INSIDE HOCKEY » Washington Capitals Get Inside! Mon, 22 Sep 2014 03:49:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 New-look Caps have new attitude Mon, 22 Sep 2014 03:48:14 +0000

As if sacking the head coach and general manager at the end of last season, signing high-profile free agents to bolster a weak defensive corps, nabbing Barry Trotz as a new head coach and bringing in fresh goaltending coaches and assistant coaches wasn’t enough to prove the Capitals are ready for and expecting change this season, the team also redesigned their locker room.

While the fact that the Caps upgraded to brand-new, navy carpeting and modern, dark wood and stainless steel benches may seem mundane, the roped-off Capitals logo on the carpet at the center of the revamped dressing room is not.

“I think there’s a pride that we should have in our organization,” Trotz said of his decision to rope off the logo. “It’s about what’s on the front of the jersey, not what’s on the back of the jersey. What’s on the front of the jersey is very important and should be a little bit sacred.”

The Capitals dressing room carpet didn’t even have a team logo last year, let alone one given VIP treatment. While every notepad-toting visitor to the locker room was explicitly told not to step on the logo in the pursuit of post-game quotes, it seems the ropes will stay up, at least when outsiders are in the dressing room.

“You can tell the mentality has changed,” Caps goaltender Braden Holtby said. “There’s a lot of things that contribute to that. Obviously it was a long summer, a lot of guys were anxious to get back, anxious to train hard all summer to make sure that we prove ourselves a lot better this year. (There is a) different attitude coming into camp. Guys are excited, guys are ready to learn, to play as a team.”

Carpet symbols are hollow, however, until the Caps back up their professed culture change on the ice. After missing the playoffs for the first time in six seasons in 2014, a symbol could at least serve as a good rallying point.

According to Trotz, he liked what he saw from his team in their first exhibition game, a 1-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres. After two grueling days of training camp, he knew his team would be tired and was pleased that they made smart plays given their fatigue and a less-than-perfect sheet of ice.

“I was happy with our veterans,” he said. “Nicky Backstrom, you can see what kind of two-way player that he is…I thought Brooks Laich looked like he could skate all day today.”

So far, the players are also happy with the new coaching staff.

“They made it very clear,” Caps goaltender Braden Holtby said. “The system and stuff was very easy to understand and very well-prepared for (learning) throughout the summer. Obviously (the coaching staff) did a lot of work, but it’s a tribute to our guys for really caring about getting it right.”

“Caring about getting it right,” was something the Caps failed to do on a consistent basis last year. Perhaps a new coach, a new locker room and a new attitude will lead to new results come April.



Alex Ovechkin on readjusting to left wing:

“It’s not that strange because I played World Championship on the left,” he said.

Capitals forward prospect Andre Burakovsky on scoring a goal:
“It was nice to score the first goal. I got a great pass from (Jason) Chimera and I just took a wrister and it went in. I was kind of shocked, but it feels really good to have the first goal. And after that goal, I think I could relax a little bit more in the game, feel more comfortable out there and just keep playing hard.”


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Leonsis, Niskanen make case for Orpik Sun, 13 Jul 2014 18:02:31 +0000

The weekend before NHL Free Agency began, 33-year-old defenseman Brooks Oprik paid a visit to Washington. He spent hours with the Capitals coaches and staff, met General Manager Brian MacLellan, and finally sat down with Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis and COO Dick Patrick.

“He was looking to us on how committed were we to winning and what were we going to do to continue to improve,” Leonsis, addressing the media during the Capitals annual Fan Fest, said. “He’s won a Cup and it was really interesting listening (to him) that after you win a Cup, you think you’d be satisfied, but you get hungrier for a second one. That has to be the sole focus of our organization.”

When Leonsis ushered in a new era for the Washington Capitals, hiring MacLellan as General Manager, new management set goals of rationalizing the goaltending situation and gaining defensive depth with players who could “eat up minutes.”

“I green-lit that we could spend every dollar that we could for goaltending and defense,” Leonsis said.

