Monday, April 18, 2016

Ovechkin’s signature shot and Carlson’s presence

Alex Ovechkin’s signature shot made an appearance in game 2 of the series versus the Philadelphia Flyers. It is his blast from the left half wall on the power play shot. The one he has blasted past every team and every goalie in the NHL. It does not matter that he is still showing that same shot in his 10th year of playing in the NHL. It still works and is a piece of what makes Ovie so special to Caps fans.

Ovie scored an even strength goal the 2nd period of game 3. T.J. Oshie made that one happen by abusing Claude Giroux, grabbing the puck, sending it up ice where Ovie picked it up on his entry from the bench and blasted a wrister past goalie Steve Mason. He netted a second power play goal on multiple penalties when the Flyers tried to kill Dmitry Orlov by throwing him into the boards in the middle of the 2nd period.

John Carlson’s presence on the ice has been noticeable during the first three games of the series. That will be critical after Brooks Orpik got slammed into the glass in the 2nd period and shows no sign of returning. Carlson’s offensive presence includes 3 power play goals, one in each game, and three assists. His strong defense, including giving Brayden Schenn the shove off in game 2 before scoring, and outlet passes keep the Caps moving the puck and will continue to be critical in the playoffs.

Carlson and Ovechkin are now tied for goals. Oh, and the Caps power play that lacked at the end of the regular season is fixed with a 5 of 9 performance in game 3.

The Flyers will be out to kill more Caps on Wednesday so play safe Caps.  

Let’s go Caps!

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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Marcus Johansson is showing playoff promise and Holtby is a beast

It is nice to see that Marcus Johansson is showing playoff promise. is HisHis 0G-2A-2P and plus-1 game performance in game 1 against the Philadelphia Flyers included some good board battles and continued gritty play. That is encouraging.

The number one star of the game was Braden Holtby. The holtbeast kept the Caps in the game when the Flyers owned the first period and had 3 power plays. The Caps rallied in the 2nd and 3rd period and took care of business. John Carlson and Jay Beagle provided the goals.

Holtby is again in beast mode as the Caps lead 1-0 in game 2 at the end of the first period, but the Caps had to survive a 5 on 3 penalty kill. John Carlson put the puck in the net on the power play with Marcus Johansson and T.J. Oshie screening Steve Mason. Caps survived the Flyers pressure, but need more offense in the second.

My favorite move of the night, so far, is Alex Ovechkin putting Brayden Schenn into his bench after he hit Karl Alzner on a hit into the boards as time ran out.

Let’s go Caps!

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Monday, April 11, 2016

Caps playoff stories to watch

There are many Caps playoff stories to watch, but long-time fans, myself included, view the playoffs with anxiety, not excitement. There is too much in the history books I’d rather forget related to this team in the playoffs. But, I’m glad the players are excited and I hope they play like they did Saturday versus the St. Louis Blues, a team fighting for a division title that the Caps dominated with an Alex Ovechkin hat trick.

It is a new second season and time for the Caps to step up their game.

The Caps stories to watch in the playoffs:

Can the Captain Alex Ovechkin, lead his team past the second round of the playoffs? Ovie shows up in the playoffs and is an almost point per game scorer with 36G 34A 70P in 72 games. The bigger the game and the venue, the more he turns on the after burners.

Will Nicklas Backstrom make his presence felt this playoffs? He is 20G 50A 70P in 75 games and is +17.  He was hampered by injury during the last playoffs, but Caps need the guy with the “A” on his jersey to not only win faceoffs and make great plays, but also win battles and be willing to throw it all on the ice for the Cup.

Can the other leaders on the team and on the bench, Justin Williams and Brooks Orpik, in particular, keep the Caps focused on battling instead of getting rattled when they face adversity in the playoffs? Their experience in coming from behind should help, too.

Williams has been a joy to watch this year. His game is more subtle than other players, but watching him win battles along the board, make plays, and score goals has been fun. But, it is his playoff experience that is even more important to the Caps. He is constantly coaching on the bench, chatting away with his line mates, pointing out things to improve. They will need that even more from Williams starting now. He is a huge key to the Caps ability to be successful in the playoffs.

Orpik is the leader of the defense. Even though he spent the better part of this season injured, his presence in Washington has made the team better. John Carlson learned a lot from him and so did Karl Alzner. His health and leadership are critical for the playoffs.

T.J. Oshie, the energizer bunny, as Ovie calls him, is another critical cog in this playoff adventure. He leads by example on the ice because Oshie plays hard on every shift. He has his own playoff demons with the Blues, so now is his opportunity to exorcise them.

