June 24, 2019

D.C. United Game 5 Recap: Sweet victory for United over rival New York

D.C. United earned a valuable three points over its biggest rival Saturday night before 12,364 at RFK Stadium, as United tripped up the New York Red Bulls, 1-0, on a 4th-minute goal by Davy Arnaud. The win lifted United to 2-2-1 on the season (seven points), and allowed D.C. to claim seven of a possible nine points from a three-game home-stand against Eastern Conference foes Chicago, New England, and New York.

Arnaud’s goal was a thing of beauty early in the game that looks like it came straight from the training ground. After United won a corner that was taken to the left of New York goalkeeper Luis Robles, Fabian Espindola sent the kick into the center of the penalty area. There, United defender Bobby Boswell flicked a header forward and to his left, where Arnaud ran on to it and headed it to the opposite corner past Robles to give D.C. a lead it would never relinquish. [Read more…]

Caps Quick Take: Game 12 vs. Canucks

The Caps, playing the last of four straight games in western Canada, looked it last night. They were dominated possession-wise by the Vancouver Canucks and lost 3-2, in a score not as close as it would indicate. The Caps were outshot 41-19, and the total shots were even worse: 68-42. Alex Ovechkin, who’s on pace for a record number of shots on goal this season, managed just three, despite the Caps having four power plays (and going 0-for-4).

1) Watching these two teams, it was painfully obvious just how poor the Caps defensemen are at clearing their own zone. They aren’t particularly fast, and their breakout passes aren’t particularly accurate. That leads to getting bogged down in the neutral zone and turnovers. It’s magnified when they play a team like Vancouver (or, Vancouver themselves) since the Canucks are so crisp and such good skaters in their own end. John Carlson really should be better than he is at this stage in his career. [Read more…]

Instant Analysis: Capitals take best of play to the Rangers in Game 1

If Game 1 is any indication, this is going to be a hell of a series.

The Washington Capitals used pressure in all three zones of the ice to neutralize the New York Rangers best players, most notably Rick Nash, to come up with an impressive 3-1 win in the first game of this Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

Some thoughts:

– Given enough opportunities from the Rangers, the power play finally hit for the Caps first goal of the game. The Rangers did a good job on the first couple of Caps power plays, taking away the low post game between Mike Ribeiro, Nick Backstrom and Troy Brouwer in the slot.

How do combat that? Shoot from the point, which is precisely what Mike Green did on the Caps’ fourth extra-man advantage. Green’s bomb was off target, but it got Henrik Lundqvist moving, and Alex Ovechkin was able to corral the rebound and put it past the scrambling Lundqvist.

– The Caps power play was strong all night, but never bigger than during the 5-on-3 in the second period. Already a man down, Eric Fehr lost his stick. He blocked one shot without the twig, but in a goal line scramble he was forced to push Rangers around, and was called for an interference when he shoved Ryan Callahan down with a push in the chest.

First Johansson, then Backstrom, with Alzner and Carlson on the back line, turned away the Rangers for 57 seconds, then killed the rest of the 5-on-4 to the roars of the Verizon Center faithful.

– Using the momentum gained from the huge penalty kill, the Caps scored twice — 46 seconds apart — just a couple of minutes later, seizing control of the scoreboard.

– Things got chippy at the end of the second period, and continued late in the third and after the final horn, when Callahan and Troy Brouwer had words and slapped their sticks at each other as the teams were headed off the ice. Brouwer had words for Michael Del Zotto a couple of times during the game when the Caps forward took exception to an after-the-whistle poke by Del Zotto earlier in the game.

– Braden Holtby was sublime. The only Rangers goal came when an intended pass by Carl Hagelin bounced off John Erskine’s skate. Other than that, the Caps young netminder was stellar, making 35 saves in the win. His biggest save came with 4:03 left. On a two-on-one, John Moore slapped a bouncing puck toward Holtby’s blocker side which looked as if it hit the post and rebounded into Holtby’s equipment.

The play went to video review and the call of “no goal” stood. Regardless, Holtby got to the far post in time to get in front of the puck and keep the score at 3-1 as time wound down.

– The Caps rolled all four lines all night long. That’s good in the short term for Adam Oates, as it lets his entire roster know he has confidence in every single one of them. It’s also good in the long-term, especially if the series goes a long way as everyone expects it to.

Game 2 is Saturday afternoon at 12:30 pm Eastern (9:30 am Pacific).

