July 2, 2015

Washington Capitals Round 1 Preview: Caps look for redemption in series against Isles

Caps Head Coach Barry Trotz addressing media after Game Day Practice at Kettler Iceplex before Playoff Round One, Game One,, 4/15/2015 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/Distict Sports Page)

Caps Head Coach Barry Trotz addressing media after morning skate at Kettler Iceplex before Playoff Round One, Game One, 4/15/2015 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/Distict Sports Page)

The Washington Capitals face the New York Islanders in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, starting tonight at the Verizon Center. That last part is key, as the Caps won home-ice advantage for this round on the last day of the regular season. It’s a far cry from last year, as the Caps at this time were cleaning out their lockers after missing the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.

Obviously, a LOT has changed since then. The coach of last year’s team, Adam Oates, was summarily dismissed. Long-time general manager George McPhee was relieved of his duties as well. In came Brian MacLellan and Barry Trotz, entrusted to get the organization back into the postseason, and they were largely successful in their first seasons in their positions.

They brought with them a new coaching staff, several new defensemen, and made a series of moves at the trade deadline to bolster the team’s chances down the stretch.

The organizational goal of reaching the postseason was realized with several games left in the regular season, with a very tight Metro Division and Eastern Conference unsettled until the very last. It’s a redemptive measure for the organization, but especially for the players that returned from last year’s team that failed to attain the goal.

After today’s morning skate before Game 1 of the series against the Islanders, several members of the organization spoke about the significance of getting back into the playoffs, and the redemptive nature of earning home-ice advantage for the first round against the Isles.

“When you don’t make [the playoffs], you feel pretty hollow,” Trotz said. He was speaking about a couple of players newer to the organization playing in their first playoffs in a few seasons, but it’s a sentiment that has echoed around Verzion Center and Kettler since last April.

“I think getting back into the [playoff] fray was the number one priority for the group,” said Trotz. “But we hung around in that wildcard position for, it seemed like, 200 days. And then we just said ‘Hey, we gotta ramp it up’ at the end so we were playing well and we did. By doing that we got home-ice advantage. We’ll see if that is a factor in series at all.”

Despite the strong veteran contingent, the Caps rely on some younger players that haven’t participated in this type of atmosphere.

“We’re excited,” veteran winger Joel Ward said. “It’s a good chance for new guys to step in and play at home first and just get their feet wet a little bit and get excited and understand the crowd. We’re stoked for the opportunity to start at home and going to embrace it and hopefully come out with a win tonight.”

For the older players, making the playoffs and earning home-ice for the first round reaffirms what they believe about themselves, the team and the organization.

“We were unhappy with where we were last year.” Troy Brouwer said. “We were packing our bags right now [this time last year] and going home. We wanted to get ourselves back into a playoff situation. We did a good job coming back in the middle of the season and putting ourselves in a good spot to get home-ice in the first round.

“We worked hard since this time last year to get where we are right now. We don’t want to see our efforts diminished. We want to play hard and win.”

This franchise has had its share of demons in the playoffs. Just once in 40 years has it escaped the second round. The history of first round exits and series defeats after holding 3-1 series lead is staggering. It’s hard to write about the excitement of a new playoff series without dredging up old wounds.

Perhaps, missing out on the second season last year will allow the Caps to have a rebirth in the playoffs. You won’t find a single pundit or prognosticator calling for the Caps to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup after a long and grueling playoffs. These Caps come in as something of an underdog.

As Eric Fehr pointed out, they didn’t clinch home-ice until after the Islanders lost a shootout on the last day of the season, so it’s not like they should be seen as prohibitive favorites despite the advantage.

But maybe these Caps, molded in the style of Trotz, will be a better fit for the grinding style of the playoffs.

Trotz was asked what could be the difference in a playoff series, especially one played between two team so close in the standings during the regular season.

“The team that’s willing to stay with it longer. If you’re very even, the team that can execute when they get those moments, those defining moments — a save, a good look, a power play, whatever — there’s gonna be a lot of defining moments. The ones that can grasp those moments, they’re the teams that generally win.”

Starting tonight, the Capitals try once again to be the team that capitalize on those defining moments. History hasn’t been very kind to them in these opportunities. But with the new structure, coaching staff, and style of play, maybe — just maybe — these Caps are better built to take advantage of those moments.

