is good about a game like tonight is that all the woes the Capitals faced are fixable. The decisions the defenders in their own end needed to be faster and more confident with moving the puck up. With as good as this team on the power play, it seems to wane at even strength.

Caps get a few days off to re-group and face their first divisional foe on Thursday in Carolina.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Come Back Caps

The Washington Capitals took the long way to get their first win if the season, but they overcame a 3-0 hole the Calgary Flames put them in to win their home opener 5-4 in the shoot out. A roller coaster game, much like their season opener in Chicago except the better out come, the Caps overcame a lethargic, sloppy first where the Flames just out worked the good guys in their barn. 

My 10 thoughts on the home opener:

1. Conner Carrick continues to impress. After a bit of an overwhelming moment in Chicago, the kid scored his first career goal when he jumped from the sin bin and Marcus Johansson fed him a break away pass. He would be the first Capital to score a first career goal in the home opener since Alex Ovechkin scored two in his NHL debut. 

2. I miss Dennis Wideman. 

3. Michal Grabovski is really playing like a born again forward. Let's hope it lasts. He had a great pass in the middle of chaos to Nick Backstrom for the thing goal. That guy is going to get a pay raise. 

4. Jack Hillen just can't catch a break. After an injury that put him out for 25 games last season, Hillen to a hard (legal) hit and it looked as if his knee buckled. He left the game and did not return. It is expected he will miss a substantial number of games. 

5. Alex Ovechkin is not through making noise yet. He scored a pair of goals, one on the power play and one at even strength. He also iced his shoot out attempt. He has three goals through 2 games and looks like he is primed to score a lot under the new Adam Oates system. 

6. Braden Holtby is off to a shaky start. While the third goal was not his fault, Holtby failed to challenge the shooter on the previous two. He wasn't out front, squaring up and challenging the shooter. He was passive and he sat deep in his net. He was replaced by Neuvirth who stepped in and made some key late game saves to get the Caps into the shoot out realm. 

7. Martin Erat's line didn't see much action in the third period. Oates shortened his bench to get his team back into the game. Don't read into it much as that line is used more in a defensive capacity anyway. 

8. The Caps are 12-2-1 in home openers at Verizon Center. 

9. Tom Wilson stood up for his teammate Hillen after the hit. It's a good teammate thing to do, but instead if charging the Capitals up, they were flat for some time after the altercation. Things did get chippy between the two teams that hardly see each other. 

10. Both the Caps' power plays and penalty kills were top notch. The Caps are 5 for 9 with the extra man, while the PK held when it needs to. 

Capitals faced yet another Western Conference foe when they travel to Dallas to take on the Stars. Caps must continue to tighten up their defensive game 5 on 5 as well as limit their turn overs. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Rangers Force Game Seven

Capitals 0, Rangers 1
Scoresheet - Event Summary

Series tied 3-3

Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images
It would be a deflected shot off of a Washington Capitals' defender that beat Braden Holtby that would decide game six's fate. It would be enough for the New York Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist to hold off elimination and force a game seven back in DC as they down the Capitals 1-0.

Special teams were key, in so much as the power play meant nothing to either team. The Capitals were able to kill off all five infractions they took. While the Rangers didn't give their opponents a single power play through 60 minutes of play. The only penalties called against New York happened at the 20:00 mark of the third period after a post game scrum erupted.

While the Rangers were "perfect" by not taking a penalty, the game was frothed with cheap hits and missed calls. Two of the five penalties against the Caps were retaliatory strikes after the Rangers initiated the fact with a cheap shot or a bad hit. Jack Hillen was called for roughing after Ranger captain Ryan Callahan gave the defender an elbow to the head and Hillen went back after him. Mike Green claimed he was slew footed before he turned and cross checked Derek Dorsett.

Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images
But the Capitals undisciplined play would cost them in the end as the team remained out of sync for much of the game. Alex Ovechkin had his moments. He had a few heavy hits through out the game, unfortunate for Dan Girardi who was on the receiving end for at least two of them.

The Ranger goal came after some sustained pressure by the home team. The Capitals trying to keep most of the shots in their own zone to the outside, but a point shot by Derek Brassard bounced off a couple of Capitals in front of the net to beat Braden Holtby. It would tarnish an absolute gem of a game by the young goaltender who faced down 28 shots and kept his team with in arms reach.

The Capitals and Rangers will face off in an epic game seven tomorrow night at Verizon Center. Capitals will look to make it to the next round with a win at home.

Caps Notes:
  • Speaking of penalties, the Rangers seem to be raking in the opportunities. The disparity is whopping at Madison Square Garden where the Caps have been whistled for 15 fouls, while the home team only 5 in this series.
  • Ovechkin finished with 5 shots, 3 hits in 19:03 in ice time.
  • At the end of the game it looked as if Brian Boyle body slammed Mike Green to the ice after popping the Caps' defenders helmet off. Green appeared to be fine.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Caps Take Rangers To Brink

Capitals 2, Rangers 1 OT
Scoresheet - Event Summary

Washington leads series 3-2

Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images
Mike Ribeiro has had a pretty quiet series thus far. A few assists, some solid play on the power play. But tonight, Ribeiro goes from a dull quietness to amp up the volume in Chinatown as he slipped a deflected shot past Henrik Lundqvist in overtime as the Capitals take Rangers to the brink of elimination with a 2-1 win. The Caps now go up 3 games to 2.

The Rangers did get off to a quick start, scoring the first goal of the game just :58 seconds into the first period. Derek Brassard shuffled the puck from behind the net past Steve Oleksy to an open Brian Boyle in front of the net. Just like that, the Rangers had a one goal lead. After that, the Rangers really clogged up the neutral zone and Ranger net minder Lundqvist did the rest.

It would take a bone head play by Boyle in the second period who took a retaliatory slash to Ribeiro's legs in front of the Ranger net. Literally eleven seconds later Joel Ward buried a Marcus Johansson pass to tie the game at one.

The Capitals' special teams continues to impress in the post season. They tied the game on the power play and was 1 for 2 on the night as the Rangers tried to stay out of the penalty box. Their penalty kill was a perfect 4 for 4 including when the Capitals took two straight penalties when Jack Hillen was tapped for body slamming a Ranger, then John Carlson batted the puck over the glass for a delay of game "puck over glass" penalty.

Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images
The Caps killed both to survive the second, and then dominated the third period. Out shooting the Rangers 13-4 in the final period, Washington was unable to solve Lundqvist. The game would be decided in overtime.

Unlike the previous three periods, the overtime frame would be froth with chances for both teams. The play opened up as both teams tried to take each other to the brink of elimination. The firehouse hockey would give Mathieu Perreault a golden opportunity but Lundqvist came up with the outstretched leg pad save.

A few minutes after that the Capitals finally found some offensive pressure as the puck made it way around to Karl Alzner who sent a snapper on net. The puck hit Troy Brouwer in front of the net and trickled to Ribeiro who got position on his defender John Moore. And just like that, the Caps win game five in dramatic fashion and regains the series lead as it heads back to New York for an afternoon game at MSG.

