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).

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Stealing 2 Points In Sunrise

Capitals 6, Panthers 5 OT
Game Summary - Event Summary

The Washington Capitals showed tremendous grit and determination in Sunrise Florida as they came from behind not once, not twice, but three times including scoring 3 straight goals to overcome a two goal deficit. They beat the Florida Panthers 6-5 in overtime to complete the comeback.

Just some quick thoughts on the Caps' first road win of the season.

- Mike Ribeiro is worth his weight in gold. Re sign him now! Ribeiro scored a goal and had two assists to give him a three point game. He scored the first goal of the game on the power play, and has been the most consistent offensive threat the Caps have had this season.

- Alex Ovechkin had one of his Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde games. But his compete level has upped in the last two games. After his brief skirmish with Kris Versteeg, Ovi was flying. He misplayed the puck from time to time. But is wrister that tied the game was a thing of beauty. He now has a point streak stretched to five games and has a goal in the last three. He received the game's third star.

- He might not be scoring goals, but Nick Backstrom is starting to heat up. The Caps' go to centerman took 29 draws against the Panthers and won 19. He had two of the biggest assists of the night. A secondary helper on Ovechkin's game tying goal and a pretty pass to spring Troy Brouwer loose on Scott Clemmensen for the overtime winner.

- Caps distribution of goal scoring was evident again tonight. Six different goal scorers included (in order when they scored) Ribeiro, Carl Alzner, Matt Hendricks, Eric Fehr, Ovechkin and Brouwer.

- At times the Caps were sloppy in their own zone. It led to a lot of Panther scoring chances. Credit the Panthers for jumping on the Caps' defense and a strong forecheck that had the Caps reeling in their own zone at times. A couple of lucky bounces seem to do the Caps in from time to time. For them to not only mentally over come the bad play and bad bounces is a testament to this team's mental toughness to bear down, get the goals they needed to win and take two points home. It wasn't pretty, but it will do.

- The Caps penalty kill stifled the number 12th PP unit coming into this game. In fact, special teams was a huge factor in this one for the Caps. The penalty kill was a perfect 5 for 5, and they were 2 for 3 on the power play which the second PP was Ovechkin's game tying tally.

The Capitals will have to shore up some of their defensive zone play against their next opponent Tampa Bay. The Lightning have been known to give the Caps fits and breakdowns in their own zone will make for a long game Thursday night.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Finally... Free Wings

Capitals 5, Panthers 0
Game Summary - Event Summary

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)
It has been awhile since the Florida Panthers have won a game at the Verizon Center. The Washington Capitals have won the last five games at the phone booth and have had 3 of the last four games end with a Caps' shutout. Tonight would prove to be a tough game for the visiting Panthers as the Caps romp Florida 5-0.

Coming into tonight's game, the Capitals were committed to focusing on what is ahead of them. With a hard practice on Friday, they were looking to be in the right frame of mind for sixty minutes against Florida. The players even held a meeting to get things back on track.

"We had a team meeting with the guys just to press the reset button and to calm down and go out there and support each other and make plays," Joel Ward said. "Today we made a good effort."

"I had a feeling right away that we were going to play well," Alex Ovechkin said of the mood of the team before the game. "Everybody was focusing and not joking around. That’s how we have to play. The first goal was huge for us. The whole team was better."

Braden Holtby has now four career shutouts and also a assist, only the second of his career. His power play assist led to a big goal for the Capitals to exorcise the demons they have been fighting in second periods this season.

"It was a great play, and a big goal," head coach Adam Oates said of the play. "It obviously hurt that [the Penguins] had scored one of those against us. It’s a pass down the ice; that means [Holtby] is involved in the game."

Troy Brouwer had a big night with the first two goals of the game. The first one looked as if John Carlson scored his first goal of the season, but his shot glanced off Brouwer's leg before fooling Jose Theodore. Brouwer's second goal was a sniper blast after receiving a pass from Holtby on the power play. He skated down the right side and powered it past the Florida net minder. It would be Brouwers fourth and fifth goals of the season.

