May 29, 2015

Looking at Caps’ possible playoff matchups

As the Washington Capitals inch closer to a playoff berth, it’s time to start looking ahead at possible playoff matchups.

Though the Caps have only five games left on their schedule, there are still a handful of teams they can meet in the first round. Here’s a look at all the teams the Caps could face and how they match up against them.

New York Rangers

Caps record against them this season: 1-2-0 with one game remaining

How they could meet in the playoffs: The Rangers win the Metropolitan division and the Caps finish in a wild card spot. The standings would then dictate which division winner would play which wild card team.

Why they can beat the Caps: The Rangers made it to the Stanley Cup Finals last season and are even better this year ranking in the top three in the NHL in both goals scored and goals allowed per game. They are incredibly fast and incredibly deep. When Keith Yandle is on your third defensive pair, you do not have many holes on your roster. While the Caps boast the league’s leading goal-scorer in Alex Ovechkin, the Rangers boast the second leading scorer in Rick Nash.

Why the Caps can beat them: Henrik Lundqvist has only played once since Feb. 2 and has only a few games to get back into form. Even though Cam Talbot has played well in relief, there is no question who the team’s top netminder is. If he’s not back to form by the start of the playoffs, that’s a major blow.

Chances the Caps win the series: Slim. Not only are the Rangers the best team in the Eastern Conference, but they are also the worst matchup for the Caps. The Caps have no answer for the Rangers’ speed and the defensive pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi have been a nightmare for Ovechkin in the past. With secondary scoring a major weakness for the Caps, it’s hard to figure out just how the Caps will score against Lundqvist and a defensive pair capable of shutting down Ovechkin. If you think Sunday’s win over the Rangers was a hopeful sign, keep in mind that the Caps were dominated by the Rangers in their first two meetings this season and for the first two periods on Sunday. The Rangers could have easily blown that game wide open, but missed several open opportunities in which they had Holtby beat. In a best of seven series, the Caps’ effort on Sunday would not be good enough to win four of those seven games.

New York Islanders

Caps record against them this season: 2-0-2

How they could meet in the playoffs: The Caps finish second or third in the division and the Penguins fall to a wild card spot.

Why they can beat the Caps: John Tavares is quickly becoming one of the most dynamic offensive players in the league helping the Islanders score the fourth most 5-on-5 goals this season. For all their current struggles, at one time the Islanders were far and away the best team in the Metropolitan Division. Jaroslav Halak in net is a wild card. He has been good not great this season, but every Caps fan knows how good he is capable of being in the playoffs. He carried a worse Montreal team all the way to the conference finals in 2010, he could certainly help this Islanders team go just as far.

Why the Caps can beat them: The Islanders have been reeling with seven losses in their last nine games. They are also relatively inexperienced and rank 21st in the NHL in goals against per game.

Chances the Caps win the series: High. It is always good for a team to get hot at the right time, but the Islanders have been fading down the stretch. They have gone from being the division leader to a tie with Pittsburgh for second place and trailing the Rangers by a wide margin. This will not be a confident group going into the postseason.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Caps record against them this season: 3-1-0

How they could meet in the playoffs: The Caps finish second or third in the division and the Islanders fall to a wild card spot.

Why they can beat the Caps: The Caps may have won the first three meetings this season, but the Penguins finally seemed to figure things out in their final matchup with a 4-3 win that was not as close as the score indicates. After failing to get any traffic at all in front of Braden Holtby, the Penguins were all over the Caps netminder and the crease. It certainly looked as if they had found the formula for beating the Caps in that fourth game.

Why the Caps can beat them: The Caps have dominated the season series, winning three of their four games in commanding fashion. In their first three games, the Caps beat the Penguins by a score of 10-1. The Penguins just cannot stay healthy this season. They got back Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist on Saturday just to lose Kris Letang to a concussion.

Chances the Caps win the series: 50/50. Two of the Caps best games this season were their first two wins against Pittsburgh in which they completely dominated. It’s hard to have much faith in Marc-Andre Fleury who is rapidly becoming Jose Theodore — great in the regular season, lousy in the playoffs. Secondary scoring won’t be an issue if Ovechkin scores at the rate he has against Pittsburgh so far this year with four goals and one assist in four games. The Penguins don’t have the defense to shut him down. Having said all of that, it’s the Penguins and they always seem to find a way to beat the Caps in the playoffs. Pittsburgh played poorly in their first three games against the Caps and they know it. When they finally get pressure on the net, they came out on top. Their gameplan would be to drive the crease hard and play physically against Holtby. That should scare Caps fans considering backup goaltending is a weakness. That’s not to say that the Penguins would intentionally try to hurt Holtby, but they certainly would not let him leave this series without a few bumps and bruises.