This would be Ribeiro's first game winning play off goal, overtime or otherwise. It capped off a great effort by the Caps to keep the Rangers from scoring again after their early tally in the first. The Rangers pressured but Braden Holtby held it out even with long stretches of not seeing much rubber come his way in the third period. He would make some solid saves in the over time period included a chance by Rick Nash in close on a wrap around shot.

Capitals have a chance to end the Rangers' season on Mother's Day.

Caps Notes:
  • Per Caps PR: Tom Wilson made his NHL debut tonight, becoming just the fourth Capitals player to make his NHL debut in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The first three were Chris Felix (4/10/1988), Grant Jennings (4/26/1988) and Trent Whitfield (4/17/2000). Wilson became the first Caps teenager to make his NHL debut in the playoffs, becoming the fifth teenager to suit up for the Capitals in a playoff game (Bob Carpenter, Scott Stevens, Kevin Hatcher, Yvon Corriveau – according to ELIAS). He skated 6:24 and registered one shot and four hits.
  • Ribeiro was solid in the faceoff circle, winning 70% of his draws and nearly perfect on defensive zone draws. 
  • Joel Ward and Mike Ribeiro both scored their first goals of the series. Ward his 11th career playoff tally, Ribeiro his sixth career playoff goal.
  • Matt Hendricks led Caps in blocked shots with seven.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Parade Of Penalties Punishes Caps

Capitals 3, Rangers 4
Score Sheet - Event Summary

Washington leads series 2-1

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
The New York Rangers finally figured out how to score on the power play, and their two extra man tallies would keep the Washington Capitals in a perpetual state of playing from behind as they drop game three at Madison Square Garden 4-3. The Rangers avoid the deadly 0 and 3 series drop and crawl back into the series trailing the Capitals 2 games to one.

The once mighty Capitals' penalty kill was humbled when they were whistled for six infractions. The Rangers were credited for only one power play goal as Brian Boyle's snapper was deemed after Joel Ward had left the penalty box, but the Capitals could not get their momentum going in any real tangible direction after constantly coming back from being a man down.

Nick Backstrom, Mike Green and Jack Hillen scored goals for the Capitals. Backstrom got the scoring off and gave the Capitals an early 1-0 lead just 4:06 into the first period. He deflected down a high shot from John Carlson that beat Henrik Lundqvist beneath his pads. The Capitals' penalty woes started to take effect when Ward took a high sticking call and Boyle scored his first of the post season just as the penalty had expired.

The Rangers took the lead when Braden Holtby tripped up Rick Nash and Derick Brassard made the goaltender pay for his transgression. The Capitals did manage to tie the game up. Green's goal was off of sort of broken play. Mathieu Perreault corralled the puck and threw it back to Green open on the point. With the bodies in front of the net, Lundqvist was screened on the shot and the Caps' defenseman picked the top corner for his second goal of the series.

Even with that huge goal, the Caps just seemed out of sync. The Rangers took advantage of some pretty shoddy coverage by their visiting foes when Brassard dug the puck out of the corner and threw it in front of the net. Arron Asham crashing the slot, buried home his first goal of the playoffs.

Still, the Capitals found a way to march back into the game. Off of an offensive zone face off, the puck skittered back to Hillen who shot a laser toward the net. Whether it had been deflected or not, the puck fooled Lundqvist who was in a rare awkward butterfly. Again, the Capitals tie up the game, and again the Ranger's forecheck exploited poor coverage when Derek Stepan tipped a shot/pass by Rick Nash as the Blue Shirts go up for good.

Alex Ovechkin drew a late third period penalty, but even 6 on 4, the Rangers clogged the middle of the ice and the game ended with out a single shot on net by the Capitals in the waning minutes. With Rangers falling into the shooting lanes, the Caps power play personnel tried to pass around it. It took too much time and game three falls into the hands of the New York Rangers.

Holtby played great at times, other times he was a victim of sloppy defensive zone coverage. He allowed 4 goals on 30 shots. He didn't help his cause much when he was whistled for the tripping call on Nash. The Rangers made an effort to be more in Holtby's face, just like Boston tried to do last spring. Holtby again will have to fight through it as his Capitals look to get back on track for game 4.

Caps Notes:
  • Coach Adam Oates and his staff sat down and watched the last Capitals' power play before they addressed the media. Whether it was something they saw, or something they will work on for game 4.
  • Ovechkin was held with out a point for the first time in seven games. A non-factor on the score sheet, but he did draw the late penalty in the third period.
  • Of the seven goal scorers, only Mike Green has scored his second goal of the this series. All of the other players, Derek Brassard, Nick Backstrom, Jack Hillen, Brian Boyle, Derek Stepan and Arron Asham scored their first goals of the series.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Mike "Game Over" Green

Capitals 1, Rangers 0 OT
Scoresheet - Event Summary

Washington leads series 2-0

Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images
The New York Rangers seemed content to sit back and take their chances against the more skilled Washington Capitals team, which worked for the first three periods. But in overtime, Ranger defenseman Ryan McDonagh was penalized for shooting the puck over the glass. It only took the Caps :51 seconds for Mike Green to shoot the overtime winning goal, the only goal of the game, and to put the Capitals up 2-0 in the series against the Rangers by a score of 1-0.

"I think both teams played very good hockey tonight," Caps' bench boss Adam Oates said. "Not a lot shots, 0-0, both goalies played good. Really good hockey."

Green's goal was the only power play tally for the Capitals who played a much more disciplined Ranger team in game two. They were only sent to the sin bin twice, once in the first minute when Derek Dorsett was whistled for a high stick with 4:02 left to play in the first period. With only two power play chances, the Capitals made good on the one in overtime.

Mike Ribeiro started the play on the near half boards with a great fake slapper that forced the Ranger defender to the ice early, he slipped it to the open Green who one timed it just 5 feet from the blue line.

"[Ribeiro] does such a great job drawing guys to him," Green recalled of the play. "Obviously they are on [Alex Ovechkin], so I just happened to be open and my goal was to get it by the first guy and try to hit the net.”

The shot nicked off of Derek Stepen, slipped passed a sprawling Henrik Lundqvist and hit the post and in. The Verizon Center faithful erupted, Mike Green's legend status grows.

It didn't even seem like the Caps were ever going back to the power play the way the Rangers were playing. Trying not to get caught with odd man rushes, the Broadway Blue Shirts sat back with three of them standing a post on their blue line for a lot of the game. They played the odds that the Capitals would turn over the puck with some timely forechecks and their transition game would do the rest.

"[The Rangers] had moments too during the game but I think we did a great job weathering that," Caps' defenseman Steve Oleksy said,  "I felt we controlled a lot of the game and we knew it was going to come down to one bounce either way and fortunately we got it."