The result is what he believes is the deepest defensive corps the Capitals have had since he’s owned the team.

While the signings of backup goalie Justin Peters to a two-year, $1.9 million deal and Matt Niskanen to a seven-year, $40.25 million deal were welcomed in Washington, Orpik’s five-year, $27.5 million contract has been met with derision.

The 10-year NHL veteran will turn 34 before the season starts, has 132 points in 703 career games and is perceived as too slow for a league in which the best teams are increasingly employing speed, not simply size.

“I was a little disappointed,” Leonsis said. “That’s not the right way to welcome somebody to a new team, a new player. (He’s) a guy who’s been in the league a long, long time, a guy who has intangibles…that the coaches and the GM respect very much.”

Leonsis pointed to Orpik’s size, toughness, leadership qualities and commitment to fitness as attributes worthy of his hefty paycheck.

Niskanen, who played with Orpik in Pittsburgh for over three seasons, also praised his teammate, describing him as “steady” and “a workout freak.”

Being a fitness diehard will be necessary since the final year of Orpik’s contract will begin when he is 38.

“You know he’s going to be in excellent shape,” Niskanen said. “He’s what every professional defenseman should strive to be like as far as your (fitness and diet) habits.”

He went on to describe more of Orpik’s intangibles.

“He’s a leader,” he said. “That’s another element that a lot of people can’t see and probably won’t ever see.”

Despite their positive words, there is little Leonsis or Niskanen can say to quell the nerves of a fan-base shocked at the amount of money and time dedicated to a player in his mid-thirties. It will be Orpik’s responsibility to win over his new fans and city with his actions on the ice.

According to Niskanen, that should not be a problem.

“He’s got a lot of experience,” he said. “He’s been on bad teams, he’s been on championship teams and everywhere in between. So he knows what it takes, the kind of attitude, the chemistry, the work ethic, all those things. He knows what it takes to win. I think he’s going to add a lot to our group and hopefully get us headed in the right direction.”

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Matt Niskanen chooses Caps on first day of free agency Wed, 02 Jul 2014 05:41:28 +0000

In the days leading up to NHL free agency, well after new Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford made it clear that Matt Niskanen was no longer in his team’s long-term plans, Niskanen started sorting through all of the interest from different teams around the league. He admitted that his “ears perked up” upon learning that some of that interest came from the Washington Capitals. On the eve of free agency, Niskanen said he had whittled down his list of teams to two or three.

“It felt right to me to go to Washington,” he said, noting that he started leaning further in the Capitals direction on the morning of July 1.

The Caps made one of the biggest splashes on the first day of free agency, inking the 27-year-old defenseman to a seven-year, $40.25 million deal. The former Pittsburgh Penguin boasted a career year in 2013-2014, notching 10 goals and 36 assists and posting a plus/minus rating of 33, which topped all NHL defensemen.

Niskanen joins fellow Pittsburgh castoffs Todd Reirden, the Capitals new assistant coach, and Brooks Orpik, a 33-year-old veteran defenseman who the Caps signed to a five-year deal worth $27.5 million. As one might suspect, this is no accident.

“He’s been huge (in helping me grow as a player),” Niskanen said of his relationship with Reirden. “Todd helped me to come up with a plan to become a regular (in the lineup) again.”

That plan was necessary after Niskanen, a former first-round draft pick, struggled in Dallas before being traded to the Penguins in 2011. Initially thought of as the ‘throw-in’ guy in a trade that sent him and James Neal to Pittsburgh for Alex Goligoski, Niskanen blossomed while playing for the Penguins. His breakout came last season, though, as he became the Penguins most consistent and arguably best defenseman as injuries ravished the lineup in Pittsburgh.

While Niskanen clearly has a special relationship with the Caps new assistant, he also is looking forward to playing with Orpik, whom he has been paired with previously. Prior to signing with the Caps on Tuesday, Orpik visited Washington and told his teammate how impressed he was with the organization.

