November 17, 2019

Washington Capitals Game 76 Re-Cap: Braden Holtby shuts out tired Minnesota Wild, 3-0

There was no third period collapse in this one.

The Washington Capitals systemically controlled the pace of the game and offensive possession of the puck and young netminder Braden Holtby did the rest, registering 28 saves in a 3-0 whitewashing of the Minnesota Wild, who were playing the second of back-to-back games — and looked it.

After a scoreless — and sluggish — first period, the Caps took control of the game in the second, scoring twice and driving play all period. The first goal came as the result of a nifty play by Alexander Semin, toe-dragging on a two-on-one long enough for the defenseman to commit before sliding the puck to a wide open Jason Chimera, who simply had to tap it past Matt Hackett (20 saves). [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 66 Re-Cap: Poor decision-making key in 4-3 OT loss to Canes

“The back door play was a mistake. The breakaway was a mistake. Two-on-one at the end was a mistake.” — Dale Hunter

The Washington Capitals played about as well as one could expect them to for the first 24:11 of the game, building a 2-0 lead over a last-place Carolina Hurricanes team.

The good feelings lasted only 40 seconds longer, as a defensive breakdown led to the first of three consecutive Hurricanes goals. And though the Caps rallied to tie it up with less than three minutes to go, they fell victim again to an odd-man rush, courtesy of a defenseman jumping up in the play at the wrong time. [Read more…]

GAME 64 RE-CAP: Washington Capitals play into Devils’ hands in 5-0 pasting

For the first five minutes or so Friday night, the Washington Capitals came out skating hard, throwing their bodies around and making good effort against the New Jersey Devils, losers of four straight and weary from playing the night before. But in the span of two minutes, Jason Chimera had a shot blocked on a two-on-one, Troy Brouwer was robbed by Devils’ back-up goalie Johan Hedberg on another odd-man rush, then Matt Hendricks took a penalty when he got his stick up on a check.

The Devils scored on the ensuing power play, opening the floodgates for a 5-0 white-washing of the homestanding Caps. And according to some players in the locker room, the team didn’t put up much of a fight, if any.

“I don’t think we worked very hard in the third period,” Troy Brouwer said from a somber home locker. “I thought we packed it in. We looked like a real timid, beaten down hockey team. We have to address that and make sure there is no quit in us, ever.” [Read more…]

Is Dale Hunter’s mantra of “play well and you’re in” effective at the NHL level?

The mantra ever since Dale Hunter became coach of the Washington Capitals has been “play well and you’re in.” It’s been that way for the goalies, veteran net-crashing right wingers and Czech defenseman. Jeff Schultz and John Erskine too. But we have to wonder, is it the right way to do things on the NHL level, especially with more veteran players?

Negative reinforcement can be a powerful thing. So too is a fear of failure. Different personalities are motivated in different ways, and we’ve seen this play out with the Caps over the last few weeks.

Michal Neuvirth and Jeff Schultz seem to be playing better after their stints on the bench. Of course, that might be anecdotal. Schultz has always had his strengths and weaknesses, and riding the pine for 20 games hasn’t — and wasn’t — going to turn him into Chris Pronger. With Neuvirth, it might simply be a case of getting the opportunity to play after becoming an afterthought while Tomas Vokoun played so well for that stretch. [Read more…]

GAME 61 RE-CAP: Capitals dispatch hapless Habs 4-1

Jason Chimera notched his 16th goal of the season, beating Carey Price in the second period. (photo by Cheryl Nichols)

The Washington Capitals needed a game like this.  The Montreal Canadiens were the perfect tonic.

The Caps broke a three-game losing streak and continued their domination of the once-proud franchise, beating Les Habitants 4-1, in a game that really wasn’t even as close as the score would seem to indicate.  It’s the fourth time the Caps have defeated Montreal this season, and first time they’ve allowed a goal. [Read more…]

Brouwer finally adjusting to his role with the Capitals

by Jack Anderson, Special to District Sports Page

Washington Capitals center Brooks Laich is well-known around the league for his multi-faceted game and the intense preparation that precludes it. The rugged veteran’s meticulous approach is not a glamorous one, but his physical, aggressive style has become the gold standard for aspiring two-way forwards, and has earned the respect of fans, teammates and coaches alike.

So it made sense when fellow power forward Troy Brouwer sought Laich out for a crash course upon his arrival to the Capitals organization by way of an offseason trade with the Chicago Blackhawks. [Read more…]

Capitals in disarray with just 26 games to salvage playoff spot

Is it better to be an optimist and eventually be disappointed or a pessimist and be pleasantly surprised?

The grim realization taking hold of Caps fans everywhere is that the Washington Capitals are in big trouble.  And everyone seems to know it but them.

After play Wednesday night, the Caps remained one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for eighth place in the Eastern Conference and four points behind their next opponent, the Florida Panthers, for first place in the Southeast Division and the third seed in the conference.

