April 18, 2014

Washington Capitals Game 80 Recap: Caps calm ‘Canes 5-2

Neither the Washington Capitals or the Carolina Hurricanes had anything to play for on Thursday night and for half of the game both teams played like it. Eventually, the Caps were able to exert their dominance and earned a convincing 5-2 win in their final road game of the season.

You had to wonder what the mentality of the Caps would be heading into this one, their first meaningless game since 2007. Luckily for them, the third line continued to be the team’s most consistent line and the Caps were able to ride their strong performance to an easy win.

Joel Ward kicked things off quickly scoring just 1:02 into the game. Linemate Jason Chimera poked the puck away from the defense below the red line and Eric Fehr took the puck and fed it to Ward with a nifty backhand pass. [Read more...]

Washington Capitals Game 79 Recap: Capitals beat Blues 4-1

Throughout the second half of the season, the Washington Capitals had a chance to help themselves but couldn’t do it. Now, they must rely on the bad luck of other teams for their playoff fate. Riding the momentum from their shootout win against the Islanders on Saturday, the Capitals stymied the league-leading St. Louis Blues, 4-1.

Alex Ovechkin scored the first goal of the game, his 50th of the season. Ovechkin is the first player in the NHL this season to reach that mark, and will likely be the only one. This season is the fifth 50-goal campaign of his career.

Though the Blues out shot-attempted the Capitals by double, the Capitals dominated on the scoreboard.

Mikhail Grabovski opened the floodgates with his second period goal, his 13th tally of the season. Nicklas Backstrom added another even-strength goal, his 16th of the season, to round out the period for the Caps.

Leading 3-1 heading into the third period, the most dangerous lead of all, the Capitals hung on, and got more help from Backstrom.

Backstrom tallied his 17th of the season a power play goal, to put the Capitals up 4-1.

Braden Holtby was stellar, stopping 28 of 29 shots in the win. There was a lot of buzz surrounding the starting goaltender situation preceding the game, but Holtby’s performance pushed it to the background.

The Toronto Maple Leafs were officially eliminated from playoff contention tonight, but even if the Capitals win their remaining three games, there is still a mathematically slim chance they will make the playoffs.

Washington Capitals Game 78 Recap: Caps rally to beat Islanders in shootout, 4-3

With their chances at the postseason dwindling to almost nothing after Friday’s loss, the Washington Capitals headed to face the New York Islanders in the first of two back-to-back games they will play in the next week. The Capitals rallied from a two-goal deficit to tie the game late in the second period and take the game to the shootout, winning 4-3.

Braden Holtby started the second game of the back-to-back games, a smart coaching decision by Adam Oates. Holtby was stellar, and stopped 33 of 36 shots faced in regulation and overtime, and stopped all Islanders shooters in the shootout as well.

The Capitals let the Islanders dictate the pace of the game in the first period, allowing 17 shots in the 20-minute frame. They were fortunate to escape the period only down 0-1.

Lack of urgency has been an evident problem for the Capitals lately. They simply have not looked like a team that wants to win games and secure the postseason. During the second period, they only managed 4 shots on goal through 10 minutes.

In that span, the Islanders scored two goals and the Capitals one. Down 3-1, it looked over for the Capitals, but they have a penchant for comebacks in Long Island.

Adding to Evgeny Kuznetsov’s early second period tally, Nicklas Backstrom scored his 15th goal of the season. Joel Ward sweetened the pot with his 23rd of the season, late in the second period. The most notable thing about this game was not the comeback, but the fact that each Capitals goal was scored at even strength. They went 0-for-5 on the power play.

Mike Green and Jason Chimera collided during the first period in what will likely go down as the worst breakout of all time, causing Green to sit out the rest of the game, and forcing the Capitals to roll five defensemen. Not ideal, but Holtby kept the Capitals in the game, as he has many times this season.

The chances of the Capitals actually making the playoffs are still statistically very slim, even if the Leafs lose the rest of their games. If they’d pulled a point or two out of last night’s game against the Devils, they may still have a pulse, but the postseason is probably out of reach for the Capitals at this point.

