March 6, 2015

Three stars: Washington Capitals vs. Minnesota Wild

First star:

Braden Holtby.

He looked all set to tie Marc-Andre Fleury for the NHL lead with 8 shutouts, but all that was spoiled late in the third period. Minnesota’s second goal took three tries to swat in, and Holtby made a sprawling save just seconds before. He can’t steal every game.

Second star:

Curtis Glencross.

New guy Glencross has a nickname that followed him to Washington that originated from his days in Edmonton. “Scoreface,” they call him. He said someone must’ve had a “brain-wave” about it.

Third star:

Marcus Johansson.

Johansson hit more iron tonight than a golfer on a typical day, and he was all over the ice. Whatever the post didn’t stop, Dubnyk did.

Washington Capitals Game 66 Recap: Wild score two in third period to top Capitals 2-1

Jason Pominville’s two goal performance led the Minnesota Wild to a 2-1 victory over the Washington Capitals Thursday, their fourth straight win. It was Minnesota’s seventh win in eight games.

Both Pominville’s goals came in the third period, and blew the game wide open after nearly 50 minutes of a stingy defensive game.

Minnesota was forced to play much of the game with five defensemen after a hard hit by Tom Wilson and Brooks Laich knocked defenseman Matt Dumba out of the game in the first period.

Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk stopped 21 shots to earn his 26th win of the season. Dubnyk has won 13 of 19 games since joining the Wild. Washington goalie Braden Holtby made 30 saves in his 57th start this season.

“It was a close game, like we expected it, “ said Holtby. “We got an early lead, and it was kind of a battle after that. It’s a fortunate bounce, goes their way on the first goal… games go like that sometimes.”

Washington’s only goal came courtesy of Curtis Glencross at 2:51 of the first period. The goal was Glencross’ first with the Capitals after being traded from the Calgary Flames March 1, and his 10th of the season.

Glencross’ goal came on Washington’s only power play opportunity against Minnesota’s second-ranked penalty kill, which was 47 on their last 48 shorthanded situations.

“They’re a team that battles hard and competes hard, and they do a good job blocking shots and getting in lanes,” said Glencross. ”They see the middle of the ice good, and they collapse good in front of the net, so they don’t allow a lot through the middle. That’s the key to a good penalty kill.”

Alex Ovechkin was kept out with an upper body injury against the Wild, and missed his first game of the 2014-15 season. Washington struggled to produce offense without their leading scorer.

“He takes away the eyes of their top players,” said defenseman Karl Alzner. “He makes them think twice. He stretches the zone, he comes in hard, he’s good one-on-one. He really makes defensemen and their forwards play tougher minutes.”

Andre Burakovsky, recalled from the Hershey Bears, took Ovechkin’s place in the lineup, and skated with Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom on Washington’s top line. Burakovsky logged 16:49 TOI, his third highest this season.

Washington was held to just 25 shots in the loss, in a game marked by heavy hits and tight defense.

“It’s sort of like trench warfare. You just have to take your inch-by-inch, and when you make a mistake, they’re going to capitalize on it,” said Washington coach Barry Trotz. “That’s how they are, and I thought we played a pretty solid game overall.”

 

 

 

Three stars: Washington Capitals 5, Columbus Blue Jackets 3

First star: Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin increased his goal scoring total with two against Columbus. He leads the league in goals with 43, and shares the points lead with Nicklas Backstrom with 67.

Second star: Nicklas Backstrom. If he isn’t a Hart contender already, he’s making a strong case for it. Backstrom shares the league lead  with 67 points – and 49 of those are assists.

Third star: Braden Holtby. Holtby earned his 31st win of the season, and stopped 27 of 30 shots in his record 56th start of the year. He is quite literally a beast.

Washington Capitals Game 65 Recap: Caps win penalty-filled game in Columbus

In an absolute mess of a game, the Washington Capitals proved –yet again — that the best way to counter a team trying to thug it up is to score on them on the resulting power play.

Alex Ovechkin scored twice — including a power play goal in the third period that eventually became the game-winner — and the Caps knocked off the also-ran Columbus Blue Jackets 5-3 on Tuesday night in Columbus. [Read more…]

OPINION: The Caps deadline deals make them better, but not good enough

Another trade deadline has come and gone. It’s a time when general managers try to inflate the importance of all the moves they made/didn’t make and a time when fans and analysts alike sit back and overestimate the impact a handful of depth players will have around the NHL.

Excuse me for not planning a Stanley Cup parade in Washington after the Capitals added Tim Gleason and Curtis Glencross to the roster.

I like both of these players. I’m not thrilled that the Caps have so few draft picks in what is supposed to be an excellent draft, but in the NHL where players outside of the first round rarely make the big leagues, I’m okay with making the types of deals general manager Brian MacLellan did in pursuit of the Stanley Cup.

But come on. Have the Caps really gone from a wild card team to Cup contender with these additions? [Read more…]

Three stars: Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

First star:

Braden Holtby.

It seems like he should have more, but his 7th shutout of the season was no less impressive. He stopped all 32 shots thrown his way.

 

Second star:

Alex Ovechkin.

Ovechkin scored his 40th and 41st goals against Toronto on Sunday night, and earned  an assist to boot. If he scored 50, no one would be surprised.

 

Third star:

Nicklas Backstrom.

Backstrom earned his 47th assist Sunday night, and is a serious contender for the Hart Trophy. Yeah.

Washington Capitals Game 64 Recap: Holtby earns 7th shutout of season against Maple Leafs

On his first shift of the night, thirty seconds into the game, Alex Ovechkin scored his league-leading 40th goal of the season against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The next one came a little bit later, but the Capitals didn’t really need it.

