September 16, 2014

Washington Capitals have challenging decision on line combinations

Alex Ovechkin -Practice April 27(Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Alex Ovechkin -Practice April 27(Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Everyone’s favorite offseason activity is analyzing the roster and playing around with the line combinations. By now, Washington Capitals fans have realized no help is coming at center.

The hole left in the lineup by the departure of Mikhail Grabovski will have to filled by someone already on the roster. Brad Richards will not be coming to the rescue like a knight in shining armor, there will be no miraculous trade for Ryan O’Reilly; the Caps will have to make do with what the have.

In an interview with NHL.com, Barry Trotz was asked about his thoughts on the second line center.

“I’m going to let them play through the camp,” he said,” but my vision is that [Marcus] Johansson will play in the middle and [Evgeny] Kuznetsov or [Andre] Burakovsky will play in the middle and one will have to move to the wall. In today’s game, the more options you have the better off you are.” [Read more...]

What went wrong with the Washington Capitals, Part 3: the Players

It’s playoff season and though there is still hockey to be played, the Washington Capitals are playing golf.

To discover what went wrong this season, we’ve already looked at general manager George McPhee and head coach Adam Oates, but now it’s time to look at the guys who actually lace of the skates and take to the ice, the players.

Alex Ovechkin led the league this season with 51 goals and yet has come under incredible scrutiny for the Caps’ failure to reach the playoffs. He is the undisputed leader of this team and as he goes, so go the Caps.

Since the Caps have failed to win a Cup and even failed to make the playoffs this season, Ovechkin must shoulder most of the blame, right?

While Ovechkin does deserve some of the blame, to say the team is incapable of winning with him is a gross oversimplification of the team’s struggles.

Despite his 50 goals this season, Ovechkin had a -35, the third-worst +/- in the NHL. Though an imperfect statistic, it reflects a serious problem he had this season, namely that more goals are scored against the Caps at even-strength when Ovechkin was on the ice than the Caps scored..

This does not take into consideration his linemates atrocious shooting percentage, or his coach’s choice of linemates on any particular evening.

Here’s the thing, as a team the Caps had the seventh worst +/- in the NHL with -21. They scored only 139 goals at even-strength and allowed 155 (their five shorthanded goals and 10 allowed make up the difference to -21).

The entire team was terrible at even-strength this season.

The only reason Ovechkin was able to lead the league in scoring was because the Caps excelled on the power play. Twenty-four of his 51 goals were scored with the extra man.

The fact that the entire team suffered at even-strength leads me to believe that the problem is not all due to a specific player, but to the team’s coaching and roster.

In the 2009-10 season, Ovechkin was a +45 and had 50 goals. The Caps also had two other 30-goal scorers in Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom. Mike Knuble was only one goal shy with 29. This season, no other player on the team other than Ovechkin reached the 30 goals.

No team can depend solely on one player for all of its offense or they are left with what we saw this season: 51 goals, no playoffs.

This leads to a lot of unfair (and lazy) analysis of the captain. Clips of him ‘giving up’ on the backend have been replayed ad nauseam by analysts such as Mike Milbury to show how he doesn’t play the game the “right way”, or doesn’t show effort, etc, etc. That’s just plain wrong.

For every clip of a bad defensive play, there’s another clip of him putting the team on his shoulders. People like to point to the April game against Dallas and say he doesn’t show any effort, but in doing so they ignore games like December’s contest against Tampa Bay in which he scored four goals to erase a 3-0 deficit and lead the team to a shootout victory.

This notion that some people have that the Caps are somehow incapable of winning with Ovechkin is also a fallacy. If Ovechkin were to hit the trade market today, 29 teams would be scrambling to see how they could fit him under the salary cap. If Ovechkin ‘incapable’ of winning a Cup, teams would turn their backs.

That of course would not be the case because the notion that Ovechkin can’t win a Cup is hyperbolic nonsense.

Ovechkin is an elite talent who has not yet had the right coach or team around him to win a Stanley Cup. Many will scoff at that, but you cannot oversimplify a championship. It’s very easy to say he’s a great player and therefore should have won a Cup, but that seriously underestimates how difficult winning a Cup can be. Ovechkin is only a part of the equation.

If you want to argue that did not show great leadership this season, fine. As long as he’s wearing the C on his chest, he MUST do a better job defensively. The team feeds off of his energy and when he doesn’t go at full-speed at both ends of the ice it can be frustrating, especially during a season like this one in which the Caps struggled to get the puck out of their own zone.