GAME 45 RE-CAP: Neuvirth shuts out punchless Habs 3-0

What a difference a day makes.

One night after being shut out and embarrassed — at home — by one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference, the Washington Capitals took to the road to exact the same punishment to their opponent, blanking the Montreal Canadiens 3-0, before 21,273 disappointed and disgruntled fans at the Bell Centre.

Michael Neuvirth, making his first start since Dec. 26, stopped all 31 Montreal shots to earn his sixth career shutout.  The win, coupled with the Florida Panthers 4-3 overtime loss to Colorado, puts the Caps back into third place in the conference with 52 points.

Mathieu Perreault, playing in front of his family and friends, opened the scoring with a laser past Carey Price’s blocker just 4:41 into the game.  He took a head-man pass from Dmitry Orlov and did the work himself, entering the offensive zone and flicking a sharp wrister by the Montreal netminder.

The Caps got on the board again less than four minutes later as Marcus Johansson fought off a defender practically laying on top of him to beat a stunned Price (13 saves).  Troy Brouwer had the primary helper, taking the puck from the defensive blue line unmolested through the neutral zone and hitting Johansson at speed at the offensive blue line.

The way the Canadiens have been playing lately, two goals would have sufficed.  But the captain, Alex Ovechkin, added an insurance marker in the second period, a power play goal, his 19th of the campaign.  Montreal fumbled a clearing attempt that was corralled by Dennis Wideman, who ushered the puck to Alexander Semin, who had rotated into Wideman’s spot at the point.  Semin slid the puck cross-ice to Ovechkin, who wound up for a slap shot, getting the puck through traffic and off the near post for the clincher.

The Canadiens can’t say they didn’t have their chances.  They received seven power play opportunities to Washington’s four.  But the Caps killed all seven Montreal power plays, including a six-minute triple-minor assessed to John Erksine at the start of the third period after the rugged defenseman was called for elbowing and high-sticking, drawing blood on Canadiens forward Mathieu Darche.

Neuvirth and the penalty killers were up to the task, and many in the Bell Centre streamed out after the final second ticked off the fruitless power play.  The Capitals blocked 25 shots in the contest, preferring to pack things in tight after achieving a two-goal lead so early in the game.  Their resultant 16 shots on goal for were a season-low.

The main event that many Caps fans wanted to see was anyone stepping up to retaliate against Rene Bourque, recently acquired by Montreal, for the elbow to the head of Capitals center Nick Backstrom.  Bourque served his five-game suspension, while Backstrom has not played since and has no real timetable for returning.

The fans got their wish just 1:15 into this game, as Matt Hendricks took up the fight against Bourque.  Bourque got the better of Hendricks in the tussle, but the point was made.  Hockey code said the fight needed to happen, it happened, and everyone went about their business.

It was a big win for the Caps, putting the bad taste of Tuesday’s loss behind them.  The win should also instill some confidence to a team that has struggled mightily on the road.  The Caps travel to Carolina Friday and Pittsburgh Sunday, games against a down-right bad opponent and a severely injured one.

Maybe the carry-over from the shutout win will give them momentum.  This team has been Jekyll-and-Hyde all season, but having a little success on the road here could go a long way in making this team tougher down the stretch in the second half.

CAPS NOTES:  Both Matt Hendricks and Marcus Johansson appeared to be in discomfort after taking heavy hits in the third period, but neither suffered serious injury and both professed to be fine following the game.

GAME 35 RE-CAP: Semin tallies twice to lead Caps to 4-1 win over Rangers

Alex Ovechkin celebrates goal by Alex Semin, Caps fourth goal of the night (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

The New York Rangers came to town, HBO 24/7 cameras in tow, with a five-game winning streak, perched atop the Eastern Conference.  Their opponent, the Washington Capitals, were 4-5-1 in their last ten games, coming off an embarrassing 4-2 loss on the road in Buffalo where they gave up the first three goals in the first ten minutes of the game.  Twelve points separated the two teams in the standings, and they appeared to be going in different directions.

Amazing the difference one game makes.

The Caps got two goals from mercurial sniper Alexander Semin, killed off all five Rangers power plays — including two back-to-back late in the third period, and Tomas Vokoun stopped 31-of-32 shots, as Washington defeated their once-and-future division rivals from New York, 4-1, before another sell-out crowd at Verizon Center.