It only ended up being a practice in close calls and near breaks for the Capitals, and low scoring chances for them on the otherside. It also propelled the game into overtime with out a single goal being scored.

Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images
The Caps out shot the Rangers 38-24, and visiting goaltender produced one heck of a game against the Capitals. When the Rangers defenders did make a mistake, Lundqvist was there with the save. His rebound control, side to side movement and sniffing out the puck in traffic in front of him were on point. He has shown in game two why he is the best goaltender in the NHL.

"It’s a tough one," Ranger Rick Nash said of the loss after Lundqvist's performance. "[Lundqvist] was unbelievable, we have to get goals for him;  there are no excuses. We go home now and the next game is a huge game."

Braden Holtby was no slouch either this afternoon. Holtby may have had a rougher time handling the puck and faced less shots, but when the Caps needed a save, he was there. He got more comfortable as the game went on, and the most important aspect to his game was he never loss focus, even when his team would keep the Rangers pinned in their zone for long periods of time.

The Capitals' power play has been a key factor in this series. Now 2 for 7 in the series (1 for 2 this afternoon), they have changed the way the Rangers play them. In game one, there was far more physical play and aggressive fore checking by the visiting team. In game two that changed to a more conservative look, with the Rangers backing up and clogging the neutral zone and hoping to keep the score close and their transitional game could get a bounce or two.

While the PP is cooking away, the Cap's PK has also been up to the task. However, the Ranger's power play is not really worth writing home about. When the Caps have needed to kill a penalty, they have.  Rangers are now 0-7 on the power play.

There was some late game controversy when a puck was deflected out of play by Karl Alzner. The Rangers begged for a delay of game penalty. The ruling on the ice was that the puck was deflected off of a dump in shot by the Rangers. A penalty can not be assessed if the puck is deflected out of play. The Capitals would however, be called for the delay of game penalty just 1:51 in the overtime period when Oleksy dumped it over the glass.

Ovechkin did not score, but he was a factor in this game. In the second period, the winger had two beauty feeds. One to Nick Backstrom and the other to Marcus Johansson but neither could convert. Ovi's game seems to be heating up, and his play with out the puck has helped his game become that much better.

If the Rangers play the same style of defensive style hockey in game three, the Caps could adjust to that for better opportunities. At the moment, all it proves is John Tortorella does not trust his team to play an open ice game with the Capitals. See you in New York.

Caps Notes:
  • Eric Fehr had another very good game, especially in the overtime period on the penalty kill. He had a scoring chance on the shorthanded forecheck, nearly got the puck to the front of the net for a shot. Then he came back to full body block the point shot, landed on the puck and got a much needed whistle. Big.
  • Jason Chimera nearly had a chance to score in the third period when a charging Oleksy threw the puck on net from the corner. Lundqvist was there for the save.
  • John Carlson tied Alex Ovechkin in shots on net with seven. 
  • Oleksy lead the team in hits with 8.
  • Holtby gets his first career playoff shutout. 
  • Ranger's head coach John Tortorella's press conference lasted 1:36, 53 words.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

PK And Holtby Shine In Game One

Capitals 3, Rangers 1 
Scoresheet - Event Summary

Washington leads series 1-0

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
The Washington Capitals exploded for a three goal second period and Braden Holtby made a magical save in the third to help the home team take game one over the New York Rangers. It had looked like the Broadway Blueshirts were going to rope-a-dope the Caps as they practiced bending but not breaking through the first 16:00 minutes of the game at Verizon Center. The Caps would open up the scoring spurred on by their league leading power play in the second period to take game one 3-1.

Alex Ovechkin scored his first of the playoffs on a power play in the second period. Marcus Johansson scored his first off of a beauty of a pass by Steve Oleksy to break out the speedy forward. And Jason Chimera netted the insurance goal under a minute later for his 34th birthday.

The Capitals had an ideal start, getting an early power play in the first minute of the game when the Rangers were whistled for too many men on the ice. While the Caps did not convert, their aggressive forecheck kept New York on their heels as the Caps rolled out a 10-0 shot advantage through the first ten minutes of play.

But a late goal in the first by the Rangers' Carl Hagelin settled the onslaught and put the Capitals down by one goal. It had looked as if the away team weathered the storm and took advantage of a miscue by the Capitals to take the early advantage.

That is when the league's best power play reared it's head six minutes into the second period. Arron Asham was called for an "Illegal check to the head" and on the ensuing power play, the Caps worked the puck around to Mike Green. Green shot it wide, whether on purpose to avoid the sliding blocker or just missed the net, the puck bounced back to the front where a charging Ovechkin back handed it past Henrick Lunqvist.

The Capitals would run into some penalty trouble after that. Martin Erat took a boarding call when he slammed Mats Zuccarello into the dashers from behind. A short time later, Eric Fehr took an interference call on the PK when the Rangers stormed the net. The Rangers, however, where not able to convert on the 5 on 3 power play. 

Nearly seven and a half minutes after Ovi's power play goal, Oleksy would make a phenomenal pass to a streaking Johansson behind the Ranger defense. MoJo scored just under Lundqvist's glove and above the leg pad to give the Capitals their first lead of the night, and ended up being the game winner.

Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images
Chimera's goal came just :46 seconds later, when the birthday boy turned and shot it past Lundqvist who was being screened by Matthieu Perreault.

Holtby was spectacular. Making a plethora of glove saves look routine, the Caps goaltender saved his best save for late in the third period. It was a sharp angle shot that looked as if it went off his shoulder and in. But looking at the replay, the puck is never seen crossing the line. Holtby claimed the puck went into his blocker and that he had the puck in his hand the whole time. It was a magic trick best seen on the stage from David Copperfield, literally the puck disappears after hitting the post. Video was inconclusive, no goal.

The Capitals' penalty kill was sparkling tonight, killing off all four man advantages. That included a 1:26 Ranger 5 on 3. While New York went 0-4, the Capitals were 1-5 with seven shots on net.

Caps take game one and retain the home ice advantage until the two teams are under way Saturday afternoon on the NBC network.

Caps Notes:
  • Oleksy took a shot off a shot deflected off his own stick that hit him in the chin/jaw. The big defenseman shook it off, played the rest of the game, with out stitches. It will be a big bruise though.
  • Eric Fehr had a spectacular game, even though he didn't score. Drew a few penalties and played tough defense on his own end. 
  • John Tortorella's press conference was less than a minute long.

Four Things to Watch For

With five days between the end of the regular season and the Capitals first playoff game tonight, the plethora of previews probably has your head swimming. Instead of just breaking it down, the shot blocking of the Rangers and the Caps' hot power play, instead let us take a gander at maybe the less talked about preview of this matchup. The game inside the game.

In the three games the Capitals and the Rangers have faced off against this abbreviated season, the Rangers holds the edge with a 2-0-1. All the games have been close and the pair of losses came at a time when the Caps were struggling with their game.

