barry-trotz

For almost 60 minutes, the Washington Capitals looked in shambles as they faced the New York Islanders in game one of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The game was filled with bad decisions and sloppy mistakes. Washington has high hopes for this spring, but Wednesday’s performance put those dreams, at least for now, in doubt.

After the game, the locker room was filled with frustrated players, with many Capitals saying they lacked focus and threw away the fundamentals of hockey.

All that is a recipe for a hard practice full of yelling and skating the next day. Barry Trotz was asked Thursday if he considered doing that. His response was simple: “No.”

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ChimeraFall

Photo credit: Alex Brandon

Coming into Wednesday’s game, the Washington Capitals were confident. With a new coach this year, they had turned into a crisp, well-structured team, generally controlling the puck and therefore the play. They finished the season tied for the eighth highest point total in the league.

“In the past we were maybe sort of a rush team,” forward Brooks Laich, a veteran of the light ’em up Presidents’ Trophy winning Capitals of 2010, said. “I don’t think we’re as high flying, high octane offense as we once were, but I think we’re a lot more difficult to play against this way. It should bode well for a sustained playoff run.”

“We’re gonna be ready,” Laich concluded.

They weren’t.

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JerseysOffOurBacks (11 of 15)

On Saturday, the Caps took on the New York Rangers with a chance at securing home ice for their first round matchup with the Islanders with a victory. Instead, they were easily defeated in their final regular season game. Afterwards, the players didn’t seem to care much. After missing the postseason last year, the Caps are heading to the playoffs for the 25th time in franchise history, finishing with more than 100 points for the eight time ever.

“I feel like if we play our game and we have the right mentality and the right focus, then we can go head-to-head with the best in the league,” head coach Barry Trotz said after the game.

Instead of moping around after the loss, the Caps held their annual Jerseys Off Our Backs ceremony, with winning fans drawing a player’s number before getting his jersey. Highlights included Karl Alzner not wearing pants, Braden Holtby giving his giant jersey to a tiny fan and Nicklas Backstrom getting very friendly with someone who could be his mom.

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Can’t Clinch: Sens Beat Caps 4-3 (OT)

HoltbySens

That was a dumb period. (Photo credit: Justin Tang)

On this festive weekend, the Caps looked to clinch a playoff berth with a regulation win over the Senators. Instead, they dug themselves a huge hole early. Somehow, they came back. Then they blew it again. Oh well. Put down your matzo and wine, it’s no time for a yeast-less party.

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scott-cannon-mike-green-stick

Photo: Scott Cannon

A few weeks ago, Mike Green started playing with an old Easton Stealth CNT from his 30-goal season. Discontinued almost 10 years ago, Green found one of those sticks in his garage. Green started breaking out the stick in special situations, hoping to regain some of the offensive magic he had in the last decade. The CNT, he said, is the best stick he’s ever used. At the time, he had just one.

After I wrote about it, readers starting emailing RMNB to offer their old game-used Stealths that they had purchased or had been given by Green. Some are even signed. Since then, readers have slowly been resupplying Green with those old CNTs.

On Saturday, Green scored with one of those reader-provided sticks, his second goal since he started using the CNT again.

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Forsberg (2 of 6)

Photos by Chris Gordon.

Saturday, Filip Forsberg will play at Verizon Center for the first time. Caps fans eagerly awaited this moment when he was drafted 11th overall in 2012. But in March of 2013, Forsberg was sent to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Martin Erat and Michael Latta. It was a bad trade from the start, made worse when Adam Oates ran Erat out of town. Ever since, it’s been a sore spot for Caps fans. This season, the wound has been ripped open. Through 75 games, Forsberg has 56 points and is in the running for the Calder Trophy. While Caps fans still miss him, it seems Washington never made much of an impression on Forsberg, who laced up for the Capitals just once, during the team’s 2012 Development Camp.