Capitals fans will be pleased that Niskanen, considered a free-agency prize, was not simply influenced by an influx of former Penguins to Washington. After over three seasons playing behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the talent level in Washington, namely that of Caps captain Alex Ovechkin and star center Nicklas Backstrom, makes Niskanen believe that his new organization is as much of a Stanley Cup contender as the team he is leaving.

“I can help those (high skill) guys out,” he said.

As for how he will adjust to being on the flip side of the intense Penguins-Capitals rivalry, Niskanen sees an upside to switching teams.

“Now, I’m glad I don’t have Ovechkin forechecking me…We’ve got a good group here.”



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Caps Introduce Trotz, MacLellan Tue, 27 May 2014 19:23:44 +0000

In front of over 80 media and staff, including players Braden Holtby, John Carlson, Brooks Laich and Jason Chimera, owner Ted Leonsis introduced Barry Trotz as new head coach and Brain MacLellan as new general manager of the Washington Capitals today at the Verizon Center.

Trotz and MacLellan offered no specifics on their plans for the Capitals, other than to answer almost every question with the theme that the Capitals have the talent to get in the Stanley Cup mix right away, so long as they first forge a new identity.

When repeatedly asked for specifics on this new identity, both Trotz and MacLellan cited the need for consistency, hard work, discipline and accountability. The only specific example given was the need for a harder camp with an emphasis on better conditioning.

Trotz was asked about his reputation as a defensive coach now that he has some of the best offensive weapons in hockey. Trotz explained that a team takes on the identity of its top players. His goal is not to take anything away from the team offensively. Defense is about getting the puck back to the offense quickly. He did note that the Capitals need better balance.

Lastly, Trotz said he had not talked to Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin had just won the world championships for Russia, and Trotz joked Ovi was at Putin’s house when he called.

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Photo Gallery: Phantoms @ Bears (4/19/14) Sun, 20 Apr 2014 14:04:28 +0000

At the Giant Center in Hershey, PA on 04/19/14, the final game for the Bears’ 2013-14 Season came to an end with the Bears defeating the Adirondack Phantoms by a score of 2-1. Both teams failed to make the playoffs.  The “3 Stars of the Game” were #3 HER Jeff Taffe, #2 HER David Leggio, #1 HER Joel Rechlicz.  Photos taken by Steve Rusyn for Inside Hockey.

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Caps set record in season finale loss Mon, 14 Apr 2014 02:14:08 +0000

After a season during which they never seemed to find consistency or an identity, Sunday afternoon the Capitals went out, appropriately, with a whimper. Washington’s 1-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning marked the former’s 21st shootout contest of the season, a new NHL record. The last team to play in nearly that many shootout games was the 2011-2012 Minnesota Wild.

Rehashing their season after the game, the Capitals pointed to that statistic as representative of their lost year. Washington’s 10-11 record in those 21 shootouts displays the razor thin difference between playoff and non-playoff teams.

“The margin of error is very slim,” Washington Head Coach Adam Oates said. “So when you break it down I’m sure there are a lot of little segments, little points, little details we could’ve done a lot better. It’s stuff that you address.”

While winning less than half of those 11 shootout losses would have catapulted the ninth place Caps, who finished three points out of a wild card spot, into the playoffs, it was a seven-game losing streak in January that truly derailed their season. After that lengthy skid, the Caps scraped by at about the same clip that they did in the first half of the year, never winning more than four games in a row. Meanwhile, the rest of the Metropolitan teams, including Philadelphia, the New York Rangers and Columbus, gained ground in what proved to be the league’s weakest division.

“We’ve had this group of guys here for a long time, and we know what’s expected of us. I think everybody was thinking the exact same thing ‘We’re going to pull out of [the mid-year slump], it’s going to happen, we’re going to pull out of it.’ That we are going to be okay,” Caps forward Eric Fehr said. “And, it didn’t happen this time. Maybe shame on us looking in hindsight, but I think everyone in here had the confidence that we were going to be able to turn it around and do it without a big blowout [players only] meeting.”

