January 29, 2015

Three stars: Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins 1/28/15

First star: Braden Holtby. He backstopped the Capitals to a 4-0 win and plugged the holes for three penalty kills. He got his 23rd win, fifth shutout of the year, and second shutout of the season versus Pittsburgh.

Second star: Mike Green. Green is a polarizing character amongst fans, but it is undeniable that when he plays well, the team does well.  He added a lovely goal and an assist in an overall dominating performance Wednesday, his 10th multipoint game of the season.

Third star: Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom logged two assists in the win, his 10th multi-assist game of the year. He’s collected 25 points in his last 22 games. This guy has 35 assists through 48 games.

Honorable mention: Eric Fehr, who’s playing his first real season at center, for his beastly performance in the dot, winning  17 of 22 faceoffs. That’s 77.3%. Word.

 

 

Washington Capitals Game 48 Recap: Holtby’s 27 saves help Capitals blank Penguins 4-0

Like many teams after the All-Star break, Washington Capitals couldn’t seem to find their footing. Before the break, they lost three straight games, and that spilled over to their first game back in Columbus.

After four straight losses, three in regulation, it almost looked like time to worry. A 4-0 drubbing of the Pittsburgh Penguins appears to have righted the ship, for the time being. [Read more…]

Three stars: Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets 1/27/15

First star:

Matt Niskanen.

Niskanen set up two of Washington’s three goals in the 4-3 loss and logged the second-highest ice time of all skaters with 22:43 (only Karl Alzner had more), and two shots on goal.

Second star:

Braden Holtby.

He allowed 4 goals on 30 shots and an otherwise somewhat poor outing, but he was Washington’s best penalty killer. Columbus had 5 power plays, and came up empty on all of them thanks to Holby and the PKers.

Third star:

Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Kuznetsov collected a goal (his fifth of the year) and an assist (12) in the loss. He finished the night with a 14:09 TOI and two shots on goal.

Washington Capitals Game 47 Recap: Caps can’t hang with Blue Jackets, lose fourth straight

It felt like one step forward, two steps back for the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night as they played from behind all night long and fell to the Columbus Blue Jackets on the road, 4-3. Ill-timed penalties and a handful of defensive breakdowns spelled defeat for the Caps, as they dropped their fourth straight contest.

[Read more…]

Free agent decisions loom large for Caps as trade deadline approaches

Mike Green during warmups at Verizon Center, May 2 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Mike Green during warmups at Verizon Center, May 2 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

As the teams return from the All-Star Break and meaningful hockey starts again, the next big day on the NHL calendar is the trade deadline.

The NHL trade deadline is on March 2 at 3 pm, just over a month away. The task for each team over the next few weeks is to determine what their realistic goals are for this season and going forward so that they can determine if they will be buyers or sellers at the deadline.

On an individual level, general managers need to determine the future of their pending free agents, i.e. who they will seek to re-sign and who already has one foot out of the door.

The Washington Capitals are no exception. There are currently 10 players on the roster who are in the final year of their contract and General Manager Brian MacLellan has to determine now who he wants to see back in Washington next season. [Read more…]

Three Hershey Bears prep for AHL All-Star Game

When the AHL All-Star Game roster was first announced January 6, it looked as though only one player would be representing the Hershey Bears. However, other players’ call-ups have summoned two more Bears to the All-Star festivities in Utica, NY. Goaltender Philipp Grubauer was named to the roster on Friday, joining Tim Kennedy and defenseman Connor Carrick for Monday’s game. Grubauer was a last-minute addition when goaltender Anton Forsberg (Springfield Falcons) pulled out of the game due to a recent injury to Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Carrick replaces Nikita Nesterov (Syracuse Crunch), who is currently on a call-up with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The three Bears players are well-deserving of the appointments. Kennedy, the only one to be named to the initial roster, has been named to three AHL All-Star Games, though this is the first one he will actually play, as injuries prevented him from attending the first two. Kennedy leads the Hershey Bears in scoring with 33 points (4 goals, 29 assists) in 40 games, and ranks second in the AHL in assists. Bears head coach Troy Mann told Tim Leone, “After a little bit of a slow start, I think he certainly came into his own and has been arguably our best forward, for the most part, all year.”

