December 15, 2017

Caps-Islanders Round 1 Preview: Once more against Halak

The Washington Capitals sit 16 wins away from claiming their first Stanley Cup, four of which must come against the New York Islanders. Here’s a breakdown of their first round matchup.

Islanders offense vs. Caps defense

Islanders: 2.99 goals per game (4th), 175 5-on-5 goals (4th), 33.8 shots per game (2nd), .592 win percentage when scoring first (25th), .545 win percentage when trailing first (1st)

Caps: 2.43 goals against per game (7th), 140 5-on-5 goals against (12th), 28.9 shots allowed per game (11th)

The main weapon on the Islanders is John Tavares, the 24-year-old superstar who finished second in the NHL in points this season. The offense hinges on him, but not in the same way the Caps’ offense hinges on Alex Ovechkin. The dynamic center is just as adept at setting up goals as he is at scoring them and leads the team both in goals (38) and assists (48). For much of his career, the Islanders have relied far too much on Tavares to carry their offense but that is no longer the case. Kyle Okposo is second on the team in points despite missing 22 games with a detached retina and provides a major threat on the Islanders’ second line. They also have had young talent step up with Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson and Anders Lee all enjoying breakout seasons. [Read more…]

Building a lineup out of the Caps’ castaways

Mike Ribeiro addressing media during Washington Capitals Development Camp Day 6 Scrimmage at Kettler,  7/14/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Mike Ribeiro addressing media during Washington Capitals Development Camp Day 6 Scrimmage at Kettler, 7/14/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

After seeing Filip Forsberg and Mike Ribeiro torch the Washington Capitals last Saturday, fans in the Verizon Center were left wondering, what if?

What if former general manager George McPhee had held onto the team’s top prospect in Forsberg and found a way to re-sign Ribeiro? Would those players be producing at the rate they are now for the Nashville Predators? How much better would a Caps’ team that lacks secondary scoring look with Forsberg’s 59 points and Ribeiro’s 60?

Those are the questions that will keep fans up at night. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Postseason Roundtable Part III: Rate the goalies

As we’ve done in year’s past, District Sports Page staff and a couple friends in the industry conducted a roundtable to rate the recently completed Washington Capitals season. Obviously, with the changing of the guard over the weekend, the season was in no was satisfying of satisfactory, and our grades this season really reflect where our contributors to the roundtable sit with regards to the changes necessary to make the Caps true contenders again.

We’ll rate the offense, defense, goaltending, coaching and administration throughout the week.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page; Katie Brown, beat writer for DSP; J.J. Regan, contributor to DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan; Harry Hawkings, RockTheRed.com.

Part III: Rate the goalies (with grade an explanation):

DAVE: B. Look, on the list of things that went wrong for the Capitals this season — despite management’s ham-handedness shuttling four goalies in and out — goaltending wouldn’t be particularly high on the list. Braden Holtby was decent-to-very good most of the season, but a little slump around Thanksgiving found him on the bench watching Philipp Grubauer try to save the team. Then Michal Neuvirth was able to wiggle his way out of town, only to have Holtby usurped once again by trade object Jaroslav Halak.

The biggest problem with the Caps goalies was the sheer number of shots they faced this season. Holtby’s 5v5 save percentage was good, but 93 percent of 1000 is more than 93 percent of 500, if you get my drift. No goalie could thrive on the number of shots the porous Caps defense allowed. That has to be a main point of emphasis in the offseason. Holtby and Grubauer going forward should form a solid foundation. We’ll see if the new bosses share that opinion or want another guy.

KATIE: If I had to rate the management of the goaltenders, this would be a D. Since I don’t think any of the Capitals’ problems were directly related to goaltending, this gets a B. Despite the gross mismanagement of assets, goaltending was one of the only positions that did not end up being a completely unmitigated disaster.

