Capitals downgrade Hurricanes 3-2, Clinch 11th Playoff Berth in 12 Seasons

TLDR: Goals by Brett Connolly, Jakub Vrana, and Nic Dowd lift the Capitals over the Carolina Hurricanes, guaranteeing a post-season appearance, and earn 100 points for the 5th consecutive season.

Tonight, the Washington Capitals hoped to clinch their playoff berth. A win tonight would also allow the Capitals to reach the 100 point mark for the 5th consecutive season.  With a win, or an overtime Caps’ loss and the Canadiens/Blue Jackets’ game being decided in regulation, Washington would snag a playoff spot with four games remaining. Having won all 3 previous match-ups with Carolina, a win tonight would mean another regular season series sweep.

T.J. Oshie did not dress for tonights’ match-up, and therefore Andre Burakovsky would be entrusted with the second line right-winger spot. Paired with Carl Hagelin and Jakub Vrana, one could just call that second line the ‘speedy second’. Just four minutes into the first period, Nino Neiderreiter scored his 22nd goal of the season, giving the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead. Shortly thereafter, Brett Connolly would tie it, as he also scored his 22nd of the season.

Once Connolly scored the equalizer, the Hurricanes gave the Caps very little room to operate. The combined speed and shot generation from Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen of the Canes gave the good guys some trouble, but Caps’ goaltender Braden Holtby was able to keep them off the board in the first. With no power plays to speak of, the Caps and Canes headed into the intermission tied 1-1.

In the second period, we hoped the Capitals would tighten up, especially in front of the goal. Carolina had way too many good looks from the point, and with eight players with 15 or more goals, it’s only a matter of time until they score. The Capitals played a much more dominating period. A Canes 2-on-1 was thwarted by a beautiful save by Holtby half-way through the period. Warren Foegle would give the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead as Carolina tied up defenseman Nick Jensen and drew Holtby out of the net. It was apparent that the Capitals were not playing as carefully as they had on Tuesday. If the Caps want to get out of PNC Arena with a win, they will need to eliminate the turnovers. The Capitals would receive the first power play of the night, as Alex Ovechkin was tripped up by former Cap Justin Williams. Unfortunately, the Capitals were unable to tie it up with the man-advantage. Carolina would lead 2-1, as the second period came to a close.

Through two period, shots on goal heavily favored Carolina once the Caps scored their single goal. The Hurricanes played like they needed the two points. The Capitals could seal their playoff spot with at least one point, but a win would certainly be preferable. Jakub Vrana tied the game 2-2, tallying his 23rd goal of the season, just 120 seconds into the final frame.

Nic Dowd would give the Capitals their first lead of the game, off a deflection right in front of McElhinney. Figurative and literal redemption for Nick Jensen, who would be credited with the primary assist. The goal would be the game-winner.

Moments later, however, the Hurricanes would get their first power play of the night, as Brooks Orpik would go off for tripping. The Capitals would successfully kill of the penalty. Despite the Canes’ head coach Rod Brind’amour electing to lift netminder Curtis McElhinney, the Capitals would sweep another regular season series, winning in Raleigh 3-2.

FiCP’s Three Takeaways of the Game

  1. The Capitals now are guaranteed a chance to repeat.
  2. Overall, the defense is improving.
  3. Braden Holtby is playoff ready.

Caps lose 2-1, tamed by Wild

TLDR: Brett Connolly scores 21st goal of the season, and the Caps power play continues to struggle. Sluggish start by the Capitals never gained steam, Minnesota beats Capitals 2-1. 

Tonight, the Washington Capitals took on the Minnesota Wild at Capital One Arena. After dropping their last game to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the boys in red were certainly hoping to rebound and add to their 3-point cushion in the Metropolitan division. Conversely, Minnesota was fighting for a playoff run in the West, and heading into tonights’ game, were just one point out from the second wild card spot.

The Caps elected to start Braden Holtby tonight, but were missing defenceman Michal Kempny, who suffered a lower-body injury versus the Lightning. Christian Djoos was inserted back into the lineup, having been paired with John Carlson. Washington announced shortly before puck drop that Carl Hagelin would not be playing, due to illness. The Wild decided that goaltender Devan Dubnyk, who has just one win in his last 5 starts, would get the start between the pipes.

Early on in the first period, Jakub Vrana took a hard sliding hit into the boards behind Dubnyk. Luckily, he was able to quickly recover. The Capitals started off very similarly to the way they did versus Tampa. They quickly and successfully forced turnovers by the Wild, and spend a good amount of time in Minnesota’s defensive zone. The Capitals would receive the first power play of the night, as Kevin Fiala went to the box for slashing. However, they would not score. As the period progressed, the Caps seemed to lose some steam, and at one point, hadn’t registered a shot on goal in eight minutes. The Wild would score first, as Jordan Greenway snuck the puck past Holtby with under three minutes remaining in the period. Providing an opportunity for the Caps tie the game, they received a late power play, as Marcus Foligno went off to the box for slashing. Heading into the first intermission, the Capitals trailed 1-0.

The Capitals started off the middle frame with 46 seconds left on a late first period power play. Minnesota would kill off yet another shot-less Caps’ power play. Washington simply has not played with enough drive or desire, and the Wild took advantage. Luck was very much in the Caps’ favor as they were gifted another power play as Hunt went off for slashing. The Capitals would eventually waste yet another man-advantage. We would get four-on-four play for two minutes, as Brooks Orpik and Justin Zucker were sent to the box for roughing. A shot by Nick Jensen deflected, ending up behind Dubnyk, and Brett Connolly would be credited with his 21st goal of the season.