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For a photo gallery of today’s morning skate, click here.

Washington Capitals Game 75 Recap: Slow start dooms Washington as Caps come up short

Exasperated sighs and disappointed faces told the tale on Saturday afternoon in the Washington Capitals locker room. Squandering an early 5-on-3 power play, the Caps spotted the Nashville Predators a 3-0 lead before clawing back to pull within a goal twice. A late flurry of shots with an extra attacker wasn’t enough, and Washington ultimately fell 4-3 to the Predators at Verizon Center.

[Read more…]

Three Stars: Washington Capitals 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 4

FIRST STAR: Alex Ovechkin. Fully engaged Ovi in this one. A goal, which gave the Caps late life, five shots on goal, three blocked, five more missed and eight hits.

SECOND STAR: Jason Chimera. Two assists, though took a bad penalty during a string of bad penalties in the second period.

THIRD STAR: Troy Brouwer. Goal and an assist. 7 of 11 in the dot.

Goat of the game: Tom Wilson. Hate to kick a guy when he’s down, but there’s no place in the game for instigating contact during warmups. Total bush league move by a guy whose luster is starting to come off.

Washington Capitals Game 59 Recap: Backstrom, Caps fly to first-class victory over Jets

Five tripping penalties by the Winnipeg Jets, four goals against Ondrej Pavelec, three points from Nicklas Backstrom and two first-period goals led the way to one solid win for the Washington Capitals on Thursday night at Verizon Center.

A pretty calm start for both teams led the way to a pair of goals in the last six minutes of the third. John Carlson opened the scoring, with a seemingly deflcted shot from the point with traffic in front off Pavelec. Ovechkin turned not only Pavelec, but the entire Winnipeg backcheck, inside-out with his league-leading 38th goal, with less than two minutes left in the period.

“Right now, in this kind of moment of the season, you look at different teams and you just have to play to get points,” Ovechkin said. “Every point right now is a very important point and we have to show the best game. All the guys have to sacrifice their body and play well. [Tonight] was great. It was the plan, to make a push. Since the first drop of the puck, from the first face off, all the lines play well, everybody does their job, and that’s why we get success.”

[Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 55 Recap: Sleepless in San Jose; Caps win in OT

JAY BEAGLE SCORES TWICE AS CAPS EARN TWO POINTS IN FIRST OF FOUR-GAME ROAD TRIP

Joel Ward scored in overtime to lift the Washington Capitals over the San Jose Sharks 5-4, earning the Caps (29-16-10) two points in the first of a four-game road trip.

Ward banged home a rebound of a Mike Green shot after the pair came in 3-on-2 along with Jay Beagle. Ward started the play by creating a turnover in the neutral zone on a play that looked like he might have hooked a Sharks player down before retrieving the puck.

Beagle opened the scoring with five minutes left in the first with a wrist shot past Antti Niemi.

That was erased — quickly — at the start of the second, as San Jose, well, the magnificently bearded Brent Burns, scored twice in the span of 22 seconds within the first minute of the frame, first with a tip-in, then with a wrist shot after a bad turnover at the blue line. [Read more…]

Plugging the right wing hole on the Caps’ top line

Marcus Johansson Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Marcus Johansson
Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

The Washington Capitals may still have 28 games remaining in the regular season, but make no mistake, head coach Barry Trotz is already thinking about line combinations for the postseason.

It would be premature to call the Caps a ‘lock’ to make the playoffs, but at the very least they will be playing some meaningful games down the stretch of the regular season. Trotz needs to have his best line combinations set for when the team really needs to pick up points.

The problem, however, is that there is a big gaping hole on the right side of his top line as the Caps don’t currently employ a top-line right wing.

As the trade deadline approaches, Trotz and general manager Brian MacLellan will have to determine if that right wing is even on the roster, and if he is, who will it be. [Read more…]

Three Stars: Washington Capitals 3, Anaheim Ducks 2 (SO)

First Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov. The rookie is starting to come into his own and his line Friday night was a big past of the reason the Caps took two points against one of the better teams in the league, after falling behind. He assisted on both goals and his pass on the first was so good even Jason Chimera couldn’t screw it up…though he tried. Kuzy even had one of the two Caps tallies in the shootout to boot.