Braden Holtby is and should be the Capitals’ #1 goaltender. There was no reason to trade for Jaroslav Halak at the trade deadline, nor was there reason to sit the starting and backup goaltenders for a month in favor of Phillip Grubauer, no matter how well he played. Halak is a good goalie, but the Capitals were not lacking talent in net, and goaltending was certainly not to blame for the rest of the team’s ills, but any problems there were a symptom of defensive issues and poor puck possession by the rest of the team. Oates’ proclivity for “riding the hot hand” and starting goalies in back-to-backs as well as tinkering with players’ styles didn’t do them any favors either.

J.J.: C. With the team’s dysfunction and goalie carousel, goaltending appeared to be much more of an issue than it actually was.

Jaroslav Halak was brought in at the trade deadline to bolster the team in net and he performed well. He had the best GAA (2.31) and save percentage (.930) of the four goalies who played for the Caps this season, but managed a record of only 5-4-3. Even though his stats show he was an upgrade, that didn’t translate in the standings. If you get better at one position but the team does not improve then that position wasn’t the problem.

The Caps were 27th this season in shots against. More shots mean more goals. The team struggled both in terms of defense and possession and it made the goaltending look far worse than it was.

The only real notable problem in net was Braden Holtby’s struggle with the team’s change in goaltending philosophy. Holtby was supplanted by Philipp Grubauer midway through the season and had to regain his confidence, but he seemed to play better towards the end of the season.

The goaltending wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible either.

SKY: C+.  Could they have been better? Absolutely.  But the goaltending was handled poorly the entire season, having three up here at the same time was a disaster.  Also the reported comments of McPhee saying the Caps would be ten points better with better goaltending was the cherry on top.  Jaroslav Halak proved that wasn’t the case.  Halak said it was the first time he’s ever seen a two on zero breakaway in front of him.  Welcome to the 2013-14 Capitals, Jaro.  It wasn’t the goaltending.  Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer have bright futures.

HARRY: I give the goaltending an A-.  No matter who was in goal, almost every night they were forced to keep the team in the game by facing an obscene amount of shots from everywhere on the ice.  The only goalie who played significant time who struggled at all was Braden Holtby, who fans have turned on (for some reason) despite his .915 overall save percentage and impressive .930 even strength save percentage.  That latter number was good enough for a tie for 6th in the NHL, alongside Jonathan Bernier and Henrik Lundqvist.  Overall, the goalies were a bright spot.

What went wrong with the Washington Capitals, Part 3: the Players

It’s playoff season and though there is still hockey to be played, the Washington Capitals are playing golf.

To discover what went wrong this season, we’ve already looked at general manager George McPhee and head coach Adam Oates, but now it’s time to look at the guys who actually lace of the skates and take to the ice, the players.

Alex Ovechkin led the league this season with 51 goals and yet has come under incredible scrutiny for the Caps’ failure to reach the playoffs. He is the undisputed leader of this team and as he goes, so go the Caps.

Since the Caps have failed to win a Cup and even failed to make the playoffs this season, Ovechkin must shoulder most of the blame, right?

While Ovechkin does deserve some of the blame, to say the team is incapable of winning with him is a gross oversimplification of the team’s struggles.

Despite his 50 goals this season, Ovechkin had a -35, the third-worst +/- in the NHL. Though an imperfect statistic, it reflects a serious problem he had this season, namely that more goals are scored against the Caps at even-strength when Ovechkin was on the ice than the Caps scored..

This does not take into consideration his linemates atrocious shooting percentage, or his coach’s choice of linemates on any particular evening.

Here’s the thing, as a team the Caps had the seventh worst +/- in the NHL with -21. They scored only 139 goals at even-strength and allowed 155 (their five shorthanded goals and 10 allowed make up the difference to -21).

The entire team was terrible at even-strength this season.

The only reason Ovechkin was able to lead the league in scoring was because the Caps excelled on the power play. Twenty-four of his 51 goals were scored with the extra man.

The fact that the entire team suffered at even-strength leads me to believe that the problem is not all due to a specific player, but to the team’s coaching and roster.