Washington Capitals Game 76 Recap: Caps lack urgency; shutout by Stars

“If somehow we make the playoffs and we play like this who are we kidding?”
Capitals head coach Adam Oates

Game Recap Co-Authored by Dave and Cheryl Nichols

With seven games left on the schedule, every game is “must win” for the Washington Capitals. On Tuesday, at the Verizon Center no less, the Caps faced a Western Conference team that is in very much the same position. The result: the Dallas Stars spanked the Caps 5-0, all but eliminating the Caps from any further playoff discussion.

“It’s frustrating to see it, for all of us, ” said defenseman Karl Alzner. “We are all asking ourselves the exact same question and everybody wants to do it and be the guy, sometimes it’s being 20 guys and not just the guy, and maybe that has something to do with it. I am not too sure. It’s frustrating. Obviously, we are not happy with the way that we have been playing. Terrible time to go on a skid.”

Dallas broke the ice in middle of a sleepy first period. Tyler Seguin won a puck battle behind the Caps net with John Carlson and fed Jamie Benn at the top of the left wing circle. Benn’s shot headed for Jaroslav Halak’s crest, but Seguin did nice work to drive the net and tipped the puck past Halak on the glove side to put Dallas up 1-0.

The Stars added to that lead in the second. A terrible line change led to a 2-on-0 and Ray Whitney faked Halak out of his skates for his ninth goal of the season. Another defensive breakdown 34 seconds later allowed Dustin Jeffrey to register his first goal of the season, sending Halak to the bench replaced by Braden Holtby, more a wake-up call to his teammates, who left him out to dry all night long.

“We’re all a group,” said Caps Head Coach Adam Oates to the guys in the second intermission, ‘You know what, we’re down and if we come back – we have before, we could – we can’t come back playing wrong. If somehow we make the playoffs and we play like this who are we kidding? We have to figure out a way to get better together. It is just us collectively in here.’ Obviously it’s very disappointing.”

Dallas added insult to injury in the third, with Jeffrey scoring his second of the game, on a feed by the veteran Whitney. As if that wasn’t enough (and it was more than enough) Ryan Garbutt tacked on a short-handed goal with 5:10 left in the contest.

Caps Captain Alex Ovechkin was asked if he had an answer for the reoccurring mistakes.

“It’s hard to say sometimes now. We understand the position and we need the points, but we didn’t get the points. We made some mistakes. We turned over one in our zone, [one] in the neutral zone and it cost us the game.”

“It goes back to wanting to be ‘the guy.’” explained defenseman Karl Alzner. “You want to make the nice play to spark the team, to get a goal or make the nice pass to break us out. Very few teams can do that; it’s about playing simple, and it’s not always fun to play that way, and we sure haven’t helped ourselves by us all being irresponsible on the ice with the puck in all three zones. We’ve got to be smarter and we’ve got to make simple plays.”

The “lack of urgency” was a hot topic throughout the arena and locker room. Goalie Braden Holtby had a strong opinion. “There wasn’t any today, that’s for sure. That was zero urgency.” Defenseman John Carlson agreed, however, explained, “In certain situations. Then I think we over exerted ourselves on other situations that we didn’t need to.”

“The last three games we’ve played,” Holtby paused before completing his thought, “have just not even been close to good enough to play in the playoffs. Or do anything in the playoffs for that matter.”

The Capitals have six games left, likely needing six wins, with their final two games hosting Western Conference powerhouses Chicago and St. Louis. You’re never eliminated until you’re mathematically eliminated, but even the most optimistic supporters have to be prepared at this point for this team not qualifying for the playoffs.

“As a team we thought we’d probably need all seven to get in [to the playoffs], but now we have no choice,” said Caps defenseman John Carlson, “It’s probably going to be a win-out situation.”

The team will need to bounce back from this loss to have any hopes of the playoffs. “You just have to brush it off,” said Eric Fehr. “It’s not going to be an easy one to brush off, but we still have a chance. We still have an opportunity. We’ve got to win some games, we’ve got to go on a roll, but you can’t sulk with games like this. You’ve got to put them behind you.”

