December 18, 2014

Three Stars: Washington Capitals at Florida Panthers Dec. 16

In the most #CapsCats game ever, the Washington Capitals fell to the Florida Panthers 2-1 in a shootout that lasted 20 rounds, beating the previous league record for shootout rounds previously held by a Caps-Rangers game in 2005.

Troy Brouwer scored a power play goal for the good guys, Derek McKenzie potted one for the Kitties, and both Braden Holtby and Roberto Luongo were exhausted after the 20-round shootout gimmick.

With no further adieu…

FIRST STAR: Braden Holtby. The dude made 25 saves in regulation plus overtime and was once again the best player on the ice for the Caps. The only goal allowed came after a bad turnover behind the net by Mike Green.

SECOND STAR: Alex Ovechkin. He was a hitting machine and his pass to Brouwer in the slot for the power play goal was born of tremendous vision and surgeon’s precision on the pass.

THIRD STAR: Brooks Orpik. Why not? Was credited with seven hits and I’m making it a rule that every time Orpik scores in a shootout he has to be awarded at least one of the stars of the game.

Washington Capitals Game 29 Recap: Backstrom’s hat trick helps lift surging Caps over Lightning

By his own admission, Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom woke up from his pregame nap in a “grumpy” mood. The 27-year-old Swede was not-so-blissfully unaware of what was to come.

Backstrom’s natural hat trick gave Washington a 3-0 lead in the third period, and Eric Fehr’s empty-netter provided the icing on the Capitals’ 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in front of a very enthusiastic Verizon Center crowd on Saturday night. [Read more…]

Three stars: Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets 12/11/14

Sergei Bobrovsky was pretty great, and penalties told the tale for the Washington Capitals, who hosted the Blue Jackets in their home barn. Columbus pounced on a late power play in overtime and earned the 3-2 win, their fifth straight.

First star: Karl Alzner. This is easy. The steadfast defenseman became a dad for the first time on Wednesday morning and collected an assist on Troy Brouwer’s second period goal. Someone better have given him the game puck. Congrats, Karl.

Second star: Alex Ovechkin. He led forwards in ice time (24:43), PP TOI ( 8:34), shots on goal (9), and hits (5). A gimme.

Third star: Matt Niskanen. He’s still seeing time on the PP and clocked the second-most PP TOI of Capitals defensemen (5:47). He led all skaters in ice time (26:15). Niskanen earned an assist on Eric Fehr’s power play goal, and has earned a point in two consecutive games.

Three stars: Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning 12/9/14

The Tampa Bay Lightning are a pretty good team. They’re the frontrunners to win the Atlantic Division. So, considering the Washington Capitals were on their final leg of a three-game road trip, a 5-3 win and 6 out of 6 possible points paints a rosy picture for the oft inconsistent team, who now sits in 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division.

Alex Ovechkin snapped his 4-game drought with 2 goals, Matt Niskanen got his third goal of the season on the power play, while Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer rounded out the scoring.

First star: Alex Ovechkin. Sure, his second goal was an empty netter literally right at the regulation buzzer, but he was just making up for not scoring in 4 games. His first goal came a mere :40 into the first period. Ovechkin logged his lowest time on ice this season at 14:55, but tied John Carlson with a team-high 7 shots on goal and 4 hits.

Second star: Braden Holtby. Holtby earned his 11th victory of the season after stopping 33 shots in the 5-3 win, with a .917 SV%. He won all three starts on the road trip and allowed 5 goals total in those three games. Holtby’s record has improved to 11-7-1 on the season. As long as he stays solid, the Capitals are in good shape.

Third star:  John Carlson. At times, he excels despite his shackles, also known as his defensive partner, Brooks Orpik. Carlson assisted on Ovechkin’s first period goal, played 24:23 (with :34 PP TOI), second-most for Caps defensemen, 7 shots and 2 hits.

Washington Capitals Game 26 Recap: Ovechkin scores two as Caps hold Lightning at bay

Three critical road games against two division opponents and team among the league’s elite, and three games where an early goal gave the Washington Capitals a win. Alex Ovechkin scored just 40 seconds into the game, and the team got consistent scoring throughout as they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 on Tuesday.

The Caps held the league’s most prolific offense to just two goals, and never trailed their former Southeast Division rivals.

[Read more…]

Three Stars: Washington Capitals vs. Vancouver Canucks 12/2/14

John Carlson’s two and Brooks Laich’s one weren’t enough to overcome the Canucks’ ridiculously effective power play – and those Sedin twins. Boy are they good. Three goals on four power plays, and the Caps lose 4-3. PK malfunction junction.

