April 20, 2021

Caps Quick Takes: Game 7 vs. Rangers

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Washington Capitals were satisfied to loft shots from the perimeter against Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers. The Rangers outworked the Caps and got a couple of greasy goals en route to a 2-0 win over the Caps in D.C. Yes, it’s the same story we’ve been writing about for the last couple of seasons. When the Caps face a grind-it-out team they usually end up looking out of sorts, lacking hustle and effort, and more often than not end up on the losing side of the ice. The Caps (2-5-0) wasted an opportunity to kick the injured and struggling Rangers while they were down.

1) The Rangers entered this game as one of the worst defensive teams in hockey. People were questioning Henrik Lundqvist’s near future openly in the press. The Rags defense was having much difficulty switching from a zone-based system to more man-to-man with the change in coaching from John Tortorella to Alain Vingeault. So what happens? The Rangers come in here an intimidate the Caps just like they did last spring, forcing the Caps to take poor shots and mostly knock them down before they ever reach The King. Caps were outshot 36-22 and had another 22 shots blocked. That’s being satisfied with taking crappy shots from the perimeter, and no one will beat the Rangers doing that.

2) The Caps won the overall faceoff battle, 37-31, but you certainly wouldn’t have known it by the possession stats. The Rangers dominated the Caps in offensive zone possession, especially in the second period, where it looked like New York could do anything they wanted in the Caps end. Especially brutal was the sequence that led to the Rangers second goal. Adam Oates had John Carlson paired with Alexander Urbom and sent out the 90-19-8 line to accompany them. Trapped in their own end for 1:35, the defensemen finally ran out of gas and both Carlson and Urbom were beaten by their assignments for the second goal. Where were the forwards helping out on defense? LOL.

3) Martin Erat: 6:20 TOI, including 1:16 short-handed, with an average shift of 0:38. That is called wasting an asset, and expensive one at that, both in salary and in cost to trade for.

4) Troy Brouwer made a lot of noise the other night calling out his teammates for lousy passes. We can only assume he lumped himself in there, and should by all rights admonish himself again following this contest. On the play that led to Ovechkin having to take a penalty on a short-handed breakaway, Brouwer tried a blind back-pass from the low slot that led to the Rangers odd-man rush the other way. Later in the game, unpressured in the middle of the ice, his pass in the neutral zone was behind Eric Fehr by a good three feet, leading to another offensive-zone possession by New York. On another topic, I totally think his collision with Derek Stepan was unintentional. Looking at the replay, he didn’t appear to have any idea Stepan was in his path he was so intently concentrating on getting to the bench.

5) Silver lining time? Braden Holtby was very good, except whiffing with the glove hand on the Rangers first goal. He got a very good look at John Moore’s soft wrister and was square to the puck. He tried to make a snap-catch instead of letting the puck get to him and he simply whiffed on it. Other than that, he was rock-solid. Perhaps playing in front of Kevin Lowe (part of Canada’s Olympic management team and Edmonton’s President of Hockey Operations) had something to do with his concentration level. Oh, did you hear the Oilers have interest in Michal Neuvirth?

The Caps are off until Saturday, when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets (2-3-0, tied with Caps at 4 points in Metro Division). I’m sure the coaching staff will have plenty so say this week in practice, but the biggest changes need to come from within. Oh. and maybe moving Erat up a line or two (or three).

Caps Quick Take: Game 4 vs. Hurricanes

If you have a third period lead against a division opponent, and you have any aspiration of making the playoffs and competing to be the best in the league, you have to win those games. Thursday night, the Washington Capitals failed to take care of their business, as they allowed two third period goals, including a power play marker to old friend Alexander Semin, and lost to the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2, to fall to 1-3 so far this season. Not ideal.

