July 26, 2014

What to do with Mike Green

The Washington Capitals overhauled their defensive core this offseason and many are wondering where that leaves Mike Green. With the additions of Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, is there still room for the former Norris Trophy candidate?

With trade rumors flying, the team was quick to declare that Green was still a part of the Caps’ future plans. The Caps would not be the first team to change their minds on a player, however, so let’s explore whether Green should be on the trading block. [Read more...]

MacLellan’s first decision not enough to judge him on

With the NHL offseason now officially underway, the window for compliance buyouts has opened and Brian MacLellan faces his first question as general manager of the Washington Capitals. He answered that question resolutely on Tuesday and closed the door on the possibility that the team would choose to use its second compliance buy out.

“I don’t think it would make sense for any of our players that we pursue that path,” he said. [Read more...]

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?

Opinion: Washington Capitals five biggest changes needed for 2014-15

The Washington Capitals missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007. There wasn’t enough talent on hand, the talent available was mismanaged and there was discord between the front office and the on-ice staff. Missing the playoffs should finally be motivation to make the changes necessary for the Caps to truly contend for the Stanley Cup.

Here are the five biggest changes needed by the Caps as they enter what could be offseason full of change and drama.

1) Settle the General Manager and coaching situations.

It’s widely rumored that GM George McPhee’s contract expires following the NHL Draft. Adam Oates has another year on his contract. There’s plenty of evidence (Martin Erat, Dustin Penner, Dmitry Orlov, the goaltending situation, Tom Wilson) that McPhee and Oates’ talent evaluation doesn’t mesh. Somewhere between Ted Leonsis, President Dick Patrick and McPhee, the Caps need to decide who’s going to be in charge of this latest reboot. [By the time you read this on Monday, changes may already have been made.]

Oates’ insistence on players skating on their strong side has handicapped the organization. He’s tried to switch wingers to center (Martin Erat, Eric Fehr) and centers to wingers (Mikhail Grabovski). He played the world’s greatest goal scorer with Jay Beagle as his center on purpose. He’s banished players that were traded for by McPhee to the point of rendering them useless. His systems are indecipherable. In short, the Caps have been a disaster on the ice, much less than the sum of their parts. That falls on Oates.

McPhee is far from blameless. In fact, the collection of defensemen McPhee provided for Oates to employ this season was embarrassing, After the top combo of Karl Alzner and John Carlson, every single defenseman the Caps played this year was flawed. Mike Green isn’t nearly the offensive weapon he was during his back-to-back Norris Trophy finalist days. He still drives play, but his defensive shortcomings and gaffes often lead to bad goals. Orlov is a work in progress — talented, but raw and impetuous. The rest simply aren’t yet, or are no longer, NHL caliber. And it’s been like that the entirety of Ovechkin’s illustrious career. That falls on McPhee.

Either or both could be replaced for 2014-15, and it’s imperative the Capitals figure it out before the draft.

2) Seriously upgrade the defense.

People have said for years the Caps need a “stay-at-home” defenseman, responsible for shutting down opponents’ top lines. But the problem lies deeper than that. The Alzner/Carlson duo are good, but not great. They are a No. 1 pairing in name only. That results in a trickle-down effect. The Caps have some young talent (Orlov, Connor Carrick, Patrick Wey, Madison Bowey), but only Orlov is really close enough to the NHL level to contribute meaningfully next season, despite the experience Carrick gained this season.

The Capitals need to acquire 2-3 legitimate NHL defensemen, including a puck mover. If they can acquire a true top-pairing defenseman — probably via trade — they should do all they can to make that happen, then fill in the other spots with veteran free agents.

3) Improve play at 5v5.

The Caps were one of the worst teams in the league in puck possession, and has gotten consistently worse throughout Oates’ tenure. The team is lackadaisical and sloppy in its own end, the breakouts are unorganized, team defense suffers from lack of structure and focus, not to mention talent level.