The team has lost three in a row and five of their last seven.  According to our good friends at Japers Rink, they’ve won exactly once in the last month when they’ve allowed the opposition to score a goal.  They are 9-15-3 on the road, where they play their next four games in advance of the NHL trade deadline, and have a five-game trip looming in March, with stops in Winnipeg, Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia.  All of their best players are on pace for career lows in points.  They still don’t know when Mike Green and IF Nick Backstrom will rejoin the team. [Read more…]

GAME 56 RE-Cap: Capitals special teams fail in 5-3 loss to San Jose

With the NHL trade deadline looming in two weeks and the Washington Capitals on the outside of the playoffs looking in, the Caps need to take advantage of every opportunity to square away two points.  Last night they had a chance to do just that against a west coast team playing the second of a nine-game road trip on back-to-back nights.

Unfortunately, many of the problems that have faced the Caps this season reared their ugly head again, as the San Jose Sharks opened up a 5-1 lead mid-way through the third period and cruised to a 5-3 win before a disgruntled crowd at Verizon Center.

The Caps have lost two straight and five of their last seven games.  They now head out on a four-game road trip that will have stops against Florida, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Ottawa that may very well define their playoff fate. [Read more…]

Dale Hunter’s Capitals: Square pegs into round holes

by Jack Anderson, special to District Sports Page

There’s still time to rectify the situation, but the Washington Capitals are in a bad way.

Questions abound for a defense that breaks down at all the wrong times and an offense that can’t seem to rediscover the magic. Dale Hunter – quite possibly George McPhee’s last hope – was expected to bring a new dynamic to a squad that went stale under Bruce Boudreau.

Thus far, it’s been a bumpy ride.

Some of the lack of production can be blamed on injuries to Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green. Alex Ovechkin’s three-game suspension did little to help Washington’s anemic offense get back on track either, but even with Backstrom and Ovechkin in the lineup, the Capitals were regularly outchanced and outshot.

If not for Tomas Vokoun’s recent stretch of steady play, the Capitals would be in an even worse predicament. They have improved defensively under Hunter, but breakdowns at inopportune moments have compounded with a lack of goal scoring to prevent the Caps from establishing any foothold in a crowded playoff picture.

Washington will receive a boost with Ovechkin set to return Saturday night in Montreal, but there remains a shortage of quality play up the middle along with the ever-growing concern that Hunter’s system just isn’t the right fit.

Forget Backstrom’s absence – the Capitals weren’t able to maintain any sort of consistent offensive pressure with him – a bigger issue is acquiring another centerman at the trade deadline. If the Caps can land one and Backstrom gets healthy, the odds for a playoff berth go up drastically.

However, even that scenario doesn’t ensure a spot. Hunter’s man-to-man scheme and its anemic offensive side effects might be the biggest thing crippling a squad that was already struggling to generate offense under Boudreau.

In theory, Hunter’s gameplan is simple. He wants a high-pressure effort in the defensive zone where his players win one-on-one battles. Such a system emphasizes a special mix of physicality and skill that’s tough to find from top to bottom on an NHL roster.

In the OHL, Hunter’s teams simply outclassed opponents with their superior athleticism. The NHL is another story. In the salary cap era it isn’t possible to have six elite defensemen – the league is simply on a more level playing field than its minor league counterparts.

And the Capitals aren’t as high in the NHL’s pecking order than they once were, making Hunter’s strategy even riskier.

Consider his personnel. John Erskine and Jeff Schultz are clearly not good fits in the system and have seen their ice time diminished significantly. For a short period of time, playing with virtually five defensemen is feasible. But this has been going on for the bulk of Hunter’s time here and players like Dennis Wideman and John Carlson are showing negative effects.

Wideman’s offensive abilities have been limited with increased ice time. He’s skated over 25 minutes in 20 of 28 games in the Hunter era. Carlson’s struggles might have more to do with the system itself than fatigue. He hasn’t looked comfortable in weeks and has regressed at an alarming rate in his second season. The wear and tear on the entire defensive corps is noticeable as it has been outworked in key situations often over the past several games.

Of course there is a greater commitment on the defensive end from the entire team. That’s resulted in a lower goals against average, but teams are still taking advantage of the same mental errors and occasional breakdowns that tormented them under Boudreau.  That commitment is also taking it’s toll on the offense, where Hunter’s Caps are being outshot and outchanced on a nightly basis.

So long as those issues persist, the focus will remain on Ovechkin and the offense to contribute more than the 2.54 goals per game they have with Hunter.

McPhee made a huge gamble by handing the reins to an inexperienced coach and a system that doesn’t seem to have a place in the NHL. With the Caps faltering in the midst of what is going to be a grueling stretch run in jam-packed playoff race, it’s a bet that doesn’t appear to be paying off.