Also on the scoresheet, Ward scored for his fifth goal of the season. The aggressive forecheck of his linemates Eric Fehr and Matty Perreault coughed the puck up to Ward's stick as he headed for the net. He snapped it past Theodore to make it 3-0. Ovechkin scored his first even strength goal of the season after Ribeiro won the faceoff and Jason Chimera chipped it to Ovi at the top of the slot. Add a Perreault goal to give the Verizon Center faithful free wings, and the Capitals finish off their best performance under Adam Oates to date.

This was a good sixty minute effort from a struggling squad that needed a desperate win to stop a three game skid. Their play was much better after the first period. The second period, which has been a house of horrors for this Capitals squad, was not the disaster in waiting much like it has been for the Caps of late. For the first time all season, the Capitals have actually outscored their opponent in the second frame.

Special teams was a hot button issue for general manager George McPhee. Concerned over the Caps taking a few too many penalties, he could find some comfort as the Caps were a perfect 2-2 on the penalty kill and a 1-2 on the power play. It was a good sign the PK is improving especially against a good power play team in the Panthers who are ranked 11th in the league.

Holtby was pretty solid. He was controlling rebounds and making smart decisions with the puck. His pass to Troy Brouwer to catch the Panthers on a line change while on the power play led to the game's second goal. The goal was huge for the Capitals as they stretched their lead to two goals and forced the Panthers to play a more conservative style of hockey for fear of giving the Caps another power play.

"The traffic in front of the net tonight was non-existent today," said Holtby to reporters following the game. "Our defense and our forwards really took it to heart this last little while that we need to bear down on our end and it was outstanding tonight. We’re going to need that to keep moving forward."

The Capitals will get a much needed day off to rest then back at the rink on Monday before they head to the Sunshine state for a second rendezvous with the Panthers in Sunrise Florida. This is definitely a game the Capitals can grow off of. As long as their work ethic can continue, the Caps certainly have the time to crawl back into playoff contention.

Caps Notes:
  • Holtby was named the game's first star followed by Brouwer (second star) and Ward (third star).
  • Ovechkin continues his point streak to now 4 games with 2 goals and 3 assists during that span.
  • Perreault scored his first points of the season with a goal and an assist. He has been in and out of the lineup sharing duties with Marcus Johansson. Perreault did not play against Pittsburgh on Thursday night.
  • The promotional double whammy, Caps scored 5 goals and won which means the 18,506 in attendance won free wings and everyone in the DC Metro region gets Papa John's Pizza half off tomorrow (by using promotion code CAPS50).

Friday, February 08, 2013

Carlson's Chance In Sochi

Carlson celebrates his game winning OT goal vs. Canada in 2010
In the February issue of USA Hockey Magazine, they featured their picks for 2014's Team USA to represent in Sochi at the Winter Olympics. The games officially open February 6, 2014, a year from now. On that list to represent the United States is a Washington Capitals' defender, John Carlson.
Our Take: Team USA’s youngest defenseman will also provide the red, white and blue with a presence along the blue line. The 6-foot-3 Carlson is one of the league’s up and coming defensemen.
There is still a long way to go to see if any NHL players will even be allowed to go to Sochi, but Carlson would be on the short list of defensemen to make America's team. He has international experience from the World Junior Championship in 2010. His gold medal winning overtime goal against team Canada (in Canada) has endeared himself to USA hockey fans and deserves consideration by Team USA's brass to take him to Russia.

His quickness and good puck handling skills are a plus for any team. Carlson is a shining beacon to the USA developmental program that is beginning to pour out championship teams. The USA junior program has cranked out two gold medals in the last four years, four medals (2g, 2b) since 2007. The Olympic men's hockey program has also benefited by winning silver in Vancouver just three years ago.

But ask John Carlson about being on the short list to make the trip to Russia and it is as far from his mind as Sochi is to Washington, D.C.

"Obviously everyone wants to play there, it would be great," Carlson said after practice Friday. "But, I am just trying to keep my head here right now and work as hard as I can everyday try to help make this team (Capitals) better. I think that is everyone's goal in here, we don't need any distractions."