1)  Here’s the thing: the Caps dominated the first period in this one, and by every account the score should have been more like three or four to zero after 20 minutes. Alas, Jason Chimera’s fluky marker was the only tally that counted, and the Caps would rue not finishing on a couple more terrific possessions. The third line of Chimera-Eric Fehr-Joel Ward was clearly the best of the crew in that frame.

2) In their first three games the Caps have struggled playing at five a side, but in this one the power play really let them down. Five shots on goal in 6:01 of extra-man isn’t going to cut it. On the other side of the spectrum, the Caps committed seven minor infractions which is bad enough. But John Erskine’s interference — while already down a man — led to Semin’s game-tying PPG.

3) The Erskine/John Carlson duo had a standout game, and not in the good way. They were on the ice for Carolina’s first goal, a puck that bounced off Carlson and redirected over Braden Holtby’s glove hand, while Erskine was tying up no one in particular in front of the Caps net. On Nathan Gerbe’s game-winner, Carlson fumbled the puck in the corner and turned it over, leading to the original shot. Gerbe was on the far post, unmolested and unchallenged by Erskine, who was content to watch pucks bouncing around in the crease.

4) Alex Ovechkin continues to be a dominant force whenever he’s on the ice, despite having only one linemate. Goal, eight shots on goal, two more blocked. The goal was a rarity too, as Ovechkin was occupying the high slot and redirected Steve Oleksy’s shot past Anton Khubodin.

5) Time to play everyone’s favorite game show — Where’s Martin Erat? Tonight, the very expensive fourth-liner skated a season-high 9:15. However, he got just two shifts in the third period for a total of 1:23. The longer Erat plays on the fourth line the worse the trade looks and the calls for a philosophy change will just keep growing louder.

Caps Quick Take: Game 3 vs. Stars

Losing 2-1 on the road against a Western Conference foe in a building you haven’t traveled to in three years isn’t the worst thing in the world. Until you consider that a little more solid effort, especially in your own end, would have stolen a point or two. Things are going to be rough enough in the Caps own division to let little ones like this slip away. Five practice days until Carolina.

1)  The Caps were, once again, completely outplayed at even strength. A lot of that has to do with the fairly lousy play in their own end, sloppy breakout passes and lack of sustained attack in the offensive end until panic set in with about eight minutes to go in the game. If the Caps are still only going to be motivated by urgency and not by competing from the opening drop, they’re going to find themselves in the same situation as last season.

2)  The defense has to find a way to play better. John Erskine was toasted for the first goal, took a bad penalty, and then botched a 2-on-1 coming out of the box. But here’s what you need to know about this game: Erskine tied with Ovi for the team lead in shots on goal, and had one clang off a post.

3)  Martin Erat: 11 shifts, 8:27 TOI. Putting the money aside –which is admittedly a tough thing to do in this situation — Erat has to play more. Has to. Either they need to see some production out of him for justifying trading away Filip Forsberg, or they need to play him to showcase him for a trade. All 8:27 TOI with Jay Beagle as his center is going to do is absolutely suck all of his value. I hardly think Erat will skate on the fourth line in perpetuity, but Adam Oates really should start mixing things up a bit to generate a little more out of 5-on-5 play.

4)  It was a good bounce-back from Braden Holtby, turning away 19 of 21 shots. He’ll win a lot more games than lose with his performance Saturday night.

5)  In the last two games the Caps have played in Dallas, they’ve had a controversial goal waived off and lost by one. This time, Nick Backstrom cross-checked Kari Lehtonen right before the goal. Backstrom clearly didn’t get hit on the play until after he made contact with Lehtonen’s facemask, so it was the right call to waive off the goal, but it’s strange that Backstrom didn’t get two minutes for it in addition to losing the goal. NHL refs, amirite???

