October 20, 2014

Washington Capitals Power Rankings: Weeks 1 & 2

Each Monday this season, District Sports Page will rank the active roster of the Washington Capitals “power ranking” style. The criteria for rankings will be questionable and highly subjective, so don’t think too hard about them.

Note: this list actually covers weeks 1 & 2, since the Capitals only played 5 games during that timespan.

Rank Player The whatfor
1 Alex Ovechkin Six points in 5 games, and he looks great at even strength. Fun times.
2 Mike Green I think he’ll outlast Brooks Laich in the injury sweepstakes. If there was any worry about how he’d fit into the updated defensive corps, thats gone now. He’s thriving.
3 Andre Burakovsky Five points in five games. He seems to be adjusting to his role as a center. It’s like he was born to be a 2C.
4 Troy Brouwer He got bumped up to the first line against Florida when Fehr moved back to the third line, and scored the equalizing goal against San Jose that sent the game to OT.
5 Nick Backstrom Mr. 500 is kind of a big deal ’round these parts. Just ask Barry Trotz.
6 Braden Holtby Two wins, a shutout in Boston, not a bad start to the season for Holtby (aside from that one time he was pulled less than 10 minutes into the game against San Jose.)
7 Jason Chimera This guy was all over the ice Saturday night, and he definitely worked on his moves during the offseason.”)
8 Marcus Johansson Part of the “Swedetrick” against the Devils, and has 2 goals through 5 games. He’s shooting more and looks pretty confident on the ice.
9 Eric Fehr He’s already been bumped from the first line to the third with Chimera and Ward, and it’s moderately unfortunate for a player who can skate as well as he can to be stuck at center, but there’s still a lot of time left for things to change.
10 Justin Peters He’s only gotten one start, but it was a good one, and has subbed in capably when needed.
11 Evgeny Kuznetsov Three points in 5 games, which is not bad, but he’s still being shuffled around the lineup a bit.
12 Nate Schmidt If Nate Schmidt ever stops smiling, the world will probably stop turning and the sun will cease to shine. Besides that, he looks more like an NHL defenseman every day.
13 Karl Alzner Karl is as Karl does. No surprises here.
14 Joel Ward This.
15 Brooks Orpik Orpik, usually paired with John Carlson, looked good, aside from the first period of the Sharks game, where everyone was struggling.
16 John Carlson Four points in four games for Carlson, and he’s seeing a lot of power play time as well.
17 Matt Niskanen He’s eating up a lot of minutes, and seems to be meshing well with partner Karl Alzner.
18 Liam O’Brien Probably the sassiest guy on the team. Not many people his size would dare taunt the mountainous John Scott.
19 Brooks Laich Laich has one point in 5 games, and it looks like he’s going to miss some time with an upper-body injury. Say it with me: at least it’s not the groin.
20 Chris Brown He’s done pretty much what is expected of him as a fourth line winger, and scored a goal, too.
21 Michael Latta Healthy scratch for 3 of 5 games this season, only seeing action against Boston and San Jose thus far.
 – John Erskine Healthy scratch. Not a great probability we’ll see him dress for a game any time soon.
 – Aaron Volpatti Still on IR for the foreseeable future.
 – Jack Hillen Healthy scratch since his one start in the home opener. Probably won’t be seeing much of Hillen this season.
 – Tom Wilson Still on IR, but Trotz has hinted that he may see a rehab stint in Hershey fairly soon.
 – Jay Beagle Not in the doghouse, but still on IR. He practiced Monday morning, so he might be back soon.
 – Dmitri Orlov Yup, still on IR.

Washington Capitals Game 5 Recap: Caps survive in shootout win over Florida

The Washington Capitals continued their  strong start to the 2014-15 season on Saturday night at Verizon Center with a 2-1 shootout win over the Florida Panthers.

Justin Peters made his first start of the young season in goal for the Caps, stopping 20 of the 21 shots he faced, and looked ready to be a solid backup to Braden Holtby.

“That’s some nice run support,” said Peters, the game’s first star, on his teammates’ 1-2-3 scoring effort in the shootout. “We’ve got a lot of skill and I see those guys in practice every day, so it’s nice to see them score because they do that to me.”

