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Photo: Rob Carr

Now that the Washington Capitals will officially miss the playoffs for the first time in six years, this is a great time to focus more on the tendencies of this Adam Oates-led team. While a lot of positive stories have been written about the team’s revitalized power play and its Russian captain, there’s a lot of reasons why we think Oates may be holding this team back from bigger and better things. Like, here’s twenty of them.

Then there’s the whole issue of the Caps sometimes looking like a beer-league team on the ice. Over the last few weeks, Caps players have violently collided into each other three times. Three. Times. And in two straight games.

Because this seems to be more like a pattern than a series of freak events, I collected GIFs and video of all the times it’s happened during Oates’ tenure. It’s happened… a lot.

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[Editor’s note: We’re not writing about this topic to invite a debate on Barack Obama’s presidency or the politics of Crimea. This article is about hockey. Kind of. It’s also about Miley Cyrus.]

In March, Vladimir Putin sent troops into the Crimea. His stated motive was to protect the mostly Russian population there from unrest. A few days later, the Crimean parliament declared independence from Ukraine and asked to join the Russian Federation. Putin then claimed Crimea as part of Russia on moral and material grounds, citing the principle of self-determination and Crimea’s strategic importance for Russia or some ish like that.

Lots of world leaders were pretty pissed about this, judging by the non-binding UN resolution (100 of 193 in favor) that declared Crimea’s Moscow-backed referendum invalid a few days later. Then the United States decided to show just how pissed they were by sanctioning Vladimir Putin and all his boyz.

Those of us who watch the news every night and consider ourselves informed knew all of this already. What we didn’t know is who exactly got sanctioned, why they got sanctioned, and why those sanctions matter to us. Thanks to Jennifer M. Smith (whom we had the pleasure of meeting at RMNB Party 6) and her co-workers at the Stewart & Stewart law firm, we have learned that some of the people sanctioned are deeply involved in the Russian hockey league, the KHL. Russian billionaire Arkady Rotenberg, president of Alex Ovechkin’s former KHL team Dynamo Moscow, has been sanctioned by the United States for being Putin’s former judo partner and a member of his inner circle.

You can’t make this stuff up.

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The Achilles Heel of the Capitals Power Play

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Photo: Patrick Smith

The Caps are bad at defense and give up a lot of odd-man breaks. Even when they win, Washington can’t hide that flaw. One aspect of that is particularly troubling: the amount of rushes they allow on their own power play.

The Capitals man-advantage has kept them afloat all year, generating about a third of their offense. However, against the Stars their PP could barely get going. Dallas had two breakaways on Washington’s opening power play, which was quickly negated by a John Carlson slash.

“Usually odd-man rushes are our breakdowns, not necessarily great plays by them,” Carlson said after the game. “We can’t let that happen. We’re too good of players.”

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About Those Birds at Verizon Center

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Ace photo by @WashCapsRock

On Saturday, I went to my first Washington Capitals game of the season because of the bet I lost to the Brouwer Rangers (I find it easier to cover games from home). While watching Troy Brouwer point and laugh at me in spandex was something I’ll never forget, the highlight of my day actually didn’t involve humans at all.

During the first period, as I sat in my perch (sorry, couldn’t help myself) in section 402, I noticed something through the visor of my motorcycle helmet: two fat birds frantically flying around Verizon Center looking for somewhere to land. You don’t get to see this kind of stuff on TV.

The birds swooped to and fro. Every few minutes they’d fly towards people in the crowd, making Caps fans scramble and hit the deck. While I focused on their escapades during the third period, I caught myself chanting bird! bird! bird! I also confused one of the birds for the puck after Alex Ovechkin chipped the biscuit into the air towards Jay Beagle. It almost helped me forget about the terrible game I was supposed to be watching. Almost.

Anyways, for whatever reason, the whole situation cracked me up (that’s an egg joke). Now I am filled with questions: How did these birds get into Verizon Center in the first place? Why are they still here now? (The first Verizon Center bird was spotted in December. It was skinny then.) Is Slapshot involved?

And what kind of birds are these?

Lucky for us, my future cousin-in-law Ian Gardner is the biggest bird nerd in the history of bird nerds. He’s currently at Penn State studying for his M.S. in Forest Resources, he has his B.S. in Wildlife Conservation from Juniata College, and he’s been involved in the Pennsylvania birdwatching community for the past 5 years. I sent him some photos of the birds and asked him for the low-down.