As for who played well offensively, Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward and Jason Chimera all had career seasons. Brouwer scored a career-high 25 goals, but like Ovechkin far too much of his production (12 goals) came on the power play. It’s great that he scored 25 goals, but if the Caps were middle-of-the-pack in terms of the power play, Brouwer’s numbers would have been much lower and suddenly his season wouldn’t look as good.

The only players who seemed to do well this season at even-strength were those in the third line, namely Ward and Chimera as the line’s center often changed. These two played fantastic together all season long and will likely remain together next season. Even Oates couldn’t mess this line up.

Defensively, it is hard to fairly judge the play of many of the team’s players given how young and/or inexperienced many of them were. Being in a position where the team needed to ask several players to do more than they were ready for is yet another reflection on the coach and general manager.

John Carlson and Karl Alzner are the team’s top two defensemen by far. Carlson comes with much of the offensive skill of Mike Green, without the defensive deficiencies. Alzner is the team’s best stay-at-home defenseman.

As a pairing, they’re good, but not great. They certainly won’t make anyone’s short list for the best defensive pairings in the NHL. Even so, their play this season was not something that held this team back.

There are two players, however, who did stand out for having a rough season: Mike Green and Dmitry Orlov.

This is one of those cases where the statistics and the eye test do not match up at all. Green and Orlov had the highest and second highest Corsi rating on the team. For a Caps team that struggled so much in terms of possession and production, having a duo like these two can be a major boon…on paper.

Anyone who watched these two, however, cringed every time they touched the ice as a horrendous turnover or ill-advised penalty never seemed far behind.

Remember that game I mentioned earlier against Tampa Bay? The one in which Ovechkin scored four goals to erase a 3-0 deficit? Part of the reason the team was down 3-0 was because Green took four minor penalties and a 10 minute misconduct…in the first period.

Green was tied for the most minor penalties on the team this season. We used to look past how terrible he was defensively because of how well he produced offensively, but that’s not the case anymore. In 70 games, he recorded only 38 points and was supplanted on the top power play unit by Carlson.

Green made $6 million this season and will make $6.25 million next season in the final year of his contract. He is clearly not worth such a high price to the Caps anymore. With big changes possibly on the horizon, he may find himself on the trading block.

As for Orlov, the time has come for him to decide whether he’s going to be a top-four defenseman in the NHL or not. He’s certainly capable of it, but he’s rapidly reaching the ‘put up or shut up’ point.

Oates handled Orlov poorly to start the season giving him the yo-yo treatment between Washington and Hershey, but when he did finally make it on the ice, his decision making was so questionable, you sometimes forgot this was not his first stint with the Caps.

There was no more egregious example of this than the Caps’ game on March 2 against the Flyers.

Orlov scored two goals and the Caps enjoyed a two-goal lead in the third period when he took an unbelievably stupid and egregious penalty on Brayden Schenn.

He was hit with a five-minute major penalty and a two-game suspension. The Flyers came back to win the game in overtime 5-4. With the Caps in desperate need of points, Orlov lost this game for his team. Add that to the multitude of turnovers and stupid plays we saw all season and you really begin to wonder the Caps have anyone behind Carlson and Alzner the team can trust on the blue line.

The Caps struggles on defense were further highlighted by the team’s carousel in net. Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and Jaroslav Halak all took the reins as the Caps’ top netminder at some point over the season with Michal Neuvirth contributing several starts as well.

It’s been well documented that Oates and goalie coach Olaf Kolzig attempted to re-tool their strategy in net by having the goalies play deeper in the crease. The merits of such a change are debatable. There are advantages to this system just as there are advantages to a more aggressive style; it really comes down to your own philosophy.

Holtby struggled more with this change than any other goalie on the team. This comes as no surprise given his aggressive style of play. Eventually, Kolzig shifted tactics to allow him to take advantage of his natural instincts, but by then the season was half over and he had failed to assert himself as the team’s top goalie.

Philipp Grubauer did for a time, but was young, overused and, when Neuvirth was healthy again, under-practiced.

Then there was Halak.

Halak had a .930 save percentage and 2.31 goals against average with the Caps and yet finished with a record of only 5-4-3, failing to vault the Caps back into playoff position. Why? Because goaltending really wasn’t the problem.