First game was "Hockey Day in America" and all American John Carlson scored and the Rangers' power play solidified the win in the third period. Second game was a exercise in what would happen if you took too many penalties. Ends up being a 4-1 loss. Third game all of the scoring came in the first period and the Caps lost a two goal lead but won it in the shootout.

But in that small sampling of games, already a small rivalry brews. What happens with out the puck maybe be more exciting than the game itself (not really, but come along for the ride anyway). Here are my four things to watch for in the series between the Rangers and Capitals.

1. Mike Ribeiro vs. Michael Del Zotto - In game two the pair got tangled up in front of the net where Del Zotto got a little stick happy on Ribz. The Cap winger popped him one in the face and the pair went off for roughing. While Del Zotto may not have any responsibility against Ribeiro's line, the two seem to have a dis like for one another. Del Zotto may try to goad number 9 into taking a bad penalty which could lead to some fireworks between the pair.

2. Captain O' Captain - Team Captains Alex Ovechkin and Ryan Callahan had there little game of who can get under the others skin. The pair exchanged stick jabs in the third game. While it didn't lead to blows, what the pair will do next should be interesting. Callahan does give up some 100 lbs. to Ovechkin, so what ever happens, I presume Ovi will be fine.

3. Holtby's chip - Life rarely has any do overs, but for goaltender Braden Holtby this is a chance for some retribution to last season's 7 game series loss. Holtby should be beyond the point of total focus. Watching his counter part in Henrick Lundqvist should make for some outstanding goaltending in this series.

4. Erskine and Clowe - Two big men will be facing off mostly in front of one Holtby. Johne Erskine, 6'4" 220, and Ryane Clowe, 6'2" 225, will be two big bodies on the ice fighting for space in front of the net. being aware of the pair for some big hits and some great battles in the slot.

I picked the Caps to win in seven games. It will come down to special teams and if the Caps' power play can stay hot. They also have to help themselves by not taking penalties and being physical but not overly physical that could draw penalties. The Rangers' have a good power play too and the Capitals penalty kill is in the "okay" zone.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Playoff Picks 2013

48 games in the books. Normally that would be a look at the halfway point in the season, but this year, the abbreviated season makes for an abbreviated prognostocation of the playoff race that is not.. abbreviated. I would do Western Conference picks up to the Conference Champs one day, and the Eastern picks the next. This year, why not put it under one roof. Also it's late and I am tired.

Western Conference Quarterfinals

#8 Minnesota Wild vs. #1 Chicago Blackhawks - Does anyone really think the Hawks are going to have the season they had to drop a playoff series to the Wild? As much as I like seeing the underdog take out the number one, the Wild haven't had enough consistency to get it done this season, even with big time summer signings. Sorry, but Hawks in 5.

Blackhawks defeat Wild in 5 games

#7 Detroit Red Wings vs. #2 Anaheim "Mighty" Ducks - New lease on life, the Ducks under the direction of Bruce Boudreau have proven to be a power house in the Western Conference. But, wait, where have we heard this tale before? The Red Wings are a sleeper team this year, and if they can finally put it together, you really can not count them out. Wings wake.

Red Wings defeat Ducks in 7 games

#6 San Jose Sharks vs. #3 Vancouver Canucks - The goaltender drama of the Canucks certainly caused an early stir for the Canucks, but the pair have put together a great backstopping tandem that added stability to Vancouver. This will be a great series, one for the record books. But the Sharks are playing well of late... so there.

Sharks defeat Canucks in 7 games

#5 Los Angeles Kings vs. #4 St. Louis Blues - A rematch of the Conference Semifinal a season ago, the Blues look to exact revenge against the reigning Stanley Cup Champions. Should be a good match up full of twists and turns and some pretty good hitting. Underdogs again, the Kings looked poised to make another deep run, not much the Blues can do about that.

Kings defeat Blues in 6 games.

Western Conference Champs

Yada yada yada, so on and so forth, bottom line is the Blackhawks make this post season their personal coming out party. So yea, Chicago wins the West.

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

#8 New York Islanders vs. #1 Pittsburgh Penguins - If any team sort of "over did" it to load its team with talent full of rentals to make the playoffs, then the Penguins are the mid-life crisis buyers of the NHL. Bringing in the big guns that included the stealing of Jarome Iginla from Boston, the Penguins are poised to push for the Cup even with out Sidney the first round or so. Islanders would be a fun underdog to watch though.

Penguins defeat Islanders in 6 games

#7 Ottawa Senators vs. #2 Montreal Canadiens - A team on the rise, the other stumbling into the playoffs. This was a hard one to dissect. Senators get Erik Karlsson back from injury and it should provide a short boost for the injury-riddled team. The Habs are a pretty fast talented team that could out talent the Senators.

Canadiens defeat Senators in 6 games

#6 New York Rangers vs. #3 Washington Capitals - I will break down this matchup in due time (we don't start until Thursday for Pete's sake). Caps playing stellar hockey down the stretch, Rangers sort of hanging around until a final push late in their season. Sorry Rags fans, no Ilander/Ranger series this year.

Capitals defeat Rangers in 7 games

#5 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. #4 Boston Bruins - For a team that going into the third period was a lock for the win, the Bruins have fallen into "no lead is safe" territory. The Maple Leafs are just begging to make an example out of them. Couple of interesting story lines with Phil Kessel returning to face Boston in the playoffs.

Bruins defeat Leafs in 5 games

Eastern Conference Champions

Everything points to the Penguins making it out of the East. They have the most talent that could include the return of one Sidney Crosby. But the road they have to traverse is full of teams that don't have the pressure they have to make it to the Finals. I don't think this team can plug all the holes in time. The Habs or Bruins are also favorites, but unless something extreme happens, Pens should take the East crown.

Stanley Cup Champs

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Chicago Blackhawks

Picking a winner between two teams that didn't face each other in the short season. But to quickly make a decision, Blackhawks are far to good of a oiled machine for the patch work Penguins.

Blackhawks first team to repeat Cup champions since the '05 lockout.

There you go Chicago, you are welcome. Breaking down the Rags and Caps up next.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Trade Magic 2008

The Capitals have been here before. February 2008. The Capitals are three points from an eighth place playoff spot, five points from division leading Carolina. There was a new coach, a new system and they were pressing the division. George McPhee did something that a few thought might be a foolish move if the Caps failed to make the playoffs. He made some very good strategic trades.

He traded Matt Pettinger to Vancouver for Matt Cooke, sent a prospect defender in Ted Ruth to Columbus for Sergei Fedorov, acquired Cristobal Huet for a second round draft pick from Montreal. The would go on to win 11 of their last 12 games in route to win the division and make the playoffs by the skin of their teeth.

Does McPhee has another rabbit out of his hat to finalize the push to the playoffs. In this shortened season, just getting into the post season is the Caps goal. The best way for them to do that is to win their division. McPhee has some trade bait in Wotjek Wolski, and a couple of good prospects in Hershey, but the market is not as idea as it was back in 2008.

