May 25, 2017

Washington Capitals Game 71 Recap: Blues indeed, Caps lose with Grubrauer in and Oshie out

Coming into this game, the Blues had dominated with three shut-out wins, this one makes four as the Caps fall 4-0 to the Blues.

The St. Louis Blues (44-22-9) are fighting hard for home ice positioning in the west, while the Washington Capitals (53-15-5) are one point away from the President’s trophy. The Blues just wanted this one more. The Blues played as the Caps did in December, four small breakdowns and four opportunities taken advantage of.

The Blues’ first goal came as Dimitri Orlov gave up a soft turnover in the offensive zone, allowing the Blues’ Kyle Brodziak a quick snipe on an unprepared Philipp Grubauer.

[Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 50 Recap: Caps fall short in 4-3 loss to Blues

Playing the second of back-to-back games has been problematic for the Washington Capitals, and it proved so again on Sunday, as the Caps fell to the St. Louis Blues at home 4-3.

Karl Alzner took a hit from St. Louis Blues center David Backes in the second period of the Capitals’ Sunday afternoon matinee at Verizon Center.

While Alzner fought for the puck along the boards, Backes approached, and stapled Alzner to the boards. The defenseman dropped to the ice and emerged from a tangle of skates and fists bleeding from a cut over his left eye. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 21 Recap: Capitals sing away the Blues, 4-1

The Washington Capitals took on the St. Louis Blues, who were on the back end of back-to- back games, Sunday night at Verizon Center.  The Capitals skated to a 3-0 lead early in the first, only relinquishing one goal, beating the Blues 4-1, and taking over first place in the Metropolitan Division.

“We’re really happy about this one. We knew they were a great team, and obviously they played last night and had a long flight,” said Nicklas Backstrom.

“We were aware of that and we wanted to come out hard. We’re a little lucky to score on our chances at the beginning and we just followed our game plan from there.”

Alex Ovechkin scored the game’s first goal, his 16th of the season, on the Capitals’ second shot on goal in the first period. Less than five minutes later, Ovechkin scored another, on the team’s fourth shot on goal, his 17th of the season, pulling even in the NHL scoring race. Your move, Alex Steen.

Ovechkin’s 2 goals in the first period were his fourth multi-goal game of the season and fourth multi-goal period of the season. He’s been scoring more goals from in front of the net, something Ovechkin said he’s talked about with Adam Oates.

”“Oatsey [Adam Oates] talked about how I have to stay more in the middle of the ice in the offensive zone because lots of pucks go there, and I can find the rebound there. It’s working,” said Ovechkin.

Jaroslav Halak, yes, the one who stoned the Capitals in the 2009-10 playoffs as the Montreal Canadiens goaltender, didn’t have his best night, to say the least. Mikhail Grabovski ended Halak’s night early, scoring his 7th goal of the season and 4th in four games, assisted by Jason Chimera and Joel Ward. Brian Elliott entered the game as Halak’s relief.

The Blues put their league-tops power play to work in the 2nd period, with Vladimir Sobotka getting one past Braden Holtby, to make the score 3-1. Washington’s penalty killing unit was otherwise spotless the rest of the evening, tucking away4 of the Blues’ 5 power plays, including a 5-on-3 kill.

John Carlson scored on the Capitals first of two power plays, his fifth of the season. Carlson’s goal was assisted by Backstrom, who had three assists on the night, his third three-assist game of the season and the 24th of his career.

Backstrom assisted on both of Ovechkin’s goals, and his assist on Carlson’s power play goal sent him past Scott Stevens (136) for fifth on the Capitals all-time power play assists list.

“Nicky deserves just as much credit for the goals that Ovi [Alex Ovechkin] scores as he does,” said Holtby. “He should be looked at like that. Nicky does a lot and as his teammate of his, you can’t say enough about what he does for that line and the team – as a leader and as a player. He’s our steadying guy. He’s a guy we look up to.”