Can Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen continue playing great defense? Alzner had a career year during the regular season. This pairing logged the heavy minutes all season and successfully kept the Caps in many games.

Will the young wizard Evgeny Kuznetsov regain his form and repeat his playoff performance from last season? He only has 4 points in 12 games. But, he showed up big time in his first playoffs with 5G 2A 7P in 14 games.  

Can John Carlson stay healthy? He has had a rough year health-wise and the Caps need his ability to make an efficient outlet pass.

Will Braden Holtby be the stand on his head, keep the Caps in so many games goalie, that fans saw earlier in the season? He is a competitor, so the brighter lights should lead to him regaining his better form from earlier in the season. Holtby’s performance has improved the last several weeks.

Can Marcus Johansson play in the playoffs like he played this season? He finally found some grit to this game and even spent 16-minutes in the penalty box, his most as a Cap.

Will Tom Wilson play smart in the playoffs? His play and skating improved so much this season, but he still makes bone-headed plays at bad moments. On the other hand, Wilson is the agitator, get under the skin of other players, type of player that the Caps can use in the playoffs. Can his frequent line mates Jason Chimera and Jay Beagle keep the chemistry going and keep producing? It is nice to have the faceoff specialist, Beagle, back in the lineup.

Can Andre Burakovsky and Dmitri Orlov perform in the playoffs? They both had good seasons. It will be interesting to see how they respond to the slug fest of the second season.

Many story lines to explore as things unfold starting with the arrival of the Philadelphia Flyers to the Verizon Center on Thursday night.

I hope the Caps get out of the first round because I do not need a second dog. The last one arrived in May 2010, when I could not watch the Caps implode during game 7 of the first round versus the Montreal Canadians. They won the President’s trophy that year, too. Ugh.

Let’s go Caps!

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Monday, March 28, 2016

Can the Caps regain their form for the playoffs?

The Caps huge lead in the playoff race has been deadly to their performance in the last two months. Their record is better than their performance. Can the Caps regain their form for the playoffs? As Coach Barry Trotz and others have stated, it is not that easy to turn it on for the playoffs after playing lackluster hockey for the two months before the playoffs.

The Caps play against good teams does not inspire confidence that they will last long in hockey’s second season. The Pittsburgh Penguins beat them by 4 goals in a 2-6 loss on March 20th. The St. Louis Blues pasted them for a 0-4 loss at home. They rarely beat the San Jose Sharks and continued that tradition on March 12th in a 2-5 loss.

Alex Ovechkin, with 2 goals and 3 assists in his last 11 games, is not producing at his usual scoring pace although he may still be nursing that nagging injury. Evgeny Kuznetsov is on a 4 game goal scoring drought and had a minus-4 performance in Pittsburgh, which followed his 3 assist night versus the Nashville Predators.

Dmitry Orlov needs to mature in a hurry. His outlet pass that turned into a giveaway against the Blue Jackets is an example of the little stuff he needs to clean up. Those types of plays will get the Caps scored on in the playoffs.   

T.J. Oshie is a critical component of this Caps team. He is the Energizer Bunny as Ovie says. He plays the game with an intensity that gets the rest of the Caps going. When he was out with flu like symptoms the prior two games against the New Jersey Devils and the St. Louis Blues, it was easy to see how much he is missed. The Caps need him at 100% throughout the playoffs.

Thankfully, John Carlson is back. He netted the game winner his first game back. It is obvious when Carlson is on the ice because the outlet passes out of the defensive zone are much stronger and get the Caps to the other side of the ice. The Caps need him to stay healthy.

The Caps have performed better in the first period in the last few games and won tonight against the 15th place Eastern Conference team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, which means they won it the Presidents' trophy. They also won it in 2010 and then bowed out in the first round. They need to remember that and keep getting in shape for the playoffs.

Let’s go Caps!

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Monday, March 14, 2016

Third period Caps

Are the third period Caps going to be the ones playing in the playoffs? It is great for them to come from behind and win games by 1 goal as they try to motivate themselves to finish the regular season, but coming from behind is harder in the playoffs.

The Caps lead their division by 18-points in the standings with 14 games left and they play like it. They give up the first goal with stunning regularity, leading games after the first period just twice in their last 22 games. Then, they play well enough in the third period or during the overtime period or the shootout to come back and win the game most of the time.

The comeback did not work out so well against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night when the Caps lost by three goals. The concern is that the slow starts become an ingrained habit that is not so easy to shake once the playoffs start.

Teams are giving the Caps everything they have got, as is natural when they are playing against the top team in the league. But, effort level of the opponent goes up in the playoffs, not down, so the Caps need to weather the barrages better. The intensity level will continue to increase.