Defenseman Connor Carrick joined the All-Star roster on January 21, less than a week before the game itself. Carrick is in his second season with the Hershey Bears after starting the 2013-14 season with the Washington Capitals. The Illinois native is third on the Bears in points with 27 (6 goals, 21 assists) and leads all Hershey defensemen in that category. Carrick went on a tear in December, recording 9 points in 12 games that month. In the last game before the All-Star break on January 24, Carrick scored the overtime winner against Binghamton. Carrick took to Twitter after the All-Star selection announcement, saying, “Such an honor, lotta great players on that roster.”

Philipp Grubauer could perhaps have been a bit of a snub being left off the initial roster. However, once Bobrovsky went down in Columbus and All-Star starter Anton Forsberg was called up, Grubauer got the call to join the All-Star Game. Grubauer has been consistently excellent in his three seasons with the Hershey Bears. Currently the starter for the Bears, he is 14-9-4 with three shutouts, and has a 2.15 GAA and a .920 save percentage. While that doesn’t rank very highly in AHL rankings (he’s 10th in GAA, 19th in save percentage, 8th in wins), those are very respectable numbers for the 23-year-old goaltender. Though Grubauer was recently injured (knee), he recovered in enough time to be an All-Star.

The AHL All-Star Skills competition was Sunday in Utica. Kennedy participated in the puck control relay and breakaway relay. Carrick faced the speed gun in the hardest shot competition (clocking 98.0 mph) as well as the breakaway relay. Grubauer’s talents in net were on display in the Rapid Fire and pass and score. Grubauer won the award for Top Goaltender in the skills competition, stopping 16 of 19 shots in goaltending events.

The AHL All-Star Game takes place Monday, January 26 at 7:00pm ET.

Three stars: Washington Capitals 4, Edmonton Oilers 5 (SO)

The Washington Capitals had a two-goal lead three different times, but lost their 4-2 lead in the final five minutes of the third period and ultimately fell to the Edmonton Oilers 5-4 in a shootout on Tuesday night at Verizon Center. Their third loss in a row, the Capitals will have some time to think about the collapse, as they’re off for the next week thanks to the All-Star break.

First star: Alex Ovechkin’s two goals in the first 14 minutes looked to be harbingers of another hat trick to add to the concourse display at the Phone Booth, and his effort was strong overall. And oh, by the way, he’s scored 11 goals in his last 11 games.

Second star: John Carlson had two assists, one of which looked like it may have been a goal at first, and a plus-one on the night. Add three blocked shots onto that and you have a recipe for a good night.

Third star: Jay Beagle was also a plus-one, and scored his seventh goal of the season on his only shot on net. He’s off to the best year, scoring-wise at least, that’s he’s ever had.

Washington Capitals Game 46 Recap: Penalties turn the tide as Caps fall to Oilers

Less than two minutes into the game, the Washington Capitals’ two-game skid was already a distant memory. By the game’s end, it was the only thing on everyone’s mind.

Alex Ovechkin scored twice in the opening frame. including one in the first two minutes, but the Caps gave up three separate two-goal leads to the Edmonton Oilers before falling 5-4 in a shootout. [Read more…]

Opinion: Capitals should relegate Peters to Hershey and call up Grubauer for remainder of season

When the Washington Capitals signed free-agent goalie Justin Peters to a two-year, $1.9M ($950k/yr.) contract in the offseason, it seemed like a good fit for both sides, and was lauded as one of the smarter free agent signings of the summer of 2014.

With that deal, the Capitals locked up a serviceable backup to Braden Holtby for less than $1M per year. A goalie tandem with a cap hit of less than $3M a year? Sounds like responsible cap management by Brian MacLellan, similar to what George McPhee was able to pull off with the Braden Holtby–Michal Neuvirth duo in 2013-14. Both goaltenders were secured for $3.8M/yr.

In July, when Peters signed with the Capitals, he told the Washington Post:  “I was looking for an opportunity, an opportunity to play, an opportunity for the coaching staff, a goalie coach like Mitch [Korn]. It just seemed like the puzzles and the pieces came together, and also the organization and the confidence they showed in me. I was able to meet the staff, I was able to meet the training staff, the equipment guys, I was able to meet a lot of people in the organization.”

