Caps-Pens Renew Playoff Rivalry in Game 1

Alex Ovechkin has one simple request for fans and the media: don’t make this about Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby. The Caps face off against their arch rivals from Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals for the first time since 2009, when both Sid and Alex scored hat tricks in Game 2 of the series. Caps friends will remember having a 2-0 lead only to see the Pens win three straight. On the verge of getting knocked out, Washington took game six to overtime where they won 5-4 to force a game seven. That game the Caps were never in the building as the Penguins crushed them at Verizon Center 6-2 to win the series and, eventually, the Stanley Cup.

Play Your Game

OK Caps fans. Breathe. We reached the second round after a tough first round series with Philly. The positives you take away from that series are the play of Braden Holtby and how Alex Ovechkin was in beast mode. They’ll need this and more as they take on a team that easily dismantled Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers four games to one with their speed and efficiency on the Power Play.

  • The Capitals Power Play is 29.6% and penalty kill is a league best 95.8% for the playoffs.
  • Braden Holtby has played Vezina Award winning hockey throughout the playoffs. Thus far he is 4-2 with a 0.84 GAA, .968 save percentage and two shutouts.
  • Players that need to boost their play in this series: Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky.
  • The Capitals are 1-7 all-time in Stanley Cup Playoff series (19-30 overall) against the Penguins. The last time they beat them in a playoff series was 1994 when the Caps won four games to two.
  • Injuries: Defenseman Brooks Orpik is listed day-to-day but is looking likely to start the series.

No Fleury, No Problem

The Penguins have had to deal with a lot of injury issues. First, Evgeny Malkin was deemed out for the first part of the Rangers series. He has since made a triumphant return with two goals in Game 4. Then Marc-André Fleury has been battling concussion symptoms for more than a month, leaving rookie Matt Murray and Jeff Zatkoff as the Pens only options. Murray has been stellar in his rookie season, coming into the Ranger series and winning three straight games while allowing four goals.

  • The Penguin Power Play is a phenomenal 38.1%, tops in the league for the playoffs. Their penalty kill is 89.5%.
  • Rookie netminder Matt Murray is 3-0 with a 1.33 GAA, .955 save percentage and a shutout.
  • Sidney Crosby leads the team with three goals, five assists.
  • Injuries: Goaltender Marc-André Fleury (concussion, day-to-day); Forward Beau Bennett (undisclosed, day-to-day); Forward Scott Wilson (lower body, IR); and Kevin Porter (ankle, IR)

Your starting goaltenders will be Braden Holtby for the Caps and Matt Murray for the Pens.

Puck drop is 8 p.m. on CSN.

ROCK THE RED and GO CAPS!

Washington Capitals: The Maturing of a Team

When the Washington Capitals played the Anaheim Ducks in March, former Caps and current Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau spoke about the maturing of the team and their increased experience. If you remember, many of the players on today’s team started with the Hershey Bears and Boudreau had the privilege of laying their foundation as NHL players. During his time as the Caps coach, he set the foundation for  Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Karl Alzner, Jay Beagle, John Carlson, and Jason Chimera. Braden Holtby was just starting his NHL career when Bruce was dismissed by the Caps management.

So what has happened with these young guns since 2007 when Boudreau first coached them?

For starters, all of the original young guns except Ovechkin are family men now and even Alex is engaged and has spoken about his desire to have a family. They have new priorities in their personal lives and with that comes a personal maturity. All of them are close to 30, except Ovi and Beagle who are 30.There are some new “Young Guns” in the house but you get the sense that between the coaches and these older mentors, those  players are more interested in making a name for the team than a name for themselves. For whatever reason, there seems to be a heightened sense of committment to the community, the fan base, and to a winning mentality that we haven’t seen here since the BB years.

Ovechkin has had an incredible year. First, the 30 year old became engaged and he has been all smiles ever since. He played his seventh year of scoring 50 or more goals; he is the fifth fastest player to reach 500 goals, he topped the Russian-born goals scored, and he has shown the world what a personally generous man he is. As captain, he inspires others to succeed.