 

First Star: John Carlson. His two-goal game was the first of his career, and he totaled 3 points in the loss. His power play time has been limited, and it looks like it’ll stay that way, so it’s promising that he’s finding ways to score at evens.

Second Star: Alex Ovechkin. He’s here because he pulled a monstrous 2:39 shift in the second period, which included the entirety of Washington’s only power play and then some. He registered only one shot on goal, but had three hits and led all forwards in ice time with 22:41.

Third Star: Nicklas Backstrom. His assist on John Carlson’s first goal was his 20th of the season. Backstrom leads the team with 25 points (5g, 20a). He keeps the first line running like a well-oiled machine.

Washington Capitals Game 24 Recap: Penalty kill woes abound as Capitals fall 4-3 to Canucks

Special teams failed the Washington Capitals in their 4-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, who scored on three of their four power plays in the contest.

John Carlson contributed two goals and an assist to the Caps’ offense, which marked his first career multi-goal game in the NHL. Brooks Laich scored his first goal of the season, his first since March 8, 2014.

Daniel Sedin scored on two of the Canucks’ power plays and Radim Vrbata added one power play goal. Derek Dorsett’s first period goal was Vancouver’s only goal at even strength.

 

  • Alex Ovechkin skated a monster shift near the end of the second period, clocking in at 2:39. He stayed on for the entire Caps’ lone power play, and then some. Ovechkin finished the night with 2 hits, 1 SOG, and led all forwards in ice time with 22:41.
  • Washington’s penalty kill has successfully killed only 4 of its last 12 penalties. That’s not great. Tonight, Trotz said the Sedins gave the PK fits, but there’s something ailing the Caps PK, and it needs to be fixed.
  • Matt Niskanen, who led all skaters in ice time with 24:24, had some things to say about what the Caps need to work on: “When things aren’t going well, it’s those one things just seem to kind of kill you. If you are playing really well and you are winning games, it seems like you get away with a lot. It’s just kind of the way it goes. Right now, we have to work for every little thing to go right for us and it just hasn’t happened consistently over 60 minutes for us in the last little while. Keep working and keep believing in the right things. I know I have said that before, but that’s all you can really do is look at your mistakes, try to get better and keep pushing forward.”
  • John Carlson and Brooks Orpik were on ice for 3 of the 4 Canucks goals against. Orpik still managed to end the night as a +3, which tells you how useful plus/minus actually is.
  • The Capitals had 2 shots on goal in a span of 10 minutes in the first period. Vancouver got a better start, and scored first. It almost seems like the Capitals need at least 10 minutes to really get into a game, which is a problem. They let opponents get a jump on them, and put themselves behind from the get-go, a pervasive problem even last season. Eric Fehr said the Caps are a “good desperate hockey team,” meaning they are able to overcome most deficits, but adds that “we don’t want to put ourselves in those situations.” Prevention is best.

OPINION: Complacency, not talent, the root of Washington Capitals malaise

Effort. Intensity. Perseverance. All brought on a nightly basis. These are the hallmarks of Barry Trotz-coached hockey teams. In Nashville, Trotz had his hands tied a bit as the organization rarely gave him the type of elite talent where he could preach anything other than hard work. Through one-quarter of a season with the Washington Capitals, that message has yet to really sink in, if it can at all.

What’s the saying about a tiger changing its stripes?

Trotz was brought in to DC to instill those same ethics to the Capitals, a work definitely still in progress. One need to look no further than Saturday’s night’s debacle against the Leafs, as the Caps allowed long-range goal after long-range goal, goals in rapid succession, and little-to-no reaction from the guys in the road sweaters.

This team has enough talent — at least at the top levels — to compete for a playoff spot in the wide-open Eastern Conference. Probably not enough to contend for a title, but at least be invited to the dance.

Trotz has them playing a much stronger possession game, but lack of scoring cohesion and depth down the middle, defensive boners and the much-too-often goaltending gaffe are sabotaging any real progress.

One look at the standings is enough to know.

We’ve already seen this season that on any given night, the Caps can (and will) play like a team that is interested in being anywhere other than the ice.

This can’t be laid at Trotz’ feet… yet. It’s going to take some time, maybe quite a bit of time, and maybe even a handful of personnel decisions before his tenets will finally sink in within the organization.