Nick Backstrom scored the deciding goal in the shootout, and Alex Ovechkin iced it in the top of the third round with his first shootout tally of the season.

It was Backstrom’s 500th NHL game, and the Swedish pivot sits at 499 career points.

“He’s exceptional,” coach Barry Trotz said of his No. 1 center. “The hockey IQ, the professionalism, the stick skills, all those things. You know what you’re going to get night in and night out. That’s part of being a pro, and that’s part of being a great pro.

He’s done it at a high level for 500 games and he was good tonight. He had a couple looks himself and he set a couple guys up that sort of whiffed on a couple chances. He’s a pleasure to coach and a pleasure to watch.”

Jason Chimera was the best player on the ice not wearing goalie pads Saturday night, and he opened the scoring late in the first period. Chimera was in front of the net and received a nifty pass from Eric Fehr. Chimera deked Florida goalie Al Montoya out of position and deposited his first goal of the season on the backhand.

“It was nice to get the goal and get the team going, for sure. You want to win as much as possible and if you can help your team win, that’s what you’ve got to do,” Chimera said.

The Panthers tied it on the power play early in the third period to make things interesting, as Brad Boyes scored his first goal of the season.

The win puts the Capitals’ record at 3-0-2 ahead of next week’s road trip at Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.

CAPS NOTES:

  • Washington has posted a 10-0-1 record in its last 11 games against Florida and has won nine consecutive home games against the Panthers.
  • The Capitals outshot the Panthers 28-21.
  • Washington was 4 for 5 on the penalty kill tonight and is 18 for 20 (90.0%) on the penalty kill this season.

Three Stars: Washington Capitals vs. Florida Panthers 10/18/14

The Panthers aren’t divisional rivals anymore, which is weird, but the Capitals still kind of beat up on the new kid like the old days. Jason Chimera scored a weird goal, and the Panthers got one back on a power play, but the Capitals were perfect in the shootout and won 2-1.

First Star: Jason Chimera

The Ice Cheetah was everywhere on the ice against the Panthers tonight. Since the re-addition of Eric Fehr, the third line has been abuzz, including Joel Ward scoring a weird goal against the Devils Thursday night. Chimera’s goal was as fancy as they come. He was clearly working on his finesse in the offseason. He had another great scoring chance on Al Montoya later in the game, and had a team high 5 shots on goal.

Check it.

Second Star: Justin Peters

In his first start with the Caps, Peters effectively brought home the bacon for the Capitals, stopping 20 of 21 shots, and stopped Jussi Jokinen in the shootout for the Caps’ win. It was his first start since December of 2013, when he was a member of the Carolina Hurricanes. He’s a super solid No. 2 goalie. And he has great hair. What more do you want?

Third Star: Alex Ovechkin

Ovechkin was the third shooter in the shootout lineup, and scored the winning shot with the prettiest shootout goal he’s made in years. He had two shots on goal and seven hits in the 2-1 win.

Honorable mention: Nicklas Backstrom

He finished with three shots on goal and did not register a point, but Mr. 500 is still one of the best. Congrats on 500.

Washington Capitals Morning Skate Update for Oct. 18: Barry Trotz and Nicklas Backstrom

Saturday night’s Washington Capitals game against the Florida Panthers will be the 500th for longtime Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom, drafted by the team in the 2006 Entry Draft, spoke about what it means to have played 500 games for the club: “[It] felt like yesterday I was playing my first game, so I’m happy that I’ve played 500 here. I have my heart and soul here in Washington so it’s an honor for me to represent this team.

“It’s gone quicker than you think. You don’t really have to think about it during all these years, and all of a sudden when you see the number, ‘Oh, I’ve been here awhile now.’ So it’s kind of fun actually but exciting as well.”

Head Coach Barry Trotz has publicly talked about Backstrom’s skill in the past, adding today, “I’ve been a big advocate of his. He’s one of the most complete players in the National Hockey League. [He's] under the radar, doesn’t get any fanfare, doesn’t get a lot of the love that he should around the league.”

