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Latta poses with his milestone puck. (Photo credit: Patrick McDermott)

The Washington Capitals have had a wealth of fourth line enforcers over the last decade: Stephen Peat, Donald Brashear, Matt Bradley, and even Matt Hendricks. But don’t lump center Michael Latta, the other guy in the Filip Forsberg/Martin Erat trade, into that category.

Over the first month of the season, Latta has been playing some of the most inspired hockey of his career. And it’s because he’s doing a little bit of everything well.

Latta is irritating to play against. I’d even call him a pest. He constantly runs his mouth on the ice (like Tom Wilson) and is a physical, hard-hitting player. He sometimes plays on the edge, delivering cheap shots behind the play, but rarely is a penalty called on him. Usually he draws retaliatory penalties from the guy he’s terrorizing. And if Latta’s challenged to fight, he can back it up.

None of that is too uncommon, but Latta also has some offensive talent. He had 38 points in 76 games between AHL Milwaukee and Hershey last year. This season, he has been Hershey’s second leading scorer before getting called up to the Capitals. He is blossoming as a player, translating the finishing ability he’s been developing in Hershey into his first NHL point: a beautiful assist on John Carlson’s goal.

When the Martin Erat trade happened last year at the trade deadline, many people (including me) criticized George McPhee for trading away the team’s second best prospect for an aging forward and a nobody. Latta is belying that descriptor, and he may yet have a long career in the NHL– just like Forsberg.

Take a look at Latta’s week and you’ll see why I’m excited.

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Playing the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, Troy Brouwer scored a powerplay goal — his third of the year — off a pretty, pretty pass from Nicklas Backstrom. Brouwer got mobbed by his teammates, skated back towards the bench, and… hey wait a second.

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Photo credit: Bruce Fedyck

The Washington Capitals’ game against the Winnipeg Jets fell apart the oddest time: as the team went a man to the good in the second period after large-and-in-charge Dustin Byfuglien roughed up Marcus Johansson. Instead of converting, the Caps responded by giving up a plethora of odd-man rushes on the power play. Eventually, Bryan Little scored the inevitable shorty. One minute and ten seconds later, Grant Clitsome scored, giving Winnipeg their first lead and the favor of the game’s momentum.

Things looked bleak, but those are the times that game-changing players relish. With the Caps seemingly about to get run out of the MTS Centre, Alex Ovechkin scored on a breakaway out of nowhere, breathing life back into his team.

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Scouting Madison Bowey: Plays Tough, Good Wheels

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Before the game, Bowey was named player of the month. (Photo credit: Kelowna Rockets)

The Capitals selected defenseman Madison Bowey in the second round of the 2013 draft. The high-scoring defenseman was something of a draft-day dropper, and the Caps seemed pleased to get him when they did.

After getting assigned to the juniors, Bowey started the season hot. He was named his team’s player of the month in September with eight points in six games– seventh among WHL defensemen overall.

On Friday, Bowey’s Kelowna Rockets played the Portland Winterhawks and another of Washington’s defensive prospects, Garrett Haar. The Rockets won 6-2, and both Bowey and Haar had an assist.

I have provided video of Bowey’s play from that game. He is talented.

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Photo via Caps Instagram

Washington Capitals Captain Alex Ovechkin is 28 year old. Over the years, he’s had his critics: no Stanley Cup, no Olympic gold, he keeps trying the same move, why isn’t Brooks Laich the captain already?

But if you look at how Ovechkin stacks up against others, he’s already one of the greatest to ever play the game. He seems destined to be a first-ballot hockey hall-of-famer.

Fun fact: did you know that with his masterful two goal performance on Thursday, Ovi surpassed Eric Lindros in goals? He entered the game with 372 regular-season tallies, the same as Lindros had at the end of his injury-plagued 13-season NHL career. Ovechkin is two games into his ninth season.

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No More Southeast Division, No Big Deal

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Before tonight’s home opener, the Washington Capitals will raise a new Southeast Division Champions banner for the last time. The Capitals won half of the Southeast’s 14 division titles since 1998, but as of this season they will have to compete in the tougher Metropolitan Division, a sort of super-sized Patrick Division.

Some think the change will be disastrous for the Caps. “They will actually have to play against some tough teams in arguably the league’s toughest division,”  the Pensblog said in their division preview story.

That’s not entirely correct.

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Questioning the Logic of the Mathieu Perreault Trade

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Never forget. (Photo credit: Bruce Bennett)

Tonight I was naughty and ordered pizza. A food coma knocked me out for two and a half hours on our living room couch. When I woke up, walked downstairs, and refreshed the website I helped create, I learned that the Washington Capitals traded everybody’s favorite French Canadian bro, Mathieu Perreault, for a fourth round pick and a minor league dude from Anaheim that George McPhee will probably say “can play.”

As an avowed fan who gets emotionally connected to some of the players, it’s — ya know — kinda upsetting. From a blogger’s point of view, Perreault was one of the most interesting players on the team. He had personality. He delivered many, many pageviews.

But when I check my emotion and look at the facts, this move is curious on a few levels. Mathieu Perreault was an underrated player who brought the team a lot of value. Since the 2010-11 season, the Capitals have been a much better team with Perreault on the ice than off. Despite his tiny size, Perreault is a talented puck-chaser and forechecker who drives play.

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Tyson Strachan didn’t make the team; will Tom Wilson? (Photo credit: Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

With the deadline to submit opening-day rosters approaching at 5:00 PM Tuesday, the Washington Capitals moved towards finalizing their 23-player roster with a flurry of moves on Sunday.

The Caps assigned defensemen Michal Cajkovsky, Dmitry Orlov, and Tyson Strachan (who cleared waivers at noon) and forward Dane Byers to the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears. They have also placed forward Joel Rechlicz on waivers. Today was the final day players could be put on waivers before rosters must be set, meaning the Caps won’t be able to demote any more players who have those rights.

That leaves Washington with 21 players on the roster (13 forwards, six defensemen and two goaltenders) and three prospects trying to crack the lineup: Connor Carrick, Tom Wilson, and Michael Latta.

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During the mess that was Monday’s brawl-filled Capitals-Bruins game, one play jumped out at me.

With the Caps on the powerplay, defenseman Connor Carrick got the puck. He was the lone guy on the point — with Mikhail Grabovski at his right and Troy Brouwer to his left. Bruins veteran Daniel Paille went after Carrick, thinking he could cause the youngster, playing one of the hardest positions in hockey– powerplay quarterback, to cough up the puck or surrender the blue line.

What would you expect from a 19-year-old on this play? Keeping the puck in the zone and dumping it in would be satisfactory, but that’s not what Carrick did. Instead, he faked an easy pass to Brouwer and then backhanded the puck to Grabovski. No one on the ice except Carrick seemed to expect that play. He kept the Bruins in their own end with a simple, smart pass– showing NHL-quality poise in the process.

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The Likelihood of Tom Wilson Making the Capitals

Photo credit: Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Washington Capitals power forward prospect Tom Wilson has come a long way from where he was last year. Some think he’s primed for a roster spot with the big club this season.

There will be lots of factors in George McPhee’s decision to keep Wilson or send him back to the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers. In this post, I’ll take a look at all of them.

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