September 16, 2019

Washington Capitals Game 10 Recap: Maple Leafs all over Capitals in another bad loss

It was more of the same from the Washington Capitals, as they were out skated, out worked and out played by a resurgent Toronto Maple Leafs team in a 3-2 loss at home on Tuesday night.

Hopes were so high in Washington for the Capitals to build off of a strong playoff run last year that ended in a brutal Game 7 defeat at the hands of the New York Rangers. This season has been anything but impressive so far for Washington and the trend continued last night. Even though the score may make some think it was a close game, Toronto held the edge for most of the night.

“I’m very frustrated. I still feel like we’re playing good hockey,” Karl Alzner said. “It’s just never good enough to win though and its about time we get over that hump.”

[Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 10 Postgame Audio: Oates, Hendricks, Neuvirth & More

WASHINGTON-The Washington Capitals played hard but lost again, this time to the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 at Verizon Center and are now dead last in the NHL.

“You run out of cliches to say to the guys, obviously,”  Capitals Head Coach Adam Oates said.  “We’ll talk tomorrow and we’ll figure out a plan on how to approach it because we’ve got to rebound for Thursday again. But we obviously did a lot of good things tonight: we held ‘em to 20 shots, a few chances. Our special teams were better tonight, which is good. There’s always positives.”

Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner isn’t happy with how they’re playing. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 7 Recap: Capitals Blow Another Lead in Loss to Toronto Maple Leafs

It was a different Canadian city, but an all to familiar result, as the Washington Capitals blew yet another third period lead in their 3-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Washington, now sitting dead-last in the Southeast Division and Eastern Conference, continued their lackluster play late and continued to show an absolute inability to stay mentally strong in the third. Plaguing them throughout the young season, Washington has rarely gotten on the board first and when they have, three times this season, they have yet to get a win. They sung the same tune against the former Eastern Conference bottom feeder Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Center.

Before going any further, netminder Michal Neuvirth should really be applauded for his effort on the evening. The fact Washington was even in the game was due in large part to his success between the pipes. Yes he gave up a soft goal, we will tackle that in a minute, but he still stopped 37 of the 40 shots he faced. Skaters were often in on him alone and they forced Neuvirth to make saves when his defense failed to bail him out. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 69 Re-Cap: Caps Shutout Maple Leafs in Low Scoring Contest

Sunday’s 2-0 Washington Capitals victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs was a close game to the finish and one the Caps may learn and grow from as they enter the stretch run to the postseason.

Even though Michal Neuvrith earned the shutout and Washington had a multi-goal win, the game never felt like it was totally in Washington’s control. It was the type of game that can get away from a team quickly and one the Caps will be in many times down the stretch, as well as in the playoffs. It was a defensive game where neither team gave the opposing players much space and scoring chances were hard to come by. Several players compared the game to a playoff game when asked about it after the game.

“Since maybe the past three games it feels like a playoff game every time and guys feel it in the locker room, we know points are important at this point,” Mathieu Perreault said after the game “We have played pretty solid the last few games and hopefully we can keep that going.” [Read more…]

Caps in Advance: Week 22

Last week in this space I suggested that when it came to last Monday’s NHL trade deadline, for Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee “the best move may be to stand pat…and hope that the recent addition of Mike Green, combined with a hopeful return by Nicklas Backstrom, is all the team needs to head to the postseason.”  That strategy was exactly what McPhee used, making no trades even as the Caps find themselves unable to break out of a six-team logjam fighting for two playoff berths in the Eastern Conference.

The lack of trades was meant as a vote of confidence in the current Washington team, and Dale Hunter’s Caps did little in the three games after the deadline to warrant that confidence.  Against the lowly New York Islanders on Tuesday, Washington needed two late goals from Troy Brouwer plus Alex Ovechkin’s rocket shot in overtime to salvage a win.  All offense was absent in Friday’s embarrassing 5-0 shutout loss to the New Jersey Devils. [Read more…]

Caps in Advance: Week 20

There may be no more stressful time for an NHL player during the regular season than the lead in to the trade deadline, particularly when your team’s owner has already gone on the record to say that moves will be made.

Washington’s four games this week are its last before Monday afternoon’s deadline, and the next quarter of games will go a long way toward determining general manager George McPhee’s stance and activity.  Two of the Caps’ upcoming opponents, the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs, occupy the final two spots in the Eastern Conference’s playoff field.

Luckily for the Caps, Dale Hunter’s squad has performed exceedingly well against its upcoming slate of foes. Washington is a combined 9-2-0 against Ottawa, Toronto, the Carolina Hurricanes, and Montreal Canadiens, outscoring the four foes by a margin of almost 3 to 2.

