Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Fehr shines in OT thriller

It was the first time these 2 teams have met since the 7 game playoff series last year. The Capitals looked to be headed down the same road as last Wednesday when they were trailing 3-0 to the Bruins after one period. Instead the Caps showed tremendous maturity and overcame the lead for a 4-3 OT win. After allowing 3 goals on the first 9 shots Braden Holtby shut the door on Boston. Holtby had 30 saves in his 8th win of the season. Holtby couldn’t have done a lot in the first period, with all 3 goals being somewhat out of reach. One was a penalty shot, one was an unlucky scramble in front of the net, and final one being a PP goal where he was screened. Holtby isn’t making a lot of mistakes lately and the defense needs to do a better job of backing him up.
Mike Ribeiro would get the scoring started in the 2nd period with a great pass from Alex Ovechkin. 5 minutes later Tomas Kundratek lit the lamp for his 1st career NHL goal. Kundratek has played 20 games with the Caps this year and is cementing himself as a full time NHL defenseman. He also logged an assist in the game and had a + ice rating. Kundratek said after the game, "I definitely celebrated like winning goal in the playoffs. It's the first one, and I'll remember it for the rest of my life."
In the 3rd period Wojtek Wolski would score the game tying goal ending an 11 game goalless streak. Wolski played his season high in minutes tonight, after being a healthy scratch on Saturday in Winnipeg. Eric Fehr and Nicklas Backstrom assisted on this goal as well as Kundratek’s goal. It seemed to be their night as they started on the ice for OT. It only took 37 seconds for the pair to hook up for the game winning goal. Fehr split the defense after a nice pass from Backstrom and beat Tukka Rask top shelf as he was falling to the ice. Backstrom and Fehr both logged 3 point games tonight and had the top forward line for the Caps even without Troy Brouwer. Brouwer was out with an illness and should return to action Thursday.
One player that made a big impact in his 1st ever NHL game was defenseman Steve Oleksy. The Caps signed and recalled Oleksy yesterday because Mike Green was place on IR and Roman Hamrlik on waivers. He is a talented puck-moving defenseman who is very physical and isn’t afraid of the penalty box. Oleksy played very well in his debut logging his 1st career point assisting on the Ribeiro goal. He had a +2 ice rating and led the team with 3 blocked shots. It didn’t take him long to get acquainted after he threw a bone-crushing hit at tough guy Shawn Thornton. With Green and Orlov out we will be seeing a lot more of Oleksy and after tonight that won’t be a bad thing.
Overall this was a monumental win for Washington because they were resilient and didn’t give up against a very talented team in Boston. Also the Caps were missing Troy Brouwer for the first time this season as well as Mike Green, and players were able to rise to the occasion and fill those gaps. I’m calling this game the most important win of our season because of the confidence it will bring to this team. Alex Ovechkin hasn’t scored a goal in the last 4 games, but he has still been productive in creating chances. He also has logged a point in 4 of his last 5 games. Also cheers to John Erskine for dropping the mitts for the 2nd time this season to get the Caps going. This OT winner wasn’t as thrilling as Joel Ward’s game 7 winner, but it was still pretty awesome. The Caps are home again Thursday against the Florida Panthers who are without Jose Theodore for quite some time. Washington has to CAPitalize on these divisional games. Keep the Faith. Rock the Red. Unleash the Fury.
Player of the Game: Eric Fehr (1 goal, 2 assists, +3)
Stat of the Game: 3 assists (Nicklas Backstrom)
Unsung Hero: Steve Oleksy