Washington Capitals 2013-14 Position Preview: Left Wing

Positionally, forwards are not an area in which the Capitals are lacking. There are 33 forwards still on the roster at the Washington Capitals training camp held at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, VA, which began on September 12 and will run through September 30. The roster will be pared down to 23 total players by that date, and it doesn’t appear there are any front runners to unseat any current roster players, aside from right winger Tom Wilson, who impressed coaches enough to allow him a chance to play in the Capitals last two playoff games in their series against the New York Rangers earlier this year, and has continued to earn accolades from the coaching staff in development camp, held in mid-July; rookie camp, held the week before this year’s formal training camp started; and training camp.

Marcus Johansson:

Coach Adam Oates told reporters he’d like to see the young forward play left wing alongside Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, rather than center, based on their success together last season. Oates added that because of his speed, he’d rather see Johansson utilize it as a winger, rather than center, where speed isn’t necessarily as crucial.

Johansson struggled early in the 2013 season before he was diagnosed with concussion symptoms He returned in March, around the time Ovechkin settled in to his switch to right wing, and finished the season with 22 points (6g, 16a). Expect Johansson to spend most of his time on the top line, but that could always change. Martin Erat could just as well see some time with Backstrom and Ovechkin.

Martin Erat:

Erat played in only nine games as a Capital after he was traded from the Nashville Predators with Michael Latta for top Capitals prospect Filip Forsberg at the trade deadline in April. A solid top-6 player for Nashville, the most likely scenario for Erat may be playing alongside newly signed center Mikhail Grabovski and right wing Troy Brouwer. He is listed on the Capitals roster as a right wing, but shoots left-handed. Oates has a preference for pairing left and right handed shooters on the same line, much the way he is fond of left–right defensive pairings. Erat playing at left wing is also a departure from his role in Nashville, where he played right wing.

Brooks Laich:

Once upon a time, post-Mike Ribiero, Brooks Laich was the Capitals’ second-line center. Then Mikhail Grabovski happened. Now, it looks like he’ll be relegated to the left wing, though he is listed as a center on the Capitals roster. Who he’ll be playing with or even if he’ll be playing early in the season remains to be seen. He’s been promised top-six minutes in the past, but Laich is a utility player, adaptable and willing to face any task set before him.

Laich is a leader in the locker room, too, as Ovechkin stated earlier this week. Adam Oates said he felt the Capitals were at their best last season when Laich was in the lineup, but injury once again makes things look murky for him, with straining his left hip flexor (unrelated to his groin issues last season) on the first day of training camp. He is currently day-to-day. There are still a few weeks until the regular season starts, so that may be sufficient time for him to heal and find his way back to the ice.

Jason Chimera:

After scoring a career-high 20 goals in 2011-12, Chimera had a tough year in 2013, finishing with only three goals and fourteen points. He may have lost his scoring touch, but he can still torch an opponent in a puck race. He’ll likely continue to see time on the third and fourth lines, where he’s paired well with players like Joel Ward, Jay Beagle, and Mathieu Perreault.

Aaron Volpatti:

Once ranked second in fighting majors on the Vancouver Canucks, Volpatti is a known pugilist, but since being claimed off waivers from the Canucks in February, he only tallied 7 PIMs in 17 games after joining the Capitals. Oates seems to like players like Volpatti – tough guys he can turn into gritty, pesky players who don’t have to drop the gloves to get their job done.

He signed a two-year contract extension with the Capitals in April, but was a healthy scratch during the 2013 playoffs. Most of his minutes were spent on the fourth line with Jay Beagle and now former teammate Matt Hendricks, aside from a weird turn of events that led to him playing on the first line for a game in March, while the Capitals were struggling to figure things out.

Washington Capitals GM George McPhee: “We’re trying to win”

The Washington Capitals traded one of their top prospects, forward Filip Forsberg, Wednesday at the NHL Trade Deadline in exchange for veteran forward Martin Erat and AHL center Michael Latta. Forsberg, 18, was drafted No. 11 overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and signed a three-year entry-level deal last July. He and Russian forward Evgeny Kuznetsov have widely been considered “The Future” in these parts, and seeing his name in the trade report had many Caps fans up in arms.