One of the biggest problems for the Caps is one of the simplest: attempting to exit their own zone with the puck. Oates and Calle Johansson have instructed the defensemen to get rid of the puck within a second and a half of gaining possession. The idea is that if the puck is being passed, the defensemen aren’t putting themselves in danger of having their head separated from their bodies. While those instructions might have provided better health for some of their blueliners, it also neutralizes much of what makes those players effective.

Mike Green, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov — hell, even Jack Hillen — are puck-moving defensemen. McPhee drafted or obtained these players with the idea that these guys are strong skaters and can carry the puck out of the defensive zone and through the neutral zone, therefore setting up the offense.

But Oates’ and Johansson’s instructions to chip the puck to the neutral zone has instead stymied the offense. Wingers now have to battle for pucks in the neutral zone instead of setting up the attack. Instead of even attempting “dump and chase”, the Caps end up playing “dump and change”, so tired from fighting puck battles that they have to dump and go for a line change.

Either the players or the system has to change.

4) Reduce the team’s salary burden ever further.

McPhee did a great job at the trade deadline to reduce the Caps salary constraints next season by dealing Martin Erat and Michal Neuvirth. He — or whoever will be in charge — should go even further by buying out Brooks Laich (pending health) and/or trading Mike Green.

The Caps already have a good deal of cap space next season, currently $14.2 million. But Laich accounts for $4.5 million against the cap and Green’s hit is a staggering $6.083 million. Neither player is anywhere near what they were when they signed the deals.

Laich was — emphasis was — a 20-goal scoring two-way player. He was equally adept on the power play as he was on the penalty kill. He could fill a center or winger role on a scoring or checking line. But a groin injury sustained while playing abroad during the lockout has destroyed his past two seasons. When he has been able to take the ice, he’s been completely ineffective.

Green was — emphasis was — a two-time Norris Trophy candidate. He possessed singular skill at the position, producing back-to-back 70 point seasons. But again, accumulation of injury (concussions, groin, shoulder) has reduced Green to a shell of the player he once was. His nine goal, 29 assist season wasn’t bad, but the production pales in comparison to the expectation — or paycheck.

Buying out Laich and trading Green would free up another $10 million plus against the cap, giving the Capitals even more flexibility to go about rebuilding this team.

5) Inspire and motivate Alex Ovechkin — or trade him.

Alex Ovechkin is the most valuable asset the Washington Capitals possess. He registered 51 goals in 13-14, but had one 5v5 goal in the last two dozen games. Some of that has to do with Oates’ curious choices for his linemates, some of it was the result of the Caps’ systems, and some of it lies with Ovechkin himself.

His revitalization the past two seasons has occurred on the strength of the Caps prodigious power play. But the team’s inability to drive play at 5v5 has crippled any chance of this team to be successful. While Ovechkin has never played defense with the enthusiasm he utilizes on offense, at times this season he showed open disdain playing in his own end.

Ovechkin himself said the team pays him to score goals. That much is true. But it also pays him to sell tickets and the brand. And he can’t do that cruising through the neutral zone while his man streaks through the slot en route to another goal. This organization has to find a way to motivate Ovechkin to at least make consistent effort in playing defense. He doesn’t even have to be good at it. But as the captain of the team, he at least has to look like he’s trying.

At this point, Ovechkin is part of the problem. No, he isn’t going to be confused for a Selke finalist. But as captain, he needs to be more involved in all aspects of the game. He needs to show effort in every facet of his game. He needs to be a leader. It’s always been said that Ovechkin is a “lead by example” type of leader. Right now, the example he’s setting to Evgeny Kuznetsov and other young players is that defense and accountability doesn’t matter — that he’s above the rules. That’s not acceptable.

It’s simply not enough for Ovechkin to score 50 goals for this team. If it was, they’d have won multiple Cups by now as Ted Leonsis promised they would. If Ovechkin isn’t able or willing to invest the requisite effort to provide a better example to follow, then the organization should seriously consider trading him to a team where he wouldn’t have to carry that burden.

Caps defense leaves fans feeling Green

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day on Monday, it’s only fitting that we keep things green, so let’s talk about Mike Green.

