On the morning of Wednesday, May 13, my Twitter feed was full of skittish anticipation. The Capitals were about to faceoff against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The winner would face the Tampa Bay Lightning with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final on the line. The loser’s season would end under that famous flat roof.
In the summer of 2011, the Washington Capitals gave Joel Ward a four-year, $12 million contract. The deal was largely based on Ward’s play over 12 games when Ward scored 13 points during Nashville’s run to the second round under Barry Trotz. In the regular season that year, Ward had scored just 10 goals. He was 31-years-old. Some of George McPhee‘s gambles didn’t work out, but this one did.
In early 2007, Jay Beagle was a member of the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL, a team he signed with after college. As an undrafted forward playing third-tier professional hockey in middle America, Beagle had little shot at making the NHL. He skated in 26 games for the Steelheads, mostly in the postseason, picking up 13 points. During their Kelly Cup-winning playoff run, the Steelheads matched up against the Las Vegas Wranglers. Steve Richmond, currently the Capitals’ Director of Player Development, happened to be in attendance for those games in Vegas. He liked what he saw, and Beagle received an offer to join Washington’s annual development camp over the summer.
“I was ecstatic,” Beagle said. “It was a chance that I didn’t really think I’d ever get.”
We don’t have many pictures of Dmitry Orlov from this year. This one almost makes up for it. (Photo credit: Eliot J. Schechter)
Dmitry Orlov‘s 2014-15 season stunk — if you can even call it a season. After breaking his wrist playing for the gold medal-winning Russian national team at the 2014 World Championships, Orlov was supposed to be playing by the end of September. Instead, he never played an NHL game this year.
Orlov had numerous complications, with his return constantly getting delayed. He was finally ready to suit up at the end of March, and the Capitals assigned him to Hershey Bears for a conditioning stint. The 23-year-old played three games and rejoined the Caps, but Orlov had fallen in the depth chart by then. Tim Gleason had supplanted him in the lineup, and Nate Schmidt served as Washington’s seventh defensemen. Head coach Barry Trotz showed little interest in dressing someone who had not played in the NHL for a year.
Next season, however, looks to be more promising for Orlov. With Mike Green likely to depart, Orlov could slot into the third pairing alongside fellow RMNB-favorite Schmidt.
“It’s been frustrating that he hasn’t played,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said Monday. “We missed a year of development with him. He’s a good young defenseman. We’re counting coming into our lineup next year and having our coaching staff work with him. I think we’ll see major strides.”
I spoke Orlov about his rough season on breakdown day. It turns out it wasn’t that fun for him. His English is good though!
At age 23, defenseman Mike Green scored 31 goals. His 2008-2009 season was one of the most remarkable scoring performances by a blueliner of all-time. His bright blue Easton Stealth CNT was a lethal weapon. It was just the seventh time in league history a defenseman topped 30 goals. That last player to accomplish the feat, Kevin Hatcher, did it 26 years earlier.
The next year, Green’s goal total dropped by 12. He still easily lead all defensemen with 76 points. The Capitals cruised to the Presidents’ Trophy.
“He set the standard for offensive defensemen in the league,” Karl Alzner, Green’s longtime teammate, said of his 31-goal season. “That’s been the benchmark for a lot of guys. Guys are trying hard to get there, and no one’s been even close. ”
“I think he’ll be a guy that gets remembered in Washington forever,” Alzner added.
Evgeny Kuznetsov was drafted by the Washington Capitals in 2010. It took him four years to come over to North America. He could have left in 2012, but he signed a contract extension to stay with hometown team, Traktor Chelyabinsk. With that decision, it became easy to stereotype him as another Russian who chose the motherland and lots of tax-free money over playing in the best league in the world. But last year, Kuznetsov finally signed with the Capitals. With that contract now up, Kuznetsov, as he has before, tacitly admitted it was a mistake to stay in Russia when he spoke to reporters on breakdown day.
“When I came last year, I don’t understand yet what is this NHL,” Kuznetsov said. “Right now I know what is this.”
Nicklas Backstrom can be bland. He’s one of the best players in the league and one of the Capitals’ alternative captains, but sometimes you forget he’s there. On the ice and off it, he draws almost no attention to himself.
Two days after the Capitals were eliminated by the New York Rangers in game seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinal, the team gathered at Kettler Capitals Iceplex to pack up their equipment and speak to reporters for the final time this season. In past years, we’ve seen weird fashion choices and forceful quotes, but Backstrom normally sits in the shadows. Friday, however, was Nick’s time to shine: he wore a shirt that read “Free Hugs” and said some vaguely interesting things.
As the second period of Wednesday night’s game seven against the New York Rangers ended, Eric Fehr remained on the ice as his teammates walked to the Capitals locker room through a tunnel at the corner of the rink. He kicked his legs and circled Washington’s offensive zone for a minute before joining them. Playing his first game since April 19, Fehr had taken six shifts through two frames, a member of a fourth line that hardly received ice time.
As the game wore on and headed to overtime, head coach Barry Trotz began utilizing Fehr and Brooks Laich more. Fehr was on the ice when the Capitals iced the puck in the middle of a line change past the midway point of the fourth period. Fehr, who missed almost a month with an upper-body injury, would be required to take just his fourth faceoff of the night. He won it, but the Caps sent the puck to the other end on a failed clearing attempt. Seven seconds after beating Derek Stepan on the draw, Fehr faced Stepan again. The pair tied each other up, but Rangers forward Jesper Fast poked the puck to the point. The Capitals’ season was over a few seconds later.
After the Capitals nearly came back from a 4-1 deficit in game six, Alex Ovechkin assured the media the Capitals would go to New York and win game seven. They did not, but Ovi did everything he could. He scored Washington’s only goal, throwing a game-high six shots on net. In the end, it wasn’t enough. After the game, Ovechkin spoke to reporters in a hushed tone. The game clock above his locker was frozen on the moment the Capitals’ season ended.
Braden Holtby lay on his back, looking straight up at the ironic Madison Square Garden ceiling. In 73 regular season games, Holtby anchored the Washington Capitals. He did the same for 13 postseason games, offering up one of the best playoff performances by a goaltender ever. In Wednesday’s game seven, he made 37 saves. But goalies — even great ones like Holtby — can’t stop everything. There was nothing he could do to prevent Derek Stepan‘s overtime winner, the goal that ended the Capitals season. After the game, Holtby, still clearly shaken, spoke to the media.