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Photo: Maddie Mayer

For most of his career, Caps 2012 first-round pick Tom Wilson has languished on the team’s fourth line, more a sideshow than a contributing player. When former general manager George McPhee drafted Wilson, it was Wilson’s skating ability, skill, and bruising style that garnered attention.

“When we were in the middle of the playoffs I made a note after the games: remember these games when you’re at the draft,” McPhee said after drafting Wilson. “Remember how intense they are, how physical they are, how demanding they are, and make sure you get someone who wants to play in that kind of stuff.”

Wilson certainly loves to play physical. He’s been in the NHL’s top seven in penalty minutes over the last three seasons, including third this year with 96 PIMs. He has delivered crushing hits, including one that injured veteran Lubomir Visnovsky in the playoffs. Wilson has been a league leader in fights, recording around 29 bouts in the last three years.

Wilson has been a punishing fixture in the line-up for years, but we’ve seen few glimmers of Wilson’s offensive talent. Until now.

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Screenshot by RMNB reader Victor K.

Monday night, Braden Holtby made 31 saves against the Buffalo Sabres and notched his second shutout of the season. It seems almost tired at this point to say it, but Holtby has been spectacular in 2015-16. He’s made difficult saves look easy. He’s stopping point-blank shots when he’s on the other side of the crease. The only thing he’s been bad at is keeping his mask on during play, and that’s probably just due to his awesome facial hair.

The Holtbeast leads the NHL in wins (23) and goals-against average (1.85). He’s second in save percentage (.935) and ninth in shutouts (2). Holtby hasn’t lost a freaking game since November 10 against the Red Wings, two weeks before Thanksgiving. In that solitary loss, Holtby stopped 97 percent of the shots (26 of 27) in a 1-0 loss.

Holtby’s getting support from national media as a Vezina trophy candidate for the league’s best goaltender, but that’s not all. Esteemed hockey nerd (and RMNB podcast guest) Dimitri Filipovic points out that Holtby is playing at the same level Carey Price did last season when he won the MVP.

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Photo: Rob Carr

After being a healthy scratch for the past two games, Andre Burakovsky returned to the lineup Wednesday night against the Winnipeg Jets. Burakovsky hasn’t quite looked himself so far in 2015-16. His return to the lineup was somewhat unremarkable, as is to be expected if he continues to play with Jay Beagle and Jason Chimera.

Considering Burakovsky is not being deployed with teammates who will best maximize his skills, it will be important that he avoid any “big mistakes” that draw the ire of his coach. On Wednesday, he’s lucky that the Jets didn’t score on a 2-on-1 that was largely his responsibility, or else this mistake could stand out much more to Barry Trotz.

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Nate Schmidt’s Skating and Passing Abilities Lead To Success

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Awesome Photo: Chris Gordon

The love for Nate Schmidt ’round these parts is well-documented. Possession monster, always smiling blah blah blah. Enough already, RMNB, right? Never.

Instead of talking about his possession prowess or his facial expression, today we’ll look at game clips to illustrate what makes Schmidt such an effective defender: his skating and passing. These qualities make Schmidt a solid player. They are why his possession numbers are glowing.

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The Iron Sheik Tweets Support (?) to Alex Ovechkin

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In worlds-I-never-thought-would-cross news, former WWE world champion, dude I watched rassle during my childhood, and certified crazy person, The Iron Sheik, tweeted about Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin over the weekend.

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Photo: Geoff Burke

At 1:28 of the third period on Wednesday, Evgeny Kuznetsov scored to give the Caps a 1-0 lead. Twenty-four seconds later the Penguins answered to tie the game. On the ice for the Caps at that time was Brooks Orpik and Tate (?) Chroney. One of these two was at fault.

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Why TJ Oshie Kissed His Stick After Scoring Against Calgary

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Last week in Calgary, TJ Oshie scored a goal in his third consecutive game. After setting up shop in front of the net, Oshie one-timed a pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov to give the Caps a 4-1 lead. Calgary pulled (and later released) Karri Rämö.

Oh his way back to the bench, Oshie celebrated by kissing the blade of his stick. The smooch was a semi-show-boat-y celebration for the American hero, but he had good reason.

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teemu-selanne-andrew-gordon

Photo: Marianne Helm

Hey, everyone! It’s good to be back. As if there isn’t enough exciting hockey to write about in DC, Ian Oland and the RMNB team have hired me to be their Swedish correspondent so I can give a player’s perspective on what’s going on in the wonderful world of hockey.

I want to begin the second tour of my blogging career with a tribute to a guy who, from a young age, inspired me to become a hockey player and to work on my game — despite us not crossing paths until I was 25 years old. That man is Teemu Selanne. He’s the NHL player we all love to love. That in and of itself is a strange phenomenon in any sport. For hockey fans to (almost) unanimously appreciate a player is rare. People love Ovi, but there are people who hate Ovi. People love Carey Price, but there are people who hate Carey Price. In all my years of hockey I don’t think I have ever heard a person on either side of the glass say that they don’t like Teemu Selanne. You either like him or love him. Not a bad way to go through your career.

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Photo: Patrick McDermott

Nicklas Backstrom returned to the line-up on Saturday after missing the first three games of the season due to hip surgery. But Nicky didn’t immediately return to his customary first-line center spot next to Alex Ovechkin. Instead he centered the second line with Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson.

That was partly because Barry Trotz wanted to bring Backstrom along slowly, but also because Evgeny Kuznetsov, the Caps’ third-year center, has been playing well with Ovechkin and TJ Oshie so far.

“Right now it’s going to be static,” Trotz said Saturday when asked about the first and second line center position. “There’s nothing wrong with the Ovi, Oshie, and Kuzy line. That gives us lots of flexibility.”

While Kuznetsov has only two assists and four shots through his first four games, he’s authored several mind-boggling plays in the offensive zone. There was that give-and-go pass with Ovechkin against Chicago that resulted in an Ovechkin goal, then there were these two sick dishes against the Hurricanes.

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Breaking Down the Caps Overload Breakout

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Photo by Amanda Bowen

Last season, I took a look at the Caps’ breakout under Barry Trotz. In that post, I looked at how the Caps generally breakout of their defensive zone, both when the breakout is contested by their opponent and uncontested.

In that article, I briefly touched upon the variations to a team’s breakout.

Teams generally have multiple approaches to their breakout. Hockey is a fluid game; there are variations and contingencies in every game. Those variations depend on how the opponent might disrupt the breakout or where teammates are positioned when their team gets possession.

This season, the Caps first line has debuted a variation to the breakout that I don’t recall seeing last season. The new twist is the Caps overloading the left side of the ice when breaking out of their zone.

While the variations may have been unintentional, more a split second reaction than a pre-planned set play, the Caps have created dangerous chances when they’ve used this variation of their breakout this season.

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