November 1, 2014

Three Stars: Washington Capitals vs. Vancouver Canucks 10/26/14

Three games, one win and two losses, two out of six possible points on the road. Not ideal, but the Capitals are sitting on a 4-2-2 record after 8 games, which is actually pretty good.

Add Vancouver to the list of places the Caps can’t seem to win in. They haven’t won a game in Vancouver since 2001, when the Sedins were practically babies.

Marcus Johansson scored his third goal of the season off a neat feed from Andre Burakovsky in the second period, then the Canucks added three goals in less than two minutes. The Capitals took a bunch of penalties and then rookie Liam O’ Brien scored his first career NHL goal in the second period, but a Vancouver empty-netter with a minute left in the third snuffed any hopes of a tie. Canucks win 4-2.

 

First Star:

Marcus Johansson.

Johansson is actually shooting (i.e. not passing up shots) and looks more confident than ever on the ice. Andre Burakovsky’s nifty pass to Johansson was one of two that got past Ryan Miller all night, and was #90’s third goal this season, which is equal to his even strength goal total from last season. Johansson began the night skating with Burakovsky and Troy Brouwer, but lines were shuffled and he ended up with Evgeny Kuznetsov as his center. Who knows if that will stick, though.

Second Star.

Justin Peters.

He may not have come up with the win, but Peters was a key component to keeping the Canucks off the board in the first period. The penalty kill wasn’t stellar tonight for the Caps, and Peters covered for the rest of the team’s defensive lapses capably. His last few starts haven’t been the best, but you can’t fault him for the losses.

Third Star.

Liam O’Brien.

The surprise rookie put himself on the map for something else besides face-punching. This is a facet of his game that he hopefully will put to use more often. He finished the night with 5 shots on goal and TOI of 8:04. O’Brien and Latta seem to have a bit of chemistry, so maybe Trotz will keep them together amidst the shuffling of lines of late.

 

Washington Capitals Game 8 Recap: Canucks score 3 in second to drop Caps

The Washington Capitals played the last of a 3-game western Canada road trip Sunday night in Vancouver against the Canucks. For the most part, they played like they’d been on the road for the better part of a week, falling to Vancouver 4-2.

Though the Caps scored first, the Canucks registered three goals in a less than two minute span and the Caps never really rallied.

After a ragged, scoreless first period, the goals fell like rain in the second. The Caps (4-2-2) broke on top as Marcus Johansson took a nice feed from Andre Burakovsky and buried it for the 1-0 lead — Johansson’s third of the season at even strength, which matches his total from last season.

Vancouver then scored in rapid-fire fashion, dropping three goals in the span of 1:47.

Henrik Sedin removed the Canuck goose egg, banging home a rebound from a sharp angle on the power play, in which John Carlson failed to clear the puck twice.

Just 1:22 later, the Canucks took advantage of an awkward line change by the Caps, and as a result Nick Bonino came in on Justin Peters alone as beat him cleanly to put the Canucks up by one.

Finally, 25 seconds after the second tally, Luca Sbisa held a puck in at the point and fired a slapshot past a screen Justin Peters to make it 3-1 Vancouver and the Canucks were making the Caps look tired and slow.

But the Caps didn’t quit despite the deficit. In fact, less than two minutes later, Liam O’Brien niftily redirected Mike Green’s centering pass past Ryan Miller (20 saves) for his first NHL goal and the Caps went into the dressing room for the second intermission down one at 3-2.

 Unfortunately, the third period saw no more goals except for Vancouver’s empty net goal with 1:01 left after John Carlson committed a delay-of-game penalty, throwing a puck over the glass with 1:38 remaining in the game.

The Caps return to DC to host the Detroit Red Wings Wednesday at 7:00 pm.

  • The Caps were outshot 34-22. It’s the first time this season the Capitals have allowed more than 30 shots on goal.
  • It seemed like the men wearing striped shirts were in the last game of a 3-game road trip as well. They called the Caps for five minor infractions and the Canucks just two, including a too-many-men call. But both of Vancouver penalties came while they had a man advantage already, so the Caps never did get a full power play on the night.
  • Alex Ovechkin managed just two shots on goal and four hits. it’s the fourth straight game Ovi’s been held pointless. Ovechkin led the forwards in ice time with 19:00.
  • Justin Peters made 30 saves and several terrific ones in the first period. But he was cleanly beaten on Bonino’s goal and while Sedin’s came on the power play, it bounced in — and out — of his catching glove.