When asked about what makes Backstrom so special, Trotz said, “Just his hockey IQ. He can pass the puck, he can play on both sides of the puck, he knows where it’s going before it’s actually going there … he’s got the hockey IQ that is probably one of the foremost, number one, and then the skillset comes two for me.”

Justin Peters will get the start in net for the Caps, his first for the team this season ahead of next week’s road trip through western Canada. Peters was the goalie of record against the Sharks on Tuesday; Braden Holtby was pulled in the first period after allowing three goals.

Three Stars: Washington Capitals vs. New Jersey Devils 10/16/14

The Capitals soundly whipped the Devils 6-2 Thursday night at Verizon Center. They are still undefeated in regulation, as both of their losses so far this season have been in the shootout, and their record is now 2-0-2, which also happens to be the DC area code. Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, and Andre Burakovsky all scored, which I believe is now known as a “Swedetrick.”

 

First Star:

Braden Holtby.

Once again, Holtby is our first star. He made a few ten-bell saves to keep the game close, including a crucial stop on Jaromir Jagr. In the third period, Holtby’s work was supplemented by offense (for once) in the form of three goals. He stopped 26 of 28 shots in the win.

 

Second Star:

Marcus Johansson.

It’s only 4 games in, but Johansson is my vote for most improved under Barry Trotz so far. His second period tally was the kind of shot he probably would have passed up last season. Overall, he looks far more confident in his abilities; fast and sharp. Trotz has been good for him.

 

Third Star:

Joel Ward.

If Ward and Jason Chimera are the heart and soul of the third line, Eric Fehr is the brains. Tonight, Ward was reunited with the brains, and scored perhaps the funkiest goal of the season so far. He chucked the puck to the rear boards behind Cory Schnieder, but it bounced up and to the right of Schneider, behind the goalpost. When Schnieder retreated to protect the goal line, the puck went in. Good goal. Just watch the video.

Washington Capitals Game 4 Recap: 6 Caps score in trouncing of Devils

OVECHKIN SCORES 5TH OF THE SEASON IN CONVINCING WIN

Just three games into the 2014-15 campaign, the Washington Capitals had already fallen in shootouts twice. They made sure to avoid that distinction Thursday night, scoring early — and often — trouncing the previously unbeaten New Jersey Devils 6-2.

Six different Caps players scored, handing the Devils their first loss of the season. New Jersey entered play 3-0-0.

It didn’t take long for the Caps (2-0-2) to get engaged in this one. In fact, it took just 34 seconds for Alex Ovechkin to gather a loose puck and snap one past Cory Schneider for the quick 1-0 lead. Kind of ridiculously, it was only the sixth fastest goal Ovechkin has scored in his career.

Ovechkin has scored in three straight games, amassing five goals in that timeframe.

New Jersey answered a little past the midway mark of the frame. The Devils did a good job creating traffic in front of Braden Holtby, and defenseman Damon Severson’s wrist shot got through a maze of bodies to tie it up.

But a lackadaisical Devils turnover on the next shift was corralled by Brooks Orpik near center ice. He tossed to Mike Green, who moved the puck ahead for Chris Brown on the right wing. Brown fired on Schneider essentially to trigger a line change, but slap shot got past the New Jersey goalie for a 2-1 Caps lead.

With 3:24 left in the period, the Devils tied it again on another shot by Severson from the point through traffic. It’s the second consecutive game the Caps have given up a two-goal period to a defenseman.

Marcus Johansson broke the tie 6:18 into the second period as he took a pass from Brooks Laich off the half-wall and beat Schneider with a wrist shot for his second goal of the season.

The Caps got an insurance goal 56 seconds into the third. Matt Niskanen fired from the point and Nick Backstrom redirected the slap slot while camping out in the low slot to make it 4-2.

Moments later, Joel Ward fired one in from the blue line that bounced off the back wall, off Schneider’s back and into his skates. The goalie fell trying to cover and pushed the puck into the net to give the Caps a 5-2 lead. Schneider was promptly lifted in favor of Scott Clemmensen.