In the 2009-10 season, Ovechkin was a +45 and had 50 goals. The Caps also had two other 30-goal scorers in Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom. Mike Knuble was only one goal shy with 29. This season, no other player on the team other than Ovechkin reached the 30 goals.

No team can depend solely on one player for all of its offense or they are left with what we saw this season: 51 goals, no playoffs.

This leads to a lot of unfair (and lazy) analysis of the captain. Clips of him ‘giving up’ on the backend have been replayed ad nauseam by analysts such as Mike Milbury to show how he doesn’t play the game the “right way”, or doesn’t show effort, etc, etc. That’s just plain wrong.

For every clip of a bad defensive play, there’s another clip of him putting the team on his shoulders. People like to point to the April game against Dallas and say he doesn’t show any effort, but in doing so they ignore games like December’s contest against Tampa Bay in which he scored four goals to erase a 3-0 deficit and lead the team to a shootout victory.

This notion that some people have that the Caps are somehow incapable of winning with Ovechkin is also a fallacy. If Ovechkin were to hit the trade market today, 29 teams would be scrambling to see how they could fit him under the salary cap. If Ovechkin ‘incapable’ of winning a Cup, teams would turn their backs.

That of course would not be the case because the notion that Ovechkin can’t win a Cup is hyperbolic nonsense.

Ovechkin is an elite talent who has not yet had the right coach or team around him to win a Stanley Cup. Many will scoff at that, but you cannot oversimplify a championship. It’s very easy to say he’s a great player and therefore should have won a Cup, but that seriously underestimates how difficult winning a Cup can be. Ovechkin is only a part of the equation.

If you want to argue that did not show great leadership this season, fine. As long as he’s wearing the C on his chest, he MUST do a better job defensively. The team feeds off of his energy and when he doesn’t go at full-speed at both ends of the ice it can be frustrating, especially during a season like this one in which the Caps struggled to get the puck out of their own zone.

As for who played well offensively, Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward and Jason Chimera all had career seasons. Brouwer scored a career-high 25 goals, but like Ovechkin far too much of his production (12 goals) came on the power play. It’s great that he scored 25 goals, but if the Caps were middle-of-the-pack in terms of the power play, Brouwer’s numbers would have been much lower and suddenly his season wouldn’t look as good.

The only players who seemed to do well this season at even-strength were those in the third line, namely Ward and Chimera as the line’s center often changed. These two played fantastic together all season long and will likely remain together next season. Even Oates couldn’t mess this line up.

Defensively, it is hard to fairly judge the play of many of the team’s players given how young and/or inexperienced many of them were. Being in a position where the team needed to ask several players to do more than they were ready for is yet another reflection on the coach and general manager.

John Carlson and Karl Alzner are the team’s top two defensemen by far. Carlson comes with much of the offensive skill of Mike Green, without the defensive deficiencies. Alzner is the team’s best stay-at-home defenseman.

As a pairing, they’re good, but not great. They certainly won’t make anyone’s short list for the best defensive pairings in the NHL. Even so, their play this season was not something that held this team back.

There are two players, however, who did stand out for having a rough season: Mike Green and Dmitry Orlov.

This is one of those cases where the statistics and the eye test do not match up at all. Green and Orlov had the highest and second highest Corsi rating on the team. For a Caps team that struggled so much in terms of possession and production, having a duo like these two can be a major boon…on paper.

Anyone who watched these two, however, cringed every time they touched the ice as a horrendous turnover or ill-advised penalty never seemed far behind.

Remember that game I mentioned earlier against Tampa Bay? The one in which Ovechkin scored four goals to erase a 3-0 deficit? Part of the reason the team was down 3-0 was because Green took four minor penalties and a 10 minute misconduct…in the first period.

Green was tied for the most minor penalties on the team this season. We used to look past how terrible he was defensively because of how well he produced offensively, but that’s not the case anymore. In 70 games, he recorded only 38 points and was supplanted on the top power play unit by Carlson.