The relentless schedule of games, made worse by two make up games due to the Washington D.C. blizzard the weekend of January 22, 2016, has not helped. The Caps have had 5-6 games in hand on most teams in the league until the 7 games in 12 days spurt that ended in San Jose.

The nagging injuries, including Alex Ovechkin’s are also worrying, particularly, as he goes into a 5-game goal scoring slump. John Carlson is skating and is expected to be back on the ice towards the end of March, but he has been out more than in this season. New players have jointed the Caps in former Toronto Maple Leafs Daniel Winnik and former Buffalo Sabre Mike Weber. Injuries and new line mates messes up the chemistry and takes time to mesh.

Coach Barry Trotz mixes up the line when things get stale and the Caps play too cute so the expectation is that will continue versus the Carolina Hurricanes tomorrow. That game will give the Caps, new lines or not, another opportunity to score first, for a change, and come back from an overall mini performance slump. One month left…

Let’s go Caps!

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Monday, February 29, 2016

Marcus Johansson’s success at playing center

Playing with line mates Jason Chimera and Tom Wilson, Marcus Johansson’s success at playing center on the third line is a sign of a good fit. The player fans love to hate is turning in a tremendous season, particularly, after finding his stride in between the 35-year old speedster, Chimera, and the aggressive style of Tom Wilson. That line is producing. Chimera has speed and toughness, Wilson has grit, they both win board battles, and Johansson has speed to set up plays and make his own.

The interesting part of Johansson’s season happened in November after the New York Rangers game. He got suspended for two games for an illegal hit on defenseman Thomas Hickey. It was not intentional on his part, but the suspension still surprised for a player not known for toughness.

Johansson never seemed like the right fit playing opposite of Alex Ovechkin with Nicklas Backstrom. The two of them needed someone like T.J. Oshie to be the battler and energy guy on their line and that is not the type of player Johansson is. He, on the other hand, needed some board battlers and speed players so he could make plays instead of killing scoring chances when Ovie dished to him. Coach Barry Trotz continues to mix up the lines when they get stale, so these lines change.

Johansson moved to third line center when Jay Beagle went on long-term injured reserve to have wrist surgery at the end of December. The third line gelled, giving Trotz lots of offensive power in the top 9 forward and the ability to easily roll four lines.

Johansson’s played with more energy all season. He gets Trotz’s system now and is flourishing in it more. He is playing the game the right way, too, by hustling, forechecking, going to the net, setting up screens, and getting garbage goals, too. It will be great for the Caps if he keeps it up during the playoffs. Johansson’s 4 points in 14 games or 2 points in 7 games during 2012-2013 is not enough. Maybe keeping him as the third line center with Chimera and Wilson will fix that.

Let’s go Caps!

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Monday, February 15, 2016

Caps play against the West

How do the Caps play against the West? They struggle against the number one team, Dallas Stars, as evidenced by the four unanswered goals scored against them on Saturday. The Caps mustered another third period comeback with three goals, but it was too little too late for the win. They have not beaten that team since October 25, 2008. The Caps record is 3-13-0 in Dallas. That is not good if the stars align, the Caps stay healthy, they keep their mojo, and they make it to the Stanley Cup finals and those finals go through Dallas. A lot has to be true for that to happen, but it is an unpleasant scenario even for the team that made history by being the fastest ever to win 40 games.

The Caps beat the Chicago Blackhawks in their early season meeting, 4-1. If they played today, it would be the number one goal scorer with 35, Alex Ovechkin, against the number two, Patrick Kane, with 33. It would be a tougher game because the intensity of the games rises as the playoffs get closer. They lost to the San Jose Sharks, in 6th place today, by 1 goal also in October.

Caps have not played the St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings, or Anaheim Ducks yet and those are the 3rd through 5th place teams in the West. The Colorado Avalanche and Nashville Predators are 7th and 8th. Caps beat the Avalanche 7–3 and beat the Predators 5–3 although they let them back into that game.

Caps games against the West are always close, but it is clear that Dallas is the scariest team for the Caps to face in the playoffs if they survive the first three rounds. There is way too much hockey left to play before they get there, if they get there. It is still not fun to contemplate. The NHL is super competitive.

The discussion of what the Caps need before the trade deadline dominates the local hockey media. Depth and the fact that Brooks Orpik did not play on the road trip, as anticipated, are the biggest concerns, but the Caps do not need anything. They have a lot of talent and when they are focused. And playing the game the right way, they are hard to beat.

Is it April yet?

Let’s go Caps!

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