The NHL, Cocaine, Kuznetsov, and the Fans

News broke early Friday that the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) had suspended Capitals player Evgeny Kuznetsov from play for four years because of his use of the illegal drug cocaine. On May 31, 2019, following the emergence of a video of Kuznetsov sitting next to what appeared to be rows of cocaine, he issued the following statement: “I would like to address the video of me that appeared online on Monday. While I have never taken illegal drugs in my life and career, I would like to publicly apologize to the Capitals, my teammates, our fans and everyone else, for putting myself in a bad situation. This was a hard lesson for me to learn. Continue reading “The NHL, Cocaine, Kuznetsov, and the Fans”

Celebrating the Capitals and the Stanley Cup Never Ends

Just when you thought it was all about the St. Louis Blues, because they have the Caps Cup, DC Sports reminds us all what a big deal winning is to the area. The DC Sports Hall of Fame has created a whole new category for the team that united the DMV in 2018: “The 2017-18 Washington Capitals, last year’s National Hockey League Stanley Cup champions, have been named the DC Sports Hall of Fame’s first-ever Team of Distinction.” Continue reading “Celebrating the Capitals and the Stanley Cup Never Ends”

One Year Later – Kuzy and Exorcising the Demons

It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since one of the most memorable, as well as one of the most stress-relieving moments that most Caps fans can remember occurred. “The Save” is up there as well, but the anniversary for that is a month away.

It’s early in the first overtime of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, Evgeny Kuznetsov is skating straight towards Penguins’ netminder Matt Murray with Pens’ defensemen Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang a little behind to Kuzy’s left and right.  A moment later after a quick deke, Kuzy deposits the puck between Murray’s pads into Pittsburgh’s net and glides towards and then along the boards. Continue reading “One Year Later – Kuzy and Exorcising the Demons”

A Capitals Fan’s Guide to Who to Root For in the Playoffs

The Capitals are out of the Stanley Cup playoffs too early (again), but that doesn’t mean that Caps fans no longer have a reason to pay attention to the rest of the playoffs.  Some of the reasons are emotional (teams and fanbases that we just don’t want to see win and some that we do) and some are strategic (draft position), so let’s get to it.

Boston vs. Columbus

Let’s be realistic. No one outside of New England wants to see Boston win another title, especially with championships in the two most recent major league sports (Red Sox in the World Series and Patriots in the Super Bowl). Besides, they won a Cup in 2011 (too soon) and that would leave the Caps as the only Cup winner in the decade without multiple Cups.

While the Blue Jackets are a rival, they have a fanbase that has not had a lot to enjoy, so seeing a city and fanbase that has no other pro sports teams (though the Ohio State University football program arguably qualifies), I would not have an issue with their city getting to enjoy a title. Columbus sacrificed a lot of their future at the trade deadline so their future is not as bright. Besides, they have one of the best hockey bars around (the R-Bar near Nationwide Arena).

Strategically, if the Blue Jackets advance to the Eastern Conference Final, their first round draft pick (owned by Ottawa in the Duchesne trade) drops to one of the bottom four picks.  This moves the Caps’ pick draft up a spot in the first round.

Carolina vs. Islanders

I’m glad this round is over because it was a no-win situation. Allowing Trotz to leave was going to look and feel worse if the Islanders advanced. Seeing the “bunch of jerks” and their late to the party fanbase advance isn’t exactly a joy either, but at least with Carolina advancing to the Eastern Conference Final, their draft position in the first round has dropped to the bottom four in the first round, so that does benefit the Caps.

Dallas vs. St. Louis

If Dallas advances, one of the second round draft picks that Dallas traded to the New York Rangers for Mats Zuccarello becomes a first rounder and we don’t want to see that happen.  As a Caps fan, I never want to see anything that benefits the Rangers, especially since they will select second overall in the upcoming draft thanks to the draft lottery   and they are doing a pretty good job with their rebuild in a short period of time.

St. Louis is the only remaining (and existing) team from the 1967 expansion to not win the Cup. It probably wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for them to win one. Besides, they went to the Final the first three seasons in the post-1967 expansion NHL, were swept all three times, and haven’t been back since. It may be about time.

San Jose vs. Colorado

San Jose is the equivalent of the Caps in the Western Conference in terms of always doing well in the regular season and always falling short in the playoffs (at least until last season for the Caps). Their core is getting older, Joe Thornton is getting close to retirement, and their pain needs to end sometime. The San Francisco Bay Area has done pretty well with the Golden State Warriors and San Francisco Giants each winning multiple titles this decade, so that works against any sympathy for that area’s fanbase, but they will likely be getting worse before they get better and this may be their last good chance at a title.

Colorado is a feel good story after the horrific seasons that they have endured recently and there is a certain German goaltender that most people in the DMV still have a fondness for, but Colorado still has two Cups, including one during the Avalanche’s first season after relocating from Quebec, which edges this one towards the team with no Cups.  Besides, Colorado is young, talented, has the 4th overall pick in the upcoming draft (thanks to Ottawa), and should only be getting better.

Enjoy (or at least try) to enjoy some great hockey over the next month.

Capitals Player Season Recap: Nicklas Backstrom

One of the most underrated centers in the NHL today, Nicklas Backstrom has been a crucial part of the Capitals’ organization for many years. Drafted in 2006, “Backy” has been a playmaking machine for the club and a serious lifeline for goal scorers like Alex Ovechkin and Jakub Vrana.

Backstrom accumulated 74 points this season (22g, 52a), putting him 2nd on the Caps’ list for most points behind Ovechkin. This post-season, Backstrom has the most goals for the Caps (5) and the best face-off percentage (52.69%). He continues to help drive this team to its best form and this season he did not disappoint. His vision on the ice has always been something that sometimes gets overlooked, but blows our minds when we notice it.

As a top six elite centerman for the Caps, Backstrom holds his team and himself to a high standard. In his season exit interview he stated, “Even if it sucks right now, I feel like we’re going to come back stronger and more prepared. That’s our goal and we got a good team.” He has the perfect mindset for a leader of the Washington Capitals, train hard and come back stronger next year for a harder run at glory.

Capitals Round One Game One Winning Photos

The Capitals played an exciting game Thursday, 11 March against the Carolina Hurricanes. There were some ups (like a 3-0 lead in the first period) and some downs (like no scoring in the second) and some areas of frustration (letting the Canes score twice in the third). In the end though, the Caps were valiant and won the first battle in what many hope will be another long summer of playing. FiCP photographer Mel Abernethy was up close to the glass capturing some of the before, during, and after moments. Continue reading “Capitals Round One Game One Winning Photos”

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).


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.

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.