Battle for the Dot – Capitals Faceoff

The battle for the dot, the fight within the circle. The faceoff is only the beginning of the fight that goes on the ice once the puck drops. So many characteristics go within the art of the faceoff, and I will break them down for you here.

What Happens in the Circle?

When two players line up for the faceoff, the objective is not necessarily to win the puck back to your team. Various situations depend on what needs to happen within the circle. The goal of the faceoff circle is gain possession, but also gain ground. Gaining ground sometimes requires the centerman to purposely lose the faceoff in order to gain ground on the opponent to force them to make mistakes and result in a scoring chance. All strategies depend on coaching styles of course, but what I will share with you is the coaching I received as a young centerman playing Junior hockey.

First, let’s begin with the basics. There are multiple ways to win a faceoff. The standard is to win the puck on the forehand or the backhand back to the defenseman. This opens up your team for a potential hasty breakout or better vision of the ice for an offensive play into the zone. This type of win is used in all three zone of the ice (defensive, neutral, and offensive).

  • It is used in the defensive zone to start a breakout to move the puck up the ice and/or used to lure an opposing forechecker down low to gain a man-advantage moving up the ice.
  • It is used in the neutral zone to simply get a better vision of the ice and the opposing team to find weak points in order to strike and produce quick scoring opportunities.
  • It is also used in the offensive zone to produce scoring chances from the blue line, such as shots from the point and d-to-d passes to move the goalie around.

The best faceoff man on the Caps was hands down Jay Beagle, however, he will no longer be in Washington following his four-year signing with the Vancouver Canucks.

The tie up.

The tie up is used best in the offensive zone in order to catch the goaltender off guard using a screen setup by both centermen. Once they are tied up, either wingmen are supposed to gain possession of the loose puck at the dot and either shoot for a screened scoring opportunity or pass the puck back to the defense to open up the play. Nicklas Backstrom is the best at this type of faceoff for the Caps and was especially effective earlier in his career when he was paired up with Alex Ovechkin. In the video below, notice Backstrom taps the puck slightly past the opposing centerman giving ex-Caps winger Marcus Johansson the opportunity to jump and pass it back to Ovechkin who was locked and loaded. Great example of the tie up.

Forced loss and forecheck

This mostly effective in the offensive and neutral zone, depending on opponent weaknesses. This is sometimes executed by pushing the puck forward behind the opposing centerman and applying a strong forecheck, forcing them to potentially make a mistake. This is a very risky play that does not work all the time, especially at the NHL level. In the video below, jump to video time 2:24 and notice the forced turnover in the corner, quick pass play and goal from Chandler Stephenson. While this is not directly following a forced faceoff loss, this is the result you look for from it.

As stated before, one of the biggest losses this offseason was the Caps veteran centerman Jay Beagle and the Caps look to find a replacement to fill the void. Let’s take a look at the Caps center depth and candidates to replace the 4th line role.

Filling the Beags Gap

Travis Boyd is the frontrunner as of now to take the role. He has played numerous season with the Hershey Bears and has flourished as a capable centerman. He was given looks last season in a few games when the injury bug took jabs at the Caps roster and was eventually paired alongside Ovechkin at one point. This link directs you to the video clip of Boyd’s beautiful assist on Ovechkin’s goal versus the Philadelphia Flyers.

Nic Dowd was recently acquired off the free agent market and previously played for the Vancouver Canucks at center. The Caps signed him to a one-year contract in hopes of trying out for that 4th line spot. His NHL career kicked off in 2015, where he was called up for a few games with the LA Kings. He earned a permanent spot with the club the following season recording 22 points in 70 games played. Traded in the 2017-2018 season to a struggling Vancouver team, he recorded only 4 points of 56 games played between both teams given a depth center role. We may see him a lot this preseason and possibly this regular season.

Jayson Megna was also acquired this offseason off the free agent market and previously played for the Canucks as well. He has made his way around the league since 2013, playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Rangers along with their affiliates prior. Some are saying that he is a signing for Hershey’s center situation, but anything could happen based on performance.

Michael Sgarbossa was also acquired from the free agent market and believed to be on the same boat Megna is, Hershey bound. He has made his way around the NHL as well, playing for the Colorado Avalanche (2013-2015), the Anaheim Ducks (2015-2017), and the Florida Panthers (2016-2017) at the NHL level. This is not to include his experience in the AHL. Not too many public highlights for him, so I would expect him to play in Hershey.