Green made $6 million this season and will make $6.25 million next season in the final year of his contract. He is clearly not worth such a high price to the Caps anymore. With big changes possibly on the horizon, he may find himself on the trading block.

As for Orlov, the time has come for him to decide whether he’s going to be a top-four defenseman in the NHL or not. He’s certainly capable of it, but he’s rapidly reaching the ‘put up or shut up’ point.

Oates handled Orlov poorly to start the season giving him the yo-yo treatment between Washington and Hershey, but when he did finally make it on the ice, his decision making was so questionable, you sometimes forgot this was not his first stint with the Caps.

There was no more egregious example of this than the Caps’ game on March 2 against the Flyers.

Orlov scored two goals and the Caps enjoyed a two-goal lead in the third period when he took an unbelievably stupid and egregious penalty on Brayden Schenn.

He was hit with a five-minute major penalty and a two-game suspension. The Flyers came back to win the game in overtime 5-4. With the Caps in desperate need of points, Orlov lost this game for his team. Add that to the multitude of turnovers and stupid plays we saw all season and you really begin to wonder the Caps have anyone behind Carlson and Alzner the team can trust on the blue line.

The Caps struggles on defense were further highlighted by the team’s carousel in net. Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and Jaroslav Halak all took the reins as the Caps’ top netminder at some point over the season with Michal Neuvirth contributing several starts as well.

It’s been well documented that Oates and goalie coach Olaf Kolzig attempted to re-tool their strategy in net by having the goalies play deeper in the crease. The merits of such a change are debatable. There are advantages to this system just as there are advantages to a more aggressive style; it really comes down to your own philosophy.

Holtby struggled more with this change than any other goalie on the team. This comes as no surprise given his aggressive style of play. Eventually, Kolzig shifted tactics to allow him to take advantage of his natural instincts, but by then the season was half over and he had failed to assert himself as the team’s top goalie.

Philipp Grubauer did for a time, but was young, overused and, when Neuvirth was healthy again, under-practiced.

Then there was Halak.

Halak had a .930 save percentage and 2.31 goals against average with the Caps and yet finished with a record of only 5-4-3, failing to vault the Caps back into playoff position. Why? Because goaltending really wasn’t the problem.

Holtby’s struggles, Neuvirth’s inconsistences and Grubauer’s breaking down were all exasperated by the Caps’ defense. Even though Halak played well, it ultimately didn’t matter because he wasn’t fixing the team’s major problem.

So before you give up on Holtby or Grubauer, remember that their struggles in net looked far worse than they actually were because of the defenders they had around them. Holtby and Grubauer should be the team’s two goalies next season and you should feel comfortable with that, provided the defense improves.

Ultimately, the conclusion you should all be reaching by now at the end of third of three articles analyzing the team’s season is that McPhee didn’t do enough this season to build a championship roster, Oates constantly failed to put his team in the best position to win and the players didn’t play well enough on the ice. Each problem contributed to make the others worse until the season became a jumbled mess.

Given all of that, is it really that surprising that the Caps didn’t make the playoffs?

Washington Capitals Game 81 Recap: Caps dump Blackhawks 4-0 in meaningless exhibition

In a completely meaningless hockey game at the end of a lost season, the Washington Capitals defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 4-0 before a less-than capacity crowd at the Verizon Center Friday night. That the Blackhawks had nothing to play for other than not getting any more injured than they already are speak a lot to the final score of the contest.

Jaroslav Halak made 33 saves in the shutout.

The Caps got going early in the first period. Just 1:03 in, Marcus Kruger went off for a holding penalty. 1:01 into the power play, John Carlson slid the puck to Alex Ovechkin in his normal spot in the left wing faceoff circle and as he’s done so many times before, Ovechkin buried it past Corey Crawford, registering his 51st goal of the season.

A few minutes later, Dmitry Orlov’s shot from the point was knocked down, redirected right to Jay Beagle, alone on the right post. Beagle calmly knocked it to the back of the net for his third of the season and the Caps had a two-goal lead before the half-way point of the first period.