Three Stars: Washington Capitals vs. New Jersey Devils 10/16/14

The Capitals soundly whipped the Devils 6-2 Thursday night at Verizon Center. They are still undefeated in regulation, as both of their losses so far this season have been in the shootout, and their record is now 2-0-2, which also happens to be the DC area code. Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, and Andre Burakovsky all scored, which I believe is now known as a “Swedetrick.”

 

First Star:

Braden Holtby.

Once again, Holtby is our first star. He made a few ten-bell saves to keep the game close, including a crucial stop on Jaromir Jagr. In the third period, Holtby’s work was supplemented by offense (for once) in the form of three goals. He stopped 26 of 28 shots in the win.

 

Second Star:

Marcus Johansson.

It’s only 4 games in, but Johansson is my vote for most improved under Barry Trotz so far. His second period tally was the kind of shot he probably would have passed up last season. Overall, he looks far more confident in his abilities; fast and sharp. Trotz has been good for him.

 

Third Star:

Joel Ward.

If Ward and Jason Chimera are the heart and soul of the third line, Eric Fehr is the brains. Tonight, Ward was reunited with the brains, and scored perhaps the funkiest goal of the season so far. He chucked the puck to the rear boards behind Cory Schnieder, but it bounced up and to the right of Schneider, behind the goalpost. When Schnieder retreated to protect the goal line, the puck went in. Good goal. Just watch the video.

Washington Capitals Game 4 Recap: 6 Caps score in trouncing of Devils

OVECHKIN SCORES 5TH OF THE SEASON IN CONVINCING WIN

Just three games into the 2014-15 campaign, the Washington Capitals had already fallen in shootouts twice. They made sure to avoid that distinction Thursday night, scoring early — and often — trouncing the previously unbeaten New Jersey Devils 6-2.

Six different Caps players scored, handing the Devils their first loss of the season. New Jersey entered play 3-0-0.

It didn’t take long for the Caps (2-0-2) to get engaged in this one. In fact, it took just 34 seconds for Alex Ovechkin to gather a loose puck and snap one past Cory Schneider for the quick 1-0 lead. Kind of ridiculously, it was only the sixth fastest goal Ovechkin has scored in his career.

Ovechkin has scored in three straight games, amassing five goals in that timeframe.

New Jersey answered a little past the midway mark of the frame. The Devils did a good job creating traffic in front of Braden Holtby, and defenseman Damon Severson’s wrist shot got through a maze of bodies to tie it up.

But a lackadaisical Devils turnover on the next shift was corralled by Brooks Orpik near center ice. He tossed to Mike Green, who moved the puck ahead for Chris Brown on the right wing. Brown fired on Schneider essentially to trigger a line change, but slap shot got past the New Jersey goalie for a 2-1 Caps lead.

With 3:24 left in the period, the Devils tied it again on another shot by Severson from the point through traffic. It’s the second consecutive game the Caps have given up a two-goal period to a defenseman.

Marcus Johansson broke the tie 6:18 into the second period as he took a pass from Brooks Laich off the half-wall and beat Schneider with a wrist shot for his second goal of the season.

The Caps got an insurance goal 56 seconds into the third. Matt Niskanen fired from the point and Nick Backstrom redirected the slap slot while camping out in the low slot to make it 4-2.

Moments later, Joel Ward fired one in from the blue line that bounced off the back wall, off Schneider’s back and into his skates. The goalie fell trying to cover and pushed the puck into the net to give the Caps a 5-2 lead. Schneider was promptly lifted in favor of Scott Clemmensen.

The Caps added insult to injury later in the third. With Jaromir Jagr off for tripping, Andre Burakovsky sniped the top glove corner on Clemmensen from the right wing dot to provide a four-goal cushion.

Braden Holtby was spectacular in the first period, despite the two screened goals. He was rarely tested after and made 26 saves in total for his second win of the season.

PHOTOS: Washington Capitals Home Opener 2014

The Washington Capitals hosted the Montreal Canadiens for the 2014 home opener on Thursday night, October 9. The crowd returned to rock the red for a brand new season. The Habs ended up with the 2-1 in a four round shootout. See DSP’s Three Stars of the Game and game recap.

Enjoy the photos from the player introductions, ceremonial puck drop to kick off the Caps’ 40th Anniversary featuring four Capitals’ greats and the National Anthems.