Image from NHL.com

Liam O’Brien is also a minor consideration for the 4th line spot. He played a few games with the Caps at wing as a hard-hitting grinder and made a slight mark in the Caps organization as an instigator. He’s played in Hershey the past few seasons, but if needed we could see him called up for a few more games to play rough-tough teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Boston Bruins.

Kettler Becomes the New “MCI” (MedStar Capitals Iceplex)

Monumental Sports announced a new partnership with MedStar that also means a new name for Kettler Capitals IcePlex (KCI). Welcome in the new MedStar Capitals IcePlex – already affectionately named MCI by long-time Caps friends. The name change may take a while to get used to saying. Last August, Verizon Center was renamed Capital One Arena after a new partnership was forged with Capital One. A year later, many of us still refer to it as the Verizon Center…or the old MCI Center.

Here is part of the official announcement outlining the partnership:

MedStar Health and Monumental Sports & Entertainment (MSE) announced an expanded, innovative and fully-integrated medical partnership that will make MedStar the naming rights partner for the 2018 Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals, Capital City Go-Go, Washington Mystics, Washington Wizards, and Washington Wizards District Gaming (DG) training facilities. Specifically, the Capitals training facility will immediately become MedStar Capitals Iceplex. The new practice facility, opening this fall at the St. Elizabeths campus in southeast Washington, D.C., for the Wizards, Mystics and Go-Go, will be named MedStar Wizards Performance Center. The Wizards District Gaming training facility immediately becomes the MedStar Wizards District Gaming Studio.

The new partnership will ensure that training facilities have the most current and safe practices in place for all the players. The Capitals training staff already provides excellent care for the team and this just adds another layer of protection for the health and well-being of players. The complete press release is available here.

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MedStar Capitals Iceplex had a bit of an uplift this summer on the Caps rink. The Capitals’ ice now includes the team logo. The new MedStar name isn’t up yet, but we can expect to see that in place before the start of training camp in September and the new season in October.

Tom Wilson is EXCITED to be Back

Tom Wilson spoke with media Monday about his new contract with the Washington Capitals. The Caps signed Wilson to a six-year contact for $31.02 million with an average annual value of $5.17 million last week. The future looks bright for Wilson as he steps up his game and plays “great hockey” with the team that is returning. “Excited” was definitely his word for the day.

On a conference call with the media when asked about the long term contract, Tom said: “Both sides were on the same page…I love it in Washington – it’s a second home now.” He said it was nice to have the confidence from the Capitals management. He sounded excited and humble at the same time. He is looking forward to building “as a player and as a team and moving forward.”

Specifically about the contract, he said he felt that he had built a great relationship with the team and that the Caps are confident that he will grow as a player. “They know I will come to the rink and give it my all, every single day.” His expectation is that he will be a part of the foundation moving forward.

For the coming years he sees himself growing each year, taking more on. “I spent the second half of the year on the top line and I felt comfortable there. That kind of became the norm.” He is looking forward to continue growing his offensive role on the top two lines as a top six player. He spoke about the special bonds the team has with one another and the expectation that he will grow into the role as a leader in the locker room.

You could hear his enthusiasm as he spoke about the need to be a consistent player and helping the team. He said multiple times that he is “looking forward to building as a player.” When it comes to the issues of the past season and the penalties and suspensions, he said that he will have conversations with people he “trusts and respects” to talk about ways to improve with the physical part of the game and how to “adapt and change with the times” as he contributes more to the success of the team. He told the press that from his perspective the players as a whole are excited for the next season, they love Washington and the fan base, and they want to stick around and “get the job done.” He is ready to play in whatever role he is asked to step into.

The Cup comes to Toronto August 5. He has seen some of the journey on social media. He and the guys have been texting each other and how they are spending their time. He is “pretty excited for my day with it.”

Hershey Bears Finalize Coaching Staff with New Assistant Coach

The Hershey Bears announced on Monday the hiring of Mike Eastwood as their new assistant coach. He joins new head coach Spencer Carbery, assistant coach Patrick Wellar, and Alex Westlund to round out the coaching team.

Eastwood was with the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League for three seasons and became their assistant coach in the 2014/15 season. In the announcement, the Bears touted his ability to develop players in Ottawa, something that Hershey has a great reputation for doing with Capitals players. He should prove to be a good addition to the team.