On the next shift, Joel Ward sprung loose on a breakaway and beat Crawford stick-side, but his shot rang off the post.

The Capitals made it 3-0 just 1:19 into the second period. Ovechkin handed the puck to Nick Backstrom and the Swede sent a shot from an almost impossibly tight angle past Crawford for his 18th goal of the campaign.

They tacked on another one with 3:44 left in the frame. Beagle, again on the doorstep, banged home a pass from Jason Chimera from behind the goal for his second of the game, and his first multi-goal game of his career.

The Capitals conclude the 2013-14 season Sunday when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning, at which point a critical offseason will commence.

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 75 Recap: Playoff hopes dwindling, another shootout loss

If the Washington Capitals are desperate to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, they aren’t showing it.

They finished the month of March 6-5-4 as they fell to the Nashville Predators, playing out the string, 4-3 in a shootout.

The Caps didn’t have the opportunity to spoil another two-goal lead in this one, though they did hold the lead first as Troy Brouwer converted a nice tic-tac-toe play just 4:17 into the match. Pretty passes were provided by Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom.

But Nashville needed just 1:38 to tie it back up. The Preds won an offensive zone faceoff and Shea Weber fired on Jaroslav Halak. The big rebound came right to Patric Hornqvist. who elude the check of Patrick Wey and scored easily.

Hornqvist made it 2-1 with 1:30 left in the frame. A bad John Carlson pass at his own blue line skipped off Backstrom’s skate and right to Hornqvist, who walked in alone and deked Halak cleanly and efficiently.

Brouwer evened things up at 14:22 of the second with a power play goal, his overall 23rd of the year, setting a new personal high. The backhander from the slot came after collecting a pass meant for Alex Ovechkin on the far side from Marcus Johansson, but bounced off a Predators d-man and right to Brouwer.

Weber scored his 21st of the season off a rush at 8:23 of the third. He took a perfectly placed drop pass from Mike Fisher and, with no Capitals forward back-checking, slammed a rocket past Halak from the top of the right wing circle.

Backstrom forced overtime with a wicked wrist shot with Calle Jarnkrok in the box for slashing Jay Beagle — Beagle’s only offensive contribution of the night.

Dmitry Orlov rang a shot off the post in overtime, but could not convert. That led to penalty shots and Craig Smith scored for Nashville while Evgeny Kuznetsov, Mikhail Grabovski (in his first game back after missing 19 games) and Backstrom were all unsuccessful.

Washington now sits one point out of the playoffs behind Columbus in the Eastern Conference, though the Jackets still have a game in hand. The Caps are back on the ice Tuesday when they host the Dallas Stars.

Washington Capitals Game 71 Recap: Caps steal a point in L.A.

It would have been very easy for the Washington Capitals to go out on this late season trip through California without earning a single point, then come back to D.C. and start cleaning the golf clubs.

But Joel Ward’s third period goal forced overtime and the Caps, despite falling to the Los Angeles Kings in the shootout, have earned three of four points thus far on their West Coast swing, with the San Jose Sharks looming Saturday night.

The Caps played perhaps their best team-defense game of the season, with Jaroslav Halak stellar in net once again with 27 saves matching the Kings’ Jonathan Quick (21 saves) all evening long.

Washington remains one point behind Columbus and the New York Rangers in the Metropolitan Division and the Wild Card chase with 11 games to play.

Anze Kopitar opened the scoring in the first period, beating Halak on a quick wrist shot through the five-hole. The Kings owned the better of play in the first and most of the second, but the Caps penalty kill was strong once again, killing minors to Jason Chimera and two by Nick Backstrom.

The equalizer came at 12:24 of the third period. Evgeny Kuznetsov, playing in his sixth NHL game, carried the puck along the right wing dasher to the goal line and snuck a pass through the crease to Joel Ward. Ward’s first attempt banged off defenseman Drew Doughty’s skate, but caromed right back to Ward, who got better wood on the second attempt and lifted it past Quick to even it up.