The Caps star defensemen has become the subject of intense scrutiny this season as his defensive deficiencies have been exploited this season by opponents. Many would argue that the Caps need for a top four defensemen stems directly from his inability to defend while still taking top minutes.

The situation with Green is not nearly that clear-cut.

Here are some highlights from a game in which Green committed a costly penalty leading to a goal, then made a poor defensive play in his own zone leading to a second goal.

Oops, that was actually from 2010, not this season. The fact is that Green has never been that good defensively so why does it seem so pronounced now?

The Caps are currently 23rd in the NHL in goals against per game with 2.90. If that holds, it will be their worst since the 2008-2009 season. The team’s defensive struggles are not all on Green, but when the team is not playing well it highlights his poor defensive play.

Previously, fans were willing to look past that since he was producing so much offensively, but his offensive totals have been down in recent seasons thanks in large part to his inability to stay healthy.

Concussion issues have caused him to miss significant time the past few seasons and have created a blueprint for how to play against him. Teams now actively seek to lay big hits on Green to throw him off his game and it seems to work.

If he is so terrible defensively, why is he still second on the team in average ice time per game? Besides the fact that the Caps have no defensive depth whatsoever, Green is also second on the team in 5-on-5 Corsi percentage for.

According to extraskater.com, Green’s 52.8 Corsi percentage is second only to Dmitry Orlov’s. What that means is that when Green is on the ice, the Caps take more shots than they give up. It is also an informal measurement of possession since the more you possess the puck, the more likely you are to control the offensive play.

As a team, the Caps have a 48.4 Corsi percentage. Clearly, they need all the help they can get in terms of possession which makes Green’s role pivotal.

It’s also important to note that Green does not have the benefit of a good defensive partner. Since he takes so many risks offensively, he needs a solid defensive line mate to ensure the team isn’t caught out of position defensively.

There just aren’t enough Karl Alzners to go around.

So while Green is made to look like a bumbling, fumbling rookie time and again defensively, the Caps don’t have a suitable partner to match him with but have to continue playing him big minutes because he helps with the team’s possession.

Okay, so Green needs to get better defensively, but his strength is always going to be on offense. The team clearly needs to find a defensive-minded defenseman this offseason to compliment him.

Problem solved, right? Well, it depends on the salary cap.

Green will make over $6 million next year, by far more than any of the other defensemen on the team. With Alzner and John Carlson the top pair, can the team really afford to pay $6 million to someone who is no longer the best blue liner on the team? The salary cap is expected to go up next season, but a salary as high as Green’s may make it difficult to bring in the caliber player they need.

Another possible solution is a trade. Despite Green’s struggles, he still has value. He is a great offensive defenseman and his name carries weight among fans. Don’t you think teams like Buffalo, Edmonton, or Florida could use a veteran defensemen who can bring excitement back to the fan base?

It seems counterintuitive to trade away one of the team’s top defensemen when that is already an area of need, but overpaying a player has a trickle-down effect on a roster; if he’s not worth the money, he takes away money the team can use to otherwise improve the roster.

The Capitals need to make a decision this offseason as to whether or not Green is still worth $6 million. If not, then a big trade could be coming this offseason. If the Caps should miss the playoffs, this kind of shakeup trade could be just what the team needs.

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.

Washington Capitals Game 53 Recap: “Game Over” Green beats Sabres in OT 5-4

OVECHKIN, GREEN SCORE TWICE AS CAPS WIN SECOND IN A ROW

Mike Green scored twice, including the game-winner in overtime, to lead the Washington Capitals over the Buffalo Sabres 5-4 on Tuesday.

The win is the Caps’ (24-21-8) second in a row following a 7-game losing streak.

The Caps jumped out early, with Alex Ovechkin hammering home a faceoff win on the Caps first power play, his 37th of the season and 14th power play goal — both league leading. Martin Erat drew the penalty as he was tripped by Matt Ellis on his way through the neutral zone.

Just 53 seconds later, after a breakdown in the Buffalo defensive end, Mike Green blasted a shot that deflected off Ovechkin’s pants and past Jhonas Enroth for his second of the night.

