Alex Ovechkin

What Went Wrong: Washington Capitals

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After such a promising win in the first round over the New York Rangers, the Capitals decided to make like it was old timer’s day and play their second round matchup against Tampa Bay as if they were facing Montreal last year. That didn’t work then and it didn’t work against the Lightning this year. What went wrong for the Caps in this hasty exit from the playoffs? We’ve got a list.

1. Alex and the Ovechtricks
A lot of criticism today is being heaped upon Alex Ovechkin. It makes sense because he’s the captain but when people want to say the Caps couldn’t overcome the Lightning because Ovechkin “wasn’t clutch” or “didn’t try hard enough” they’re trolling for a reaction. Fact of the matter is, against the Lightning, Ovechkin was still the team’s leading scorer (two goals, two assists) and he was clearly the only guy on the ice giving a damn about how the team did.

The Caps struggled to score enough goals as it was, but Ovechkin’s effort level was consistently high and he was the one constant for Washington in a series that had none. Other “top” scorers for Washington? Brooks Laich (one goal, two assists)and Jason Arnott (three assists) each with three points. John Carlson did his part to help from the blue line with two goals but that was it. Mike Knuble played hurt and had a goal to try and show the example, but others who they count on to produce failed.

Nicklas Backstrom (one assist) and Alex Semin (one goal, one assist) alike were terrible in this series and after Marcus Johansson’s great series against New York he withered and disappeared against Tampa Bay winding up with two assists and a -5 plus/minus. Ovechkin is but one guy and when going against a team focused and hell-bent on preventing your best player from scoring others need to step up. None of Ovechkin’s teammates did that.

2. Power play abomination
It wasn’t as if the Lightning didn’t give the Capitals opportunity to stay in the games and seize the day to get a win. They did so to the tune of 19 power play chances over the four games. Only twice did the Capitals cash in on the man advantage and one of those two goals came on a 5-on-3 power play.

Tampa Bay wasn’t the most disciplined team by any stretch in this series and they gave the Capitals plenty of chances to burn them for their brutal mistakes. Guys like Brett Clark and Adam Hall were more than happy to take bad penalties but the Caps lack of power play cohesion all season came home to roost in this series.

3. Getting outcoached
The Lightning came in with a game plan, stuck to it, and stifled the Capitals attack four straight games. When a coach employs a game plan against you, one that’s making it so your team is struggling to do anything against them, it’s up to the opposing coach to find a hole or a strategy that will make them pay for it.

Bruce Boudreau seemed to have no answers for Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 defense. Boudreau also had no means of fixing up a power play that’s struggled all year long. At some point you knew it was going to come back and bite them and with a series that had essentially three one-goal games (Game 1 had an empty net goal) having your power play fail so spectacularly hurt them.

Whether or not Boudreau had the answers or if he just fiddled about hoping that the team’s talent would take over is up to GM George McPhee and owner Ted Leonsis to decide. Getting outcoached two years in a row by guys implementing a defensive-minded system though doesn’t look good. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…”

4. Hockey intelligence
Something a team can’t afford to do when they’re fighting for goals and caught in close games is to give their opponent chances on the power play to either get back in a game or to take one over. The Capitals failed miserably at controlling their own fate as they perpetually left the door open for the Lightning via the power play. The Lightning connected on 22.2% of their chances in this series (4-18) and those goals always came at the wrong time.

Steven Stamkos’ power play goal in Game 1 was the one that broke a 2-2 tie late in the second period. Vincent Lecavalier’s in Game 2 was the first goal of the game putting Washington in a hole immediately. In Game 4, Ryan Malone kicked off the game with a power play goal again putting the Caps down right away. Later on it would be Marc-Andre Bergeron putting the Caps down for good in the third period with a goal that made it 4-2 early in the period.

It’s one thing to take penalties, it’s another thing to have your penalty killers give up those deflating or back-breaking goals that turn the tide of a game right away. The Caps being done in by their own mistakes with bad penalties makes all the more sense.

***

The Capitals are obviously highly talented but there’s something seriously wrong going on with this team that they can’t get past teams that maniacally work hard. Montreal did it last year, Tampa Bay did this time. Whether that’s indicative of something being wrong with the personnel on or off the ice is up for debate. Likely, it’s a good mix of both.

There are some players that aren’t working out the right way and there’s now some brand of disconnect with Boudreau because the team continues to come up short in the postseason. Change is coming in D.C. it’s just a matter of how much and who suffers for it. At least the Caps off-season will be more entertaining than their playoff games turned out to be.

Trouba suspended two games for ‘high, forceful’ headshot on Stone

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Jets blueliner Jacob Trouba has been suspended two games for his headshot on Ottawa forward Mark Stone, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced on Monday.