With 8.6 seconds remaining, the Capitals would be faced with their first penalty kill as Tom Wilson would go off for hooking. The Wild would start the third with 1:52 left on their power play. The two teams were tied at one goal each.

While it may not have been the most exciting game of the season, it was nonetheless an important one. A Caps win would provide a decent 5-point cushion between them and the 2nd place Isles team. Tom Wilson got a great breakaway immediately out of the box, but the puck just wouldn’t cooperate. Lots of high-danger chances generated for both sides, but both Dubnyk and Holtby were sharp as could be. A missed pass led to a breakaway by Luke Kunin, and with less than eight minutes left, the Wild took a 2-1 lead. Todd Reirden would elect to pull Braden Holtby for the extra attacker, but it wouldn’t be enough. The Minnesota Wild would win this one, splitting the season series, holding the Caps to a 3-point lead in the Metro division.

FiCP’s Three Takeaways of the Game

  1. The Power Play needs a recharge.
  2. The Capitals need to improve their passing and stop. passing. in. front. of. Holtby.
  3. Less turnovers, please. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again, this is a hockey game, not a bakery.

Caps Lose 5-4 in OT, End Up Thunderstruck by Bolts

TLDR: Despite goals by Lars Eller, Carl Hagelin, and T.J. Oshie, and the equalizer by Kuznetsov, as well as 50+ shots on goal, the Caps just couldn’t solve Vasilevskiy for the second time this season. Tampa Bay wins 5-4 in overtime. Capitals still maintain top spot in the Metro. 

For the second time in less than a week, the top two teams in the Eastern Conference played one another, but this time, it was in OUR house. Coming off of a 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils last night, the Washington Capitals took back the Metro division, and headed home for the first of a four-game home stand. The Tampa Bay Lightning, however, have not only clinched their playoff spot, but have also claimed the Presidents’ Trophy as their own. Now just because a curse exists, that doesn’t mean a certain event will not occur. However, only 8 teams have won both the trophy and then gone on to also win the Stanley Cup. Sure, that’s a 1 in 4 chance, but I just keep thinking back to the Capitals in years past. Despite a valiant comeback effort, last Saturday, the Lightning beat the Capitals 6-3, after scoring two empty net goals. Tonight, the Capitals looked to match Tampa, with a win of their own. Unfortunately, that would not be the case.

Once again, the Capitals entrusted tonights’ game to Braden Holtby, and Andrei Vasilevskiy got the start for Tampa. Expected to be a Round 2 battle between the two powerhouses, we knew it would be a very fast and very physically demanding 60 minutes. As mentioned last week, it was imperative for the Caps to get on the board early. They simply could not afford to have another slow start like they did a few days ago. Not even two minutes past puck drop, and the Capitals already had a number of great scoring chances. An early stop by Holtby on an Anthony Cirelli breakaway kept the game at zero each. An unfortunate turnover by Tampa allowed Carl Hagelin to feed the puck up the center of the ice, and with that, Lars Eller scored his 12th goal of the season.

Shortly thereafter, the Capitals would earn their first power play of the night, as Steven Stamkos would go off for holding. The good guys would only register on shot with the man-advantage, and Tampa’s Number 1 penalty kill would keep the Caps from improving their lead. Braden Holtby would be hit up high through the mask by the stick of Brooks Orpik, drawing some blood, but would be good enough to finish the period. With three minutes left in the period, the Capitals would get a second power play, as John Rutta would go to the box for tripping. Tom Wilson would unfairly be called for holding, and Tampa would get their first power play with 30 seconds left in the period. While the Lightning would start the second with the remainder of that man-advantage, the Capitals lead 1-0 heading into the intermission.

The second period started with a power play goal by Nikita Kucherov with just eight seconds left on the man-advantage, tying the game 1-1. Now the Capitals need to play the remaining 40 minutes with just as much, if not more power and drive than the first 20. Unfortunately, Ovechkin would go off for elbowing and Tampa headed right back on the power play. Off the faceoff, Steven Stamkos would score, giving the Lightning their first lead of the game. What once seemed to be a manageable game, started to tilt. Another deflection off of John Carlson gives Tampa a 3-1 lead. Anthony Cirelli would ultimately be credited with the goal. A set up by Lars Eller would give Carl Hagelin a nearly-wide open net, and, in scoring his 5th of the season, 3rd with Washington, would bring the Caps within one.

The Capitals would get another power play opportunity as Mikhail Sergachev was sent off for slashing. T.J. Oshie would get second-chance bounce off his skate, and the puck would find the back of the net. The Caps power play goal would be the game-tying goal.

Dmitry Orlov would go off for slashing, and in a high-scoring second, the Caps would fight to keep Tampa from scoring again. Nikita Kucherov would score his second as the Caps’ defense couldn’t keep it together and Holtby was asked to make one too many stops. The Tampa’s #1 power play strikes again, and the Lightning would reclaim the lead, 4-3. Michal Kempny would need to be carried down the tunnel with a lower body injury, and a scrum involving players on both sides would ensue. Jakub Vrana and Yanni Gourde would both receive five-minute majors for fighting, Michal Kempny and Cedric Paquette would receive two minutes for roughing. Sergachev would also get two minutes for roughing. The Caps would end up with a power play, but would not score. Six goals were scored in the 2nd, and the Lightning lead 4-3.