The Caps added insult to injury later in the third. With Jaromir Jagr off for tripping, Andre Burakovsky sniped the top glove corner on Clemmensen from the right wing dot to provide a four-goal cushion.

Braden Holtby was spectacular in the first period, despite the two screened goals. He was rarely tested after and made 26 saves in total for his second win of the season.

Capitals Game Day Notes: Green on skating, Schmidt on fitting in

Much has been made of Mike Green’s resurgence so far this season for the Washington Capitals since his return from the injured list. For the veteran defenseman, it’s been about making adjustments and confidence in the systems that new coach Barry Trotz has put in place.

Asked why it appears he’s skating so much better this season, Green answered quickly.

“Change in system. Everybody’s skating a lot better, to be honest,” Green said after Thursday’s pregame skate at Kettler. “I think that has a lot to do with the structure of our system and being confident within it. It’s just a matter of being consistent throughout the year.”

Green played with Nate Schmidt in his first game and much of the next, but in the third period in Tuesday’s shootout loss to San Jose, Green found himself with veteran Brooks Orpik for a few shifts.

For his part, Green said he’d prefer a regular partner, but realizes the practicality of the situation.

“It’s tough,” Green started, “but you know, it is what it is. This league is all about adjustments and being able to adjust in certain situations. I’d rather have one partner, but it is what it is. I really enjoy playing with Nate [Schmidt] right now. Great young player, good energy, makes smart plays. He’s got all the tools in his trunk. He’s been great.

Schmidt has just tried to soak it all in after making the team out of camp with injuries to Jack Hillen and Dmitry Orlov. “Mike’s just tremendous with the puck. He does a lot of things that hopefully I’ll be able to learn one day, but the last two games that he’s been able to play in he’s been awesome. We played a little bit together last year but we’re just trying to get even more familiar with each other so I can let him do his things. He’s an extremely talented guy. We talk a lot on the bench, a lot of communication. He’s been here for ten years, he knows the ropes, and for me just to soak up as much information as I can from guys like him can only be beneficial for me in the long run.

Schmidt watched with interest this past offseason as the team brought in two veteran blueliners, but he’s taken a “best case scenario” approach to his position on the depth chart.

“Both those guys have been extremely helpful,” Schmidt said of Matt Niskanen and Orpik. “With Nisky being a fellow Minnesotan, just to have that connection with him is really helpful. And Brooksy, is the definition of a pro. He comes to the rink every day, he does everything the right way whether it’s on or off the ice. For me, I don’t even have to talk to him every day to pick up something new because he’s been around and has so much experience.”

Schmidt is realistic about where he stands, but he’s looking to make a good impression while he’s given the opportunity.

“We had those two guys [Orpik, Niskanen] come in and at first glance you’re like, ‘Aw man, I’m gonna be too far down [the depth chart],’ but it opened up a door for me to learn from these guys and go out and contribute to this team. My goal coming into camp was to make the team and try to make it real hard for them to push me down.

I think it’s been going well so far. We have been growing as a D corps each and every day. We had two great games. Last game might not have been our best but we learned a lot from it so I’m excited going forward.”

While his status might be in question when Hillen and Orlov eventually return, he’s going to make the most of wearing the Caps sweater while he can.

“For a guy like me, that’s as much as I can do is take up as much experience of being around those guys. They’ve been through it all — what works, what doesn’t work — those are the types of things that you need to learn as a young player, hopefully at an earlier age than later on.”

Schmidt had a unique view of the organizational struggles last season, being a tweener between the big club and AHL Hershey, both of which failed to qualify for the postseason.

He said the tension could be felt throughout the organization. “It’s kind of a trickle down effect,” Schmidt said. “We were pushing for the playoffs too at Hershey last year and we didn’t make the playoffs. It was kinda tough. I think it was the first time ever both teams missed the playoffs in a long time so it’s a disheartening thing.”

“You want both teams in, you want both clubs to win, cause when you win, good things happen for everybody. Wherever it may be, whether it’s AHL guys getting NHL time here or anywhere else, but this is a great group of guys and it would be special to get back to that here.”