Carlson's talents have been overshadowed this year by a tough losing streak with the Capitals. He has been on the ice for at least a goal against in every game of the season thus far, although not all of the blame could fall on him. For him, Sochi is this far off thing and he seems content to keep it right there.

"We need to stay focused to what is ahead of us right now."

If the budding defenseman needed any advice, he does have another once budding defenseman just four stalls down from him in Tom Poti to give him guidance.

"It is a great experience," Poti said of his time he played at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. "You get to meet all the different athletes from different countries and see how they train and how they get prepared for their events."

Poti at the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympics
Poti was a young defenseman playing for the Edmonton Oilers at the time. Like Carlson, Poti also came up the ranks through the World Junior Championships playing in 1995 and again in 1996. On an Olympic team that featured some of the all time USA greats like Phil Housley, Mike Modano, Chris Chelios, Brian Leetch, Brett Hull, Jeremy Roenick and Keith Tkachuk (just to name a few), the stacked team won silver.

They lost to an equally stacked Canadian team featuring Joe Sakic, Mario Lemieux, Martin Brodeur, Jarome Iginla and Brendan Shanahan (just to name a few).

"They were a pretty good squad," Poti recalled. "We had a great team as well. We went 7-0 in the preliminary round and the only game we lost was the gold medal game. It was frustrating to lose to those guys but we gave it our best shot.

"If [Carlson] gets the chance to go just embrace it, have a blast with it. He will remember every second of it."

Both Team USA and the Washington Capitals could sure use some of that explosive quickness and hard shot from the point. What Carlson can take out from his international experience does help him here in the NHL.

"Every new league you play in, it's different, a different style of hockey," Carlson said. "You take a lot out of it and also you play against a lot of really good players."

While the prospect of getting that opportunity to represent his country in Russia excites the young defenseman, Carlson remains committed to his team here in DC. The 2014 Olympics are a year away after all.

"I mean, I don't think anyone wouldn't [be excited to make the team]," Carlson smirked. "It would be awesome."

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Collapse In The Second

Capitals 2, Penguins 5
Game Summary - Event Summary

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Second periods just are not the Washington Capitals' thing. They have been out scored 19-6. After playing a text book opening frame on the road against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Caps collapse under a series of bad penalty kills and the Penguins took full advantage. Allowing three power play goals for the Penguins in the second period the Capitals drop their third straight losing 5-2.

Mike Ribeiro took advantage of a bad rebound from a point shot. Marc-Andre Fleury shot backwards like he had been hit by a shotgun, but wasn't touched by Wotjek Wolski who was standing still in front of him. Ribeiro had an open shot to the net to make it one nothing. The Caps would take the lead into the first intermission playing the best period they have played yet this season. Ignoring the second period where the Pens scored 5 straight goals, Alex Ovechkin netted his second goal of the season on the power play. It would make the Caps a perfect 1 for 1 with the extra man advantage.

After holding the big names off the score sheet on Sunday, the Caps couldn't contain the Pens' top players off the scoresheet. Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Sidney Crosby all found the back of the net. All three were scored on the power play.

Michal Neuvirth started the game well enough. He made some good saves in the first period, even shutting the door on Matt Cooke who broke in alone. But after the second goal in the second period, head coach Adam Oates took a chance at switching goaltenders putting in Braden Holtby. It didn't have the desired affect.

The Penguins would expand their lead with a power play tally that Holtby admitted he should have saved. When Cooke scored just 11 seconds later, the team was deflated and never really recovered. Even with a third period goal on the power play, the best the Capitals could do was hold even for the rest of the game.

The Capitals could not afford to take the penalties they did, but they did. The Penguins made them pay for it. When a team is in the middle of a game winning streak such as the Pens were, it was difficult for the Caps to match the confidence that Pittsburgh had. When it got bad, it got worse for the Capitals.

What ever fragile psyche these Caps are in, when something negative happens against them they have not been able to recover.  That mental aspect of the game has the Caps playing head games with themselves.

