December 22, 2014

Three stars: Washington Capitals vs. New Jersey Devils 12/16/14

Two wins isn’t necessarily a streak, but the Capitals have that many in their pocket as they head to Tampa, fresh off a 4-1 win in New Jersey. Goals from Jay Beagle, Karl Alzner, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Brooks Laich, plus a strong performance from Braden Holtby pushed the Caps past the Devils in the second game of their three-game road trip.

First star: Braden Holtby. Holtby was stellar in the Caps’ win, stopping 33 of 34 shots. The only goal he allowed was a puck that leaked over his shoulder, but Holtby logged his strongest performance this season to date, finishing with a SV% of .971. His empty-net goal attempt didn’t work out, but he’ll probably try to get one whenever he has a chance.

Second star: Jay Beagle. The fourth-liner did his best Alex Ovechkin impression and it paid off with his fourth goal of the season, tying his career-high goal total.

Third star: Evgeny Kuznetsov. After being healthy-scratched in Carolina, Kuznetsov rebounded with a goal. He led the team in shots on goal with four, and skated 10:26, including some time on the power play.

 

 

Washington Capitals Game 26 Recap: Holtby, Secondary scoring leads Caps over Devils on road

Karl Alzner, Jay Beagle, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Brooks Laich all scored, and Braden Holtby was often spectacular, as the Washington Capitals took care of the New Jersey Devils on the road, 4-1.

It’s the first time the Caps (12-10-4) have won back-to-back games in regulation this season. The win allows the Caps to slide into third place in the Metropolitan Division with the New York Rangers loss.

Holtby made 34 saves in the effort, including an impressive effort again Marin Gelinas while short-handed when it was still close. Then in the third he made 15 saves, including robbing Jaromir Jagr twice as the Devils peppered him with shots in attempt to get back into the contest. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 25 Recap: Caps scratch out win over Canes

Eric Fehr converted a turnover into a goal with just over four minutes left and the Washington Capitals defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 on Thursday.

Fehr intercepted a poor pass by Reilly Nash at the Carolina blue line and calmly lifted a wrister past Anton Khudobin for his fourth of the season and the Caps held on down the stretch, including playing most of the last three minutes 6-on-5.

Braden Holtby made 28 saves, including a toe save late in the third that preserved the lead at the time.

Jay Beagle scored first, a mere 2:19 in. Jason Chimera took advantage of Michal Jordan’s misplay at the point and raced down the ice to get a shot off. Khudobin couldn’t handle the rebound and Beagle followed up and dumped the puck into the gaping net for his third goal of the season.

Old friend Alexander Semin scored the Hurricanes only goal. It was Semin’s first of the season and represented his 500th NHL point. Semin took a cross-ice pass from the point by Jay Harrison, beat Andre Burakovsky to the slot and roofed a backhander past Holtby.

The Caps travel to New Jersey to face the Devils Saturday night at 7:00 pm.

Observations:

  • This team really misses Mike Green, especially on the power play. Green missed his fifth game with an “upper body” injury and the power play has been out of sorts the entire time. Neither Matt Niskanen or John Carlson have the same play-making skills as Green can bring.
  • Alex Ovechkin had three shots on goal, one blocked and one miss wit four hits.
  • Coach Barry Trotz spent much of the night matching lines, with the defensive pair of Carlson and Brooks Orpik on the ice any time Jeff Skinner was. The duo kept Skinner off the scoresheet and Orpik blocked a whopping seven shots and registered seven hits. All that is to say is when Orpik was on the ice rarely did the Caps have the puck. Caps fans are going to have to get used to the idea that Orpik is going to continue to be a black hole of offense for the Caps while playing against the opposition’s top line.
  • While Holtby allowed just one goal and did make several key saves, he also puck-handled into two golden scoring chances for Carolina. He continues to make poor plays with his stick when he should be more conservative. In this, he was fortunately it didn’t come back to bite him.
  • Jason Chimera probably played his most effective game of the season. He utilized his speed on the fourth line all night to cause disruption and his play on the first goal is what the Caps hope to see more of. He had five shots on goal with one blocked and a miss.