In personnel news, extremely encouraging is the return of defenseman Mike Green, who skated 18 shifts for almost 15 minutes in Saturday night’s 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, his first game action in over a month and only the second full game he completed since late October.  Green’s fellow Young Gun Nicklas Backstrom remains out indefinitely with a concussion, but the return of the high-scoring blueliner adds even more punch to a defensive corps that already boasts two of the top 20 goal scorers in the NHL: Dennis Wideman (T-4th, 10 goals) and John Carlson (T-17th, 7 goals). [Read more…]

Washington Capitals’ next six games may determine playoff fate

The two weeks leading up to the NHL trade deadline may be the most closely-watched stretch of regular season games in the NHL season, as teams jockey for position in the playoff race, front office staffs assess the health of their rosters and consider trade options, and general managers ask their coaches to showcase potential trade bait for any and all suitors.

In the nation’s capital, the disappointing Washington Capitals currently sit in ninth place in the Eastern Conference with 61 points and have six games remaining before the 3 p.m. deadline on Monday, February 27.

Of those six games, three are against the three teams immediately above the Caps in the standings: the Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators, and Toronto Maple Leafs.  All three of those games are on the road, two are in Canada, and one – a visit to Toronto in both teams’ last game before the trading deadline – on national television on Hockey Night in Canada. [Read more…]

Caps in Advance: Week 9

There was one big story for the Washington Capitals last week, and it was a doozy.

Long-time Capitals captain and fan favorite Dale Hunter was named the organization’s 15th head coach, replacing Bruce Boudreau, who was fired on Monday after it became evident to general manager George McPhee that “the players were no longer responding” to the four-year coach, who had become the fastest coach in NHL history to reach 200 wins the week prior. A few days later the team also fired assistant coach Bob Wood, who was previously Boudreau’s assistant in Hershey, and hired Jim Johnson, Hunter’s former teammate and the head coach of the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL.

At the time of the loss Washington was mired in a fifteen-game slump, looking completely lost after a great measure of early-season success. one reason attributed to the funk was confusion over the team’s system, as Boudreau has switched between run-and-gun and defensive-minded playstyles since the start of the 2010-11 season.

There will be no confusion under Hunter, who asks his team to play a distinctly “lunchpail” style of dump-and-chase hockey, not to mention the willingness to be a strong disciplinarian.

The first two games of the Hunter era were nothing to crow about, as the Caps dropped 2-1 results to the St. Louis Blues and Pittsburgh Penguins, mustering only 35 shots between the two games. Saturday night’s tilt with the Ottawa Senators was a great improvement, Hunter earning his first win in overtime on a goal by former Sens draft pick Brooks Laich. There was plenty of improvement, with the Caps recording 35 shots and committing only one penalty, but also plenty of room for improvement, as Washington was 0-for-4 on the power play and blew a 2-1 lead with less than five minutes left in the third period.

Washington has a short break, taking the ice again on Monday this week rather than their usual Tuesday night game, and Hunter will hope his system continues to become second nature for players who will be getting fairly worn down by the end of the upcoming stretch.

Games this week:

MONDAY, DECEMBER 5th @ FLORIDA PANTHERS
7:30pm, BankAtlantic Center
TV: CSN-MA

Records:
Washington Capitals: 13-11-1, 27 points, 2nd in Southeast Division, 8th in Eastern Conference
Florida Panthers: 14-8-4, 32 points, 1st in Southeast Division, 3rd in Eastern Conference
Season Series: 1-0-0

Washington’s November woes have them looking up at a new leader in the Southeast Division, the surprising Florida Panthers. A team basically reinvented with a drastic offseason of trades and free agent signings, the Panthers have quickly jelled in sunny Southern Florida.

The Panthers boast one of the top five highest-scoring lines in the NHL, and by far the least heralded. Stephen Weiss (9 goals, 17 assists) centers Kris Versteeg (12 goals, 16 assists) and ex-Cap Tomas Fleischmann (12 goals, 15 assists) to pace Florida’s attack.

Also contributing on offense is defenseman Jason Garrison, whose 8 goals this season, all slapshots, lead all defenders in the league. Prior to thisyear, Garrison had 7 goals in 113 career games over three seasons. One factor contributing to Garrison’s success is undoubtedly the significant ice time he earns as part of Florida’s top defensive pairings alongside reclamation project Brian Campbell.

