Steve Oleksy was only supposed be with the Caps for a day. But after Nate Schmidt’s brief sojourn to the Bears turned into a multi-month absence, Steve O is here for the foreseeable future. He just won’t be playing in many games, if any at all. Still, Oleksy has to be ready.
Photo credit: Patrick McDermott
At this point, Capitals-Flyers games seem to devolve into elaborate displays of petty violence almost by habit. There’s no real point, but they do it every game. Sometimes, they even start punching faces. Last year, the Caps got into 18 fights with the Flyers, including the preseason. That accounted for a third of Washington’s fight total for the season.
“Not many guys on this side like them on that side and not many guys on that side like us,” Tom Wilson told me. “Last year there was a lot of high emotion.”
Photo credit: Patrick McDermott
Before this season, Evgeny Kuznetsov had only played sparingly at center in his hockey career. But with the Capitals lacking in center depth, head coach Barry Trotz has tried to convert Kuznetsov and fellow rookie Andre Burakovsky into pivots. Both struggled earlier in the year, with Burakovsky getting scratched and eventually moving back to wing. But Kuznetsov has stuck and is finally adjusting to the new role. Against the Avalanche on Monday night, Kuznetsov was an offensive force, with four shots on net, a shot off the crossbar, and a myriad of drives past the Colorado defense.
“He’s got really good vision, he’s got great hands, and he’s skating well,” Trotz said after the game. “I think his puck protection has been really good, his detail in the D-zone has been really good. You get chances, you’re gonna produce. I think he’s a very talented guy.”
Photo credit: Chris Gordon
Pretty much every time the Caps face off against a team with Russians, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov hold court with their countrymen in the hallway just off the visitor’s bench.
Photo credit: Alex Brandon
Last season, the Capitals power play was one of the few things that kept the team out of the cellar, accounting for nearly one third of the team’s goals. This year, the Caps don’t stink, but their power play, run by lone coaching holdover Blaine Forsythe, has remained one of the league’s top units. But in December, as the Caps soared up the standings, their power play was impotent.
The team made a few minor changes throughout the streak, putting Mike Green back on the point and Marcus Johansson on the first unit, but it didn’t make much difference. Last month, they converted on just six of their 43 opportunities. Since the Winter Classic, however, the power play has been back on track, scoring in four of the five games the team has played in the new year.
Photoshop by Ian Oland
While the Capitals and Red Wings were busy boring a mostly full Verizon Center, a sporting contest of greater import was taking place in the Boston suburbs. With a spot in the AFC Championship Game on the line, the 2013 Super Bowl winning Baltimore Ravens took a 28-14 lead on the New England Patriots. With five minutes left in the game, however, Tom Brady threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to give New England a 35-31 lead and send the entire state of Maryland into Old Bay-seasoned tears.
After the Capitals’ 3-1 victory over Detroit, I caught up with Joel Ward, a massive Ravens fan. Though Ward scored in Washington’s 22nd victory this year, he become downtrodden when I brought up the game.
“I knew they were going to be tough,” Ward said. “I saw that they were up by a couple scores earlier on. Foxboro is a tough building. I can only imagine how they are feeling right now because it was such a battle with what they accomplished. I think a lot of people counted them out early on.”
Photo credit: Rob Carr.
On June 9, 2010, Troy Brouwer lifted the Stanley Cup, his Blackhawks defeating the Philadelphia Flyers to win hockey’s biggest prize. But in the months leading up to it, Brouwer was not fully focused on the Cup run. That spring, Don Brouwer, his father suffered a severe stroke, which left him unconscious for a week and required brain surgery. Since then, Don has only seen Brouwer play sporadically when the Caps travel to his hometown of Vancouver.
“You appreciate big things, like life, a little bit more,” Brouwer told Chuck Gormley of CSN Washington. “He’s lucky to be here. The doctors and physical therapists did an amazing job with him getting him back to where he is today. They say the later you are in life, the harder it is to rebound and get back to normal. He did an amazing job too. His will and his fight. You don’t get to say this a lot to your parents, but I’m very proud of him and how far he’s come. He’s really stubborn and he stayed on his therapy to get better.”
Glorious human being. (Photo credit: Alex Brandon)
On January 1, 2011, Eric Fehr blasted into the offensive zone, along with the puck. He unleashed bullet of a wrist shot off the slushy Heinz Field ice. It was his second goal of the game, the 2011 Winter Classic, cementing him in Capitals history.
On Saturday, Fehr scored twice against the Pittsburgh Penguins, a redux of sorts of his 2011 outdoor game performance. Well, according to everyone but him.
“Not really,” Fehr said when asked by Alex Prewitt if that game brought back any memories. “Different kind of goals and obviously different building.”
Today, however, his goal was close as you could get to 2011: breakaway, unassisted, outdoors, and happy times at the end. Nevertheless, Fehr stuck to his talking points, giving nearly the same answer he provided the media Saturday.
“Not really,” Fehr said when asked, once again, if it brought back any memories. “It was a little bit different.”
Still, he was happy.
“It always feels good to score goals, I won’t lie to you,” Fehr, who attributed his play to “some good fresh air,” told me. “The ones in the Winter Classic feel extra special.”
Capitals owner Ted Leonsis saw it coming.
“I walked in today and saw Eric and said ‘You’re our x-factor,” Leonsis told me.
Photo credit: Chris Gordon.
On Wednesday afternoon, Nate Schmidt sat in the corner of the Washington Nationals clubhouse, quietly taking off his gear after Caps practiced outside at Nats Park. With the NHL taking over the baseball stadium, the room has been temporarily transformed into a hockey locker room, though it’s not quite as smelly as a real one. To Schmidt’s right, around 15 reporters gathered around Karl Alzner, eager for his thoughts on the eyewear revolution he started. As RMNB’s Chief Fashion Reporter, I had my eye on a different aspect of Winter Classic apparel: the scarf Schmidt was wearing.
“This is my first ever scarf experience!” Schmidt gleefully announced to me. “First ever. I used to always make fun of people who wore scarves.”
Following their sun-splashed practice at Nationals Park on Wednesday, the Washington Capitals stayed on the ice for an informal skate around the outdoor rink, joined by their friends and family — and there were plenty of them. Michael Latta got around 50 tickets for his guests, though he’s not the Capitals leader. According to Latta, John Carlson asked for even more. While the media was ushered away from the rink during the skate, NHL Network cameras and the Caps Twitter account captured some of the heartwarming moments.
These guys are adorable.