Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Laich Effect for the Caps

Over the past two seasons, Brooks Laich, the oft injured, but versatile player generates points and energy for his teammates. The Laich effect for the Caps includes a 12-8 record this season when he's on the ice and a 1-6 record when he's off the ice. They play a better game when he's on the ice.

Laich has always been a hard working, lunch pail type of Capital, reminiscent of players from the overachieving Caps era, like the ones on their run to the Cup - Olie Kolzig, Peter Bondra, Dale Hunter. He struggled early on in his career, but blossomed even with the coaching merry-go-round in Washington. Laich overachieves because he works hard every night. He's a leader in that respect. If Laich stays healthy, that's a huge bonus for the he Caps.

But, Laich wasn't the only Capital flying around against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. The Caps best game of the season showed how they're capable of playing. Alex Ovechkin started the 3rd game of what ended up being a 3-0 road trip, with 3 hits and a goal in the first 40 seconds. When Ovie starts a game that way, the Caps frequently win.

Read more here.

Let's go Caps!

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Monday, December 01, 2014

Caps 5-on-5 Play is Pathetic

Power plays are much rarer in the playoffs versus the regular season so strong 5-on-5 play is a prerequisite to playoff success in today's NHL. The Caps 5-on-5 play is pathetic even in the Coach Barry Trotz era. He is working on this by directing his team to shoot pucks at the net and get dirty in front of the net for deflections because those opportunities turn into 5-on-5 goals. And, those types of goals win playoff games, not perimeter shots. This is an area where the Caps have struggled throughout the Alex Ovechkin era. They've never had enough players willing to sacrifice their body in front of the net night after night. Trotz knows this is a huge problem for this team.

Does Trotz have the players he needs to make a difference in this area? Right now, his second line center is a 19-year old rookie that's hitting a typical wall. Andre Burakovsky is going to be a very good hockey player, but he's learning the NHL game and the center position. Evgeny Kuznetsov is improving and starting to contribute more ,but he's learning the North American game and that adjustment takes time. Tom Wilson is quickly turning into a fan favorite, but he's got to realize he's more useful out of the box. Although it's great that he's willing to stick up for his teammates, he needs to contribute on offense and develop chemistry with Ovie and Nicklas Backstrom. Wilson will probably turn out to be the grittiest of the young guys, but none of them are old enough to realize how much they have to sacrifice to win the shiny silver Cup.

Read more here.

Let's go Caps!

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Can Trotz Instill a Consistent Work Ethic in Caps?

The Caps country club culture issues started the day Coach Bruce Boudreau arrived in Washington on November 22, 2007. That day, he expressed his awe at calling his star player, Alex Ovechkin, off the bench and that is the day he lost control of the locker room. Can Coach Barry Trotz instill a consistent work ethic in the Caps after years of neglect by inexperienced coaches? The Caps inconsistent effort makes it tough to go on a winning roll, especially, against hard working teams like the New Jersey Devils, even if they won their past two games and showed great effort against the Colorado Avalanche.

Make no mistake, goal tending has not helped the Caps this season. Braden Holtby with his 6-4-2 record, .913 SV% and a gaffe behind the net that cost them the New Jersey game is not instilling confidence in fans, although he's been better the past couple of games and stopped Daniel Briere on a game tying goal. Hopefully, Coach Mitch Korn finds a way to elevate Holtby's game and keeps him playing like he did against Colorado.

But, even if the goal tending provided brilliant saves, the Caps lackluster effort during several games cost them standings points. Those lost opportunities count in April as teams vie for playoff positions in a competitive league. 

Read more here.

Let's go Caps!

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Trotz Appears to Inspire Marcus Johansson

Early signs are in that Washington Caps Coach Barry Trotz appears to inspire Marcus Johansson because he's producing more results this season than he ever has. He's 54th in the league in points, with 12 in 15 games this season, versus 121st last season. If Trotz can inspire Johansson to live up to his 1st round, 26th overall draft position expectations, the Caps will be better off. He's never played more confidently and it's great to watch him shoot more and get rewarded for it.

There were high expectations for Johansson when he was drafted. He was a fast and smooth skating player from the Swedish Elite League, a perfect finesse player in the eyes of former General Manager George McPhee, but not what the Caps needed. They had too much finesse and not enough grit.

The coaching merry-go-round from Bruce Boudreau to Dale Hunter to Adam Oates to Barry Trotz also hindered Johansson's development. None of them got through to him about how to compete in the playoffs or win board battles. Johansson's 11-points in 30 playoff games provides proof of that. But, this season offers hope that Trotz may be able to make Johansson the hockey player he was projected to be.

Let's hope that happens and he learns how to play in the playoffs, assuming the Caps make it. Tough call to make at this point.

Let's go Caps!