“From coming here, things turned out in a way that no one really saw coming,” Forsberg said Friday, when he visited Kettler Capitals Iceplex for the first time since the trade. “They’ll always be a part of it, but obviously I never really made anything for the Capitals.”

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AlznerGoal

Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

On Thursday night, Adam Oates was back behind the bench at Verizon Center for the first time since being fired at the end of last season. Much has changed since then. On this night, the Capitals were playing with sticks that were familiar to them and their coach was not giving his players the cold shoulder. But the most important change, at least on this night, came on defense. Oates instituted a defense system that required blueliners to give up the puck almost immediately after gaining it. This led to forced passes and a myriad of odd-man breaks against. It turned former Norris Trophy nominees like Mike Green into subject of ridicule. The Capitals defense, on the whole, was very bad.

This year, however, things are different. In offseason, new general manager Brian MacLellan added some much needed balance to the Capitals by signing Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to big money deals. New coach Barry Trotz has also freed up its defensemen, allowing them to carry the puck when necessary. This has led to a resurgence for Green, who has 39 points this season. Other blueliners have also chipped in. Through 73 games, Karl Alzner had more than doubled his career high in goals and surpassed his career high in assists.

Against the Devils, Alzner added his fifth goal of the year in a decidedly un-Oatesian way.

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CongressionalHockeyChallenge (24 of 24)

Reps. John Katko, Pat Meehan, Erik Paulsen and Tom Emmer pose with Lawmakers teammate Peter Bondra after defeating the Lobbyists in the annual Congressional Hockey Challenge. (Photos by Chris Gordon)

When you hear that someone famous is a hockey fan, it has novelty, something not reserved for fans of baseball, basketball, and football. While we may be absorbed in the community, hockey is the smallest of all major professional sports in the United States. Many Americans have never watched it. Fewer have tried it. On Wednesday, however, it was featured at American’s center of power. In the afternoon, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman went to the Hill to meet with members of Congressional Hockey Caucus and announce Thurgood Marshall scholarship recipients. In the evening, four of those congressmen played in the seventh annual Congressional Hockey Challenge. Representatives John Katko (R-NY), Tom Emmer (R-MN), Erik Paulsen (R-MN), and Pat Meehan (R-PA) competed for the Lawmakers. They were joined on their team by former Capitals player Peter Bondra (RW-Slovakia) as well as administration officials, congressional staffers and Canadian Parliament member Gord Brown.

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Brooks Laich hadn’t scored since January 7. Since then the $4.5 million a year player had been a healthy scratch and now a fourth liner. That bottom line, though, is filled with rejected top-sixers rather than talentless scrubs — one member of the Sabres organization quipped that it was better than Buffalo’s first line. On Saturday night, that line — Laich, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson — added Washington’s fourth tally of the night, Laich’s first goal in two months.

“I sort of flashed back to the first goal I ever scored in the NHL,” Laich told reporters after the game. “It was in Montreal and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I got back to the bench and Glen Hanlon he says ‘congratulations.’ I was like ‘dude, I can’t stop smiling.’ He was like ‘good, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.’ This one sort of felt like that.”

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GreenEaston

There it is. (Photo credit: Patrick McDermott)

At the start of the 2008 NHL season, Mike Green came to camp with just 15 sticks. They were Easton Stealth CNTs. At the time, Green said his sticks had been discontinued for “a while.” He would be getting no more. Over the course of that season, Green posted unbelievable numbers for a defensemen, scoring 31 goals. Looking at the goal leaderboard for that season, Green is just below some of the most high flying scorers in the league: Malkin, Toews, and Crosby to name a few.

At one point Green scored a stunning 10 times in eight straight games. The goals during the streak all came off the same Easton, which Green said was the best stick he’s ever played with. Reluctantly, he agreed to donate it to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“You can only be superstitious for so long,” Green said.

Green’s moment of reckoning came on May 2, 2009. Playing in game one of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Green broke his last surviving Stealth CNT.

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