Backstrom at 28 is a dad now and one proud pappa. The Swedish center sustained an injury that kept him out of play at the start of the season and again in the final days of regulation play but he demonstrated real tenacity to get back as soon as he could. In his ninth season with the Caps, Nicky continues to provide the setup for Ovi to score while notching a few goals (20) of his own; his highest in nearly six seasons.

Alzner married in 2013 and currently has one child. The 27 year old Iron Man has demonstrated remarkable staying power as he continues to show up night after night. His former line-mate, John Carlson at 26 is one of the youngest of the “young guns” and he too has settled in a family-man life with wife Gina and their baby boy. Karl, John, and their wives are all active in their local communities.

Jay Beagle showed us all what it is like to miss a good bit of the season with an injury and fight back to regain his spot. Unfortunately Beags is injured again and we are hoping the 30 year-old dad of one makes a swift recovery. His good spirits always seems to lighten the load for the other players. He and Cheerful Chimera, the papa of the team are reminders to the players that hockey is meant to be fun–winning fun!!

Perhaps the biggest change though has been seen in the maturing of Braden Holtby. There is no doubt that Mitch Korn has helped Braden bring the maturity of a father of two to the goaltender’s on-ice performance. Braden has always had tenacity and a desire to win but this season the 26 year old has turned the corner and shown the hockey world what we Caps fans have always known–he is one of the best goaltenders in the league. Whatever the reason for his steadfast pose between the pipes, Braden clearly is bringing something new this season.

All season we have heard words like “resilience,” “tenacity,” “battle,” “team,” and “accountability” from the coach and the players and these positive words make for a positive attitude on and off the ice. Add the talent and winning mentality of Justin Williams and Mike Richards and you have the ingredients for a solid team that through the 2015/16 season refused to lose two back-to-back games and powered forward to conquer any adversity that might hold them back–be that poor gamemanship or injured players–the Caps battled forward to the President’s Trophy and a season of incredible milestones. This is a seasoned Caps team, from the players who have won the Cup to those that have taken the ride without winning. They all understand that something had to change and have embraced Trotz’s philosophy to do this together. This is what makes Caps fans believe more this time than ever before.

Go Caps!!!

 

 

 

 

UPDATE! 2016 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview: West is Set While Caps Await Opponent in Round 1

The final week of the 2015-16 season is here. Three games remain after Tuesday night. The Caps clinched everything a week ago (Metropolitan, Eastern Conference and Presidents Trophy) and will get home ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

Canada will be shut out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since the NHL-WHA merger in 1979 gave the NHL six Canadian teams and only the second time in history. The rapid decline of the Montreal Canadiens, after goaltender Carey Price went down to injury, has led to this scenario.

But who will the Capitals face? The scenarios are changing daily and here’s a look as of Tuesday what the matchups will most likely be.

Eastern Conference

(1) Washington Capitals Vs. (8) Philadelphia Flyers/Boston Bruins

The Washington Capitals wrapped up the top spot in the Eastern Conference and division last week. With 4 games remaining, the Caps can now start giving rest to whoever needs it. There are many potential opponents for the Caps in round 1 but it’s looking more and more like the Flyers or Bruins will get the nod unless the Red Wings slip.

The Flyers are playing inspired hockey after losing starting goaltender Michael Neuvirth for the remainder of the regular season with a meniscus tear in his knee. With 4 games (8 possible points) remaining, including a key matchup with the Red Wings Wednesday, points will matter. So far so good with Steve Mason, who has been solid enough for the Flyers to make a playoff run.

FINAL FOUR GAMES: 4/6 @Detroit; 4/7 Vs. Toronto; 4/9 Vs. Pittsburgh; 4/11 @NY Islanders

Chances of making the playoffs: Solid. If they beat Detroit and Toronto, they make their job easy. Lose to Detroit, they have to win to get in.