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Friday, October 31, 2014

Caps Burakovsky Fun to Watch

Andre Burakovsky, the 19-year old Caps rookie, may end up being a surprise gift to Caps fans from former General Manager George McPhee. The young Austrian plays the game with a composed sneakiness that makes him fun to watch. And, the amazing thing is that he's a left winger, not a center, but the Caps needed a center. They gave him the chance after trying him at the position during camp and preseason games. Good centers are gold in the NHL and if Burakovsky ends up being a good one, the Caps may be able to close their perpetual hole at second line center since Alex Ovechkin came to town.

In 9 games, Burakovsky collected 2G-6A-8P and was a plus-4. Not bad, even if the sample the size is small. It's early and the league hasn't had time to figure him out, but the 2013 first round draft pick, 23rd overall, is turning heads with his poise and plays like the one against Detroit where he exited the zone, pressured their  defense, got the puck to John Carlson for a pass to Troy Brouwer that ended up in the net.

Read more here.

Let's go Caps!

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Caps Ovie on Locker Room and Backie's 500th Point

Although the Caps played a flat game against the Edmonton Oilers, there are still positives signs from the team in the last several games, but Barry Trotz needs to get them back to playing like the first period against Montreal to start the season. Alex Ovechkin played a lackluster game in Edmonton, which typically means the Caps struggle. They lost 2-3, but still showed unbelievable cycling on the power play and forechecking, not typical strengths of this team.

Right now, I'm more interested in Ovie's quotes in recent interviews and Trotz's early assessments of his star winger than the Caps struggles these past two games. Those issues are surmountable. Watching the Caps play under an experienced NHL head coach is such an improvement over the last several seasons that I believe Trotz can right the ship when they start looking like last year's Caps.

Read more here.

Let's go Caps!

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Caps Play Under Trotz

After playing solid games against Montreal, a shootout loss, and Boston, a 4-0 win, the Caps showed bad signs of seasons past against the San Jose Sharks. They stopped moving their feet and their forechecking and board battles weren't as strong as their first two games. Barry Trotz has more work to do, but the reminder from the coaches to move their feet worked as they tied the game in the 3rd period on goals from Alex Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer.

The Caps play under Trotz looks structured and plays to the strengths of his players. Seems simple, but it hasn't been the last few years in Washington. Some fans and commentators called the first period of hockey versus Montreal the best period of Caps hockey in years so, hopefully, there is more of that to come. They are an improved team.

The Washington Capitals go as long as their captain, Alex Ovechkin, is doing his thing. Ovie appears rejuvenated by the Trotz system, flying around, hitting again, and scoring both power play and even strength goals. He's scored 4 goals in 3 games. The goal against San Jose where Ovie dished to Fehr, who threaded it to Backie who dished it back to Ovie for a hidden blast that caught Niemi unaware was delightful to watch. He ended the game with 2G, 1A, 8 shots and 5 hits.

Read more here.

Let's go Caps.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Trotz Era Begins in Washington

The Caps first coach to come to Washington with NHL coaching experience since Ron Wilson in 1997, Barry Trotz, makes his debut as bench boss for the Capitals on Thursday.  He's already instilled subtle changes in the locker room that will be interesting to watch. A rope line around the Caps logo on the floor of the locker room, placed there so no one can walk on it. Corny, yes, but can the little things turn around the country club culture that started years ago?

Another change is the leadership group, consisting of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Brooks Orpik, Troy Brouwer, Brooks Laich, John Carlson and Jason Chimera, that he uses to discuss the direction he wants to take the Caps.  This is an approach Trotz used in Nashville. Hopefully, the group will take the pressure off Ovie. Having Orpik helps with this, too.

Trotz starts his debut with the Caps lacking personnel for a key element of a winning hockey team, depth down the middle. The Caps don't have a second line center.  For those keeping score, this deficiency has hampered the Caps since Alex Ovechkin steamrolled onto the scene in 2005. Second line centers aren't easy to come by, particularly on the open market, so it's best to develop players for that position.  Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky are both playing center with some skill, but Burakovsky is a rookie winger, not center, and Kuznetsov played wing his last couple of years in Russia and is awful on face offs, 18.5% in his 27 tries last season. That weakness continues.

Read more here.

Let's go Caps!

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Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Caps MacLellan Era Starts by Adding Ex-Penguin Defensemen


Rookie General Manager Brian MacLellan signed defensemen Brooks Orpik to a staggering  5-year $27.5 million deal and Matt Niskanen to a 7-year $40.25 million deal. There is no question the Caps defense improved over last year's crop of 23 years old and younger crowd, but I'm perplexed by the length of these contracts. That's risky.  

Orpik turns 34-years old before the season starts. Did I mention that I hate him? Orpik is on the downside of his career. Did I mention that I hate him? Will his leadership help Mike Green return to his form by protecting his back? So hard to tell, but it will be interesting to watch. Did I mention that I hate him for his sometimes classless behavior and Pittsburgh whininess? It will be hard for me to root for him, but I can't argue with the fact that he's won a Cup.

Read more here.

Let's go Caps!

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