Three Stars: Washington Capitals vs. Carolina Hurricanes 12/4/14

Eric Fehr scored with just over four minutes left to give Caps a win over Carolina. Jay Beagle scored (good boy). Alexander Semin waiting until game 25 to score his first of the season. Regulation win on the road!

First star: Eric Fehr. Fehr scored the game-winning goal against the Hurricanes, saving the Capitals from overtime. He played 15:10 and had 3 SOG and 3 hits in the game.

Second star: Jason Chimera. Jay Beagle’s first period goal would not have been possible without Chimera’s speed on the rush. Beagle tapped in the rebound from Chimera’s shot for the Caps first goal. Chimera finished the night with 5 shots on goal and 13:09 TOI.

Third star: Jay Beagle. Beagle is here because he actually scored a goal on an rebound, which the rest of the team seems to have trouble with. Good on you, dude.

Three Stars: Washington Capitals at New York Islanders, Nov. 26

Alex Ovechkin did Alex Ovechkin things despite nursing an injury, but an overtime power play goal went the other way and the Washington Capitals fell for the fourth time in six games, 3-2, to the New York Islanders, increasingly looking like one of the best teams in the conference, if not the whole stinking league.

First Star: Alex Ovechkin. Two power play goals, four shots, two blocked and two missed and three hits. Injured or not, this guy is bringing it every single night for the Caps.

Second Star: Matt Niskanen. Ovechkin can make anyone look good running the power play point, but Niskanen needs to exert himself while Green is out (again) and he had two shots on goal, another one blocked and four hits to go along with his apple.

Third Star: Jay Beagle? Three shots on goal and 10 of 15 at the dot, with 17:33 of non-scored upon ice time. Good boy.

Goat of the night: Nick Backstrom. Despite his two power play helpers, Backstrom is veteran enough that he knows he can’t take a holding-the-stick call with two minutes to go in overtime.

Washington Capitals Game 18 Recap: Capitals down Coyotes with Fehr’s overtime winner

The Washington Capitals needed an extra inning to decide their game against the Arizona Coyotes, where Eric Fehr scored the winning goal. Caps win 2-1.

After a rough weekend with losses to St. Louis and New Jersey, the win was a good bounce back from two straight losses. With the victory, the Caps now stand in 3rd in the Metropolitan Division with 19 points.

Jay Beagle scored his second of the season in the first period, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson evened it up for the Coyotes. In overtime, Fehr netted his third of the season for the game-winner.

A few notes:

  • Braden Holtby stopped 23 of 24 shots for a SV% of .958. Holtby, like his beard, was majestic. He’s finally bouncing back.
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov skated 7:32, the second lowest TOI next to Chris Brown, who skated 6:36. Barry Trotz says he’s trying to find minutes for everybody, but burying Kuznetsov on the fourth line clearly isn’t working.
  • The Capitals had 24 shots on goal, including 4 in OT. They had just 2 SOG in the second period.
  • Shot attempts were tied at 50 for both teams.
  • The Capitals were 0/3 on the PP, but were perfect on the penalty kill, killing all 4 Coyotes power plays.
  • Tom Wilson had another strong showing. He led the team with 6 hits, had 2 shots on goal, and played 13:55. Good look for him.

The Colorado Avalanche are up next for the Caps on Thursday at 9 PM eastern time. Since it’s not a back-to-back, expect Holtby to get the start in net. Ride the wave, Trotz, ride the wave.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CAPS: 2015 Caps Canine Calendar

Members of the Washington Capitals players participated in the 2015 Capitals Canine Calendar photo shoot to benefit Homeward Trails Animal Rescue at Potomac Regional Overlook Park in Arlington, Virginia.

A limited number of 2015 Caps Canine Calendars will be available for $20 beginning Tuesday, Dec. 2, when the Capitals host the Vancouver Canucks. The Caps Better Halves will help sell the calendars during the month of December at the MSE Foundation table located at section 104 on the main concourse. In addition the calendar will be available for purchase at the team stores at Verizon Center and Kettler Capitals Iceplex. The online sales are closed.