The Capitals, 4-1-0 in their last five home games and 12-5-1 overall at home, have not surrendered a power play goal in their last seven home games.  They inched closer to respectability in the East, pulling to within one point of Winnipeg and Ottawa for eighth place and just three points behind New Jersey, who own the sixth seed in the conference.

It was a much-needed performance after Monday’s dispiriting effort against the Sabres.  The Caps used a heavy forecheck early, with hits being doled out by captain Alex Ovechkin and forward Jay Beagle, in his first game back after missing 31 games with concussion symptoms, to strike first.  Marcus Johansson picked up a fumbled puck by Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto and left a drop pass for Jeff Halpern.  Halpern let go a hard, low shot that Rangers goalie Martin Biron (19 saves) kicked right to Johansson, who deposited the puck in the open net for the 1-0 lead.

Brandon Dubinsky tied the game with less than three minutes in the frame, snapping a shot over Vokoun’s catching hand on a two-on-one, after John Carlson fell trying to defend the offensive blue line.  The game remained knotted until mid-way through the second.  Carlson redeemed himself for the fall, keeping a puck in this time at the blue line, and unleashed a hard shot that hit Brouwer — perfectly stationed at the top of the crease — and deflected past Biron.

All that was left was for “Good Sasha” to take over the game.

Less than three minutes after Brouwer broke the tie, Semin got a great long feed from center Nick Backstrom, raced down the right wing, crossed of front of Biron and beat him easily with a backhand.  The play started with Ovechkin levelling Brad Richards, who had delayed at the blue line waiting for teammates to get onsides.

It was the perfect example of what coach Dale Hunter has been preaching since he took the reigns of this team; defensive responsibility will breed offensive chances.

The final goal came at 17:25 of the third, when Ovechkin gained the offensive zone and carved up the New York defense, hitting a cutting Semin in stride on the right wing with a cross-ice pass, and Semin delayed, then flicked a wrist shot past the outmatched Biron.

“He’s a sniper and he can score, but he played the right way,” Hunter said of Semin’s performance. “He was back-checking and he created opportunities because of good defense and that whole line and that’s what we needed from them.”

The fourth goal was icing on the cake at that point, but it came after the Capitals killed off two successive bad penalties as time was winding down.  Dennis Wideman was whistled for an obvious elbow attempt along the boards; that he didn’t really land the blow was immaterial.  The second that penalty expired, Brouwer batted a puck that was flying through the air into the stands, causing a delay-of-game call.  Backstrom and Mike Knuble did most of the heavy lifting on the second kill, as they were stuck on the ice for almost three-quarters of the second call.

“It’s just commitment by the guys, blocking shots,” Hunter said.  “You saw the blocked shots out there. The puck does hurt and they committed to it and that’s why we killed two off late. They had a good power play and good players on it, but you saw guys going down and blocking shots and that’s commitment to win.”

This was a big win after the debacle Monday night. “Getting the first goal and getting the lead is huge in this league,” Hunter said after the game.  “We came out playing the right way and the guys put together a good 60 minutes.”

It was big, too, since it was on national television and the Rangers have been playing well.  And of course, the spectre of the hidden HBO cameras, following the Rangers around for the “Road to the Winter Classic” program, added a whole different context to the contest.  The Caps had to know that a lot of people — some who have already pronounced the demise of this version of the team — would be watching the results of this game.

So we’re back to this, the Caps defending their home ice, looking now to build a winning streak and get on a roll.  The Sabres come to town Friday, and the Caps will look to avenge Monday’s defeat.  Then they’ll move on to Columbus on New Year’s Eve to face one of the worst teams in the league before having a couple of days off.  Would be nice to be sitting on a three-game winning streak during those days off.

CAPS NOTES:  Washington outhit New York 22-15 and blocked 20 shots to the Rangers 18.  The Caps won 55 percent of the faceoffs.

Jay Beagle returned to action and played nine shifts (5:55 TOI).  He contributed two hits, one shot, and won 3-of-4 faceoffs.

Fans are happy to see Jay Beagle return to Verizon Center ice (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

 

GAME 20 RE-CAP: Chimera’s OT winner delivers victory over Jets

Jason Chimera’s second goal of the night came 1:52 into overtime to lift the Caps to a second consecutive win after four straight losses, leading the Washington Capitals to a 4-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets last night, before a capacity crowd at the Verizon Center the evening before Thanksgiving.