Second Star: Philipp Grubauer. The netminder was called up in a very tough spot: recalled for a spot start in the back half of the back-to-back because the team no longer trusts Justin Peters to do so. Grubauer came in and acquitted himself well, making 25 saves in the process. Both Anaheim goals were nothing-you-could-do-about types, with Ryan Kesler scoring on the power play and Corey Perry bouncing a ricochet off Gru’s skate.

Third Star: Troy Brouwer. I have half a piece written on “Where’s Troy” but didn’t get to finish it before his two-goal outburst in his 500th game Wednesday night. All he did for an encore was supply the Caps with a remarkable from-his-knees, diving, keep-in at the blue line, which propelled the 2-on-0 for the first goal. On the second goal, he acted like a door in from of Iyla Bryzgalov, allowing John Carlson to sneak a shot through without the Bryz so much as getting a sniff at it. Guess I’ll save that piece I was working on for later.

Washington Capitals Game 53 Recap: Kuznetsov’s resurgence key to the second line’s success

Evgeny Kuznetsov has struggled to find his niche in the lineup this season, but he seems to have found some chemistry with linemates Jason Chimera and Troy Brouwer. Their line accounted for both of the Washington Capitals’ regulation goals in their 3-2 shootout victory over the Anaheim Ducks.

Kuznetzov earned two assists, Chimera scored a goal and collected an assist, and Brouwer had an assist, which came off a diving keep-in play at the blue line, which led to Chimera’s tying goal.

“I’m sure that we’ll get a couple more games together, and hopefully we can utilize that,” said Brouwer. “We were real good as line tonight, and not just because we created two goals, but we were sustaining some pressure. When we were in our d-zone, we were being able to get out of our zone fairly quickly.”

Kuznetsov’s linemates had nothing but praise for the rookie during their postgame scrums.

“He’s making plays out there,” said Chimera. “Our line probably could have had three or four more. It was fun playing with those guys tonight. Kuzy’s playing at the top of his game right now, so pretty fun for him.”

“We kinda let Kuzy just control the play like he needs to, and he made a lot of good plays….head up, seeing the ice real well,” said Brouwer. “And he was able to find guys in good areas.”

Chimera has faced his own adversity this season, too. He was a healthy scratch in Ottawa Friday night, so coming back with a strong, two-point performance against a top NHL team speaks volumes for his resiliency.

Trotz took a chance with putting these three players together, as a coach does any time he composes a lineup, and his faith was rewarded handsomely.

“At the beginning of the year, that was partly the reason he [Kuznetsov] was bouncing around up and down the lineup. Lately, he’s been able to get Trotz’s trust, and we got put out for important d-zone faceoffs against some pretty good players sometimes,” said Brouwer. “Whenever you can have the coach’s confidence to put you out in all situations, it just makes it easier for him to run the bench, and it makes it easier for us to play.”

Kuznetzov’s two assists marked his third multi-point game this season. He has seven points in his last seven games, and points in three consecutive games.  He has 22 points on the season.

“With Kuzy, he’s really starting to come through with his offensive ability and get himself on the score sheet. It’s only going to be good things for our line, which means we’re going to play more,” said Brouwer. ”We’re going to be utilized a little bit more. Me and Kuzy have been pretty comfortable with each other lately. We’ve just been trying to find a spark in the last 10 or 15 games or so, and I think tonight was a real good one for us. “

 

 

Washington Capitals Game 51 Recap: Caps stymie Kings, Holtby picks up sixth shutout

In one of their most impressive victories of the season on Tuesday, the Washington Capitals beat the Los Angeles Kings 4-0, keeping the defending champs from lighting the lamp even once at Verizon Center.

[Read more…]

Three stars: Washington Capitals vs. Los Angeles Kings 2/13/15

First star: Braden Holtby. Holtby is tied for the league lead in shutouts with 6. His 4-0 shutout of the L.A. Kings was his third straight in regulation, and he’s tied with Cory Schneider for most games played this season (44). He’s carrying the load, and doing a mighty fine job.

Second star: Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom gets the second star because of his really sweet goal on Jonathan Quick, his 16th of the year. With his assist on Troy Brouwer’s second goal, number 38 on the season, Backstrom moved into fourth place in league scoring. Only Jakub Voracek has more assists (41).

Third star: Troy Brouwer. He played in his 500th NHL game and scored two goals in Washington’s whipping of the L.A. Kings. Brouwer has three points in his last five games.

 

 

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