Bryan Helmer, vice president of hockey operations in the press release said: “We’re excited to welcome Mike Eastwood to Hershey, as we finalize our new coaching staff, Mike provides an element that we feel will be a great asset to our young players. He did a great job in his coaching stint in the Ontario Hockey League, and he can draw from his vast playing experience in the NHL to help grow and develop our team as we chase a championship”

Here is the remainder of the press release:

Eastwood, 51, spent three seasons with the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League, serving as an assistant coach in 2014-15 before being promoted to associate coach. In each of Eastwood’s three years in Ottawa, the club qualified for the playoffs. With the 67’s, Eastwood played a pivotal role in developing prospects, including current Philadelphia Flyers forward Travis Konecny, and Kody Clark, a 2018 second round draft selection of Washington.

The Ottawa, Ontario native played 13 seasons in the NHL from 1991-2004, scoring 236 points (87 goals, 149 assists) in 783 career games with Toronto, Winnipeg, Phoenix, the New York Rangers, St. Louis, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. He also skated in 97 career playoff games, scoring 19 points.

The responsible, two-way center was known for his craft on faceoffs, and enjoyed his best season in 1999-2000 with St. Louis, a year in which he helped the Blues win the President’s Trophy as the team that finished with the most regular season points in the NHL. That season, Eastwood collected a career-high 34 points (19 goals, 15 assists) in 79 games, on a Blues team that also featured both Helmer, as well as Todd Reirden, the new head coach of the Capitals, on the blue line.

A star player at Western Michigan University, Eastwood was originally drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 5th round in 1987. He spent two seasons with Toronto’s American Hockey League affiliate, the St. John’s Maple Leafs, including the 1992-93 campaign that saw Eastwood finish with 59 points.

Photo from the Ottawa Citizen.

Capitals Top 10 Moments of the Regular Season: #8 Ovechkin Scores Four Goals, Nathan Walker NHL Debut

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Our top 10 moments of the regular season continues. #8 takes you back to early October, the second Capitals game of the regular season but their first at home at the newly named Capital One Arena. What would Alex Ovechkin do for an encore to his hat trick Opening Night in Ottawa? Score four goals of course! Plus this contest marked the highly anticipated debut of Nathan Walker, who would become the first Australian-born athlete to play in the NHL. 2017 Home Opener 249

Continue reading “Capitals Top 10 Moments of the Regular Season: #8 Ovechkin Scores Four Goals, Nathan Walker NHL Debut”

Elite Prospects On Ilya Samsanov Future

Russian goaltender Ilya Samsanov will be joining the Hershey Bears for the 2018/19 season. He will receive an introduction to the NHL/AHL style of play as the franchise grooms him for an eventual back-up or number spot on the Capitals roster.

In February 2018, Alessandro Seren Rossi Elite Prospects wrote an article on the grueling process Russian goalies take to stardom in the NHL. Give it a good read.

Goalies usually peak later than other players and, hence, drafting them can be a tougher task. One of the top goalies in the world, Sergei Bobrovski, was never drafted into the NHL but this didn’t stop him from winning two Vezina Trophies and getting several other accolades. Other goalies, though, are thought so highly of that they are chosen in the first round, like Andrei Vasilevsky of the Tampa Bay Lightning for example. Another one is Ilya Samsonov, who was picked by the Washington Capitals 22nd overall pick at the 2015 NHL Draft.

Bobrovski was a bit of a late-bloomer as he didn’t play with the Russian national team until the 2008 WJC in the Czech Republic, where he backstopped Team Russia to a bronze medal. Samsonov, pretty much like Vasilevsky, got his feet wet with the national teams very early and therefore he had much more exposure. While Samsonov didn’t leapfrog stages at the same rate as Vasilevsky, he definitely had a strong showing in his junior career, representing his country at one U18 and two U20 WJCs, winning best goalie honors at the 2015 U18 WJC in Lucern, Switzerland, despite Russia’s sensational loss to the home team, 5-0, in the quarterfinals.

Samsonov debuted in the KHL during the 2014-15 season, even before getting drafted into the NHL. He played only one short portion of a game that year, spending most of the season with Metallurg Magnitogorsk’s junior team in the MHL. He was then promoted to the senior team, backing up Vasili Koshechkin, one of the top goalies in the KHL and fresh winner of an Olympic gold medal.

“Competition is too strong of a word,” Samsonov replied to Daria Tuboltseva of championat.com before the start of the season when asked about the competition between him and Koshechkin. “We have more of a collaboration, we are always supporting one another and don’t fight over who will play. It’s up to the coaching staff. There is no war between us.”