Another major contribution to the Cats’ success is first-year head coach Kevin Dineen. It seems appropriate that a new coach from outside the organization (Dineen previously coached the Anaheim Ducks’ AHL affiliate) is the one who successfully transformed a collection of new players into a defensively-sound, winning team. Beyond Fleischmann, erstwhile Capital Jose Theodore (10-5-3, 2.28 GAA, .924 Save %) is also a major contributor to Florida’s success. Former Cap Matt Bradley is currently on IR with an upper body injury, and will slot in on the fourth line when he returns, possibly for the Washington game.

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 7th v. OTTAWA SENATORS
7:00 pm, Scotiabank place
TV: TSN, RDS2, CSN-MA

Records:
Washington Capitals: 13-11-1, 27 points,  2nd in Southeast Division, 8th in Eastern Conference
Ottawa Senators: 12-11-3, 27 points, 4th in Northeast Division, 9th in Eastern Conference
Season Series: 2-0-0

The NHL scheduling office clearly wants to get the Capitol Cup out of the way early this season, as Washington and Ottawa meet on Wednesday for the third time (out of four) within the first 1/3 of the season, and for the second time in three games. It’s a quality matchup as both teams are tied in points at 27, with Washington holding the tiebreaker with 13 wins to Ottawa’s 12.

Saturday night in D.C., Washington staked out a pair of one-goal leads, allowing Ottawa to tie the game up both times before Laich took a pass from Jason Chimera and waited for Sens goalie Craig Anderson to make the first move before flipping it under the crossbar for the overtime winner. The result was par for the course for Ottawa- Erik Karlsson played well (other than falling down right before Laich’s goal) in over 26 minutes, Milan Michalek scored a goal, and Anderson generally controlled play in his own end, turning away 32 Caps shots.

Not much will change for Ottawa on Wednesday night, other than the quality of their locker room. Gifted grinder Chris Neil returned from injury on Saturday against the Caps, recording 2 shots, 2 hits, and one penalty in 9:11 of ice time. By the time Washington comes to town Neil will likely be up to his usual 13:38 TOI, which means an extra four minutes of heavy hitting in the corners and crosschecks to the back after the play for Washington’s defensemen.

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 9th v. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
7:00pm, Verizon Center
TV: CSN-MA

Records:
Washington Capitals: 13-11-1, 27 points, 2nd in Southeast Division, 8th in Eastern Conference
Toronto Maple Leafs: 14-10-2, 30 points, 2nd in Northeast Division, 6th in Eastern Conference
Season Series: 0-1-0

The Toronto Maple Leafs started the season on fire, thanks in large part to the staggering numbers on offense posted by Phil Kessel (16 goals, 16assists) and Joffrey Lupul (12 goals, 18assists, 30PIM), as well as the resurgence of defenders Dion Phaneuf and John-Michael Liles.

Expect the Caps to come out flying against Toronto. In the previous meeting between the teams, the Leafs demolished Washington 7-1 in Toronto on a national broadcast, a terrible showing that McPhee hinted was the genesis of the recent bench boss regime change. Even if the players weren’t responding to Boudreau, most of them certainly liked him, and a Friday night home date will give them the chance to exact some measure of revenge.

Over the past few weeks, since shellacking Washington, the Leafs have fallen back down to earth a bit, dropping from 1st to 6th in the Eastern Conference. #1 netminder James Reimer, who started six of Toronto’s first seven games, had been out of the lineup since suffering a concussion in late October.  Reimer finally returned on Saturday in a 4-1 loss to the Boston Bruins, his appearance relieving his team from having to rely on backup Jonas Gustavsson and minor-leaguer Ben Scrivens in net. As a team, the Leafs rank in the bottom third in the league in shots against (31.3/game) and goals against (3.23/game), numbers that should improve with an NHL-caliber goaltender in net.

GAME 18 RE-CAP: Caps Prove Shaky At Leafs; Wretched Road Trip Concludes

It doesn’t matter that it’s not even Thanksgiving yet. The Washington Capitals organization and their fans should be

Is Bruce Boudreau back on the hot seat so soon? (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

deeply, deeply concerned about what took place on this week’s three-game road trip, in which each game brought a worse performance than the one before (in all, Washington was outscored 14-3 in the three games against Nashville, Winnipeg, and Toronto) and which concluded with an abysmal 7-1 loss to the understrength Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre Saturday night.

The usual Toronto sellout crowd of 18,819, as well as a continent-wide audience watching on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, saw a game that blows right to the top of the list of worst Washington losses of the season. This one truly had it all: execrable defending, stagnant offense, and more than a pinch of bad luck.