Friday, March 1, 2013

Injuries, acquisitions, and the LW mystery

Since the embarrassing loss to the Flyers the Caps have made some changes and the injury bug seems to be inevitable for Mike Green. Mike Green played his first game Wednesday after sitting out 3 games and reinjured his groin, so that he will not be playing tomorrow against the Winnipeg Jets. We have seen this injury with Mike Green in the past and don’t turn out well for the Capitals. There is no timetable for his return. This means that Jeff Schultz or Roman Hamrlik will step in his place; my money is on Schultz getting the start. Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson, and Dmitry Orlov remain sidelined with injuries too with no timetables. Johansson is the only one that is recovering and skating consistently with the Caps. Laich hasn’t skated since February 16th and Orlov is still out indefinitely.  
Yesterday the Caps picked up forward Aaron Volpatti off of waivers from the Vancouver Canucks. He is a tough left winger who isn’t afraid of dropping the mitts, but will not be an offensive threat for Washington. This season for the Canucks he has 4 fights in 16 games and 1 goal. George McPhee is obviously looking for a 4th line spark of some toughness and grit making this move. Adam Oates stated today that Volpatti will be in the lineup tomorrow against the Jets which means a LW has to be scratched. The rumors in the Caps media today seem to think it will be Wojtek Wolski who has 2 goals this season, and hasn’t scored in a month. Despite his recent struggles I would not scratch Wolski because he is due for a goal. We will see if Volpatti can help the Caps build some momentum in Winnipeg. He will be wearing #24 tomorrow.
The Caps also sent down goaltender Philipp Grubauer and forward Casey Wellman to Hershey yesterday. Michal Neuvirth is feeling better and the acquisition of Volpatti is the reason for the demotion of the two players. It is safe to say this will not the last we will be seeing of Grubauer at the NHL level after his short lived stint with the Capitals. He showed great promise and composure in net and will continue to succeed at Hershey until his time comes. Braden Holtby will make his 9th straight start tomorrow in net after being pulled mid-game on Wednesday. In my opinion 3 of the 4 goals he could do nothing about, so he should be able to bounce back in Winnipeg tomorrow.
Finally the mystery of the LW spot on the top line continues. As I had predicted Jason Chimera will no longer accompanying Mike Ribeiro and Alex Ovechkin anymore because of his lack of production. Adam Oates has decided to go with Matt Hendricks on the top line for this upcoming game. Nothing against Hendricks, but while he may have the speed and determination, he lacks the skill to be a top 6 forward. You would think that someone would want to step up and grab the spot with Laich and Johansson out, but a player has yet to prove worthy. Johansson, Wolski, Chimera, and now Hendricks are among the players who have had their shot with the top line this season. Maybe Hendy will prove us wrong.
4 Things to Look For In Winnipeg
·         Alex Ovechkin will tickle the twine for his 9th goal of the season. He’s been scoreless in the 2 games since his hat trick and the Caps will need him against this divisional foe

·         Aaron Volpatti will drop the mitts for the 5th time this season, 1st with the Caps to show them that he can bring some momentum to this struggling team.

·         Braden Holtby will get back on track for his 7th win of the season.

·         Eric Fehr will log some kind of point in his return to Winnipeg to show them what they’re missing.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Flyers roll over Caps

Last night’s game defined the inconsistency that exists among this Washington Capitals team this year. They came out extremely sluggish and gave up two quick goals, one being 23 seconds in by Claude Giroux. After the 2-0 deficit in the 1st period you had a sense that the Caps weren’t going to get out of this hole. The night before the Caps played their most complete game of the season against Carolina and they decided to follow that with a miserable 1st period to destroy any momentum from the shutout win.

The 2nd period was no better, letting up two more goals and extinguishing any chance of a comeback. After Max Talbot scored the 4th goal of the game Braden Holtby was pulled from the game allowing 4 goals on 18 shots. In defense of Holtby’s consistent play as of late, 3 of the 4 goals he could do nothing about. Philipp Grubauer then entered the game for his 1st ever NHL appearance between the pipes. He didn’t change the outcome of the 4-1 loss, but he did serve as the lone positive in the game stopping all 14 shots he faced. It was definitely a special night for the 21 year old even with how the game ended and I congratulate him on his efforts.

Joel Ward scored his 6th goal of the season for Washington in the final minutes spoiling Ilya Bryzgalov’s shutout. The Caps couldn’t seem to find the net on the PP which is a rarity in the last 10 games. The special teams in this game was very poor, killing 1 of 3 penalties and going 0 for 3 on the PP. Alex Ovechkin led the team with 6 shots, but could not capitalize on any of them. Ovechkin didn’t play his best game and missed a one on one with Bryzgalov late in the game when he tried to go forehand backhand as opposed to just wristing it. Mike Ribeiro had a rare bad game logging a -2 ice rating and picking up his familiar unsportsmanlike conduct towards the end of the game. Jason Chimera………well it’s safe to say he didn’t score and keeps proving himself unworthy of a top line position. Brooks Laich needs to get back in the lineup to solidify our top 6.