Holtby’s struggles, Neuvirth’s inconsistences and Grubauer’s breaking down were all exasperated by the Caps’ defense. Even though Halak played well, it ultimately didn’t matter because he wasn’t fixing the team’s major problem.

So before you give up on Holtby or Grubauer, remember that their struggles in net looked far worse than they actually were because of the defenders they had around them. Holtby and Grubauer should be the team’s two goalies next season and you should feel comfortable with that, provided the defense improves.

Ultimately, the conclusion you should all be reaching by now at the end of third of three articles analyzing the team’s season is that McPhee didn’t do enough this season to build a championship roster, Oates constantly failed to put his team in the best position to win and the players didn’t play well enough on the ice. Each problem contributed to make the others worse until the season became a jumbled mess.

Given all of that, is it really that surprising that the Caps didn’t make the playoffs?

Brouwer, Chimera, and Ward to represent Canada at 2014 IIHF World Championship in Belarus

Three Washington Capitals will be representing Canada at the World Championship in May, according to the official Capitals press release. Despite failing to make the playoffs, all three players notched career years- Brouwer and Ward in goals, and Chimera in points and assists.

Press release: 

ARLINGTON, Va. – Washington Capitals forwards Troy Brouwer, Jason Chimera and Joel Ward will represent Canada at the 2014 IIHF World Championship in Minsk, Belarus. The World Championship begin on May 9 and conclude on May 25.

Brouwer, 28, will represent Canada at the World Championship for the first time. The Vancouver native registered 43 points (25 goals, 18 assists) in 82 games with the Capitals this season, setting new career highs in goals, points and power-play goals (12). Brouwer finished the season ranked tied for sixth in the NHL in power-play goals, first among Washington skaters in hits (210) and second on the team in goals.

Chimera, 34, will be making his third World Championship appearance. The Edmonton native has recorded eight points (one goal, seven assists) in 18 career games at the tournament. Chimera earned a medal in each of his previous World Championship appearances, winning gold with Canada in 2007 and silver in 2008. He has represented Canada at two World Championships (2007, 2008) and at World Junior Championship (1999). The 6’3”, 216-pound left wing registered 42 points (15 goals, 27 assists) in 82 games with the Capitals this season, setting career highs in assists and points.

Ward, 33, will represent Canada at the World Championship for the first time. The Toronto native registered 49 points (24 goals, 25 assists) in 82 games with Washington this season, setting career highs in goals, assists, points and power-play goals (6). Ward earned his first career hat trick on Nov. 1 against the Philadelphia Flyers and finished the season ranked third on the team in goals and points.

 

Washington Capitals Game 80 Recap: Caps calm ‘Canes 5-2

Neither the Washington Capitals or the Carolina Hurricanes had anything to play for on Thursday night and for half of the game both teams played like it. Eventually, the Caps were able to exert their dominance and earned a convincing 5-2 win in their final road game of the season.

You had to wonder what the mentality of the Caps would be heading into this one, their first meaningless game since 2007. Luckily for them, the third line continued to be the team’s most consistent line and the Caps were able to ride their strong performance to an easy win.

Joel Ward kicked things off quickly scoring just 1:02 into the game. Linemate Jason Chimera poked the puck away from the defense below the red line and Eric Fehr took the puck and fed it to Ward with a nifty backhand pass. [Read more...]

Washington Capitals Game 75 Recap: Playoff hopes dwindling, another shootout loss

If the Washington Capitals are desperate to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, they aren’t showing it.

They finished the month of March 6-5-4 as they fell to the Nashville Predators, playing out the string, 4-3 in a shootout.

The Caps didn’t have the opportunity to spoil another two-goal lead in this one, though they did hold the lead first as Troy Brouwer converted a nice tic-tac-toe play just 4:17 into the match. Pretty passes were provided by Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom.

But Nashville needed just 1:38 to tie it back up. The Preds won an offensive zone faceoff and Shea Weber fired on Jaroslav Halak. The big rebound came right to Patric Hornqvist. who elude the check of Patrick Wey and scored easily.

Hornqvist made it 2-1 with 1:30 left in the frame. A bad John Carlson pass at his own blue line skipped off Backstrom’s skate and right to Hornqvist, who walked in alone and deked Halak cleanly and efficiently.

Brouwer evened things up at 14:22 of the second with a power play goal, his overall 23rd of the year, setting a new personal high. The backhander from the slot came after collecting a pass meant for Alex Ovechkin on the far side from Marcus Johansson, but bounced off a Predators d-man and right to Brouwer.