Michal Kempny did not return to play the last period, and per the team, suffered a lower-body injury. The Capitals would receive an early third period power play, as Ovechkin was taken down by Ondrej Palat. The Caps would not tie it. It was encouraging to see Braden Holtby sharpen up as the period progressed. With under 10 left, the Caps would head back to the power play, and despite a number of great looks, again, they would not score. Head coach Todd Reirden would pull Holtby with under 2 to go, and somehow, Evgeny Kuznetsov would tie the game with under 60 seconds left. The Capitals would go to overtime.

3-on-3 Sudden Death Overtime: Victor Hedman would score the game-winning goal. Tampa wins 5-4.

FiCP’s Three Takeaways of the Game

  1. Stop. Drawing. Penalties. I don’t care how bad the referees are. They will always call bad penalties, so don’t give them a reason to call them
  2. Scratch Orlov. Or Carlson. But not Djoos.
  3. The power play needs work. Especially against top penalty-killing teams.

Friends in (Slightly Further) Places; Prudential Center

Two weeks ago, I attended my very first Capitals’ away game at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. Following my trip, I wrote up a ‘summary review’ of my experiences and the arena itself. The Capitals ultimately won that game, 5-3, and reclaimed their top spot in the Metro division.

Last night, I took a solo road trip to Newark, New Jersey, to watch our reigning Stanley Cup Champions take on the New Jersey Devils. I purchased my ticket about a week ago, and sat in the last row (23) of Section 13 (lower bowl), behind the Caps’ shoot twice goal. I paid just $38 on TickPick (no fees!). Much to my surprise, a friend that I had met through the Linkin Park Underground chatroom was also attending the game, so we finally met up, in person, before the game at the Dinosaur BBQ. From D.C. the drive is just about 3 1/2 hours, without stops. Prudential Center, otherwise loving referred to as ‘The Rock’ by Devils’ fans, is situated in the center of Newark, very similarly to Capital One Arena. There are two main general entrances, as designated by the all-glass rotundas on either end of Lafayette Street.

Pictured: Lafayette Street Entrances

Built in 2007, the arena is just over 10 years old, and is beautiful, inside and out. Boasting the largest jumbotron in the NHL, at any given time, players for both teams would be indicated, and during commercial breaks, they would show scores around the league as well as Vegas betting odds. Possibly related to the nickname of ‘the Rock’, and Bruce Springsteen, the arena DJ mixed almost exclusively rock music. Despite hearing the goal horn just once for the Devils, it was not nearly as deafening as Wells Fargo Center. However, it did command your attention at any time during the game.

Pictured: A View from My Seat (and the JUMBO jumbotron)

There were LOTS of Capitals fans in attendance. While both teams sport red as their primary color, it was very easy to pick out the Caps jerseys.

Refreshingly, the New Jersey fans were gracious and kind. Unlike in Philly, we were not boo’ed at, or thrown the usual “Ovechkin Sucks!” chants while walking through the concourse. In my section, there was no chirping or trash talking to speak of (I’ve actually heard more of that from NJD fans at Capital One when we’ve played the Devils). Well, except for when Tom Wilson existed. Then they would ‘boo’. The Devils’ fans would start and join in on “Lets go Devils!” chants and eagerly participated in commercial break/intermission entertainment, which was nice to see. Despite only having a handful of Caps’ fans surrounding me, when we scored, it was easy to see just how many were in the building. My only complaint was related to when the opposition scores a goal; the goal light was slightly delayed, and from my seat (probably not an issue elsewhere) it was difficult to see when a goal was scored. Any questions I may have had, those around me were more than willing to answer, and converse further. I even got directions to the closest Tim Hortons. Both Devils and Caps fans began to empty out of the arena noticeably sooner than I’ve observed elsewhere, despite the fact there was over half of a period left to be played. When I stated, “There’s still 10 minutes left for you to tie it”, the New Jersey fans around me admitted, “Nah, no way, not with this team,”. At the end of the night, I again shook hands with those in my row and in front of me, and we parted ways.

With losses by the Islanders, the Penguins, the Flyers, and the Blue Jackets, and a 4-1 win over the Devils, the Capitals were able to snag that top spot, once again, in the Metropolitan division. With the win, the Caps closed out the season series against New Jersey, having won 3 of 4.

Although it was just a short day trip to and from Newark, NJ, I intend on returning to Prudential Center in the future. Likely before Wells Fargo Center ($$$). You just cannot beat the ticket prices, the location/ease of access, and the general pleasant nature of the hometown fans.

My ratings for Prudential Center are as follows:

Parking: 10/10 (I reserved my parking ahead of time, and only paid $12 for the evening, but there are a plethora of other lot options, as well as street parking).

Security: 9/10 (much more lenient on what is permitted, such as posters, but they were thorough when searching peoples’ bags. Pro tip: don’t bring them).

Concourses: 9/10 (once entering the arena, you have to go up a set of escalators to reach the main concourse, very well-maintained, not crowded at all during intermissions).

Prices: ?/10 (could not comment).

Sound System: 8/10 (Loud, but not obnoxious, on par with most other venues.)

Jumbotron: 10/10 (Largest in the NHL, didn’t block view of ice, lots of screens for additional information, similar to Wells Fargo, shows who is on the ice at any given time).

Seats: 9/10 (good size, the cup holders were weirdly situated closer to one seat than the other, comfortable.).