Montreal Canadiens

Caps record against them this season: 0-0-2

How they could meet in the playoffs: Montreal wins the Atlantic Division, Caps earn a wild card spot. The standings would then dictate which division winner plays which wild card team.

Why they can beat the Caps: Two words, Carey Price. The likely league MVP has been unreal this year and leads the NHL in GAA (1.88) and save percentage (.937) among goalies with at least 20 starts this season. Those are some crazy numbers.

Why the Caps can beat them: Take away Price and Montreal is actually a pretty mediocre team. Led by Max Pacioretty, the Canadiens are 23rd in the NHL in goals per game. With all due respect to Pacioretty, Montreal lacks an offensive superstar on their roster who is capable of taking over a series.

Chances the Caps win the series: Slim. Can Price actually carry Montreal past the Caps in a best of seven series? Absolutely give how he has been playing. A mediocre Montreal team with a hot goalie? The Capitals know how lethal that combination can be and this time the Canadiens will have home ice advantage. With P.K. Subban on defense, Montreal will sell out on stopping Ovechkin and the Caps do not have enough other weapons to beat Price.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Caps record against them this season: 2-1-0

How they could meet in the playoffs: Tampa Bay wins the Atlantic Division, Caps earn a wild card spot. The standings would then dictate which division winner plays which wild card team

Why they can beat the Caps: Good luck stopping the Lightning’s offense, the best in the NHL this season. Not only do they have Steven Stamkos, but they have three other players who also have passed the 20-goal mark (the Caps only have one as Troy Brouwer has exactly 20 goals) and have five players with over 50 points (the Caps have two). Most importantly, it’s not an offense that is dependent on the power play as they have scored the most 5-on-5 goals in the NHL this season.

Why the Caps can beat them: Ben Bishop may be a towering presence in net, but with a paltry .914 save percentage this season he has failed to establish himself as the dominating goalie a team needs for a deep playoff run. After getting swept in the playoffs last season by Montreal, you have to wonder how high confidence will be in Tampa this year.

Chances the Caps win the series: Slight edge to Tampa Bay. There will be plenty of scoring to go around in this one. The Caps defense won’t be able to bottle up Stamkos and Co. while Ovechkin will get his points against the unproven Bishop. The problem for the Caps is that they are absolutely awful when they do not score first. The only team with fewer wins than the Caps this season after conceding the first goal is Buffalo. They are a completely different team when they are down early, a position they could easily find themselves in often against an offense as lethal as Tampa’s. How confident are you that the Caps can score first in four out of seven games against the best offense in the NHL?

Washington Capitals Game 29 Recap: Backstrom’s hat trick helps lift surging Caps over Lightning

By his own admission, Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom woke up from his pregame nap in a “grumpy” mood. The 27-year-old Swede was not-so-blissfully unaware of what was to come.

Backstrom’s natural hat trick gave Washington a 3-0 lead in the third period, and Eric Fehr’s empty-netter provided the icing on the Capitals’ 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in front of a very enthusiastic Verizon Center crowd on Saturday night. [Read more…]

Three stars: Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning 12/13/14

The Washington Capitals knocked off one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference for the second time in a week, topping the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 behind Nick Backstrom’s first career hat trick in the regular season.

First star: Nicklas Backstrom. It’s hard to believe he’d never had a regular season hat trick before tonight, but it’s true. Backstrom’s first and only career hat trick came on April 17, 2010, in Game 2 of the ill-fated playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens. Backstrom’s natural hat trick was his 17th career multi-goal game and 10th multi-point game of the season.

You’re going to want to see this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASEnoMnaoSc

Second star: Tom Wilson. Wilson, when he keeps his nose clean, is an important part of the team’s offense. He collected two assists, and now has four assists in his last four games and it was his third career multi-point game and his first career multi-assist game.

Third Star: Braden Holtby. Holtby made 26 saves in the 4-2 win, his 12th victory of the season. He’s won 4 of his last 5 starts, and is 4-1-1 in the month of December. Any doubts about Holtby’s capability to be the starting goaltender are long gone. As long as he keeps playing this well, he should continue to get the majority of the starts in net for the Capitals.