Buffalo halved the lead at 13:45. Tyler Ennis carried the puck in along the left boards and tossed it on net. Holtby made the first save on Matt Moulson, but defensemane Christian Ehrloff skated right around John Erskine and got two whacks at the loose puck, with the final one chipping the puck past Holtby to make it 2-1.

Dmitry Orlov took a bad tripping penalty just 52 seconds into the second period, and the Sabres made the Caps pay. A cross-crease pass by Moulson found Cody Hodgson all alone on the far post and he roofed it over Holtby’s right shoulder to tie the game at two.

Following a tremendous shift by the Erat-Beagle-Wilson line, Green took an Orlov pass, skated to and behind the Sabres net, and scored on a wraparound for his 100th goal in the NHL.

But has been the case all season, the Caps couldn’t live with prosperity. Just 1:02 after Green’s goal, a systematic defensive breakdown left Sabres rookie Philip Varone alone on the far post to score his first NHL goal. It’s the 24th time this season the Caps have allowed a goal less than two minutes after scoring one this season.

But the Caps answered before the end of the period to regain a one-goal lead. With Henrik Tallinder off for hooking, Ovechkin found Martin Erat below the goal line, who fed Troy Brouwer in the slot for a one-timer past Enroth for his 10th goal of the season.

Hodgson tied it up at 6:48 of the third. Jason Chimera was going to be called for holding, and he stopped skating to argue the penalty, which allowed Hodgson to fake out Karl Alzner and drive to the net. John Carlson wasn’t able to cut him off, and Hodgson’s backhanded shot eluded Holtby to make it 4-4.

The Capitals were outworked in the third period but managed to get the game to overtime, where a terrific passing sequence from Erat to Ovechkin to Green resulted in Green’s second goal of the game and a 5-4 win.

CAPS NOTES: The Caps recalled Ryan Stoa from AHL Hershey before the game de to Brooks Laich being questionable for the game, but Laich suited up. Stoa was screatched, along with Mikhail Grabovski and Aaron Volpatti.

Washington Capitals Game 42 Recap: Caps blow two-goal lead in 5-3 loss to Wild

RYAN SUTER’S HAT TRICK TRUMPS MIKE GREEN’S PAIR AS CAPS ALLOW 5 GOALS ON 11 SHOTS

The Washington Capitals allowed a two-goal lead slip away on the road — and allowed five goals on just 11 shots to the Minnesota Wild — as they fell to their fourth straight loss, 5-3, at the Xcel Energy Center in Minneapolis.

The Caps allowed three power play goals on five Wild opportunities.

Braden Holtby, who has played twice in three weeks as Philipp Grubauer has had the bulk of playing time of late, made six saves on 11 shots. Several of the goals were hard to blame on the rusty goalie, but it’s hard to endorse said goalie when the number of goals allowed was just one short of the number of saves he registered.

It started out well for the Caps, who did just about everything right in the first period.

With Dany Heatley off for a tripping penalty, the Caps went on an extended passing sequence with the extra man. Finally, Marcus Johansson gathered a rebound of an Alex Ovechkin shot on the left wing post and put it past Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom (27 saves) to put the Caps up 1-0 at 12:02. Just 13 seconds later, Mike Green used a nifty toe-drag to go around Matt Cooke, then whipped a wicked wrist shot past Backstrom for a 2-0 lead.

Washington outshot Minnesota 11-1 in the stanza and had 18 total shot attempts to the Wild’s six.

But the Caps allowed the Wild to get under their collective skin, as Troy Brouwer was sent off with Nate Prosser for fighting after Prosser plastered Brouwer to the boards. Then, right before the end of the period, Ovechkin got into a war of words with perennial pest Matt Cooke, and both were sent off for the world’s most innocuous unsportsmanlike conduct penalties

The Caps survived the ensuing four-on-four at the beginning of the second period, but Minnesota halved the lead moments later, as Nino Niederreiter skated right down the slot and deposited a pass from Charlie Coyle from behind the net — Holtby had no chance — on the Wild’s second shot of the game.