Intermission Entertainment: 9/10 (No mites-on-ice, lots of fun mini-games, but a lot going on, unique commercial break fan interactions (i.e. emojicam, air guitar/air drum dance contests, digital skeeball, Ric Flair video montage ‘wooooo’s’)

Hometown Fans: 10/10 (Every single person I interacted with was kind, gracious, and respectful. It didn’t matter what team you were cheering for, both sides respected one another, as well as the players i.e. everyone in the building commented on that amazing save by Blackwood in the third period).


Fight Night in Tampa; Caps Lose 6-3 in First Meeting of the Season

TLDR: John Carlson scores one, Ovechkin pots a pair, and the penalty kill was perfect, but a once-optimistic comeback effort wouldn’t be enough. Tampa Bay, refs win 6-3. 

Tonight’s match-up between the Tampa Bay Lightning and your Washington Capitals would be one for the record books. The reigning Stanley Cup Champions versus the best team in the league for 6 months, for the first time since the Capitals won the Eastern Conference Final. This game had the potential to be yet another scrimmage for a future play-off series. We’ve been saying this a lot lately, but it’s because of the heavy, difficult schedule the Caps have faced. Nearly every team that the Capitals have and will face in the last quarter of the season already have or are fighting for a playoff spot. The Lightning power play has been electric, but the Capitals’ penalty kill has improved greatly with recent acquisitions. However, the Capitals cannot afford to go short-handed against this Tampa team. Unfortunately, it would be the Tampa Bay Lightning that would be victorious.

Whether it be getting on the board, or keeping them off of it, it was imperative for the Capitals to get an early jump on Tampa. Unfortunately, that would not be the case. Many thought this would be a high-scoring affair, as both teams boast offensive firepower. Initially, it was difficult to determine who played the better first period, as it was obvious the Capitals intended on playing a tight game. Play never appeared to be ‘out of control’ for either team, though the Caps had a couple of high-danger scoring chances early on. But the Bolts would answer that question pretty quickly. It took nearly half a period to do it, but Tyler Johnson would be the first on the board, giving the Lightning a 1-0 lead. So as to not dig themselves a deeper hole, it would be extremely important for the Caps to respond quickly. A clean shoulder-to-shoulder hit from Wilson on Sergachev would send the Tampa blueliner down the tunnel, though on his own power.

It wouldn’t take long for Tampa to take a 2-0 lead after a deflection off of Caps’ defenseman Dmitry Orlov from the corner ended up in the wrong net. Alex Killorn would ultimately be credited with the goal. Not long after, the Caps would respond with a rocket by John ‘Hardest Shot in the League’ Carlson, cutting Tampa’s lead to just one.

Alex Killorn would score his ‘own’ goal, giving Tampa a 3-1 lead, as Nick Jensen found himself unable to hold him off in front of Caps’ netminder Braden Holtby. The first power play of the night would end up going to the Washington Capitals, as Ondrej Palat was called for high-sticking. Unfortunately, the Caps power play would end as Tom Wilson would go off for hooking, so 4-on-4 play would resume for 32 seconds, and Tampa would then have their first power play. But THEN Brett Connolly would be called for holding, so Tampa would have a two-man advantage. Heading into the first intermission, Tampa would have the lead, 3-1.

The Capitals would start the second period on the penalty kill as the Bolts two-man advantage overlapped from the first. Much to Caps’ fans delight, the penalty kill units successfully kept Tampa’s lead at just two. Nikita Kucherov would be nicked for interference, much to the dismay of Lightning fans, so the Capitals would get another opportunity to reduce their deficit. Alex Ovechkin would finally beat Vasilevskiy on the power play, bringing the Caps within one.

Instead of the Capitals heading to the power play for either interference or boarding against Wilson, it would be Tampa getting another man advantage, as Evgeny Kuznetsov was sent off for slashing. The Capitals needed to kill off this penalty and thankfully, they did. The Capitals would snag a power play late in the 2nd as Ryan McDonagh would go off for roughing T.J. Oshie. Despite Vasilevskiy losing his goalie stick, the Caps wouldn’t score prior to the buzzer. However, they would start the third period in the same fashion Tampa started the second; with a power play. The Capitals played a much better middle frame, and hopefully, they could end the game on top.

With about 30 seconds of overlap power play time, the Capitals weren’t able to capitalize early in the third. Erik Cernak would re-establish Tampa’s two-goal lead as he snuck the puck five-hole just three minutes into the period. Matt Niskanen would be called for holding, so Tampa would be gifted yet another power play. As usual, the refereeing tonight was absolutely abysmal. The Caps would successfully kill off the penalty. Courtesy of a juicy rebound off the board behind the goal, Alex Ovechkin would pot his second goal of the night, once agains, bringing the Caps within one.

The Capitals would gain an opportunity to tie the game, as they went back on the power play with just under six minutes left. They wouldn’t tie it. Todd Reirden would elect to pull Holtby for the extra attacker, again, but the Caps would allow another hat trick by the opposition, as Killorn would seal the deal with an empty-net goal. Another lost face-off would lead to yet another empty net goal, this time by Yanni Gourde. No Tampa Bay player has ever scored a hat trick against the Capitals, but there’s a first time for everything. A valiant come-back effort by the Capitals wouldn’t be enough, and Tampa would win the first of three meetings between the two, 6-3.