Holtby added, “No one played good tonight. Everyone has to expect more of themselves. It’s a collective unit, you can’t point fingers. It’s the Washington Capitals. We have to do better. A lot better.”

Tonight was the 220th consecutive sellout at the Verizon Center and the fans let the Washington Capitals how they felt about the loss.

Holtby sided with the fans. “If I was a fan, I’d be booing us right now. In a tight race, like we’re in, and you lose five nothing, it’s awful.”

Goalie dilemma: Halak’s success raises offseason questions for Caps

In 2012, a 22-year-old goalie with only 21 games of NHL experience managed to lead a seventh place team over the defending champions in the first round of the NHL playoffs.

That goalie was Braden Holtby and his sterling .935 save percentage during that postseason run had the Washington Capitals within one game of the conference finals. Though the team’s playoffs hopes were dashed yet again, the collective feeling around D.C. was satisfaction over the fact that at least now, the Caps had their goalie.

Two inconsistent seasons later, the Caps’ future in net doesn’t seem so certain.

Holtby’s play has been incredibly erratic the past two seasons. He has shown flashes of the brilliance we saw in 2012, but also has a tendency to let in soft goals. Fans aren’t the only ones concerned as highlighted by general manager George McPhee’s trade for Jaroslav Halak.

Halak has played well since coming to D.C. and as a result has started in nine of the Caps’ 12 games since his acquisition. So with the team in desperate need of points to make the playoffs, McPhee traded for another goalie and Oates turned to him three out of every four games.

You can see why there may be some questions.

Halak is a free agent at the end of the season. According to capgeek.com his salary is $4.5 million. At 28 years old, he’s going to want a sizable contract somewhere in that range and all indications are that he will test free agency. Keeping him around will therefore be expensive.

It would also most likely mean trading either Holtby or Philipp Grubauer.

When Grubauer was called up in the winter thanks to an injury to Michal Neuvirth, he showed that he is just about ready for the NHL. Having three NHL goalies is not a good situation for anyone involved. If the Caps decided to bring back Halak or bring in another free agent, they would have to ship off one of the two incumbents to make room.

If the team was so quick to turn to someone else when they needed the points, why would they suddenly feel good about handing the reins back to Holtby? Wouldn’t it make sense to trade him?

Before you kick Holtby out the door, however, remember that he is still 24 years old. He’s not old and worn out, he’s young and still developing. Goalie coach Olaf Kolzig also is coaching the team’s goalies to play deeper in net this season, meaning Holtby, a usually aggressive goalie had to learn a new style of play. (LINK!!!!!!!)

One could easily argue that it is too soon to give up on Holtby.

Whatever the Caps decide will likely depend on how they finish the season and who is making the decisions.

It would be hard to deny Halak’s impact if the Caps manage to make the playoffs. Earlier in the season, according to analyst Joe Micheletti, McPhee said he felt inconsistent goaltending has cost the team 10 points.

If Halak can orchestrate a run to the playoffs, the Caps will have to at least explore the possibility of either bringing Halak back or bringing in another goalie through a trade or free agency to find more consistency in net.

McPhee, however, like most if not all general managers is partial to his own prospects. Given that he drafted both Holtby and Grbauer, McPhee would be loath to give up on either and turn the team over to a newcomer in net. It doesn’t mean he won’t, as we’ve seen Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth traded away, but it does mean that McPhee would be more reluctant to do so than another general manager.

It has been widely speculated, however, that McPhee will not return after this season. Though every decision he has made in 2013-14 seems to indicate otherwise, a change in general manager is always possible in the NHL.

A new general manager would bring a new perspective to the team’s goalie situation. He may see a team that was inconsistent in net all season, played better after trading for Halak, and conclude that the team therefore needs a new netminder.

After the 2012 playoffs, Caps fans assumed Holtby would be the team’s starting goalie, but that doesn’t mean people around the NHL felt the same way. The new general manager could be someone who never liked Holtby and felt 2012 was a fluke or it could be someone who likes him just as much as McPhee. We don’t know.