Weber scored his 21st of the season off a rush at 8:23 of the third. He took a perfectly placed drop pass from Mike Fisher and, with no Capitals forward back-checking, slammed a rocket past Halak from the top of the right wing circle.

Backstrom forced overtime with a wicked wrist shot with Calle Jarnkrok in the box for slashing Jay Beagle — Beagle’s only offensive contribution of the night.

Dmitry Orlov rang a shot off the post in overtime, but could not convert. That led to penalty shots and Craig Smith scored for Nashville while Evgeny Kuznetsov, Mikhail Grabovski (in his first game back after missing 19 games) and Backstrom were all unsuccessful.

Washington now sits one point out of the playoffs behind Columbus in the Eastern Conference, though the Jackets still have a game in hand. The Caps are back on the ice Tuesday when they host the Dallas Stars.

Washington Capitals Game 70 Recap: Halak stellar as Caps top Ducks 3-2

There’s still a long road to go down, but Tuesday night the Washington Capitals earned an important two points against a top Western Conference team on the road, escaping Anaheim with a 3-2 win as Jaroslav Halak continued his quality play since joining the team at the trade deadline, stopping 43 Ducks shots en route to victory.

The win pulls the Caps even in points with Columbus for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, though Columbus has the tiebreaker — and two games in hand.

The Caps broke out quickly, as Joel Ward collected a rebound from Jason Chimera, eluded Jonas Hiller on at the right pipe and notched his 21st of the season just 2:11 in. Patrick Wey, inserted into the lineup for healthy scratch Connor Carrick, registered an assist with the original shot towards the goal.

As has been the case all season, the Caps allowed the tying goal less than a minute later — 59 seconds, to be exact. Ben Lovejoy took a drop pass and blistered a shot that got through Jaroslav Halak, making his sixth consecutive start since being acquired at the trade deadline, as the Caps took a sloppy and ill-timed line change.

Anaheim had the better of play throughout most of the first period, but veteran Saku Koivu took an uncharacteristically undisciplined with 31 seconds in the frame, allowing the Caps second-rated power play a chance before the end of the frame.

Alex Ovechkin took a pass from John Carlson and quickly swung the puck through the slot to Nick Backstrom on the far side, switching the ice and getting the Ducks off-balance. Backstrom took the puck to the net, where Marcus Johansson first had a whack and the puck squirted through, where Troy Brouwer was able to tap it in with 10 seconds left to give the Caps a 2-1 lead at the first intermission.

The Caps put their penalty kill to work in the second period. Just 2:05 in the Caps where whistled of too many men. After the faceoff, Troy Brouwer air-mailed one off the rink and went to the box for delay of game. The Caps, led by Halak (43 saves) proceeded to kill the 5-on-3, then killed off two more penalties in the period escaping the second with the 2-1 lead intact, though 1:29 left of Jay Beagle’s trip remained to carry over to the third.

The Ducks weren’t able to capitalize on the remainder of Beagle’s penalty, but right after it expired, former Caps center Mathieu Perreault whipped a wrist shot through the screen of 6’3″, 250-pound Patrick Maroon and past a blinded Halak to tie the game at two just 1:32 into the final frame.

The tie didn’t last long. Anaheim’s Matt Belesky was called for slashing John Carlson, and it took just eight second of the ensuing power play for Carlson to feed Alex Ovechkin in his wheelhouse in the left wing face off circle, and Ovechkin’s one-timer sailed past Hiller to put the Caps back up, 3-2.

All that was left was for Washington to kill off yet another minor penalty, and Halak finished the job with several saves in the final sequence with the Ducks attacking with an extra skater with their goalie pulled.

If the Caps manage to save their season and qualify for the playoffs, they can point back to this big win on the road against a very good Anaheim team as perhaps the motivating factor.

The Caps continue that plight Thursday night in Los Angeles against the Kings at 10:30 pm ET.

Washington Capitals Game 69 Recap: Capitals edge Leafs, 4-2

After a dominating first period, the WashCapitals led on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, but allowed the Toronto Maple Leafs to creep back into the game in the second period, but held them off in the third period for a 4-2 win.

Troy Brouwer scored his 19th goal of the season on the Capitals’ first power play of the game for the early lead. It was assisted by Swedes Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom. Johansson played the puck from behind the net to a wide-open Brouwer in the slot.