Three stars: Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning 12/9/14

The Tampa Bay Lightning are a pretty good team. They’re the frontrunners to win the Atlantic Division. So, considering the Washington Capitals were on their final leg of a three-game road trip, a 5-3 win and 6 out of 6 possible points paints a rosy picture for the oft inconsistent team, who now sits in 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division.

Alex Ovechkin snapped his 4-game drought with 2 goals, Matt Niskanen got his third goal of the season on the power play, while Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer rounded out the scoring.

First star: Alex Ovechkin. Sure, his second goal was an empty netter literally right at the regulation buzzer, but he was just making up for not scoring in 4 games. His first goal came a mere :40 into the first period. Ovechkin logged his lowest time on ice this season at 14:55, but tied John Carlson with a team-high 7 shots on goal and 4 hits.

Second star: Braden Holtby. Holtby earned his 11th victory of the season after stopping 33 shots in the 5-3 win, with a .917 SV%. He won all three starts on the road trip and allowed 5 goals total in those three games. Holtby’s record has improved to 11-7-1 on the season. As long as he stays solid, the Capitals are in good shape.

Third star:  John Carlson. At times, he excels despite his shackles, also known as his defensive partner, Brooks Orpik. Carlson assisted on Ovechkin’s first period goal, played 24:23 (with :34 PP TOI), second-most for Caps defensemen, 7 shots and 2 hits.

Washington Capitals Game 26 Recap: Ovechkin scores two as Caps hold Lightning at bay

Three critical road games against two division opponents and team among the league’s elite, and three games where an early goal gave the Washington Capitals a win. Alex Ovechkin scored just 40 seconds into the game, and the team got consistent scoring throughout as they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 on Tuesday.

The Caps held the league’s most prolific offense to just two goals, and never trailed their former Southeast Division rivals.

[Read more…]

Three Stars: Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning 11/1/14

The weather was pretty in Tampa tonight, but the ensuing contest against the Tampa Bay Lightning wasn’t so lovely for the Washington Capitals.

Ryan Callahan struck first for the Lightning in the first period, and Marcus Johansson answered with an even strength goal for the Caps. In the second period, Eric Fehr’s hard work paid off for a 2-1 Capitals lead, but Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov struck for the Lightning. Troy Brouwer tied things up late in the period. In the final frame, Jason Garrison scored the Lightning’s game winning goal. Capitals lose 4-3, their third loss in 4 games.

First Star: Marcus Johansson

The Swede scored his fourth goal of the season – an even strength goal, nonetheless – skating on a line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. He is well on his way to eclipsing his goal total (8) from last season. Johansson added 4 hits, and an assist on Troy Brouwer’s second period goal. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him break his career-high goals for a regular season (14) this year.

Second Star: Eric Fehr

He went from being a healthy scratch on Thursday to the scoresheet on Saturday. He scored his first goal of the season in Tampa. He only has 3 points in 10 games played so far, but you have to commend Fehr on bouncing back with a strong performance. Hopefully the coaching staff agrees.

Third Star: Troy Brouwer

Brouwer scored a power play goal from the slot, which briefly tied the game at 3-3. He finished the night with 4 shots on goal and 3 hits. The second period goal was Brouwer’s third on the season. Brouwer has 6 points (3g, 3a) through 10 games.

Washington Capitals Game 82 Recap: All over but the crying

The Washington Capitals fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning 1-0, in a shootout naturally, ending their season in what most folks would consider a premature manner. It was the 21st time this season that a Caps game ended in a shootout, an NHL record. That, in itself, says a lot about this team this season.

If you polled people across the NHL this preseason, most would have accepted the idea of the Capitals qualifying for the playoffs. I don’t think anyone expected them to be serious Cup contenders, but even with the move to the Metropolitan Division, this team on paper seemed to have enough talent to survive to the second season.

But they don’t play hockey on paper, they play on ice. And this season, the Washington Capitals weren’t good enough on the ice.

There’s a large segment of fans in any fan base, but they seem more vocal here, that believes any time their team isn’t successful they aren’t trying hard enough, or they don’t “want it” enough. They equate poor play with desire. But that’s very rarely the case. Modern professional athletes are highly-driven, highly-motivated individuals.

At the very least, these players are motivated to achieve the highest success their talent can carry them to.

This season’s failures weren’t about motivation or desire. It was about talent, and mismanagement of that talent. It was about players playing out of position — intentionally. It was about a difference in philosophies between the general manager and the head coach. It was about carrying three goalie for a month and a half. It was about performance — or lack thereof — on the ice.