The Caps got off to a lousy start. So bad, in fact, that it drove many fans to a position of grasping for The Future, a rosy time where the Caps will be leading the conference on the back of veterans Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom, supported by Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, and until Wednesday at 4:30, Forsberg. They even dreamed of a Top 3 pick in this year’s draft to be able to secure the services of Nate McKinnon or Seth Jones.

But a funny thing happened on the way to The Future. The Caps started winning some games. They escaped the basement of the Eastern Conference. And as of the trade deadline, they found themselves just two points out of first place in the Southeast Division, with the No. 3 seed that comes with it. The Caps success on the ice put GM George McPhee in the hot seat off of it.

The biggest trade chip he had at his disposal was UFA Mike Ribeiro, currently enjoying his career year. Not only did McPhee not trade Ribeiro for younger players in order to re-stock the cupboard, but he went in the entirely opposite direction, selling off a cost-controlled asset in order to bolster the playoff chances of the flawed, but still in contention, current club.

Make no mistake, Martin Erat is a good player. He has long suffered playing with inferior offensive talent with Nashville, toiling away in coach Barry Trotz’ defense-first, last and only approach with the Predators. Still, he’s been a perennial 50-plus point scorer in those extreme conditions. Who’s to say what he’ll do receiving passes from Nick Backstrom or Mike Ribeiro, with space afforded to him with Alex Ovechkin or Troy Brouwer on the other wing?

Quick, name me a center Erat has played with in his 11 years in Nashville. Just one.

McPhee was adamant talking with the press afterward that the Caps have one goal in mind: making the playoffs. “We weren’t going to be sellers,” the tight-lipped McPhee said.

“You’re here to win; we’ve been in that mode for a while,” McPhee elaborated. “This is six years of trying to win a Cup. We had our rebuild phase. We sort of rebuild things on the fly around here, but we’d like to continue to make the playoffs while we’re doing it.”

Some might say this thought process is folly. That it’s a zero-sum game: You either go “all-in” one way or the other, stocking your roster full of veterans or prospects. These folks think managing an NHL team is a singular focus proposition.

The fact is, making the playoffs every season is a critical financial goal of any team, especially one that has so much contract money tied up long-term like the Caps do with Ovechkin and Backstrom. The Caps can’t fiscally afford to give up on any chance of making the playoffs. They are within logical sight of the goal, so McPhee — like any good manager — wanted to give his club the best chance to do just that.

That he sacrificed a player that one day may be special is difficult to swallow for some fans. They see a flawed roster, one they think has little chance to compete for hockey’s Holy Grail, and want McPhee to “blow it up”, trading veterans and spare parts for younger players and the promise of The Future.

But no one knows what The Future holds. No one knows if Forsberg is a legitimate franchise-altering player, or just another prospect whose best years were when they were teenagers. Forsberg, for all his pedigree and glowing prospect reports, is 48th in scoring this season in the Swedish secondary league, a league considered less in talent than the AHL.

If an NHL GM has a chance to secure a Top-Six forward to bolster his team’s playoff run for an unproven, 18-year-old prospect that hasn’t even played in North America yet, you gotta do it. That Erat still has two years on his deal and the Caps got a minor league player that was leading his team in assists AND penalty minutes is just icing on the cake.

It’s telling that McPhee made the point of telling the media that the Caps entire scouting department each had a vote on the trade and they all voted in favor of allowing Forsberg to go into the deal. That might be McPhee covering his, ahem, assets. But it could also be an insight into the thought process of how and why the Caps allowed their second best prospect to be dealt for a player 13 years his senior. 

McPhee was “damned if he did, damned if he didn’t” at the trade deadline. He’s being pilloried by a certain segment of the Caps fan base for this deal, but he’d be strung up by others if he had dealt popular veteran players for draft picks. There’s real value in the Caps making the playoffs this year, and McPhee showed guts obtaining a player that he thought will make the possibility of that happening greater.