FiCP's Three Takeaways of the Game

1. Puck management needs to improve, especially against teams as successful as Tampa. 

2. Less penalties, please.

3. Stop electing to pull the goalie. Now.

Washington Capitals v Tampa Bay Lightning: Pre-Game Report

Washington Capitals: 42-22-7; 8-2-0 in last 10

Tampa Bay Lightning: 54-13-4; 8-2-0 in last 10

For the first time since May 23rd, 2018, the Washington Capitals will face off against the dominant Tampa Bay Lightning tonight, at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. In a do-or-die Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, the Capitals snagged the title in a 4-0 shutout over the Lightning, and would ultimately go on to win their first Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history.

Tampa Bay has already clinched a 2018-19 playoff berth, and currently boast the most impressive record in the NHL. They are currently on 3-game win streak, but previously topped out at 10 wins straight back in Feburary. The Lightning were undefeated for the entire month of February (in regulation) until the Boston Bruins snapped that 10-game win streak on the final day of the month. You may remember how dominant last years’ Lightning team was for much of the regular season. They, however, eventually lost steam, finished out 3rd overall, and the Nashville Predators won the Presidents’ Trophy. However, this year, with an almost-identical roster, Tampa has all but guaranteed a Presidents’ Trophy win. Many argue the Cup is Tampas’ to lose this year. On Thursday, a third period comeback allowed the Lightning to beat the already-eliminated Detroit Red Wings, 5-4.

The Capitals remain a Metro division powerhouse, climbing their way up the standings. In the 21 games prior to the All-Star Break, the Caps were 10-8-3. Since the break, they are 15-5-1. A 5-2 win over the Flyers on Thursday kept them in first place in the division. A win tonight by the Capitals and/or a loss by the Islanders will keep them there. The Capitals have been Metro Division champions three times (8x additional prior to changes in division naming), and are hoping to snag the title for the fourth consecutive season.

Braden Holtby (27-17-4) is expected to get the start for the Caps tonight. With 7 wins in his last 9 starts, the go-to-goalie seems to be hitting his stride just in time. It certainly helps that backup goalie Pheonix Copley is so reliable, as to allow Holtby rest prior to the playoffs. Andrei Vasilevskiy (33-8-4) will be in between the pipes for the Lightning. The Capitals were able to solve him last season. Many of the goals the Caps scored during the ECF were top shelf, or 6- and 7- hole; above the waist, so to speak. Has Vasy altered his MO? It seems so; take a look.

Below is the Capitals’ expected lineup per Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Coverage begins at 6:00pm on NBCSWA with Caps Face-off Live, followed by Caps Pregame Live at 6:30pm, and puck drop shortly after 7:00pm.

SNAPPED; Penguins top Capitals 5-3, But Still Retain Top Spot in Metro

TLDR: Despite two goals by Jakub Vrana, and one by John Carlson, it just wasn’t enough. Pittsburgh wins 5-3, snapping a 7-game win streak. The Capitals still maintain a first place spot in the division. 

In the first of a four-game road trip, your Washington Capitals were unable to complete a comeback against the Pittsburgh Penguins in enemy territory. Arguably the greatest rivalry in modern day hockey, when the Caps and Pens play, you know bragging rights are on the line. Every game feels like it’s the first, but things always pick right back up where they left off. Back in December, the Penguins beat the Capitals 2-1 at Capital One Arena. Although tonight’s game was the last meeting between the two of the regular season, a post-season meeting is all but guaranteed. With these two teams having met in the post season for three consecutive seasons, it just doesn’t feel like Spring unless there is a Caps-Pens series. Over the last three seasons, the winner of the fourth and final match-up has gone on to win the Stanley Cup, so to say this game had major implications would be a gross understatement. Red herring statistic, or is there really some juju behind it?

The Penguins took the ice tonight missing five key pieces, including three defensemen (Ruhwedel, Letang, Maatta) and two forwards (Aston-Reese, Rust). A healthy and decently-rested Capitals team were riding a 7-game win streak, boasting a 90.5% penalty kill and a power play running at 23.8% effectiveness. The first period started off as fiery and physical as expected.

PPG Paints Arena is difficult to play in for the opposition, but that didn’t seem to faze the Caps. Washington would receive the first power play of the night, as Jake Guentzel would be called for holding against Capitals captain, Alex Ovechkin. Unfortunately, Lars Eller would be called for kneeing, so play went to four-on-four for a moment, and the Pens would then get their first power play. A much-needed penalty kill by the Capitals kept Pittsburgh off the board, even with the extra man. Caps goaltender Braden Holtby somehow kept the puck from sneaking behind him despite a flurry of players right in front of him. With just over 30 seconds remaining in the first period, elite sniper Jakub Vrana snuck the puck past Matt Murray, giving the Capitals a 1-0 lead heading into the intermission. The goal would mark Vrana’s career-high of 20 goals.

Early on in the second, the Penguins received their second power play, as Ovechkin went off to the box for high sticking. Another successful kill by the Caps would not only keep the score 1-0, but would also give the good guys an odd-man rush between Lars Eller and former Penguin Carl Hagelin. They would not score, but it is very evident that the Capitals are getting the better of the scoring opportunities. With under 10 minutes remaining in the second, a weird deflection off of the back of Pens goaltender Matt Murray would give the Capitals a 2-0 lead. Jakub Vrana would ultimately be credited with the goal, marking his second of the night.