Holtby was nearly perfect in the Capitals’ win, stopping a career-high 46 of 47 shots.

“They threw a lot of pucks at the net. Their game plan is to get traffic, rebounds,” said Holtby.

“Every game is different. Some games you get 20 shots and a lot of them are scoring chances, and games that you are just looking through traffic all night. We had a good night.”

 

GAME 23 RE-CAP: More of same as Caps fall to Blues in Hunter debut

Caps New Head Coach Dale Hunter behind the bench for his first NHL game (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Despite plenty of emotion from the new head coach and in the stands, the Washington Capitals continued their recent slog, as they were bottled up and contained by the smothering defense and forecheck of the St. Louis Blues, 2-1, before an announced, but not actually realized, capacity crowd at Verizon Center. [Read more…]

Caps in Advance: Week 8

As the saying goes, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. The Washington Capitals started last week with a pair of 4-3 wins over Nashville and Winnipeg, and then followed up with a pair of absolute clunkers in back-to-back losses to the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres.

Both losses were galling, particularly the 5-1 defeat at the hands of a Sabres team half-composed of players recently called up from the AHL’s Rochester Americans. It’s painfully clear that something is not working in D.C.; it’s yet to be determined if that something is team cohesion, coach Bruce Boudreau’s system, Tomas Vokoun’s confidence, or something else.

The NHL scheduler did the reeling Capitals no favors this upcoming week, as games against resurgent St. Louis and Ottawa squads bookend a highly-anticipated meeting with the Pittsburgh Penguins. In happier times (like last season), the hype leading in to a Caps-Pens game could rival that of Dallas week for the Redskins. Instead, the more apt comparison may be directly between the Capitals and the floundering ‘Skins, two teams completely falling apart after a strong start to the season.

Right now, the Caps are without an identity.  The same situation befell the Blues earlier in the season, and the Senators at the end of last season.  Big changes were made behind the bench for both squads. It may not be fair to suggest the same thing happen in Washington, but Boudreau will eternally find himself on the hot seat unless he can turn this Washington squad’s fortunes around ASAP.

Games this week:

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 29th v. ST. LOUIS BLUES
7:00pm, Verizon Center
TV: CSN-MA

Records:
Washington Capitals: 12-9-1, 25 points, 2nd in Southeast Division, 8th in Eastern Conference
St. Louis Blues: 13-8-2, 28 points, 3rd in Central Division, 5th in Western Conference
Only meeting this season

Last year:
Capitals: 48-23-11, 107 pts, 1st in Southeast Division, 1st in Eastern Conference
Blues: 38-33-11, 87 points, 4th in Central Division, 11th in Western Conference

At the beginning of November, the Blues were a team in crisis.  St. Louis management had high expectations for the squad this season and deemed a 6-7-0 start unacceptable.  Head coach Davis Payne was fired, and Ken Hitchcock hired. Since then, the Blues have won seven of ten behind the strength of a solid offensive effort across the board and stellar goaltending from Brian Elliott, who leads the NHL in GAA (1.31) and Save % (.951) and has completely supplanted Cap-killer Jaroslav Halak as the main man in the Gateway to the West.

In recent years the Blues have been a team predicated on youth, featuring stars-in-the-making like David Backes and T.J. Oshie, plus Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk, two impressive youngsters acquired from Colorado last year. Last year’s promise wasn’t enough to get St. Louis into the playoffs, however, and the organization decided to bring in some new veteran on-ice leadership: namely, Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner. Arnott, the (briefly) former Cap, leads the Blues in power play goals, and together the two have brought much-needed levity to a volatile locker room.

Last week the Blues dispatched the Crosby-led Penguins in OT, before shutting out the Calgary Flames and then beating the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday night.  One big reason for the positive results was the return of Stewart, who was suspended for three games for a hit from behind on Detroit’s Nicklas Kronwall earlier in the month.  With Stewart’s physical presence out of the lineup St. Louis lost two of three; with him, they have won three straight.