In hindsight, the Capitals’ reasoning, or at least what their reasoning and mindset were according to Fehr, almost sounds like complacency. That lack of urgency after January’s seven-game losing streak is why the Caps are on the wrong side of the postseason bubble.

“We had a few winning streaks that were three maybe four games; not very many especially when you have a couple four, five game losing streaks, an eight game losing streak, you have to counter balance those with some winning streaks as well,” Troy Brouwer said. “We were never able to kind of get into a rhythm, throw together a good run of games, collect and stockpile points at any one time, we had to battle for them in little chunks here and there. As a result, we are handing out our jerseys and going home for the summer today.”


Game Summary:

After throttling the Chicago Blackhawks in a completely meaningless game Friday night, the Caps actually had a chance to play spoiler in their final regular season game of the 2013-2014 season. However, Tampa’s desire for home ice advantage in their upcoming quarterfinal series against the Canadiens proved to be enough to propel them over the Caps. Securing two points against Washington means the Bolts will open their first-round series at home instead of in Montreal’s hostile Bell Centre.

Tampa’s urgency was evident from the first period. They spent extended shifts in the Capitals’ zone and outshot the home team 23-7 through two periods, though the score remained tied at zero.

The Capitals, playing for pride in front of a fan base that is becoming increasingly disillusioned with the organization, finally managed to rattle off seven shots within the first four minutes of the final frame, while the Bolts recorded only one shot by the mid-point of the period. Nicklas Backstrom had perhaps the Caps best chance to score on a redirect during a power play early in the third period, but was stoned by Anders Lindback’s pad save.

Braden Holtby, who turned aside all 32 shots he faced in regulation and overtime, stood tall throughout the game, particularly when he made a sliding save on Nikita Kucherov, who found himself alone in front of the Caps’ net.

With the score still knotted at zero after regulation and overtime, the Caps headed to their 21st shootout of the year. Lindback stoned all three Capitals shooters while defenseman Matt Carle notched the game’s deciding goal.

The Capitals will gather one more time before the offseason for their final day of media availability on Monday morning at Kettler Iceplex in Arlington, Va.

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Capitals Dominate in Game that Doesn’t Count; Capitals win 4 to 0 over Blackhawks Sun, 13 Apr 2014 00:20:18 +0000

In a game played more like a preseason game, the Capitals won on both sides of the ice and dominated the Chicago Blackhawks 4 to 0. Goalie Jaroslav Halak may have played his best game for the Capitals.

The home fans enjoyed the game, and gladly welcomed the Capitals back to the Verizon Center even though the Capitals were eliminated from the playoffs earlier in the week. When asked if they were worried about the fan reception, players and Coach Adam Oates admitted they were not sure. In the end, “these fans are loyal” and “always showing good support” said Nicklas Backstrom.

For much of the end of the season, players and Coach Oates lamented over missed opportunities and mistakes. Last night was different, however. The Capitals clearly seemed more relaxed and were having more fun than past games down the playoff stretch. When asked if playoff pressure was getting to the team, the players reluctantly admitted pressure may have been a factor.

When asked, Backstrom answered “maybe.” “Nerves [are a factor] when games are more important.” After being eliminated from the playoffs, he admitted that the “last two games we moved the puck better than the whole year.”

“[Pressure] snuck in a little bit,” according to Eric Fehr.

Halak admitted, “it could be.” If there is pressure, “you make more mistakes.” Last night’s game was different. It was a “more enjoyable game…I think everyone should enjoy. That is why we play the game.”

In the end, Fehr was probably right. You can’t take too much from a “closer to preseason game.” But with nothing on the line, last night night’s victory was at least enjoyable. Sunday, the long off season begins.

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Depleted Devils Keep Playoff Hopes Alive Sat, 05 Apr 2014 14:49:21 +0000

NEWARK, N.J. – With 4: 54 minutes left in the game, New Jersey had nine players on the bench and eight forwards in the game.