So while we wait to see what changes are made at Kettler this week, next week, over the offseason, the only thing for certain now is that the Washington Capitals were simply not good enough on the ice to qualify for the playoffs this season, which should provide all the motivation the organization needs to make the necessary changes to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

Washington Capitals Game 43 Recap: Caps blow 2-goal lead but beat Tampa on Fehr’s late tip

The Washington Capitals have blown two-goal leads in in four of their past 10 games, and added to that total Thursday, allowing the Tampa Bay Lightning to come back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game with 5:30 left in the game. But Eric Fehr’s second goal of the game, a tip-in of a shot from Mike Green with 51 seconds left, allowed the Caps to escape with a 4-3 regulation win.

Dmitry Orlov made a nice play to hold the zone and shuffled the puck to Green at the right point. Green lifted a wrister toward the goal that deflected off Fehr, who was camped out just to the left of Lightning goalie Anders Lindback.

The Caps (21-16-6) stayed one point ahead of Carolina, who won earlier in the night, for third place in the Metropolitan Division, but were outplayed for large stretches of the game and were outshot 36-20.

Tampa Bay took advantage of Troy Brouwer errant pass just 4:08 in, as rookie Tyler Johnson went the length of the ice and beat Philipp Grubauer top-shelf to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead.

The Caps answered with three goals of their own in the frame, despite being outshot 12-9.

Fehr took a nifty cross-ice pass from captain Alex Ovechkin and snapped it past Lindback (16 saves) for his seventh goal of the season to tie it at 7:04.

Washington then utilized the league’s second-ranked power play twice. Mike Green blasted a shot from center point that Mikhail Grabovski tipped on the way through for his 12th goal of the season at 10: 37.

Then, with just 12 seconds left in the period, Marcus Johansson took a pass from Nick Backstrom on the left pipe and stuffed it through Lindback, for his seventh of the season, putting the Caps up 3-1 at first intermission.

Tampa got one back in the second. Defenseman Victor Hedman sprung B.J. Crombeen along the right wing, and Crombeen lofted a fairly innocuous wrist shot toward Grubauer (33 saves) from 30 feet that somehow eluded the rookie netminder to draw the Lightning within one at 3-2.

Tampa’s Ondrej Palat though he tied the game a few moments later when a cross-crease pass deflected off his skate past Grubauer. But after official review it was determined — very clearly — that he made a distinct kicking motion with his skate and the goal was waived off.

Palat then did tie the game at 14:30 of the third, tipping in a shot from defenseman Matt Carle, completely erasing the Capitals two-goal advantage.

On this night, all it did was serve to set up Fehr’s heroics.

The Capitals host the Toronto Maple Leafs Friday night at 7:00 pm.

Washington Capitals Game 42 Recap: “Game Over” Green beats Lightning in OT

What started out as a laugher ended up as a nailbiter, as the Washington Capitals frittered a four-goal lead to the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday night in front of a squirming sellout crowd at Verizon Center, prompting overtime. There, a terrific offensive move by an inconsistent forward drew a four-on-three power play which resulted in a scintillating goal for one of the hottest Caps players to deliver a 6-5 win and a four point lead in the Southeast Division with six games remaining in the regular season.

The Capitals, winners of seven straight, are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, 13-3-1 in their last 17 games, and their 48 points would qualify for sixth in the conference were they not leading the Southeast, enjoying the No. 3 seed that comes with that distinction.

The overtime goal came at four-on-three courtesy of Marcus Johansson, who gathered a puck along the right wing boards and made a slick move around veteran Vincent Lecavalier, dangling the puck at the end of his stick. Johansson cut hard to the Lightning net, where Lecavalier had little choice but to haul down the Caps forward or surrender a clean scoring chance.

But the tactic only delayed the outcome for a few more moments. On the ensuing power play, Mike Green collected a pass from Mike Ribeiro, took two strides into the high slot, and fired a BB past Mathieu Garon, Tampa’s second goalie of the night, for the game-winner — his tenth of the season.

The overtime tally was the 15th game-winning goal of Green’s career, the sixth in overtime. He ranks tied for third among active defensemen in overtime goals.

“Tomorrow we are going to wake up and we have our two points and that’s all that matters,” Green said, alluding to Tampa Bay’s comeback. “And this game’s put away, but we have to learn from this. We can’t let situations like that happen. They used to call us the Cardiac Kids for a reason and we showed that tonight.”