It also had, it must be said, an excellent performance from the Leafs themselves, who jumped on top just 1:39 into the game when Tim Connolly flipped a wrist shot past Tomas Vokoun from the edge of the face-off circle. Washington appeared to restore normal service just 51 seconds later when Brooks Laich’s slap shot took a generous deflection off John-Michael Liles and sailed into the net past Jonas Gustavsson (40 saves) to tie the score at 1-1. But the Leafs carried the play for the rest of the first period, outshooting Washington 16-8 and re-taking the lead with 44 seconds to go before the first intermission as Matt

Frattin took a cross-ice pass from Joe Colborne and fired past Vokoun.

Washington fell completely apart in the second period as the Leafs went to the net more or less at will and had scoring chances in abundance. With Matt Hendricks in the box after being called for slashing just 17 seconds into the period, the Leafs increased their lead to 3-1 as Tyler Bozak banged home a close-range chance after a beautiful set-up by Joffrey Lupul at the 1:18 mark. The score became 4-1 at 5:29 when Lupul and Bozak combined to set up Phil Kessel to tap in his league-leading 14th goal from the edge of the crease.

That was the end of Vokoun’s evening as Michal Neuvirth entered the fray. Not that it mattered, as Dion Phaneuf sent a cross-ice pass to Lupul, who tapped into the open net to make the score 5-1 at 17:12 after the Caps had missed several golden power play chances to cut into their deficit moments earlier.

Lupul’s goal occurred with Nicklas Backstrom sitting in the penalty box after drawing a double-minor for cross-checking and unsportsmanlike conduct. Moments later, John Erskine put the puck over the glass  and drew a delay-of-game penalty. Cody Franson made the score 6-1 with 31 seconds to go as he slammed a point shot past the snapping catching glove of Neuvirth.

The third period was essentially a figure-skating exhibition, but there was time enough for former Capital David Steckel to add the coup de grace with a breakaway goal with 44 seconds left to tick the scoreboard over to a magnificent seven, at least for Toronto fans.

It’s tempting to look for subtly positive signs whenever a team suffers a heavy loss, but there are no positives to take from this particular showing. With the possible exception of the goalscorer Laich, no Capital distinguished themselves in a positive light. The defense was simply not good enough as a unit, with Jeff Schultz particularly responsible for Toronto’s first two goals. Vokoun had to endure the humiliation of skating to the bench in the middle of the second period, but in all honesty, there wasn’t very much he could do about any of the goals.

A win on Monday night against the Pacific Division-leading Coyotes will go some of the way toward relieving whatever pressure is on head coach Bruce Boudreau and his staff, but not completely. Questions will still be asked, and it will still be assumed that the Capitals will only be as good as the players allow themselves to be and not as good as Boudreau  pushes them to be. Saturday night’s loss is just another piece of evidence in support of that theory.

Caps in Advance: Week 6

It was not a good week for the Washington Capitals.  The team was 1-1-1, barely showing up in a 5-2 loss to Dallas and a 3-2 shootout loss to New Jersey, both at home.  The lone win, a 3-1 defeat over the Devils in Newark, was admittedly a strong performance, but one out of three just isn’t good enough.

Still, there are a few consolations and reasons for hope for the Caps.  Washington’s next three opponents are also coming off bad weeks.  Nashville, Winnipeg, and Toronto were a combined 2-5-2 and looked pretty bad in the process.  Furthermore, the Caps’ best game last week by far was the one on the road, where all three games this week will take place.

Amazingly, none of Washington’s next three opponents have won a home game in their arenas since October.  Granted, Nashville has only had one home game so far this month, a game they lost in overtime, but it will be crucial for the Caps to ensure that their opponents’ lack of home cooking continues…there won’t be many more opportunities like this over the remainder of this season.

Games this week:

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 15th @ NASHVILLE PREDATORS

8:00pm, Bridgestone Arena
TV: CSN-MA

Records:
Washington Capitals: 10-4-1, 21 points, 1st in Southeast Division, 2nd in Eastern Conference
Nashville Predators: 8-5-3, 19 points, 3rd in Central Division, 7th in Western Conference
First meeting this season

Last year:
Capitals: 48-23-11, 107 pts, 1st in Southeast Division, 1st in Eastern Conference
Predators: 44-27-11, 99 points, 2nd in Central Division, 5th in Western Conference

While much has been made of the geographical awkwardness of Washington’s Thursday opponent, the Winnipeg Jets, playing in the Southeast Division, consider that the Western Conference Nashville Predators are geographically closer to Washington than three of the other four teams in the Southeast.  (Fun fact: according to Google Maps, the distance from Washington, DC to Nashville, TN is exactly 666 miles).