The point is that with a new general manager, Holtby won’t get the same benefit of the doubt as he would from someone who drafted him and was here to experience what he did in that first postseason run.

If you’re a Holtby fan, you want McPhee to stick around.

Of course all of this depends on who the next general manager turns out to be. The bottom line is that the Caps have three goalies right now and only room for two. At least one won’t be around next season. Who will be left standing?

Washington Capitals Game 74 Recap: Caps start slow, lose to Bruins, 4-2

Entering Saturday’s contest against the Boston Bruins, the Washington Capitals knew the door to a playoff spot was ajar. Toronto and Columbus both fell to their respective opponents the night before and subsequently failed to gain any ground in the race for a Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. All the Capitals needed to do was step over the threshold, and they’d be that much closer to the postseason.

It was almost as if they didn’t realize the chance they had. A slow start; a third period flurry; a 4-2 loss.

Braden Holtby, who has a history of good starts against Boston, did his best. But the rest of the team did not. He made a number of crucial saves, including a robbery of Chris Kelly in the first period, but the rest of the team could not deliver what they needed most – goals. Or, at least not enough when it mattered to win.

The best forward line for the Capitals of late has been the “third” line of Jason Chimera, Joel Ward, and Eric Fehr, and they were the ones who delivered the team’s first goal, while they were already mired in a 3-0 hole. Chimera scored his 14th of the season with 10 seconds remaining in the second period.

In the third, the Capitals seized a bit of momentum back. It was the way they wanted to play, but it was too little, too late. They need to begin games this way, not find their rhythm while attempting to chip away at a two-goal lead.

“I thought that most of the third period, we took the play to one of the best teams in the league. That’s a positive for us,” said Fehr. “Definitely don’t want to take that long, but we know they are a good team, and in our own rink, we should be able to use momentum and create chances.”

Once again, in the dying seconds of the third period, a puck found the back of the net for the Capitals. Young hope Evgeny Kuznetsov scored his second goal of the season, but it was too late. The Capitals had found the recipe, but they were already cooked.

Washington Capitals Game 63 Recap: Bruins dominate Caps in 3-0 shutout

Last Saturday, when the Washington Capitals beat the Boston Bruins 4-2, in Boston, it was the Caps’ fourth win in a row, making it look like the team would make a serious run at a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Three losses later, two to the Philadelphia Flyers and Thursday night to Boston, 3-0, nothing could be further from the truth. The Caps looked as lost and frustrated as they have all season in being shutout by the Bruins.

The Caps fell to fifth in the Metropolitan Division. They sit four points behind second place Philly, two behind third place New York and one behind Columbus, which they face Saturday at Verizon Center, with their season on the brink.

It would be hard to blame Braden Holtby for this one. The embattled goalie made 40 saves, while newly-acquired Jaroslav Halak watched from the bench, and was often left to fend for himself as the Capitals continued the disturbing trend of getting massively outshot. The Caps managed just eight shots on goal through the first 40 minutes en route to a game total of 16, tying their season low.

Boston got goals from Gregory Campbell and Loui Eriksson in the second and an empty netter from Brad Marchand with 1:34 left in the contest.

Washington was without the services of Brooks Laich, who returned to D.C. early with a lower body injury, and John Erskine, who was involved in a fight in Philly and did not dress for the game. Cameron Schilling, who hadn’t played for Hershey in two weeks with an injury, was recalled to make his season debut, as was forward Chris Brown, acquired from Phoenix in the Martin Erat deal. Ryan Stoa, who made his Caps debut earlier in the week, was in the lineup as well.

Neither team was assessed a penalty, though several questionable hits probably could have merited a call.

But that fact was academic, as the Capitals played through much of this one as if nothing was on the line. If they don’t find answers soon, that will most certainly be the case.

 

Washington Capitals Game 61 Recap: Caps win ugly in Boston 4-2

OVECHKIN’S TWO PPGS LEADS CAPS TO 4TH STRAIGHT WIN; RECORDS 800th CAREER POINT

It certainly wasn’t pretty at times, but the Washington Capitals travelled to Boston and picked up their fourth straight win, defeating the Bruins 4-2 on Saturday.