40th Anniversary Logo - Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

40th Anniversary Logo – Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

INTRODUCTIONS TO THE 2014 WASHINGTON CAPITALS……

Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 - Caps waiting to be introduced (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 – Caps waiting to be introduced (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Caps coaching staff and scratched players - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Caps coaching staff and scratched players – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Matt Niskanen - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Matt Niskanen – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Eric Fehr - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Eric Fehr – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Troy Brouwer - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Troy Brouwer – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Brooks Laich - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Brooks Laich – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Jason Chimera - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Jason Chimera – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Karl Alzner - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Karl Alzner – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Justin Peters - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Justin Peters – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Jack Hillen - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Jack Hillen – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Joel Ward - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Joel Ward – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Andre Burakovsky - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Andre Burakovsky – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Chris Brown - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Chris Brown – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Braden Holtby - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Braden Holtby – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

John Carlson - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

John Carlson – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Liam O'Brien - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Liam O’Brien – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Nate Schmidt - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Nate Schmidt – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Marcus Johansson - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Marcus Johansson – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Evgeny Kuznetsov - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Evgeny Kuznetsov – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Nicklas Backstrom - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Nicklas Backstrom – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Brooks Orpik (Caps Debut)- Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Brooks Orpik (Caps Debut)- Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Caps Captain Alex Ovechkin - Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Caps Captain Alex Ovechkin – Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Caps introductions before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

CEREMONIAL PUCK DROP……

Former Caps Captain Rod Langway - Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Former Caps Captain Rod Langway – Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Former Capitals Rod Langway, Craig Laughlin, Sylvain Cote and Peter Bondra, wearing the jerseys they played in, to drop ceremonial puck before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Former Capitals Rod Langway, Craig Laughlin, Sylvain Cote and Peter Bondra, wearing the jerseys they played in, to drop ceremonial puck before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

All-time Caps goals leader, Peter Bondra - Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

All-time Caps goals leader, Peter Bondra – Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Caps Captain Alex Ovechkin skates to join former Caps for ceremonial puck drop - Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Caps Captain Alex Ovechkin skates to join former Caps for ceremonial puck drop – Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Former Capitals Rod Langway, Craig Laughlin, Sylvain Cote and Peter Bondra drop ceremonial puck joined by Caps Captain Alex Ovechkin and Habs Andrei Markov before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Former Capitals Rod Langway, Craig Laughlin, Sylvain Cote and Peter Bondra drop ceremonial puck joined by Caps Captain Alex Ovechkin and Habs Andrei Markov before Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Handshakes after ceremonial puck drop - Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Handshakes after ceremonial puck drop – Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

NATIONAL ANTHEMS……

Caleb Green and Bob McDonald singing the Canadian National Anthem (featuring the new closed captioning on scoreboard) -Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014

Caleb Green and Bob McDonald singing the Canadian National Anthem (featuring the new closed captioning on scoreboard) -Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014

Caleb Green and Bob McDonald singing the National Anthem -Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014

Caleb Green and Bob McDonald singing the National Anthem -Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014

Habs during the National Anthem - Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Habs during the National Anthem – Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Caps during National Anthem - Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Caps during National Anthem – Washington Capitals home opener against Montreal featuring 40th Anniversary cermony, 10/09/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

PHOTOS: Washington Capitals Practice, October 7

Dave and I are back in DC for a visit so we went over to Kettler Iceplex on Tuesday, October 7 to watch the Washington Capitals practice. We’re looking forward to the Caps home opener at Verizon Center on Thursday!

Here are a handful of photos from practice. It was great to take hockey photos again! As always, please feel free to comment on the post. I really appreciate feedback. Thanks.

Face Off Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Face Off
Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Face Off Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Face Off
Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Face Off Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Face Off
Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Tom Wilson Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Tom Wilson
Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Marcus Johansson Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Marcus Johansson
Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Alex Ovechkin Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Alex Ovechkin
Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Eric Fehr Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Eric Fehr
Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Chris Brown Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Chris Brown
Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Nicklas Backstrom Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Nicklas Backstrom
Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Team Huddle Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Team Huddle
Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Jason Chimera Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Jason Chimera
Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Marcus Johansson Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Marcus Johansson
Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Alex Ovechkin Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Alex Ovechkin
Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Jason Chimera Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Jason Chimera
Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Justin Peters getting advice from Goaltending Coach Mitch Korn Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Justin Peters getting advice from Goaltending Coach Mitch Korn
Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Nate Schmidt Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Nate Schmidt
Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Karl Alzner Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Karl Alzner
Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Assistant Coach Blaine Forsythe and Andre Burakovsky Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Assistant Coach Blaine Forsythe and Andre Burakovsky
Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Mike Green Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Mike Green
Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

John Erskine Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

John Erskine
Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Andre Burakovsky Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Andre Burakovsky
Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Assistant Coach Lane Lambert Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Assistant Coach Lane Lambert
Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Braden Holtby Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Braden Holtby Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Ovechkin, Backstrom and…? Who should be on the top line?

Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin are two of the best offensive talents in the NHL, but there’s a problem: forward lines usually have three players. The question of who that third player should be for the Caps’ top line has haunted them all season long and they still don’t have an answer for it.

One of the reasons a top six forward remains a major need for this team is because they don’t even know who their top three is. Whether carrying the passive Marcus Johansson, trying to find a role for Martin Erat or hoping Brooks Laich can start living up to his contract, head coach Adam Oates has done just about everything he can think of to try and find the right mix for his top line.

With the Caps entering the final quarter of the season and still struggling to earn a playoff spot, inconsistency on the top line is not something this team needs. The perfect fit probably isn’t on this roster right now, but it’s time to make a decision and stick with it.

Given Oates’ insistence on playing left-handed players on the left side, that limits the choices to Jason Chimera, Aaron Volpatti, Marcus Johansson, Martin Erat and Brooks Laich.

Finding a top line winger means that player has to have the talent to match those kinds of minutes. With all due respect to Chimera and Volpatti, neither of them are top six forwards.

That leaves Johansson, Erat and Laich.

Finding a cohesive line, however, is about more than just talent. It is also finding the right mix of players and that’s where this gets tricky.

Those who worship the gods of statistics will say that Johansson is the obvious choice. So far this season, he has 38 points while Erat has 24 and Laich has 12.

Those numbers are inflated, however, since Johansson has had more opportunities. He started the season on the top line and is averaging 17:31 per game. That is more than Erat’s 14:44. Laich has a comparable 17:16 per game, but he is getting significant time on the penalty kill. Those kind of minutes won’t do much of your offensive stats.

Johansson has also played in more games (61) than either Erat (53) or Laich (47). The bottom line is that Johansson should have better numbers because he has played more and his ice time isn’t coming on penalty kills.

Johansson appears to be a good fit for the top line, given his style of play. He is a skilled winger whose speed forces defenses to account for him.

When you have Backstrom and Ovechkin on the ice and opposing teams still have to account for the third player on the line, good things will happen, or at least they should.

Johansson’s problem this season has been deferring completely to his superstar linemates. You can’t blame him for playing this way; those are two guys who should have the puck on their sticks as much as possible, but he becomes so passive in his play that it completely negates his role on the line.

He’s not supposed to be a third wheel.

When Oates switches the lineup and Johansson plays with the second or third line, he looks like a different player. He shoots, gets in front of the net and uses his speed to create opportunities. Yes, he is getting a lot of assists, but anyone could rack up points on a line with Backstrom and Ovechkin. Even Chris Clark scored 30 goals with Ovechkin on the top line.

In an ideal lineup, would he be a top line winger? No, he’s better suited for second or third line minutes, but few teams have three offensive superstars. Given the Caps’ roster, he is the guy who makes the most sense; the Caps just don’t have time to wait for him to become assertive.

What about Erat? No, stop laughing, I’m serious. People forget that Erat was a top six forward in Nashville. He’s a good player who never fit in with Oates’ plans for the team and his play and playing time have suffered because of it. That doesn’t mean that he’s not a top six guy.

Erat’s best season came in 2011-12 when he scored 19 goals and 39 assists for 58 points. That’s not bad. To compare, Troy Brouwer, who many Caps fans have mistaken for an offensive dynamo after his great 2013 season, has never recorded more than 40 points in a single year. Erat has seven times.

His style of play, however, does not lend itself well to the top line. Though not as skilled as Backstrom, their style of play is similar. They both use their offensive instincts to create plays and are more adept at feeding the puck to other playmakers than they are to scoring themselves.

These ‘quarterbacks,’ so to speak, are best spread out among the lines rather than placed together. While both players are capable of scoring, they make their living setting up someone else. Much like we saw with Johansson, if Ovechkin is the only guy scoring on a line, he’s the only guy defenses will worry about.

Essentially, having two quarterbacks never seems to work. Just ask the Redskins.