Because the season is short and so many teams are still in the hunt for a playoff spot, the market for trades is squeezed to its bare minimum. What would the Capitals need? Bigger up the middle with another center? A goaltender? Bolster the wingers, or the defensemen? What is out there for the Caps to acquire while not breaking the bank doing so. Not much, and the Capitals will do better to stand pat rather than make a senseless move out of fear of not making the playoffs.

That is because the Capitals are in a prime position to make the playoffs by winning their division. They are 10-3 against their own division. They are just two points from the division lead as the Winnipeg Jets struggle to get late season points. The door is open for the Capitals to make a move with the team they have now.

The Caps will have to continue to win. With 12 games left in the season, the Capitals will still have to win 8 of those games. It is a good thing 8 of the last 12 are at home. They can control their own fate, but they have to get points to keep the pressure on the division.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

All's Fehr In Overtime

Capitals 4, Bruins 3 OT
Game Summary - Event Summary

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
The Washington Capitals rallied from 3-0 to over come the Boston Bruins with a highlight reel goal by Eric Fehr in overtime to win 4-3.

The Capitals got contributions from a wide swath of players tonight. Mike Ribeiro, Tomas Kundratek, Wojtek Wolski and Fehr all scored for the Capitals. Recently signed and called up Steve Oleksy got his first career NHL point on an assist and Kundratek scored his first NHL career goal. Fehr's game winner capped off a three point night for the winger with the goal and two assists. He was also the only Cap with a +3.

It was looking a lot like the Capitals were set up for another disappointing outing, even though they were playing solid through most of the first period. On the Capitals' first power play opportunity, Brad Marchand broke up the play near the blue line and John Carlson blew a tire on the skate back. Alex Ovechkin had no choice but to hook the speedy forward drawing the penalty shot for Marchand. The Bruins would go up 1-0 on his penalty shot goal. Things then broke down for the Caps late in the first when Zdeno Chara picked up his own rebound to make it 2-0, and Ovechkin again was penalized and Dougie Hamilton scored on the ensuing power play.

Down 3-0, the Capitals entered the second period sticking to their game plan. They were solid five on five play and Braden Holtby came up with the next 24 saves combined in the last two periods. The Bruins cracked when a point shot by Oleksy was knocked down by Ovechkin who made a sparkling pass to a wide open Ribeiro at the side of the net. Nearly five minutes later, the Caps cut the lead to only one goal off of a nice face off win by Nick Backstrom to Fehr who dropped it to Kundratek. The Caps' rookie defenseman shot it and it glanced off of a Bruin and past Tuukka Rask. The Caps would tie it in the third period when Fehr chipped passed the puck on a fast break and the puck trickled through Hamilton to a waiting Wolski. He slid the puck under Rask for his first goal since Feburary.

Adam Oates must have been feeling the good mojo from Fehr and Backstrom because he started the pair in the overtime period. Just 37 seconds into the extra period, the Caps would complete the comeback with a spectacular highlight reel goal by Fehr. The entire four man unit broke the puck out of the zone with some good passing and good speed through the neutral zone. Backstrom saw Fehr streaking into the zone and head manned the puck near the Bruins' blue line. Fehr split the defensemen who both closed in on him and as he fell he chipped the puck up over Rask's left shoulder, squeaking the game winner just past the leaning goaltender. Two big points for the Capitals.

Alex Ovechkin didn't score, he had a beauty of an assist on Ribeiro's goal, but he was certainly a factor in the game. Not once did he crash the net, but three times Ovechkin knocked the goal from its pegs. The aggressive move seemed to spark the rest of the team. Backstrom had three assists by playing a very controlled game. Something we have not seen from him in some time. 

Quietly, the Capitals have strung together a nice little winning stretch here with 7 W's in their last ten games. The Caps still need to play the division tough as they will take on rivals Florida Panthers Thursday night.

Caps Notes:
  • The Capitals have outscored their opponents 9-0 in the third period in their last five games.
  • This is the second time in Fehr's career he has had a three point game, the first was against Boston on March 3rd 2008 where he had 3 assists.
  • The Bruins were 9-0 after scoring first and 9-0 when leading after the first period this season. The Caps tarnished that perfect stat tonight.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Recipe For Road Win

Capitals 3, Jets 0
Game Summary - Event Summary

It was a perfect road game for the Washington Capitals. A recipe fit for some tasty win against a bitter divisional rival who leads them in the standings. A shut out by Braden Holtby helped the boys in white to a win over the Winnipeg Jets 3-0.

First part of the recipe for the Capitals is to cool a hot Winnipeg Jets. A team that has done well at MTS Centre, the Jets have found success by scoring early. The Caps would have to put water on a team that loves to score early in their home sweaters. That was done with Holtby turning aside 15 shots while the Capitals could only muster 5 of their own. But getting to the first intermission tied at 0-0 was a small victory unto itself for the Caps.

Second, break the hostility tension with a good fight. New comer Aaron Volpatti added that break with a fight with a bigger Anthony Peluso. Although Peluso seemed to have won the bout, the Capitals seemed to play better. Peluso would also leave the game after the fight with an "upper body injury" and would not return.

Add some timely scoring. After the Capitals worked back the momentum from the streaking Jets, it would be a goal by Matt Hendricks that would break the stalemate in the second period. Started by a heavy shot by John Erskine who took out Jets' forward Blake Wheeler. Since the Caps retained possession of the puck, Erskine faked the second slapper and passed it to Mike Ribeiro on the opposite side of the ice. Ribeiro snap passed it to Hendricks in front of the net. Hendricks scored his fourth goal of the season.

That opened the play up for the Capitals, but some fantastic saves by Ondrej Pavelec including a glove save on a certain goal shot by Jason Chimera. The Jets gained some momentum from those saves and Holtby would answer every shot that came his way. He would get his sixth shutout of his career, his third of the season. Holtby was solid in net, calm and cool with every save. Credit his team in front of him keeping a slew of those shots to the outside and clearing the slot so Holtby could see those outside shots.

Add some insurance goals by Troy Brouwer (his ninth of the season) and Mike Ribeiro cleaning up an Alex Ovechkin shot for his seventh goal of the season. With the Jets trying to get back into the game, things opened up in the third for the Capitals and they took advantage.

The Caps were able to kill off all the penalties they took. Their first minor came in the waning minutes of the second period. The Jets would go 0-3 on the power play, the Caps would also go with out a power play goal on the afternoon.

Mix well and you have the perfect recipe for a win on the road. A big win for the Capitals who are looking to climb up the Southeast Division standings ladder. As long as the Caps are able to play their division tough, it should help them to make the playoffs. Mike Green was scratched with a "lower body injury" or groin injury for the rest of us. Wotjek Wolski was a healthy scratch.