The win improves their record to 12-7-1 (25 points, 2nd in Southeast and sixth in the Eastern Conference) and 8-1-1 at home.

There were several great story lines to the game.  So many, it’s tough to decide which ones to really emphasize.

We could start with the easy one, the redemption story of the Caps’ resident enigma, Alexander Semin, returning from his one-game exile with perhaps his best overall performance of the season, scoring the Caps first goal and playing a complete, thoroughly invested game.

Through an interpreter, Semin said “Of course I wanted to win, I wanted to play great.  But at the same time, I don’t think I changed anything.  I just played my game, went out there and did exactly like I did before.”

Asked if this was his best game of the season, he said, “It’s actually not important if it was my best game or not.  The most important thing was that we won. I’m just happy I didn’t pick up a penalty.”

Asked if he was pleased with what he saw from Semin, Coach Bruce Boudreau said, “Yes.  Very much.  I thought he played a really good game.”

Naturally, we should discuss Chimera’s play.  The gritty forward had 10 goals all of last season, and netted his seventh and eighth last evening.  Not known for his scoring prowess, Chimera has found himself at the right place at the right time on many occasions, maybe none as big as overtime when he used his speed to keep a puck in the offensive zone, then went straight to the net to receive a pretty pass from Dennis Wideman and tap in the game winner.

“Wides made a great play. It was one of those empty nets that you tap and hope it goes in. I missed one earlier in the third period so it was good to get that one.”

And about his new-found scoring touch, leading the team in goals at the Thanksgiving break?  “I’ve just always had it,” Chimera joked.  “I just waited until my mid-30s to get it going. You know, I don’t want to peak too early.  I wanna keep playing until I’m 45 so hopefully I’ll keep on getting better.”

Of course, one of the big turning points in the game was a 5-on-3 penalty kill in the second period, with Mathieu Perreault off for boarding and Mike Knuble following him 40 second later with a slash.  Right off the ensuing faceoff, things got even tougher as Brooks Laich broke his stick.

But the Caps buckled down, and roughed up Winnipeg center Nik Antropov, with Matt Hendricks getting a couple of clean shots in at the whistle before Laich stepped in to tangle with the big center.  Both Laich and Antropov went off for roughing, and it’s amazing after consulting the replay that Hendrick didn’t join them.

Boudreau discussed the importance the sequence had in the game.  “Big turning point in the game. I thought. You know it got the crowd really engaged in the game and it got the bench really up. They did a great job out there. [Assistant coaches] Dean [Evason] and [Bob Woods] Woody do the video with them; what to do and the [opposing] team’s tendencies [are], but it’s something you can’t practice because it is all about blocking shots and the last thing you want your team in practice to do is break an ankle or something blocking shots.”

When the 5-on-3 expired, Perreault, who received a grand total of 18 seconds on the kill last season, jumped out and pitched in to kill off Knuble’s infraction.  The capacity crowd rose to their feet with an ovation as loud as any this season at Verizon Center.

The Caps outshot their opponent 37-25, which in not uncommon, but also outhit Winnipeg, 35-27, after being credited for just five hits in a 4-1 loss to the Jets last week.  Jets’ coach Claude Noel noticed the difference in effort between the two games.  “They played with a lot more emotion. They got energized by scoring early. They got energized by the crowd.  They got energized by physical hits.  They played hard and they played with some emotion to the game and it showed.”

Those words have to be music to Boudreau’s ears.

CAPS NOTES:  Joel Ward was a healthy scratch for disciplinary reasons.  The rigged winger missed a team meeting Sunday due to oversleeping and Boudreau had him sit this one out.  It marks the second consecutive game Boudreau has had a healthy player watch from the press box for disciplinary reasons.

Mike Green and Jay Beagle continue to be out indefinitely with their injuries.

Nicklas Backstrom scored his seventh goal of the season, on his 24th birthday.

The Caps were 0-for 4 on the power play.  They are now 16th in the league with the extra man, but have failed to score 5-on-4 in their last 28 attempts.

Dmitri Orlov recorded an assist on Backstrom’s goal for his first NHL point in his second game. The young Russian defenseman also delivered a crushing old-fashioned hip check to wipe out a Winnipeg forward.  Boudreau said, “He’s doing a good job. In every game hopefully that he’s here he gets a little better and better.”