There’s also the possibility, though slim, that Erat may be on a different team come the trade deadline. It’s hard to build your top line along a player who may or may not be here in a few days.

Who does that leave? Surely the answer can’t be Laich who has only 12 points this season? He’s more likely to change a stranger’s tire than he is to record a point!

In an ideal lineup, Laich is a third line center, but again, no NHL team is working with an ideal lineup.

Laich brings something different to that top line. He’s a grinding, two-way winger. No, he’s not a sniper who’s going to light up the scoreboard, but he is someone who can forecheck, crowd the crease, and get those ‘garbage goals.’ He’s also a defensively responsible player which can help make up for Ovechkin’s…er, lack of.

Laich is also not afraid to shoot when he gets the chance. In a two-on-one with Ovechkin against the Panthers on Thursday, Laich rifled a one-timer past Tim Thomas. Laich didn’t immediately look for the pass back to Ovechkin, he fired the shot because Thomas was out of position. Would Johansson or Erat have taken that one-timer? I’m not so sure.

This is not a perfect fit for that the top line. It would be hard to play them as often as Oates may want since Laich is one of the team’s top penalty killers. He also is not as offensively skilled as either Johansson or Erat. Though he looked great Thursday recording a goal and two assists, he has not scored a point in either of the Caps’ two games since.

And let’s not forget the injury concerns. Laich has been dogged both this season and last season with a recurring groin injury. Could top line minutes cause this injury to flare up yet again?

Playing Laich on the top line is not ideal and this is something the Caps will need to address in the offseason. As a quick fix, however, with the team needing some cohesion for the stretch run, he might not be a bad option.

Ovechkin, Carlson both score in easy wins for Russia and U.S.

Alex Ovechkin scored on his first shift of the 2014 Winter Olympics, while John Carlson started Team U.S.A.’s scoring frenzy as both Russian and the U.S. won their first game of the round-robin section of the tournament.

Ovechkin’s blast from the left wing started the scoring for Team Russia as they knocked off Slovenia 5-2. The Great 8 added an assist later on.

Carlson took a drop pass from Phil Kessel on a break and fired a rocket past Jaroslav Halak as Team U.S.A. cruised past Slovakia 7-1.

Nick Backstrom had an assist on Erik Karlsson’s second goal in Team Sweden’s 4-2 victory over Czech Republic, while Marcus Johansson was a healthy scratch. Martin Erat did not record a point in the contest.

 

What to watch for from the five Caps headed to Sochi

(photo courtesy Washington Capitals)

(photo courtesy Washington Capitals)

With the Olympic games underway, Washington Capitals fans will soon be seeing some familiar faces competing in Sochi.

Five Caps will be making the trek to Russia to represent their respective countries. Here are a few things fans should be watching for:

Alex Ovechkin

Obviously the most pressure will be on the Great 8 himself as he tries to carry the host nation to gold. Russia was embarrassed in Vancouver as they were handed a 7-3 drubbing by Canada in the quarterfinals. The Russians have not earned a medal since taking bronze in 2002 and the pressure is on for this team to get back on the medal stand.

Pavel Datsyuk will captain the team, but even so Ovechkin will be one of this team’s leaders as he is among the nation’s biggest stars. He has already been one of the faces of the these Olympics as he unveiled the team’s new jersey and was the first Russian to carry the Olympic torch in Greece as it began its long trek to Sochi.

The question is how will he handle the pressure?

Hockey is a big-time sport in Russia. Players do not dream of growing up and playing for the Stanley Cup. For them, the Olympics are really the pinnacle of the sport. After multiple playoff failures in Washington, some have questioned whether Ovechkin’s leadership is partly to blame.

If he can lead his team back to Olympic glory, he will have answered just about every question about whether he can handle the pressure on the biggest stage. Carrying the weight of Washington will seem like a cakewalk after carrying a nation.

Nicklas Backstrom

Backstrom’s elite skills are often overshadowed by the other superstar on the Caps’ roster. Sweden is absolutely loaded with talent and is one of the favorites to win the gold. The Olympics will offer him the chance to show how good he really is to fans who think of him more as Ovechkin’s sidekick.

It is easy to forget how good offensively Backstrom really is when it seems all he has to do is pass to Ovechkin and watch the show. Backstrom will be an intricate part of Sweden’s offense and a major reason for their success depending on how far they go.

Backstrom can remind the world on the Olympic stage that he’s pretty good too.