Caps Notes:
  • Capitals will go back to play their division Saturday when they face the Florida Panthers.
  • The Caps out shot the Penguins 19-10 in the first and third periods. The Pens out shot the Caps in the second period 18-6.
  • Alex Ovechkin has yet to score a goal at even strength, all three of his goals have been on the power play.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Mental Lapses Leads To Loss

Capitals 2, Maple Leafs 3
Game Summary - Event Summary

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Whether it was a miscommunication between the goaltender and the defenseman or a complete collapse of the defensive zone, when the Washington Capitals make a mistake it costs them games. No matter how small the infraction is, the penalty or the missed play, the Caps can't find the bounces. They moral collapses after bad goal after bad goal until there is a hole that is too much for them to over come. The Maple Leafs took advantage of the hapless Caps again 3-2.

Both Capitals' goals came on the power play. Marcus Johansson got  the scoring bug off his back when the Leafs broke down in their own zone. Tomas Kundratek helped with his first point in his NHL career when he found Johansson for the back door play. Mike Ribeiro gave the phone booth some life in the third period when again the Leafs over persued. Ribeiro was open on the far side and Troy Brouwer found him cutting in. He sniped it high over the shoulder of Leafs' goaltender Ben Scrivens for his third goal of the season.

It was a pretty decent first period for the Capitals. They were building up momentum, playing solid on a team that had played the night before. But a bad play behind the net where Michal Neuvirth left the puck to Tom Poti lead to a turn over. Poti frozen with the puck either didn't see James Van Riemsdyk, or his forecheck was too fast for the defenseman who just came back from two years off nursing a fractured pelvis. Van Riemsdyk stripped the puck from the Caps defender, and wrapped it around and into the net. It deflated the Capitals right then and there. They never fully recovered.

This is the first game that special teams didn't hurt the Capitals. The PK was perfect, and they scored two goals with the extra man. This is their first loss of the season when they have not had a power play goal against.

Alex Ovechkin had an assist in the game, his third of the season was a secondary helper on the Ribeiro goal. He had a few chances, but his failure to score and even strength goal is starting to become a concern. Once the most exciting scorer in the NHL, now a mere shell of a winger that would rather do the fly by around the net then battle for pucks in front.

It was the little mistakes, the lapses in judgement and miscommunication that did the Capitals in. Those details and little things a team has to do in order to win is eluding the Capitals right now. Whether it is a break down in the defensive zone or a missed read on a power play entry, those little nuances to the game and their system is being missed.

The Caps have a fragile moral right now. When they have a set back, a phantom penalty or a bad goal, it takes them at least 5 to 10 minutes of game time to get back to the momentum they once had. Often times players are breaking to make a play, but leave their responsibilities to make a play only to get burned. Those things can be corrected. They can be improved, but only if the team buys into the system and sticks with it.

Caps notes:
  • Nick Backstrom was credited with an assist, bringing his point and assist streak to 5 games.
  • With the Caps' loss and the Calgary Flames win, the Capitals are now dead last in the league (30th) with just 5 points.
  • Johansson was named the game's second star.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

A Better Game Than You Thought

The score was lopsided. A 6-3 score makes it sound like a rout by the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Washington Capitals on Superbowl Sunday afternoon. A tale of two teams, one struggling, the other cruising along and the end result was a three goal deferential. From the tweets following the game, the casual observer might think this was a dismal loss for the struggling Capitals.

That was just a sampling of the some tweets after the game. Some used harsher language. But as head coach Adam Oates said in the opening tweet there, the Caps did play a good hockey game.

ESPN even alluded to as much in an article that pointed out that it was a better game than the score may have indicated:
A veteran scout observing Sunday afternoon’s rivalry game between the Penguins and Capitals sounded almost relieved in his evaluation of the play after two periods. Like, he’d been waiting too long for a game like this.
“This is the first good hockey game I’ve seen this year,” he said.
The first period saw two teams playing hard pressed, hard hitting but not dirty hockey. Even a friend of mine texted after the Caps' second goal "What a game!" then, "This blows!" after the final decision.