The Washington Capitals won the game 4-0. Braden Holtby stopped 32 shots, and is now tied for second place among NHL goaltenders with his seventh shutout of the season.

“Ovi got us off to a great first shift and scores,” said Barry Trotz. “I thought our first period that the [Toronto Maple] Leafs had some really good looks. [Braden] Holtby was really good for us. I thought he was the difference maker and we got better as the game went on.”

Tim Gleason didn’t even get a chance to skate with the team before taking the ice against the Maple Leafs, and his new teammates applauded his adaptability.

“Tim [Gleason] played a great game tonight,” said Marcus Johansson. “He was solid all night long, not many mistakes. Just played strong and physical and then simple. That’s what we need. We’ve got a good feeling in here, and when we play like we did tonight, I think we are pretty hard to beat.”

Gleason, who was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, logged 18:34 of ice time with defensive partner Mike Green. He spent a little time on the PK, and had three hits.

The Maple Leafs are a struggling team, and exactly the type the Capitals needed to face to snap a three-game losing streak. Losing three straight games wasn’t reason to worry just yet, but was magnified by the four consecutive wins that preceded it.

Washington faces Columbus, Minnesota and Buffalo this week, with Minnesota being the only team that might end up a challenge for them. Buffalo is in full tank mode, and Columbus’ roster has been decimated by injuries.

Quick Take: Caps add more forward depth with Curtis Glencross

Washington Capitals first-year GM Brian MacLellan made another move in advance of Monday’s NHL Trade Deadline, dealing a second and third round pick in the 2015 draft to Calgary in exchange for forward Curtis Glencross.

Glencross is a sturdy, rugged winger who has two 20-goal seasons to his credit in nine NHL seasons. He had nine goals and 19 assists for Calgary this season. He routinely plays long minutes against tough competition and rarely took an offensive zone draw for the Flames this season. Much like Tim Gleason, picked up Friday from Carolina, Glencross immediately upgrades the Caps toughness factor without bringing in a “dirty” player.

The problem is that Glencross’ profile matches several players the Caps already employ, and his addition will probably mean subtraction of minutes for a younger, arguably more-talented player — specifically Andre Burakovsky.

Rumors were floating that Burakovsky was going to be sent to Hershey — on paper anyway — to make the youngster eligible for the AHL playoffs. If the Caps don’t make another deal before the deadline, they’ll have to remove a forward from the roster to make room for Glencross. Maybe Burakovsky is it.

Analyzing the roster and line moves all season, it’s become obvious that coach Barry Trotz isn’t ready to trust top-six minutes to Burakovsky or Evgeny Kuznetsov — and Nate Schmidt on defense — in the playoffs. The nightly tinkering to find a running mate on the top line is more evidence that Trotz isn’t comfortable allowing those youngsters the leash to handle that responsibility.

Glencross isn’t the perfect fit there wither, obviously. He’s more skilled than Jay Beagle or Tom Wilson — at least at this point in their careers — but he brings the toughness and hard work Trotz tries to instill in that spot with an upgrade in talent.

The Caps might not be done. They’ve still been linked to Erik Cole and Joffrey Lupul, two more forwards that could be a better fit on that top line with 8 & 19.

But to this point, the Caps’ new GM had made two moves that look an awful lot like those low-to-medium risk, low-reward moves of his predecessor at trade deadlines of years past.

Glencross and Gleason are both nice players, but they hardly move the needle on the Caps’ Cup chances. They make the Caps deeper perhaps, but not more talented.

The biggest issue, then, is how the Caps see themselves. And it’s organizational, not just at the GM level. The Caps organization believes it has a Cup championship core, and they need to fill in around the edges. They’ve been operating around this premise for several seasons.

But the truth is, they don’t have enough top-line talent. Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom can’t do it all by themselves. This team needs to surround that pair with more talented players, not more role players.

Quick take: Caps add Gleason, more toughness, to defensive corps

With Monday’s trade deadline rapidly approaching, the Washington Capitals made what could be the first of a couple of moves on Saturday, acquiring defensive defenseman Tim Gleason from Carolina in exchange for defenseman Jack Hillen and a fourth round pick in this year’s draft.

Gleason, 6’0″, 215, is a 32-year old left-handed shooting defender. He represents a slight upgrade over Hillen as the Caps sixth defenseman, but in wildly contrasting styles.

Hillen is slightly built, and nominally a puck-mover, though hardly a prolific scorer. Gleason, on the other hand, plays with toughness and will bring (another) mean streak to the Caps blue line.

According to all indications, Gleason will be paired with Mike Green, which means two things: 1) Green isn’t going anywhere at the trade deadline; and 2) The Caps really felt like they needed “protection” for Green getting run in the playoffs.

Gleason really is built in the Brooks Orpik mold. Neither defender is huge in stature, but they are both tough, willing to block shots and do the “dirty” work to protect the crease. Reasonable folks can argue all day about the value these types of players add to a team, but if you believe in the concept of “playoff hockey”, both Orpik and Gleason fit the mold as to the type of player that encompasses.

The Caps are also expected to be in the market for a “top six” forward before the deadline, and have been linked to varying degrees with veterans Patrick Sharp, Curtis Glencross and Erik Cole.

Three stars: Washington Capitals 0, Carolina Hurricanes 3

First star: Braden Holtby. This game could have been 5-0 if it weren’t for Braden Holtby. His diving “insect save” in the third period was his best of the night.

Second star: Matt Niskanen. He took a hard shot off his bottom and was part of the PK unit that held Carolina’s squad off on both of their attempts. Niskanen had 2 shots on goal and 6 hits for the night.

Third Star: Karl Alzner. Alzner was also great on the PK in Carolina, and his one shot on goal was a great chance in the third period. He finished with three hits and 21:28 TOI.

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