Washington raced out to a 3-0 lead in the first period, with Troy Browuer (16), Jack Hillen (2) and Alex Ovechkin (27) all tallying against Lightning starter Ben Bishop. The Capitals dominated play at both ends and Tampa looked interested only in getting it over with and heading for the bus.

The Caps extended the lead to four early in the second on Jason Chimera’s second goal of the season. Tampa showed a bit of life, answering a minute later with Richard Panik’s first goal of the night. But two minutes later, Eric Fehr tipped in a nifty pass from Matthieu Perreault and at 5-1, things looked bleak for the Lightning.

Tampa Bay cut the lead to three with less than two minutes to go in the second on a goal by Martin St. Louis, setting up the big third period comeback. The Caps, who seemed to be playing from their heels in the third frame, surrendered three third period goals to complete the comeback and force overtime.

Head coach Adam Oates described how the Caps fell flat after playing so well the first 40 minutes of the game. “Guess there is no really easy explanation. First of all, they are a good team. And everything went our way in the first period. You lose a little bit of momentum because it was a little too easy, you get a little flat and all of a sudden, here they come. You start sinking yourself and before you know it, it’s happening pretty fast.”

The Caps are off until Tuesday when they will host the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7:00 pm.

Washington Capitals Game 39 Recap: Ovi nets two in win over Lightning

If the Washington Capitals go on to win the Southeast Division or otherwise qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, their current stretch will surely be looked back upon as the impetus for that run, however improbable that might have seemed earlier in the season. Sunday evening, before a sellout crowd at Verizon Center, the Caps won their fourth game in a row, knocking off the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 to secure sole possession in the division for the first time this season.

The Capitals have a two-point division lead with nine games remaining in this truncated season.

The Caps were paced, as they so often are, by their captain, Alex Ovechkin, who scored twice to tie Steven Stamkos at the top of leaderboard for goals scored this season with 25. Ovechkin has now recorded 16 goals and seven assists in his last 14 games, a period where the Caps have gone 10-4 to catapult them to the top of the division and rejuvenate their once moribund playoff hopes.

Michal Neuvirth’s performance in goal, to the tune of 28 saves, should not be forgotten however. Neuvirth has been something of a forgotten man on the Cpas this season, with Braden Holtby taking command of the No. 1 goaltender job. But with the Caps playing in the second game on back-to-back nights, Neuvy showed that he can still be a quality contributor to the Caps effort down the stretch.

The visitors got on the board first in a somewhat sleepy first stanza, befitting of the back-to-back stature of the game. Granted a power play courtesy of a Steve Oleksy tripping call just 1:45 into the game, the Lightning didn’t waste any time making the Caps pay. A mere seven seconds into the infraction, Vincent Lecavalier beat Neuvirth for his eighth goal of the season, off a feed from Caps nemesis Martin St. Louis.

The Caps tied things up at 3:13 of the second. Jack Hillen collected a pass from Nick Backstrom from the half wall and lofted a shot toward Bolts goalie Ben Bishop. Alex Ovechkin cut through the slot and redirected Hillen’s shot past Bishop for his 24th  goal of the season, rising to the No. 2 spot in goals for this season behind Tampa’s Steven Stamkos.

Tampa retook the lead a few moments later when Alex Killorn put a deke on Hillen one-on-one, and Hillen fell to the ice, allowing Killorn to come in alone on Neuvirth and beat him cleanly.

The Caps answered back though in the latter stages of the second period, fairly dominating play and tallying twice more in the frame. John Carlson unloaded a bomb from just over the blue line on a drop pass from Joel Ward that had Bishop looking skyward for help. Less than four minutes later, Ward himself took advantage of forward Nate Thompson, rushing hard to the outside to get position to come on net, and then slipping a shot past Bishop that the 6’6″ netminder should have stopped.

All that was left was for the Caps to stifle any semblance of comeback, something that has proven difficult for them throughout the season. But they thwarted every Lightning attempt to get back into the game, and Ovechkin added his second goal of the night on an empty netter with just five seconds remaining in the contest.

It showed head coach Adam Oates’ great confidence in Ovechkin, having the captain defending the Caps territory in a one-goal game in the final minute.

The Caps are far from a complete project, but they are playing well at the right time and seemingly now have their playoff hopes in their own hands. They have yet to defeat a team that holds a playoff spot in regulation this season, but will have their chances down the stretch to eliminate that negative mark as well, starting Tuesday when they travel to Montreal to face Les Habitents.

Every season there’s a team that no one wants to face come playoff time. Maybe this season that team will be the Washington Capitals.

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