Claude Julien’s team is in trouble and it just might cost him his job. The Bruins are now on the outside looking in, one point out of the final playoff spot with three games remaining. Out of their last three games, two are winnable against teams far gone from the playoffs. However, going on a losing streak and only winning three of your last 10 will get you out of the playoffs pretty quick. The team’s blue line will need to shape up if Rask is to have a shot at leading his team to the postseason.

FINAL THREE GAMES: 4/5 Vs. Carolina; 4/7 Vs. Detroit; 4/9 Vs. Ottawa

Chances of making the playoffs: Tough but they have a chance. They have to win at least two of three and hope the Flyers or Red Wings choke down the stretch.

(2) Florida Panthers Vs. (7) New York Islanders

The surprise Florida Panthers have been injected with new life as 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr is playing some of his best hockey. He leads the team with 27 goals and looks to keep the Panthers fired up going into the post season. Goaltender Roberto Luongo is putting up solid numbers with a 33-19-6 record and 2.38 GAA.

The Islanders better wake up and right the sinking ship. Losing their last 4, they are within striking distance of both Detroit and Philly who want to steal their spot. With four games remaining, the Islanders have a chance to move up or at least solidify their seeding. Losing Halak for six weeks means Thomas Greiss needs to shine in net.

(3)Tampa Bay Lightning Vs. (6) Detroit Red Wings

The defending Eastern Conference Champs have done what they did in 2015: go through the season under the radar while being one of the best in the conference. However, with Steven Stamkos out 1-3 months with a blood clot in his arm, they lost their sniper and leading scorer. It’s going to make them struggle for offense in the playoffs.

The Red Wings are on the verge of extending the longest streak in modern sports to 25 years in a row of making the playoffs. This team though is missing the man behind the bench (Mike Babcock) and are an older team looking to get younger. The question is…which goalie do they stick with? All season it has been split between Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek, with both putting up decent numbers.

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins Vs. (5) New York Rangers

When it comes to the playoffs for the Rangers, look no further than Henrik Lundqvist. The man comes to play when the post-season arrives and he’s looking true to form. They are always a tough out.

The Penguins are playing outstanding hockey as of late, even without Evgeny Malkin. Without him the Pens have rattled off five wins in a row and Crosby is getting back to form with 31 goals and 45 assists. The coaching change part way through the season is looking pretty genius right now. Fleury continues to rack up the wins thanks to great defense in front of him. A series with the Rangers would be hard fought.

Western Conference

(1) Dallas Stars/St. Louis Blues Vs. (8) Minnesota Wild

The Dallas Stars, behind goaltender Kari Lehtonen, are scary good. Case in point, the 6-2 drubbing of the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks a few weeks back. The number one scoring team in the NHL is looking for a deep run but the Western Conference is full of talent. It won’t be easy. Dallas is currently tied at 105 points with the Blues.

The Wild look to have a hold on the final playoff spot as Colorado losing to Washington all but sealed their fate. The Central Division in the Western Conference has five of the seven teams making the playoffs. Goalie Devan Dubnyk is in a skid as he has dropped three consecutive games and logged a .881 save percentage in those matchups. This cold stretch comes on the heels of a six-game winning streak in which the netminder was fantastic as he registered a 1.30 GAA. He will need to be that good to help his team beat a tough Dallas squad.

(2)  Los Angeles Kings Vs. (7) San Jose Sharks

If we go in the order of the last four Stanley Cup champions, this is the Kings year right? The last four Stanley Cup champions have been Los Angeles or Chicago but this year it’s not a given. The Kings behind Jonathan Quick have a four point lead with nine games remaining in the Pacific Division. They are on pace to match the past few seasons of 100 and 95 point finishes.

The Sharks behind goaltender Martin Jones are in good position to better their seeding if they can get some points and have some help in their last nine games. Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski lead a good hockey club that when motivated can make a run in the playoffs.

