October 1, 2016

Washington Capitals Game 31 Recap: Caps rally from 3 goals down to beat Lightning

OVECHKIN, OSHIE SCORE TWICE APIECE, JOHANSSON NETS EVENTUAL GAME-WINNER

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

Yeah, that happened.

The Washington Capitals dug themselves a 3-goal hole and watched goalie stalwart Braden Holtby get yanked. As it happens some times, the goalie getting pulled provided the needed spark.

Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie scored two goals apiece, and Marcus Johansson provided the go-ahead goal in the third period as the Caps rallied to beat Tampa Bay 5-3 before a stunned capacity crowd at Verizon Center.

It’s the first time the Capitals (23-6-2-48) have erased a three-goal deficit to win in regulation since Oct. 16, 2008 at Pittsburgh.

Holtby allowed three goals on 12 shots not quite halfway through the contest. Philipp Grubauer relieved and saved all seven shots he faced. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 28 Recap: Capitals hold off Tampa Bay 2-1

HOLTBY SPECTACULAR, KUZNETSOV MAGICAL TO EXTEND BEST START IN FRANCHISE HISTORY

(Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

(Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

After an ugly loss Thursday night to the Florida Panthers, the Capitals (20-6-2) traveled to Tampa Bay (14-13-3) on Saturday night and looked to prevent losing the title of the only Eastern Conference team not to lose back-to-back games. The Caps built a lead, then nervously held on to go 8-0-0 following a loss this season, beating Tampa Bay 2-1.

Holtby was his spectacular self again, earning his league-leading 18th win of the year. With a glorious breakaway one-on-one stop and numerous clutch saves on the penalty kill, he finished with 35 stops on the night.

Although Tampa Bay spent the better part of the first five minutes in the Caps’ zone, Holtby showed no rust and the Caps struck first. Jay Beagle carried the puck down ice and dropped it in the circle where Stanislav Galiev picked it up then sent it right back to Beagle behind the goal. From there it was a simple stuff behind Lightning goalie Ben Bishop to give the Caps a 1-0 lead.

[Read more…]

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.

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