Braden Holtby and John Carlson Lead Metropolitan Division to All-Star Game Win

Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby and defenseman John Carlson were well represented at the NHL All-Star Game in San Jose last week. With coach Todd Reirden at the helm of the Metropolitan Division, the trio contributed to wins over the Atlantic and Central Divisions to win the All-Star Game and split the grand prize of one million dollars. Continue reading “Braden Holtby and John Carlson Lead Metropolitan Division to All-Star Game Win”

The Capitals Gave Me and Allie a Birthday We’ll Never Forget

michael banner 2CAPITAL ONE ARENA – Me and my friend Allie have had some memorable birthdays from high school through our Radford days but not even our 21st could top what happened on Wednesday night at Capital One Arena. The Capitals came through and defeated the Penguins 2-1 thanks to T.J. Oshie‘s heroics but it was also a total team win with Alex Ovechkin getting a power play strike and Braden Holtby practically standing on his head. The whole day was incredible.  Continue reading “The Capitals Gave Me and Allie a Birthday We’ll Never Forget”

T.J. Oshie Overcomes Injury Adversity to Lead Caps to Big Win Over Penguins

michael banner 2CAPITAL ONE ARENA – On Wednesday night the entire hockey world fixated on Washington D.C. as Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby went head-to-head in the latest chapter of the Capitals vs. Penguins rivalry. This game was epic and the Caps delivered a birthday present I will never forget as T.J. Oshie scored a game-winning goal with 1:14 left to give the Capitals a 2-1 win over their rivals. Speaking of Ovechkin and Crosby, they each had goals of their own but it was Oshie pulling through after two hits that could’ve knocked him out of the game that provided the heroics.  Continue reading “T.J. Oshie Overcomes Injury Adversity to Lead Caps to Big Win Over Penguins”

The Pregame: Ovi and Sid Square Off on Wednesday Night Hockey

michael banner 2This was the game I circled on my calendar when the schedule came out. The Washington Capitals will take on the Pittsburgh Penguins on my birthday and we all would like nothing more than a win! For the first time since we took over the steps on Cinco de Mayo, the Penguins are coming to town. It is sure to be an electric atmosphere tonight at Capital One Arena. Puck drop is at 7:30. Read on for everything you need to know about this game. Continue reading “The Pregame: Ovi and Sid Square Off on Wednesday Night Hockey”

Caps Road to the Cup, Top 10 Moments from the Playoffs #6: Alex Ovechkin Comes Up Clutch…. In Pittsburgh!

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Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, two names that constantly get compared by hockey fans and media everywhere. After Crosby and the Penguins captured well… you know, Ovechkin looked to the lead the Capitals to the Stanley Cup. This game in particular gave me the belief that this would be a different year. I knew the Caps would defeat the Penguins and get past those demons once and for all. A once house of horrors isn’t the case anymore.  Continue reading “Caps Road to the Cup, Top 10 Moments from the Playoffs #6: Alex Ovechkin Comes Up Clutch…. In Pittsburgh!”

The “Little Things” Can Make a Big Difference in Winning

michael banner 2When watching hockey we know how simple it is, the team who scores more goals than the other team wins the game. But what some may not realize is sometimes it’s the little things that go into a play that brings success. There’s more to hockey and scoring goals than passing and shooting. If a hit or a forced turnover doesn’t happen, that goal might not occur.  Continue reading “The “Little Things” Can Make a Big Difference in Winning”

The Ovechkin Crosby Phenomenon

The 2004 and 2005 NHL drafts set in motion a phenomenon that would forever change two hockey towns as two young men became franchise legends. The draft of first round pick Alexander Ovechkin in 2004 and of Sidney Crosby in 2005 turned them into competing faces of their franchises, the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. They didn’t ask for it, but the hockey community quickly embraced the rivalry! Continue reading “The Ovechkin Crosby Phenomenon”

Caps, Preds, and Mutual Disdain for Penguins

Preds Loss is Like Losing All Over Again

The Penguins had a celebration parade today after the Nashville Predators had to suffer through the Pittsburgh Penguins hoisting the Stanley Cup in their own arena. We felt their pain after watching the Washington Capitals lose to the Pens in game seven in our home. People we have talked with said they felt sick after the final round–mostly because there was a sense that the NHL handed the Pens the Cup by overlooking penalties and unfairly penalizing opponent teams.