Players being photographed include Karl Alzner, Nicklas Backstrom, Jay Beagle, Troy Brouwer, John Carlson, Jack Hillen, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Justin Peters, Aaron Volpatti, and Joel Ward with their dogs and Braden Holtby, Michael Latta, Alex Ovechkin, Dmitri Orlov and Tom Wilson with shelter dogs.

Last season $34,044.99 was donated to Homeward Trails through the sale of the 2014 Capitals Canine Calendar.

How could you resist a calendar with your favorite hockey players and adorable dogs? Here are a few of the photos posted on Twitter and Instragram.

 

@backstrom19 gets some puppy kisses after his shoot. #capscaninecalendar

A photo posted by MSE Foundation (@msefoundation) on

#CapsCanineCalendar shoot with Braden Holtby and Hogan from Homeward Trails Animal Rescue

A photo posted by MSE Foundation (@msefoundation) on

What went wrong with the Washington Capitals, Part 2: Coaching

The Washington Capitals were officially eliminated from the playoffs last week, something few fans and analysts anticipated at the start of the season.

By failing to reach the postseason for the first time since 2007, the Caps were clearly one of the more disappointing teams this season. This is part two of a three-part series looking into what went wrong for the Caps. Last week, we looked at general manager George McPhee.

This week, we’ll look at the man behind the bench, Adam Oates.

One reason why this season was such a disappointment is because of the success Oates had in his first season as coach. After a 2-8-1 start to the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, the Caps rallied to win the Southeast Division and make their sixth consecutive postseason.

This was especially impressive given the fact that Oates did not have the time in the offseason or a camp to instill his new system and coaching style with the team; he had to take control on the fly and the team responded.

Oates’ initial success made everyone believe the team would thrive in his second year with a full offseason.

That didn’t happen.

So a first-year head coach was able to take over an NHL team with no offseason and lead them to the playoffs, but in his second season the team flounder even with a normal offseason schedule. Doesn’t that seem backwards to you?

Indeed Oates took a huge step back this year with baffling personnel decisions, a stubbornness to change or acknowledge those things that weren’t working and his complete inability to give this team any sort of identity.

Oates got things started early in the season with his handling of Tom Wilson.

Wilson averaged less than eight minutes a game even though McPhee made clear at the beginning of the season that he wanted him to receive significant minutes.  About the only thing Wilson has been allowed to do this season is fight.

Part of the reason he was brought to the NHL was to protect him from players targeting him in the OHL to make a name for themselves. Luckily Oates was there to protect him from those 18 and 19 year olds by throwing him to the wolves in the NHL.

If we are going to talk about personnel, we have to talk about Jay Beagle.

Perhaps the most curious move Oates made this season was moving Beagle to the top line to play with Alex Ovechkin at a time when the team was in desperate need of points.

Just one year ago, Oates stuck Ovechkin with Beagle and Joey Crabb when Ovechkin wanted to move back to left wing. It was a not-so-subtle hint to Ovechkin that if he did not commit to the switch to right wing, he would be stuck with a line he could not produce with.

In one year Beagle went from a ‘punishment’ center to the actual top center. Take a guess as to how well that move worked.

Ovechkin’s line was allowing more goals than it was producing and Oates added Beagle, a more defensively responsible forward, to the top line in an effort to fix the problem.

Dale Hunter’s solution for this was to simply bench Ovechkin, so I applaud Oates’ effort to find a more viable solution, but this move was doomed from the start.

Beagle is a ‘defensively responsible’ forward because he can’t produce offensively. At all. His career high in points is nine, set this season. Even though he played more games this season (62) than he has in any other season in his career and spent time playing with the best scorer in the world, he still managed only nine points.