Caps Notes:
  • Holtby would finish by turning away all 35 shots against him for his career sixth shutout, his second in three games. 
  • The Capitals were out shot (35-21) and out hit (32-13) by the Jets. 
  • Troy Brouwer scored his 9th goal of the season that now puts him in the scoring lead for the Capitals this season.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Caps' Surging Power Play

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
It was a slow start for the Washington Capitals' power play. Just four power play goals for 25 chances in their first six games. But as the season wore on, the Caps' special teams turned a corner and now have the hottest power play in the league in the last 10 games. That is good enough for second in the league with a power play efficiency of 28.6%. They only trail St. Louis who has a PP percentage of 30.6%.

Certainly head coach Adam Oates new power play system of the 1-3-1 is paying off. In more ways than one.

The last five power play goals scored for the Capitals came from five different Capitals. Nick Backstrom scored the latest in the big win against Carolina. Troy Brouwer and Alex Ovechkin each had a PPG in the game against the New Jersey Devils in their 5-1 win. Mike Ribeiro and Mathieu Perreault both scored on the power play first of back to back games with the Devils at the phone booth.

That distribution of the wealth on the power play makes it very hard to defend. Many teams in the NHL have that go-to guy on the power play. Take the New Jersey Devils as an example. They love to set up Ilya Kovalchuk for his one timers. The Tampa Bay Lightning do the same with Steven Stamkos. But after a while, coaches have to find ways to move that player around in the power play as teams are getting better at blocking those snipers' shots.

For the Capitals, dishing the puck to just about every player that is on the power play unit has made it a deadly PP to face in the league. The Caps are not relying on the Ovechkin one timer as they did so heavily under Bruce Boudreau. The spread of goals amongst players on the power play makes everyone on the ice a potential scorer. It makes the opposition have to keep track of everyone, at all times. If not, boom, the puck is in the back of their net.

The Capitals ability to maintain zone time with the puck under control is another factor that helps their power play become potent. By keeping the puck in the zone and keeping it moving around with crisp passes tires the oppositions' penalty killers. It also wears down the goaltender.

Ovechkin scored his hat trick goal when the Caps were able to keep the Devils penalty killers in their zone for some time. When the puck did leave the zone, Ovi quickly skated it back in and it left one tired Anton Volchenkov on the ice who wasn't able to make the quick change on the fly. The worn out defenseman for the Devils could only camp out in front of the net. The Caps exploited it not once but twice in the following sequences. The first chance brushed off the oust side of the net, while the second one found its mark.

The more the players work up their chemistry with one another and are more familiar with the system, the more dangerous of a power play it becomes. With a producing power play, things can open up for the Caps five on five. At even strength, teams will be less likely to play a tight checking game giving the Caps more room on the ice.

Here Come The Capitals

Capitals 3, Hurricanes 0
Game Summary - Event Summary

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Watch out Southeast Division. Here come the Washington Capitals. The Capitals' defense played the biggest role in Alexander Semin's return by keeping him and his team mates off the scoring sheet while added a pair of big goals to boot. The Capitals chase the division leading Carolina Hurricanes out of Verizon Center with a convincing 3-0 win giving Braden Holtby his second shutout of the season.

Nick Backstrom scored his second goal of the year on the power play. It was a tip-in right in front of the net. He would add an assist on John Erskine's goal, his second of the year as well that made it 2-0 in the second period. Add a John Carlson goal off of a big Cam Ward rebound and the Caps win their second in a row.

The story of the game was all about the Caps defense. After signing a two year contract, John Erskine looked like he would reward his team for the opportunity to stay a Cap. He scored a big goal in the second period as Nick Backstrom pulled up to hit the trailing defensemen. He got all of the puck on his one time slapper and Erskine gave the Caps their two goal cushion. Erskine finished the game with a goal, three blocked shots, and he absorbed a boarding check to give his team the power play in the third period. A pretty solid game from the big blonde.

Of the Capitals 40 shots on net, 10 came from the Caps' defensemen. It would take a team defensive effort to keep Semin from the getting on the score sheet in his return to the Verizon Center since signing with the 'Canes in the off season. Troy Brouwer did a phenomenal job keeping him at bay. Mike Ribeiro contributed not only with an assist, but had five blocked shots. The forwards pitched in where they could, the defense held their ground and Holtby was there to clean up the rest.

Braden Holtby was there with some solid stops, even stoning Semin streaking in on a break away. Holtby would face down all 33 shots that came his way for his 5th career shutout. His calming demeanor meant he was seeing the puck well, squaring up to the shooters, and that glove of his was lightning quick when it needed to be.

Holtby's save on Semin was pretty awesome, but Cam Ward came away with the steal of the night. Ward left a sloppy rebound in the slot off of a Wotjek Wolski. Joel Ward streaked in and shot it at the open net, but Cam Ward pushed his glove out at the last second to steal a would be goal from Joel Ward. It fooled the horn guy and the lights guy. Could be the save of the year by Ward who was on top of his game. It was a shame none of the other 'Canes showed up.

There were long stretches in the first and second periods were the Caps were just dominating the Hurricanes. A ten minute stretch in the second was the best net minder Holtby had seen since joining the team. They worked as a five man unit moving the puck and creating scoring chances. The Caps played probably their best 60 minute game of the season.

They will need a repeat performance when they travel up to Philadelphia to take on the Flyers tomorrow night.

Caps Notes:
  • This marks the first time this season the Capitals have had 40 shots on net. Alex Ovechkin had zero. He had a shot ring off the post and missed on another shot. It is the first time this season he has been held to no shots on net.
  • Losses tonight by Tampa Bay and Carolina, the Capitals move to within four points of the lead in the division. 
  • Head coach Adam Oates was tight lipped about who would be in net tomorrow night against the Flyers.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Caps Re-Sign Erskine And Holtby

The Washington Capitals locked up a couple of players today. Defenseman John Erskine and goaltender Braden Holtby get two year contracts. First Erskine per Caps' PR:
ARLINGTON, Va. – The Washington Capitals have re-signed defenseman John Erskine to a two-year, $3.925 million contract extension, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. Erskine will earn $1.925 million in 2013-14 and $2 million in 2014-15.

Erskine, 32, currently ranks sixth on Washington in average ice time per game (19:30), the highest total in Erskine’s 11-season career. His previous high came in 2006-07, Erskine’s first year with Washington, when he finished the season with an average ice time total of 18:03 per game. He has tallied one goal and one assist this season and ranks fourth on Washington in hits (31) and tied for third in blocked shots (19).

The Kingston, Ontario, native has recorded nine goals and 32 assists along with 452 penalty minutes in 294 career games with the Capitals. Washington is 9-0-0 in games that Erskine tallies a goal and he currently ranks 17th all-time in games played among Washington defensemen. Just five other players remain on the current Washington roster from Erskine’s first season with the club in 2006-07.

The 6’4”, 220-pound blueliner has compiled 46 points (12 goals, 34 assists) and 788 penalty minutes in 435 career NHL games with Washington, the New York Islanders and Dallas. He currently ranks 16th among all active defensemen in penalty minutes. Erskine has appeared in 32 career playoff games, all with Washington, and ranks eighth among active players in career playoff games played with the Capitals.