Marcus Johansson

With Henrik Sedin’s withdrawal from the Olympics, Johansson got his chance to join Backstrom on team Sweden. Though he is third on the Caps in points with 36, he only has seven goals. He has played incredibly passive this season when on the top line, deferring too much to his teammates.

Anyone can be put on a line with Backstrom and Ovechkin and feed them the puck, but Johansson wasn’t placed on the top line just to be a third wheel. He has his own offensive skills that he just is not utilizing right now in NHL play.

The fact that Johansson was replaced on the top line by Martin Erat is a pretty big sign that he’s not living up to Adam Oates’ expectations for his top left wing.

The Olympics will offer Johansson a chance to be more aggressive offensively. As a replacement player he may not get too much playing time, but hopefully he will take advantage of the time he does get on the ice. He’ll be playing with some good players, but on one of the lower lines he won’t be as overshadowed as he is in Washington. If he can show some aggressiveness in Sochi and bring that mentality home, it will be a huge boon for the Caps.

Martin Erat

Thank goodness he got his first goal of the season Saturday just prior to the Olympic break. Had Erat gone to Sochi and scored before he could even tally one goal this season in the NHL, there would be a lot of pretty bitter Caps fans waiting for him when he got home.

Lost amid his struggles this season is the fact that Erat is still a top-six NHL forward, evidenced by the fact that he is going to Sochi to play for the Czech Republic. Yes, he was called up to replace Vladimir Sobotka, but it is still is a major honor and a vote of confidence from the hockey community.

Sochi now offers Erat the chance to showcase his talents to other prospective NHL teams. The biggest problem Erat has had in Washington is that he just does not fit anywhere into Oates’ lineup. As a result, he has been passed around from line to line and his production has decreased. It’s hard to convince other teams that Erat is a top-six forward when he’s playing on the fourth line and can’t score.

Hopefully Erat will be a better fit for head coach Alois Hadamczik. With a coach who can utilize Erat, he can show that he can still contribute on another NHL team.

John Carlson

Carlson will be the first Capital ever to represent the United States in the Olympics. Widely considered to be the best defenseman on the Caps’ roster, it will be interesting to see where Carlson is in the lineup and how he is utilized by USA coach Dan Bylsma.

If Carlson seems overwhelmed by the tough competition, it will tell fans a lot about the state of the Caps’ defense. This also could be very important for the Caps’ other top offensive playmaker on the blue line, Mike Green.

There has been speculation surrounding Green all season long with his declining production about whether he could be on the trade block. Though a trade before the deadline is not likely to happen, if Carlson plays well it may make McPhee feel better about a possible move in the offseason.
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JJ Regan is a Contributor to District Sports Page. He is an aspiring sports journalist currently earning his master’s degree in interactive journalism from American University and has his own website at regansports.com. He is also a digital freelancer for Comcast SportsNet Washington and Baltimore and is a contributor for Yahoo Sports on the Capitals and Redskins. JJ follows all D.C. sports but specializes in the Capitals. You can follow him on Twitter @TheDC_Sportsguy.

Marcus Johansson named as injury replacement for Team Sweden

Marcus Johansson during warmups at Verizon Center (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Marcus Johansson during warmups at Verizon Center (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Washington Capitals LW/C Marcus Johansson was named to Sweden’s Olympic hockey team early Friday, according to multiple industry sources. Johansson, 23, will replaced the injured Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks, who was forced to withdraw due to a rib injury.

Johansson becomes the fifth Caps player to represent his nation in Sochi, joining Alex Ovechkin (Russia), Nick Backstrom (Sweden), John Carlson (U.S.A.) and Martin Erat (Czech Republic), who was named this week as an injury replacement himself.

Johansson has had an up-and-down season, though he’s well on his way to posting his best numbers as an NHLer. After his two-assist performance in Thursday’s 4-2 win over Winnipeg, through 57 games, he has seven goals and 29 assists, third on the Caps with 36 points, despite shooting a career-low 9.3 percent.

The forward will bring speed and skating ability to the bigger international ice sheet, and his passing creativity in recent weeks shows a young player starting to tap into his raw talent. Though his shot is still a work in progress, especially considering his seeming reluctance to use the weapon, he has exhibited some craftiness around the goal and his backhanded assist on Troy Brouwer’s first goal Thursday was a true gem.

This is Johansson’s first Olympics. He represented Sweden in the  2010 World Junior championships.

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