What really bothers me about this move other than the fact that it didn’t work was that it vilified both Beagle and Ovechkin. Beagle is everything you want in a fourth line player; he works hard, he has an imposing frame which he’s not afraid to use, but he is a horrendous option for the top line. Continually throwing him on the top line where he doesn’t belong exposes his flaws and does not endear him to the fans. He does his job well, but by asking him to do more than he is capable of Oates made Beagle look and feel like a detriment to the team. That’s not fair and it’s not right.

Ovechkin also came under intense scrutiny in the back half of the season as his plus-minus continued to drop, but he can’t improve his plus-minus if he’s skating with someone who can’t produce offensively.

Did the top line allow as many goals with Beagle? No, but they didn’t score any either.

Ovechkin did not score a single point while skating with Beagle. Instead of allowing more goals than they were scoring, the top line just stopped scoring.

And yet Oates would not back down. This experiment should have lasted only a few games, but it went on for two weeks. When asked, what did Oates have to say? “I thought that line hasn’t hurt us.”

What team was he watching?

It was this kind of stubborn refusal to acknowledge any of his team’s struggles or make necessary changes that made this season so frustrating.

The team needed a top six forward and Oates kept Martin Erat on the fourth line until he was traded. The roster is very weak on the left side, but Oates put Dustin Penner on the fourth line after the team traded for him. Oates kept Dmitry Orlov cycling back and forth between Washington and Hershey so many times that he demanded a trade. Oates rode Philipp Grubauer into the ground and refused to play Michal Neuvirth even though that was the only way to raise his trade value. Oates continually played Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer on a line despite the fact that they are two players with two similar playing styles and did not produce offensively together.

McPhee’s hands were also tied in terms of building a roster given Oates’ insistence on playing each player on their shooting side, thus limiting McPhee’s options. Even when he did bring in players that seemingly fit what the team needed, Oates refused to use them.

McPhee may be at fault for not bringing in players that Oates would want to use, but Oates is at fault for not utilizing an optimal lineup.

You can’t convince me that it is better for the team to have Beagle on the top line and Erat and Penner on the fourth. I can’t quantify what giving players like Erat and Penner more time would mean in terms of the standings, but the Caps ended up only three points behind Detroit for the final wildcard spot. Keeping good players on the bench for much of the year could very well have been the difference between a playoff berth and an early summer vacation.

The only way Oates could have justified his puzzling line combinations would be if these players better fit the team’s identity, but there’s a major problem with that argument:  the team doesn’t have an identity.

Can anyone tell me what this team’s identity is? Are they a run-and-gun offense? A defensive stalwart? Grinders and hard-workers? A trap team? A two-way team? Opportunistic? They are none of these.

The fact is even after 82 games I don’t know what they are.

The ultimate failure of Oates this season is that he was never able to instill an identity into the team, unless you believe that identity was bad-turnovers leading to odd man rushes and a complete reliance on the power play. Given that this isn’t Oates’ first season with the team, that is a particularly egregious failure.

The only way you could characterize the Caps this season is by what they did poorly. They could not hold on to two-goal leads, constantly allowed goals after scoring, could not score at even strength, and literally could not win without scoring three goals or more, going 0-25-7 when scoring two goals or less.

These are mental and systematic mistakes that all reflect on the coaching.

Given the roster Oates was handed to start the season, the Caps should be in the playoffs. Is it a championship caliber roster? No, it had some holes, but it was better than how they played.

Oates is a great assistant coach, but that may be his ceiling. He was hired because he was the architect of New Jersey’s power play and had ideas on how to resurrect Ovechkin’s offensive prowess. He accomplished both feats and put together a productive third line, but he did little else.

Ovechkin, Brouwer Jason Chimera and Joel Ward all had great offensive numbers under Oates’ tutelage. Ovechkin even led the league with 51 goals this season.

Before you hail Oates as an offensive genius, however, consider this: 24 of Ovechkin’s 51 goals were scored on the power play where he continues to play on the left side. Nearly half of his goals came on the side Oates moved Ovechkin away from.

Oates didn’t fix Ovechkin, he fixed the power play.