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EvgenyKuznetsovCar (2 of 3)

Photos by Chris Gordon

Eight games into his NHL career, Evgeny Kuznetsov is settling in. And by “settling in,” I mean living a life of luxury none of us will ever attain. First he got himself an apartment. Now he’s got himself a brand new car. The ride: a customized 2014 Mercedes Benz S63 AMG, with a base price of $140,000. It’s got 577 horsepower. That’s a lot.

Kuzya will probably spend most of his time sitting still on 66, but if you’re going to buy a mobile lounge, the new S-Class is pure and total luxury.

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Julianne Hough has been busy lately. She has announced that she will be doing a dance tour around the nation with her brother Derek. She also will be returning to Dancing With The Stars as a guest judge in two weeks.

We do not care about that. We care about Hough watching the Caps play at Verizon Center on Tuesday night (well, maybe we care; I guess this is debatable). I assume she was there to support her injured boyfriend, Brooks Laich, who recently went under the knife to repair his injured groin.

Here’s a treat: everybody’s favorite paparazzo Homer McFanboy posted this photo of Hough on the concourse, which was taken by an anonymous friend.

Here you see Julianne smiling with friends and— HEY, wait a minute. What is in her hands?

COMPUTER: ENHANCE QUADRANT PICARD LAMBDA.

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Tom Wilson Is One Of The Most Penalized Rookies Ever

Wilson has an intimate chat with Claude Giroux. (Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Well, here’s something incredible we’ve uncovered about Tom Wilson.

Playing the Florida Panthers on February 27th, Wilson’s third-period slash on Brian Campbell put him at 112 penalty minutes on the year. Those two PIMs helped Wilson overtake the teenager penalty minutes record since 2004-05.

That mark was previously held by — you’ll never guess.

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mcphee

Yo, I need to draw your attention to this quote from George McPhee, reported by Katie Carrera on Wednesday night.

“We play a system where teams get probably more shots the way we play but most of them are from the outside, we’ll allow those. In some ways that might be better for this particular goaltender.”

This is not the sort of thing a professional hockey person outside of Toronto should say. This is not a thing that any grownup with even a passing acquaintance with the concept of probability should say.

Allowing more shots is never good. Every shot carries with it a discrete chance that it could go in the net. More shots: more goals.

And the Caps don’t possess some newly discovered, sui generis ability to limit their opponents’ shot quality with reliability. If they did, we’d see it in the stats. So George McPhee should not be saying the equivalent of “We let the other guy take a crazy ton of shots because we’re the first team in hockey history that is actually magical.”

Nope, nope, nope. And Wednesday’s loss to Philadelphia is evidence of the cosmic wrongness.

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8 Questions That Will Determine the Capitals’ Fate

It has been 19 days since a Caps game! Nineteen days! My memory is faltering. The names and faces are starting to blend together. Brooks Brouwer and Jason Johansson, right? No? Okay, maybe a refresher course is needed.

With 23 games left in the rego (yes, that word is sticking around) season, the Capitals sit precariously on the playoff bubble. Alex Ovechkin is blowing up nets, but the team as a whole is struggling. General manager George McPhee, rumored to be in the final year of his contract, has less than a week to improve his team before the trade deadline. Head coach Adam Oates has a wealth of information about his players that seems to be– at least partially– in conflict with how he has marshaled them thus far. And somewhere over the ocean, there’s a youngster with a visa and some unknown date circled on his calendar.

We’re going to get a lot of answers over the next few weeks. Those answers will tell us who this team truly is, so now seems like the right time to remind ourselves what the questions are.

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John Erskine’s Not-Good Weekend

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Photo: Alex Brandon

Despite his menacing stare and his even angrier-looking fists, there may be no nicer man in the Washington Capitals locker room than John Erskine. That’s why this is hard to write.

The 33-year-old Erskine, who was given a two-year $3.9 million extension from George McPhee last February, may be in the throes of his worst season ever as a pro.

The veteran defenseman — who is supposed to be a leader out on the ice — is an anchor on the Caps. His 47.2% puck possession is 3.6% worse than the team does without him. The only defensemen on the team with a lower possession scores are rookie Connor Carrick and the recently released Alexander Urbom. Erskine ranks 173rd out of the 230 defensemen with at least 25 games played when measured by corsi percentage.

Then there’s the goals. While Erskine is on the ice at even strength, 62% of the goals scored on the ice belong to the opponent. Big John also has a penalty differential of minus-9 (he’s taken nine more penalties than he’s drawn).

Then there’s the eye test, my personal favorite, which Erskine fails regularly.

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