Maybe its sour grapes here in Washington. Maybe we are jealous of the Pens ability to outplay the Caps. Maybe we want to believe our players are better then the Pens players and we would never stoop to their tactics to win. And maybe we are tired of the Ovechkin-Crosby comparison that the NHL and NBC use to boost ratings and hype a sport that doesn’t bring in the money that football does. 

Simply put, the NHL Playoffs left a nasty taste with almost every hockey fan that isn’t following the Pens. There is no underestimating the physical game that the Pens play. They are brutal on the ice as they move with speed from one end to the other, plowing through anyone in their way. This brutality is frequently called ‘dirty’ by anyone not from Pittsburgh and fair play by anyone who loves the Pens. And you can’t overlook its three primary players: Sidney Crosby, Evegni Malkin and Phil Kessel.

Unfortunately, most of the playoffs focused on Sidney Crosby, in positive and negative terms. His behavior detracted from the skills of Pens’ players and their coach. The NHL loves its Canadian-born player and have elevated him to near sainthood. NBC and its affiliate sportscasters, seem to drool over just the mention of his name. Every game starts with a discussion of his greatness and no matter who else is on the ice, their first shots are always of Sid the Kid skating onto the ice. No other player in the league is more adored by the NHL and NBC, which leaves most of the rest of the hockey fan base a bit nauseous. From what the rest of us hear, Sid can do no wrong and even if he does, well…he is the best don’t ya know?

It seems Crosby, and maybe even the Penguins, have their favorite targeted players. That person who the Pens want to undermine and get out of the game. Crosby personally seems to have a rival or some level of animosity with every team and that was pretty apparent during the playoffs. It includes Brandon Dubinsky, Alex Ovechkin, Erik Karlsson, and PK Subban.

In round one it took the Pens five games to eliminate the Blue Jackets. Brandon Dubinsky has been known to “get under the skin” of Crosby who is known to retaliate or take the first stab but we didn’t see as much of that in this round. Instead, much of the post- round analysis focused more on coaching style and the inability of Sergei Bobrovsky to stop the puck. In the final game of the round, a game-tying goal by the Jackets was waived off and they were instead given a penalty for interference. This caused some ire with CBJ fans as Sidney Crosby would go on and score thus leading the team to a 5-2 finish over Columbus. The playoffs; however, came down to one goalie outstaying the other and one team outplaying the other–in this case it happened to be the Pens.

The Pens went on to face the Capitals in round two. The Pens knocked the Caps out of the playoffs the previous season so revenge was already in the air. We all know how much the Pens dislike Alex Ovechkin and his flamboyant style of play, but in this round the contempt was even more heightened. There was a point when it felt as if the Caps and Pens were back at the Winter Classic when an on-ice collision ultimately led to a concussion diagnosis for Crosby.  This time in a freak play in front of the net, Crosby fell and as Crosby went lower, Nisky’s stick wound up hitting Crosby in the head. Niskanen was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for the ‘cross check.’ There were reports that Crosby suffered another concussion, his second in the season. Things got pretty nasty with Marc-Andre Fleury taping over former Pens’ Niskanen’s name on his helmet. The names were those that Fleury considered his favorite teammates.  Crosby returned to practice four days later and five days later for game five. Many wondered if he was back too soon or if he had actually suffered a concussion.  People watching were genuinely concerned that it was  and as a result there was a sense from the NHL and NBC that Crosby needed to be treated with kid gloves because of his frail condition. Every time Crosby landed on the ice NBC sports went into crisis mode that he might be injured again.

There were strange calls—like early whistles—against the Caps which gave the impression of favoritism. And let us not forget the infamous Nick Bonino dive which led to a high stick call against TJ Oshie. Even though the refs got it wrong, this time folks like Don Cherry called Bonino out for “faking” and questioned what was going on with the officiating.  The ensuing power play ensured a game four win for the Pens. In the end, the Caps suffered a second round two defeat at the hands of the Pens leaving the fans stunned and bitter. At this point, Caps fans became fans of #anyonebutthePens

Round three and fan hope turned to the Senators. Caps fans were ready for retribution and thought for sure the Sens would bring it. Crosby was in the midst of a scoring drought and the series was overshadowed with continual talk about Crosby’s frail nature. We kept wondering why he was playing if the Pens were really afraid he would be hurt or if this was just a mental game they were playing with the Sens. Erik Karlsson brought some comic relief when he mocked Crosby’s whining at the refs and his incessant whispering on the ice.