The defensive pair of Tom Poti and Tomas Kundratek played a very respectable game being the only Caps blue-liners with a positive plus-minus. Poti also logged an assist on the Joel Ward goal in the 3rd period. However Karl Alzner and Mike Green were on the ice for both even strength goals and had -2 ice ratings. That defensive pair led the Caps in ice time, both playing over 21 minutes. In the 4-1 loss I was expecting a fight to occur for the sake of a momentum change for the Caps, but it never came. The closest encounter came at an unfortunate moment when Mathieu Perreault left the ice after a cheap hit from Harry Zolnierczyk. He received a game misconduct for the hit to the knee in the last minute of the game. Perreault has been playing well lately, so we all hope he isn’t sidelined because of this jackass.

With 29 games left in the season the Caps don’t have time for inconsistency. They have a great opportunity to seize the Southeast division lead sitting only two games back. Every divisional matchup down the stretch will be important for Washington, especially with the Winnipeg Jets coming up on Saturday. They currently hold a 3-way share of the division lead with 19 points; the Caps have 15 points. I would expect Braden Holtby to start with the two day break, but with how Grubauer played yesterday who knows what Adam Oates will do. The puck drops at 3 on Saturday in Winnipeg. Keep the Faith. Rock the Red. Unleash the Fury.

Player of the Game: Joel Ward (1 goal, +1)

Stat of the Game: 14 saves on 14 shots (Philipp Grubauer)

Mr. Irrelevant: Karl Alzner

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Caps shutout Canes

A little over 24 hours after the Braden Holtby and John Erskine had their contracts extended two years they helped the Capitals shutout the Carolina Hurricane 3-0. John Erskine scored his 2nd goal of the year just 31 seconds into the 2nd period to give the Caps a 2-0 lead over the Canes. Erskine also logged a +2 ice rating tonight and now leads the all Caps’ D-men in plus-minus. Braden Holtby picked up his 2nd shutout of the 5th of his young career. He had 33 saves in the game with the most notable one against Alex Semin on a shorthanded breakaway. Holtby is 5-2 with a 2.00 GAA, and .937 SV% in his seven game start streak.
Nicklas Backstrom seems to be coming out of his slump with each game; he had a goal and assist in the win. He the 1st goal of the game on the PP with two nice passes from Mike Ribeiro and Alex Ovechkin. The Capitals have scored a PP goal in 9 of the last 10 games which is why they are currently 2nd in the NHL in that category. The Caps only took 2 penalties in the game and were able to kill both of them. They need to continue to stay out of the box in games to come because there is room for improvement in the PK. If the Caps can stay disciplined they will have a hard time losing because of the recent improvements in goal tending and scoring. The Caps were also able to hold Alex Semin scoreless in his return to Washington; he had an -1 ice rating.
The Capitals gave Cam Ward and the Canes everything they had, logging 40 shots which is the most they’ve had this season. Jason Chimera led the team with 7 shots, but seems to be snake bitten still unable to score his 1st goal of the season. John Carlson had 6 shots on net and scored the final goal of the game off a rebound for his 2nd goal of the season. Carlson was supporting his new hair cut after getting rid of all the flow and it seemed to pay off with a goal, assist, and +2 ice rating. He also led the team in ice time once again with 22:30. Eric Fehr continues to play well; even without scoring he too had a +2 ice rating. He is well deserving of the RW position on that 2nd line.
Alex Ovechkin didn’t have a shot on goal, but still played a solid game, and logged an assist. It was the first time The Great Eight hasn’t logged a shot since the 2nd round of the playoffs last year against the Rangers. It is not the game we expected Ovechkin to have after his hat trick Saturday, but the win is the most important thing in the captain’s mind. Ovechkin and Ribeiro seemed to focus on their play making abilities trying to end Chimera’s drought because Ribeiro also didn’t log a shot in the contest. If Chimera doesn’t tickle the twine soon, Adam Oates will probably move him from the top line because he has stated before that the LW position on the top line has to perform when you’re playing with the super stars.
Washington has less than 24 hours to rest with the Philadelphia Flyers waiting tomorrow. They will take a train overnight and probably will hold an optional skate tomorrow morning. While the Philadelphia Flyers have not had a successful season so far, but they have a lot of talent with the return of Scott Hartnell, and the recent acquisition of Simon Gagne. The Caps prevailed over the Flyers in their 1st match up this season 3-2 . We will see if Zac Rinaldo or another Flyer will take a run at John Erskine for the elbow he delivered to Wayne Simmonds in the last game. I would welcome the challenger with how Erskine has been playing as of late. Adam Oates hasn't named a starting goaltender yet, but I wouldn't doubt to see Holtby between the pipes again. The puck drops at 7:30 in the Wells Fargo Center. Keep the Faith. Rock the Red. Unleash the Fury.
Player of the Game: Braden Holtby (33 saves, SO)
Stat of the Game: PP goals in 9 of 10 games
Unsung Heroes: John Erskine and John Carlson