Let's put aside that the Caps are struggling to find identity, the softies that Braden Holtby wanted back, and the close but no cigar power play. The Capitals did dictate the play for long periods of the game. They were making progress on a team that played the night before. Bury a few of those chances or make good on the second opportunities and it is a different hockey game.

Where do the Capitals go from here? Obviously Oates found some positives from this game to exploit.

"We made a couple of mistakes but other than that I thought we played a good solid hockey game," Oates said after the 6-3 loss. "There are things we can do better, and we will address that. But I don't look at the game as one that got away from us because we weren't playing well."

The system, a hybrid of a team defensive style that adds an aggressive forecheck, often kept the Penguins pinned in their own zone for long periods of time. The Capitals seem to also be using their defensemen far more and better than they ever have in the offensive zone. Grinding down low and popping the puck back to the point seems to create some space for forwards to reset or crash the net.

What the Capitals lacked today were second chance opportunities off of those point shots and making good on those chances. By getting into the gritty areas, working hard for bouncing pucks and cleaning up sloppy rebounds are areas that can only help the Capitals going forward.

"We needed more bodies around the net," forward Troy Brouwer said. "We didn't have very many second opportunities. It was one and done."

Today that system showed that even a team with little identity can hold up and even push a team on their heels that clearly has good chance at a run to the Stanley Cup. As players get more use to the system, the better in the long run it will be beneficial. It is the growing pains of getting there is what the fan, more so the casual fan, is frustrated with.

"No one plays a perfect game," defenseman John Carlson said to reporters following the game. "If we stick to what we have been taught, it clearly works."

It is not a measuring stick of how good this team is playing with a team like the Penguins. Not at this point of the season. The Capitals have to better adapt to their system. But when the system is working, it takes extraordinary efforts by the opposition to keep this offense and power play at bay.

"[The Caps] are a dangerous team, they showed that today," Penguins' allstar center Sidney Crosby said. "They created a lot of chances and we definitely, at certain points, had to play good defense..."

Penguins' head coach Dan Bylsma praised the efforts of his penalty killers Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik when the Caps seemed to press and tired down the Penguins with the extra man attack. Former Cap and Pens net minder Vokoun talked about how the puck movement on the Capitals' power play was starting to wear him down as they moved the puck. There are bright spots to look at that better gauge where the Capitals are headed.

"We get a lot of chances and create a lot of offense but we need to just put the puck in the net," Caps' forward Wojtek Wolski was quoted. "When we do get those opportunities, there are chances to change the game, change the momentum. We haven't capitalized."

Pens Stay Hot, Caps Stay Cool

Capitals 3, Penguins 6
Game Summary - Event Summary

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Two teams in different directions. The Pittsburgh Penguins competing and battling for a first place spot in the Eastern Conference. The Washington Capitals a team that is transitioning to a new system, with a new coaching staff. As far apart as both teams were, the game had a playoff feel to it. But the bounces and the luck fell with the team with the higher compete level. The Penguins double up the Capitals 6-3 for the Superbowl Sunday win.

Mike Green found his way on to the score sheet for his second goal of the season. It came just over a minute and a half after the Penguins opened the scoring early in the first period. John Carlson had possibly the strangest goal of the short year thus far. His dump in careened off the boards and glass and caught Pens' goaltender Tomas Vokoun off guard as he tried to play the puck behind the net. The puck hit the glass and trickled into the abandoned net. It would tie the game in the second period. Mike Ribeiro scored on the power play in the third period after Pittsburgh's penalty kill broke down and some nice passing.

The Penguins took advantage of young goaltender Braden Holtby playing the steel city team for the first time. The tie breaker goal by Kris Letang and the eventual game winner by Chris Kunitz were considered soft goals as they exploited Holtby's glove on both goals. It would tarnish a spectacular afternoon for number 70. The Capitals' net minder had some fantastic saves both before and after the two goal blitz by the Penguins in the second period.

The Capitals' power play showed more signs of improving. While only scoring once with the man advantage, the power play is doing a better job at moving the opposition and controlling puck possession. Given time and more opportunities, the Capitals' power play will start to capitalize on those chances.