Certainly practicing and playing with such an experienced goalie like Kosheckin, who has won multiple medals at the IIHF WC including a gold medal in 2009, has helped Samsonov. Something he confirms himself.

“Vasili’s already shown everyone how good he is, and he has a ton of experience. He plays more games, but that for me is even better because this gives me even more motivation. I watch the way he plays in this or that situation and I definitely gathered a lot of experience playing alongside with Koshechkin.”

Of course, Samsonov can’t yet match the experience of a player with 15 years of pro hockey experience, but at 21 years of age, he has already played more than 70 games in the KHL, other than the experience with the Russian national team at the junior and the Euro Hockey Tour level.

Samsonov is a very athletic goalie, and at 6’3”/205 lbs. he has the size required to a modern-day netminder. As Director of European Scouting for the NHL, Göran Stubb, sums it up:
“He has good size and covers the net well. He plays at the top of the crease and effectively squares to the shooter. He shows good instincts, is well balanced and can make acrobatic saves.”

The young goalie’s contract runs out in April and chances are good that he will move overseas as soon as this summer. He is represented by former superstar Igor Larionov.
“His agent proposed us unacceptable conditions,” Metallurg Magnitogorsk’s GM Gennadi Velichkin told championat.com in late December. “We’ll play by the rulebook: his contract is running out and we’ll give him a qualifying offer, that’s for sure. But if he has an option of signing in the NHL then, for God’s sake, we’re honoring it. We’re all proud of Ilya.”

Samsonov will end up on a team where there is an uncontested number one goalie in Braden Holtby. But Samsonov seems to be ready. When asked by Daria Tuboltseva about his chances to move overseas next summer, he replied in a very positive manner, as translated by the popular Washington Capitals blog Russian Machine Never Breaks: “Seemingly so (laughing). I don’t even know. We talked to the Capitals management, it was a positive conversation. There is a chance, but I need to work harder. This is the best league in the world after all. There are another five prospects competing for the same spot as me.”

In the same interview, Samsonov seemed very cool with the option of playing in the AHL. Considering that it took Andrei Vasilevsky two years to become the number one goalie for the Tampa Bay Lightning, it can be forecasted that a couple of seasons in the minors will certainly not hurt Samsonov’s development, even more so if he will get to play a few games at the NHL level at some point. In any case, Caps’ fans should be satisfied: they have a young goalie with great potential who definitely wants to play in the NHL.

Capitals Trade Deals and Contracts: Summary

What a strange summer this has been friends. The Caps schedule extended into June for the first time that most of us can remember. There was partying in the streets!! As we watched the Stanley Cup Parade we pondered what deals the Washington Capitals would make with their restricted and unrestricted players.

We knew that Brian MacLellan and his team would be making some hard calls to sign top players like a John Carlson and Tom Wilson.

Here is what went down:

Let’s start at the top. Barry Trotz did not accept a two-year extension with the Capitals. Instead he took a job with the NY Islanders. He brought Lane Lambert and Mitch Korn with him. The Capitals named Todd Reirden as the new head coach.  Joining as the assistant coach was Reid Cashman, although the Caps haven’t officially announced yet.

Hockey n Heels Grubauer 2018First there was the Philipp Grubauer deal to the Colorado Avalanche. The Caps may not have necessarily gotten him the best deal but they got the salary cap space they needed. In the midst of the draft they traded him, and fellow teammate Brooks Orpik, in exchange for a second round draft pick. As the week unfolded, there were other possible teams where he could have landed a starting position- within the Eastern Conference- which some suggested the Caps did not want to happen.

Orpik June 2018Brooks Orpik went to Colorado with Grubi. Word was quickly leaked that the Avs would buy out his contract and place him on waivers. The Caps couldn’t afford to buy out his contract and they needed the space. The AVS went on to buy out his contract, making him a free agent and eligible to sign wherever he wanted.

AND THEN HE WAS BACK! It doesn’t happen too often but it all worked for the best for the Capitals. They were able to bring back the PaPa of the locker room. Here is the story behind his  summer deal(s). 

Capitals CarlsonJohn Carlson was always the number one target for signing and it would take a good deal of money and a long-term commitment to make it happen. There were rumors that Carly was going to look around; however, the Capitals were able to come to agreement with Carlson, settling on eight years and $64 million.