Much has changed since then. The confidence of the staff and the “opportunity to play” that Peters spoke about in July do not seem to be the case any longer.

Saturday night in Dallas, Peters saw his first start in six weeks, a 5-4 loss. It was just his seventh start of the season. The loss could hardly be blamed on Peters, as it was the second of a back-to-back road game. It did bring to mind a few lingering problems. Namely why Peters sees so little starting time. Is there a lack of trust from the coaching staff? Holtby has been exceptional, so is he merely a victim of circumstance? Or is he just not good, at all?

Peters has a career .904 SV% and a record of 22-31-8 through 76 NHL games. The likely answer is that he isn’t that good, but it’s not as if he’s had a chance to prove himself this year, or will even get an opportunity to do so.

It’s simple math, really. If the Capitals want Holtby to be fresh for a playoff run in April, he needs a backup that can start a game once a week rather than once a month. This is why management should relegate Peters to Hershey and call up Philipp Grubauer for the remainder of the season.

It would be prudent to provide Holtby with a backup that can share the load but not make it necessary for him to carry a ridiculous amount of starts. Out of 45 games this season, Peters has amassed a SV% of .864 and a 2-4-1 record in his meager 7 starts. Holtby’s count is now at 38 starts, with a .923 SV%, and a record of 22-9-7.

Holtby’s 20 consecutive starts were impressive, to say the least. This has nothing to do with his abilities. He can carry the team if he needs to. The problem is that he shouldn’t have to do it for 70 games and have nothing left in the tank come playoff time, especially if the Capitals hope to make any kind of deep run.

At this juncture, it’s possible Peters could play better. However, it’s clear the coaching staff isn’t willing to let him do so. If there was any belief that he could, he probably wouldn’t have been sitting for 6 weeks while Holtby figuratively lit the NHL on fire.

This is where Grubauer comes in. Last season, during Adam Oates’ reign of terror and subsequent three-headed goalie monster, Grubauer played in 17 games and posted a 6-5-5 record with a  .925 SV%. In 25 games with the Hershey Bears this season, Grubauer is 12-9-3 (3 shutouts) and a .920 SV%.

Peters will have to go through waivers if he’s sent to Hershey, but with all respect to him, since he’s not exactly in danger of being claimed, this shouldn’t be huge worry. He’ll still be making his $950K salary in the AHL, which is a bitter pill for management to swallow, but less so when you think about what could happen in the event of an injury to Holtby, and asking Holtby to potentially make 70 starts this season could very well lead to that. What to do with Peters for the remaining year of his contract is another consideration. Maybe a longer stint in the AHL would be beneficial to Peters in the long term, and he could end up returning to Washington to back up Holtby next season.

Grubauer’s development shouldn’t be a concern, either. He’s a bit fresher and will likely not sit as much as Peters has thus far, not to mention that getting NHL playing time will build trade value, if the organization should choose to use him as a bargaining chip in the future. As long as he’s in the AHL, he’s not going to be worth much, tradewise.

All things considered, Grubauer would be a better backup to Holtby than Peters has been this year.

Holtby, who is far and above Washington’s number one goalie for this season and the near future, will be a RFA this summer, and will probably get an enormous raise, as Pat Holden from Russian Machine broke down last week. He thrives on a steady workload, as we’ve seen, but running him into the ground during the regular season and expecting him to hold up during a playoff run is not a sustainable option.

 

Follow Katie on Twitter at @katiebhockey

Washington Capitals Game 45 Recap: Third period breakdown dooms Caps in Dallas

The Washington Capitals got off to a weak start against the Dallas Stars on Saturday night, a tough 5-4 loss that leaves them wondering how they left two points behind in their swing through the Big D.  Coach Barry Trotz allowed the overworked Braden Holtby the night off, giving Justin Peters the start and a chance to keep the Caps rolling, but Dallas stole the show and left the visiting Caps empty-handed.

Washington, having just come from a demoralizing last-minute loss against the Nashville Predators, could not find a way to sustain momentum, handing over another loss.  The Caps, red-hot over the past fifteen games, were left wondering how to regain the spark that pushed them through December and early January. [Read more…]

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