January 31, 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.

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…]

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 44 Recap: Niskanen turnover spoils Trotz’ return to Nashville

James Neal converted a bad turnover by former Pittsburgh Penguins teammate Matt Niskanen with 100 seconds left in the game for his second goal of the night, and the Nashville Predators skated away with a 4-3 decision over the Washington Capitals in Caps’ coach Barry Trotz’ return to Music City.

Trotz was coach of Nashville for the first 15 years of the team’s existence. The Predators showed a moving tribute to the only coach the franchise had until this past offseason during the first TV timeout and their fans responded with a long standing ovation — extending into the start of play after the next faceoff.

It’s the first loss in regulation for the Caps since Dec. 23.

On the ice, the game looked like a possible playoff preview.

Nashville took a 2-0 lead on goals by Seth Jones and Neal, but Alex Ovechkin tied the game with a pair of goals less than two minutes apart in the second period against Carter Hutton, starting for injured All-World goalie Pekke Rinne, who’s out 4-to-6 weeks with a lower body injury.

The Caps (24-12-8) went up 3-2 early in the third period on Marcus Johansson’s 13th goal of the season. The Predators responded with a power play goal from Mattias Ekholm with 4:29 left, as John Carlson sat in the box on a questionable tripping call in a very physical game.

Braden Holtby made 26 saves. The Caps announced before the game that Holtby will break his consecutive start streak of 21 games Saturday night against Dallas, just one short of the team record.

Notes and observations:
  • The turnover by Niskanen leading to the game-winner was brutal. BRU-TAL. He was face-up to Neal, who was pressuring him on the forecheck near the right wing faceoff circle and essentially handed him the puck, allowing Neal to take one stride and whip it past the defenseless Holtby. You expect better decision-making from your top blueliner, and Niskanen assumed all responsibility for it afterwards. That’s nice, but it’s a play that cost his team a point and feeling bad after playing a good game against a very tough team.
  • Both of Ovechkin’s goals were from the “Ovi Spot” in the left wing circle. The first came at full-strength on a feed from Karl Alzner, the second on a power play from Mike Green. Ovechkin now has 24 goals on the season.
  • The first period was pretty ragged on both sides, but once the Caps woke up in the second period they fairly dominated possession. All well and good, as it signals they still played a strong game on the road. But it also illustrates the glaring mistakes at the end of the game which cost them a point.
  • It might not have come down to those mistakes had it not been for Braden Holtby playing out of his mind on a couple of occasions. He’s completely locked in and really showing why the Caps organization had so much faith in him for so long.
  • How about Marcus Johansson?
  • Eric Fehr was a late scratch due to a lower body injury. He took warmups but wasn’t able to go. Michael Latta took his place at third line center.

Three Stars: Washington Capitals 3, Nashville Predators 4

First Star: Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin’s two goals wiped out a two-goal deficit and nearly saved the game for the Capitals. He was sniffing for a hat trick, but it was not meant to be. Tonight showed he can still carry the team on his back when called upon. He finished with nine shots on goal and one hit.

Second Star: Braden Holtby. Seriously, this guy. He allowed four goals on 30 shots, but made some four-alarm saves along the way. He’s a large part of the Caps’ successful run over the last month and a half. He’s probably tired, and he’ll get a rest against Dallas.

Third Star: Nicklas Backstrom. Two assists, bringing his total to 31 on the year, is impressive, to say the least. He assisted one of Ovechkin’s goals, and Marcus Johansson’s short-lived  third period go-ahead goal.

 

Washington Capitals Game 43 Recap: Holtby keeps hot hand, blanks Flyers

CHIMERA SCORES LONE GOAL AS CAPS INCH CLOSER TO TOP OF METRO

Braden Holtby made 21 saves to shutout the Philadelphia Flyers 1-0 Wednesday night at Verizon Center. His 20th consecutive start was his fourth shutout of the season, third since his consecutive games streak started.

The Capitals are 14-2-4 in their past 20 games, just there points shy of the Islanders for first in the Metro. Holtby has a 1.98 goals-against average, .934 save percentage in that span.

Jason Chimera and Jay Beagle have found a strange sort of chemistry. On their line’s first shift of Wednesday’s game, Chimera scored the game’s lone goal. [Read more…]

Three Stars: Washington Capitals 1, Philadelphia Flyers 0

Braden Holtby’s fourth shutout of the season, and Jason Chimera’s sweet deflection goal, lifted the Washington Capitals over arch-rival Philadelphia Flyers 1-0.

First Star: Braden Holtby. In his 20th consecutive start, he made 21 saves for his fourth shutout of the season, third since his consecutive games streak started.

Second Star: Braden Holtby. The Capitals are 14-2-4 in their past 20 games, just there points shy of the Islanders for first in the Metro. Holtby has a 1.98 goals-against average, .934 save percentage in that span.

Third Star: Braden Holtby. I don’t really have a third blurb, I just wanted to mention Holtby again.

Honorable Mention: Jason Chimera. I guess the guy that scored the only goal of the game should get some mention.

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