Matt Murray found his way back to the net when Fleury was pulled after game two, which changed much of the dynamics to the game as he stopped 123 of 130 shots. The Kessel, Crosby, Malkin threesome was in full force for this round but let’s face it; we were rooting for Craig Anderson to hold them back. He did stop 206 of 220 shots but sadly it wasn’t enough. The Sens fell to the Pens in game seven. Oddly, the NHL reportedly ‘censored’ a video of Karlsson telling Crosby he hoped he was healthy–after all we were all wondering at this point if he was playing injured and if the Pens were ignoring potential concussion symptoms. (YardBarker)

And then everything seemed to shift and become all about Crosby. The Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford complained that Crosby was receiving abuse at the hands of opponents. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was forced to address the charges and the allegation that the NHL allowed Crosby to play even though he had a concussion. Bettman pretty much blew it off, but not NBC sports. 

PK Subban became the player to hate by the Pens in the final round. He too is an equally tough, and sometimes considered ‘dirty’ player. He will do what it takes to score, and like Ovechkin, he does it with flare which drives the Pens nuts. In the first game, the Preds held off the Pens from shooting for 37 minutes of play (The Score). Caps fans were pretty excited and impressed and oh so hopeful that this signaled the end of the the Pens run.It was not to be, but it did give us another view of Crosby and the Penguins’ culture.

There were questionable calls that led to the refs calling back goals–which pretty much no one agreed with.

By game five things got pretty disgusting with regards to Crosby and the pass he seemed to have been given. First we had the slamming of Subban’s head into the ice. Any other player would clearly have been ejected and likely been suspended. Not Crosby–he got two minutes:

And then he threw a water bottle on the ice. He claimed it slipped out of his hand and went into his Mr. Innocent act. He got a pass while again, any other player would have received a poor sportsmanship penalty.

In the end, many believe that the playoffs were ruined by the behavior of the NHL’s ‘Golden Boy,” Sidney Crosby. He may well have extraordinary skill but his on-ice attitude leaves much to be desired. He is frequently viewed as a dirty player who gets away with things that would lead to the ejection of other players. He is unapologetic for his own behavior while frequently whining about his own treatment to the refs during the game and pouting after. He feigns innocence and gets away with it. We’re pretty sure every team in the league has some nasty Crosby story. Above all else, Crosby is the reason that no one outside of Pittsburgh is celebrating the Penguins second championship.

Going forward, the NHL really needs to review its officiating and determine how they can ensure more consistency between the regular season and the playoffs. They must do something give the fans the sense that the final round hasn’t been decided as soon as the playoff teams are announced. Clearly the NHL needs a superstar for promotion of the league. Perhaps it is time to find someone of Wayne Gretzky’s caliber who is above suspicion for his play and has the complete respect of the league.

The NHL Network has already decided that the Penguins will be the best team for season 2017/18 and are predicting a third cup in the row for them—with or without Crosby. The worst part of the next year will be that every team will be compared to the Pens and every captain or lead player will be compared to Crosby. And the Caps will constantly face a barrage of questions about playing the Pens and have their two-time loss thrown in their faces. This can go two ways for the Caps—it can demoralize them and beat them down. Or, if folks like Justin Williams and Nick Backstrom have any say in it, call propel them to play harder and develop a winning strategy over the Pens. Either way, it’s gonna be ugly for Caps fans every time we watch those playoff reals, watch Sid lift the cup, and live with the constant reminder that the Pens won the Stanley Cup.

 

 

The Caps and Preds Connection

There is a special kind of connection between these two teams. Many Caps fans jumped on the Predators bandwagon as soon as the Capitals were knocked out of the playoffs by the Penguins.

#anyonebuthePens.