Erskine was originally drafted by Dallas in the second round (39th overall) of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft.

And Holtby per Caps' PR:
ARLINGTON, Va. – The Washington Capitals have re-signed goaltender Braden Holtby to a two-year, $3.7 million contract extension, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. Holtby will earn $1.7 million in 2013-14 and $2 million in 2014-15. He was set to become a restricted free agent following this season.

“We are pleased to sign Braden to a contract extension,” said McPhee. “Braden is a young and talented goaltender who has performed very well in both the regular season and the playoffs during his NHL career. We are fortunate to have two excellent young goaltenders on our roster in Washington.”

Holtby, 23, leads his 2008 draft class in playoff appearances (14) and wins (7) and ranks second among all goaltenders drafted in 2008 in career games played (32) and wins (19). He has registered a 19-10-3 record with a 2.51 goals-against average, a .916 save percentage and four shutouts in his 32 career NHL appearances. Holtby has compiled a 5-6-0 record this season with a 3.37 goals-against average, an .896 save percentage and one shutout. He has started Washington’s last six contests, going 4-2-0 with a 2.35 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage in that span.

The Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, native became just the third goaltender to own a .920 save percentage and 2.00 goals-against average or better (in a minimum of 13 games played) in the playoffs at age 22 or younger (Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy) in the 2012 playoffs. He went all 14 postseason games without suffering back-to-back losses and set a Capitals rookie record with 14 playoff games played and tied a rookie record with seven wins in a single postseason.

Holtby became the third rookie goaltender to defeat the defending Stanley Cup champions in a playoff series (Montreal’s Ken Dryden and Calgary’s Mike Vernon), defeating Boston in seven games in the 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinals. He became the seventh rookie goaltender to post an overtime win in Game 7 of a playoff series with his win over Boston. His 44 saves in Game 4 against Boston were the second-most in the expansion era in a regulation playoff win for a rookie goaltender since Ken Dryden made 46 stops for Montreal in a 4-2 win against Boston on April 16, 1971.

The 6’2”, 205-pound goaltender was named to the 2011 AHL All-Star Game as well as the 2010 ECHL All-Star Game and was a member of the 2009 WHL First All-Star Team prior to his time in Washington. Holtby was originally drafted by Washington in the fourth round (93rd overall) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Different Look

Alex Ovechkin scored his first hat trick since he did it in 2011 against Toronto. It all began from a different look.

What do we know about Ovechkin? Well, he loves to rip down the wing. Bear down on the defenseman, make a move or draw a shot and drive to the net. For the first 2 or 3 years of his career that was good enough for the Capitals. But when teams finally caught hold of what the left winger was doing, they collapse defensively around him and soon he became a non-factor.

One of the reasons Ovechkin was being so well defended was he often came in alone. The opposition defense would simply have to "box" him in with a defender in front of him and a forward coming back to keep him to the wall and force him to cough the puck up, take a low percentage shot, or make a hell of a move to free himself. How many times have we seen the Caps forward fly down the wing only to get snuffed out of the play by three defenders on top of him? Too many times to count.

Ovi was often too fast for his own team. When the Capitals broke out of their own zone and passed it to Ovechkin, the opposition had no troubles containing him in the "box" and stifling the offensive explosiveness Ovechkin had. Often Ovi would try different things like stop and find the trailer, or keep moving down the boards, but often that was met with the defense clamping down on him and he would often lose the puck or no one would be there to help.

Adam Oates knows Ovechkin needs the help. He put the fastest guy on the ice on his line. Jason Chimera adds an element of a pass option for Ovechkin. Added with the crafty play making ability of Mike Ribeiro and this line is quickly becoming a feared line to play against.

But what happened on Saturday afternoon was something we have rarely seen (if ever). And I will break down what transpired.

Here is the break out. Ovechkin has the puck and the Devils work to "box" him in. Normally Ovi would streak down the wing side and right into the trap the opposition lays for him. But as the three Devils look to isolate him he does something unexpected.

Ovi drop passes the puck in the neutral zone to Jason Chimera. The "box" converges now on Chimera the puck carrier as Ovechkin slides to the left side. This is key because Ovechkin is giving the Devils a different look than in the past. He is not carrying the puck into the zone, but relying on his linemates to help him out so he can break out of the defensive scheme.

Chimera's speed draws in two defenders and creates room for him to stop and spin to find the open trailer. In this case it is Ribeiro just off screen entering the zone.

He passes to Mike Ribeiro trailing the play late (John Carlson is there too). At the top of the pic and you will see a floating Ovechkin free from the "box" as all five Devils concentrate on the new puck carrier Ribeiro (a dangerous scorer in his own right).

With that convergence, all Ribeiro has to do is dish it to a now wide open Ovechkin.

Much celebration as the puck is one timed to the back of the net. I threw in some arrows if you don't see it. Chimera is a happy guy 'cause he gets on the scoresheet with a secondary assist.

By Ovechkin handing off the puck and forcing the Devils to make a decsision, follow the current puck carrier or stay on Ovechkin who doesn't have the puck, created some break down for the Devils in their own zone on the break. Add Chimera's speed to make room for the pass to the trailing forward or defenseman and the defensive system that once stifled Ovechkin has broken down and given him a pretty darn good chance to score on net (which he did).

The system Adam Oates has put in has brought the offensive excitement back to DC. It has also made this team a very dangerous one to play in the NHL. Because the power play is not smoking hot, the Capitals are finding a lot more room on the ice 5 on 5. With that room they will be able to make plays like these more common place. We hope.

Afternoon Delight

Capitals 5, Devils 1
Game Summary - Event Summary

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Very rarely do you get a do-over. But the Washington Capitals had that chance with a second game in three nights against the same team at the same place. A second home game versus the New Jersey Devils proved to be the antidote to what's ailing the Capitals. The lose the season series with the Devils but go out with a bang beating them 5-1.

Alex Ovechkin scored his first hat trick since Jan. 22 2011. It is his 11th hatty of his career and is 71st multi-goal game being a Capital. He would have four points on the afternoon adding an assist on the fifth goal scored by Troy Brouwer. Eric Fehr has the Caps' first shorthanded goal of the season as he broke in on Johan Hedberg behind the net and wrapped around the net to score.

Here are just a few thoughts on the game:

- Ovechkin continues his shark play. His attack is better measured and he gave the NHL a different look on the break out that led directly to a goal. I diagrammed it here "A Different Look". He was dynamic in the last game against the Devils but the late parade to the penalty box late prevented him from being much of a factor. This afternoon he had better luck.