Caps comeback against Sharks could be biggest point earned all season

To say the Washington Capitals came out flat in the first period in Tuesday’s 6-5 shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks is an understatement.

As well as the team played in its first two games, it was quite a shock to everyone — including the team — to see it come out so poorly against the travelling Sharks, a team this franchise historically has had its fair share of problems with.

There were problems all night on the blue line. John Carlson, in particular, played poorly and ended up demoted in the third period as Mike Green — who actually had a fantastic game — joined Brooks Orpik on the second pairing.

But the Caps were able to comeback, tie the game, and force overtime to earn a point against one of the better teams in the Western Conference — after falling behind 3-0 midway through the first period.

Considering the situation, then, could erasing a three-goal deficit — and a two-goal margin with less than six minutes left in the game — be one of the biggest single points the Caps pick up this season?

“Yeah. It’s pretty incredible we found a way to come back there and score some goals against a team that hadn’t let a goal in [yet this season],” defenseman Karl Alzner said afterwards. “That’s gotta say something.”

“We started the game playing the way we did in the first two games there in the second period. If we play three periods like that, it doesn’t matter what team it is you’re gonna have a chance to win. We’re happy that we came back against a great team, but we like to think about ourselves and what we did tonight wasn’t enough.

Coach Barry Trotz agreed. “We got a point where we probably could sit here and go ‘We shouldn’t deserve points tonight’, but we got one.”

Trotz also brought up that the Caps have picked up four points in the first three games — all against playoff teams.

It’s problematic for this team to dig a hole for themselves and have to score their way out of it. And they’d especially like to avoid going the shootout route they took so much last season. But a point is a point, and considering their absence form the playoffs last season, they need to accumulate points wherever and whenever they can.

“You gotta commend us for coming back but we definitely had a slow start,” Green said. Green had a goal and an assist, and has scored in both games he’s played thus far.

“You know, we can’t be doing that. We realize how we have to play to be successful. It took us about a period to figure it out. Barry had some words of encouragement in the second and third [periods].  We put our minds to it and we got the job done as far as getting the one point. But we can’t be going to shootout most nights.”

Backup goalie Justin Peters was called on by Trotz to relieve Braden Holtby after the Sharks’ third goal in the first period. It was a tough situation to come into for his first action of the season, but he acquitted himself well under the conditions.

“We were a resilient group tonight,” Peters said. “We were real flat in the first period. I guess now you realize how valuable points are and we’re lucky to come away with a point but it just shows when we get playing we’re a pretty good team.”

Washington Capitals Game 3 Recap: Caps earn point against Sharks despite 3-0 hole

OVECHKIN SCORES TWICE TO LEAD CAPS IN THREE-GOAL COMEBACK

Despite trailing one of the best teams in the Western Conference 3-0 after the first period, and facing a two-goal deficit with 5:51 left in the game, the Washington Capitals earned a point by forcing overtime on Troy Brouwer’s late third period goal.

Unfortunately, the Caps were shut out in the shootout, and fell to the San Jose Sharks 6-5. But considering the start, it could end up being one of the biggest points the Caps earn all season.

The Caps found themselves in an early hole. Just 1:23 into the contest, Joe Thornton won a draw in the left wing faceoff circle to defenseman Matt Irwin, who blasted a long-range shot past Braden Holtby for a 1-0 Sharks lead.

Moments later, fourth-liner Michael Latta was called for elbowing. Though the Caps did a credible job killing the advantage, San Jose struck again with two seconds remaining in the infraction, as Irwin lifted a backhander past Holtby. Irwin was a healthy scratch in the Sharks’ first tow games.

Things got out of hand with just over 10 minutes left in the first, as John Scott — known primarily for beating people senseless — snuck a shot past Holtby on an odd-man rush as Brooks Orpik got caught out of position.

Just like that, the Caps trailed 3-0 and Holtby found a seat on the bench, in favor of Justin Peters making his Capitals’ debut.

“The first period I didn’t like at all,” coach Barry Trotz said. “I just didn’t like our commitment. We were a pass-first team in a shoot-first league in the first period. You’re not going to give a team like the Sharks a three-goal lead and expect to come back.”