The lone even strength goal scored by the Capitals in the first period was Jason Chimera’s 13th of the season, which deflected off his skate and in. Joel Ward took the initial shot, and thought the goal was his, which would have been his 20th of the season.

Ward got his 20th goal, a career-high, for real this time, on the Capitals’ second power play. Dustin Penner parked himself in front of James Reimer in the crease, and dexterously slid a no-look pass in Ward’s direction. Ward put a wrister behind Reimer, and the Caps were comfortably in the lead at 3-0 with most of the first period behind them.

Late in the first, despite the Leafs only managing two shots on goal the entire period, Troy Bodie nicked Jaroslav Halak for a goal, ending the period down 3-1.

Shades of the second-period collapse against the Canucks on Friday evening began to appear again in the second period against the Leafs. The Capitals were outshot 20-6 in the period, and the Leafs scored their second unanswered goal, edging the Caps’ two-goal cushion to 3-2.

With the seconds waning in the third period and Reimer pulled, Troy Brouwer banked a shot from the defensive zone off the boards towards the Leafs’ empty net. Nick Backstrom had the presence of mind to follow the puck all the way down without touching it, to ensure that Brouwer would get his second goal of the game and 20th goal of the season. It was his third multi-goal game this season.

Karl Alzner gushed to reporters after the game about Backstrom’s selfless play. “He’s one of the best players in the world.”

The Capitals will now head to California on what is their toughest road trip of the season. No teams have come away from a west coast swing with three wins, and the Capitals know they need to bring home at least four points to have a chance to make the postseason.

“You’ve got to win them all,” said Adam Oates in his postgame presser. ”We haven’t played L.A. yet, but we played Anaheim here. We could’ve won the game, and San Jose same thing. I know they’re better than us in the standings, but you’ve got to have the attitude you’re going to beat them.”

 

Washington Capitals Game 58 Recap: Capitals kick past Jets 4-2, Ovechkin nets 40th goal of the season

Photo courtesy of Monumental Network

Photo courtesy of Monumental Network

 

Last year, a matchup between the Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets would have been an intradivisional game in the Southeast Division. Now, Winnipeg is in the Western Conference, and were missing a key part of their offense, Evander Kane, in this meeting with the Capitals. The Capitals rallied during the third period, and notched just their 15th regulation win, by a score of 4-2.

Michal Neuvirth was announced as starter Thursday morning, but it became clear around noon that he was feeling ill and was too sick to play, so Braden Holtby got the call. He was stellar in the unexpected outing, stopping 34 of 36 shots in the win.

Down 2-1 going into the third after a sleepy second period where the Jets scored twice, the Capitals put on the afterburners and scored three goals, including Alex Ovechkin’s go-ahead goal, his 40th of the season. Ovechkin now has six 40-goal seasons, a Capitals franchise record.

Troy Brouwer scored two goals in the 4-2 win, his first multipoint game of the season, and his fourth goal in three games. Casey Wellman earned his first NHL assist of the season on Brouwer’s first period goal.

Tom Wilson notched his second goal of the year, and fresh AHL call-ups Julien Brouillette and Patrick Wey both recorded their first NHL points. The last time two Capitals players scored their first NHL point in the same game was when Brooks Laich and Owen Fussey scored vs. Chicago on March 12, 2004.

“The play [Julien Brouillette] made, banking it off the boards perfectly like that–that was a great play, and obviously it worked,” said Adam Oates. “The bounce was right; it popped in the right spot. Brooksy [Brooks Laich] went to the net, took everybody, and put Willy [Tom Wilson] in the right spot and got rewarded. It was a great play. It gave us a lot of life.”

Adam Oates wasn’t worried one bit about how Brouillette and Wey would fare as the Capital’s third defensive pairing against the Jets.

“I told them both, ‘Enjoy the moment. It can be overwhelming. Try and do the best you can [and play] as simple as you can.’ I thought they played with good confidence and as the game went along, I thought [assistant coach Calle Johansson] put them out in the right situations to get a little bit of confidence. I thought they played really solid, very reliable, and they moved the puck well,” he said.

One marked difference between Thursday’s game against the Jets and the last several games was how the Capitals stayed out of the penalty box. Nick Backstrom had the only Capitals penalty, an interference call in the first period. The Jets seemed frustrated at times, and gave the Capitals four power plays.