Shortly thereafter, Pittsburgh would score their first goal of the game. A defensive breakdown in front of Holtby would give Jake Guentzel his 35th of the season. 47 seconds later, a bad turnover in the Pens defensive zone led to Sidney Crosby tying the game at two each. Nicklas Backstrom would go off to the box for tripping, giving the Pens another power play. The already-energized PPG Paints Arena would become even more energized as Crosby would strike again, giving the Pens a 3-2 lead. The Capitals seriously needed to step it up or else this game could tilt dangerously in the Pens’ favor. After 40 minutes, the Caps would end up down 3-2 after allowing three unanswered goals by Pittsburgh.

As previously mentioned, Pittsburgh is a difficult city to play in. But the Caps have been there and done that, most recently evidenced by a second round exorcism of demons during their 2017-18 Championship run. While few actually know what is said in the Capitals’ locker room during intermissions, one can only assume the second intermission break was a less-than-pleasant one. The Capitals came out fighting, and intended on ending the night the same way. However, it was not enough for the reigning Stanley Cup Champions. As expected, Tom Wilson and Erik Gudbranson would eventually cross paths, this time in front of the net. Both would receive matching penalties, so play would end up as 4v4 for two minutes. Neither the Caps nor the Pens would score. Just as the Capitals started to regain steam, they would be called for too-many-men, and the Pens would end right back up on the power play. It is absolutely unbelievable the sheer number of minor penalties the Capitals have been taking recently. For a while, it seemed as though they had that under control, playing more disciplined hockey. But it seems as though this win streak has given the Capitals a false sense of security, and now they are paying for it. Holtby came out a little too far and Phil Kessel would score on the power play, giving the Penguins a 4-2 lead. Pittsburgh would then, albeit late, be called for the same penalty, and the Capitals would get their power play. John Carlson scored his 11th goal of the season, lifting the Caps within one goal, but still trailing 4-3. Ovechkin would be given the primary assist, marking his 1200th point of his career.

With two minutes left, Caps head coach Todd Reirden would elect to pull Braden Holtby in exchange for the extra man. As usual, the plan would backfire, and Pittsburgh would score an empty net goal, sealing the deal for a 5-3 victory over the Capitals. The Caps’ seven-game win streak would be ultimately be snapped, but by a two-point margin, they still hold on to the top spot in the division. The Capitals, Islanders, and Penguins make up the first, second, and third place spots by only two point apiece. The top 5 spots, including the two wildcard spots, are separated by just 8 points total.

FiCP’s Three Takeaways of the Game:

  1. Enough with the turnovers.
  2. Enough with the penalties.
  3. Much of the Caps’ team are having a career-best season.

Caps Delay Jets 3-1, Hagelin Scores GWG, and Eller Pots Another ENG

TLDR: High-powered penalty killers, along with goals from Backstrom, Hagelin, and another empty-netter from Eller lift the Capitals to a 3-1 win over powerhouse Winnipeg Jets, Copley wins 5th straight start. 

Your Washington Capitals rounded out this short two-game home stand with a 3-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets. With a New York Islanders loss last night, the Caps are holding onto first place in the Metropolitan Division by a four-point margin. As we look ahead to the final 13 games of the season, it is becoming increasingly important for the Capitals to win these all-important division and conference games that loom ahead.

Many asserted that tonight’s game versus the Winnipeg Jets was a preview to what could possibly be a Stanley Cup Final match-up. The last time these two teams played, both T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov ended up on the receiving end of some vicious hits. Neither Jets’ players received supplemental discipline, and Caps ultimately dropped that game 3-1, on the road. Despite having not seen Caps’ backup goaltender Pheonix Copley since February 24th, head coach Todd Reirden chose him over Braden Holtby to allow the veteran time to rest before the playoffs begin. Both the Caps and Jets boast offensive firepower, so a high-scoring game was to be expected. Just under five minutes into the period, a perfect screen in front of Jets’ goaltender Connor Hellebuyck allowed Nicklas Backstrom to score his 18th goal of the season. With the goal, Backstrom now has points in 5 of his last 6 games, including 3 goals in his last 3 games.

Just moments later, Mathieu Perreault scored on a wide open net, giving the Jets the equalizer. For the majority of the period, the Capitals were able to effectively neutralize an explosive Jets team. Heavy forechecking and puck-nabbing allowed the Caps to comfortably settle into the first period. However, it was Winnipeg that received the first power play of the night, as Brett Connolly would go off for tripping. Moments later, as Tom Wilson jumped on the ice and played the puck, the Capitals would be penalized for too-many-men-on-the-ice. The Jets would have the two-man advantage for 1:34, and would be a man up for the remaining 26 seconds. The first real test of the night for Copley would be one that he ultimately would pass, with flying colors. Neither team would strike again in the remaining four minutes, and therefore the score would settle at 1-1 heading into the first intermission.

The second period started off very much like the first; fast and aggressive. Despite the Capitals seriously needing a power play, the Jets would receive yet another man-advantage. Top-tier penalty killer Carl Hagelin would go off for tripping, and the Caps’ penalty kill would be tested yet again. The refereeing was sub-par at best, as they seemed to turn a blind eye to every penalty the Jets should have been called for. Luckily, the Caps successfully killed the penalty. Finally, the Capitals would be gifted their first power play, as Perreault was sent to the box for tripping. The boys in red would not retake their lead. With just a couple of registered shots halfway through the period, it was apparent they Capitals desperately needed to improve their zone exits and entries. Carl Hagelin would be called again for another minor penalty, but the refs would not penalize any Jets players for unsportsmanlike conduct nor instigating. Just as the penalty expired, Hagelin would jump out of the box, snag a breakaway, and score his second goal with the Capitals, giving them the 2-1 advantage.

