Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Niskanen's Uneven Play

Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen’s uneven play contributed to the Caps recent losing streak. He’s one of the expensive free agent defenseman General Manager Brian MacLellan picked up over the summer, Brooks Orpik being the other. At $40.25 million for 7-years, a lot was expected of the then 27-year old.

During the 2013-2014 NHL season, Niskanen posted a plus-33, first among NHL defensemen. He generated enough offense at 10G-36A-46P to end the season 13th among blue liners. This, along with an average ice time of 21:07, were career bests for Niskanen. He thrived with the added opportunity he got in Pittsburgh because of injuries to that team. When the Caps played Detroit on October 24th of this season and Coach Mike Babcock complemented both pickups and talked about how it was harder to play against teams with back ends that can move the puck up the ice, it felt like maybe MacLellan hit the lottery with his defensive pickups.
Read more here.
Let's go Caps!

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Holtby's Hot Hand

After a start that included a stretch of 3 losses in 4 games and getting pulled versus the San Jose Sharks, Braden Holtby settled down in net. There were early games where he looked lost and could not see the puck on easy saves. His confidence was shaken. Since early December, that has all changed. Holtby's hot hand is a critical element of the Caps resurgence since then.

Holtby, a 4th round, 93rd overall draft pick in 2008, was known then for his athleticism, which he showed during his 7-7 playoff record after starting only 7 games under Coach Bruce Boudreau in 2011-2012. He was called up due to goalie injuries. Holtby's play has been up and down for the Caps as the carousal of coaches from Bruce Boudreau to Dale Hunter to Adam Oates to Barry Trotz came in and out of the  organization. Oates, in particular, made the mistake of thinking he could coach goalies and told Holtby how to play, which didn't do much for his development or his confidence as he was told to alter his play. Goalies aren't too fond of changing their play or their quirky routines like Holtby following the water squirts out of his bottle during pregame warm ups.

What's changed this season is Mitch Korn 
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Let's go Caps.

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No Winter Classic Hangover for Caps

After winning the Winter Classic in spectacular fashion when Alex Ovechkin broke his stick and the puck squirted behind him to Troy Brouwer, who did a spin-o-rama  and knocked the puck past Blackhawks net minder Corey Crawford with 12 seconds left, there was no Winter Classic hangover for Caps today versus Florida. It got scary in the end when Florida made it 4-3 in regulation, but the Caps got two points they desperately needed and at home, a place where the Caps need to win more this season. This game was set up to be the ultimate let down after that great Winter Classic game, but the Caps showed focus which is different from how they've operated in the pre-Coach Barry Trotz era. The Trotz difference becomes more apparent every day.

The Caps enter 2015 with a 2-0 record, after a 8-2-3 record in December, and sit in 6th place in the Eastern Conference. Even with some glaring holes in player personnel down the middle, the Caps are winning.

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Let's go Caps!

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Caps Are Hitting Their Stride

The Caps are hitting their stride as Coach Barry Trotz's system comes into focus in Washington. The players increasingly embrace the system and it's showing up on the score sheet as their 6-1-2 December record demonstrates. His system rewards work ethic, emphasizes shooting first, paying attention to defense at all times and in every zone, and getting offense from the blue line.  The evidence that his system works is starting to accumulate.

Alex Ovechkin is embracing Trotz's system and improving as a two-way player that isn't scoring as much as he used to, but he's making an impact in all three zones of the ice. For those who blasted Ovie for his minus-35 last year, watching him grow under an experienced head coach shows what's possible for him. It's exactly what he's needed for years, please see the Scott Bowman and Steve Yzerman story.

Read more here.

Let's go Caps!

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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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