Washington Capitals trade Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat

The Washington Capitals have traded Swedish minor leaguer Filip Forsberg to the Nashville Predators for winger Martin Erat (4 g, 17 a in 2013) and AHL center Michael Latta, the Capitals announced this afternoon after the 3:00 pm NHL Trade Deadline.

Erat, 31, is a left-handed shooting right winger, had a career-high 19 goals and 39 assists last season and has broken the 50 point mark in five of the last six seasons. Latta, 21, will report to AHL Hershey. He ranked second on AHL Milwaukee in points and ranked first in assists among active players.

Capitals GM George McPhee will address the media soon and we’ll have a full report later.

GAME 16 RE-CAP: Rinne, Defensive Breakdowns Doom Caps Against Nashville

Tomas Vokoun got little help from his teammates in the third period of Tuesday night's 3-1 loss to Nashville. (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Despite an outstanding goaltending performance by Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals appeared to have secured themselves a place on the winning track when Troy Brouwer scored the game’s first goal with 4:46 remaining. But Nashville equalized just 28 seconds later through Martin Erat, and won the game with 24.3 seconds left when Erat used his quick hands to make a fool of Dennis Wideman before finding a streaking Colin Wilson to slam the puck into a wide-open net. Shea Weber added an empty-net goal five seconds later to complete a 3-1 Nashville victory in a game where the quality of play was not reflected by the very ordinary final score.

After a sluggish opening few minutes (the Caps found themselves being outshot 10-3 with just under eight minutes remaining in the first period), Washington made their way back into the game. They closed the period with five straight shots on goal, the last coming from Brooks Laich, whom Rinne denied with a pad save from point-blank range in the closing seconds of the period. Washington then outshot Nashville 15-8 in the second period and were only denied having the lead after 40 minutes due to the undeniable brilliance of Rinne, who finished the game with 39 saves, and the inside of the goalpost, which was all that kept out Roman Hamrlik’s attempt with just under five minutes to go in the second. So intense and disorienting was Washington’s pressure in the middle frame that at one point, Rinne was turned completely around and was facing into his own net as he and his defenders fought to clear his crease.

Rinne’s solid play continued in the third period as he denied several chances from in close. It was always going to take something special to beat the Finn and Brouwer finally provided it, skating onto a cross-ice pass from Marcus Johansson (who put in a solid shift with 17:35 ice time, the most of any Washington forward, and who had been cruelly denied a backhanded goal on an end-to-end rush moments earlier by Rinne) and wristing a shot over Rinne’s right shoulder.

Given the time  remaining and the solid performance to Tomas Vokoun at the other end of the ice, one goal should have been enough. But instead, the Capitals first line of Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Brouwer and the defensive pairing of Jeff Schultz and  John Carlson suffered a catastrophic breakdown on the very next shift. Apparently believing the Predators to be offside, the Capitals stopped skating momentarily  and allowed Weber to cruise down the right-wing side and send a cross to Erat for a simple game-tying tap-in.

Conversely, the game-winning goal could be chalked up to a moment of pure effort and anticipation from Wilson and shear genius from Erat. After Wilson chased down a loose puck in the far corner and shrugged off a check  from Erskine, the forward found Erat at the side of the net. Faced with Wideman and Vokoun, the Czech faked a quick pass to his right before dragging his stick to his left and slipping a pass to the stick of a charging Erat, who bundled the puck into the net.

That, for all intents and purposes, was that, though Weber eliminated all doubts with a slap shot from the neutral zone. The Capitals, who continue their road trip against Winnipeg on Thursday night, were left to rue the third-period breakdowns as well as the absence of Mike Green, the particularly poor performance of the Carlson/Schultz defensive combination, and the ongoing offensive struggles of  Ovechkin, which prompted some intense Twitter reflections from one member of the Russian media.

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