The Caps got two power play goals by Alex Ovechkin, his 42nd and 44th goals of the season, Joel Ward’s 18th of the year, and the game-winner at 10:53 of the third period on a breakaway by Bruin-killer Eric Fehr.

Braden Holtby made 36 saves, including 4 of 5 on the penalty kill, including several on a critical 5-on-3 kill in the first period.

It’s the Caps fifth win in their past six games against Boston, with a rematch coming up later next week.

Washington took advantage of the penalty-marred affair, going 2 for 6 with the extra man, generating 14 power play shots. Boston had almost as many shots shorthanded and 4-on-4 (4) as they did on the power play (5).

With the win by Philadelphia on Saturday, the Caps remain one point behind the Flyers for third in the Metropolitan Division and an automatic berth in the playoffs. The Caps host face the Flyers Sunday at 12:30 pm ET and again Wednesday in Philly.

 

Washington Capitals Game 60 Recap: Capitals scrape by Panthers, 5-4

After a two week hiatus, the Washington Capitals got back in action against the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Florida. They managed to squeak out a 5-4 win after losing a two goal lead twice throughout the game.

The Capitals got off to a strong start. They scored two quick goals, Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich respectively, and managed to hang on to a one-goal lead at first intermission.

Mikhail Grabovski, sidelined with an ankle injury for several weeks prior to the Olympic break, went down awkwardly in the first period, and appeared to reinjure his ankle. He did not return to the game.

Playing a team with the worst power play percentage in the league certainly worked to the Capitals’ advantage tonight. The Panthers had 6 power plays, and the Capitals were perfect on the penalty kill. Braden Holtby was obviously a big part of this, and made 30 saves on 34 goals against the Panthers.

The Capitals were also perfect on their own two power plays, with both goals scored by Troy Brouwer.

Alex Ovechkin scored the game winning goal, had two assists and was among two other Capitals with three-point nights, Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich both had a goal and two assists apiece.

This game looked as if it was all Capitals for a while, but the Panthers snuck back into the game twice, scoring two quick succession goals to tie the game 4-4 with 10 minutes left in the game.

The Panthers were a lowly opponent the Capitals should have been able to put away easily, but instead blew several leads and allowed them to creep back into the game. If the Capitals do end up in the playoffs, they aren’t going to be able to get away with these types of games against better teams. Their fortitude will certainly be tested during their upcoming schedule.

 

 

Washington Capitals Game 59 Recap: Capitals shut out Devils 3-0; Erat scores his first of the season

The Washington Capitals have five Olympians on their roster, but before they set off for Sochi they had one more task to complete. After sacking the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday, the Capitals finished off their four game homestand with another victory, a 3-0 decision over the New Jersey Devils.

The Caps enter the Olympic break on a 5-2-1 tear.

Braden Holtby got his second start of the week, and earned his third shutout of the season.

Julien Brouillete, called up from Hershey this week to aid an ailing Caps defense, scored the first goal of the game in the third period and the first of his career, with his parents in attendance as well.

“I’m sure he’s flying high right now. Big goal,” said Adam Oates. “But you know what, Backy [Nicklas Backstrom] won a draw. That’s what it’s about. You win a draw, we get it across the blue line, you throw it to the net with a little bit of a screen and you’ve got a chance to get a goal.”

Martin Erat experienced a milestone of sorts himself, as well. The Devils pulled Cory Schneider for the extra man to try to tie the game with two minutes left, but Erat fired a wrister at the empty net, finally scoring his first goal of the season, just before his trip to the Olympics as a member of the Czech team.

Troy Brouwer scored his 100th career goal just a few seconds later to cap off the win.

Adam Oates was impressed with the patience of his players during a game that was sleepy at times.

“Obviously the Devils play that kind of game. They are willing to play it every night, and it’s a frustrating team to play. They don’t give you much. I looked up with nine minutes left in the third period, and I think it was 20 each in shots. Both teams played stingy. It was good.”

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