The Capitals didn’t score on the power play all night, but the fact that they scored all four of their goals at even strength is certainly encouraging. Perhaps they are figuring out other ways to score when it doesn’t happen on the man advantage, and that’s a good thing, but they still have a ways to go and a lot of work to do before playoffs are a sure thing.

The New Jersey Devils are the Capitals’ final opponent before the long Olympic break. Puck drop is Saturday at 8:00 pm Eastern.

Washington Capitals Game 29 Recap: Capitals smash Predators 5-2, Schmidt gets first NHL goal

Nate Schmidt with the puck commemorating his first career NHL goal. (Photo courtesy Katie Brown/District Sports Page)

Nate Schmidt with the puck commemorating his first career NHL goal. (Photo courtesy of Katie Brown/District Sports Page)

Saturday night, the 18th all-time meeting between the Washington Capitals and Nashville Predators, proved to contain a few milestones for the home team, who won by a score of 5-2.

Troy Brouwer, scoreless in his last 11 games, with only 5 points in the entire month of November, broke through and scored early in the first period to give the Caps a 1-0 lead. [Read more...]

Caps Quick Takes: Game 7 vs. Rangers

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Washington Capitals were satisfied to loft shots from the perimeter against Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers. The Rangers outworked the Caps and got a couple of greasy goals en route to a 2-0 win over the Caps in D.C. Yes, it’s the same story we’ve been writing about for the last couple of seasons. When the Caps face a grind-it-out team they usually end up looking out of sorts, lacking hustle and effort, and more often than not end up on the losing side of the ice. The Caps (2-5-0) wasted an opportunity to kick the injured and struggling Rangers while they were down.

1) The Rangers entered this game as one of the worst defensive teams in hockey. People were questioning Henrik Lundqvist’s near future openly in the press. The Rags defense was having much difficulty switching from a zone-based system to more man-to-man with the change in coaching from John Tortorella to Alain Vingeault. So what happens? The Rangers come in here an intimidate the Caps just like they did last spring, forcing the Caps to take poor shots and mostly knock them down before they ever reach The King. Caps were outshot 36-22 and had another 22 shots blocked. That’s being satisfied with taking crappy shots from the perimeter, and no one will beat the Rangers doing that.

2) The Caps won the overall faceoff battle, 37-31, but you certainly wouldn’t have known it by the possession stats. The Rangers dominated the Caps in offensive zone possession, especially in the second period, where it looked like New York could do anything they wanted in the Caps end. Especially brutal was the sequence that led to the Rangers second goal. Adam Oates had John Carlson paired with Alexander Urbom and sent out the 90-19-8 line to accompany them. Trapped in their own end for 1:35, the defensemen finally ran out of gas and both Carlson and Urbom were beaten by their assignments for the second goal. Where were the forwards helping out on defense? LOL.

3) Martin Erat: 6:20 TOI, including 1:16 short-handed, with an average shift of 0:38. That is called wasting an asset, and expensive one at that, both in salary and in cost to trade for.

4) Troy Brouwer made a lot of noise the other night calling out his teammates for lousy passes. We can only assume he lumped himself in there, and should by all rights admonish himself again following this contest. On the play that led to Ovechkin having to take a penalty on a short-handed breakaway, Brouwer tried a blind back-pass from the low slot that led to the Rangers odd-man rush the other way. Later in the game, unpressured in the middle of the ice, his pass in the neutral zone was behind Eric Fehr by a good three feet, leading to another offensive-zone possession by New York. On another topic, I totally think his collision with Derek Stepan was unintentional. Looking at the replay, he didn’t appear to have any idea Stepan was in his path he was so intently concentrating on getting to the bench.

5) Silver lining time? Braden Holtby was very good, except whiffing with the glove hand on the Rangers first goal. He got a very good look at John Moore’s soft wrister and was square to the puck. He tried to make a snap-catch instead of letting the puck get to him and he simply whiffed on it. Other than that, he was rock-solid. Perhaps playing in front of Kevin Lowe (part of Canada’s Olympic management team and Edmonton’s President of Hockey Operations) had something to do with his concentration level. Oh, did you hear the Oilers have interest in Michal Neuvirth?

The Caps are off until Saturday, when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets (2-3-0, tied with Caps at 4 points in Metro Division). I’m sure the coaching staff will have plenty so say this week in practice, but the biggest changes need to come from within. Oh. and maybe moving Erat up a line or two (or three).

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