For most the afternoon, the penalty kill did well. They allowed two goals late, the eventual game winner and then a late 5 on 3 when Alex Ovechkin took a roughing call after a late hit by a Penguin.

There are some positives the Caps can take from this lopsided loss. For periods of the first and third periods, they controlled the play. They had some great scoring chances but just failed to convert them into goals. Ovechkin seems to have found a bit of chemistry with Mike Ribeiro on his line and Wotjek Wolski. The line of Matt Hendricks, Joey Crabb and Eric Fehr seemed to be a key energy line that helped through out the game. Building on those positives could help this team here on out.

Caps Notes:
  • The Washington Capitals have played 23 times on Superbowl Sunday. Their record is now 14-7-2-0.
  • Ribeiro's power play goal and his assist give him 22 career points against the Penguins. It is the fourth time this season he has a two point game. 
  • Nick Backstrom continues his point streak to four games with his assist on Carlson's goal.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Skid Stopped

Capitals 3, Flyers 2
Game Summary - Event Summary

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)
The Washington Capitals needed a good sixty minute effort after their two demoralizing losses. Blown leads into the third period against both Ottawa and Toronto made tonight's game against the Philadelphia Flyers an important game for the Capitals to find something to work on. Thanks to a couple of breakaways and two goals in the final frame, the Caps get their wish with a 3-2 win over the Flyers.

"We had a tough road trip," Caps forward Nick Backstrom said. "We played well against Ottawa and we had a lead there in the third period, same thing in Toronto. So, we really needed this one. Especially in the position that we are in, we need the points."

Backstrom got that "no goal" monkey off his back with a second period tally tonight. Eight games into the season and he finally has a goal. It happened at the right moment, with the Capitals already down 1-0. The Flyers made a horrendous line change and turned the puck over just inside the blue line. John Carlson snapped it up to an open Backstrom who streaked into the net and backhanded the shot past Ilya Bryzgalov. It tied the game late in the second and set up a better third period effort for the Capitals.

In the third, a break down in the defensive zone by the Flyers opened some passing lanes for the Capitals. With a good forecheck, the Caps were able to work the puck around to Troy Brouwer who sniped it at a sharp angle to the net past Bryzgalov. Wotjek Wolski scored his second tally of the year after some nice stick work around the defender to create his own break away and scored on a seeing-eye puck that dribbled past the Flyer net minder.

"We did really well in the neutral zone," Wolski said of the effort in the third period. "I think the last couple of games in the third period we seemed to break down and get away from what we want to be doing in the neutral zone. I think tonight we really stuck together."

The game was far from mistake free for the Capitals, but it was a much more solid effort overall. The Capitals did have a few hiccups along the way with penalties, but were able to kill them all off. Matt Hendricks was the only penalty faux pas of the night when he dropped mitts with Zac Rinaldo before the puck dropped at the end of the first period. He was assessed a game misconduct and it ended the night early for the Caps' forward.

John Erskine was involved in a bit of drama too. The Caps defender stuck out his elbow to catch Wayne Simmonds in the snoz. The hit will surely be reviewed by the league office. As for Simmonds, he did not return.

The revolving door for goaltending got interesting for the Caps after Neuvirth looked as if he wrangled the number one job away from Braden Holtby. But on a back to back night, Adam Oates put in Holtby and he did a fantastic job in net. Stopping 29 shots, including 13 in the second period, Holtby ate up outside shots and had better rebound control. It was good enough to earn him his first win of the season.

Special teams got a boost on the penalty kill, but the power play was a dismal 0 for 5. Including a sparkling 5 on 3 chance in the third period to take the lead. The PP is something of a work in progress. The in zone set up is good, but the entries are messy and inconsistent. If the Capitals lose control of the puck, it seems to take them awhile to get the puck back in the zone for the set up, if they can get in the zone to begin with.

"You’ve got to give [the Flyers] credit," Oates said of the lack of production on the PP. "They’re a good [penalty killing] team. Maybe we didn’t win enough battles."