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 1st v. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

7:00 pm, Verizon Center
TV: NHLN, CSN-MA

Records:
Washington Capitals: 12-9-1, 25 points, 2nd in Southeast Division, 8th in Eastern Conference
Pittsburgh Penguins: 14-6-4, 32 points, 1st in Atlantic Division, 1st in Eastern Conference
Season Series: 1-0-0

Last year:
Penguins: 49-25-8, 106 points, 2nd in Atlantic Division, 4th in Western Conference

Let’s get this out of the way immediately: Sidney Crosby is on fire.  With 2 goals and 6 assists in his first 4 games, Crosby has shown emphatically that he’s still the best player in the game, post-concussion.

Dueling Captains Ovechkin and Crosby in 2010 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Without Crosby, the Penguins were still the best squad in the NHL.  James Neal, after a disappointing close to 2010-11 when he was traded to Pittsburgh from Dallas, has been absolutely on fire, scoring 13 goals in 24 games, tied for 3rd in the league.  Jordan Staal has also discovered his scoring touch with 12 goals, over halfway to his season-high in goals just a quarter into the season.

Perhaps the most surprising story line out of Pittsburgh these days, more than Crosby’s health or Neal’s scoring, is the play of Matt Cooke.  The one-time Capitals appears to also be a one-time pugilist, past tense.  In 21 games, Cooke has recorded 5 goals, 6 assists, and only 8 penalty minutes.  Last season Cooke was 21st in the NHL in penalty minutes; this season, he’s tied for 248th.  Has Cooke redeemed his previous dirty ways?  It seems so.  He’ll probably never shed his reputation, but this season Cooke has found a way to play on the right side of that line between gritty and dirty, and that’s made him far more effective for the dominant Pens.

One question for Pittsburgh will be the play of Kris Letang, who took a headshot from Max Pacioretty in the Pens’ Saturday night game against the Canadiens. Letang returned to the game with his nose bloodied and broken and scored the game-winner in OT, but there could still be a lingering, lasting effect on his play, both physically and mentally.

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 25th v. OTTAWA SENATORS

7:00pm, Verizon Center
TV: CBC, RDS, CSN-MA

Records:
Washington Capitals: 12-9-1, 25 points, 2nd in Southeast Division, 8th in Eastern Conference
Ottawa Senators: 11-10-2, 24 points, 4th in Northeast Division, 11th in Eastern Conference
Season Series: 1-0-0

Last year:

Senators: 32-40-10, 74 points, 5th in Northeast Division, 13th in Eastern Conference

When these two teams met earlier in the season, the Capitals were riding high in the midst of a seven-game winning streak and the Senators were in an early season funk.  Ottawa has been extremely streaky in 2011-12, losing five of their first six before reeling off a string of six straight wins, followed by five straight losses, three more wins, and then a pair of losses before romping over the Flames on Sunday night.

Washington will be hoping to face the down-trodden Senators and not the squad backstopped by rejuvenated goaltender Craig Anderson.  Chances are the Caps won’t be able to avoid the offensive prowess of Milan Michalek, who has 12 goals so far this season. Michalek has been most effective at even strength and on the power play when lined up next to Jason Spezza.  In his ninth year in the league, the 28-year-old Spezza is not being asked to carry as much of the goal-scoring load for the Sens as in recent years, which in turn is allowing him to be more effective in his familiar role as a set-up man.

Leading Ottawa in spirit, and almost in points as well, is blueliner Erik Karlsson, whose 20 assists lead the NHL. Karlsson plays over 25 minutes a night for the Sens, who also rely heavily on Sergei Gonchar and Filip Kuba on their back line. Although all three are playing serious minutes and putting up points, only Kuba is a plus-player, at +3. In fact, Kuba is the only defenseman of the seven who have suited up for Ottawa this season who’s in the positive for +/-, indicating that the Sens’ bottom defensive pairings may be particularly vulnerable to pressure by Washington’s offense.

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