Steve Oleksy took a roughing minor and a mere five seconds later Karl Alzner joined him in the box for a delay of game. You know what comes next — Minnesota made good on both penalties, first on a Ryan Suter slapshot, then a Suter wrister that slipped through a maze of bodies from the center point that put the Wild up 3-2, despite having just five shots on goal in the game.

The Caps benefited from a lucky bounce to tie at three. Mike Green sent a puck off the back boards that bounced off Backstrom’s catcher, then his blocker, before escaping behind him for the goal. It was Green’s second of the game and fifth of the season.

Minnesota got it’s own lucky bounce  a bit later. With Mikhail Grabovski in the box (notice a theme) for delay of game, Keith Ballard hammered one from the left point that hit a skate and bounced over Holtby and Jason Zucker was all alone on the far post to jam it in the net to make sure and the Wild went up 4-3 at 17:04 of the period.

The Wild extended the lead 7:37 into the third period. The Caps had been on a power play, but Minnesota cleared as it was ending, sending Clayton Stoner and Ryan Suter, just out of the box, in on Mike Green two-on-one. Green was not able to cut off the pass, but was able to contest Suter’s shot from about 15 feet. Still, the shot beat Holtby stick side and the Wild went up 5-3.

It was a save that Holtby simply must have. He saw the pass the entire way, reacted well and was in position, while Green actually contested the shot. But it shot beat him stick-side, and the game, essentially, ended there.

The Capitals are off until Thursday when they play at Tampa Bay at 7:30 pm ET.

Washington Capitals Game 38 Review: Caps not sharp but Fehr’s third period marker beats Rags 3-2

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 27: Mike Green #52 of the Washington Capitals celebrates after scoring a goal in the first period during an NHL game against the New York Rangers at Verizon Center on December 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – DECEMBER 27: Mike Green #52 of the Washington Capitals celebrates after scoring a goal in the first period during an NHL game against the New York Rangers at Verizon Center on December 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

Eric Fehr’s goal, playing four-on-four with 5:09 left in the game, lifted the Washington Capitals over division-rival New York Rangers 3-2 before a capacity crowd at Verizon Center.

Fehr, playing in his 300th NHL game. took a breakout pass from Nick Backstrom, carried over the blue line, and sent a wrist shot that slipped past Rangers’ goalie Cam Talbot to break a 2-2 tie. The Caps — outplayed in much of this one — withstood the Rangers change the last few minutes of the game to hold on and escape with the two points.

The Caps raise their record to 20-14-4 in the process.

Phillip Grubauer was the Caps player of the game, making 38 saves on 40 shots, and bailing the Caps defense out time and again, especially with the pairing of John Erskine and Steve Oleksy on the ice.

The Caps got out first in this one. With Rick Nash off for tripping, Martin Erat worked the puck down the right wing boards to draw the defense, and backhanded the puck to Mike Green who was waiting at center point. Green unleashed a slap shot that beat goalie Cam Talbot glove side to give the Caps a 1-0 lead just 6:55 into the first period.

The Rangers led the Caps in shots on goal (14-7) and total shots (21-14) in the first frame, with both teams recording three shots on goal during the power play.

New York tied it up a mere 1:37 into the second period. Nick Backstrom was called for a very touchy interference call, setting up the Rags with their third power play opportunity of the night. The Rangers took full advantage, as a big slap shot from Brad Richards from the point was tipped by Benoit Pouliot, who slipped behind John Carlson at the top of the crease.

Despite being dominated for much of the second period, the Caps escaped with a one-goal lead. With just 1:05 remaining in the period, and the Caps getting absolutely housed by the Rangers forecheck, Steve Oleksy was able to bump the puck up along the boards and Ryan McDonagh was unable to corral it. Backstrom picked up the loose puck, skated in on the right wing and snapped a shot low-blocker side to beat Talbot and give the Caps the least deserved lead in all of hockey.