Overall, this is more of a moral victory for the Capitals. It wasn't pretty at times, but they stuck to their system and squeezed out two points. There is plenty to work on for the Capitals. But time is a factor considering the Pittsburgh Penguins are in town on Superbowl Sunday. The afternoon game will be a short turn around for the Capitals who must be better in their own zone against a much more potent offense than the Flyers.

Caps Notes:
  • Nick Backstrom, Mike Ribeiro and Wojtek Wolski all had zero shots last night in Toronto. The three combined for 9 shots tonight and 3 points.
  • Troy Brouwer scored his third goal of the season, his second in the last three games. 
  • When the Capitals kill off all penalties they are a perfect 2-0-0. Which also means they are winless if the opposition does score with the extra man. 

Another Collapse

Capitals 2, Maple Leafs 3
Game Summary - Event Summary

It started out well for the Washington Capitals. They got the big hit, the early goal. They got spectacular goaltending and a penalty kill that did okay. But another 2-1 lead into the third period withered away. The Capitals would drop their second straight night with a second intermission lead to the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2.

It was a homecoming for Joel Ward and the hometown boy didn't disappoint. Some hard work on the boards and a little bit of help from a fantastic play and pass from Mike Ribeiro, Ward recorded his fourth goal of the shortened 2013 campaign.

But as good as the Capitals were looking, they suddenly could not stay out of the penalty box. The Caps took 10 minutes of penalties in the games first 10 minutes. A combination of not moving their feet and frustration dug a pretty big hole for the Caps as James Van Riemsdyk scored off of a rebound on the Capitals third penalty of the game (Jason Chimera's second minor of a double minor assessed for hooking and unsportsmanlike conduct).

A good penalty kill by the Caps kept the game tied through the first period and early in the second, their power play finally clicked. Alex Ovechkin scored just his second goal of the season when Ribeiro again made a good pass tot he waiting winger on the half boards.

The Capitals would take the 2-1 lead into the third period, but that is when things fell apart. They would not register a shot on goal until nearly halfway through the final frame. With the ice tilted, the Leafs took advantage of the struggling Capitals in the third period and with goals from Nikolai Kulemin and Matt Frattin sealed the win for the home team Leafs.

While the collapse is a tough one to swallow, it is even tougher to see the team struggle in the third period for a second straight game. Below are just some random thoughts I had on the game:
  • The Capitals just can not survive by taking as many penalties as they had in the first period. Eight minor penalties were assessed to the Caps in this game all with in a span of just over 20 minutes between the first and second periods. All that PK took a toll on the players needed later on. Coupled with the fact that the Capitals had to lay off the Leafs for fear of taking another penalty. That lead to some glorious chances for the Leafs.
  • If it were not for Michal Neuvirth, the score could have been easily 8-2. Neuvy played his best game as a Capital and was the only reason the team was in the game in the first place. The Caps' net minder could take some solace in the fact that he point blank robbed Phil Kessel on several occasions to keep the Leaf forward with out a goal yet this season. He would earn the game's third star.
  • Ribeiro played inspired hockey tonight against the Leafs. He had two set ups for goals in this game. He was one of the few bright spots for the Capitals.
  • Nick Backstrom has been a non factor so far this season. Almost to the point of being barely seen at all in this game. 
  • If conditioning is the problem, it was never more apparent than in the third period. The Caps looked slow and stopped moving their feet. That combination led to a Maple Leaf assault that the Caps could not match. 
  • John Erskine had a monster hit in the first period on Kessel. Not long after, the Capitals scored taking the early 1-0 lead. Besides a penalty here or there, the break downs in the defensive system were far too many in this game.
Caps Notes:
  • The Caps were able to kill off seven of eight power play opportunities the Leafs had. 
  • Tom Poti, Matthieu Perreault and Roman Hamrlik were the Caps' healthy scratches.
  • Ovechkin only managed two shots all game.
  • The Capitals are now 30th in the league. Calgary has the same number of standings points but have played less games 2 less games.