Despite the Jets doubling up on shots on goal, it would be the Capitals with the 2-1 lead as the second period came to a close.

Leading 2-1 at the start of the third and final period, we all hoped the good guys could hold the lead, if not improve it. Patrik Laine was called early on for hooking, and so the Caps would get just their second power play of the game. However, they would not convert. A nerve-wracking third period for both sides, the Jets would challenge a potential goal with just over 10 minutes remaining. We believed that the referees whistled down the play, and waived off the goal as Copley was pushed. For what felt like the first lucky strike of the night for the Capitals, the call was ultimately upheld, and the score remained 2-1. Dmitry Orlov would go off for tripping with just over two minutes left in the period, and so the Jets would get the man advantage. Winnipeg would elect to pull their goalie for the two-man advantage, but Lars Eller would pot his 10th goal of the season. Two empty net goals in two games by the Tiger to seal the deal? We’ll take it.

The 3-1 win for the Capitals mark seven straight, and Pheonix Copley once again, proved to the disbelievers that he is more than capable of stopping offensive powerhouses such as the Winnipeg Jets.

FiCP’s Three Takeaways of the Game

  1. The Caps penalty kill is improving, but the sheer number of penalties being called against us is terrifying. We need to get back to playing more disciplined hockey, even if some of them are soft calls.
  2. Carl Hagelin is fitting in just fine.
  3. People seriously need to stop discrediting Pheonix Copley. He is a worthy and capable goaltender. You cannot claim to ‘love him’ as a back-up, and then criticize when he is picked to start.

Capitals Defeat Devils 3-0, Holtby tallies 35th Shutout of Career

TLDR: The Washington Capitals shutout the New Jersey Devils, 3-0. Goals from Burakovsky, Backstrom, and Eller give the Caps their 6th straight win, reclaim top spot in the Metropolitan Division. 

Tonight, the Washington Capitals took on an under-performing and injured New Jersey Devils team. Looking for their 6th straight win, the Caps appeared to finally start gelling as a team, just in time for their final playoff push. The Capitals would ultimately beat New Jersey 3-0, and reclaim the top spot in the division.

Despite an early defensive breakdown in front of Caps netminder Braden Holtby, the boys in red made it very apparent they came out to party on a Friday night. The Capitals have struggled recently with allowing early first period goals by the opposition, but that certainly didn’t pose a problem tonight. Andre Burakovsky started off the scoring early, just under three minutes into the first period. With the goal being his 11th of the season, Andre has goals in his last three games.

The Capitals’ ability to steal the puck away from the Devils certainly hindered any opportunities the weakened away team may have generated. However, it was the Devils that received the first power play of the night, as defenseman Michal Kempny went off for tripping. New Jersey maintained offensive zone pressure for much of the minor penalty, but the Capitals improved penalty killing units kept them off the board. And Holtby’s spectacular goaltending certainly didn’t hurt their cause. Shortly thereafter, a charging penalty dished to Kurtis Gabriel gave the Capitals an extra man for the power play. It only took a couple of moments for the Capitals to be gifted a very long two-man advantage as Blake Coleman tripped up T.J. Oshie. As one power play expired, the Caps would receive yet another opportunity once the Devils were called for too-many-men. Unfortunately, they were unable to increase their lead by two on any of the three consecutive power plays. The Devils would be gifted a late first period power play, that would ultimately overlap into the second. The Capitals led 1-0 heading into the first intermission.

Pictured: Head Coach Todd Reirden is all of us

Most would agree that in the second period, we wanted to see better passing and more scoring opportunities. A successful kill of a late first period penalty was definitely a good start. Carl Hagelin continues to impress on the penalty kill and in 5v5 play. A speedy and precise skater, Hagelin seems to have made himself at home on the third line for now. Difficult ice at Capital One made it difficult to complete passes, so there was a good amount of back and forth play. Matt Niskanen would be called for holding the stick, giving the Devils another power play opportunity. Another successful kill by the Capitals. Alas, the Caps would head back to the penalty kill, albeit successful, as Nic Dowd went off for interference. A scrappy yet scoreless second period, the Caps led with 24 shots on goal, to the Devils’ 20, with the final frame looming.

Pictured: Capitals forward Carl Hagelin (Geoff Burke- USA Today Sports)

During the intermission, Carl Hagelin agreed that to win this game, his team needed to stay out of the box. Ironically, the Capitals, again, go off to the penalty box for hooking, just 30 seconds into the third period. The Devils were unable to register even a single shot on the man advantage, improving the Caps PK to 100% on the night. A trip against Evgeny Kuznetsov by Kenny Agostino gave the good guys another chance to improve their lead. And a tip-in deflection by Nicklas Backstrom did exactly that, giving the Capitals a 2-0 lead. The goal would mark Backstrom’s 17th of the season.

With five minutes remaining, the Capitals went back on the power play as Kyle Palmieri was sent off for tripping, but did not convert. T.J. Oshie would receive a two-minute minor for tripping with less than two minutes left in the game. Although the Devils would elect to pull goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey would end the game without a single goal. To seal the deal, Lars Eller would pot a shorthanded empty net goal, and the Caps would improve to 8-2-0 in their last 10 and 40-21-7 for the season. Braden Holtby earned his 35th career shutout, stopping 25 of 25 shots faced.

FICP’s Three Takeways of the Game:

  1. Despite a red-hot penalty kill, the Capitals need to stay out of the box.
  2. Are we witnessing a Burakovsky comeback?
  3. Braden Holtby is a brick-wall.