Oates can believe in whatever theories or ideas he wants, but the results from his first full season as a head coach have been downright awful. He is the definition of a meddling coach, tweaking everything from playing side, stick curves and even goaltending style. When things went bad this season he blamed everyone else throwing players like Ovechkin and Jaroslav Halak under the bus all while sticking to his guns on the questionable decisions he himself had made.

In his first season, Oates showed Caps fans a lot to be hopeful for, but that was just not the case in year two.

Next week, I’ll take a look at the players to see what went wrong on the ice.

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.

Is Jay Beagle the answer on the top line?

Alex Ovechkin has a new linemate and it’s a curious match.

Jay Beagle is not the kind of player you would expect to see centering the top line, but he’s been playing with Ovechkin for four straight games much to the dismay of most Caps fans.

Beagle has 13 goals and 15 assists in his career; not exactly the type of numbers you would expect from a top line player. He was also a healthy scratch for 18 straight games in the beginning of the season and has played in only 52 of the team’s 72 games.

All of this begs the question, why? Why has Oates moved a fourth line grinder up to be his top line’s center?

The answer is defense.

The three players with the lowest +/- on the team are Ovechkin (-31), Nicklas Backstrom (-20) and Marcus Johansson (-16). While you should never put too much important on +/- as a statistic (remember Jeff Schultz?), it is telling the three players with the worst +/- have spent most of the season playing on the same line together. That means the Caps’ top line was giving up more goals 5-on-5 than it is scoring.

That’s a problem. It doesn’t matter how much Ovechkin scores if the other team is scoring more with him on the ice.

Dale Hunter confronted this problem by simply keeping Ovechkin off of the ice. It was maddening and had every Caps fans screaming at their TVs, wondering why the team’s best player was riding the bench. Hunter was a defensive minded coach so his solution for players who were defensive liabilities was to simply not play them. It was his biggest weakness as a coach.

You have the best goal scorer in the league in Ovechkin, but instead of forcing opposing teams to stop him, Hunter did it for them. Oates is trying something different.

This is where injuries to Brooks Laich and Mikhail Grabovski as well as the team’s need for a top-six forward really hurts. With these injuries as well as the combination of Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr and Joel Ward playing so well, Oates is really limited in what line changes he can make.

An easy fix for the top line is moving Grabovski up. For the season, Grabovski has a +4 in the +/- and the third line is playing well with Fehr at center. I think it would be safe to assume that when he is his healthy, he’ll replace Beagle.

But he’s not healthy, the Caps need points and Oates needs a solution.

Has Beagle on the top line worked so far? Yes and no.

Beagle has played with Ovechkin and Johansson for four games and the Caps have gone 3-0-1 in those games. The top line, however, is not producing. Ovechkin and Johansson have combined for one goal and two assists, all three of which came on the power play, meaning without Beagle on the ice. Beagle meanwhile has no points.

The +/- also has not improved. Oveckin is -2, Johansson -1 and Beagle is an even zero in their four games together.

The Caps have played well in their last four games, but the top line is not producing at all and is still giving up more goals than it is scoring. Pointing to the team’s recent success as evidence that Beagle’s promotion is working would be to discount how well the third line has played, something Beagle has nothing to do with.

The bottom line is that it’s not working and depending on the third line and the power play for all of the team’s offense is not a good plan. The top line has to start producing points.

There are other options. Though Oates has seemingly deemed Dustin Penner to be the next Martin Erat, he is a top six forward and was a +22 in Anaheim this season prior to the trade. Oates could put Backstrom back with Ovechkin and add Penner at left wing (there must be some reason McPhee traded for him, right?).

If he is worried about Penner’s lack of speed, he could mitigate that by moving Johansson back to center with Penner on the wing. Johansson’s speed makes up for Penner’s lack of and center was Johansson’s original position. Even if you like him better on the wing, you can’t tell me Beagle is a better option at center.

The point is, there are other options for the top line and Oates needs to find one. Somehow he has to figure out how to get Ovechkin’s line to be productive at even strength. Putting a fourth line player on the top line is definitely not the answer.

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