Trotz himself said it a couple of weeks ago:

“You guys have lived it more than I have,” Trotz said. “But I will say this: That behavior has to change or we have to change people. Plain and simple. To me it’s absolutely unacceptable. They have to fix it. It’s my job to fix the behavior. If they’re not going to fix it internally, then I’ll make sure I fix it.”

“Sometimes I get the feeling we play just as hard as we need to,” he said. “That’s not how I operate. That’s not how you win in this league.”

That was a month ago. Someone want to explain to me the changes that have been made since? I’ll wait.

I think there’s a culture of complacency among the core group of players at Kettler. Despite the coaching carousel of the past three years, past the changing of the GM, beyond the shuffle of marginal support players, the same problems continue to surface every single season. And still, no real repercussions have come by way of serious benchings or trades.

Sure, the practices are a little tougher under Trotz. That much is available to witness at Kettler regardless of what side of the glass one sits. But the disappearing act during games continues, regardless who is coaching. So it has to come from somewhere else.

There are precious few repercussions to the players off-the-ice. Sure, Eric Fehr gets demoted to the fourth line or the press box once in a while. But other than that, there’s just not that much accountability. After these dud games, we hear the same platitudes from Brooks Laich (when he’s in the lineup), Troy Brouwer, Karl Alzner… it’s the same guys over and over. Play hard. Play the “right way.” Don’t take shifts off.

I’m sure those guys believe in what they’re saying. But it takes more than talk. And it just doesn’t transfer. Or, at least, doesn’t stick. And those that talk make the same mistakes as everyone else.

After Saturday’s debacle, Brouwer told the media, “…getting scored on after goals has been going on for quite a few years, not just this season. The thing that scares me is they’re repetitive mistakes, ones we consistently do over and over and we’ve got to start learning from.”

 “…a lot of guys are taking a couple steps forward and then a little bit of regress, reverting back to old habits, old ways. We’re trying to break old thought patterns, but when we’re on the ice and we’re consistently making those mindless turnovers there’s nothing you can do as a coach.”

But still, the same mistakes are made. They aren’t learning from anything, despite who’s preaching it. The individual players don’t make the necessary adjustments and the problems start all over again. They all fall back into their comfortable habits because there’s no real repercussion not to.

Complacency.

Bruce Boudreau is a good hockey coach, but he got canned because he let the Canadian media dictate how to coach his players. Dale Hunter dumbed things down to the point of playing coin-flip hockey and got out as quickly as he came in. Adam Oates tried to prove he was the smartest guy in the room instead of tailoring his style to the players he had. Now Trotz, who is getting much better possession from essentially the same players, but still facing the same malaise that’s plagued this team for years.

George McPhee, as competent an NHL exec as there is, was let go in order to go in a “new direction,” only to have his life-long chum and assistant take over.

Seems like the only repercussions come off-the-ice.

They can talk all they want about how the Stanley Cup is the their goal, yet the organization continues to slump along in mediocrity and complacency while employing largely the same strategies.

The Washington Capitals are in the process of wasting the peak years from two of the best players in the game while continually reliving the same problems they’ve had for the past half-dozen seasons. Maybe it’s time to give them a chance to succeed and send them somewhere else.

Three Stars: Washington Capitals vs Toronto Maple Leafs 11/29/14

This game was a terrible collective effort from the Washington Capitals. Attribute it to what you will, but it was atrocious. Losing 6-2 is not a good look. Especially against the Leafs, who are kind of good but also prone to being absurdly bad at times.

The Caps’ top line was not bad, even though the rest of the team was, and thus the only thing worth talking about after an otherwise embarrassing performance.

First star: Nicklas Backstrom. He earned his 19th assist of the season on Tom Wilson’s third period goal, and collected two assists in the loss. He leads the team in points (24), and is riding a 5 game point streak where he’s amassed 8 points (1g, 7a).

Second star: Tom Wilson. One goal, 15 PIMS, 5 shots on goal, and 4 hits. And all in 12:08. He knows how to make the most of his time. Very efficient.

 Third star: Alex Ovechkin. He didn’t score a goal in the loss, but led all skaters in TOI (20:45), PP TOI (5:33), and shots on goal (7), plus 4 hits.

Washington Capitals Game 22 Review: Caps go up early, beat Islanders at home

The Washington Capitals and their fans can give thanks on Friday night, as Washington returned to the win column with a 5-2 home win over the New York Islanders. The win comes after the Caps had lost four of their last six games and were in need of regular scoring, and got it in a hurry. [Read more…]

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