GAME 1 REVIEW: “Game Over” Green nets overtime winner

Caps hope to raise a bigger banner this time next year. (photo by Cheryl Nichols)

WASHINGTON, DC — Before a crazed, capacity crowd at Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals finally found a lead they could hold onto, as defenseman Mike Green scored a power play goal at 2:24 of overtime to hand the Carolina Hurricanes their second loss of the season in as many nights.

The Capitals have won their last 10 home openers.  They did so Saturday night in front of 18,506 red-clad devotees, the Caps’ 107th consecutive sellout.

The Capitals led this game at 2-1 and 3-2, only to see it tied again on both occasions.  The ‘Canes tallied with 1:19 remaining in the third period to force overtime, less than two minutes after Brooks Laich banged home an Alex Ovechkin shot off the back boards for their first power play goal.

The second power play goal — the game-winner by Green on his only shot on goal —  came with the Caps playing 4-on-3 in the overtime.  Dennis Wideman fumbled a pass from Green a bit, which drew Carolina forward Tim Brent to the center of the ice.  Wideman quickly recovered and found Green, all alone now, just above the right circle.  His blast deflected off a shin pad and trickled through goalie Brian Boucher (32 saves on 36 shots) and the building erupted.

“Well, I saw the guy scoot over to Wides [Dennis Wideman] and I knew that I had a lot of time to shoot the puck, I just had to find a spot,” Green explained. “It kind of went off a guy’s shin pad and snuck through, but I just had to get the shot off.”

Green also spoke to the intensity of the opening night game in a frenzied arena.  “I think we started a little bit slow,” he said. “It seemed like we were a little bit nervous, I think that is because we were in our own building. Once we settled down and we started finishing our checks and getting on the forecheck, we tired them out and I felt that paid off in overtime.”

Coach Bruce Boudreau echoed Green’s thoughts about the team perhaps playing with a little bit of nerves early, which resulted in a sloppy first period where the Capitals were outshot by their opponent.  “I wouldn’t doubt it,” Boudreau said.  ” They were all asking me about nerves. It was the first game – the crowd’s into it, there are a lot of new guys. Nerves were there. It’s like the first day on the job and going into the office. You’re nervous. Whether you’re a 20-year veteran on the job or just brand new.”

So was Boudreau nervous after the ‘Canes pulled things even so late in the game?  “I said ‘we’ll get another one, don’t worry guys.’ We’ve come back many times. A lot of these guys we’ve had before, and I think we came back the second most in the NHL last year in the third period to win games.”

The Caps’ most effective line Saturday night was the third line of Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich and Joel ward, often playing against the Hurricanes’ top line, featuring Eric Staal (two power play goals and an assist).

Chimera, who scored on a breakaway on a fantastic pass from Ward, thought the line’s size played a big part of its effectiveness in this matchup.  “We thought we did a great job, we are three big guys who try and keep the puck down low and create some chances for ourselves. We had some good chances, we felt good tonight. We played really good together and we never gave up much on five-on-five, so that’s good.”

One Capital who didn’t have a great game, despite springing Alexander Semin for one of the prettier breakaway goals you’ll every want to see, was defenseman John Carlson.  He played a direct role in each of Carolina’s goals, sitting in the penalty box for the first two, then getting himself out of position on Jussi Jokinen’s game-tying goal at 18:41 of the third.

Michal Neuvirth was strong in goal, making 28 saves on 31 shots, but was stellar in the overtime, when the Caps were forced to play 3-on-4 for the first two minutes as a result of a boarding call against Semin as time expired, promoting a several minute melee.  There was no injury on the play, but Semin could very well find himself missing a couple of games under new NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan’s watchful eye.

It might not have been pretty for the most part.  The penalty kill needs some attention.  But the power play, which was sluggish to start, tallied twice, and the team didn’t cave in overtime when it would have been easy to after allowing the late, tying goal.  And this was all accomplished on an evening when the top line wasn’t particularly effective, with Boudreau describing Alex Ovechkin’s performance, after praising his effort and intensity after his travel and return from Russia for the funeral of his uncle, as “adequate.”

All told, it was a gritty, gutsy two points, against a division opponent.  They host another division opponent Monday in the Tampa Bay Lightning, who unceremoniously booted the Caps from the playoffs last season, sweeping them in the second round.  No one in the locker room would admit to it being a revenge game, but you can bet the fans in the stands will want to see a little payback.

Michal Neuvirth takes warmups before the opener. (photo by Cheryl NIchols)

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