The two teams did meet in the preseason, a sloppy game played in Baltimore which the Predators won 2-0 and from which few conclusions may be drawn.  The Preds are mired in the middle of the pack in the Western Conference, the same general area they’ve found themselves in all 12 of their seasons.

Despite consistent mediocrity, Nashville has always had very good goaltending.  Washington’s current starter, Tomas Vokoun, was the main man in the Music City for eight seasons, and his successor, Pekka Rinne, just signed a 7-year, $49-million dollar contract to stay with the Predators for the rest of his career.  Rinne has eight wins this season, three of them shutouts, and has a stellar 2.28 GAA and .929 save percentage.

Outside of the goal crease, Nashville’s top threats are some of its least-heralded.  The Preds’ leading scorer is Craig Smith, with 7 goals and 7 assists in 16 games.  Top defensive pairing Shea Weber and Ryan Suter have been outstanding on both ends of the ice, combining for 5 goals, 13 assists, and a +19 rating while both averaging over 27 minutes a game.

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 17th @ WINNIPEG JETS
8:30pm, MTS Centre
TV: CSN-MA

Records:
Washington Capitals: 10-4-1, 21 points, 1st in Southeast Division, 2nd in Eastern Conference
Winnipeg Jets: 5-9-3, 13 points, 5th in Southeast Division, 14th in Eastern Conference
First meeting this season

Last year:
Jets (as Thrashers): 34-36-12, 80 points, 4th in Southeast Division, 12th in Western Conference

The saga of the Winnipeg Jets is familiar at this point.  Formerly the Atlanta Thrashers, the floundering franchise was purchased by a Winnipeg company and moved up north, quickly reclaiming the mantle of the Jets as if the original team had never left in 1996 (never mind that they still exist, as the Phoenix Coyotes).

This season, hope was that playing in Canada would re-invigorate the squad (also never mind that several of the team’s primary contributors – Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom, Nik Antropov, Ondrej Pavelec – aren’t Canadian).  After an early-game slump, the Jets traded wins and losses for a few weeks but has lost 5 straight, the last to the league-worst Columbus Blue Jackets by a score of 2-1, coming into this week.

One player who has thrived in the ‘Peg is Alexander Burmistrov, a young center who had seemed poised to take the “enigmatic Russian” crown from Alexander Semin but who has instead put up 4 goals and 6 assists with more defensive responsibility.  Evander Kane is another young forward who has responded well to becoming one of the faces of the franchise, tied for the team lead in goals with 5.

The hardest part for the Caps in this match-up will be getting in the right mindset of playing a division rival after a 1,500 mile road trip.  Last season the Thrashers took the last three games against Washington, including two shutouts by Ondrej Pavelec.  If the Caps take the lowly Jets likely, the result might be the same.

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 19th v. MAPLE LEAFS
7:00pm, Air Canada Centre
TV: CBC, CSN-MA

Records:
Washington Capitals: 10-4-1, 21 points, 1st in Southeast Division, 2nd in Eastern Conference
Toronto Maple Leafs: 10-6-1, 21 points, 1st in Northeast, 3rd in Eastern Conference
First meeting this season

Last year:
Maple Leafs: 37-34-11, 85 points, 4th in Northeast Division, 10th in Western Conference

The Leafs are resurgent this year.  Toronto is third in the Eastern Conference, tied with the Caps and Penguins with 10 wins.  All in all, quite a turnaround from last season’s doldrums.

New acquisition Joffrey Lupul (9 goals, 10 assists, +7, 22 PIM) is on pace for a career year, but the real root of Toronto’s early-season success is Phil Kessel.   The American winger (and imagine how much it sticks in Torontoite’s craws that their savior hails from Madison, WI) has 12 goals, 12 assists, and is a +9 on the year.  Barring injury, there’s no question Kessel will at least register his fourth straight season with 30+ goals, and he’s performing in clutch situations.

Of course, the flip side is that Toronto’s early successes have heralded in a recent swoon.  The Maple Leafs are 1-3-0 in their last four games, scoring 5 goals and allowing 19.  That’s great news for Washington, the 2nd highest scoring team in the league (3.60 g/g).  T.O.’s most recent savior in net, James Reimer, is out with a concussion, meaning Washington will likely face either Jonas Gustavsson (26 wins in 74 NHL games) or Ben Scrivens (2-1-0 this season, his first in the NHL).

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