“Trouba steps up and delivers a high, forceful blow that makes the head the main point of contact, on a hit where such head contact was avoidable,” the DoPS explained. “The onus here is on Trouba to deliver a full body hit through his opponent’s core. Instead, Trouba takes a poor angle of approach, picking Stone’s head.”

The incident occurred in Winnipeg’s 3-2 win over Ottawa on Sunday. Trouba was given a two-minute minor on the play, much to the displeasure of Ottawa head coach Guy Boucher.

Stone didn’t return to the game following the hit but, according to the DoPS, “suffered no apparent injury.”

Trouba will now miss tomorrow’s game in Toronto, then Winnipeg’s next game following the bye week — on Feb. 28, against Minnesota. He’s eligible to return on Mar. 3, when the Jets host the Blues.

Trouba will also forfeit $33,333.34 in salary to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

Sens extend depth blueliner Claesson — one year, $650,000

OTTAWA, ON - APRIL 5: Fredrik Claesson #49 of the Ottawa Senators skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Canadian Tire Centre on April 5, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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Ottawa made a minor move on Monday, agreeing to terms with d-man Fredrik Claesson on a one-year extension worth $650,000.

The deal is of the one-way variety.

Claesson, 24, has appeared in 19 games for the Sens this year, scoring five points. He’s averaging just 10:27 per game but has been a more regular lineup fixture regularly, having played in five of Ottawa’s last six games.

The Swedish rearguard has also appeared in nine games for AHL Binghamton. Since coming over from SHL outfit Djurgardens in 2013, Claesson has been up and down between Bingo and Ottawa frequently, though this latest deal would suggest he’s in line for a more permanent NHL gig.

 

 

 

 

Flames nab d-man Stone from Coyotes

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 18:  Michael Stone #26 of the Arizona Coyotes passes the puck during the NHL game against the Dallas Stars at Gila River Arena on February 18, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Stars 6-3.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The selling has begun.

As first reported by TSN’s Bob McKenzie, the Calgary Flames have pried defenseman Michael Stone out of Arizona for a third-round draft pick, plus a conditional fifth-rounder in 2018.

Stone, 26, is a pending unrestricted free agent with a cap hit of $4 million. A right shot, he has one goal and eight assists in 45 games while averaging 20:13 of ice time.

The Coyotes will retain half of Stone’s salary. The condition is whether Stone re-signs with the Flames.

Stone will join a Flames blue line that recently added Matt Bartkowski on a two-year deal. In Saturday’s 2-1 overtime loss to Vancouver, Dennis Wideman, also a right shot, logged just 13:35 of ice time. With the arrival of Stone, Wideman could be the odd man out.

The Flames are in Nashville to take on the Preds tomorrow.

Goalie nods: Panthers go back to red-hot Reimer

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 18:  James Reimer #34 of the Florida Panthers makes a save against Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period at the Amalie Arena on October 18, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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Florida’s found an ideal situation in goal.

James Reimer, who’s been terrific for the last three months, will make his sixth appearance in the last nine games when the Panthers take on the Blues in St. Louis tonight. The start comes just three days after his last — a stellar 35-save effort in a 4-1 win in Anaheim — and two nights after Roberto Luongo stopped 33 of 35 in a win over the Kings.

So yeah, nice little dynamic at play here.

Luongo, who turns 38 in April, was fatigued down the stretch last year and admitted as much following an opening-round playoff loss to the Isles. That was one of the big reasons Florida brought aboard Reimer, inking him to a fairly lucrative five-year, $17 million deal.

After a bit of a rough start, Reimer has been full value. He turned things around with a solid December (.941 save percentage), and continued that over to the new year. Things have really taken off lately, though, as his stellar play has given head coach Tom Rowe the luxury of resting Luongo, knowing that Reimer will provide stability in goal.

Consider what Reimer’s done over the last three weeks alone:

Jan. 26: Stopped 31 of 32 shots in a 2-1 win over Tampa Bay.

Feb. 3: Stopped 22 of 23 shots in a 2-1 win over Anaheim.

Feb. 15: Stopped both shots faced in relief of Luongo in an OT win over San Jose.

Feb. 17: The aforementioned 35-save victory over the Ducks.

Reimer’s only poor outing was on Feb 9. when he was hooked after allowing three goals on 14 shots against L.A.

For the Blues, Jake Allen gets the start.

Elsewhere…

— Just one other game on the slate tonight, as the Ducks take on the Coyotes in Arizona. Mike Smith will go for the ‘Yotes, after making 29 saves in a win over San Jose on Saturday. For Anaheim, no word on a starter yet. John Gibson shut out the Kings last night, so he could be in line for a break — but that said, he’s been outstanding over the last two months, and head coach Randy Carlyle could opt to go right back to him.