“I think there was a lot of breathing on the bench. A lot of heavy breathing. And listening. Because you know we’re playing different positions,” Ryan Cater said.

“We had guys playing positions that may be a little foreign to them, get shuffled around so there was a high level of focus on the bench. It was good for us.”

Carter was playing different positions as well. He thought he was playing wing when he grabbed a pass from Marek Zidlicky and shot it past Jaroslav Halak five hold.

“I was tired in the third period,” Carter said. “I’m not used to going every other shift. We’re a four-line team, that’s the way it’s been. And I think towards the end of the third there’s two lines so it was a little taxing.”

Carter’s tally was the game-winning goals as the Devils defeated Washington 2-1 on Friday night. New Jersey is three points behind the Blue Jackets for the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

After a flat first period, and a 1-0 deficit, the Devils turned in better efforts in the next two frames.

“Washington’s a desperate team too, their season’s on the line,” Peter DeBoer said. “And you have to expect that. I thought our response was very good after the first.”

But in the third period, injuries affected the Devils. Patrik Elias didn’t return to the bench after sustaining a head injury in the third. Adam Henrique did not play in the third period, while Jacob Josefson played for two shifts.

“My heart was pounding. I mean I was tired but I was on the bench it was pounding,” Carter said. “I wanted to win that one.”

Because of the injuries, Jaromir Jagr led all Devils forwards with 25:28 minutes of ice time. Travis Zajac skated for 23:26 minutes. Damien Brunner also missed some time because of an equipment issue.

“It’s fun when you win those,” Zajac said. “You’re short guys, everyone’s going, everyone’s contributing. That’s a good way to win.”

Cory Schneider finished with 24 saves, including a pad stop on Marcus Johansson with 2:28 minutes left in regulation. Johansson found the puck while driving to the net, but Schneider made the stop.

“The guys sacrifice,” Carter said. “Schneider played great for us. I think at times there’s not much you can do about it when you have eight forwards, we were a little tired. When we needed Schneids he was there, a couple of breakdowns and he made huge saves for us at the right time.”

A turnover by Mark Fayne led to an Alex Ovechkin goal midway through the first period. Tuomo Ruutu tied the tame in the second frame. Gelinas, Zajac, Zidlicky and Peter Harrold added assists in the win.

The Devils had started the game with 11 forwards and seven defensemen before losing three players.

“You get caught out there, you get running around for more than 45, 50 seconds, I’m sure you feel a little bit quicker,” Schneider said. “Those games are fun. It’s hard to really feel fatigued or tired or worried or anything.”

Carter, who had 10 shifts through the first period, skated for nine in the third. He finished with 12:53 minutes of ice time.

“It’s a different kind of focus, the intensity of the game is picked up a little bit and you’re going to be relied on a little bit more,” Carter said. “It’s probably a product of energy management now. We’ve got to make sure we do the things we have to do, especially coming in tomorrow.

“That’s really the only game I’m thinking about right now. And we’ve got the energy to play and compete and win tomorrow night.”

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Photo Gallery: Ice Caps @ Bears (03/29/14) Sun, 30 Mar 2014 13:13:13 +0000

At the Giant Center on 03/29/14 in the 12th round of a shootout, Hershey Bears Tyson Strachan scored the winning  goal to defeat the St. John’s Ice Caps 2 to 1. The “3 Stars of the Game” were #3 STJ Kyle MacKinnon, #2 HER Jeff Taffe, #1 David Leggio. Photo taken by Steve Rusyn for Inside Hockey.

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Washington stomped by surging Bruins Sat, 29 Mar 2014 23:25:39 +0000

The Washington Capitals needed to prove their playoff worthiness Saturday afternoon when they met the white-hot Boston Bruins in front of a home crowd hungry for the postseason. Despite the obvious motivation, the Caps did not show up for their fans for roughly the first thirty minutes of the game, a poor start they never came back from.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Bruins are riding high with points in their last 15 games. Veteran forward Jarome Iginla scored his 29th and 30th of the season on Washington goalie Braden Holtby, who remained in the game despite surrendering two goals in under a minute in the second period.