After all, our coach, Barry Trotz, was once their coach. They too were cursed with never getting past the second round. And…they have Filip Forsberg on their roster, who was briefly on the Caps roster.

More important: they have the chance to beat the Caps’ nemesis. And mostly its because we simply can’t stand Sidney Crosby…

This final series has kept us on the edge of our seats as the Preds held the Pens back from getting a shot on goal for 37 minutes in game one. Unfortunately, it only took four shots in the third for the Pens to take the game 5 to 3. The third and fourth games took the playoffs to Nashville and a fan base that has infused their team with energy and confidence. The Preds did what the Caps couldn’t do and delivered two home ice wins.

Caps fans watched with disdain and disgust at what happened in game five as the series returned to Pittsburgh. One thing was clear – we all feel the same contempt for Sidney Crosby, which was heightened after Crosby got a pass for twisting and slamming PK Subban’s head on the ice. While he may be one of the best players in the league, those of us who are not Pens’ fans see things differently.

We’ll let you judge for yourself:

Not to mention a “slip” of his water bottle that would have been a poor sportsman penalty for any other player. Not for the the Golden Boy:

Many Caps fans were watching the game just because, well its hockey, it was the run for the cup, and we love any team that can take down the Pens. Now we are even more invested in seeing the Preds win this thing.  We have never been big fans of PK Subban but given the Subban-Crosby choice, we will never come down on Sid’s side of things.

The series returns to Nashville on Sunday at 8 pm (EST) on NBC. We’ll see if we can stomach NBC’s slanted adoration for the Pens and Sid one more night and if the Preds can bring this to a game seven–back in Pittsburgh. First, they have to figure out their goalie issue and bring that Smashville Energy to the ice again.

GO PREDS!!  We’ re Counting On YOU!!!

Let’s Talk Washington Capitals Coaches 

Every time the Caps fail to make it past Round Two of the NHL playoffs, the call for the coach’s head can’t be far away. This season is no different as we have begun to see the tweets in favor of replacing Barry Trotz are building as frustration is replacing tears and anger.

So let’s look back a few years on the Ovechkin Era and see what’s been going on. Ovi signed with the Caps in 2004 right before the 2004/05 season lockout. It was a pivotal time for the Washington Capitals. At that time George McPhee was general manager (GMGM) and Glen Hanlon was coach. Hanlon had been coaching the team since 2003 when he was promoted as assistant coach and replaced Bruce Cassidy. Hanlon had played in the league himself from 1977 to 1991; however, he was never on a Cup winning team. His stint as coach was memorable only for his losses and the sense of defeat the fans felt as the result of his coaching.

That takes us to Bruce Boudreau. He too had played in the league. He; however, had no NHL coaching experience. What he did have was a winning record with the AHL affiliate team, the Hershey Bears. After seven years he took the team all the way to win the Calder Cup in 2006. The hope was that he would bring the winning skill he demonstrated in Hershey to Washington. Fans were pretty excited with this change and hope seemed to be all around the team. With Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green—The Young Guns—the Caps were primed for lifting the Cup.

Or so we thought.

BB would quickly become part of the “Building America’s Hockey Capital” strategy of owner Ted Leonsis.  It was a pretty remarkable time for the Caps. He helped them win the Presidents’ Trophy in 2009. He gained notoriety as the “F-bomb coach” when HBO followed him around during the Caps first Winter Classic against the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was a game that would excite Caps fans and dismay Pens fans as the Sidney Crosby hit and subsequent concussion would haunt the team ever after. He was a staple in the hockey world and fans adored him almost to the end. By the time he left Bruce posted a 201-88-40 in 329 regular season games. He was also the fastest coach to record 200 regular season wins. Unfortunately, he could never get the Caps past the second round of the playoffs either. He gradually lost the confidence of the team and the fan base resulting in his rather abrupt firing.

It was all over by November 2011 when the Caps fired Broudeau and made one of the worst hiring decisions bringing in former Capitals’ superstar Dale Hunter, owner of the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights. Hunter played for the Capitals from 1987 to 1999. Hunter made it clear when he arrived that he was no fan of Ovechkin, probably believing the press that Ovi had become disrespectful toward his coach and needed rewiring. The excitement for Hunter was brief. He had almost tasted the thrill of victory as a player with the Colorado Avalanche but still did not know how to lead a team past the final. After a dismal season (six months of coaching) with the Caps once again not making it past the semi-finals, Hunter decided he was better suited with the Knights and folded tent to head home.