The Caps got on the board at 2:51 of the second period. With Tomas Hertl off for interference, the power play put on an impressive passing clinic, with Troy Brouwer feeding Alex Ovechkin at the high point, to John Carlson on the wing, back to Ovechkin and finally to Marcus Johansson, who was camped on the right post.

After a battle for the puck. Johansson tapped it past Antti Niemi for the first goal against the Sharks in three games this season.

San Jose killed the momentum at 14:33, as a harmless looking shot bounced off Eric Fehr and past Peters to make it a three goal game again. Joe Pavelski, who took the initial shot, was credited with the goal.

But as quickly as that came about, the Caps righted the ship. Following an odd-man rush, Mike Green collected the puck in the corner, played keep-away until he could settle into a good shooting spot in the center of the ice, and whipped a wrister past Niemi to make it 4-2.

Moments later, Ovechkin took a pass from Nicklas Backstrom in the high slot and did what only Ovi can do: make a world-class goalie look bad, as he rifled a shot through Niemi to cut the deficit to one at 4-3.

But San Jose made it a two-goal game less than two minutes into the third. Chris Tierney broke up a Caps rush at the Caps’ blue line and fed Tommy Wingels streaking in all alone on Peters. Peters made the save on Wingels’ first shot, but the Sharks winger got another whack at it and snuck it through.

The Caps got another power play with 6:15 left and made good on it, as Ovechkin registered his second of the game and fourth of the season with a wicked wrister from the left wing circle, bringing the Caps within one at 5-4 with 5:51 remaining in the game.

“We had some big efforts,” Trotz said. “I thought [Ovechkin] was the best player on the ice today. He had a couple goals. He’s blocking shots. He’s running over people. He was a beast out there.”

Brouwer tied it just over a minute later, as he took an outlet pass from Green, faked out Irwin who fell, and beat Niemi high glove side to even things up.

Overtime came after a few nervous moments as Backstrom took a high-sticking penalty with less than two minutes left in the third period.

CAPS NOTES:

  • With his assist tonight, Ovechkin passed Mike Gartner (392) for second place on the Capitals’ franchise assists list. Ovechkin now sits 26 assists shy of passing Michal Pivonka (418) for first place on the Capitals’ assists list.
  • Andre Burakovsky earned an assist, extending his point streak to three games (10/9-10/14: 1g, 3a). Burakovsky is the first Capitals player to start his career with a three-game point streak since Alex Ovechkin started his career with an eight-game point streak in 2005.
  • Liam O’Brien earned an assist, marking his first NHL point.
  •  The Capitals scored two power-play goals for the second consecutive game.
  • Washington outshot San Jose 34-23 and outhit the Sharks 26-13.

Three Stars: Washington Capitals vs. San Jose Sharks 10/14/14

Despite trailing 3-0 in the first period to the San Jose Sharks, the Washington Capitals rallied and tied the game late in the third, but fell in the shootout, 6-5. John Scott scored on the Capitals. At least they came away with a point.

First Star: Alex Ovechkin

The Captain scored two goals and logged one assist and eight shots on goal in the Capitals’ shootout loss against San Jose, his 87th career multi-point game. Four goals in two games (one each at even strength and on the power play) is a great start to the season for Ovechkin.

Second Star: Mike Green

In his first two games, Green has notched three points, two of those (1g, 1a) against San Jose. No sign of injury slowdown, and hopefully for the Caps he stays that way. He might be technically a third pairing defensemen on the depth chart, but for skill, there’s probably not a defenseman on the roster that can match Green.

Third Star: Troy Brouwer

Brouwer scored the equalizer that sent the game to overtime, nearly completing the Capitals’ comeback. While Antii Niemi should have probably stopped it, the goal Brouwer scored Tuesday night is the kind of goal the team needs him to score.

Honorable Mention:

Nicklas Backstrom: He finished the night with 2 assists, both dishes to Ovechkin on his two goals.

Liam O’Brien’s tongue: Good thing John Scott only picks on people his own size, or at least he did Tuesday night. Probably because he scored a goal for once.

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