- Braden Holtby continues his stellar play. He has seemed to settle down into his game. With just a one goal lead, the Caps were penalized again when Tom Poti took a hooking call on a breaking Steve Bernier. Bernier was awarded a penalty shot and Holtby stood tall making the stop. Ilya Kovalchuk would score late in the second period, but if Holtby didn't stop the PS, the Caps would have been down 2-1 going into the second intermission. Holtby has given his team a chance to win in the last five starts or so.

- The only line change from Thursday night was switching Wotjek Wolski with Eric Fehr. The change seemed offer a few chances for Wolski who missed a wide open net in the first period. The change was a plus for both wingers who seemed to improve or keep both lines' forcheck effective.

- Nick Backstrom is close, but is still scoreless in his last nine games. He does have seven assists in that stretch but his offensive numbers have been sluggish. Hopefully that stat turns around with better success the Caps have had 5 on 5 of late.

- The Caps' PK was flawless this afternoon. They were able to kill off all three minor penalties and Holtby's heroic save on the penalty shot kept the Devils off the scoresheet a man down.

- While the PK did it's job, the power play is not the hottest in the league. The extra man went 2 for 3 against a historically pretty good PK in the Devils. After some tough times early on, the Caps now have the second best power play in the league, trailing only the St. Louis Blues.

Caps Notes:
  • The Capitals scored the first goal in their seventh consecutive game. They had a streak of nine games where they had the first tally of the game back in October/November of 2009.
  • Brouwer, who scored the "Free Wings" goal, has eighth goal of the season and has seven points in his last six games (5g 2a).
  • Mike Ribeiro continues to be a factor on the ice for the Capitals. He had two assists for his seventh multipoint game of the season. Re-sign the kid.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Holy Parade Of Penalties

Capitals 2, Devils 3
Game Summary - Event Summary

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
The Washington Capitals had a rough night. Well, they had a rough third period, which ruined the rest of their night. The Capitals took five consecutive minor penalties in just under 8 minutes in the third period. The blew their 2-1 lead after two periods and drop a must win to the New Jersey Devils 2-1.

Matthieu Perreault scored the Caps' first goal of the night on a clean up job in front of the net. Troy Brouwer made a crazy power move to the front of the net getting a shot on Devil goalie Martin Brodeur. The rebound bounced out passed three Devils and Perreault chipped the rebound over Brodeur's shoulder for the tally. Mike Ribeiro scored his sixth goal of the year on the power play. Troy Brouwer had two assists and the game's third star. He also had a 10 minute misconduct at the end of the game.

The Capitals had a lot of positives through out the game, despite a barrage of shots by the Devils at even strength. They practiced the long ancient art of bending but not breaking to New Jersey for at least two periods. They allowed 30 shots on net at even strength. The Caps only fault in the first 40 minutes was misplaying the puck in their own zone on the power play and the combo of Patrick Elias (who scored) and Adam Henrique lead to a shortie for the away team.

Then the third period happened. It started with a hell of a penalty kill by the Caps when Nick Backstrom was hauled off with Adam Larsson for coincidental minors. Not long after that Matt Hendricks took his hand off his stick on onto Ilya Kovalchuk's shoulder, he was whistled for holding. Then Jay Beagle cleared the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty, but Tomas Kundratek served the time, giving the Devils a 5 on 3 power play.

The Capitals PK actually did a fantastic job killing that series of penalties off. The combo of Backstrom, Karl Alzner and John Carlson did a bang up job of blocking shots, getting into passing lanes and killing off that 5 on 3. But in the end, it was just too many penalties. Kovalchuk would score when once again the Capitals got into penalty trouble down two men. Marek Zidlicky cut into the slot and took out Backstrom's stick as the pass went to Kovalchuk whose shot finally made it on net.

It was a tough game to swallow for the Capitals. To get that far and lose all momentum from a solid second period was what did this team in. Alex Ovechkin even had a jump to his game. In his most dynamic game in quite awhile, Ovechkin broke in three times on Brodeur. But he couldn't solve the Devils net minder. The penalties in the third pretty much kept him quiet for the rest of the game.

It will be a short turn around for the boys from DC who face off with the Devils again on Saturday.

Caps Notes:
  • Both of Kovalchuk's goals against the Capitals this year were game winners. The OT goal on January 25th, and tonight's power play tally.
  • The Caps' power play is smoking hot. It is 10 for 23 in the Caps last eight games (43.5%). Just to compare, the St. Louis Blues have the best PP in the league with 31.7% on the season.
  • Caps out-hit the Devils 30-9.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Caps Outworked At MSG

Capitals 1, Rangers 2
Game Summary - Event Summary

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
John Carlson scored just 1:19 into the game against the New York Rangers. It would be the only highlight of the Washington Capitals as the Rangers out worked the visiting team at MSG. Outside of a brilliant goaltending by Braden Holtby, the Caps struggled with the Rags' aggressive style and their winning streak comes to a dead stop as they lose 2-1.

Being "Hockey Day in America", NBC Sports Network highlighted John Carlson's time playing for Team USA at World Juniors in 2010 where he scored the gold medal winning overtime goal. Carlson didn't disappoint when the Caps came out on a tear to open the game to a Ranger team that seemed to be running around. The puck came around to Carlson who blasted it top left corner over Henrik Lundqvist blocker side. It was a good start for the Caps.

But after a few penalties in the first, a "too many men" penalty and a couple of boarding calls, all the momentum the Capitals had built up in the first few minutes of the game disappeared. The Rangers perhaps were a bit stand-offish of the Caps new system, not sure what to expect from their playoff rivals from a season ago. Once they settled into their game, the Rangers gave the Capitals bad fits in the defensive zone.

Mike Green was a scratch with a lower body injury and was listed day to day. The Caps certainly missed his ability to leave the zone and set up the forwards through the neutral zone. The Caps did have some shots on the power play, but it lacked a good quaterback on the back end where Green was before his injury. Carlson filled the role, and didn't do poorly. But he made some poor decisions with the puck.

The story of the night was the game's third star Braden Holtby. He faced down all twenty shots in the first period and made 38 saves on the night. He stone cold robbed Marion Gaborik, Rick Nash close in on several occasions. He was the only reason the Rangers didn't put up a 5 or 6 spot on the scoreboard. He was in the zone, reading the plays coming across the zone and had a little luck along the way. The two goals that beat him was a redirected point shot and a power play tic-tac-toe play that gave him no chance to make the save.

Bottom line for tonight, the Capitals just got out worked and out hustled at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers were aggressive on the puck and forced the Caps to make quick decisions that they were not prepared to make. Mark it down as another growing pain in learning a new system by the Caps. Lucky for them, they come home for a three game home stretch.

Caps Notes:
  • The Capitals were solidly out hit against the Rangers 34 to 22. The physical play was something the Caps had difficulty dealing with, but something they will need address going forward.
  • After going on a five game win streak, then being blanked against Tampa, Mike Ribeiro had an assist tonight against the Rangers. 
  • Eric Fehr also recorded an assist on Carlson's goal, giving him a four game point streak with (3g, 3a during that stretch).