It was Ward’s 22nd goal of the season.

Both teams survived a frenetic final five minutes, and the Caps were unable to take advantage of a 4-on-3 power play in overtime despite several quality attempts, each spoiled by Quick.

Kuznetsov beat Quick in his first-ever shootout attempt in the NHL, but Ovechkin and Backstrom were both denied and the Caps had to be satisfied with just one point in L.A.

The Caps may not eventually qualify for the playoffs, but at least they are giving themselves a fighting chance with their performance in California this week. It makes one wonder where this effort ahs been all season long.

Washington Capitals Game 68 Recap: Kuznetsov’s three-point night propels Caps to 4-3 win

In so many ways it was a typical Washington Capitals letdown game, but this time Evgeny Kuznetsov was there to save the day.

Kuznetsov’s three assists, his first three NHL points, lifted the Caps to a much needed 4-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night.

After Joel Ward put the Caps up early in the first period, Vancouver responded in just 3:24 to tie it at one. Caps fans have seen this story before.

After trading goals in the first, however, Kuznetsov took over.

Kuznetsov, playing in just his third NHL game, tallied his first assist on an Alex Ovechkin power play goal. The puck came around the boards to him and he passed it back to John Carlson, who found Ovechkin poised in his favorite spot. The shot rifled past Canucks’ goalie Eddie Lack to give the Caps a 2-1 lead.

It may have been a secondary assist, but it still counts and it clearly gave Kuznetsov confidence going forward as his second assist showed.

Only 4:07 after recording his first NHL point, Kuznetsov roared down the left side of the ice towards Lack, pulled his stick back for a monster slap shot and…passed it cross-ice to a wide open Tom Wilson, faking just about everyone on the ice. Wlson beat the helpless Lack for the two-goal lead.

It was an incredible play and it came from a 21-year-old playing in only his third career NHL game.

“He is such a creative player,” said Wilson, “A lot of fun to play with. The first couple of games he wasn’t sure, and he’s really finding his groove. Hopefully we can have some good chemistry for years to come.”

It looked as if his brilliant night would be wasted after the Caps blew yet another two-goal lead — the 12th time they have done so this season. They started the third period up 3-1 thanks to two second period assists from Kuznetsov, but Vancouver managed to tie the game at three with two goals only 3:06 apart.

But on this night, Kuznetsov would not be denied.

In the third period, head coach Adam Oates experimented with Kuznetsov and Wilson playing with Nicklas Backstrom at center. It paid off.

Kuznetsov showed his quick stick-handling skills to avoid defenders down low, then passed it behind the net to Backstrom. Backstrom found Green on the point and he rifled it past Lack for what would be the game winner.

“[Kuznetsov] did a great job battling down the corner and keeping control of the puck,” said Green. “He made a great play to [Backstrom], and I noticed when Nicky was wheeling the net the he saw me before he even looked up.”

On a night when the Caps gave up a quick response goal and a two-goal lead, they still managed to come away with the victory, something they have failed to do in recent weeks.

Tonight’s win was only the team’s second win in seven games. Even when things looked as if they were going wrong as usual, the Caps improved in a lot of areas.

Jaroslav Halak had by far his best game as a Cap with 38 saves on 41 shots and the Caps did not collapse when defending the one-goal lead.

“One of the good things was in the last five minutes,” said Oates, “We did a pretty decent job of protecting the goalie, blocked some shots, guys stayed in position.”

But even though this was a team win, it was a night that belonged to Kuznetsov who is showing the potential that has many people believing he could grow into a dominant NHL player.

“You know you get your first point on the power play,” said Oates, “which is kind of an easy point, but it still counts. You get your juices going. Great play on the second goal and then protecting the puck on a cycle, which is kind of something you don’t necessarily expect.”

At this point, we are learning that there are few things we shouldn’t expect from the young Russian.

The Caps are back in action Sunday as they host Toronto before heading out on their West Coast road swing. They currently sit at one point behind Philadelphia for the final wild card spot.

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