If it doesn’t, McPhee will have plenty of explaining to do come April.

Jack Anderson is a special contributor to District Sports Page. He has been covering Washington, DC sports as a credentialed reporter since 2009. He covers the Capitals for NHL Home Ice and TSN Radio and is a freelance writer having contributed to the Washington Times, Associated Press and NBC Washington.  You can follow him on twitter @jackandersonIII.

Game 36 Re-CAP: Ovechkin Restores Order, Caps Slam Sabres, 3-1

Alex Ovechkin during warmups at Verizon Center (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Just before the end of the Washington Capitals’ home schedule for the calendar year 2011, Alexander Ovechkin restored a little bit of order to the team’s individual statistics list. The captain’s breakaway goal with 5:50 remaining sealed a solid 3-1 win for the Caps over the Buffalo Sabres, and propelled Ovechkin past Nicklas Backstrom and Jason Chimera into the team lead in goals scored with 14.

The goal was Ovechkin’s second of the night, his sixth in the last 10 games, and gave the Capitals (19-15-2) and their fans some belief that maybe, just maybe, the highest-paid player on the team might be back to his old high-scoring ways.

“We just have to play it simple,” Ovechkin said after the game. “We made pretty plays by our simple plays.”

Ovechkin’s first goal came just 1:42 into the game on the simplest possible play in hockey. With Washington on a power play after Drew Weber was sent off for boarding Jason Chimera 27 seconds after the opening face-off, Ovechkin threw the puck at the net from the half-boards to the left of Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. The shot hit the stick of well-meaning Buffalo defender Christian Ehrhoff and ricocheted over Miller’s shoulder and into the net for a 1-0 Washington lead.

The Capitals should have added at least two more to their advantage by the end of the first 20 minutes (they outshot Buffalo 11-2), but they were plagued by bad luck and poor finishing. What the Capitals lacked in goals, they made up for in physicality. Chimera, upset that Weber had only been sent off for two minutes instead of five for boarding him earlier in the period, took matters into his own hands (quite literally), and the two sparred for a few seconds before Weber pinned Chimera to the ice. Less than four minutes later, Troy Brouwer and Ehrhoff, long on opposite sides in the Western Conference with Chicago and Vancouver, respectively, renewed acquaintances with a brief scrap that ended with Brouwer driving Ehrhoff’s head dangerously close to the ice. Ehrhoff later left the game with an upper-body injury and did not return.

The Sabres (17-17-3) came back into the game in the second period, gradually applying more and more pressure on Tomas Vokoun. But they were caught on the break early in the second period as the Caps completed a beautiful passing play. Alexander Semin intercepted a pass intended for Robyn Regehr in Washington’s defensive zone and dropped the puck back to Ovechkin in neutral ice. Ovechkin found Roman Hamrlik at the left point. Hamrlik sent a pass back across to Semin, who held the puck as long as he could before quickly flipping a pass to a streaking Backstrom, who no one on Buffalo had bothered to pick up as the Swede came steaming down the slot.

The goal was Backstrom’s 100th in the NHL and made the score 2-0 at 3:52 of the second period.

The Sabres heightened their efforts and were rewarded at the 15:02 mark of the second after a long period of offensive zone pressure. Jochen Hecht got his stick on a loose puck before any of the Capitals could clear it and popped the only Buffalo goal of the night past a sprawling Vokoun. The goal was a just reward for the 15 shots the Sabres put on Vokoun in the second period and suddenly, the game was back in the balance after 40 minutes.

The Sabres pressed for a tying goal in the third period and almost got one in bizarre circumstances when Marcus Johansson inadvertently shot the puck dangerously close to Vokoun’s net. But for the final seven minutes of the period, the Caps slowly re-took control, and Ovechkin’s clinching goal was the final triumph for the reunited line of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Semin, all of whom had two-point nights.

“They’re very good players,” Capitals coach Dale Hunter said, “and they’ve played together before and we put back a checking line together (Hendricks-Beagle-Knuble) and we put a scoring line together. So, it’s just that combination, I guess.

“We have been struggling a little bit,” Backstrom said, ” and finally we get the stuff going and we’re moving the puck pretty good, we’re shooting and I think we are creating a lot of good chances. That’s what we gotta do. Then you have to make sure you play good defense and I think we are all doing that the last two games.”

The Capitals close 2011 Saturday night with a 7:00 p.m. road game against Columbus.

Caps Recall Eakin, Put Green on Injured Reserve

After Friday night’s game, the Capitals announced that Cody Eakin had been recalled from Hershey of the AHL and would join the team in Columbus. To make space for Eakin on the roster, the Capitals placed defenseman Mike Green (groin) on the injured reserve list retroactive to November 11. Dale Hunter announced before the game that Green would travel with the team to Columbus and might return to the lineup next week.

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