How badly did the Rangers own the second period? By the end of the frame, they held a 50-36 shot advantage – including 17-7 in shots on goal — with three shots on goal against coming in the 1:08 immediately preceding the Backstrom goal.

That lead didn’t last. Just 17 seconds into the third period, and with the Caps on a power play, Ryan McDonagh sprung Carl Hagelin, and Hagelin beat Grubauer 5-hole to knot the game at two.

But Fehr, who had a goal waived off earlier in the game, came through four-on-four to break the tie and the Caps nervously held on to secure the two points.

The Caps play Sunday at 5:00 pm ET when they host the Buffalo Sabres.

Ovechkin delivering; rest of Caps — including management — need to pick up the slack

Alex Ovechkin - Washington Capitals practice at Kettler, 3/28/2013 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Alex Ovechkin – Washington Capitals practice at Kettler, 3/28/2013 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

On Friday night, with the greatest player in the history of team sport in attendance, the Washington Capitals’ captain, The Great Eight, scored both of the Caps’ goals in a 3-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. Saturday, on Hockey Night in Canada at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ovechkin recorded the Caps lone tally in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Maple Leafs. Through 22 games, Alex Ovechkin has 20 goals to place him at the top of the leader board in that particular category. Hard as it might be to imagine, it’s the first time in his illustrious career that Ovechkin has been the first player in the league to 20 goals in a season.

The Caps, as whole though, haven’t mirrored Ovechkin’s personal success yet this year, despite their captain being on a pace to record the first 70-goal season in the NHL in forever.

Ovechkin is taking a lot of shots, scoring a high — but based on his history, not outrageously high — percentage of said shots, and generally being the best player on the ice almost every night he laces them up. The rest of the team however, remains a work in progress.

Washington’s next-highest goal scorer is Joel Ward, with nine. Ward’s career high in goals was the 17 he posted in 2008-09, his first full campaign in the league, so it’s unlikely that he continues to score at a 33-goal pace, especially considering his over 20 percent shot success.

The second line’s contribution has been sparse thus far. Troy Brouwer has scored five times; Brooks Laich thrice. Mike Green, bitten by the injury bug once again, has yet to record a goal, though two of Mikhail Grabovski’s seven goals came off tips of Green shots, which were originally awarded to the defenseman, on opening night.

It’s kind of been an age-old story around these parts since the start of the Ovechkin era. Where will the secondary scoring come from? When will they learn to play defense? Will the goaltending, strong enough in the regular season, carry over to the second season?

The Capitals defensive struggles are well documented. On any given night right now, half the dressed defenders didn’t start the season on the big club. One was waived by a division foe. One’s a 27-year old minor league journeyman. Another is a 29-year old AHL veteran. One was a college free agent signee last year. Several have been legitimate NHL rookies, including 19-year old Connor Carrick, who was sent down to Hershey just three games in.

Raise your hand if you had Steve Oleksy, Nate Schmidt, Alexander Urbom or Tyson Strachan being nightly contributors to the Capitals in this, Ovechkin’s age 28 season.

Liar.

All the while, a legitimate Top-4 prospect named Dmitry Orlov bides his time riding the shuttle between Hershey and D.C., yet to suit up for the big club this season,

Whatever you want to think of GM George McPhee’s asset management this season, especially on the blue line, you’re probably justified. If you want to think he’s waiting out the competition until the trade deadline to steal a Top-4 D-man from a second division team, good for you. If you think he’s squandering precious games during the regular season when the Caps could be building a home-ice advantage for the playoffs, you’re justified as well.

It was a real crapshoot for the Caps to have started the season depending on Jack Hillen, John Erskine and Carrick, then filling in the gap with the rest when those players didn’t pan out due to injury or inexperience. The ramifications might not be fully known until the spring.

One thing is for certain: Ovechkin is holding up his end of the bargain. It’s up to the rest of the Caps, and to McPhee and Adam Oates, to find the right parts to supplement Ovechkin’s contributions. Otherwise, at the end of the season we’ll once again be lamenting another incomplete season in the prime of Alex Ovechkin’s Hall of Fame career.

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