That still left a few in the wind. Mac had already said that next to Carlson, his priority was signing Michal Kempny. And of course there remained additional UFAs Jay Beagle and Alex Chiasson. Throw in RFA’s Devante Smith-Pelly and Tom Wilson and it was anyone’s guess how they would sign the rookies on the roster.

DspDevante Smith-Pelly, the darling of the playoffs, was not given a qualifying offer by the deadline and became a UFA. We were not too surprised as we predicted they might go that route. Then on June 27, the Caps and DSP reached an agreement for an additional year at $1 million. This could be his breakout season!

Stanley Cup Game three kempnyThe Capitals followed up with a four year, with an average of $2.5 million a year, deal for Kempny to keep playing with Carly. We didn’t anticipate a four-year contract; however, we think it is a great investment for the team.

Young dudes Madison Bowey, Travis Boyd, Liam O’Brien, and Riley Barber were provided qualifying offers. O’Brien rejected his offer.

Wilson signs (2018-04-07-2113)Tom Wilson did receive a qualifying offer before the 5 pm deadline. It was weeks before the Capitals announced a deal. Late on 27 July the Capitals announced they and Tom had finally come to an agreement on a six-year $31.02 million contract.

And the Free Agency began on 1 July and things around the league heated up.

Parade capitals BeagleJay Beagle found himself looking in from the outside and accepted a very generous offer from the Vancouver Canucks. A four-year $12 million contract that the Caps were unable to match. We will miss him in the face off and talking to the fan.

Alex Chiasson went unsigned. Instead they signed Nic Dowd.

The Caps announced they re-signed center Travis Boyd to a two-year contract with an annual value of $800,000. Congrats to Boyd!

Liam O’Brien, with the Hershey Bears, opted to enter into contract arbitration. His hearing was scheduled for 23 July in Toronto. Thankfully they were able to come to terms and “The Big Tuna” signed a one year two-way contract for $650,000.

Madison Bowey inked his two-year $2 million deal on July 19. He is currently listed on the Caps roster and will likely play on the blue line in the upcoming season.

Now that contracts are in place for the UFAs and RFAs it is a matter of the Caps new head coach to make some decisions about who stays in DC and who goes to Hershey to mature their game a bit more. The Caps roster will no doubt have a lot of younger players for Reirden to develop into the superstars he needs.

The Stanley Cup Mid-West USA Tour

After a week in the Washington DC area the Keeper of the Cup headed west. This past week the Stanley Cup was hoisted by management, supporting staff, and a few players as it toured the mid-western USA to anxiously waiting fans.

Continue reading “The Stanley Cup Mid-West USA Tour”

Walker the Walk-On

Last week, I ran a fan poll on Twitter asking you guys where you think Nathan Walker will be within the Caps organization this season. After one week with a total of 47 voters, the results are in!

55% voted that he would earn a spot amongst the Caps as a depth forward, much like he was in the beginning of last season and post-season. He brings a great two-way style of play for such a little stature at 5″9′. In the seven regular season games he played last year, he managed to score his first NHL goal from a bottom six position. When given an NHL playoff shot in the first round against the Blue Jackets, he had the primary assist on a critical goal scored by Alex Chiasson to help lift them past Columbus at their barn. If given an opportunity to a locked-in rotation spot, I believe he could contribute in many different ways on and off the ice.

Image from Sportsnet.ca

38% voted that he would go back to the Hershey Bears. After his performance in the NHL games he played last season, I find this option highly doubtful with the speed and intensity he brought to the club. If they do send him to the minors, however, he could also be a valuable asset to their top forward lines. He has decent numbers under his name so far through five seasons with them, totaling 61 points (43 goals and 58 assists) in 171 regular season games. With their loss of AHL veteran Chris Bourque, the Bears are on the search for potential replacements for one such as himself. I’m not saying he is the perfect replacement for Bourque, but he is definitely a talent and a sight to watch. With early development with the Caps, he can train to be a force in the American Hockey League.

Image from NHL.com

Finally, 6% voted that he would be traded before or during this upcoming season. He could be a part of a trade come the deadline if the Caps believe they can actually make a solid run at back-to-back Stanley Cups and if a player could help fill a current void at that moment. There are a lot of expiring UFAs and RFAs coming up this season who have not been signed to an extension throughout the league that could be crucial tools in a playoff run with the Caps, but it is too early to say what is needed. Other than that, I don’t see General Manager Brian MacLellan parting with him.

Image from pedestrian.tv

Keep an eye out for the next Twitter poll!