Friends in (Not So) Far Places; Wells Fargo Center

Yesterday, March 6th, 2019, was my 25th birthday. Coincidentally, our Washington Capitals took a short train ride up to Wells Fargo Center to take on the Philadelphia Flyers, hoping to extend their four-game win streak. Despite having attended nearly 70 Caps games over the last three years, I had never attended an away game. I saw this as the perfect opportunity to finally watch my favorite team take on a division rival in a barn that ISN’T Capital One Arena. Thanks to a friend of mine (whom I met through the Capitals), we snagged tickets through the Caps Road Crew, booked an Airbnb, and drove up to the City of Brotherly Love.

Now, I’ve heard a lot of rumors about Philly sports fans; how they’ll trash talk you, throw beer at you, and challenge you to meet them “out back after the game”. How they’ll burn their city, win or lose. With that being said, I am a strong believer that if you go into a situation looking for issues, you’ll find them. I personally just wanted to have a good time in a city I haven’t visited since that 6th grade field trip, in a new arena, and watch the Caps snag a win for my birthday. From DC, the trip is only about 2 1/2 hours, without traffic. Side note: if you’re ever in Philly, and want to try something new, Banana Leaf is a hole-in-the-wall Malaysian restaurant, and it was INCREDIBLE. Donning our jerseys, we set out on an adventure. After visiting a number of local sports bars, per locals’ recommendations, and befriending a handful of Flyers’ fans, we jumped on a free shuttle (shout out to Chickie & Pete’s) to Wells Fargo Center, thus officially entering ‘enemy territory’.

I’ll be honest with you, I truthfully didn’t know what to expect. I prefer to let my experiences speak for themselves, rather than rumors and anecdotal stories from others. While in line, we were lightly harried for wearing ‘Crapitals’ jerseys, but once we thanked them for beating Pittsburgh in the Stadium Series, it didn’t last. There’s nothing quite like a mutual distaste for a team to bring rivals together, eh? Once inside, we headed down to the glass for the pregame skate. Everyone I interacted with, Flyers fans and Caps fans, were wonderful. First of all, the new sound system at Wells Fargo Center…? Yeah, we need that at Capital One Arena. It is loud, it is reverberating, and it is deafening. There was A LOT of red in Wells Fargo, which was amazing to see. Being so close to DC, it is so easy to just drive up to Philly for a game. At times, our chants were louder than the home team. The cheers for Caps’ goals were LOUD. It seemed as though Flyers fans didn’t truly start ‘cheering’ until they scored their 3rd goal. But they BOO’ed. A lot. Despite being surrounded by Flyers’ fans, there was no name-calling, no beer-flinging. As someone who attends A LOT of hockey games, I am not bothered by the casual chirping and trash talking. We had started a “Let’s Go Caps!” chant, and was just told to “shut the f**k up”. No big deal. Some may be bothered by that, so if you’re easily triggered, I’d recommend you watch from the comfort of your own home. I, however, draw the line at targeting a single person. Generalized cheers and jeers are are just a part of hockey.

The only issue we had all night was a single woman a few seats down from us who took the chirps a little bit too far, and a man who screamed some unintelligible nonsense at us with three minutes left in the game. Belligerently, she began to swear at us, making excuses for her behavior because its ‘her house’ (which to an extent is acceptable). What at first was innocent haggling evolved into targeted ‘unsportsmanlike conduct’. Maturely, we were non-reactive. Regardless of venue, when you go to watch a hockey game (or any event), the best way you can respond to harassment, is to not respond at all. The row of guys in front of us would trash talk, we’d trash talk back, but at the end of the night, we shook hands and parted ways. We got some “Ovechkin Sucks!” and “Holtby Sucks!” chants, but that was to be expected. We sat in the lower bowl with the Caps Road Crew, so I assume we would have had more issues if we had sat in the upper levels. Again, if you’re looking for trouble, you will certainly find it. However, if you are simply looking to enjoy a good hockey game, and aren’t easily upset, I would recommend Wells Fargo Center to any hockey fan. The best part of all, the Capitals won 5-3 on the road, and extended their streak to 5 wins, and are again first in the Metropolitan. Overall, I would chalk this up to a positive experience, and I absolutely intend on returning to Wells Fargo Center in the future.

My ratings for Wells Fargo Center are as follows:

Parking: 4/10 (we took a shuttle to the arena but it looked like a massive logistical nightmare trying to leave WFC).

Security: 10/10 (they’re strict with what is allowed in [posters under 14×14, no flags, noisemakers], but they were super efficient and appeared to like their job).

Concourses: 8/10 (the upper concourse was recently renovated, but I didn’t see it, so I’m rating the lower level concourse. It is older, but it’s much larger and not as crowded, even during intermissions).

Prices: 6/10 (overpriced, but typical for the event).

Sound System: 10/10 (I would rate it higher if I could. Recently updated, deafening, reverberating, definitely the best part of the arena).

Jumbotron: 9/10 (large, presumably what the new Jumbotron will be like at Capital One Arena, cool information and statistics centrally located, didn’t obstruct view).

Seats: 5/10 (decently sized, but old and worn, and many were in the process of breaking).

Intermission Entertainment: 6/10 (two bouts of mites-on-ice, a performance by the cheer squad, and some weird commercial break games)

Hometown Fans: 8/10 (its Philadelphia, they’re passionate about their sports. There’s always that occasional bad apple wherever you go).