Hunter’s departure led to the Caps second disaster in this time frame; the hiring of another former player, Adam Oates. Oates was a former assistant coach for Tampa Bay Lightning and part of the NJ Devils team (assistant coach) that made it to the Stanley Cup final in 2012,  which the LA Kings won.  Although he had not yet served as a head coach, he at least had the experience of working with a team that made it to the finals. And he was a Hall of Famer. What could go wrong???  Well things started bumpy with the 2012/13 NHL lockout, which led to a shortened first season. It looked hopeful for the team until they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. His second full season fell apart as he lost the locker room early and he lost the confidence of his star players, most notably Ovechkin. (Que the Ovi fires coaches rumors). He quickly lost the support of the fan base that loved him as a player. This discontent ultimately led to the Caps failure to make it to the playoffs. In the end, the Caps declined to continue their relationship with Oates and released him from his contract.

And as a side note,  they also released GM George McPhee. He was after all, the guy who brought in all the losing coaches. Although he was also responsible for bringing on some of the strongest players in the league, he was unable to create the right mix for a Stanley Cup winning team. He came close though in his first year, 1998, when the Caps went all the way to the finals—for the last time. It was time for a major shakeup and many long-time followers of the Capitals had mixed feelings about letting go of GMGM. Like Bruce, he was well liked in the community.

Which brings us to the Capitals current coach, Barry Trotz. He never played hockey in the NHL, often saying he wasn’t good enough. He began his NHL coaching career with the Nashville Predators in 1997 as part of the new expansion team. He earned a positive reputation as a coach, a winning coach who also never took his team past the second round of the playoffs. He failed to bring them to the playoffs in his last two seasons in Nashville. As a result, the Preds released him in April 2014 which opened the door for the Caps to bring him into the fold a month later. There were mixed reviews about the Caps hiring him, but there was also a sense that he could be the guy to have some success in the latest round of “rebuild.” He has worked well with the team, never afraid to do the unexpected as he adjusted lines, sat under-performing players, and was not phased by the Ovi hype but looks at the team as a whole. Clearly he was disappointed after the Caps were knocked out of the playoffs for the third time under his leadership. He built real cohesion and friendships on the team, the likes of which we have never seen. There were mentors and a real dependence on each other, on and off the ice.  However, all the changes and growth were not enough to give the team the confidence and steam to push past round two. Clearly he knows how to get the team to the playoffs but he hasn’t proven an ability to make it all the way. All that said, there is no sense from the players that they have lost confidence in him. He has created a new culture, but that culture will change with all the moving pieces and trades likely to occur over the summer.watermarked332017-02-17-1120

In the weeks ahead the Capitals management will be taking a good look at what worked and what didn’t. Bloggers and sports writers will assess players and argue about the weakest links. If Trotz stays, he will keep working with GM Brian MacLellan to develop a new strategy and together they will work to create a new team that can go all the way. They have already made some positive changes overall on behalf of the team—creating a healthy environment and a place where young players can develop their craft. The team is closer than ever and it is a waiting game to see who stays and who goes and what that means for the next season.

In the end, the biggest downfall with GMGM’s hiring practice was the mistake in not hiring a coach with NHL Stanley Cup experience. The ongoing problem is that the Caps have never hired someone who coached a team and won the Stanley Cup. Close enough is not necessarily good enough. As much as we believe in what Barry Trotz has tried to accomplish with this team, his record speaks for itself. If the Caps stay with Trotz one more season, he needs to not just coach the team to the finals but win the Cup. If management is unsure of his ability to do that, we strongly urge them to consider hiring a coach with the actual experience of  “rebuilding” a team that has won the Cup. We know who we would suggest at this point were the Caps to make a change today…

Bottom line: fans don’t just want another season of making it to the playoffs, or even making it to the final round. WE WANT TO BRING THE CUP HOME!! And we want them to do whatever it takes to make that a reality next season. We are past the ‘rebuilding’ promises and are ready for a positive outcome.