On December 29, 2013, In Analysis, By Peter Hassett
Photo: Greg Fiume
Two thousand thirteen has been a year of reinvigoration for the Capitals. After a dreary start to the lockout-shortened season, the team began a Cinderella-story rally in March that carried the team into the playoffs and their captain into another MVP trophy. But the last few months have revealed a Capitals team that is not uniformly happy with their spots on the team. While new coach Adam Oates has made his stars happy, a number of lower-tiered players have grown discontent. Three players have requested trades in the last six weeks.
Late in the third period with the Washington Capitals trailing 3-2, Alex Ovechkin took a pass from Marcus Johansson in the center of the ice and fired a ridiculous snap shot towards Anaheim Ducks’ goaltender Jonas Hiller. The puck, rolling end over end, beat Hiller clean. PING.
Ovechkin raised his hands to the sky, the goal horn went off, and Caps fans celebrated yet another miracle comeback goal from their team’s captain.
But the puck never actually went in. The referee waived it off.
On Thursday, when word surfaced that Washington Capitals defenseman John Erskinewas close to returning to game action, we all wondered what George McPhee would do to get Big John back on the roster. Would McPhee put favorite of the coaching staff, Alexander Urbom, on waivers? Would he send down he-of-unlimited-options, Nate Schmidt? Or would GMGM send Dmitry Orlov back to Hershey for a seventh time?
Against the Florida Panthers Friday night, Orlov tried to make the decision easy for the team’s management, playing perhaps the best game of his career. Orlov skated 20:04 overall and 2:42 in overtime, the most of any Caps defenseman in the frame. Oates also rewarded Orlov during the shootout, giving him an attempt in round eight.
With 33 seconds left in the third period, the Washington Capitals trailed the Tampa Bay Lighning 5-4. They needed a hero. Enter Alex Ovechkin, already with three goals to his name, to save the day. Again.
As John Carlson slid a cross-ice pass to Ovechkin near The Ovi Spot™, the Russian machine winded up with all his might and fired. He somehow found a hole next to Ben Bishop and tied the game.
Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin scored again tonight. *Yawn* At this point, it’s whatevs. It’s like breathing. It happens and you don’t even notice it anymore.
But let’s not take Ovechkin’s resurgence for granted. Instead, let’s waft into our noses the aroma of slightly-charred vulcanized rubber discs sent towards the net en masse. This is historic. This is a season we may be talking about for the rest of our lives. No hyperbole.
Facepalm on the background is an appropriate reaction to your team going to the penalty kill because a player’s underwear is of wrong color.
I knew something was wrong with the “Fear Of Missing Out on Hockey (#FOMOH)” commercial the first time I saw it. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was. Something about two of my favorite players, Brooks Laich and Alex Ovechkin, doing some truly horrible acting in that hospital just didn’t sit well with me.
Back on October 26th in Calgary, Alberta, Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom‘s took a puck to the face. Midway through the second period, the Swede was hit in the jaw by an errant pass from Marcus Johansson. Backstrom, bleeding from his lip, returned to the bench. One of our readers caught him ripping one of his teeth out and handing it to the trainer. Yikes.
Playing the St. Louis Blues on Sunday night, Backstrom endured more facial violence. After recording three assists in the game, Nicky spoke to reporters in the locker room. His smile was somewhat less pearly.
Ovi and his teammates celebrate a power play goal on Saturday. (Photo credit: Norm Hall)
The Washington Capitals have the league’s most dominant power play. Of the team’s 52 goals, 20 have come from the man advantage, a remarkable 38 percent. Alex Ovechkin, too, relies heavily on the PP. He has 13 goals this year, seven have been a man up. More than anything else, Adam Oates’s power play has rekindled Ovi’s greatness.
All this success means one thing: if you stop the Washington’s power play, you stop the Capitals.
On November 5, 2013, In Analysis, By Peter Hassett
Photo: Derek Leung
The Washington Capitals had a tough decision to make in Tom Wilson. The promising young forward could have started the year with the Plymouth Whalers in the OHL, where he’d likely score over a point per game. Instead, George McPhee decided the 19-year-old was ready for the big show. Having played more than ten games in the NHL, Wilson is now consuming the first year of his entry-level contract, but he’s got precious little to show for it.
Playing under seven minutes a night on the Caps’ fourth line, it’s not a big surprise that Wilson has yet to score his first NHL point. Instead his role has been relegated to fisticuffs: Wilson leads the team in fighting majors with 4. For a big, physical prospect touted by some as a future power forward, the early season comes a disappointment.
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.
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.