(3) St. Louis Blues/Dallas Stars Vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks

The Blues are the Tampa Bay Lightning of the Western Conference. They play great hockey but are quiet, not garnering as much attention. Head Coach Ken Hitchcock has been rotating goaltenders Brian Elliot and Jake Allen all season. The last four games, Elliot has recorded three shutouts and is looking like a goaltender primed for a playoff run. Right winger Vladimir Tarasenko has notched 37 goals and 34 assists to lead the team in his third season. The Blues are currently tied with Dallas at 105 points for the top spot in the Central Division and Western Conference.

The Blackhawks have won two of the last four Stanley Cups and are the defending champs. You can’t count them out but you also have the right to be concerned. The Hawks have dropped seven of their last 11 and look to have some injury issues. Center Marcus Kruger and goaltender Corey Crawford have been listed day-to-day with injuries. With eight games left, Chicago just needs to weather the storm and get in the playoffs.

(4) Anaheim Ducks  Vs. (5) Nashville Predators

The Ducks, led by former Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, have cooled off as of late. Certainly the hottest team since the break, Anaheim is first in the league in power play (23.1%) and penalty kill (86.9%). Goalies Frederick Andersen and John Gibson have shared duties throughout the season with both posting decent numbers.

The Nashville Predators with head coach Peter Laviolette continue to thrive after Barry Trotz departure to the Capitals at the start of last season. Their win over the Kings 5-2 a few weeks back is a warning to the Kings and the rest of the league to not sleep on them or you will pay the price. Former Capital Filip Forsberg has hit 31 goals and is showing why the Predators got the better end of the deal that sent Martin Erat and Michael Latta to the Caps.

Which matchup are you looking forward to?

Would you be fine with the Flyers or Bruins?

Let us know!

Rock the Red and Go Caps!

 

Barry Trotz for President!

Strong Third Period Propels Caps Past Jackets

On Monday, March 28, 2016, the Washington Capitals took on the Columbus Blue Jackets at home in the Verizon Center. After a horrible outing last game against the St. Louis Blues, the Caps needed to bounce back and attack the offensive zone. Braden Holtby got his 61st start in net, opposite Sergei Bobrovsky. TJ Oshie was back in the line-up after being sick. Caps scratches were Taylor Chorney, Mike Weber, Michael Latta and Stanislav Galiev.

PERIOD 1- You gotta start somewhere…

Caps came out ready to play tonight! They were playing hard and fast with a few chances early in the period. You could definitely see a change in them vs. their other recent games which lacked pretty much anything. The period was still pretty uneventful, until the last few minutes. After a good offensive zone attack, fan fave Justin Williams got the Caps on the board with a great garbage goal. However, Columbus tied it before Wes Johnson could finish announcing the Caps goal.

PENALTIES- Tom Wilson called for tripping.

GOALS- Justin Williams scored his 22nd goal of the season, assisted by John Carlson, Cam Atkinson scored, assisted by Gregory Campbell.

SCORE- Caps and Jackets tied, 1-1

PERIOD 2- All’s quiet on the home front

Caps almost netted another one early in the second as Marcus Johansson split defenders. Jay Beagle drew a penalty on another drive to the net on a great pass from Jason Chimera. Barry Trotz started rolling some different defensive pairs in the hopes that something would stick and keeps the Caps strong in their own zone.

PENALTIES- Cody Goloubef called for tripping, Tom Wilson called for boarding, Boone Jenner called for slashing.

 GOALS- No goals.

SCORE- Still tied, 1-1

PERIOD 3- This is how we do it…

Caps got a power play pretty early in the third but could not get anything going in the offensive zone. After a broken stick allowed Dan Winnik to corral a soft shot, the Caps headed down the ice. Bobrovsky gave up a soft rebound and Tom Wilson made him pay with some snazzy stick work. It was Tom Wilson’s first goal since March 1st.  Brooks Orpik shoved Brandon Dubinsky into the net after Dubinsky elbowed Braden Holtby in the head.  An empty net goal by Nicklas Backstrom was the nail in the coffin for a Columbus comeback. This was also a very appropriate moment since it was Swedish Heritage Night.