Coach Adam Oates defended his starter, claiming the net minder kept them in the game early on with solid play in the first period.

Execution woes plagued Washington early on, despite their recent trend of superior play.

Captain Alex Ovechkin said it was a problem of nobody making plays.

Forward Eric Fehr pointed to poor starts.

Regardless of the source, the Caps cannot afford anymore 4-2 lashings at such a critical time in their season.

The Bruins lea heavily in shots throughout the first period and the Caps relied on Holtby to preserve the stalemate, most notably when he denied Chris Kelly on the doorstep. Despite some quality chances on the Caps power play from a Patrice Bergeron tripping call, they failed to create any consistent offensive pressure.

Iginla was the first to pierce through Holtby’s armor early in the second when Eric Fehr failed to cleanly bring the puck into the Bruins’ offensive zone. The puck was turned over to David Krejci who sent it along the boards where it found Carl Soderburgh. Soderburgh set up Iginla, who was alone in the slot, ready to make the game 1-0.

Boston added to their lead with a power play goal from Soderburgh, who got a stick on a Bergeron shot to put it between the pads of Holtby. The Caps failed to box out in front of the net and paid the price, now in a two-goal hole.

A group of bold Bruins fans started a “Let’s Go Bruins” chant in the Verizon Center after the goal, their biting yells echoing off of the hallow Washington fans, who could do nothing but sit in silence.

Things went from bad to worse for the Caps as Iginla scored his second of the afternoon less than a minute later with a lot of traffic and commotion in front of the flailing Holtby.

Just as he lets one in, Holtby stoned Reilly Smith on a beautiful save point-blank on the rookie, a perfect example of Washington’s Achilles heel: inconsistency.

While the Caps still trailed in shots and goals, they finally showed up midway through the second period. It can be argued that the tough play from Washington’s celebrated line of “grinders,” Fehr, Jason Chimera, and Joel Ward, sparked the resuscitation.

Now passes were precise, turnovers were less frequent, and pucks were getting to the net. Ironically, the Caps sole tally came not from one of their sticks, but off of a save attempt from Johnny Boychuck. Regardless, Jason Chimera received credit for the goal and the Caps went into the second intermission with the momentum firmly on their side.

“They ended up getting a goal in the second period, which obviously gave us life,” Oates said. “But that last five minutes of the second period, we had like three grade-A chances. It was like the recipe that you’re supposed to do all of a sudden showed up and the rest of the game was solid.”

Washington successfully killed off a Chimera penalty early on and received a power play of their own when Andrej Meszaros received a holding penalty.

The Caps had good puck movement on the man-advantage and had the Bruins tired in their own zone. For whatever reason, none of the chances were converted into goals and the top-ranked power play unit in the league left fruitlessly.

With a sizeable but not insurmountable task in front of them, Ovechkin hit an unsuspecting Loui Eriksson and received a questionable charging penalty. The Bruins scored on the subsequent power play, all but sealing the fate of the Caps.

“Those two minutes killed our chances,” said Ovechkin postgame.

“He wasn’t ready. I make a hit. Was it a penalty, two minutes? I think it changed the game right away, they scored a goal. I think it was a bad call,” he said. Ovechkin finished a minus-1, with no goals on five shots.

Oates described the call as “terrible”, but also said he did not think it changed the complexion of the game, stating he wanted the Caps to “work through it.”

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored in the final minutes of the third. He now has seven points (2 g, 5 a) in nine career NHL games. Unfortunately, it was too little too late, as the Caps fell to the Bruins to a final score of 4-2.

After the depressing loss, the Caps are looking for the silver lining.

“I thought that most of the third period we took the play to one of the best teams in the league. That’s a positive for us,” said Fehr.

“Definitely don’t want to take that long, but we know they are a good team and in our own rink we should be able to use momentum and create chances.”

With eight games left, if the Caps cannot find answers, they’ll find themselves as spectators in May for the first time in six seasons.

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