Monday, February 25, 2013

Caps ink Holtby and Erskine

George McPhee announced earlier today that the Washington Capitals have signed Braden Holtby and John Erskine to two year contract extensions. Despite the season the Capitals are having both Erskine and Holtby have proved their worth in the shortened season.
Braden Holtby
Braden Holtby was inked to a 2 year, $3.7 million contract. He is now 23 years old and this contract stands as an extension off his rookie contract. Holtby’s has played the last six games for the Caps and has picked up four wins for the team. He has a made a statement in the past few games which is no doubt why GMGM decided to make the deal this early in the season. Michal Neuvirth is also a restricted free agent at the end of the season, but with his play this season who knows if they will trade him or resign him. The Caps now have at least one young goaltender that they have trust in.
Holtby has many attributes in his arsenal which makes him so valuable to this Washington team. He has a very quick glove and is one of the most talented puck-handling goalies in the league. Adam Oates has acknowledged those abilities this year, implementing a system where Holtby is encouraged to come out to move the puck around for breakouts. We all remember the power play goal that Troy Brouwer scored this year after Braden Holtby sprung him with a long saucer pass. Holtby had the lone assist on that play and posted a shutout against the Florida Panthers in that game.  
Braden Holtby’s save percentage and goals against average do not show how well he has played this year. He has improved a lot since the first few game of the season and both stats are climbing with each game. We all know that Holtby can make this team better with proof from last year’s playoff when his name was called because of the injury suffered by Tomas Vokoun. He played in all fourteen games between the pipes with a record of 7-7. Holtby logged a very respectable .935 save percentage and 1.95 goals against average. He played like a seasoned veteran in his first playoff appearance after only playing seven regular season games with the Caps. He is our goalie of the future and we are glad to have him for another two years.
John Erskine
John Erskine was also signed to a two year contract extension for $3.925 million contract. Erskine is 32 years old and is currently in his seventh season with the Capitals. Erskine has faced some diversity over the past few seasons dealing with three different coaches and their styles of play. Last season was his least favorite one of his career and  he was noticeably upset only playing in 28 games under Dale Hunter. He clearly didn’t fit Hunter’s system, but he came into this season with optimism and has been in the lineup the majority of games under Adam Oates.
Erskine brings a lot to the table for Washington and isn’t afraid to drop the mitts to fire up his team. He has 71 career fights in the NHL and one this season against known tough guy George Parros. In case you didn’t catch it, he won the fight and started the momentum for the 5-0 win over the Panthers. Erskine was suspended for the first time in his career this season when he elbowed Flyers’ forward, Wayne Simmonds, causing a concussion. He was suspended three games which is the only thing to keep him out of the lineup despite some early season scratches.
Erskine has always been a well-admired player in Washington because of his toughness and toothless smile. He is the only defenseman on the team that is physical on a nightly basis and he leads all Caps D-men in hits this season. He and Mike Green are the only two blue-liners that have a positive plus-minus for the Caps this season. Erskine is a fan favorite and deserves this contract. Now that he is locked up for the next two seasons he will be the next Caps jersey that I buy. We are lucky to have Erskine as our “tough guy”, and to the next player who indulges in fisticuffs with him, may God have mercy on your soul.