PENALTIES- Boone Jenner called for holding, Scott Hartnell called for slashing, Nicklas Backstrom called for unsportsmanlike conduct, Brandon Dubinsky called for goaltender interference,

GOALS- Tom Wilson scored his 7th goal of the season, assisted by Mike Richards, TJ Oshie scored his 24th goal of the season, assisted by Matt Niskanen, Nicklas Backstrom scored his 20th goal of the season, assisted by Matt Niskanen.

SCORE- Caps win, 4-1!!

With their victory tonight, the Caps are 54-16-5. They have 113 points and clinch the #1 seed in the playoffs. They also win the President’s trophy, which is the second in the team’s history. As awesome as all that is, let’s not lose focus. We all know there is a bigger goal for this team, franchise and fan base. This was also the 46th victory for Braden Holtby, putting him that much closer to catching Martin Brodeur. He is now three wins away from breaking the single season wins record.

The Caps next game is Wednesday, March 30th, at 8pm. They play the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center in Philly. See ya there, Caps fans!

Caps Top Canes in OT

The Washington Capitals returned home to the Eastern Time Zone and the Verizon Center after a 4 game roadtrip. The Carolina Hurricanes are currently in sixth place in the Metropolitan division and have a young defense. Jay Beagle skated with the top line while the rest of the right wings ( T. J. Oshie, Justin Williams and Tom Wilson) shifted down a line. 

First Period: Improvements

The Capitals’ first periods have not been good lately. This first period was different than those. The Caps had their skating legs and came out firing the puck at Hurricane’s goaltender Eddie Lack. Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin had the first of many quality chances that the Capitals had in the opening period. The posts probably had some dents in them due to how many times the Caps hit them. The Canes did well in the first period but the Capitals outshot them 10-8 in the period.

GOALS: None

PENALTIES: None

SCORE: Game tied 0-0

Second Period: Caps Score First!

  Justin Williams scored 90 seconds into the period to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead. The streak of allowing the first goal is (finally) over. At the end of the period, on a broken play, Jordan Staal tied the game for the Canes. Almost immediately after, Evgeny Kuznetsov rang the puck off the post. It was a great pass from Andre Burakovsky. The Capitals had a late period power play but nothing came of it. The teams ended the period tied 1-1.

GOALS: Justin Williams scored his 21st of the season (assist: Jason Chimera); Jordan Staal scored his 18th of the season (assist: None)

PENALTIES: Nicklas Backstrom (tripping); Michal Jordan (tripping)

SCORE: Game tied 1-1.

Third Period: Solid Goaltenders 

Justin Williams tried the Kuznetsov pass (no look behind the net) but nobody was home. The Caps have hit the post four different times during the game. There were quality chances for each team during the period. Goaltenders Eddie Lack and Braden Holtby were solid in the respective nets. The Caps penalty kill was successful when Wilson was sent to the box. The Caps and Canes headed to 3-on-3 OT tied 1-1.

GOALS: None

PENALTIES: Tom Wilson (hooking)

SCORE: Game tied 1-1

Overtime: Ovi in OT!

  First line Jay Beagle started the 3-on-3 overtime. 1:48 into the extra session, Evgeny Kuznetsov to Alex Ovechkin for the game winner. The Canes challenged for offside. The referees confirmed the good goal and the Caps were victorious on Russian Heritage Night. The Caps’ 50th win of the season.

GOALS: Alex Ovechkin scored his 42nd of the season (assist: Evgeny Kuznetsov)

PENALTIES: None

SCORE: Caps win 2-1

The Capitals officially secured their playoff spot with their overtime win. Braden Holtby set a new franchise record for most wins in a single season (42). Good times for the Caps.

What’s Next?

Practice: The Caps have a day off on Wednesday and are scheduled to have practice at 10:30am on Thursday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

Game: The Nashville Predators visit the Verizon Center on Friday at 7pm.

Photos by: Brittney Marcum